issue 251 - January 1994
Year Zero not yet
Slow progress to peace
JOHN SPAULL / PANOS
Following UN-supervised elections in May 1993, halting progress has been made towards peace in Cambodia. The nightmare of a return to power by the Khmer Rouge has so far been averted. But major issues remain to be resolved.
Despite much intimidation 90 per cent of the population voted in the elections. The result created a delicate balance between competing forces of the former Phnom Penh government (Cambodia People’s Party) and the coalition headed by Prince Sihanouk (Funcinpec). In the 120-seat Assembly 58 members are supporters of Funcinpec, 51 of the Cambodia People’s Party, 10 Buddhist Democratic Liberation Party and one other. A new constitution was approved with overwhelming parliamentary support on 24 September. Sihanouk became a constitutional monarch and a new coalition government was formally installed.
The International Committee for the Reconstruction of Cambodia met in Paris on 10 September and increased development aid to $1 billion. It is, however, attached to a neo-liberal economic programme with which the new government must comply. Much of the $800 million previously agreed was never disbursed.
Some extra funds were pledged for removing mines but resources to deal with between eight and ten million mines that still litter the country remain scarce. One worker with an aid agency commented: ‘The cost of funding the Cambodia Mine Action Centre for one year with a full complement of expatriate technical staff is $12 million – the cost of one military helicopter or 600 Landcruisers.’ But funding for the Mine Action Centre remains problematic. Meanwhile the terrible toll from the mines continues to mount: between 200 and 300 people were maimed by them in September alone.
Cambodian human-rights groups are now more firmly established. One such group, Ponleau Khmer, tried to open up the secretive debate around the new constitution, and meetings were arranged across the country. A UN human-rights office has been established in Phnom Penh. Cory Aquino, the former president of the Philippines, has been appointed the UN Secretary General’s special representative in Cambodia despite her chequered record on human rights when she was in power.
Little progress has been made on bringing the leadership of the Khmer Rouge to book for genocide. They have, for the moment, fallen silent. Some Khmer Rouge forces have defected. But the threat of their return, or of continued violence, remains so long as they are able to retreat at will across the border with Thailand. There is some suggestion that the genocide question is an internal one for Cambodia to settle. But there are also international legal responsibilities which can only be discharged by the UN.
International campaigning – of which the April 1993 issue of the NI was a part – contributed to peace in Cambodia, but there is still a long way to go. The pressure on governments needs to be kept up if Cambodia is to avert a slide back to Year Zero.
No go Jacques
France has flatly rejected a South Pacific Forum proposal to send a United Nations decolonization inspection team to the French territory of New Caledonia. French presidential special ambassador to the South Pacific, Jacques Le Blanc, says such a proposal is simply ‘not reasonable’ under the Matignon Accords, designed to take New Caledonia to a referendum on self-determination in 1998. France has not responded to requests to provide regular reports to the UN Committee of 24, nor to calls from the Kanak independence movement for talks to define the terms and conditions of the 1998 referendum.
Pacific News Bulletin, vol 8, no 8.
Home grown change
A small group of Santa Ana Native Americans in New Mexico has revitalized itself by returning to sustainable farming. Faced with agricultural decline, the tribe adopted a plan in the mid-1980s to revive organic and environmentally sound methods. Their first big success has been growing organic blue corn which, ironically, is used in a sophisticated line of internationally marketed cosmetics. The Ford Foundation found the Santa Ana Indians had demonstrated ‘an extraordinary, integrated communal vision’. Their next venture will be a retail shop to sell natural fertilizers.
Consumer Currents, no 158.
PENNY TWEEDIE/ PANOS
Tanzanian wildlife lovers are enraged that United Arab Emirates defence minister Mohammed Abdul Rahim al-Ali was given an exclusive shooting-rights lease for 10 years in a 4,000 square-kilometre area bordering on the world famous Serengeti National Park. Said one Tanzanian hunting expert: ‘In the history of this country, we have never seen anything like it before – 70 hunters toting semi-automatic weapons’. But the Government pleads: ‘General al-Ali and his party have in two years of their hunting expeditions given $500,000 to the Tanzanian department of wildlife’.
Down To Earth, vol 2 no 7.
Agricultural co-operatives in Guatemala dodge the Army’s offensive
Seated at roughly made desks of branches bound together with vine, a group of Guatemalan children watch their teacher write words on a canvas blackboard. Hielo. Líquido. Vapor. They are learning about the physical states of water (Ice. Liquid. Vapour.) and its importance to life. Nearby in another jungle clearing a teacher slowly dictates – ‘frijole... fruta... fuego... fusil... futuro’ (beans, fruit, fire, rifle, future). The words are so relevant to the lives of the boys copying them down that it isn’t just coincidence they’re in the spelling test.
The children belong to the self-named Comunidades de Población en Resistencia. Their parents are unarmed campesinos who are cultivators of maize and beans yet are constantly forced to flee their communities. For the past 12 years they have been targeted by a succession of military offensives. Following a massacre of 324 people in a marketplace by the Army in 1982, the communities of the northern jungle region of Guatemala, the Ixcan, have been on alert.
Under suspicion of being guerilla sympathizers or even guerillas themselves – because of their geographical proximity to the left-wing insurgent movement – the Army wants to drive them from their homelands into neighbouring Mexico. Their refusal to accept the installation of Civil Defence Patrols – vigilante defence units armed and directed by the Army which would have effectively militarized the region – is another bone of contention.
‘Since 1982 the Army has burnt down the school every year along with the rest of the community,’ explained Felix Perez, a teacher who like the four other teachers here never completed his own schooling, having to abandon it to work in the fields at the age of 13. ‘Our struggle is not only to teach the children to read and write but to give them a more humane education to ensure they do not grow up to be vicious people like those who force us from our communities.’
Felix lives in Los Angeles, one of the settlements in the Ixcan which were formed in the 1960s after land was earmarked for poor, landless campesinos to set up agricultural co-operatives. They are still true co-operatives: teachers, agricultural workers and vigilantes, who are posted to warn of the Army’s approach, all serve the community and receive food according to their needs. Even the children contribute to the workload when the need arises.
‘The Army burns our crops and houses but we always return,’ explains Emile Xejil from Cuarto Pueblo where the 1982 massacre took place. ‘They want to destroy us so they can move in people who would be under their control and have civil patrols. This recent offensive has stopped us clearing land and sowing this year’s crop. We hide our crops in the jungle and have fields of maize and beans far from our communities where the Army won’t find them so easily. But all the same we will have to endure hunger this year.’
In the jungle near Los Angeles the children’s classes finish for the day after only a few hours. Those who can make it must now walk to the river bank, some two hours away, to help carry the banana crop. A few days earlier word had been received that one of their hidden silos had been burnt by the Army. The children must wait until it is safe to return to their community to discover if their school is still standing.
But the will to study is strong in their hearts and minds, just as their community is determined not to abandon the land that sustains them. Their slogan says it all: resistir para vivir – resist to live.
TAYACAN / PANOS
For 20 years Texaco took oil – and profits – out of Ecuador. Texaco drilled hundreds of wells and built 300 miles of roads through the Amazon, destroying thousands of hectares of rainforest. Then, in 1992, Texaco pulled out of Ecuador, leaving uncovered waste that seeped into the subsoil. Indigenous and environmental groups in the Amazonia por la Vida (‘Amazonia for Life’) coalition say that Ecuador must find alternative sources of energy to avoid further pollution. They have called for an international boycott of Texaco until it cleans up the damage it has caused in the region.
World Press Review, vol 40, no 8.
Trade sanctions against Iraq scrape the barrel
United Nations Resolution 687 established comprehensive trade sanctions against Iraq after the Gulf War but exempted medical and humanitarian aid. In practice, however, the Resolution is being used as a form of indiscriminate punishment against the Iraqi people. Over 100,000 people – mainly children under five, the elderly and those in need of long-term medical care such as diabetics and cancer patients – are now estimated to be dying each year as a direct result.
An Iraqi-born, British-based entrepreneur whose brother and 18-month-old nephew were killed by the US bombing of Baghdad last June, has revealed just how cruel and petty the sanctions can be. Kais al-Kaisy runs a company that exports medical and allied supplies worldwide. He’s been trying for months to supply burial shroud materials to a Baghdad wholesaler.
The battle to send the material, which costs less than 50 US cents a metre, began in April 1993. On 6 May the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) granted a licence permitting him to ‘enter into negotiations for the supply of shroud cloth to Iraq’.
In early June the DTI allowed shipment to Aqaba, Jordan, ‘for ultimate shipment to Iraq’. But there was a catch. A letter from the UN Sanctions Committee was needed to approve the onward shipment. And a further payment of $500 per container was required to pay for the inspection by the UN.
By September, despite endless correspondence, no clearance had come from the UN. The final blow landed with a letter from the DTI on 23 September informing al-Kaisy that ‘all individual export licences are revoked with effect from 28 September 1993’. The letter simply stated that ‘a replacement export or supply licence’ was needed, and the whole tortuous process started again.
Al-Kaisy struggled for words as he said: ‘This material could be used for nothing but dressing the dead. It is recognized for what it is – it could not be used for clothes or curtains, it is shroud material. We do not bury people in smart clothes, shining shoes. We have no funeral parlours. We wash them, tend them, buy six or seven metres of shroud material from a textile shop and put them in the ground, wrapped, cleansed and mourned.’
No, really – this ad has been appearing in
the North American press and shows what fun
there is to be had from the end of the Cold War
– if you’ve got $6,000.
Change a few words and you get a different meaning: a billboard on an Oxford street has been deftly adapted to highlight the continuing role of the banks that bleed the South dry with debt repayments. The UK bank, Barclays, is one of the largest.
Out with a squeak
Chinese experts are searching for clues to a dramatic mass mouse suicide after hundreds of thousands of rodents known as ‘big-eyed devils’ apparently killed themselves in the country’s far western grasslands. According to Xinhua news agency, ‘the mice crawled slowly and looked dull and dumb before committing suicide. In some cases large groups of mice drowned themselves together, plunging into rivers or lakes.’ Chinese experts think it may be a ‘normal ecological phenomenon’ resulting from a sharp rise in the mouse population. Locals, however, fear that the mouse deaths may be a premonition of a violent earthquake.
Consumer Currents, no 158.
A government decree issued in Indonesia in 1992 banned plastic waste imports. Since then more than 5,000 tons of waste have been illegally imported from America, Europe, Japan and Australia under the guise of wealthy countries’ recycling programmes. Only 60 per cent of the imported waste is recyclable: of the remainder at least 10 per cent is toxic or hazardous. The incomes of 200,000 local scavengers have plummeted by 50 to 75 per cent since Indonesia began to import waste in 1988. The irony is that scavengers provide Indonesian cities with free recycling services which keep the environment clean and save the cities millions of dollars annually in waste disposal costs. Indonesian NGOs and scavenger communities are stepping up their efforts to re-export waste to its country of origin and to put an end to the waste trade in Indonesia.
Link FoE International, no 56.
‘All books about all revolutions begin with a chapter that describes the decay of tottering authority or the misery and sufferings of the people. They should begin with a psychological chapter – one that shows how a harassed, terrified man [sic] suddenly breaks his terror and stops being afraid. This unusual process – sometimes accomplished in an instant, like a shock – demands to be illustrated. Man gets rid of fear and feels free. Without that, there would be no revolution.’
Ryszard Kapuscinski, Polish journalist