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[image, unknown] INDOCHINA[image, unknown]

Deadly diplomacy
Kampuchea cut off from outside aid

FOUR years after a massive emergency aid effort in the wake of the Khmer Rouge holocaust, the people of Kampuchea remain in serious need. Still threatened by hunger and war, they are innocent victims of the failure of international diplomacy.

Millions of people in Western countries were involved in an unparalleled fund-raising drive - donating $10 million through Oxfam in the UK alone - to relieve the immediate suffering of the Kampuchea people. Since then, under the Vietnamese-installed government of Heng Samrin, the Kampucheans have struggled to rebuild their country and have reintroduced a semblance of normality. These efforts are however largely ignored by Western governments.

Kampuchean receives no United Nations development aid while their UN seat continues to be occupied by a Coalition dominated by Pol Pot’s feared Khmer Rouge. For while Western nations express abhorrence of Pol Pot, they continue to vote each year since 1979 to seat Pol Pot’s representatives at the UN.

Kampuchea gets also little bilateral assistance. Many Western governments, continue to deny aid - last year official British aid to Kampuchea was zero.

These actions have helped to condemn the people of Kampuchea to fear and poverty. ‘Without development aid from the UN agencies,’ Roger Newton, Oxfam UK’s Kampuchea Field Secretary, says, ‘the situation is bound to deteriorate, The Kampucheans will have nowhere to turn for spare parts to keep their trucks and tractors operating, for the fertilizers to grow their rice, for the nails and cement to rebuild their villages.’

The food situation remains highly precarious. Recent FAQ and UNICEF survey reports have pointed to the prevalence of moderate/severe malnutrition among Kampuchean children. Medical services are hampered by shortages of medicines and medical personnel: ‘Many children die silently in their villages without primary health care,’ concluded the FAQ.

A new report* from Oxfam argues that it is time the humanitarian needs of the Kampuchean people were put first - before strategic and diplomatic advantage or the procedural norms of UN diplomacy. Its author David Bull says ‘It is hard to believe that the millions of British people who gave their time, energy and money for Kampuchea in 1979 are happy that their government should, through its diplomacy, help to perpetuate fear and prevent development’.

The report argues for a fresh diplomatic initiative and that Western governments should withdraw support from Pol Pot and press for the immediate resumption of both UN development aid and bilateral aid from governments,

* ‘The Poverty of Diplomacy: Kampuchea and the Outside World’,
by David Bull, published by Oxfam, 274 Banbury Road, Oxford 0X2 7DZ, UK
(Price £1.20/$2.50),

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[image, unknown] OVERSEAS AID[image, unknown]

Aid for aid
British public favour generosity

THE British public is generally in favour of helping poorer countries - with twice as many for as are against - according to an official survey recently leaked from the Overseas Development Administration.

This new poll conducted by Gallup as part of its general household survey found that well over half the British public now supports aid to poor countries. This compares with the ‘Schlackman Renort’ six years ago which found that less than half the British public approved of overseas aid.

This year’s poll shows 59 per cent in favour of helping poorer countries with 28 per cent of those interviewed against. In 1977 the Schlackman Report showed only 46 per cent backing aid to poor nations and as much as 39 per cent against,

The survey, which was conducted on 1,862 people in January 1983, also confirmed the Schlackman finding that attitudes to aid become more favourable when people are given more information.

When Gallup first asked how much should be spent on overseas aid only 16 per cent said more and 29 per cent wanted less spent, Those questioned were ihen shown cards listing how much is actually spent per person each week on Aid and various other items.

With this information as many as 37 per cent wanted more spending on aid and the percentage wanting less spent dropped to 19 per cent. Those who thought the British Government was devoting the right amount of money to helping poor countries stayed at around a third.

Only 12 per cent backed Aid because of past exploitation or on the grounds of self-interest expressed by the Brandt Report.

The Overseas Development Administration, which commissioned the survey through the Government’s Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, was remarkably coy about publicising the results, No press release was issued and the poll’s existence only emerged through a written Parliamentary question just before the General Election.

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[image, unknown] AGRICULTURE[image, unknown]

New assault on an old enemy

[image, unknown] THE female rat produces 12 offspring every 21 days so it’s not surprising that there are more rats than humans in many countries.

In Egypt, with rats gobbling up a quarter of the country’s food grains, the problem has reached alarming proportions. The rats reach a good size too. The most dreaded species Arvicanthis Niloticus weighs up to half a kilo and measures 35 centimetres from nose to tail.

The battle against rodents is now having to be scaled up to match and the Egyptian government has now got a three-year anti-rat programme with squads of killers working in the Nile delta. Britain is providing 6,250 tons of rat poison to cover around six million hectares of farmland and West Germany has contributed $8 million towards vehicles and poison.

The rat-explosion in Egypt is attributed both to the elimination of some of the natural killers like birds of prey and snakes and also to the absence of the Nile floods. The water used to wash the rats away but this annual clean-out has become a thing of the past since the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

Similar problems have arisen in India. The killing of snakes to export their skins has created ecological havoc since the three species most avidly sought by the hunters are also those which love to eat the rats.

Killing chemically is the obvious alternative but this is becoming more difficult since the rodents developed immunity to the highly toxic zinc phosphates. But new approaches are now being tried. Dr David Calistea of the University of Ottawa has a fresh poison which kills those ‘super-rats’ that have developed immunity. Called tetra ethyl pyrophosphate it is absorbed by the unsuspecting rodent through its feet.

Whether this works or not there are still going to be a lot of rats about. So Indian scientists, never ones to waste a possible raw material, have now developed techniques for tanning rat skins; though actually selling ratskin handbags might prove more difficult. Failing that, there is the possibility of using rotten rat meat as a fertilizer.

Radhakrishna Rao, Gemini

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[image, unknown] ABORIGINES[image, unknown]

The law is an ass
Protective legislation overthrown

Aboriginal land rights demonstration in Melbourne, September 1982.
Photo: Chris Sheppard

THE Australian Federal Government recently saw a graphic demonstration of the need to implement its promise to introduce Aboriginal lands rights legislation on a national basis. In one of the grand ironies, an act of parliament designed to prevent injustice to minorities was used to overthrow another act designed to protect Australia’s most maltreated minority.

In 1981 the Pitjantjatjara tribe, who down the centuries have occupied a huge sweep of land stretching from central to southern Australia, won inalienable freehold title to some of it. (See New Internationalist, May 1983). Under South Australian legislation the Pitjantjatjara will eventually have title to more than 100,000 square kilometres. Of central importance to them were the terms on which they held the land. They themselves had said during the long and sometimes bitter negotiations:

‘We owned the land before the white man came and our relationship comes from the dreaming - not from a scrap of paper. Not from white man’s thinking’.

Under the legislation, people other than Pitjantjatjara needed written permission to enter the lands. The Pitjantjatjara were also given a great measure of control over the activities of mining companies, a threat to their sacred sites and their way of life.

But a South Australia Supreme Court judge has recently ruled invalid the section of the Pitjantjatjara land rights act which deals with access. Mr Justice Millhouse found that section 19 was inconsistent with the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act and the International Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

It is a heavy blow to the Pitjantjatjara, and for them the greatest irony is that the findings sprang from the prosecution of a non-Pitjantjatjara Aborigine, Pastor Robert John Brown, who is chairman of an aboriginal mining company. Pastor Brown appealed to the Supreme Court after being found guilty of entering Pitjantjatjara lands without written permission.

The ruling makes the ‘scrap of paper worthless in the eyes of the Pitjantjatjara. They retain the civil remedy of trespass but this will be little real protection for the tribal people against carpetbaggers and white men on flagon runs (illicit liquor sellers). The Pitjantjatjara’s sense of security, so recently restored, has been destroyed.

It is totally contrary to the spirit of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act and to the International Convention to prevent positive discrimination in the cause of people who have suffered two centuries of oppression and dispossession.

The South Australian Attorney-General, Mr Sumner, has sent an urgent telex to his federal counterpart, Senator Evans, asking the federal government to make whatever law changes are necessary.

‘To ensure that this state’s Aboriginal land rights legislation is clearly exempted from the Racial Discrimination Act’.

The new Labour Federal Minister for Aboriginal affairs, Mr Holding, will introduce into parliament next year national legislation embodying the following principles: Aboriginal land will be held under inalienable freehold title; Aboriginal sites will be protected; Aborigines will have control over mining on their land; Aborigines will have access to mining royalties; and compensation for lost land will be negotiated.

Even this umbrella legislation will not cover many of those Aborigines who have been dispossessed and detribalised. A campaign is being waged for a treaty between whites and Aborigines, to be signed in 1988, the Bicentennary of the European invasion.

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[image, unknown] POPULATION[image, unknown]

Matching the Chinese
Weddings are now a booming business

I am looking for a marriage partner who is a technician and has the following qualifications: enterprising, intelligent and eager to learn, having integrity, with a stature of more than 1.75 metres; a teetotaller who also abstains from smoking; and who has a gentle disposition and ardent love for life.’ This well defined requirement is one of 15,000 lodged with Beijing’s six marriage bureaux.

The days of traditional arranged marriages are over in China but there are apparently few places where young Chinese can go to meet one another. Most have had to rely on chance introductions through friends or family, but nowadays many prefer to seek prospective spouses on their own, turning to small ads in papers and to the flourishing bureaux.

The baby-boom children of the 1960s are reaching marriageable age - which in China is 22 for men and 20 for women - and this has made the bureaux a growth industry. Those in Beijing claim to have matched more than 2,200 applicants, most of whom are now married.

Like the woman chemical worker quoted above, most applicants look for honesty, integrity and decency in their prospective partners and nearly all give strict specifications on height. Most women look for office workers for husbands; and some have specified that their fiances must be ‘refined and loyal, and have manhood and a suite of rooms’.

But when a happy match is made, problems can start. If a couple - or their parents - decide to make their wedding day one to remember, they risk trouble from the authorities.

The government is waging war on what has been termed the ‘evil wind of extravagant weddings’, and with some justification. Family and friends often pressurise young people into paying for lavish celebrations, then they start married life heavily in debt, often for several years. Some bridegrooms nip into the restaurant lavatory to open their wedding gifts of money so they can pay for the banquet their guests are merrily consuming in the next room.

Now the government is pressing young people to hold simple weddings or take part in mass ceremonies. Earlier this year 143 couples in Beijing were married en masse. Each couple could invite 16 guests free and have their photographs taken at a discount. And the campaign has teeth; a high-ranking official, Wang Lingyao, lost all his posts as punishment for holding extravagant banquets and accepting gifts when his daughter got married.

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[image, unknown] TAKING ISSUE

Ashok Mitra

Ashok Mitra’s monthly column looks at pirate reprints in the Third World

The fount of knowledge

Li Hsien was an entrepreneur of some means in Taipeh, Taiwan. He was also full of marvellous imagination. It was the early 1960s, John Kennedy’s Camelot days, the United States Agency for International Development was busy distributing munificence all over. Li Hsien, the enterprising one, somehow wangled a slice of this munificence. With US AID money, he imported an offset printing machine from the United States, very efficient, very sophisticated, the latest in the line. An empty mind, they say, is the devil’s workshop. Li Hsien’s mind was definitely not empty, it was an inventive one. He was keen to put the capacity of the press to the fullest use. So he obtained a copy of the fifteen to twenty leading bestsellers among current American publications, got them reproduced in their thousands by his press, sold the copies in Taiwan at one-tenth the price quoted for their respective original editions, and, bravo, even dumped a large number of these pirated editions on the American market itself. This, some say, is perhaps a breathtaking example of how foreign aid could be put to the optimum use.

Moralists may be aghast, those punctilious regarding observance of patents and copyrights will tear out their hair, but Li Hsien, hail-fellow-well-met, was perhaps trying to prove a point. The major means for transferring the stock of knowledge to poor, ignorant people is through books. But with each day, books are becoming increasingly more expensive. The rise in book prices has little to do with the increase in production costs; it is mostly the outcome of oligopolistic price-setting. If it is a sellers’ market and you are desperately anxious to absorb the knowledge contained or the skill described in a book, you have to pay up, you have to pay through the nose. Knowledge is a closely held asset: those who want to lay some claim to it must part with a substantial chunk of their earnings. And if you have little of income or earnings, sorry, you have to go without knowledge.

Ethics is obviously a many-faceted attribute. If your annual per capita income is less than a hundred dollars, you cannot possibly afford to set aside more than two to three dollars for buying books during the year. Particularly in the poor countries, the majority are therefore priced out of the book market; books are for the rich, and the rich nations. Governments in poor countries can of course try to redress the situation, but they themselves are short of funds and often have other priorities.

Should knowledge therefore remain a segregated category, only those in the rich countries will read books and thereby turn richer in knowledge; while most citizens in poor lands, unable to pay the high price of books, will stay outside the pale. Should the relative distance between the rich and poor nations grow even with respect to stock of knowledge? A way out could be to arrange to distribute in the poor countries low-priced editions of books published in the rich countries. The original publishers may however have their own views concerning such dual pricing practices; even their minimum expectations may not be met by what poor people would be in a position to offer.

Thus frustrated, what does a poor man in a poor country with an unsuppressable thirst for knowledge, do? Should we condemn him if he drops in on the likes of Li Hsien, who agrees to supply him with a copy of the book he is looking for at one-tenth the quoted price? Piracy is to be condemned, it is akin to thieving, it deprives somebody from the enjoyment of his legal rights. But suppose there is a clash of rights: the right to property and income of x clashes with the right to knowledge of y, how do we vote, which right do we uphold? In such a situation, does not piracy serve a social purpose too? Maybe Li Hsien merely wanted to make some fast buck for himself; perhaps the dissemination of knowledge was furthest from his mind, but surely this is not the first instance in history when crooks emerge as absent-minded survivors?

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New Internationalist issue 128 magazine cover This article is from the October 1983 issue of New Internationalist.
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