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Currents

Issue 358

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Korea

The long road to reunification
South Korea had never looked so favourably at reuniting with the
North – but then the US resumed raking over the Cold War coals.

On 15 June 2000 – 10 days before the 50th anniversary of the start of the Korean War – the leaders of South and North Korea capped off an historic summit with a declaration to work towards peaceful reunification.

In August there was a second milestone: a meeting of 200 family members separated by the war. The reunion was the subject of a day-long live telecast. Watching it, like millions of other Koreans, I was overcome by a mixture of hope and han. Han is a term with no English equivalent. It refers to an intense feeling of frustrated national hope in the face of historical oppression in a small country where invasion and national division have been enduring wounds in the popular psyche.

In those heady months of 2000, Koreans felt an exuberant hope that reunification was now within their grasp. Even the conservative media in the South warmed to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Il, with some affectionately comparing him to a Teletubby!

The South Korean state was founded at the height of the Cold War by an ultra-conservative US-sponsored élite whose rule was legitimized by anti-communist fear-mongering. Even modest reform following the April 1960 student uprising was violently crushed. Today, it is still common to see government billboards advertising a hotline number to report ‘reds’.

Word corner

Peace/Propaganda
The words peace, pact, pay and propaganda do not at first sight appear to have anything in common – but they do. They can be traced back to the Indo-European root pag- or pak- meaning ‘fix’, ‘fasten’ or ‘agree’. A pact is an agreement or treaty. Peace (the Latin pax) is an agreement or ‘fastening’ to refrain from war or hostilities. When you pay creditors you are appeasing, or pacifying, them.

Propaganda, today the organized propagation of a doctrine by the use of publicity, is another related word. Plants are propagated from cuttings fastened to the ground. The Congregatio de Propaganda Fide ‘congregation for propagating the faith’ was founded in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV to supervise foreign missions. About a hundred years later the word propaganda came into more general use in English.

Susan Watkin

But the liberal-democrat élite, so long frozen out of political influence in the South, is now in the driving seat, thawing out South Korea’s Cold War culture. When Nobel Peace Laureate President Kim Dae-Jung stepped down from office last year, he left behind high hopes for ‘sunshine diplomacy’ between North and South. His successor, ex-dissident human-rights lawyer Roh Moo-Hyun, was elected last December.

This political shift is underwritten by economic changes. During the 1990s, South Korean big business – once protected by a capitalist command economy replete with five-year plans – was exposed to greater international competition and a budding, reform-hungry labour movement. Many capitalists looked towards North Korea where the Soviet collapse and crippling natural disasters had forced the opening up of its economy. There, just a few hours’ drive from Seoul, an educated, disciplined labour force could be found – socially supported by a stable and cost-free state.

In 1992, companies in South Korea began sending materials and equipment to the North to undertake ‘processing-on-commission’ manufacture. Inter-Korean trade last year totalled $641 million, 59.3- per-cent more than 2001 and a near-threefold increase since 1998. Business transactions stood at $342 million, 45-per-cent greater than 2001.

This economic-led rapprochement with the North has emboldened and legitimized a popular outpouring of han. Last November mass candlelight rallies swept South Korea following the acquittal of two US soldiers who had run over and killed a couple of schoolgirls. There are 37,000 US soldiers currently stationed in South Korea. Sparked by an impassioned email posting on a discussion list, the first rally on 30 November attracted 10,000.

By the next weekend it had spread to 36 towns and cities. By mid-December, the Seoul rally had reached 100,000, with tens of thousands more in 90 other towns and cities. This rebounded back at the top, with Roh Moo-Hyun winning the 19 December presidential election on a promise of greater independence from the US.

The US is presently stoking confrontation to legitimize its military presence in the South, which threatens to resurrect hardliners in both Korean capitals, Pyongyang and Seoul. Short of a mass revolt against the US alliance, the liberal élite in the South can retain the initiative only by appeasing the anti-North camp and bowing to Washington’s lead in dealing with Pyongyang. This is partly what motivated Roh to send troops to Iraq in April. Such appeasement, coupled with the Iraq war (which offers a glimpse of what may now await the Korean peninsula) will intensify feelings of national humiliation, and drive Korea once again away from the reunification that so many had stepped towards.

Iggy Kim
Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific
(formerly ASIET): www.asia-pacific-action.org

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Russia abducts justice in Chechnya
Even Chechnya’s pro-Moscow authorities have joined the chorus of anger over the escalating abduction of ordinary Chechens by Russian soldiers. In February this year, Chechen official Sheiakhmed Abdurakhmano told a Chechen newspaper that 1,178 people had been killed in the first nine months of 2002 and 654 had disappeared. At the end of April, the country’s Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudayev told local television that 215 residents of Chechnya had been abducted this year. To the surprise of viewers used to more cautious statements from their local leaders, Dudayev directly accused the Russian military of being behind the kidnappings. The overwhelming majority of those abducted, Dudayev added, were ‘law-abiding people’.

There are presently 80,000 Russian soldiers in Chechnya to combat Chechen independence fighters (labelled by Russia as terrorists) who are estimated by Russia’s military to number between 400 and 2,000. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) which has long been sharply critical of Russia’s policy in Chechnya, passed a resolution in April this year that proposed an international war-crimes tribunal for the republic if the human-rights situation there does not improve.

Umalt Dudayev and Asiyat Vazaeva
IWPR Caucasus Reporting Service.

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The real cost of a prawn sandwich
Recent reports by the British-based Environmental Justice Association and the US-based Wild Aid argue that it is fishing – rather than global warming or pollution – that poses the greatest short-term threat to marine biodiversity. Profiling one of the most destructive and wasteful fisheries – prawn trawling – the reports say:

[image, unknown] Prawn trawlers catch 10-20 kg of marine species to obtain just 1 kg of prawns in the tropics. This non-target bycatch is usually discarded overboard, dead or dying.
[image, unknown] Prawn fisheries alone are responsible for a third of the world’s discarded catch, despite producing less than two per cent of global seafood.
[image, unknown] Local and indigenous fisherpeople are most affected, with catches declining sharply in areas where prawn trawlers operate.
[image, unknown] Prawn trawlers kill 150,000 sea turtles every year.
[image, unknown] Research has shown that up to 25 per cent of seabed life can be removed by the passing of just one prawn trawler.

The reports call on supermarkets to prove their prawns come from environmentally and socially sustainable sources, urging consumers not to buy any prawns until this is done.

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X-rays of Guantanamo Bay
The US has still not disclosed the identity or even the number of people it is holding for interrogation about terrorist links at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And while reports estimate that as many as 660 people from 42 countries – including three juveniles (one as young as 13 years) – have now been detained at Camp X-ray for over 17 months, there are no official figures. Stephen Kenny, the lawyer for accused Australian Taliban fighter David Hicks, says reports of up to 30 suicide attempts by detainees at the camp in recent months do not surprise him because of the conditions there: incarceration in wire cages with as little as 15 minutes of exercise twice a week. Despite the use by the US of ‘stress and duress’ torture (a combination of sleep deprivation and sensory overload) that it claims no-one can survive for more than three months without telling the truth, none of the detainees has yet been charged. By officially designating the prisoners ‘unlawful combatants’ and not prisoners of war, the US says it will hold the detainees on an indefinite basis without trial and be under no obligation to accord them protections available under the Geneva Convention. Amnesty International has asked the US either to charge the prisoners formally or to release them.

Chris Richards

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Sweatshop art
Just around the corner from Burma’s Mandalay Palace, the 28 women workers at the Man Swe Gon factory hunch over bamboo tables for more than 12 hours per day, 6 days per week, to make kaliga (hand-made embroidered tapestry). These fine works of art can take up to a month to make: their makers are paid around $10 in wages for artwork that will eventually sell for up to $2,000 in the Minority World. As is the fashion in Burma, the factory women wear a natural sun block/cosmetic – made from the bark of a tree – on their faces.
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Photo: Dennis Guild

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INDONESIA

Legally lethal
Indonesian military get the go-ahead
to gun down human rights.

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Seriously... You couldn't make this stuff up

Nancy Olivieri’s six-year struggle with a Canadian drug company illustrates how truth, justice and the Western way is the rhetoric of Superman comics. Dr Olivieri is a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and a specialist in the treatment of hereditary blood disorders. In the early 1990s she obtained corporate sponsorship from Canada’s largest domestically owned pharmaceutical company, Apotex, to research a promising drug, only to find through her research that there were side-effects. Her problems started when she told Apotex (which had considerable financial connections with the University) that she wanted to let her patients know about the side-effects, and accelerated when she and her team later told regulatory authorities that there were serious problems with the drug. Apotex responded by challenging her research. She was sacked, threatened and gagged. When she sued Apotex for libel for accusing her of making false statements, the company filed a counterclaim against her for $10-million damages. Four inquiries were held into the way in which Nancy has been treated: each one exonerating her. And she was reinstated. But as the Canadian Association of University Teachers points out: ‘It is important to recognize that the circumstances that gave rise to this case are not isolated – they illustrate a system-wide problem.’ (Want to read more? Go to www.prwatch.org )

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US information service Bloomberg recently reported how Paul Bremer, the top US official in Baghdad, took time out to hand out soccer balls to young Iraqi footballers at a looted Baghdad stadium recently. He said he was determined to ensure that an Iraqi team went to next year’s Olympics in Athens to compete in the Games for the first time since 1988. That’s the sporting spirit, Paul… keeping that hawkish eye out for another battleground where the US can take on Iraq.

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On 19 May this year, the Indonesian Government declared martial law in its northwest province of Aceh following the collapse of peace talks in Tokyo. The Indonesian military (TNI) – now in charge of the province – claims to be targeting the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which is waging an armed struggle for independence. But democracy activists are also being targeted. In the first weeks of the latest crackdown, some 350 schools were razed and 12,000 people were displaced. Civilians have been rounded up and shot, including boys as young as 12 years old.

Just over a month before, on the opposite side of the Republic, 900 West Papuans fled Indonesian troops searching for weapons near Wamena in the Papuan highlands. Since then, graphic reports have been made by West Papua’s human-rights investigators ELS-HAM about Papuans from this area who have been tortured both publicly and in custody by Indonesian troops.

The military action in both areas represents the Indonesian Government’s hardening line to those from its resource-rich provinces advocating separation from the Republic. The events also indicate the Government’s increasing preparedness to give the military an unrestricted hand.

Indonesia’s justice system has to date declined to hold the military to account for flagrant human-rights abuses. No senior officer has yet been brought to justice for the military-backed massacres in East Timor, either during the occupation or after the referendum. Major-General Adam Damiri, who is accused of crimes against humanity in East Timor, failed to appear before the human-rights court recently for the third time in succession because he is helping supervise the war in Aceh.

Lenient sentences have been given to seven officers from Indonesia’s crack military force, Kopassus, for their assassination of West Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay in November 2001. The chief of staff of the Indonesian army, General Ryamizard Ryacudu, is reported to have called those convicted ‘heroes because the person they killed was a rebel leader’. The senior officers who masterminded the murder have not been indicted.

In addition, the military have continued to obstruct investigations into the murders of two Americans and one Indonesian near the Freeport mine in West Papua in August 2002. A group of 17 US senators have now called on President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia to make the investigation into the Freeport killings ‘a national priority’.

Turning a blind eye to human-rights abusers is one thing. Giving them the green light is another. A new bill that set out to curb the Indonesian military’s power will actually award them far more. If accepted into law, the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) Bill would give the military unilateral authority to order out the troops in the event of an ‘emergency’. It directly undermines last year’s vote by Indonesia’s highest legislative body to end the military’s parliamentary participation altogether in 2004.

Human-rights activists have voiced concern that it is an attempt by the military to regain the domination it previously enjoyed for more than three decades during the Suharto dictatorship. With Indonesia’s first direct presidential elections coming up in 2004, it is feared that the bill would allow the military to stage a coup during the political conflicts that will peak during and possibly after the election campaign.

As nearly all major political parties endorse the draft, the controversial bill stands a fair chance of being endorsed by the House to curry the military’s favour. Megawati, who theoretically can still change the draft before it is submitted to the House for deliberation, is likely to heed the military’s demand, realizing that she cannot survive without their backing.

If the bill is endorsed and enacted into law, the military will not just return to the country’s political arena but will become a super-institution with powers far exceeding those of the President. ‘The bill is just sinister,’ said former Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman. ‘How can they get away with it?’

Pip Hinman and Justin Schamotta

ACTION: As part of the ‘war on terror’, the US, British and Australian Governments are increasing military ties with Indonesia. Visit http://www.asia-pacific-action.org to get involved in or be informed about the worldwide campaign against this.

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