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In the News
Last Updated: 05/29/200325 -29 May
War and despair hangs over much of Africa; violent conflict leaves a legacy of warlordism and/or criminality from the Balkans to Afghanistan; oil and gas are mixed up in Indonesian politics; were the bombs in Morocco and Bali real al-Qaeda acts or imitators? Old Empires and New ones prepare for war: France and Britain to keep European militarism alive while US commits itself to long-term military build-up. Meanwhile determined efforts are being made to bring peace to the Sudan...
The South African newspaper news24.com (www.news24.com) reporting on Zimbabwe reports the growing unrest there as well as food shortages, petrol queues, and lack of banknotes. Morgan Tsvangari, leader of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) is attracting increasing support in his opposition to Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF Party. Some commentators believe that Mugabe will resign this time; in any case next week will see a turning point in Zimbabwean politics when Tsvangari backed by the trade unions will take his supporters onto the streets.
However bad things are in Zimbabwe, they are much worse in Liberia where a rebel attack on the capital Monrovia was reported as imminent (26 May) by IRIN, the UN office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (www.irinnews.org)
Despite hopes that violent conflict was under control in DR Congo, where 3 million have died in the last three years, fighting has flared up again in the Ituri region. Age old rivalries exist between the Hemas and the Lendus, but observers have noted that the district around Bunia is rich with gold and both Rwandan and Ugandan interests have been arming both sides and Belgium has also been accused of helping the Lendus. Ethnic rivalries, rich resources, foreign intervention: all the ingredients for war are present, and the scale of the troubles is growing with at least 50, 000 refugees on the march south. (reported by BBC News, Africa)
War in many parts of the world has promoted the emergence of warlord control of trade, communications and the exercise of law and order. This week some success was registered against this tendency in post-war Serbia and in Afghanistan.
Serbia Since the assassination of the Serbian prime minister (Zoran Djindjic) last March, the Serbian authorities, apparently undaunted, have launched an all out attack on organised crime and crime syndicates. Ten thousand arrests have been made and over four thousand of them remain in custody. While some of the leaders were killed during the arrests, many remain at large, including a former Red Berets commander. (for more see: www.iwpr.net which has a specialist section on Serbian news).
By contrast President Karzai of Afghanistan (sometimes referred to disparagingly as the Mayor of Kabul) has not been able to make significant inroads into the power of the warlords, now labelled regional governors, and counts himself lucky being able to extract a small proportion of their rising income. They have agreed to hand over a few million dollars. Perhaps Karzai is waiting for his new army of 70,000 to be fully operational. Hopefully he will find other ways of dealing with the former warlords rather than start another civil war or series of them. Legitimising their power and colelcting taxes from them seems the safest route for now. It worked in the Middle Ages in Europe.
While the Serbian warlords have become criminalized, in Afghanistan they are regional governors and commanders. If you want to get rid of warlords, you have a choice: criminalize them as a prelude to getting rid of them or legitimise them as a prelude to skimming off their cash takings. In both cases drugs and smuggling play a key part in the grim picture.
INDONESIA – Aceh
It looked for a time that Ache might gain considerable autonomy from Jakarta, but this week the plans for free elections, an autonomous government subject to Indonesia sovereignty and 70% of the oil and gas revenues appear to be in shreds. While East Timor was never part of Indonesia after the Dutch left, having been a former Portuguese colony, Aceh has always been part of Indonesia and Jakarta has always been unwilling to let go. 10, 000 civilians have died during the independence struggle since 1976. Australia is backing the Indonesian Government, and the British have an interest to as they supply most of the arms. As Anthony Barnett reported in the Observer (www.observer.co.uk)
“Among the equipment being deployed to Aceh are Scorpion tanks made by Coventry-based Alvis, which were rubber-stamped for export by a newly elected Labour government just as it was promising to pursue an ethical foreign policy. The spectre of British-made tanks involved in the conflict is acutely embarrassing for the Blair government, which came under pressure to block the sale. In December 1996, the Conservative Trade Secretary Ian Lang announced he had granted an export licence for 50 Scorpions, all fitted with 90mm guns and two machine guns.”
Aceh is at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra: population over 4 million; rich in oil and gas; strong in Islamic beliefs. Will it be another war zone for some time to come? It looks like it. Meanwhile UNICEF points out that over the last two years, 500 schools have been destroyed. In the midst of everything UNICEF in partnership with the Non-Violence International is implementing a peace education curriculum in the schools that do remain. (www.unicef.org/newsline/2003/03nn39aceh.htm )
Maybe some one should introduce the peace curriculum into the government corridors of Jakarta, Canberra and London.
TERRORISM-Morocco & Bali
It looks as if the trial of an Islamic dissident is throwing up evidence that the Bali bombing was an al-Qaeda copycat rather than the “real” thing. (Bali suspect admits role, BBC, 28 May http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2943566.stm ) The same may well be true in Morocco. Investigators have been looking at a home grown group Assirat el Moustaqim, while informed commentators think that group much too small to have pulled off the bombings that killed 12 of the suicide bombers. Reports from the Egyptian press are equivocal but are not totally convinced that al-Qaeda was involved. (http://weekly.ahram.org.eg ) On the other hand it is hard to say whether national terrorism is better or worse than international terrorism. But countries like Bali and Morocco (and Egypt) are heavily dependent on tourism and any kind of terrorism is bad for the economy and the livelihoods of ordinary people.
France and Britain. Chirac said that there could be no European Army (Defence Force) without Britain or France. After all they are the two biggest military nations in Europe. Should he have said militarist? Old Empires, unlike old soldiers, do not just fade away.
US MILITARY EXPENDITURE
Whatever the military past of the Europeans, the US is striving to guarantee a military future that bodes ill for the peace-makers of the world. The Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) reported 26 May that the five year Rumsfeld Pentagon plan required $1.9 trillion to cover everything from men and women at arms to tanks, Tomahawk missiles, transport aircraft, and the navy wants $73 billion for its submarines alone. While Bush has been in office military spending has increased 20 per cent, EXCLUDING the costs of the wars in Aghanistan and Iraq. The USA spends more than all the other NATO countries put together. Senator Byrd asked questions, but he was a lone voice. What can this be called: a nem con democracy?
Some good news from Sudan where nearly two generations have seen nothing but war (www.irrinews.org).
SUDAN: Monitoring team to begin work
Paul Davenport, the chief of operations with the Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT), told IRIN a mission would visit the country this week to identify possible locations for permanent VMT bases.
The VMT was mandated in early February to monitor the agreement between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), but has not yet undertaken any missions.
"We want to get the VMT in as soon as possible," Davenport told IRIN. He said each of the monitoring teams would have representatives from both the government and the SPLM/A.
Among the locations to be visited this week are eastern Sudan along the Ethiopian border, Malakal, Bentiu, Wau, Juba, Aweil, Tam and Akak, said Davenport. Both the government and the SPLM/A described these regions as "areas of conflict".
The breakthrough, allowing the VMT to begin its work, came last week during the latest round of peace talks between the government and the SPLM/A in neighbouring Kenya, with both parties reaching agreement on the "tasking procedures" for the VMT, Davenport said.
The total number of VMT members, including the investigation teams and staff in coordination offices in Sudan and Kenya, is expected to number 58.