Europe Rejects US Push in Colombia
BRUSSELS — In an almost unanimous vote, the European Parliament has rejected the US-backed "Plan Colombia," saying it’s "not the product of a process of dialogue amongst the various partners in society," and "stepping up military involvement in the fight against drugs involves the risk of sparking off an escalation of the conflict in the region." It adds, "Military solutions cannot bring about lasting peace."
With 474 in favor and only one opposed, the resolution is the strongest statement to date stressing that Europe intends to steer clear of the US military approach, especially chemical spraying of drug crops and the threat of a biological war on coca. "Plan Colombia contains aspects that run counter to the cooperation strategies and projects to which the EU has already committed itself," says the parliament, "and it jeopardizes European cooperation programs." During the debate, Spain was strongly criticized for its initial support of the US plan, particularly statements by Spanish EU representative Javier Solana.
The resolution sets the stage for the next round of international donor conferences in support of the Colombian peace process, beginning in Brussels on April 30. Europe is expected to present the details of its announced increased support for Colombia. As far as the EU is concerned, Plan Colombia is a bilateral deal between the US and Colombia, and the EU wants no part of it. For more, go to www.tni.org/drugs/.
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No Easy Answers for Small Arms Trade
MOGADISHU — Despite efforts by a new administration, Somalia is still ruled by the gun. Rifles and other weapons are on view everywhere; more are secreted in homes and militia hideouts. Thus, it’s no wonder that the government’s top priority is disarming the militias that still rule the streets.
The plague of light weapons, especially semi-automatic assault rifles, isn’t unique to this country. Since the end of the Cold War, millions of small arms have flooded the black market, fueling conflicts from Sierra Leone to the Solomon Islands. Most are produced in the US, France, Britain, Russia, and China. From July 9-20, a UN conference in New York on the illicit trade will bring the problem into focus, hopefully assisting efforts by peace groups and some governments to stop it.
Unfortunately, these durable weapons stay in circulation long after conflicts end. Across eastern Africa, they help promote a pattern of violence — from ethnic cleansing in Kenya and cattle rustling in Uganda to civil wars in the Sudan, Burundi, and the Congo. Experts say many of the weapons originally entered the region through Somalia. Rifles, pistols, sub-machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank missiles, hand grenades, and land mines have killed almost 8 million people, one fourth of them children, in African conflicts.
So far, government efforts to have people turn in their guns have proven ineffective. One possible alternative, being pursued by Somalia’s Pastoral Peace and Development Initiative (PPDI) in association with Oxfam, is to offer development help in exchange for disarmament; for example, if people hand in 100 guns, they could get a school or health clinic.
Meanwhile, Somalia is offering militiamen food and training if they turn in guns. However, once people get money or food, they may simply buy another weapon. PPDI sees guns as a symptom. The cause, it says, is resource-based conflict, mostly over water.
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AIDS Profiteers Put on Notice
SAO PAULO — Brazil is cracking down on transnational pharmaceutical firms that charge exorbitant prices for medications that fight AIDS. If manufacturers Merck and Roche don’t reduce the prices of two anti-AIDS medicines used in the drug cocktail that helps control the disease, Brazilian Health Minister Jose Serra threatens that their intellectual property rights will be suspended. To compete, Brazil will consider domestic production.
In 2000, Brazil spent $108 million to import the drugs, 36 percent of the total cost for free distribution of anti-AIDS drugs to 100,000 patients. Currently, the country imports only four of the 12 drugs used, which has already led to disputes with pharmaceutical firms that claim Brazil is violating their intellectual property rights.
The New York Times reports that Brazil "has halved the death rate from AIDS, prevented hundreds of thousands of new hospitalizations, cut the transmission rate, helped to stabilize the epidemic, and improved the overall state of public health in Brazil." Widely recognized as having one of the most efficient programs in the developing world, it has offered to help South Africa and other countries fight the disease.
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Reinstating the Royals
BELGRADE — The royal family is back in favor in post-war Yugoslavia. In another break with the Communist past, the federal Parliament passed legislation in February restoring their citizenship.
Fifty-four years ago, on March 8, 1947, the country’s Communist rulers stripped 10 members of the Karadjordjevic family of their citizenship. The group had fled to London in 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the country. Three family members are still alive, including Crown Prince Alexander, his aunt, Princess Jelisaveta, and an uncle, another Prince Alexander.
"The times of sanctioning different opinions and forcing people into political exile should be over," says the new administration. Another bill, expected soon, will restore their property rights.
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NATO Forgot to Stop the War
PRISTINA — The new line on NATO’s role in Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) attacks within Serbia is that it hasn’t prevented the assaults, due to "decisions taken before the change of government" last year. According to a BBC report, NATO authorities admit that its forces haven’t stopped the KLA from smuggling weapons or holding exercises beyond the border security zone. In fact, Western forces have even trained some of the guerrillas.
In other words, NATO thought it was trying to stop the KLA, but was actually supporting them. Then, after Milosevic was replaced, it simply forgot to stop.
The new president, Vojislav Kostunica, warned that "fresh fighting" is likely between Serb and ethnic Albanian troops. In February, four Serb policemen were killed by suspected KLA guerrillas fighting for the independence of Albanian towns near the Kosovo border. Hundreds of KLA fighters operate on the boundary between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia. Their leaders have seized political power in many villages within the zone.
Yugoslav officials worry that KLA actions will prompt the Yugoslav military to enter the security zone, creating another Albanian refugee crisis. Artillery, mortars, and tanks have already been used in violent battles between the Yugoslavian army and the separatists.
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NEW YORK — Fed up with punishing welfare reform and institutional racism, two Ohio women have embarked on a 41-state trek to dramatize the plight of children, welfare mothers, and the homeless. As Kim Denmark and Rose Patton walk across the country, they’ll talk with victims of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act and encourage people to gather in Washington, DC, this August for a demonstration when the legislation is up for renewal.
"If we have a strike in all the states of workfare workers, withhold our labor, they would have to listen," Patton adds. "Most workfare workers don’t know the law, that they can take a day. We need to have a day of a national strike for workfare workers."
The two women have been on the road since 1998, so far walking across the eastern US and parts of the Midwest. To find out when they’ll be in your area, check out www.kimwalks.org, follow the link from www.iacenter.org, or call (212) 633-6646.
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Cyber Hype Targets Cuba
HAVANA — Signaling a renewal of the long-term disinformation campaign against Cuba, new CIA chief Admiral Thomas Wilson has voiced fears that the island nation could launch a so-called cyber attack against the US. In response, Radio Havana recently offered its analysis:
"Surely no sensible person could think that Cuba, a small country which has been criminally blockaded for more than 40 years by the very power that has developed the most sophisticated technology — the most powerful cybernetic force in the world — can be a serious danger in this area. In fact, they are the ones who can, and do, try to send viruses into our computer systems, which could destroy the few computer networks that Cuba has.
"Admiral Wilson’s declarations have been quickly taken up by the press, which has begun to speak of Washington’s serious concern about such a probability. They are already referring to the so-called ‘Cuban information terrorism’ in the same fantastical language as the old space comics.
"However, we cannot take this lightly. And although the accusations may sound ludicrous, they could be the preamble to new aggressive measures, whether they are cybernetic or not."
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Muzzling Nepal’s Indy Radio Surge
KATHMANDU — Fledging private radio stations in Nepal suffered a setback in January, when the government banned popular current affairs programs aired by 11 broadcasters. The international media watchdog Reporters sans Frontieres calls the decree "a step backward, which represents an attempt to limit press freedom by depriving the Nepalese population of independent news."
The decision came shortly after anti-India riots in which five people were killed. The government blamed the press for fanning the flames. Under the new rules, private radio can only broadcast news from authorized sources, and must submit reports to the Information Ministry a week in advance. The stations are prohibited from airing "news-oriented" programs on agriculture, good government, transparency, and women.
The decision is a major setback for private radio, which has grown recently in Nepal. The first private station to compete with government-owned Radio Nepal was launched in 1997. Since then, 10 others have gone on the air, and 24 companies are seeking licenses. In Palung, a farming community, a loudspeaker tied to a tree has been used to broadcast for over five years. After airing information about farmers who beat their wives, domestic violence all but disappeared.
That community and many others now want their own FM operations. But government restrictions could hinder these efforts. On the other hand, some people don’t think the ban will last. "Times have changed," says a media consultant, "and the government must come to terms with the changing realities and growing sophistication for improved quality and content."
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Public Backs Hunger Help
BALTIMORE — Even though US citizens vastly overestimate the amount their government spends on foreign aid, support for it continues to grow, including US participation in a global program to cut hunger in half and assist Africa. According to a new study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, 83 percent say that the US should commit to a global plan, and 81 percent want to maintain or increase aid to Africa.
Seventy-five percent would be willing to pay an extra $50 a year in taxes to support such a program — much more than would be needed. Public attitudes have changed substantially since PIPA looked at the issue five years ago. In 1995, two-thirds of those surveyed wanted to cut foreign aid; now only 40 percent support that.
At the same time, people continue to overestimate the portion of the federal budget devoted to aid. The average estimate is 20 percent, more than 20 times the actual amount. Asked how much should be spent, the average response was 10 percent.