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new internationalist
issue 175 - September 1987



Refugee pawns
West supports Khmer Rouge coercion

SURVIVORS of the bloody 1970s reign of terror in Kampuchea, including journalist Dith Pran whose life was portrayed in the film The Killing Fields, are demanding that Khmer Rouge leaders be brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Chief among those at large is Pol Pot, who headed the 1977-79 government under which around three million Kampucheans died.

But Western diplomatic interests in the region support the armed opposition to the Vietnamese, who overthrew Pol Pot and occupied Kampuchea eight years ago. A British MP who recently visited eight camps holding half a million Kampuchean refugees on the Thai side of the border described them as 'in effect rear base-camps for support of the Khmer Rouge and other forces.'

Although the coalition opposed to the Vietnamese-installed Heng Samrin Government includes Prince Sihanouk and the 'rightist' Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), the Khmer Rouge provide the leadership and the bulk of the military support and are intent on continuing the war in Kampuchea.

The Khmer Rouge were almost wiped out by the 1979 Vietnamese invasion. Subsequent international recognition of the coalition Government saved them from extinction and propelled them back into action.

International aid agencies, particularly the United Nations Border Relief Operation (UNBRO), provide humanitarian assistance for the 250,000 Khmer refugees in the border camps, five of which are Khmer-Rouge controlled. In so doing they are actively, if indirectly, supporting the war effort.

According to recent reports, relief workers have only limited access. In the two camps which allow access, the Khmer People's National Liberation Front Site 2 camp and the Khmer Rouge-controlled Site 8 camp, relief workers can enter only in daytime. It is impossible to monitor what happens after 5pm, the time most harassment and coercion takes place. A camp internee declared: 'We smile during the day and cry at night.'

Despite the political clout of the World Food Programme, which actually provides food, its representatives were refused entry to the two southern Khmer Rouge camps considered to be purely military bases. UNBRO officials believe four of the five are in essence military camps.

In a new report, Dr Josephine Reynell, of the Refugees Studies Programme in Oxford, documents Khmer Rouge appropriation of UNBRO food rations. Large quantities of medicine were also stolen for use in the field.

The Khmer Rouge use the camps to recruit soldiers as well. Dr Reynell says that 'forced drafting of young men' is common. Since August 1985 as many as 5,000 refugees have been taken from Site 8 to Phnom Dey military camp under cover of night, then forced to work as military porters. A relief worker responsible for fitting wooden legs said most recipients had obviously been involved in military action.

Vietnamese shelling of the border camps is another danger with which refugees have to contend. And it appears that Khmer Rouge forces even shelled one of their own camps - after withdrawing their soldiers - in protest against Thai plans to relocate refugees.

If a speedy end to the Indo-chinese conflict is to be found, the first step must be to move the refugee camps well away from the border to safer locations. Site 2 is a mile from one of the most volatile parts of the border and Vietnamese gun emplacements can be clearly seen from the camp.

The Khmer refugees are pawns in a political stalemate. While a negotiated settlement will not be easy, the West's continued support of Pol Pot is prolonging the Indo-chinese conflict.

Larry Jagan / Gemini


Fish meal
Pets before people

HALF the world's fish comes from developing countries. This may look like good news - but not for the Third World's poor who do not get to eat the fish. Global seafood stocks are stagnating, even declining in some regions, while demand from richer countries is rising.

Judging by production figures, Latin Americans should be consuming 28 kilograms of fish per capita a year. In practice they receive no more than a meagre eight kilograms.

The 'missing' 20 kilograms are exported directly or processed into industrial products, fish-meal or fish-oil for export. Of the 84 million tons of fish caught annually 20 million tons are turned into meal for animal feed.

And now Western pets are laying claim to an increasingly large share of the catch. Australian pet-food producer Uncle Ben's, for example, has upped the fish content in its pet-food from 4,300 tons in 1983 to 13,000 tons in 1986.

In Senegal, one of the world's leading consumers and exporters of fish, the catch dropped from 340,000 tons in 1975 to 210,000 in 1981-2. But exports actually increased over the same period.

One of the main reasons for the seafood catch decline is over-fishing. Large trawlers - often using illegal fine mesh nets that scoop up very young fish too - are eating into catches of small-scale local fisher-folk who supply 90 per cent of the seafood eaten by Third World peoples, according to World Bank figures.

It means that people living in developing countries are being deprived of a major source of protein - of the 40 countries most dependent on seafood protein, 39 are in the Third World. Moreover, the fish-meal that Third World countries export for animal feed is processed from fish that is often fit for human consumption. Chile, for example, processes 93 per cent of its catch into fish meal.

But Western animal-lovers require nothing but the best for their pets. 'Cats are extraordinarily sensitive when it comes to selecting their food,' explained an Uncle Ben's spokesman.

Bill Hinchberger / Third World Network
Bill is editor and publisher of the site http://www.BrazilMax.com which offers "Intelligence on Brazil for people who know better".


Rural strikes
Novel fight for services

[image, unknown] COLOMBIANS in deprived areas have discovered a new and effective method of securing better public services. When authorities turn a blind eye to local development needs, the inhabitants of rural regions declare a 'civic strike', during which shops, offices, restaurants, bars and even houses of ill-repute close their doors.

Work in the 29,000 square-mile Choco region ground to a halt recently when its 270,000 inhabitants declared an all-out strike. Bus and plane services to and from the province were paralysed and demonstrators blocked the streets in the regional capital, Quibdo.

Eventually, after days of protest, the Government of President Virgilio Barco announced an emergency development programme for the zone. With three guerilla movements active in rural Colombia the Government did not wish to provoke a direct confrontation with the people by sending in troops.

Choco's inhabitants complain that, although the vast region is rich in gold, it is Colombia's poorest in terms of development. Sewerage and electricity services water supply is irregular and unclean. Lack of medical facilities ensures one of the highest infant mortality rates in South America.

Of the people who inhabit the area - mainly descendants of African slaves - 70 per cent are classified as poor. Up to now demands for better basic services have been ignored by the Government in Bogota which can take years to reach a decision.

Officially the authorities are unperturbed by the increasing incidence of civic strikes in the country, saying that such action is all part of the grassroots democratic process. But in private, Government officials fear the movement could mushroom out of control following Choco's success. Indeed, plans for a similar stoppage in the southern Narino zone have already been announced and other provinces are expected to follow suit.

Peter Nares / Gemini


Merging medicines
Old meets new

Haji Abdulah Muhammed, one of Ethiopia's traditional healers.
Photo: Henk Schut / Panos

TAPEWORM is more abundant than the common cold in Ethiopia. One local doctor estimates that 80 per cent of the population has tapeworm at any given time.

But Ethiopians have been successfully treating themselves for tapeworm for centuries - with a traditional herbal medicine called Kosso. And rather than try to reinvent the wheel, the Ministry of Health is now trying to refine this traditional treatment instead of simply replacing it.

Taken in too big a dose, Kosso can damage the eyes, liver and stomach. Taken moderately, it can flush out tapeworm - until the next meal of raw meat brings it back. So the idea is to find a perfect dose - merging modern scientific technique with a proven traditional cure.

This is just one of the many traditional medicines that health workers are now trying to merge with modern medicine in Ethiopia. The goal is to come up with effective, cheap and acceptable traditional remedies that reach people who wouldn't usually get near modern medicine.

Other herbs being investigated include the Ethiopian plant Bruces antidysentric, being tested at the National Cancer Institute in the United States. It appears to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in animals. Then there is the Vinca Rosa, a flower containing a substance that it is claimed combats childhood leukaemia; and the Adhatoda sohimperianna, which has been shown to have about 30 uses - including treating jaundice, rabies and liver disease.

Outside the major cities 80 per cent of Ethiopians depend on traditional medicine as their only source of health care. Even within urban areas, more than half the population would sooner consult their traditional healer than visit modern clinics.

This isn't just because of a suspicion of the new and unfamiliar: the preference for traditional medicine is firmly grounded in Ethiopia's fervently religious culture. Both Christians and Muslims in Ethiopia have their own versions of spiritual healers, herbalists, bone-setters and birth-attendants - all of whom often incorporate the supernatural into their cures.

Traditional medicine plays a broader role than just healing physically - it also works within the traditional Ethiopian belief system - helping the patient live in harmony with inner self, family, village and religious community.

Mary Kay Magistad / Panos


Whistle stop
Self-defence squads

A PIERCING whistle suddenly breaks through the night-time silence in a poor district of Peru's capital city, Lima, and a now increasingly common scene is enacted.

'Let go of her, you brute.' 'Don't you dare touch her,' a group of women scream at the man backing out of the doorway of a small shack, his arms raised against the furious blows raining down upon him. In the corner, a woman and her frightened children huddle, crying.

Women in this poor and overcrowded neighbourhood of San Juan de Miraflores have finally had enough of domestic violence at the hands of their men and have organized themselves into Women's Mutual Self Defence groups. Each member is armed with a whistle with which to summon the rest in an emergency.

Initial inspiration came from the local community 'crime watch' patrols. But the women had to form their own group because no-one would defend them if they were attacked by their partners in their own homes.

Now, however, the number of violent incidents has decreased because husbands are forced to think twice before they beat their wives. 'The macho men around here call us "the husband beaters" because we are ready to defend any woman being assaulted,' says the Mothers of Ollantay Club president.

She cites the example of one man who kept beating up his wife because she refused to leave the family home with their five children so that his new lover could move in.

'So one night when he was beating her up, we got hold of him, stripped him naked and hung a sign around his neck saying, "I will never abuse my wife again". After that he left and has not bothered her since'.

Information from Outwrite magazine Issue No. 59.

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New Internationalist issue 175 magazine cover This article is from the September 1987 issue of New Internationalist.
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