Friday, October 31, 2003

US: Russia/Romania ... they both start with "R"

Earlier this week, Donald Rumsfeld had lunch with the president of Romania, Ion Iliescu. The people in charge of putting the tiny flags on the table must have gotten their "R" countries confused because they set out the Russian flag instead.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Sierra Leone: heroin videos

Officials at Gatwick Airport were surprised to discover heroin spilling out a diplomatic pouch destined for Sierra Leone's high commission in London. To be precise, the heroin was packed inside video cassettes and the bag containing the cassettes burst, spilling the tapes and betraying their contents.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Egypt: ... after Mubarak?

The Atlantic has a piece looking at who will succeed Egypt's Hosni Mubarak ...?

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

DRC: UN Security Council expected to suppress chapter

One chapter in a report about resource plunder in the Democratic Republic of Congo might be kept under wraps by the UN Security Council. The possible sticking point ...
... [The]section was given to the 15 Security Council members only. UN officials feared it would wreck the peace process by its allegations against Rwanda, Uganda and parts of the Kinshasa government, cited in previous reports as heavily involved in the pillaging, diplomats said.
If you recall, there was a brouhaha last year after the same panel released a report naming companies and individuals involved in plundering the DRC's resources.

Get this ...
The panel's reports have been fraught with controversy, first because they were loosely formulated, then because its accusations touched a political nerve. The United States wants the probe closed at the end of November as do Russia and China, for different reasons, council envoys said.
I wonder what those "different reasons" are.

Monday, October 27, 2003

France: Euthanasia debate (re)ignited

You have to read this story. It's about a case in France that has (re)ignited the euthanasia debate.

Three years ago, 21-year-old Vincent Humbert was in a car accident .... it left him a quadriplegic, blind, unable to speak, and without a sense of smell or taste.

A month ago, his mom injected him with something that put him into a deep coma ... she was arrested. And a couple of days later, the doctor in charge switched off the artificial respirator. He is quoted saying that he is therefore the one responsible for taking Vincent's life.

Here is a detail from the article that I can't get out of my head.
"The life I am forced to lead is a shit life. It is not a life, it is not my life. I can lead it no longer; I will lead it no longer," he [Vincent] wrote in a book, I Ask For the Right to Die, that was published the day after his death.

To write it, he indicated what he wanted to say, letter by letter, by squeezing a journalist's palm with his right thumb - the only part of his body he could move - while the man repeatedly recited the alphabet. It has since sold 300,000 copies, and is at number two on the French non-fiction bestseller list.
I am still struggling with the whole issue of euthanasia. The case of Terri Schiavo down in Florida would count as my worst nightmare. Humbert at least stated that he wanted to die and there is official record of it. In Schiavo's case, it's her husband's word ... and if this story is to be believed, he may have monetary/personal reasons to want her feeding tube removed (story found via Kaus).

Sunday, October 26, 2003

US: religious groups and foreign policy

Interesting NY Times article on the influenece evangelical Christians wield in the Bush Jr. White House.

It's really nothing new ... but it's an interesting article nonetheless. The gist of the article is as follows ...

Evangelicals see the war in Sudan as a fight btween the Muslim North and mainly Christian South. They spoke to folks in the WH about their concerns and a few years later ... Powell is in Kenya talking to the two parties in the Sudanese peace talks.

The other issues important to the evangelicals are sex trafficking (which Bush focused on in a UN speech) and AIDS.
The groups were also influential in the development of the president's commitment to fight global AIDS, particularly the part of the policy based on Uganda's A.B.C. campaign, which promotes, in order, abstinence, being faithful and condoms.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Sudan: peace deal by Dec. ... or maybe not

After a two hour meeting, Colin Powell announced that Sudanese VP Ali Osman Taha and SPLA leader John Garang have agreed to reach a comprehensive peace agreement by December.

But hold on ...

AP quotes Sayed el-Khatib, a member the government delegation
"It's a hope [December target]- it is not unrealistic to set as a target, but we do not want anybody to think its going to happen without any doubt. ... Pressure sometimes works and sometimes backfires, but the important thing is that everybody will give it their sincere effort."
And AFP quotes another government official
"It is impossible for anyone to dictate a date on the two parties that are negotiating," presidential peace adviser Ghazi Salaheddine said in Kenya hours after US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced....
Cross your fingers.

Iraq: Muqtada al-Sadr to be arrested?

The Guardian, quoting an unnamed official, is reporting that US & coalition forces are preparing to arrest Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for murder.
"The belief of the coalition is that al-Sadr is not containable," the council source said. "They believe there is enough evidence that Muqtada was involved in the Khoei assassination and want to act to clip his wings before he can cause any more damage."
I don't have a good feeling about this.

South Africa: human rights lawer was apartheid spy

Bee-zarre story.

A judge is investigating whether Bulelani Ngcuka, SA's top prosecutor, was a spy for the pro-aparthied regime during the 80s. On Tuesday, a human rights lawyer now living in the UK, admitted that she was agent RS452. Vanessa Brereton represented a number of anti-aparthied activists while she worked as an agent for the government.

Here's where it gets bigger and messier. The prosecutor, Ngcuka, was the guy involved in the corruption investigation of deputy prez Jacob Zuma.

Despite Vanessa Brereton's admission, Ngcuka is not out of the woods. The commission will continue ... investigating "the possibility that Ngcuka was a spy with a different codename."

Ngcuka's main accusers are two former ANC intelligence operatives.

Prez Mbeki defended his deputy in an adress before religious leaders, saying that corruption is not a problem in SA. (Read the piece ... he talks about how Zuma wasn't even involved in the deal that sparked the scandal.)

Somalia/Somaliland: aid workers killed ... UN not sending any more

Two more aid workers have been killed in Somaliland. Richard and Enid Eyeington were sent by the charity SOS Children's Villages to open a secondary school.

Two weeks ago, another notable aid worker, Annalena Tonelli, was murdered.

The UN has announced that it will not send any more aid workers to Somaliland until the situation stabilizes.

These deaths are troubling because the self-declared state of Somaliland has been relatively stable. Since Somalia fell apart a dozen years ago, the only region that has had any measure of sucess has been Somaliland. It has had peaceful elections, opened up schools, and the economy had been doing well.

For first-hand stories .... Yvette Lopez is an aid worker in Somaliland and maintains this blog.

For some BG, here is a BBC article from 2001. And here is another, more recent article, about the controversy surrounding this year's election.

Miss Piggy goes to the Middle East

I love this story ...

The European Union just gave a $2.9m grant to the makers of Sesame Street ...

A new series designed for viewers in Israel, Jordan, and the occupied territories is going to be launched in the coming weeks.

I have faith in the power of muppets.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Uganada: Museveni says won't be drawn back into DRC

Here is something interesting ... Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni said that he would not be drawn back into conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ... no matter what the threats to Uganda.

Later in the article we have this bit of news ...
Two weeks ago, Ugandan intelligence sources said they had evidence that the Allied Democratic Forces - a rebel group led by Tabliq Islamist rebels that terrorised Uganda in the 1990s - were regrouping in their former bases in DRC.

... The threat from Ugandan rebels operating in DRC was the official reason Uganda joined Rwanda to oust Mobutu Sese Seke's government in 1997

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Nigeria: no petrol in Lagos ... strike tomorrow

Labour unions have called for a nation-wide strike tomorrow to protest the deregulation of fuel prices -- essentially a price hike.
Although rich in crude, Nigeria refines little of its own petrol and relies on expensive imported fuel, which it subsidizes to keep down the price of a commodity most here regard as a birthright.

... In Lagos, filling station managers told AFP they have not received supplies for 48 hours, because, according to them, fuel marketers "are slowing down on imports in view of the planned strike".
Back in June & July, labour unions organized a 10-day work stoppage which paralysed major cities and forced the government to scale back an earlier fuel price increase.

South Africa: 20% of soldiers HIV +ve

South Africa's defence minister, Mosiuoa Lekota, dismissed the idea that the HIV infection rates in the military are any cause for alarm. He said that 20% to 22% of the country's soldiers are HIV positive -- which is the same rate/percentage as in the general population.
The SANDF does not recruit people with what he termed “the condition”. Those who contract HIV later are deployed according to their abilities. Those who develop full-blown Aids will be looked after by their employer, Lekota added.
This isn't a new story. We've known for a while that the HIV rate in the military is high. It's the minister's reaction/analysis which is interesting. This AP story has the ubiquitous Jane's quote ...
Helmoed Heitman, an analyst for Jane's Defense Weekly, said the rate of infection could have serious consequences for the military since troops with weakened immune systems couldn't be deployed to places in Africa where they would be exposed to many different diseases.

AIDS: connection between circumcision and HIV

Please note, I haven't looked into this story ... but here's the bit tha caught my attention.

Some researchers are looking into whether being circumcized reduces the chances of HIV infection in men. Here's the interessting bit ...
Some researchers argue that the skin on the inside of the male foreskin is 'mucosal', similar to the skin found on the inside of the mouth or nose. This mucosal skin reportedly has a high number of langerhan cells, which are HIV target cells rich in white blood cells or doorway cells for HIV.

... The Dean of the College of Health Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe, Ahmed Latif, says scientific evidence does prove that circumcision in children allows the skin to keratinize (harden) like the back of the hand, thereby affording a great deal of protection against infections.

Chad: tracking oil $$

Here is another fascinating story from today's Finacial Times (I love this paper!).

Chad just started a program to track how oil revenue is spent. The World Bank is involved in this project.
Revenues from royalties and dividends will go to a special escrow account in London. After deduction of loan service payments, 10 per cent is earmarked for a "future generations fund", 5 per cent for the producing region and the remainder for priority spending in sectors such as education, healthcare, roads and water supply, all vetted by an oversight committee.

On the original planning assumption of oil at $15 a barrel, well below today's price, the Chad oilfields were expected to generate $13bn over the next 25 years.
The one thought nagging at me is that the program seems a bit patronizing. But considering how badly Africa's wealth has been managed in the past, it would be irresponsible not to look at this project seriously.

Sudan: UN peacekeeping troops?

Here is an interesting story in today's Finacial Times.

Britain has asked the UN Security Council to "authorise preparations for a possible UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan".

But the interesting bit is in these last two paragraphs ...
But France this week said the UN should not rush into action before an agreement was reached [between Sudan's govt. and rebels], and the UN should not begin contingency planning before the matter was on the Security Council agenda.

Analysts said its stance could be a negotiating tactic to speed the creation of a similar mission in the Ivory Coast. British and French officials were expected to discuss the matter on Wednesday.
Peace talks between government and rebels resumed this week and people are holding out some real hope. Seems the British proposal in the Security Council is a manifestation of that hope ... and darn proactive!

Uganda: Prez's fear of "hostile doctors"

It's wise to be cautious but there's still something amusing about this story ...
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Sunday he and his family travel abroad for medical treatment because he fears "hostile doctors" who could try to kill him.

In a letter to the independent Sunday Monitor and government-owned Sunday Vision newspapers, Museveni said that the problem with the Ugandan medical system is "that some of the doctors are partisan."

... "The issue is about security given some of the hostile doctors we have in the medical system here. In spite of being in Kampala for 17 years now, I have never rushed into a clinic and had my veins pierced in order to draw my blood for examination," Museveni said in the letter. "Even abroad, we take precautions."
Here is the story in the Monitor which started the whole thing. The paper estimated that it cost $90,000 to fly the president's daughter to Germany to deliver her baby.

Museveni's response ... he paid for all the medical expenses and the jet trip cost $27,000 not $90,000 (the public still paid).

Ethiopia/Eritrea: more on the border dispute

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has put out this report on the tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea over their border. The report is an easy read ... and relatively short at 16 pages.

The ICG is calling on the international community to become more involved in the dispute to "make implementation of the demarcation more politically palatable [emphais mine]."

Recall from yesterday's post that Ethiopia's request for the UN to get involved in the issue has already been rejected.

Burundi: another deal

The President of Burundi and the leader of FDD, the main rebel group, reached a deal in Pretoria. (But FNL, a smaller rebel group, rejected the deal.)

This piece outlines the main points of the new deal. Here are a few of the points I found interesting.
- On the military side, the FDD gets 40 percent of staff and officer jobs in the new army, with command posts being split evenly between Hutus and Tutsis, the country's two dominant ethnic groups.

- The FDD and the government undertake to form a new police force, with the FDD making up 35 percent and a 50-50 ethnic balance between Hutus and Tutsis. A similar arrangement will be made for a new national intelligence service.

- FDD and government soldiers will move to areas determined by an earlier ceasefire agreement. Those deemed ineligible to form part of the new Burundi National Defence Force will be demobilised.
Last December, the government and FDD had signed a ceasefire agreement which failed to take hold.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Ethiopia/Eritrea: border dispute continues

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bitter two-year war in 1998 over the demarcation of their border. In 2000, they agreed to let an independent border commission decide the matter and agreed to accept the Commission's ruling as "final and binding". Last year, the Boundary Commission ruled that Badme - the small town at the heart of the dispute - is part of Eritrea. Ethiopia has refused to accept the decision.

There are domestic reasons for Ethiopia's stance.
Diplomats say there is no question that Prime Minister Meles is under enormous domestic pressure to bring about changes to the controversial ruling. Yet Ethiopia's earlier appeals for concessions to the ruling have fallen on deaf ears.

While Ethiopia is ready to let certain sectors be marked out, officials say that demarcating contested areas - in particular the town of Badme - could fuel another war.

Eritrea, meanwhile, is totally opposed to a sector-by-sector demarcation and insists the ruling was “final and binding and should now be implemented in full.

... That domestic pressure [in Ethiopia] began to manifest itself last week when 15 opposition groups united, announcing an anti-demarcation ticket as their strategy for the 2005 elections.
Ethiopia had sent a letter to the UN Security Council asking the UN to wade in. The request was rejected and Ethiopia told to accept the border ruling.

Demarcation of the border was/is supposed to start this month ... and end by mid next year.

Liberia: Monrovia "gun free" by Thursday

The head of the peacekeeping team says that Monrovia will be free of weapons by Thursday (so precise). The interim goverment led by Gyude Bryant is supposed to take over next week.

For the past few weeks, there have been stories that former president Charles Taylor is still meddling in Liberian affairs. Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo even went on the record, warning Taylor to stop interfering. The U.N. special representative for Liberia, Jacques Klein, is quoted in this VOA report making the same allegation.
"The evidence is that several ministers have visited him in Nigeria, that three or four businessmen have visited him in Nigeria," he points out. "We know that from sources within Monrovia, that he is on the telephone to people in Monrovia threatening them, demanding pay-offs."

In a telephone interview from Monrovia, the Liberian information minister, Reginald Goodridge, denied that the former president is playing any kind of inappropriate role in Liberia. ...

Mr. Goodridge also sees no reason that what he called Mr. Taylor's old friends should not visit him in Nigeria.
This is a fascinating interview with David Crane, the chief prosecutor of the United Nations-created Special Court for Sierra Leone. Crane beleives Taylor's asylum in Nigeria is only temporary ... here are the pertinant bits.
One has to understand that when I publicly announced the indictment of Charles Taylor on the fourth of June, I said that Charles Taylor has to be removed from the equation for true peace to start in Liberia -- and actually all of West Africa. Certainly that happened on 11 August when he stepped on an airplane and went into exile to Nigeria as a disgraced war criminal. A legitimate peace process began to take place.

.... So, what we're doing with Nigeria at this point is allowing the dust to settle to ensure that peace starts in Liberia. But Nigeria is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions ... They state clearly that if you have a known war criminal, or someone who is suspected of being a war criminal that you should investigate or put that person on trial yourself, or turn them over to the appropriate organization. They know this; they know they have to do this and so I am allowing Nigeria to sort this out.

... Internationally, domestically there is a great deal of support for this to happen [hand Taylor to the war crimes court]. President Obasanjo has very little support for keeping Taylor in Nigeria. Civil society, local NGOs as well as the Nigerian Bar Association, the Nigerian Journalists Association, former commanding generals of Nigerian troops who lost their lives in Liberia back in the mid-nineties - there have been thousands of Nigerian soldiers and civilians murdered by Charles Taylor and his forces in the 1990s.