Shot in the dark
Eastern European governments accept NATO without debate
DAVID CONSTANTINE / PANOS PICTURES
Public discussion about possible membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is being stifled in Eastern European countries. The Hungarian, Czech and Polish Governments all want to join NATO. Accession protocols were signed in December by their foreign ministers without their citizens being aware of the total cost of joining the alliance or what NATO’s strategic future will be.
Western companies say NATO expansion opens up a potential arms market worth at least $35 billion. All three prospective East European members have committed themselves to increasing their military budgets. According to Jerry Kropiwnicki, the head of Warsaw’s Centre for Strategic Studies, Poland will need to spend around $2 billion by the year 2012 to insure that its armed forces are compatible with NATO’s.
Pro-NATO bias in the Hungarian media was overwhelming – despite the fact that almost 600,000 citizens voted against joining. The Foreign Ministry’s NATO communication strategy spent more than $600,000 on television programs, articles and events in Hungary plus campaigns in mainstream US and European papers. In 1997 arms companies poured more than $1 million into pro-NATO campaigns. Funds from these sources violated Hungary’s media law, a fact which was noted on numerous occasions by the National Radio and Television Board (NRTB), an independent official body. But the Foreign and Defence Ministries dismissed the NRTB’s decisions and continued to push for NATO membership. There is some hope in Eastern Europe that NATO membership will attract new investment. But there is no evidence that increased military spending influences economic prosperity in civilian sectors. Even US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has said: ‘There is no historical evidence that NATO provides economic benefits.’
The Nation Vol 266 No 9
PIERS BENATAR / PANOS PICTURES
Barred from Boy Scouts
The Supreme Court of California has ruled that the Boy Scouts of America are not a business but a club so the Scouts can legally exclude homosexuals, atheists and agnostics. The Scouts have already barred two Orange County boys who said they had ‘not quite worked out yet whether they believed in God or not’. The Boy Scouts, who face lawsuits arising from their admissions policies in Chicago, Washington DC and New Jersey, hope the ruling may eventually apply across the US.
The Economist Vol 346 No 8061
A coalition of 132 developing countries says the UN gives most of its lucrative contracts to rich countries. For every dollar Washington contributed to the UN Development Program, US companies got back more than two dollars in contracts. But the US is also the single biggest defaulter on its UN dues, owing more than $1.3 billion.
Other chief contractors to the UN include Italy, Britain, France and Germany. Indonesian Ambassador Makarim Wibisono, chair of the 132-member Group of 77, says only 141 companies out of the 2,027 suppliers of goods and services to the United Nations were from Majority World countries. Many nations want the UN Secretariat to penalize countries that default by giving preference to countries who have paid their dues when deciding contracts.
Thalif Deen/Gemini News Service
A calf named Marguerite, the first mammal cloned from a foetal muscle cell, is dead. Her problems began shortly after her birth in February when the stump of her umbilical cord became infected. She was kept in an enclosure by herself and treated with antibiotics. But one night in March Marguerite tried to join cows in an adjoining pen. She succeeded but had jammed herself in the bars and suffered severe trauma to her spine and thigh muscles. The umbilical infection spread to the injured tissues and she died on 4 April. French scientists say her death may indicate that cloned animals have weakened immune systems.
New Scientist Vol 158 No 2130
The local council of an Australian town in New South Wales has become the first outside the US to boycott corporations which deal with Burma. The Marrickville Council unanimously backed a proposal to prohibit the purchase of goods and services from companies which do business in Burma. The Council is also encouraging other local authorities in New South Wales to pass similar resolutions.
Free Burma Coalition, Australia
Time is running out for Asia's forests
MARK EDWARDS /
India is one of many Asian countries which has almost wiped out all its natural forest. Some 99 per cent of India’s original forest has been lost while 57 per cent of the current forest is threatened by logging, says the US-based World Resources Institute. India’s ‘frontier forests’ – large intact natural forests – are under greater threat than those in Burma, Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Asia has lost almost 95 per cent of its frontier forests. From 1960 to 1980 this region had the highest rate of forest destruction in the world. Today isolated pockets of frontier forest remain in Burma, Laos and Cambodia where war and civil unrest have inhibited development. But commercial loggers, who have exhausted resources in Thailand and peninsular Malaysia, have recently moved into these areas.
Most of Asia’s remaining frontier forest is confined to the Indonesian islands of Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi and West Papua. But more than half of these are under threat from logging by corporations or farmers.
Asia is the world’s most densely populated region, with one person for every hectare of land, and demands for food and agricultural land are ever-increasing. In addition, worldwide demand for paper products continues to grow. In the last 30 years, per-capita consumption of paper has increased by over 86 per cent. Industrial countries use ten times as much paper per person as developing nations. And demand is expected to increase – global consumption of industrial wood products is predicted to rise by more than 50 per cent in the next 12 years.
The Institute challenges the idea that frontier forests are empty wilderness areas: ‘People have lived in many forests for hundreds of generations, mostly in small groups. Forests today house several hundred million people in Asia alone.’ The pressure for poor countries to develop these lands is overwhelming. Despite this, the Institute claims, remaining forest areas are often not ‘ripe for development’ – the forest’s soil is mostly ill-suited for agriculture and there is little commercially viable timber per hectare.
Frederick Noronha/Third World Network Features
Burial rights and wrongs
Executed Kenyan freedom fighter remembered
Pressure is growing on Britain to identify the grave of an executed Kenyan who helped lead the country’s independence struggle. Campaigners and family members want the body of ‘Field Marshal’ Kimathi to be exhumed and given a proper burial. Kimathi was a feared leader of the Mau Mau guerrillas who rebelled against British colonialism in the 1950s. He was captured in 1956 and executed in February 1957 – one of about 1,000 guerrillas to die in the struggle, in which 12,000 civilians also perished.
‘All we know is that the freedom fighter is buried at an unknown spot just outside the walls of Kamiti prison,’ says Njuguna Mutahi of the Kenya Human Rights Commission. ‘At the moment we want to pressure British officials in a civilized manner, but if they don’t act fast we’re going to stage a demonstration in Nairobi. They were the jailers and they know where they buried him.’
Prisons commissioner Edward Lokopoiyot says: ‘The colonial Government took away records about the Mau Mau and existing records at Kamiti shed little light on the burial site of hundreds of Mau Mau freedom fighters hanged and buried at the prison.’ He acknowledges the Prisons Department has reached a dead end. ‘Unless the British help in rebuilding the records of Kamiti at that time and tracing the actual sites and names, we have little to go on.’ The Human Rights Commission and Release Political Prisoners lobby group have now petitioned British officials to reveal the site – their demands are being passed onto the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
Historians in Nairobi believe that the late President Jomo Kenyatta’s post-independence Government struck an agreement with Britain that records relating to Kimathi would not be released until 2013. Kenyan novelist Ngûgî Wa Thiong’o writes in his book Detained: ‘It is interesting that throughout his life as Prime Minister and later President of an independent Kenya, Kenyatta never allowed the remains of Kimathi to be removed from Kamiti Prison to a symbolic shrine of honour.’ Ngûgî was once detained for writing a play about Kimathi’s role and now lives in exile. He says: ‘The aim was to remove Mau Mau and other patriotic elements from the central stage of Kenyan politics.’
John Kamau/Gemini News Service
JEAN-LEO DUGAST / PANOS PICTURES
Straight to the point
A Boeing 747 with 400 passengers emits as much carbon dioxide as if each passenger had driven their own car to the same destination.
The leading suggestion to limit pollution caused by airplanes is simple – re-route flights to be more direct and at lower altitudes. Pilots often do not fly direct routes but prefer to spend as much time as possible flying over land. Modern radar makes this practice unnecessary. A study for the Dutch Government found that detours to avoid flying over military airfields and other strategic obstacles may increase air journey times in Europe by 30 per cent. Environmentalists say that aircraft should not be flying routinely through the ozone layer, where emissions are adding to ozone depletion.
Green Futures No 9 1998
CYRIL RUOSO /
More than 30 European and North African countries have urged Britain to kill 3,000 sexually- voracious ruddy ducks who threaten the ‘genetic purity’ of continental ducks. The ruddy ducks migrate to southern Spain and mate with white-headed ducks creating fertile offspring resembling neither parent. In Spain the ruddy duck is considered an aggressive alien interloper and shot on sight. European and North African signatories to the Berne Convention on protecting endangered animals have agreed overwhelmingly to press Britain to start the cull ‘without delay’.
Guardian Weekly Vol 158 No 9
Defamation and death threats
Eleven libel suits have been brought by senior Singapore Government members (including Prime Minister Goh Chok Tang) against Workers’ Party candidate Tang Liang Hong. The plaintiffs accuse the opposition party leader of defaming Government’s politicians. During a recent election campaign opponents called Tang ‘anti-Christian’ and a ‘Chinese chauvinist’. When Tang filed a police report claiming these accusations were false, the libel suits were brought in response. Tang left Singapore after receiving death threats but was found liable in absentia for damages totalling $5.65 million.
For more details contact: Amnesty International Hong Kong.Tel: +852 2 300 1250, Fax: +852 2 782 0583
Dry season ends
Indian officials in the northern state of Haryana have lifted a 21-month-long ban on liquor sales. Boozers had simply gone to New Delhi across the state line or bought illicit moonshine – often so toxic that it killed dozens of people. The state lost nearly $3 million in liquor taxes and suffered a fall in property prices because drinkers preferred living in wet New Delhi. When the ban was repealed thousands swarmed to roadside stalls to buy liquor.
Time Vol 151 No 15
A cat or a goat can become President for all I care, as long as he can ensure
the small people dont have to run around looking for rice.
Tarmuji, a fruit seller in Surabaya, Indonesia.