Meditation Focus #90
Strengthening the Will for Peace on Earth and in our Hearts
What follows is the 90th Meditation Focus suggested for the four consecutive weeks beginning Sunday, June 15, 2003.
PLEASE NOTE THAT, EXCEPTIONALLY, THIS MEDITATION FOCUS WILL BE EFFECTIVE FOR THE NEXT 4 WEEKS.
STRENGTHENING THE WILL FOR PEACE ON EARTH AND IN OUR HEARTS
2. Meditation times
3. More information on this Meditation Focus:
- ISRAELI/PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
- WAR IN IRAQ
- FIGHTING AND RISK OF GENOCIDE IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - CRISIS IN LIBERIA
- CONFLICT IN ACEH - INDONESIA
- CONFLICT IN CHECHNYA
- VIOLENCE IN NEPAL
- THE KASHMIR DISPUTE
- VIOLENCE IN AFGHANISTAN
- STANDOFF WITH NORTH KOREA
- GUERILLA WAR IN COLOMBIA
- CRISIS IN ZIMBABWE
- PEACE AT RISK IN SRI LANKA
- CHILD TRAFFICKING, etc.
As our global family of souls struggles to extinguish the flames of violence and the embers of war that are still burning deep into the flesh of millions of our suffering brothers and sisters caught in conflicts often bred generations ago, the dazzling Light of Peace and a growing sense of unconditional Love and conscious Unity are nevertheless making headways between nations and in the hearts of men and women around the world, gradually sowing the seeds of a new era of universal peace and permanent global harmony that is slowing emerging, as surely as the sun emerges from the horizon to herald the dawn of a new day. We cannot fail to successfully implement the wise plan for the redemption of all souls that has been set in motion aeons ago to carefully mark the way through which our wondrous evolutionary experiment in spiritual awakening is set to soon reach a climaxing moment of epiphany as our world and much of the rest of the universe enter a new phase of glorious accomplishment of what has always been meant to be, what we will soon all discover in awe and what will mark the beginning of a new cosmic era, a renewed expansion of consciousness and a blissful communion of souls, here and beyond our sphere and dimension of existence. As above, so below...
Please dedicate your prayers and meditations, as guided by Spirit, in the coming four weeks, and especially in synchronous attunement at the usual time this Sunday and the following ones, to contribute in strengthening the Will for Peace on Earth and in our hearts so that not a single cell of our planetary body is left outside the pool of Light formed by the concerted communion of goodness-filled souls that is now growing by leaps and bounds on the face of the Earth, even if as usual this unfolding reality if mostly invisible to the naked eye of the traditional sources of news and information, but is essentially best felt and experienced when one is attuned to the inner Call for growth and awakening that is resonating in tingling waves of ecstatic vibrations in those who diligently dedicate themselves to furthering the nascent expression of Oneness in all living, sentient beings on Earth - and beyond. May we become ever more selfless and benevolent instruments of the Will of God, the Omniversal Presence if All That is, and may we persevere with joyful 'innerstanding' of our key role as Sowers of Peace, Love and Harmony, for the Highest Good of All.
This whole Meditation Focus is also available at http://www.aei.ca/~cep/MeditationFocus90.htm
2. MEDITATION TIMES
i) Global Meditation Day: Sunday at 16:00 Universal Time (GMT) or at noon local time. Suggested duration: 30 minutes.
ii) Golden Moment of At-Onement: Daily, at the top of any hour, or whenever it better suits you.
These times below are currently corresponding to 16:00 Universal Time/GMT:
Honolulu 6:00 AM -- Anchorage * 8:00 AM -- Los Angeles * 9:00 AM -- Mexico City, San Salvador & Denver * 10:00 AM -- Houston * & Chicago * 11:00 AM -- Santo Domingo, La Paz, Caracas, New York *, Toronto *. Montreal *, Asuncion & Santiago 12:00 AM -- Halifax *, Rio de Janeiro & Montevideo 1:00 PM -- Reykjavik & Casablanca 4 PM -- Lagos, Algiers, London *, Dublin * & Lisbon * 5:00 PM -- Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Geneva *, Rome *, Berlin *, Paris * & Madrid * 6:00 PM -- Ankara *, Athens *, Helsinki * & Istanbul * & Nairobi 7:00 PM -- Baghdad *, Moscow * 8:00 PM -- Tehran * 8:30 PM -- Islamabad 9:00 PM -- Calcutta & New Delhi 9:30 PM -- Dhaka 10:00 PM -- Rangoon 10:30 PM -- Hanoi, Bangkok & Jakarta 11:00 PM -- Hong Kong, Perth, Beijing & Kuala Lumpur +12:00 PM -- Seoul & Tokyo +1:00 AM -- Brisbane, Canberra & Melbourne +2:00 AM -- Wellington +4:00 AM
+ means the place is one day ahead of Universal Time/Greenwich Mean Time. * means the place is observing daylight saving time (DST) at the moment.
You may also check at http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/full.html to find your current corresponding local time if a closeby city is not listed above.
3. More information on this Meditation Focus
This complement of information may help you to better understand the various aspects pertaining to the summary description of the subject of this Meditation Focus. It is recommended to view this information from a positive perspective, and not allow the details to tinge the positive vision we wish to hold in meditation. Since what we focus on grows, the more positive our mind-set, the more successful we will be in manifesting a vision of peace and healing. This complementary information is provided so that a greater knowledge of what needs healing and peace-nurturing vibrations may assist us to have an in-depth understanding of what is at stake and thus achieve a greater collective effectiveness.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE SELECTION OF THE FOLLOWING CONFLICTS FOR INCLUSION IN THIS MEDITATION FOCUS IS IN NO WAY EXHAUSTIVE BUT IS SIMPLY A SAMPLING OF SOME OF THE CRISES CURRENTLY OR RECENTLY FEATURED IN THE NEWS MEDIA. THEIR ORDER IS NOT NECESSARILY REFLECTIVE EITHER OF THE SERIOUSNESS OF EACH SITUATION CONSIDERED.
Middle East road map veers toward dead end, Israeli attack kills Hamas leader, wife, daughter, 4 others (June 13)
Jerusalem -- Pressing ahead with what is fast becoming an all-out campaign against Hamas, Israeli helicopters fired missiles Thursday at a vehicle carrying a key operative of the militant Palestinian group. Unlike a similar attack earlier in the week, this time the targeted man was killed -- along with his wife and infant daughter and four Palestinian bystanders.
The Israeli missile attack in the Gaza Strip occurred one day after a Hamas suicide bomber disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew killed 17 Israelis on a bus in Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, weathering political fallout from the string of attacks against Palestinian militants, insisted he had no intention of backing down from the confrontation with Hamas.
In a grimly familiar pattern, signs of diplomatic progress have been greeted almost immediately with a surge in violence throughout the 32 months of fighting, leaving a deepening sense of gloom and foreboding over the fate of the U.S.-backed peace process known as the road map.
Israeli radio reported the army had been ordered to "completely wipe out" the Hamas movement after the bus bombing in Jerusalem. And Hamas fired back in an incendiary statement.
"The Jerusalem attack is the beginning of a new series in which we will target every Zionist occupying our land," the military wing of Hamas, Izzidine al-Qassam, said in a statement faxed to Western news organizations. "We call on foreigners to leave the Zionist entity immediately to save their lives."
SECURITY FORCES TAXED
Israeli authorities reported dozens of "hot" warnings of imminent terrorist attacks, and the stepped-up vigilance against suicide bombers was said to be taxing the country's security branches to their limits.
For a few days, Israeli and Palestinian leaders toned down their language and spoke with hope about how to begin moving forward under the road map. But on Thursday, they were again trading bitter recriminations, with each attack increasing the likelihood that more will follow.
At an emergency Cabinet meeting, Sharon said Israel had no choice but to stage the attacks against the Hamas operatives because Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had shown himself to be incapable of cracking down on Palestinian militant groups.
Abbas is "a chick that hasn't grown its feathers yet," Sharon was quoted by Israeli media as mockingly telling his ministers. "We have to help him fight terror until his feathers grow in."
That drew an angry retort from Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr.
"He wants to throw accusations and ridicule here and there, and blame others for his own failures," Amr said. "He's the one who promised security to his people, but after two years he hasn't been able to provide it, because of his own stupid policies."
Ziad Abu Amr, the Palestinian minister who was in charge of the cease-fire talks until they broke down, said that "I don't think at this time we can talk about a truce" with Hamas and other militant Palestinian factions.
In Washington, Bush administration officials blamed Hamas for the escalation of violence.
"They strike now because they see peace on the horizon, and Hamas is an enemy to peace," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Yet there was mounting criticism from Israeli politicians Thursday regarding Sharon's decision to approve the missile attack on senior Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who escaped the attempted assassination on Tuesday with only leg wounds. The attack killed his bodyguard and a female bystander and injured dozens of others.
Four other Hamas militants were killed in separate helicopter strikes Wednesday night that also left six Palestinian civilians dead.
Justice Minister Tommy Lapid demanded to know why Sharon hadn't brought the contemplated strike at Rantisi before the full Cabinet for approval rather than consulting only a small inner circle of military and security officials. Opposition lawmaker Dalia Itzak said the danger posed by Rantisi did not justify a strike at a time when it could jeopardize the fledgling peace process.
"As God is my witness, I simply cannot understand the logic of the timing, even if he did deserve this," she said. "Why now?"
In the Gaza Strip, the mood in the streets was one of fury after the latest Israeli strike killed Yasser Taha, described by Israel as a senior Hamas militant.
Helicopter-fired missiles incinerated Taha's car Thursday as he drove through the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, a Hamas stronghold. More missiles then injured would-be rescuers who rushed toward the burning vehicle.
Four helicopters fired at least six missiles at his white Opel, engulfing it in flames and leaving it a blackened skeleton. The three people in the car - - Taha; his wife, Fatima, 25, and their 2-year-old daughter Asnan -- were killed, along with four people on the street, according to witnesses and officials at Shifa Hospital. About 30 people were wounded, the hospital said.
"When I got to the car, I found the body of a man, scorched black like coal,
and an infant girl cut to pieces," said Yasser Awad, who was slightly hurt. "I found a hand with gold rings on the fingers. . . . I think it belonged to a woman, his wife."
Onlookers angrily waved a baby bottle and a small, charred shoe they had pulled from the smoldering wreckage.
Israel said its intelligence had not indicated that Taha's family was in the car with him.
"Where innocent bystanders are killed in our war on terror, it saddens us very much," said a security official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Israel described Taha as a senior Hamas leader who had been involved in many attacks against Israelis, including one in which five yeshiva students were killed last year in an attack on a Gaza settlement.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell called Abbas and Sharon as well as the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel to urge a greater effort to end the violence. Powell said his message was that all parties "have to keep moving forward, that it would be a disaster if we lost this opportunity."
Bush's new envoy to the Middle East, John Wolf, was scheduled to leave for Israel today as part of a team to monitor progress on implementing the peace plan.
TROUBLED ROAD TO PEACE
Here are the most serious violent incidents since the formal launching of the "road map" Mideast peace plan June 4:
-- June 8: Three Palestinians, each representing a different militant group,
infiltrate an Israeli army base on the Israel-Gaza border and kill four soldiers before they are slain.
-- June 10: Two Palestinians perish in an Israeli helicopter strike aimed at Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who escapes with wounds.
-- June 11: A Palestinian suicide bomber blows himself up on a bus in Jerusalem, killing 17 passengers and bystanders.
-- June 11: Shortly after the bus attack, Israeli helicopters fire missiles at a car in Gaza City, killing two Hamas commanders and six bystanders. Two low-level Hamas activists are killed in a second helicopter attack.
-- June 12: Israeli helicopters fire missiles at a car in Gaza City, killing a Hamas militant and six other people, including the man's wife and 2- year-old daughter.
-- June 12: After nightfall, Israeli forces kill two Islamic Jihad activists who drew guns on soldiers who came to arrest them in the West Bank town of Jenin, the military says.
Palestinians, Israelis try to salvage peace plan (June 14)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Palestinians and Israelis are trying to salvage a U.S-backed peace plan battered by a week of violence, holding talks on a possible Israeli troop pullback from northern Gaza in exchange for a crackdown on militants.
The meeting of top security officials was convened late on Saturday as a diplomatic team led by veteran U.S. diplomat John Wolf headed to the region to try to put the Middle East peace "road map" back on track.
Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan met Israeli Major General Amos Gilad in the first such talks since U.S. President George W. Bush launched the peace initiative at a summit last week in Jordan, political sources said.
Israeli media identified the venue as the home of U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer in the Israeli coastal town of Herzlia, a further sign of Washington's determination to push both sides to calm the situation.
But there was little cause for optimism after a week of bloody attacks and counter-attacks that killed more than 50 people.
Violence flared again on Saturday. Palestinian security sources said an Israeli army patrol shot dead a 19-year-old man when it fired on stonethrowers in a refugee camp in Nablus.
Political sources said Israel was renewing its offer to pull back troops surrounding towns in northern Gaza as a proving ground for Palestinian security forces to assume control and prevent militant attacks on Israel.
But an Israeli security source said Israeli forces would "not move a centimetre" unless Dahlan presented a plan for cracking down on radical factions -- a step he and reformist Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas have been reluctant to take.
Hamas, the main group behind a campaign of suicide bombings against Israelis, said it would flatly reject any deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. "We will not accept a ceasefire," Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar told Reuters.
Despite that, Egyptian security officials planned to visit Gaza on Sunday to try to coax Hamas into resuming talks with the Palestinian Authority, security sources said.
The United States has called for restraint by Israel and an end to Palestinian attacks amid heightened international concern that the 32-month-old conflict was spinning out of control.
Wolf was to hold separate talks in coming days with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. His original brief was to oversee implementation of confidence-building steps mandated by the road map, which calls for creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
But following a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem and Israeli air raids against the Islamic militant group in Gaza, he was expected to find himself in the role of trouble-shooter.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had proposed in earlier meetings with Abbas a partial withdrawal from northern Gaza as a test case that could lead to broader pullbacks in the West Bank.
But Abbas had turned down the offer, saying he first needed to work out a deal with militants who have rejected the road map to halt attacks on Israelis.
After three days in which Israel killed six Hamas men and 16 Palestinian civilians, the Palestinians said they were ready to assume security control if Israel stopped strikes on militants.
But Israel, seething from Wednesday's Hamas bombing aboard a Jerusalem bus which killed 17, showed no sign of backing down after vowing to wage war "to the bitter end" against militants.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was due to meet other members of the so-called "Quartet" of mediators -- the United Nations, European Union and Russia -- in Jordan on June 22.
White House Backs Latest Israeli Attacks, Focus Shifts to Arab Leaders' Commitment to End Support for Militant Groups (June 13)
The Bush administration signaled strong support for Israel's crackdown on militant groups yesterday, effectively abandoning its earlier criticism of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that had sparked an outcry from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and pro-Israel lobbying groups. In coordinated statements, White House and State Department officials tried to shift the diplomatic focus from Israeli actions to the commitment made by Arab leaders at a summit last week in Egypt to cut off funding and support for terrorist attacks against Israelis. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made that point in a round of phone calls to Arab foreign ministers, officials said.
Q & A: How the roadmap is affected (June 14) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2984174.stm
Despite Bloodshed, Israel, Palestinians Resume Talks (June 14)
(AP) - Israel offered to withdraw troops from parts of the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinians expressed readiness to take up security control as the two sides resumed talks Saturday to patch up a U.S.-backed peace plan after a week of violence. Meanwhile, the first contingent of U.S. monitors who were to supervise implementation of the "road map" peace plan a team of 10 to 15 officials headed by John Wolf, an assistant secretary of state were headed to the region Saturday.
Hamas rules out ceasefire as both sides bury their dead (June 14)
US peace monitors fly in to salvage 'road map' as Gaza militants threaten to undermine Palestinian Prime Minister.
Mideast Violence Tests Resolve of U.S. Diplomacy (June 13)
Diplomacy by Assassination (June 13)
Israel and Hamas declare all-out war (June 13)
FULL COVERAGE ON THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT
WAR IN IRAQ
Battles rage across Saddam heartland where guerrillas resist US occupation
By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
14 June 2003
American troops said yesterday that they had killed 27 Iraqis who ambushed a tank with rocket-propelled grenades north of Baghdad, bringing to 97 the number of "subversives" killed in two days of clashes. Seventy Iraqis were said to have been killed in a US operation against an alleged terrorist training camp 90 miles north-west of Baghdad, in a battle that started on Thursday. The number of attacks on US forces north and west of the capital has risen sharply in recent weeks. Although President Bush has declared major combat in Iraq is over, some 40 American soldiers have been killed since the beginning of May. At that rate, American casualties since the war may soon exceed those suffered during the war itself.
The US has launched two operations this week to try to stop sporadic guerrilla attacks in the Sunni Muslim heartland north of Baghdad. Some of the resistance is being stoked by leaflets - one of which may have been written by Saddam Hussein himself - that have called for armed resistance against the US occupation. In the tank attack, guerrillas fired rocket-propelled grenades at a patrol of the 4th Infantry Division in Balad, a farming town of 20,000 people, 60 miles from Baghdad. A US statement said: "The tanks returned fire, killing four of the attackers and forcing the remainder to flee. Tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, reinforced with AH-64 Apache helicopters, pursued the enemy personnel, killing 23 of the attackers." No American soldiers were killed or injured in the attack, in which the attackers sprung from a thicket of reeds on an isolated rural road. It is not clear how many Iraqi casualties really were fighters.
In rural areas, Iraqi civilians invariably own weapons, which may include rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine-guns. "A man in Iraq does not think he is really a man unless he has a gun, the bigger the better," said one Iraqi observer. In an indication of growing US anxiety about the number of attacks, some 4,000 American troops have been searching an area north-east of Balad during the past five days in "Operation Peninsula Strike". It is the biggest single operation against guerrillas since Baghdad fell.
In another operation, a US military spokesman said the 101st Airborne and special operations units had attacked a "terrorist" training camp near Haditha in north-west Iraq, after an Apache helicopter was shot down on Thursday. One US soldier was wounded. The two-man crew of the helicopter were both rescued. Some 70 to 80 Sam-7 shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles, more than 75 rocket-propelled grenades and 20 AK-47 rifles were found. Separately, US troops arrested 74 people described as al-Qa'ida sympathisers in a raid on Thursday near the northern city of Kirkuk.
The US portrays its operations this week as "the continuous effort to eradicate Baath party loyalists, paramilitary groups and other subversive elements". But there are signs that many of the guerrilla attacks are spontaneous or in reaction to heavy-handed searches by US troops. In farming areas, Iraqis bitterly accuse US soldiers of entering women's quarters and of spying on the women with night-vision goggles. The atmosphere remains very edgy with many Iraqis claiming there are more guerrilla attacks and heavier US losses than reported, though there is no evidence. Since the dissolution of the 350,000-strong Iraqi army by the US last month, the country is awash with weapons and men, now without jobs but trained to fight.
US troops kill 97 Iraqis in new attacks (June 14)
Saddam loyalists posing problems two months after Bush declared major combat operations at an end - American forces, returning to large-scale combat in Iraq barely six weeks after President George Bush declared victory, have killed at least 97 Iraqi fighters during the past two days in battles against an increasingly sophisticated local resistance. Six US soldiers were also injured in the raids directed at an area north of Baghdad that was a stronghold for many of Saddam Hussein's most loyal supporters. The assaults - intended to "eradicate Ba'ath party loyalists, paramilitary groups and other subversive elements", according to the US military - were ordered after a particularly deadly fortnight for the occupation forces, with 11 soldiers killed. The high casualty rate has sharpened criticism in the US of the Pentagon's plans for postwar Iraq, with conservatives calling for a far heavier presence than the 150,000 American soldiers now in the country. "What you are seeing here is a fundamental reassessment of the situation in Iraq in terms of political and military stability," said Daniel Gouré, a Pentagon adviser at the Lexington Institute in Washington. "We have been operating on two assumptions, that once the war was over that Iraqis would rapidly move into peaceful mode, and second, that there would be a new political and economic spirit in the country. We discovered neither of those assumptions is true." Amid the heat of the raids, military figures now speak openly of a prolonged period of combat.
Fires blaze on major oil pipeline from Iraq's northern oilfields after twin bomb attacks aimed at sabotaging exports (June 13)
Fires blazed on a major pipeline from Iraq's northern oilfields Friday after what residents said were twin bomb attacks aimed at sabotaging exports through Turkey. A correspondent saw two separate fires on the pipeline, 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the key refinery town of Baiji, close to the main highway between Baghdad and the northern regional capital of Mosul. US military helicopters hovered overhead. Residents questioned at the nearby Al-Amin coffee shop said the pipeline had been attacked by Iraqis using explosives around 8:45 pm (1645 GMT) Thursday, the same day Iraq awarded its first post-war oil export contracts.
U.S. Accused of Killing 5 Iraqi Civilians (June 14)
(AP) - Gathered in tents, Iraqi villagers wailed and recited Islamic verses Saturday to mourn a 70-year-old farmer, three of his sons and another relative civilians they say U.S. forces mistakenly killed in their hunt for Saddam Hussein loyalists. Though the military gave no comment on the civilian deaths, the shootings fueled growing anger over what Iraqis describe as insensitive American behavior, from soldiers not removing their shoes before entering homes to search for weapons to the intrusion of low-flying helicopters and roaring tanks.
AP Tallies 3,240 Civilian Deaths in Iraq (June 10)
BAGHDAD, Iraq - At least 3,240 civilians died across Iraq during a month of war, including 1,896 in Baghdad, according to a five-week Associated Press investigation. The count is still fragmentary, and the complete toll if it is ever tallied is sure to be significantly higher. Several surveys have looked at civilian casualties within Baghdad, but the AP tally is the first attempt to gauge the scale of such deaths from one end of the country to the other, from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south. The AP count was based on records from 60 of Iraq's 124 hospitals including almost all of the large ones and covers the period between March 20, when the war began,and April 20, when fighting was dying down and coalition forces announced they would soon declare major combat over. AP journalists traveled to all of these hospitals,studying their logs, examining death certificates where available and interviewing officials about what they witnessed. Many of the other 64 hospitals are in small towns and were not visited because they are in dangerous or inaccessible areas. Some hospitals that were visited had incomplete or war-damaged casualty records. Even if hospital records were complete, they would not tell the full story. Many of the dead were never taken to hospitals, either buried quickly by their families in accordance with Islamic custom, or lost under rubble. The AP excluded all counts done by hospitals whose written records did not distinguish between civilian and military dead, which means hundreds, possibly thousands,of victims in Iraq's largest cities and most intense battles aren't reflected in the total. CLIP
War may have killed 10,000 civilians, researchers say (June 13) http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,976295,00.html
Where are the weapons (June 13)
Where's the 'Intelligence'? (June 13 - Wall St. Journal) http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/dhenninger/?id=110003625
FULL COVERAGE ON IRAQ
FIGHTING AND RISK OF GENOCIDE IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
French Troops Come Under Fire in Congo (June 14)
BUNIA, Congo - French troops leading an emergency force in Congo came under fire for the first time Saturday in their mission to stabilize this northeastern town ravaged by tribal turf wars. The fire fight on the outskirts of Bunia, from which the French special forces emerged unscathed, occurred amid growing concern that the force's mandate is too limited and does not include the demilitarization of the town that six weeks ago boasted a university, a brand-new mobile phone network anda thriving trade in gold. "I don't know why they are here," said Jan Mol, a Dutch priest who has lived in Bunia for 15 years. "It's just show." The French patrol among the first 400 members of a force expected to number 1,400 returned small arms, heavy machine gun and light tank fire after being fired at by attackers about 4 miles south of Bunia, spokesman Maj.Xavier Pons said. Pons said it was impossible to know who provoked the 20-minute gun battle and whether the 70 French troops and 20 vehicles were the target or had been caught in the crossfire between the Lendu and Hema tribal militia. The Hema Union of Congolese Patriots, or UPC, which currently controls the town, blamed the Lendu for the attack on the French patrol. The Lendu could not be reached for comment.
Later, French troops scoured the hilly area from where the fire had come but found nothing "no corpses, nothing," Pons said.
The Hema and Lendu militias began intense fighting for control of Bunia, the capital of unstable Ituri province, in early May after some 6,000 troops from neighboring Uganda pulled out in accordance with an agreement to end a five-year civil war in Africa's third-largest nation.
More than 400 people were killed in a week of fighting between the factions, which were armed with bows and arrows, machetes, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Corpses lay abandoned on the streets for days as a handful of U.N. aid workers and thousands of Congolese seeking refuge huddled in U.N. compounds in the town center and at the airport.
About 700 U.N. troops, who could only fire in self-defense, guarded their compounds and looked on.
The high number of civilian deaths led the U.N. Security Council to authorize the deployment in Bunia of the international force, which began arriving on June 6.
The force, which is authorized to shoot to kill if necessary, has a three-month mission to secure the town and its airport and provide security for displaced people and aid agencies. But the troops won't be deployed outside Bunia where fighting continues and they don't have a mandate to disarm fighters.
The French-led troops will be replaced by a U.N. contingent from Bangladesh in September.
Congolese and analysts say that troubles will continue unless the thousands of tribal fighters some as young as 10 can be disarmed.
The International Crisis Group, a respected Brussels, Belgium-based think tank, on Friday called for a much larger intervention force operating over a much larger area for a longer period of time.
Calling the present emergency force "a stopgap," ICG Africa director Francois Grignon said if Bunia were not urgently demilitarized, the French-led force "is likely to be caught in competing accusations from all the militias that almost certainly will lead to conflict."
Spokesman Col. Gerard Dubois said he was confident the force would succeed in stabilizing the area.
"We have the mandate and orders to respond to aggression and to use our weapons to protect those we have to protect," he said.
The province of Ituri, which is about twice the size of Maryland, is a vast, fertile, mineral-rich region of forests, lush, green hills and rivers running with grains of gold.
But it's also the scene of some of the worst atrocities committed during the civil war in Congo ranging from massacres in churches and hospitals to cannibalism and rape.
Tribal disputes over power, land and other resources date back to the 19th century, but the outbreak of civil war in August 1998 brought a deadly new dimension to their differences as Rwanda, Uganda and the Congolese government armed and supported rival factions. An estimated 50,000 civilians have been killed in Ituri since 1999.
The civil war erupted when neighboring Uganda and Rwanda sent troops into Congo to support rebels seeking to oust then-President Laurent Kabila, whom they accused of supporting insurgents threatening regional security.
Despite a series of peace deals leading to the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, tribal militia and rebel factions backed by Uganda, Rwanda and the Congolese government continue to fight each other in eastern and northeastern Congo.
The best the international force can hope to achieve is a "dampening effect," said Jonathan Stevenson, a senior analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"These (armed) groups maintain an interest in instability rather than stability because they are able to do better for themselves at the end of the barrel of a gun than by entrusting their future politically to the (Congolese) government," he said.
14 June, 2003
French troops in Congo clash French soldiers sent to protect civilians from violence by rival ethnic militias in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been involved in an exchange of fire for the first time.
A military spokesman said there were no French casualties in the clash with unidentified gunmen about six kilometres (4 miles) from the town of Bunia, which lasted about 20 minutes.
The BBC's Mark Doyle, who visited Bunia this week, says the Lendu and Hema militias resent the foreign military presence and it was perhaps inevitable that one of them would test the French-led international force.
Hundreds of people have been killed in violence in the past two months which has pitted Hema militia now based inside Bunia against their Lendu enemies, who are currently mainly to the south.
French troops began arriving in Bunia earlier this week under a UN mandate to protect the civilian population, using force if necessary.
Witnesses said attackers hidden in long grass fired mortars and machine-guns at a convoy comprising 15 all-terrain vehicles, an armoured vehicle and about 70 soldiers, who then returned fire.
A reporter for the Reuters news agency counted at least 10 blasts from mortars fired by the attackers, before French fighter jets appeared overhead.
According to the Associated Press news agency, a few dozen fighters from the Hema faction - known as the Union of Congolese Patriots, or UPC - passed the French troops when the firing started, and some cheered as the French opened fire.
The ethnic unrest in Bunia is stoked by numerous factors - most notably the strategic interests of neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, which have armed the militias, but also by general lawlessness and poverty.
Bunia is still controlled by Hema fighters who are refusing to disarm.
Aid workers say 14 people have disappeared from the town since Sunday and many are still too scared to return home.
Some 50,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflict between Hemas and Lendus in the past four years.
Warnings of genocide prompted the European Union and the UN to intervene in the gold-rich region when fighting flared in the wake of the pull-out by Ugandan troops in May as part of moves to bring peace to DR Congo.
The EU is sending a 1,500-strong, French dominated, peacekeeping force to Bunia.
The pressing need to rescue Congo (June 13)
The international community has finally responded to the humanitarian disaster in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A French-led force of 1,400 troops has been dispatched to Bunia, a war-ravaged provincial capital in the eastern part of the country.
This is good news for the desperate residents and refugees there who have endured attacks by gun-toting militias, and represents a victory of sorts for United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and for the European Union, which has taken the lead in responding to Mr. Annan's pleas for military intervention.
But no one should be under any illusions that this small, UN-sanctioned contingent with a tough assignment and an extremely narrow mandate will have any effect on the broader ethnic warfare in Congo that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the region since civil war broke out in 1999.
As the French commander observed in a briefing for UN Security Council ambassadors, his job is to secure the airport, back up the existing UN mission of fewer than 1,000 military personnel and help guard the population of Bunia and two refugee camps, something the existing UN troops were not equipped to do. His soldiers will try to control roads into and out of the city, but they will not leave its confines or attempt to disarm combatants. This means the violence elsewhere will continue unabated.
And the emergency contingent expects to depart by September, when it is supposed to be replaced by a larger UN peacekeeping force of 3,800, still well below the numbers sought by Mr. Annan. This is better than nothing, and may even save many lives. Previous experience has shown a handful of dedicated professional soldiers can protect civilians from badly trained and poorly led militias. But actually disarming warring factions, restoring a semblance of stability and keeping the peace in the longer term will require much more than the existing feeble commitments, both military and diplomatic.
Hanging over the crisis in eastern Congo is the lingering horror of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. Even a relatively small, properly equipped force might have averted that catastrophe. But the UN Security Council ignored a desperate plea from Canadian general Roméo Dallaire to strengthen his lightly armed peacekeepers in Rwanda, despite his warnings about an impending massacre. Some 800,000 people perished.
The international community vowed not to stand by and allow such atrocities again. Yet there are far more peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, a much smaller country with more of a functioning government than Congo.
Canada should be playing a key peacekeeping role, and was indeed asked to do so several months ago; but it cannot. The Canadian military is already overstretched because of its other obligations. Sending two Hercules transport planes, 40 personnel and retired general Maurice Baril on a diplomatic mission may be about all this country can manage in the current circumstances -- a sad reflection of the gap between the public perception of what Canada should be doing and what it is actually capable of doing.
The Congolese civil war, fuelled by the intervention of neighbouring countries, is the perfect answer to the question: Why does the world need a permanent UN peacekeeping force that can be deployed quickly and effectively?
In the absence of such a force, Mr. Annan is left to beg for sufficient financial and military contributions. The UN peacekeepers who arrive in late summer will be too few and will likely have no more capability than existing troops to stop the butchery outside of the one small patch they will be defending.
The United States, France and other key players should meet the Secretary-General's request for a force of close to 11,000 troops and give them a more expanded and longer mandate, so that they can go about the dangerous task of disarming all the combatants.
Q&A: Ethnic flashpoint
FULL COVERAGE ON THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
CRISIS IN LIBERIA
14 June, 2003
Setback for Liberia peace hopes Liberian rebels have said they will not sign a ceasefire until President Charles Taylor steps down.
"These are our conditions. Mr Taylor must leave office before we sign any formal ceasefire agreement. I want to make that emphatically clear," said Kabineh Ja'neh from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).
Mohammed Ibn Chambas, executive secretary of Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African States which is organising the negotiations, had said earlier he was confident a peace deal would be reached on Saturday.
The Liberian capital Monrovia is currently surrounded by rebels and there have been reports of explosions on the outskirts of the city.
Mr Ja'neh, speaking during a break in the talks, insisted that the president would have to stand down within 10 days of a ceasefire being signed.
"There should also be an interim government in place within 10 days of the signing," he added.
Eugene Wilson of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model) - a new rebel group to have emerged in southern Liberia - also demanded Mr Taylor's resignation.
"We want the United States or the western powers to lead a stabilisation force into Liberia before that," he added.
The Liberian government says as many as 400 people have died in fighting for the capital Monrovia, and many more were wounded after rebels launched a major offensive last week.
Two Red Cross surgeons in the city have been operating on 20 casualties a day.
But the Liberian government's envoy Daniel Chea has said it is "unrealistic" for the rebels to demand Mr Taylor's resignation, arguing that the president's future should be discussed at the talks after a ceasefire.
BBC West Africa correspondent Paul Welsh, who is in Monrovia, says a peace deal is still a long way off, as any ceasefire will only pave the way for full peace talks.
Liberia's Health Minister Peter Coleman said 150 bodies had been found in New Kroo Town - the scene of fierce fighting between rebels and government troops.
The United States has diverted a warship taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom to help with a possible evacuation of Americans from Liberia.
The USS Kearsage, an amphibious assault ship, and its force of 3,000 Marines and sailors, will reach Liberia by the middle of next week.
French special forces have already airlifted hundreds of foreigners to safety.
The United Nations-backed war crimes court investigating the brutal 10-year civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone insists Mr Taylor must still be arrested.
He is accused of backing Revolutionary United Front rebels in the war, during which many thousands of people had their arms or legs hacked off with machetes.
But Mr Taylor warned on Thursday that there would be no peace in Liberia unless his indictment was lifted.
Rebel forces now control some two-thirds of the country.
Residents fear a repeat of the brutal ethnic killings they witnessed during the 1990s civil war, which were supposed to have ended with Mr Taylor's 1997 election.
The peace talks in Akosombo, near the Ghanaian capital Accra, are being brokered Ecowas and a UN-backed international contact group on Liberia.
Q&A: Liberia's conflict
Rebels seek revenge
West Africa's tangled wars
CONFLICT IN ACEH - INDONESIA
Hope falters in Aceh (June 6)
The three-week-old Indonesian military offensive in the rebellious Aceh province has so far produced only corpses and an apparently renewed determination to fight among Acehnese separatists. This week, the EU called on Jakarta and the rebels to return to negotiation as a means of ending the bloody struggle, which is estimated to have cost 10,000 lives since it began almost three decades ago. Many others, including former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, also believe it would be wiser to withdraw the troops and resume talks.
In November 1999 hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets of the provincial capital Banda Aceh to demand a referendum on independence. The people of the region had suffered badly under the regime of President Suharto, whose orders had turned Aceh into an area of intense military activity for the previous ten years. In the hunt for members of the Free Aceh rebel movement, or GAM, thousands of people lost their lives.
In 1999 GAM refused to negotiate with the Indonesian government. According to the logic of the rebel leadership of the time, GAM need have nothing to do with Indonesia because the Dutch the colonial rulers of the region - were in no position to hand the province over to the Indonesian government after independence in 1949. According to GAM a state of war still existed in 1949 between Aceh and the Dutch, going back to 1873.
High hopes Dayan Dawood, the now-deceased rector of the Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, said that at the time of the mass demonstrations, the people of Aceh were not interested in independence but justice:
"I think if the government can listen, and also can offer something, let's say about autonomy, and also the financial sharing, revenue sharing, make it equal. I think the problem can be solved."
Then, in an attempt to solve the Aceh problem, the Indonesian government began secret talks with GAM. The small organisation was finally being taken seriously. Abdurrhaman Wahid was at the time Indonesia's first democratically chosen president:
"The territorial integrity of Indonesia was at question at that time. So because of this, we tried to negotiate and, on the other side, I travelled abroad, to get international recognition for our territorial integrity."
Spiral continues Finally in May of 2000 the talks ended in a so-called "humanitarian pause". The Indonesian army and the GAM rebels agreed to try and limit hostilities, but nothing came of the deal, and violence continued.
In December last year a new accord was reached. At first it looked promising, but problems arose when the time came for GAM members to hand in weapons and for the Indonesian army to pull back.
Now the situation seems to be back where it started with a state of military emergency now in its third week. The GAM wants independence and the Indonesian government is not prepared to go further than autonomy. According to Abdurrhaman Wahid, impatience has contributed to the breakdown:
"We wanted the negotiations to succeed soon, but in fact these negotiations will take tens of years. When you negotiate, they begin with the so-called high call', the highest bid. Then you get less and less and less, until you reach a point agreeable to the two sides."
Blame on army Otto Syamsudin, an Acehnese human rights activist in hiding, blames the Indonesian army for the failure of the accords. He says a military operation not only strengthens the political power of the army but also allows them to earn money:
"The army once again wants to gain control over vital projects in the region. They say they have to be there to protect industry. At the same time big budgets have been set aside for the military operations and there is no clear accountability for this. This can only make the chance of corruption bigger."
The Indonesian army will have to behave professionally if it doesn't want to further lose the support of the people of Aceh. But above all, according to former President Wahid, the Indonesian political apparatus must unify under a strong leader in order to find resolution:
"The Acehnese soon will recognise the fact that the Indonesian government cannot deliver all its promises. The government is divided, so to have a strong position, the president has to lead, so now the government needs that kind of leader."
Support for Foreign Military?
U.S. Weapons Aid Repression in Aceh
By Frida Berrigan
June 12, 2003
Far from the spotlight and far from Baghdad, another shock and awe campaign is underway. On May 19th, Indonesia launched a military campaign to strike and paralyze a small band of sepa-ratist rebels in the Aceh province. In a made-for-TV photo op, 458 soldiers parachuted onto the island from six C-130 Hercules transport aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the United States largest defense contractor. As many as 40,000 Indonesian troops and a police force of 10,000 followed close behind, backed up by warships, fighter planes, and other high-tech military equipment, declaring war on 5,000 separatist guerillas armed with automatic weapons, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades.
The attack, which is Indonesias biggest military campaign since its invasion and occupation of East Timor in 1975, follows the breakdown of five months of peace talks between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government. Nongovernmental organizations working to bridge the gap between GAMs assertion of total Acehnese independence and Jakartas insistence that Aceh remain part of the nation, campaigned for both sides to accept greater Acehnese autonomy and at least some say over how profits from the islands rich resourcesincluding oil and gas reservesare apportioned. While there was popular support for these compromises throughout Indonesia, and the peace talks had broad supportincluding from the Bush administration and international lending institutions the negotiations broke off in mid-May.
Indiscriminate Killing Acehnese rebels have been fighting for independence for 27 years, in a guerrilla war that has cost the lives of 10,000 civilians and forced tens of thousands more to leave their homes. civilians and hundreds of government soldiers have been killed.
While Indonesian military officials claim to be targeting armed rebels, they are employing drain the ocean to kill the fish tactics, with brutality and indiscriminate killing. On May 21st, Indonesian soldiers carried out two massacres; killing at least 14 unarmed people, including two 12-year-old boys. That was not an isolated incident. According to Amnesty International, the Indonesian military has engaged in extrajudicial executions of civilianseven children. The human rights group also charges that there is widespread
torture of detainees in both military and police custody. Two weeks into the intervention, the Indonesian military claims that it has killed 112 GAM fighters and captured 160, with an additional 92 surrendering. It also says that its own casualties and civilian deaths have been kept to a minimum, reporting that 10 soldiers and one civilian have been killed. Rebel sources contest these figures, saying that scores of civilians and hundreds of government soldiers have been killed.
While the true number of civilians killed in this intervention probably lie somewhere between the GAM and military counts, the displacement of civilians by the military is ongoing and well-documented by outside sources. The London-based Times quotes the Jakarta government as saying that as many as 200,000 civilians living in GAM strongholds will be interned in strategic hamlets for the duration of the war. The majority of the schools in the region have been burned to the ground. While GAM and the Indonesian military each blame the other for the arson, the destruction was well orchestrated, which points to the military as the culprit. This seems to be part of a larger plan to draw popular support away from the rebels.
Given the central role of U.S. weapons in this new round of government sanctioned killing, weapons that Indonesia has paid for already, how can the Bush administration wield its influence to demand more from our ally than transparent indiscriminate killing?
If the assertions that weapons sales equal influence are to be believed, the White House and Congress must muster the courage and compassion to demand an immediate cessation of military activities and a return to the negotiating table. Otherwise, our government bears some responsibility for the indiscriminate (but transparent) killing of unarmed Acehnese civilians.
Indonesia: Conditions Decline in Aceh
(New York, June 5, 2003) Human rights conditions in the separatist province of Aceh are deteriorating quickly, Human Rights Watch warned in a briefing paper, "Aceh Under Martial Law: Human Rights Under Fire," released today. The Indonesian military has prohibited most international observers from visiting Aceh since the conflict reignited two weeks ago, making it difficult to confirm reported abuses by both the military and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Human Rights Watch has recently received reports of extrajudicial executions by Indonesian forces,of plans by the Indonesian military to forcibly relocate large numbers of Acehnese, and of a wave of school burnings across the province.Human Rights Watch urges both sides to seek a solution to the conflict that respects the basic rights of the civilian population. "It is predictable that human rights abuses will get worse in an armed conflict out of the public eye,"said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. "If there is nothing to hide, Indonesia should immediately allow free access to Aceh. Given the terrible record of both the Indonesian military and GAM, the fate of civilians in Aceh today is a serious worry."
Human Rights Watch urged both sides to respect international humanitarian and human rights law in the conflict, and expressed concern about reports of imminent shortages of food and medicine. Both sides are obliged under international law to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance into areas under their control. Thus far, the Indonesian government has insisted that humanitarian aid be handed over to it for delivery.
"The Indonesian government should allow experienced international organizations to get on with their work of distributing relief," said Adams.
Indonesian non-governmental organizations have been threatened for reporting abuses. Lists of activists alleged to be sympathetic to GAM have been drawn up. Government officials have threatened to charge them with subversion, which carries the death penalty. Local phone service has been disrupted. The main highway from Medan to Aceh is now controlled by a series of military checkpoints. The few independent journalists in Aceh fear that they may soon be expelled by the Indonesian authorities in retaliation for reporting abuses by Indonesian forces.
Senior Indonesian military officers have made public statements urging an aggressive, all-out war to "crush" GAM. Others, however, have insisted upon the protection of human rights.
"It is important for Indonesian authorities to speak with one voice on the protection of human rights," said Adams. "This conflict will be a big test for the Indonesian military, which hasn't shown much regard for the laws of war in the past."
Human Rights Watch also welcomed the recent announcement of military justice proceedings against a group of soldiers for beating civilians.
"It would be a big step forward for the Indonesian military if genuine prosecutions are conducted," said Adams. "The world will be watching to see if this becomes the norm or is just a public relations stunt. If this becomes part of the military culture, Indonesia may be able to avoid a repetition of the painful and embarrassing process of trials for senior military officers that it is now going through for abuses committed in East Timor."
Human Rights Watch urged the international community to remain engaged on Aceh. "It is vital that the United States, Japan, and the European Union that have worked very hard to avoid renewed warfare in Aceh, continue to seek a rights-respecting solution to the conflict," said Adams.
After a six-month ceasefire, on May 19, the Indonesian government authorized a military solution to the longstanding conflict in Indonesia's northwestern Aceh province. Human Rights Watch has documented abuses by both sides in a series of reports over the last decade.
Angry response to Aceh grave claims (June 12)
Claims that a mass grave has been discovered in the province of Aceh were treated with scepticism by the Indonesian military.
The Indonesian National Commission of Human Rights said it had heard credible reports of a mass grave in Bireun, an area which has seen fierce fighting in recent weeks.
But the Indonesian army has reacting angrily to the reports, with one senior army official quoted as promising to "knock their heads off" if the group's claims proved unfounded.
Stories of mass graves in Aceh have been circulating for some days, but the military authorities in the province have placed severe restrictions on journalists, making independent verification extremely difficult.
A member of the commission, Mr M M Billah, told the BBC that the grave was believed to contain as many as fifty bodies, but their identities were not yet known.
Mr Billah said the commission was planning to send a team to Aceh next week to investigate the area.
But the Indonesian army's chief of staff, General Ryamizard Ryacudu, was circumspect about the claims.
"I will knock their heads off if they are just talking," he said, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Indonesia's military spokesman, who is known as Nachrowi, said the information about the graves needed to be checked.
"Whether the grave contains dead cows or humans, and who the victims are, needs to be confirmed," he told the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency.
There have been persistent reports of human rights abuses committed by both sides in the conflict, including beatings, rape and extrajudicial killings.
This week, a total of six Indonesian soldiers serving in Aceh were found guilty by a military tribunal of beating civilians unconscious during recent security operations.
Around 5,000 rebels are fighting against more than 30,000 government troops in Aceh.
About 12,000 people have been killed in province since the rebels launched their campaign for independence 27 years ago.
Aceh Under Martial Law: Human Rights Under Fire HRW Backgrounder, June 2003 http://hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/aceh060503bck.htm
FULL COVERAGE ON INDONESIA
CONFLICT IN CHECHNYA
No respite in Chechen killing
6 June 2003
A wave of terrorist attacks in and around Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya in recent weeks has made it clear that peace in the region is as distant as ever. Despite Moscow's claims to the contrary, Chechen violence has continued and even shown some signs of getting worse, with separatists increasingly adopting the extreme tactic of suicide bombings, as seen in Thursday attack on a bus in North Ossetia, which left 19 dead.
Another suicide attack, devastation, carnage: the pictures from Russia's volatile republic of Chechnya are becoming all too familiar. In less than a month, almost a hundred people have been killed in terrorist attacks in or just outside the republic. The attacks were aimed at Russian troops or local Chechen officials, considered collaborators by rebels who continue their resistance against the Russian presence in Chechnya. But scores of civilians have been killed in these attacks as well.
Bombings continue Thursday's bus bombing was aimed at Russian air force personnel from a base near Mozdok, just a few kilometres from the Chechen border in the neighbouring republic of North Ossetia. From here, Russian planes and helicopters leave to attack Chechen rebel positions in the southern mountains of the republic. These bombing raids continue, in spite of Moscow's claims that the situation in Chechnya is getting back to normal and that the war is all but over.
Moscow blames the recent suicide bombings - a relatively new phenomenon to the Caucasus - on international terrorism, and draws a direct link to attacks on American targets in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. A Chechen resistance movement, it says, no longer exists, and those who continue to attack Russian forces in the region are mercenaries and ordinary bandits. Any peace talks with them are out of the question.
Large-scale threat This includes Chechen rebel president Aslan Maskhadov, who is hiding out somewhere in the mountains. Russia claims he masterminded the recent attacks in the Caucasus, and also last year's hostage drama in a Moscow theatre, when some eight hundred people were taken hostage by a group of Chechen rebels. Almost 130 hostages and all the hostage takers died when Russian forces stormed the building. The hostage takers said they were ready to blow themselves up together with the hostages if their demands were not met. For the first time, Russia was faced with the threat of a large-scale suicide attack.
The attack in Mozdok comes just days after high-level talks in St Petersburg, where various world leaders praised Russian president Vladimir Putin for his policies on Chechnya. A referendum on a new constitution held there in March was, they said, a big step forward and a clear sign that Moscow wanted to solve the Chechen conflict by political means. In addition, Russia's lower house of parliament adopted a law on Friday, granting amnesty for Chechen rebels willing to lay down their arms.
No closer In reality, these steps are unlikely to bring a lasting peace any closer. As with an earlier amnesty, only a handful rebels are expected to hand themselves in. There is no indication that the number of attacks against Russian forces and Chechen officials has diminished in any way. On the contrary, the increased use of suicide bombers is a worrying sign of a radicalization of the Chechen resistance. Almost daily, Russian troops and Chechen civilians die when their vehicles run on mines planted by the rebels.
Moreover, the Chechen population continues to suffer from random violence by Russian soldiers. And the murder rate in Chechnya is higher than anywhere else in the world. These are the reasons why most of the tens of thousands of Chechen refugees in neighbouring Ingushetia are afraid to go back: they fear for their lives. If anything, the situation is not improving. It may be getting worse.
Chechen women join terror's ranks (June 12) http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0612/p01s03-woeu.html
Chechen fights extradition (Jun 10, 2003) http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,974133,00.html
Chechen Natural Gas Official Gunned Down (Jun 9, 2003) http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20030609/ap_on_re_eu/russia_chechnya_2
Chechen suicide bomber kills 16 on crowded bus (Jun 6, 2003) http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/story.jsp?story=412774
Bombing Seen as Linked to Rebel's Terror Threat (June 6) http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-fg-chechnya6jun06001416,1,1467218.story?coll=la-news-a_section
Russia's parliament approves amnesty for Chechen rebels (June 6) http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1503&ncid=1503&e=19&u=/afp/20030606/ts_afp/russia_chechnya_approve_030606081347
Chechen bomber hits Russia (June 6)
Chechen bomber kills at least 16 Russians (June 6) http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20030606/UCHEC2W_2/International/Idx
Attack Kills at Least 17 Near Chechnya - Washington Post (June 6) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21145-2003Jun5.html
FULL COVERAGE ON THE CHECHNYA CONFLICT
VIOLENCE IN NEPAL
Despite Ceasefire, Maoist Writ Runs in Rural Nepal (June 11)
KATHMANDU (OneWorld) - Maoists in the hinterland of this Himalayan kingdom continue to issue diktats that are adversely affecting normal life, despite agreeing to a code of conduct with the government after the January ceasefire.
According to recent news reports, the Maoists brazenly breach the code of conduct in their strongholds by restricting the movement of people, demanding money in the name of donations and preventing officials of local bodies from carrying out their work.
Recently, in the central district of Ramechhap, Maoists "banned" the movement of farm produce from one village to another. The order effectively ended the traditional fair markets that are usually held every week in the district and the adjoining villages of Sindhuli district.
Fair markets are held regulary in rural Nepal to encourage the barter of goods and services. "The Maoists' order will deal a big blow to our livelihood," a local merchant said.
The rebels usually do not issue direct orders against the movement of people and goods. But in many other parts of rural Nepal, there is the added inconvenience of scrutiny by government security forces. In many districts, the local administration imposes night curfew frequently even now, four months after the ceasefire.
Another Maoist embargo was imposed in the northwestern district of Baglung, where the rebels "prohibited" the sowing of rice seeds this year. A farmer in Amalachaur village, Chudamani Lamichchane, was warned not to engage in rice plantation.
That was enough to scare other villagers into stopping rice cultivation. "They (the Maoists) have come to our houses to eat in the past. Now they do not want us to plant rice. What will we eat? What have we done wrong?" asked a village elder.
More recently, the Maoists have even begun to hinder the functioning of local bodies such as village development committees. In the central district of Sindhuli, the Maoists have forced the village secretaries to return to district headquarters. In the mid-western district of Dang, they obstructed the distribution of voter identification cards.
The absence of village development committee secretaries has resulted in a backlog of civic administration work, such as the registration of births, deaths, marriages, the issue of ration cards and recommendations for passports.
Birth certificates are required for school admissions, while ration cards entitle holders to get kerosene at subsidized rates. But some schools have relaxed the birth-certificate requirement.
The Maoist activity has also led to an exodus of youth to foreign countries. In Hangum village of the eastern district of Panchthar, the village elders have recruited Bhutanese refugees from nearby camps to construct roads. According to Dev Mangal Khatiwada, secretary of Hangum village committeee, 100 youngsters have left the tiny hamlet since July.
Although the code of conduct expressly calls for ending extortion, there are regular reports of people being asked to cough up money. In the eastern, hilly district of Khotang, village secretaries were reportedly asked to "contibute" Rs 50,000 (about US $ 640) each.
Many secretaries have chosen to flee their villages and move to the district headquarters. Here, they not only feel relatively safer but are also able to to work normally.
Local Development Officers, who are in charge at the district level, have tried to persuade the secretaries to return to their villages. But the secretaries refuse to go back unless the situation improves.
Not much appears to have changed in Nepal's rural areas despite the ceasefire. "Their guns have remained silent, otherwise everything is business as usual," said a former MP, requesting anonymity.
The defense ministry has issued many statements, warning the rebels against extortion. Maoist leaders, on their part, deny any extortion and instead claim it is all propaganda by the government.
The rebels even discredit mobile camps operated by the Royal Nepalese Army to provide health and other services in the rural areas. "The RNA is engaged in spy works under the pretext of providing services to local people. This is unacceptable to us," says Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal, a member of the Maoist team constituted to hold talks with the government.
The situation remains fluid and the unfurling political instability is worrying the rural people. Any untoward incident could jeopardize the fragile peace that's been holding since the end of an eight-year insurgency that killed more than 8000 people.
Nepal rebels try talks, not guns (June 6, 2003) http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0606/p06s01-wosc.html
FULL COVERAGE ON NEPAL
THE KASHMIR DISPUTE
Indian president to visit Kashmir on June 25-26 (June 14)
NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will visit the restive Himalayan region of Kashmir on June 25 and 26, a report has said.
Kalam will be the first president to tour the insurgency-wracked state in several years, and will visit the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, the predominantly Hindu Jammu region and Buddhist-dominated Ladakh, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said Saturday.
Kalam is expected to present colours to the state police and attend the convocation of Kashmir University in the summer capital Srinagar.
He will also meet members of Kashmir's provincial assembly, elected late last year.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Kashmir in April and offered a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan, which has been followed by steps on both sides to restore diplomatic ties and air links.
India accuses Pakistan of arming, training and funding the Islamic militant groups battling New Delhi's rule in the region, a charge Islamabad denies.
Kashmir has been the spark for two of the three wars between the two nuclear rivals. The region is divided between the two but both claim it in its entirety.
More than 38,000 people have died in Kashmir since the outbreak of the anti-Indian rebellion in 1989. Separatists put the toll twice as high.
Indian minister welcomes Musharraf's willingness to meet Vajpayee (June 14)
NEW DELHI (AFP) - India Defence Minister George Fernandes has welcomed a statement by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf that he was willing to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for talks.
"This is a positive development," Fernandes was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency on Saturday.
In an interview with Indian TV channel NDTV 24X7, excerpts of which were released Friday, Musharraf said: "Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali may be a better person for him to meet, but if Mr Vajpayee is willing to meet me, I would be more than willing to meet him and lead the talks."
India-Pakistan relations have begun to thaw in recent weeks following Vajpayee's offer of a hand of friendship to Pakistan on April 18, which was followed by steps on both sides to restore diplomatic ties and air links.
But Fernandes said there was still a long way to go before talks could be held.
"Confidence-building measures (undertaken by the two countries) are not an indication towards a resumption of the dialogue process," he said.
"There has been some talks regarding resumption of bus and train services to Pakistan. But that does not mean we are moving towards resumption of talks.
New Delhi has made clear the offer of talks is dependent on Pakistan halting the flow of Islamic rebels from its zone of disputed Kashmir into the Indian sector. Islamabad denies that it plays a part in rebels crossing the border.
More than 38,000 people have died in Kashmir since the eruption of an anti-Indian rebellion in 1989. Separatists put the toll twice as high.
Fernandes said there had been no let up in infiltration.
"More or less, things are the same on the border," he said.
"There is no change in our stand that Pakistan must end cross-border terrorism before a resumption of the dialogue process," he added.
The minister said the Indian army was planning further crackdowns against militants after an operation launched on April 21 in the rugged jungles of the frontier Surankot district killed 62 rebels.
Musharraf 'would see Vajpayee' President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has said he would be more than happy to take part in new talks with the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.
In an interview with the Indian news channel NDTV, President Musharraf said that the failure of the last summit between the two men in 2001, had led to a campaign in which he and his government had been maligned.
He said that in the present context, his Prime Minister, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, might be a better person to meet Mr Vajpayee, but he would take part himself if the Indian leader was willing to meet him.
According to NDTV, President Musharraf repeated that the issue of Kashmir needed to be at the centre of any talks.
He said that no talks would succeed unless this was addressed.
President Musharraf said he would like to see sporting ties resumed - something that Pakistan has proposed in the past.
FULL COVERAGE ON THE KASHMIR DISPUTE
VIOLENCE IN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan Insurgent Attacks Rise, U.S. Says (June 14)
KABUL, Afghanistan - Insurgents in eastern Afghanistan fired rockets at a U.S. base Saturday, the latest in a series of attacks against American forces.
Three rockets were fired at the U.S. base in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province, U.S. military spokesman Col. Rodney Davis said. The rockets missed, as scores of others have over the past year, and they caused no damage or casualties.
"We've seen an increase in the number of engagements and rocket attacks ... over the last few months, but we believe that there is something seasonal to that," Davis said.
Insurgents appear to be increasingly launching attacks now that freezing temperatures have given way to warmer weather, Davis said.
Last week, insurgents fired on patrolling U.S. forces near Shkin, a volatile town in Paktika province near the Pakistan border, triggering a firefight that left four attackers dead.
Two Americans died in late April after a battle with at least 20 rebels in Shkin, and in late March two U.S. troops died when their convoy was ambushed in the southern province of Helmand.
Aid workers and Afghan military forces nominally loyal to the government have also come under increased attack in southern and eastern Afghanistan in recent months. On June 7, a suicide bomber struck in the capital, killing four German peacekeepers and one Afghan civilian.
The insurgents are a mix of holdouts from the former Taliban regime, fugitive members of the al-Qaida terrorist network and loyalists of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister.
About 11,500 coalition troops, most of them Americans, are headquartered at Bagram Air Base, north of the capital. In the north and east, they routinely conduct patrols and operations in search of rebels and weapons caches.
Crossroads in Afghanistan (June 11)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may have spoken too soon when he declared last month that the combat phase in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001, is now over and the reconstruction phase has started.
The suicide-bomb attack on German troops last Saturday in Kabul, which killed four soldiers, was but the latest in a series of attacks. The danger is that the victory in Afghanistan will unravel in the face of attacks from Al Qaeda, Taliban remnants, and recalcitrant warlords. To prevent that, the US and the rest of the world must act quickly to deploy a larger international security force outside the capital and to increase reconstruction aid to the impoverished country.
The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai faces huge challenges. The new Afghan Army numbers only about 4,000 to 5,000 troops stationed mostly around Kabul - far short of the 70,000 or more needed. President Karzai depends on local warlords to keep order, but many enforce their own policies, ignoring the central government, and most refuse to forward tax revenues to the central government, depriving it of funding.
Karzai visited Britain last week and asked for another $15 billion in development aid. The world can't afford to withhold appropriate assistance. To do so would abandon Afghanistan to chaos, leaving the country wide open for the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to move back in and resume the export of terror.
But aid will be meaningless unless there is security in the provinces for aid and construction workers on projects that benefit local people.
The US has been oddly hesitant to expand the international security force outside the capital. The administration was originally reluctant to do too much nation-building in Afghanistan. The US wants to have a free hand and avoid the expense involved in larger deployments. Even if European or other troops are involved, the US still must provide logistical support.
But there is little choice. President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who quarreled over Iraq, have rightly reaffirmed their commitment to fight terrorism together. When NATO takes over peacekeeping operations in August, the US, Europeans, and others must increase their forces and security coordination.
Civilian Victims of U.S. Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan
A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States' Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting [revised] "What causes the documented high level of civilian casualties -- 3,000 - 3,400 [October 7, 2001 thru March 2002] civilian deaths -- in the U.S. air war upon Afghanistan? The explanation is the apparent willingness of U.S. military strategists to fire missiles into and drop bombs upon, heavily populated areas of Afghanistan."
Mission impossible II: Kabul
CARE Wants More Troops in Afghanistan (June 14) http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/wire/sns-ap-us-afghanistan-peacekeepers,0,6026247.story?coll=sns-ap-world-headlines
NEW YORK -- The head of the humanitarian organization CARE pushed the U.N. Security Council this week to pass a resolution to send more peacekeepers to Afghanistan and to accelerate development of a "robust" police force while the new Afghan national army is being trained. Humanitarian agencies such as CARE are particularly concerned about Afghanistan's growing insecurity because many attacks have directly targeted aid workers. On Thursday, a man riding a motorcycle tossed a hand grenade into the office of an Italian aid organization in Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province. No one was injured.
FULL COVERAGE ON AFGHANISTAN http://story.news.yahoo.com/fc?cid=34&tmpl=fc&in=World&cat=Afghanistan
STANDOFF WITH NORTH KOREA
Railway reconnects two Koreas (June 14)
North and South Korea have held a symbolic ceremony to re-link cross border railways severed by war more than 50 years ago. Engineers from both sides tightened the screws on the railway tracks that will, it is hoped, eventually carry passenger trains between the two countries.
The event came a day before the third anniversary of an historic inter-Korean summit in which the then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung made a euphoric visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. Reconciliation has since stalled, and tension has heightened over North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes.
"Removing barbed-wire fences and mines, the nation's artery has been re-linked," said South Korea's chief delegate Cho Myong-kyun, speaking inside the four kilometre (2.5 mile) demilitarised zone that separates the two countries.
His North Korean counterpart Kim Byong-chil said: " "If we continue moving forward, with our hands linked together, we will be able to tear down the barbed wire of division and achieve national unification." The ceremony was supposed to have taken place in March, but was delayed because of the war in Iraq and the standoff over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Despite Saturday's ceremony it will be some time before trains run between the two Koreas, which were divided at the end of World War II. The last train crossed the border shortly before the 1950-53 Korean War. The two countries remain technically at war, as there was a ceasefire but no formal treaty. Two railways links are planned, but more work is needed.
Both sides have said they want to complete the restoration of the western line by September. This will run between Seoul and Pyongyang, and extend to North Korea's border with China. If work goes to schedule, a rail link along the eastern coast will be ready by the end of the year.
But despite the progress on rail links, the BBC's Charles Scanlon in Seoul says North Korea's nuclear weapons programme is increasingly threatening reconciliation between the two countries. On Monday, North Korea threatened to develop a "nuclear deterrent" unless the United States ends its "hostile policy".
It was the closest North Korea had come to publicly admitting that it was working on nuclear weapons. Our correspondent says it has put a growing strain on South Korea's policy of reconciliation - what used to be known as the sunshine policy.
The United States and Japan have agreed on tougher measures - meaning sanctions - if the North continues to build nuclear warheads. South Korean officials stress that dialogue is the only solution to the confrontation.
U.S. Pullback from DMZ Is Good Tactics, Good Politics (June 9)
It may run counter to conventional wisdom and startle veterans of the Korean War, but the agreement by Washington and Seoul to the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from the tense border separating the two Koreas makes sense both militarily and politically.
The "trip-wire" force of 17,000 U.S. soldiers guarding the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, against invasion since 1953 has outlived its usefulness. Over several years, the frontline 2nd Infantry Division will be redeployed to "hub" bases south of Seoul, joining the rest of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. It will be replaced by well trained and equipped South Korean army forces, which are fully capable of providing a credible defense for their own country. That was not the case when the trip-wire force was deployed at the end of the Korean War, when South Koreans welcomed their U.S. protectors.
Today, South Korean sentiment has turned against the U.S. military presence and fears of an invasion by the North have abated, despite tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. A reduced U.S. military role - or at least the perception of it - is politically desirable to Seoul and Washington.
In current military terms, a trip-wire force would do little to counter Pyongyang's most formidable conventional threat: the long-range artillery batteries aimed at the South Korean capital, only 37 miles south of the DMZ. The trip-wire force no longer provides an effective defense and only a dubious sacrificial benefit - the notion that, if American soldiers are killed, there would be greater U.S. commitment to fight back. Repositioning the trip-wire force to the south takes it out of immediate harm's way and allows a swift counterattack.
The joker in this reshuffled deck is North Korea. How will Pyongyang interpret the redeployment? Will it see it as a sign of weakness, or a shrewd tactical maneuver? The repercussions may be unclear for some time but, on balance, they should prove more positive than negative.
Witness Describes Life in North Korea (June 11)
Loose Leash on N. Korea (June 12)
To prevent North Korea from exporting both nuclear weapons and regime-financing drugs, the United States, Japan, and Australia are trying to look for ways to inspect North Korean ships and want other nations to join them. Japan took the first action Tuesday when it detained two North Korean vessels in its ports for "inspections." North Korea saw the move as "a sort of ... sanctions," which, if its recent warnings are to be believed, would amount to an act of war.
FULL COVERAGE ON NORTH KOREA http://story.news.yahoo.com/fc?cid=34&tmpl=fc&in=World&cat=North_Korea
GUERILLA WAR IN COLOMBIA
Superman Uribe holds back the tide (June 5)
ALVARO URIBE, Colombia's president, says with glee that his idea of Friday-night relaxation is to stay at his desk until 2.00am, ringing police and army commanders across the country to quiz them about security in their areas. Most Saturdays, the president flies to a provincial town and holds a community council, a town meeting lasting 12 hours or more at which locals can interrogate officials about everything from sewers to policing.
It is no wonder that after ten months in office in Latin America's most conflict-ridden country, Mr Uribe, an intense former lawyer, looks exhausted. But Colombians seem impressedespecially since Andrés Pastrana, his predecessor, was not exactly a stakhanovite. I haven't promised miracles. But I have said to my fellow citizens [that] you will have my permanent effort, day and night, says Mr Uribe.
That effort is starting to pay off. Colombians elected Mr Uribe last year because he promised to restore order to a democracy foundering under the violence of two guerrilla armies and another one of rightist vigilantes, all of them financed by drugs, kidnapping and/or extortion. Apart from its human toll, insecurity had begun to undermine Colombia's economy, too. When Mr Pastrana's lengthy effort to negotiate peace with the FARC, the largest guerrilla army, collapsed last year, many Colombians saw in Mr Uribe a last chance.
Now there are incipient signs that decline has halted. Mr Uribe has begun to expand the security forces, unleashed a massive assault on the drug trade and pushed through economic reforms. Not everything is going well. But the president remains extraordinarily popular. When last month the FARC killed 9 hostages, including two politicians, during a bungled rescue bid by the army, Mr Uribe took responsibility for the debacle: his popularity promptly climbed from 60% to over 70%.
The government's priority is improving security. With American military aid, Mr Pastrana had begun to make Colombia's army more professional, setting up a helicopter-borne rapid-reaction force. Mr Uribe aims to go further: he wants to impose the state's control over those (mainly rural) areas, amounting to half of a vast country, where it has been lacking, while trying to increase the pressure on the rebels, partly through improved intelligence.
To do this, Mr Uribe plans to raise defence spending (including police and pensions) from 3.5% of GDP to 5.8% by the end of his term in 2006. Using emergency powers, he has levied a one-off war tax on companies and the rich. So far, the government has trained 10,000 extra police, and raised a new force of 16,000 part-time peasant soldiers. Their task: to establish garrisons in 192 rural towns which lacked police, something officials say will be achieved by the end of this year. By then, too, a new American-trained army battalion will start guarding Colombia's main oil pipeline against sabotage. Two new mountain battalions have been deployed to deny the FARC the freedom of the high Andean cordilleras; another two will follow.
The government is trying to improve its intelligence. After the collapse of the peace talks, the United States changed its policy, allowing its aid to be used against guerrillas instead of just against drugs. So it is passing on more information to the Colombians; an extra $105m in aid, tacked on to a bill paying for the Iraq war, will be partly spent on additional spy planes. On the ground, all citizens are being encouraged to become informers.
Mr Uribe claims results already. He says that between January and April, killings were down by 21% and kidnappings by 32% on the same period last year; in Medellín, where the army took control of a slum area, killings fell by 32%. More than 1,500 rebels have deserted. And the rightist paramilitaries have been less active; some have begun peace talks.
Yet caution is in order. After a decade of steady expansion, the FARC does seem to have suffered a strategic setback. It has gone back to hit and run attacks by small groups. It has also staged terrorist bombings in the cities, though its urban network looks weak. But the improvement in security is so far largely one of perception. A campaign to encourage Colombians to use main roads at holiday weekends, under army escort, has been a particular success: road traffic is up by 65%, says Mr Uribe. Yet the FARC looks little damaged: the army has failed to capture any of its top leaders. The guerrillas have fallen back, and are waiting to evaluate the weak points in the government's strategy, says Alfredo Rangel, a security analyst.
In other words, Mr Uribe's effort will fail unless it is refined and sustained. There are two main criticisms. One comes from human-rights groups. They say that the government has targeted civilians in guerrilla areas, with mass arrests. And they worry that it is weakening independent oversight of the security forces. An anti-terrorist bill in Congress would give the police and the army judicial powers of search and arrest. But they would have to inform the prosecutor's office of arrests. The government needs permanent legal tools against terrorism but we won't limit basic freedoms, Mr Uribe claims.
What about the civilians?
The second, related, criticism is that the government has yet to work out an effective strategy for rebel-held areas. Under emergency powers, which have since lapsed, Mr Uribe decreed two particularly war-torn areas to be rehabilitation and consolidation zones. But this achieved little. There is no effort to win over the civilian population in these areas, says Antonio Navarro Wolff, an independent senator. He also notes that the FARC has begun proselytising in universities.
Perhaps the most dramatic action has been against drugs. The United States has finally completed delivery of a large fleet of 21 crop-dusting aircraft to spray coca fields with weedkiller. Mr Uribe is using them with gusto. His government has increased the weedkiller's strength, and let small plots as well as large plantations be sprayed. By December, the UN reported a big fall in coca cultivation, to 102,000 hectares (252,000 acres), a 30% fall in a year. Since then, the government has been wiping out 15,000 hectares a month. By next year, Colombia will not be a significant exporter of drugs, claims Fernando Londoño, the justice and interior minister.
Many are sceptical of that claim. The minister is very optimistic, admits Mr Uribe. Again, perseverance will be crucial. We might knock it all out by the end of the year, says Anne Patterson, the American ambassador in Bogotá. The challenge is to keep it down, in terms of commitment and resources.
One problem is what happens to the 600,000 or so people employed by the drug trade. Mr Uribe inherited an economy that has grown only at a sickly pace since a deep recession in 1999. The public debt was spiralling out of control. As well as tax rises, his government pushed through pension and labour reforms, and has cut spending. It has won extra money from the IMF and multilateral development banks. It is now on track to meet the target for this year's fiscal deficit of 2.5% of GDP. Growth has picked up, too: in the first quarter, GDP expanded by 3.8% compared with the same period last year. But sustaining this requires new investment, and for that security is the key, says Sergio Clavijo, a central-bank director.
Mr Uribe has made least progress in his pledge to reform politics. A referendum on constitutional reforms, which may be held in July, has turned into a patchwork quilt, including some fiscal measures. It is not a panacea, but it is a step in the right direction, Mr Uribe concedes. Meanwhile, Congress is promoting a political reform which scarcely deserves the name. Some analysts reckon that the failings in this area are down to the arrogance of Mr Londoño.
But the government faces a bigger problem: Mr Uribe runs everything himself. Even his ministers are said to be in awe of him; he undermines them by dealing directly with their subordinates. No Colombian president in living memory has had such omnipresence, says Fernando Cepeda, a political scientist at Bogotá's Andes University. He has restored presidential authority, but will he restore the authority of the authorities, of ministers, governors and mayors? That is the challenge for the next three years.
213 trade unionists murdered (June 11)
Colombia is the most dangerous place on earth to be a trade union official, with 184 unionists assassinated there last year alone, the international trade union movement said yesterday.
Out of 213 trade unionists murdered around the world, Colombia, where the leftwing rebel movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has been battling the state for 40 years, accounted for 184, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said. It remained "the most dangerous place on earth for trade union activity".
In an annual report on labour violations around the world, the ICFTU singled out the Latin American country for "its appalling toll of murder, beatings, 'disappearances' and intimidation carried out with impunity".
Eighty union officials were forced to flee abroad last year, it added. There were 27 attempted assassinations, 189 death threats, nine "disappearances", 139 arbitrary arrests and 27 abductions.
Colombia has long topped the ICFTU's list of shame, but the Brussels-based organisation said the situation had deteriorated markedly, with fewer unionised workers and no attempt to bring the paramilitary killers to justice.
Colombia was not an isolated case, it said. Thailand, Egypt, Burma, China, Zimbabwe and Belarus were other countries which held trade union rights in disdain.
SPECIAL REPORT ON COLOMBIA
FULL COVERAGE ON COLOMBIA
CRISIS IN ZIMBABWE
Zimbabwe slips deeper into chaos as cracks in regime show
June 7, 2003
She said her name was Dora and she had come for the revolution. Jaw clenched, staring straight ahead, she gripped her handbag and sat on the bench in downtown Harare, willing herself to stay.
Africa Unity Square was the assembly point for what the opposition called D-Day, the climax to a week of protests against Robert Mugabe's regime. Dora arrived yesterday just before the appointed time, 10am, and realised she was on her own.
But not alone. From different corners of the square hundreds of youths in white T-shirts - militia from the ruling Zanu-PF party - streamed into what was supposed to be the crucible of the revolution.
Around the city roved at least 2,000 militia, backed up by police and army units, even helicopters, in an unprecedented show of strength.
This was President Mugabe pulling out all the stops, for he sensed this week of general strikes and street demonstrations was perhaps the gravest threat to his 23-year rule. Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, was yesterday arrested for the second time since Monday and charged with treason, which carries a possible death sentence. He is already on trial on a separate treason charge.
The opposition ran full-page adverts in yesterday's independent Daily News: "We are winning against the dictator! This is the moment you have been waiting for. Protest peacefully - march for your freedom." They called for millions to turn out.
But, unlike economics, the government does repression rather well: it declared the protests illegal, stopped people entering cities and those who did make it to the assembly points were too intimidated to do anything.
Dora was an exception. In her early 30s, dressed in a business suit, she was about the only person in Africa Unity Square without a white T-shirt saying "No to mass action". She was visibly nervous but the voice was steady: "I came because it is my duty to be here. It is time to make a stand."
The interview ended when seven militants surrounded me and demanded to know which newspaper I was holding. "It's the Daily News," shouted one, and another raised a stick. When they saw it was not, they stepped back and smiled. "My friend, you're OK now."
In fact it was the Zimbabwe Independent, a Mugabe critic, and the splash headline said "Govt lashes out as protests spread". To be beaten for possessing one paper and not the other made no sense, but then little does in today's Zimbabwe.
What consistency the Mugabe regime had - reward friends and punish real or perceived opponents - seems to be unravelling as the crisis bites. Anecdotal evidence suggests the chain of command is fraying.
This week Zanu-PF militants invaded a privately run school outside Harare, forced staff to sing and dance in praise of the regime and slaughtered one of their goats. Two of the pupils are children of the president's sister, Sabina Mugabe, and when told she "hit the roof", said one teacher, but the militants continued harrassing.
Police told Duke De Coudray, the owner of a hardware store, that he would be charged with treason for not opening his store in support of the general strike, but Zanu-PF members said they would attack if he did open.
Yesterday's show of force ensured that D-Day passed without deliverance for the opposition but analysts said the level of repression was unsustainable. Most of the time the helicopters cannot fly for want of fuel and salaries are running out for the men with guns and clubs.
A police unit which raided the University of Zimbabwe stole not only the students' mobile phones and jackets, but biscuits and bread, which they devoured on the spot. "They seemed starving. It was amazing," said one student.
Three years after government-sponsored farm seizures started devastating the agriculture-led economy, rock bottom seems in sight.
To add to the mile-long queues for scarce petrol now there are queues outside banks for scarce cash - the central bank cannot afford ink for banknotes, among other things. Annual inflation is 269%.
After a series of one-day stoppages the main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had called for a "final push" this week, with five days of strikes and demonstrations to force Mr Mugabe's resignation.
The security forces crushed the protests by detaining MDC leaders and beating hundreds of activists. At least one, Tichona Kaguru, 33, died from his injuries, and dozens more were beaten again while being treated at Harare's Avenues clinic.
The more traditional tactic of beating people at home under cover of night continued, said the MDC, which published graphic pictures of bruised and broken limbs.
About 3,000 students who tried to march from Harare's university were dispersed by teargas and live rounds fired over their heads.
Before his arrest Mr Tsvangirai voiced defiance: "From now onwards we will embark on rolling mass action at strategic times of our choice and without any warning to the dictatorship. More action is certainly on the way."
The crackdown succeeded in crushing demonstrations but not the strike, one of the deepest and longest in African history, which turned cities into ghost towns. It was a message to the Zanu-PF factions plotting to succeed Mr Mugabe to hasten the 79-year-old's exit.
Speaking from a new safe house Roy Bennett, an outspoken MDC MP, claimed victory. "We showed who has the power in the country, who rules. To be able to shut down major cities for five days shows where the power lies.
"The damage to the economy was massive and weakened the ruling party's position and should force them to the negotiating table."
By the time Mr Bennett and his wife made it to Africa Unity Square, Dora had gone and they were the only MDC representatives. "The scale of the security intimidated people," he said.
Malnutrition Threatens Zimbabwe Children (June 13)
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Children are dying of hunger in Zimbabwe and many others will die if emergency action is not taken soon, U.N. officials said Friday.
A survey children under six years old by the United Nations agency for children, UNICEF, found high levels of severe malnutrition in several areas, especially in larger cities.
"Children are dying and if we don't ratchet up our response many more children will become malnourished, and many of those who are already malnourished will die," said Gerry Dyer, the head of UNICEF's regional office in Johannesburg.
The survey, which studied 50,000 children, was the largest of its kind in Zimbabwe.
UNICEF declined to give any precise figures for the number of children who have died or who are severely malnourished. However, it said in Harare, for example, malnutrition rates have doubled since 1999.
"It's clear that in one quarter of the districts we have alarming rates of malnutrition. The response has to be (properly) met by the international community," Dyer said.
Zimbabwe's once impressive agricultural production helped feed all of southern Africa. But food production has been wrecked by erratic rains and the state's often violent seizure of most white-owned commercial farms. Vast tracts of farmland either lie fallow or have been carved into subsistence plots.
The region has faced a food crisis in the past year but while the situation in most neighboring countries is stabilizing, in Zimbabwe, the crisis remains acute.
Opposition groups and human rights activists say that the government of embattled President Robert Mugabe is using food as a political weapon in a country where over half the people are at risk of starvation.
The food crisis in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere in the region, has been compounded by the AIDS pandemic. Some 2.3 million of Zimbabwe's 12 million people are HIV-positive, and about 10 percent of those infected are children under the age of five.
Without proper nutrition, HIV infected children are at even greater risk of death.
Zimbabwe counts the cost after a week of strikes and savagery (June 8) http://news.independent.co.uk/world/africa/story.jsp?story=413386
Zimbabweans will return to work tomorrow after a week of strikes and violently repressed attempts at protests. But the country's daily suffering - including shortages of food, fuel, electricity, cash and even blood - is expected to bring a rapid return of tension.
Harassed' Mugabe rival in jail (June 13)
More Mayhem From Mugabe (June 13)
Tsvangirai taken to court in shackles (June 12)
FULL COVERAGE ON ZIMBABWE
PEACE AT RISK IN SRI LANKA
Double blow to Sri Lanka peace bid with sinking, assassination (June 14)
COLOMBO (AFP) - A Tamil Tiger merchant ship was blown up following a tense stand-off with the navy, while the assassination of a Tamil politician further compounded problems for the island's faltering peace process.
The navy intercepted a rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) vessel, which they alleged was on a gun running operation off the island's northeastern coast, defence officials said Saturday.
The navy said the Tiger vessel which had no markings or flag, was with a smaller craft, probably unloading cargo from the bigger vessel.
Defence Secretary Austin Fernando said the navy had told him that the crew of the ship had blown up the vessel before the navy could board it as the smaller boat fled with a full load of cargo.
"We have taken steps to report the matter to the monitoring mission," he said referring to the Scandinavian team monitoring the truce between government forces and the LTTE which has been in force since February last year.
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) said 12 rebels were aboard the vessel and that they had jumped overboard before the craft sank.
Renewed violence in Sri Lanka (June 14)
International ceasefire monitors in Sri Lanka say a rebel Tamil Tiger boat has been sunk after a confrontation in the high seas with the navy. The truce monitors say 12 rebel sailors who were on board the boat jumped overboard when it exploded, but it is not known yet whether they were rescued. The details of this clash, which took place early on Saturday, are disputed.
PROSPECTS FOR PEACE - BACKGROUND
Analysis: Talks fears grow
Key issues explained
Child soldiers dispute
THE COST OF WAR
Landmine dangers continue
Sri Lanka peace process
FULL COVERAGE ON SRI LANKA
OTHER ISSUES OF INTEREST: CHILD TRAFFICKING, etc.
Stop Child Trafficking in West Africa
Child trafficking is a global human rights tragedy. It is estimated that over one million children worldwide, including thousands in West Africa, are recruited from their homes each year by individuals seeking to exploit their labor. Extreme poverty, sometimes combined with the death of one or both parents, makes children highly vulnerable to false promises of education, vocational training or paid work. Upon their recruitment, trafficked children often travel long distances without adequate food and shelter, in some cases suffering severe injury or death on the way. At their destinations, they work long hours in homes, markets, fields, and factories. In many cases, they undergo extreme forms of physical and mental abuse, including beatings, death threats, and the prospect of never seeing their families again.
Governments have an obligation under international law to protect children from these appalling abuses-indeed, from all practices similar to slavery. Whether working as sex workers or in other forms of work, trafficked children may be vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Even if they are lucky enough to escape, they may find themselves living on the street and forced into hazardous work, including begging and sex work, to survive. Providing basic protections to victims of child trafficking, as well as prosecuting traffickers to the full extent of the law, are the responsibility of all governments. Preventing the recruitment and transport of children through improving access to education (especially for girls), stepping up border patrols and educating parents are crucial. Multilateral agreements on the prevention and prosecution of child trafficking, as well as the repatriation and protection of trafficked children, cannot be negotiated too soon.
This campaign page provides basic information on how you can contribute to the struggle against child trafficking. For more detailed information on child trafficking illustrated in a case study on Togo, see the Human Rights Watch report, Borderline Slavery: Child Trafficking in Togo at http://hrw.org/reports/2003/togo0403
Questions & Answers with Jonathan CohenChristian Science Monitor, Web posted on April 28, 2003
More on Child trafficking at
America's imperial delusion - The US drive for world domination has no historical precedent (June 14)
The present world situation is unprecedented. The great global empires of the past - such as the Spanish and notably the British - bear little comparison with what we see today in the United States empire. A key novelty of the US imperial project is that all other empires knew that they were not the only ones, and none aimed at global domination. None believed themselves invulnerable, even if they believed themselves to be central to the world - as China did, or the Roman empire. Regional domination was the maximum danger envisaged until the end of the cold war. A global reach, which became possible after 1492, should not be confused with global domination.
US embarks on global reshuffle of troops (June14) http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/cms.dll/html/uncomp/articleshow?msid=22886
WASHINGTON: The US has begun a dramatic realignment of its military forces abroad, making key changes in the Middle East and Asia and preparing a restructuring in Europe to confront emerging 21st century threats. US officials said that the changes were intended to enable American forces to combat terrorism and rogue states armed with weapons of mass destruction. Some moves already have been made in Saudi Arabia and South Korea in the aftermath of the Iraq war, and a major reduction in US forces in Germany is expected to follow.
Fast forward into trouble (June 14)
Four years ago, Bhutan, the fabled Himalayan Shangri-la, became the last nation on earth to introduce television. Suddenly a culture, barely changed in centuries, was bombarded by 46 cable channels. And all too soon came Bhutan's first crime wave - murder, fraud, drug offences. Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy report from a country crash-landing in the 21st century
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