31 May 2003
In this issue:
Where are the Weapons of Mass Destruction?
China - China meets Dalai Lama's envoys
Thailand - Green light for disputed Thai-Malaysian pipeline
Malaysia - Tian's Statement to ISA Review Board
Burma - Razali to kick-start stalled talks in Burma
- United effort will force change in Burma
Singapore - Bush signs Singapore trade pact
India - India woos Burma with weapons deal
Iraq - Iraq in danger of starvation, says UN
- Transition to an empire
Malaysia - Arbitrary Detention Without Trial
Calling for Volunteers
Vacancy at ISIS International
|1. FEATURE - top|
Where are the Weapons of Mass Destruction?
by Alistair Millar
Before the US-British invasion of Iraq, most skeptics did not argue that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed no illicit weapons of mass destruction. Rather, the majority of the international community doubted that Iraqi non-conventional weapons capabilities posed a pressing threat to the peace. Repeatedly presented with false, dated, improperly cited and, in at least one case, plagiarized "intelligence" of the Iraqi threat, the UN Security Council refused to authorize war to enforce Resolution 1441, unanimously passed on November 8, 2002. On the streets, anti-war organizers' efforts culminated in the largest worldwide demonstrations in history. The message of anti-war dissent was clear: available evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction did not constitute a case for war.
George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his strongest ally, sought to justify the invasion of Iraq with numerous claims that the Hussein's regime sat on large volumes of chemical and biological agents which could be delivered to targets outside Iraq's borders. With the war over, as day after day goes by without evidence of these vast weapons programs, it is interesting to observe the Bush administration retreat from its pre-war positions. Unwittingly, the White House now appears to be inching toward the pre-war stance of chief UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei: some of the ingredients to develop chemical and biological agents may exist in Iraq, but there is no sign of deliverable weapons of mass destruction.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who wrote a January 23, 2003 op-ed in the New York Times entitled "Why We Know Iraq Is Lying" about having destroyed its weaponized chemical and biological materials, sounded a little like the much-disparaged Blix and ElBaradei on May 1, when she was quoted saying that "you may find assembly lines, you may find pieces hidden here and there" that could be precursors to lethal agents or chemicals with dual uses. These scattered pieces, she continued, could be put together "just in time" to make the proscribed armaments. While weapons caches may still be discovered, for the time being, the chemicals and "assembly lines" have clearly acquired a second use for the Bush administration - as it attempts to lower the standard for what constitutes a weapon of mass destruction.
Believing the Hype
Before the war, the US insisted, time and time again, that these weapons existed in large numbers and posed a threat so urgent that military action was required to "disarm" the deposed dictator. In his January 2003 State of the Union speech, Bush laid out his administration's case for war with Iraq by saying that US "intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands." Bush also presented allegations, later refuted by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iraq had purchased enriched uranium ore from the African nation of Niger.
The following month, the White House sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to make its case before the still unconvinced UN Security Council. Using intercepted communications and satellite images, Powell succeeded in convincing large sectors of the American public that Iraq had the nerve agents and chemical shells it claimed not to have. Outside US borders, however, Powell succeeded mainly in raising serious questions about Washington's commitment to UN weapons monitoring and the goal of disarming Iraq. Under the terms of Resolution 1441, UN member states are required to provide full cooperation in the weapons inspection process. Much of the information in Powell's presentation had been collected before the resumption of inspections in late November 2002. If the US was in possession of evidence of Iraqi concealment or weapons activities, then its first obligation was to share that information with UN inspectors, who could ensure that the prohibited weapons were then destroyed or rendered harmless. Defenders of Washington's apparent failure to share crucial intelligence implied that Blix and ElBaradei could not be trusted with such a sensitive mission.
Even facing certain loss of power as US tanks rolled into Baghdad, the Iraqi regime did not use the chemical or biological weapons whose "grave and gathering danger" Rice, Bush and Powell had posited before the war. Presaging Rice's new take on the situation, the British government explained this fact by arguing that the regime was not able to deploy its weapons because their components had been dispersed. This argument directly contradicted London's claim before the war, featured in the heavily hyped "British dossier" of September 2002, that Iraq was capable of fielding an operational battery of weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, and that Hussein's commanders had standing orders to fire them. In an introduction to the dossier, Blair opined: "I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current, that [Saddam] has made progress on WMD, and that he has to be stopped.... Intelligence reports make clear that he sees the building up of his WMD capability, and the belief overseas that he would use these weapons, as vital to his three strategic interests, and in particular his goal of regional domination."
Since the Iraq war began on March 19, US, British and allied forces have checked out over a dozen suspect sites - searching for chemical, biological and nuclear arms materials. Special operations teams, including so-called "mobile exploitation teams" composed of specialized military officers, Defense Intelligence Agency officials and CIA analysts, are trying to locate and test possible weapons materials at as many as 36 sites.
To date, the US-led "mobile exploitation teams" have provided no conclusive evidence that chemical and biological agents exist in weaponized form, though the media has done much to convince the public to the contrary. There was a brief frenzy of speculation - fueled by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and later dampened by Powell - that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction may have been moved to Syria. Embedded reporters have passed along dozens of allegations of discoveries of chemical and biological weapons. Cable news networks, in particular, have focused an inordinate amount of broadcast time on repeated images of alleged mobile labs, chemical munitions and biological weapons facilities, while often neglecting to retract their stories when corroborating evidence fails to emerge.
On April 11, for example, FOX News praised their own Rick Leventhal for witnessing the discovery of a mobile weapons lab secreted inside a larger truck resembling a surface-to-air missile support or radar vehicle. FOX ran and reran pictures of the dilapidated truck, while announcers speculated that anyone who doubted the existence of mobile labs before the war would be now proven wrong. In a second story about the discovery of high-grade weapons material, later withdrawn by the US military, FOX quoted a former Iraqi scientist saying that "the material definitely could have been planned [sic]" for use in a bomb. The reporter then added, "I think this demonstrates the failure of the UN weapons inspections, and demonstrates that our guys are going to find the weapons of mass destruction."
With no concrete evidence of Iraqi chemical or biological weapons, the White House has conceded that the Iraqi regime may have destroyed them before the war started. The US and its few allies, under increasing international pressure to prove that Iraq had such weapons, are raising further suspicion by refusing to allow UN inspectors to help in the search. The Pentagon has recruited its own inspectors, and begun negotiating contracts for weapons disposal with US companies. It plans to send around a thousand additional military personal and scientists to assist with interviews and fact-finding in the coming weeks.
Of Credibility and Corroboration
If any weapons were to be found by the US teams criss-crossing Iraq, would the international community, already very suspicious of US and British motives for the invasion, believe the news? Given the US and British track record of faulty findings before the war, there are widespread concerns that the Bush administration may manipulate evidence to redress its sagging credibility. Empty-handed after conducting site searches, US defense officials are now reported as saying that they are counting on captured Iraqis to point them in the right direction. According to the Associated Press, the US Central Command, which ran the war and is now supervising post-war Iraq, has caught "several alleged weapons scientists." Senior regime figures in US custody, like former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and former liaison to the UN inspectors Gen. Amir al-Saadi, are also supposed to lead Central Command to Saddam Hussein's illegal arsenals.
Are scientists likely to provide accurate information to their captors? Before the war, the White House repeatedly urged Hans Blix to conduct interviews with Iraq scientists outside Iraq in order to protect them from repression and retaliation. The Bush administration is now threatening these scientists with imprisonment, and trial that could lead to execution, if they fail to cough up useful information on where the putative weapons of mass destruction programs may be hidden.
The US-led military inspections effort ostensibly draws its rationale from the need to enforce UN disarmament resolutions, especially 687, 1284 and 1441. But the mandate of the inspections body produced by Resolution 1284, UNMOVIC, applies to all governments of Iraq, including the present "military administration" led by Central Command and retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. The fact also remains that substantial amounts of the chemical and biological agents produced by Iraq were accounted for and destroyed by Iraq and UN inspectors during the 1990s. Given this record of accomplishment, the Security Council should retain its authority and UNMOVIC should be authorized to reenter Iraq to complete its mandate. Even British Secretary of Defense Geoff Hoon recently agreed, "it's important that there should be an independent element in verification," lest the world disbelieve the results of the Pentagon's inspections.
The UN stands at the ready to certify that the requirements of the disarmament resolutions have been met. In a letter to the UN Security Council on March 19, UNMOVIC chairman Hans Blix reminded the Council "that it has in UNMOVIC staff a unique body of international experts who owe their allegiance to the United Nations, and who are trained as inspectors in the field of weapons of mass destruction. While the International Atomic Energy Agency has a large department of skilled nuclear inspectors and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has a large staff of skilled chemical weapons inspectors, no other international organizations have trained inspectors in the field of biological weapons and missiles." IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has recently made it clear that the IAEA "is the sole body with legal authority to verify Iraq's nuclear disarmament.... Our operation is interrupted because of hostilities. We expect to go back with full authority after the cessation of hostilities, to resume our inspection activities in Iraq." According to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, "the work of the inspectors has merely been suspended. If and when they can resume their work, they should go back to Iraq. If anything were to be found, they should go back to test it. I hope the time will come when they will be able to do that." Aside from the legal basis for the return of inspectors and the obvious role they would play by corroborating and providing independent verification of any weapons of mass destruction that may be found by the US, UN inspections are vital to future monitoring efforts.
Bush has called for economic sanctions on Iraq to be lifted quickly so the country's oil revenue can be used to finance reconstruction. The French and the Russians, with varying degrees of pique, reply that the Security Council alone has the authority to suspend sanctions on Iraq. Both nations urged that sanctions not be lifted until UN inspectors verify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have been destroyed, along with the long-range missiles to deliver them. Snubbing the UN in favor of a US team may reprise the problems faced in the mid-1990s, when revelations of illegal US covert operations in Iraq helped to erode international consensus on sanctions, with France and Russia arguing for lifting the punitive measures and the US and Britain adamant that they should stay. This time, the players would exchange roles, but the cost to Iraqi civilian life would be the same.
But the imperatives of verifying Iraq's disarmament and lifting sanctions may be eclipsed by the prospect that failure to produce weapons in Iraq will highlight a failure of US intelligence. Before the invasion of Iraq, a BBC interviewer confronted Blix with the observation that "the British government seems pretty sure that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons, has produced more recently and is trying to get a nuclear bomb." Blix responded, "Well, we are asked to provide facts to the Security Council and the best way of doing that is through inspections, what we see.... I read the intelligence reports, but frequently they simply state that intelligence tells us this, or intelligence shows that. Fine, it may all be true.... But simply saying that 'intelligence shows...' is not evidence."
A transcript detailing the 1995 debriefing of a senior Iraqi scientist, Hussein Kamel, by officials from the IAEA and UNSCOM was leaked to Newsweek and reprinted in early March 2003. Kamel, who was Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, told the inspectors eight years ago that he had overseen and covered up the destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs. The claim was corroborated by a military aide who defected with Kamel. Newsweek reported that the CIA and its British equivalent MI6 were subsequently informed of the debriefing. As specialized military units working with intelligence officers come up empty in post-war Iraq, it is increasingly apparent that the intelligence community did not have the actionable information - the "bulletproof" evidence - that the White House continually cited while making its case for a preemptive strike. According to Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quoted in Newsday on April 28, "You either have the data or you don't. That's the problem here, that we don't really have the data.... At a minimum, the situation raises questions about both the quality of US intelligence on Iraqi weapons and the assertions of administration officials in the runup to the war."
During 12 years of sanctions on Iraq, the US and Britain blocked billions of dollars in Iraqi purchase orders on the grounds that the sought-after goods could have "dual uses," one entirely innocent and the other military. Today, it appears that the most obvious evidence of dual-use material can be found in US and British arguments attempting to justify the invasion of Iraq.
** Alistair Millar is vice president and director of the Washington office of the Fourth Freedom Forum.
[Source: Tikkun 7.5.03]
|2. NEWS in Brief - top|
China meets Dalai Lama's envoys
Secret negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama are due to resume after the arrival in Beijing of two senior envoys of the Tibetan spiritual leader.
Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen are due to meet officials later this week with a secret message from the Dalai Lama, and there is speculation that he will soon return to Tibet after nearly 50 years' exile.
They are also likely to travel to Tibet. Their visit to China last September was the first formal contact between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama for 10 years.
Tibetan officials described the talks as "confidence building", and were hopeful that they would lead to "full-blown negotiations" between Beijing and Tibet's exiled government in India to establish Tibet's autonomy. The recent signs from the new Chinese president, Hu Jintao, had been encouraging, they added.
Thupten Samphel, a spokesman for the exiled government, said: "The return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet is a peripheral issue. The whole of Tibet inhabited by the Tibetan people should be given genuine autonomy... The new generation growing up under Chinese rule is still carrying the torch for Tibet."
In the past Beijing has played down the significance of its meetings with envoys from the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of trying to split the nation. But there seems to be a new willingness to explore the renewal of formal contacts.
In recent months it has released several Tibetan political prisoners, and in recent weeks the Dalai Lama has made pro-Beijing statements which have dismayed those Tibetans who want full independence.
[Source: Guardian 28.5.03]
Green light for disputed Thai-Malaysian pipeline
Construction of a controversial Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline will begin despite the firestorm of protest that has plagued the project for five years.
The 225-kilometer offshore pipeline, which will carry 1 billion cubic feet of gas a day from the Gulf of Thailand to Malaysia, was initially expected to be completed by this year, but opposition by people in four of Thailand's southern provinces had stalled the project. The project, a joint venture of Malaysia's Petronas and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT), is estimated to cost US$565 million, stated a study by Thailand's Working Group for Human Rights Defenders (WGHRD). In addition to the pipeline, a two-unit gas-separation plant will be built in the Songkhla province.
The pipeline - for which joint contracts between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur were first signed in April 1998 and then in October 1999 - is now slated to be complete by mid-2005.
The announcement to build the pipeline will only harden the people's resolve to mount a stronger struggle, said Bantorn Ondam, a sociologist working with the Assembly of the Poor, an umbrella group of grassroots movements. "There will be more tension in the south," he said. "People are discussing how to get their point across after the government ignored them."
"The local communities are opposed to the [Thai-Malaysian pipeline] project, and they will never give up their protests," said Penchom Saetang, coordinator of the Campaign for Alternative Industry Network, a non-governmental organization that champions environmental causes. "The people still want the project to be reviewed."
This opposition is reflected in the daily meetings and the 24-hour vigils the villagers have at a point along the path of the planned Thai-Malaysian pipeline, she said. "They fear their environment will be destroyed once the pipeline is built."
December revealed the intensity of this struggle when a peaceful demonstration by community activists in the southern district of Hat Yai resulted in a harsh police crackdown, in which 38 demonstrators and 15 policemen were injured.
On that occasion, the villagers had wanted to hand over a letter to Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, asking him to listen to their concerns and conduct a review of the project. "But the government is not listening to the people. From December till today, no attempt has been made to consult the people about their worries over this project," said Ananta Boonsopon, a medical doctor and community leader in Hat Yai. "This is unjust and people cannot accept it."
Local residents are worried about the impacts of the pipeline project on their livelihood as fishermen, and about inland water pollution brought by industries expected to move into the area after the pipeline is ready. The pipeline is expected to pass through 23 villages along its route, and the consequences, say activists, will affect the lives of some 10,000 people.
"The government has never told the people nor answered the questions why we need the gas pipeline," said Ananta. "They have not done an environment-impact assessment for the industries to be built."
That charge is not aimed at Thaksin only, but at the government that preceded his, a coalition under the leadership of Chuan Leekpai of the Democrat Party. "Since the days of Prime Minister Chuan, the governments have been reluctant to listen to the people," said Ananta. "And that is a violation of our constitution."
Under Thailand's 1997 constitution, the government is expected to conduct public hearings and seek the views of local communities before it embarks on development projects.
For Pornpen Khongkachonkiet of the WGHRD, this week's decision to start building the pipeline needs to be perceived from a constitutional perspective, too. "The government is clearly ignoring the people's rights recognized in the constitution," said Pornpen. "In doing so, it may create political trouble in the south. We are worried that villagers may be targeted by the government in its attempt to go after dissenters."
But this view of the political mood in southern Thailand is a far cry from what has been painted by the joint venture firm that will build the pipeline.
The communities in the southern Thai province of Songkhla have "scaled back their opposition to the project", a senior official of PTT told the English-language daily The Nation on Tuesday.
"The project is being undertaken along with our campaign to explain to local people what is going on," Prasert Boonsamphan, PTT's deputy managing director, had told the Bangkok Post on Tuesday. "We think there will be no problem with construction because the project will benefit local people."
[Source: AsiaTimes 8.5.03]
Tian's Statement to ISA Review Board
Razali to kick-start stalled talks in Burma
United Nations special envoy for Burma Razali Ismail has been given the green light to make a five-day visit to Burma next month to again push for talks between the military government and the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
According to a BBC report, the envoy is expected to arrive in Rangoon on June 6 for what is to be his 10th visit to Burma.
When contacted, a source close to Razali said the envoy will meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and several high-ranking officials although it is uncertain if his visit would include a meeting with Burmese Prime Minister Than Shwe.
Razalis visit is likely to come as a relief to Burma watchers as little progress has been made in the reconciliation process since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest last May.
Although the military government released over 20 political prisoners earlier this month, few attempts had been made by the junta to start a dialogue with opposition parties so as to negotiate for an eventual transition to civilian rule.
In previous interviews, Razali had expressed frustration over the slow pace of the progress while Aung San Suu Kyi too has criticised the junta for its refusal to start serious talks.
No Asean support
Meanwhile, an observer of Southeast Asian politics, Dr Chandran Jeshurun said Razalis efforts could well have met with limited successes because of a lack of open support by Asean governments. "Mr Razali has expressed disappointment over the little backing he has received from Asean governments. Most governments are willing to leave things as they are as long as there is a strong government in Rangoon," he noted.
Chandran pointed out that the interest of some of the key supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi had also waned in the light of recent developments such as the Iraq war. The United States government is not as supportive as it used to be because Burma is not an urgent problem for them. It is a gloomy picture for Burma now, especially with the economic problems. The worse that can happen to the country has already happened.
Chandran also expressed pessimism over the Rangoon governments readiness for the talks, judging from the few concessions made thus far. "When Mr Razali visits, he meets the generals only for 10 minutes. They dont seem to take him seriously. How much can one achieve in such a short time? He cannot go on like this indefinitely."
"The Burmese government may release a few political prisoners here and there but that is not the point. The point of the visits is to push for a dialogue to start so that they can work out the shape of a national convention and put in place a time frame for it to be set up," he said.
He suggested that a way forward would perhaps be for the international community to reduce sanctions with the achievement of particular milestones in the talks facilitated by Razali. "It is clear that the Burmese economy cannot survive without aid. There should be link between this and (the political process). Perhaps the (international community) could consider easing sanctions if some charted progress is made in the talks," he said.
Bush signs Singapore trade pact
President Bush has signed a free trade agreement with Singapore, his first since Congress granted him trade promotion authority last summer and the largest since the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore joined the president for a signing ceremony at the White House in a display of what Franklin L. Lavin, the ambassador to Singapore, said was the administration's policy, after the war in Iraq, of "working with friends."
Indeed, Mr. Bush brought a sizable contingent of cabinet members and senior advisers to the ceremony, including Colin L. Powell, the secretary of state; Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser; Donald L. Evans, the commerce secretary; and Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative.
Unspoken was the second part of the policy - to punish those nations that did not support the United States in the war. Chile had expected to be the first country to sign such an agreement after completing negotiations in December, a full month before Singapore completed its agreement. But Chile lost that honor by refusing to support the United States in its call for war at the United Nations Security Council, where Chile is a member, senior administration officials said.
"You know, people are disappointed," Mr. Zoellick said at an earlier news conference. "I'm disappointed. We worked very closely with our Chilean partners. We hoped for their support in a time that we felt was very important."
At the ceremony, the president did offer hope, promising, "We're finalizing our pact with Chile."
In several statements regarding trade pacts, administration officials made it clear there was nothing subtle about the policy.
When the president announced the signing ceremony, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., during the war, he praised Singapore not for its economic strength and global trading strategy but for being "a strong partner in the war on terrorism and a member of the coalition on Iraq."
At the ceremony, he praised Mr. Goh for "working together to meet the threats of a new era" and for offering to send police and health workers to aid in rebuilding Iraq. "I'm grateful, as well, for your commitment to a world that trades in freedom," he said. "We take great pride in the strong relationship between our countries."
The agreement is subject to approval by the Senate, although Mr. Bush's trade promotion authority means Congress can only approve or reject its language, not alter it.
For Singapore, the agreement helps secure its position as a leading financial and trading nation in the region, and it is especially welcome as Singapore and other nations battle the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Officials said they also believed the agreement represented an end to the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and 1998, which had raised huge questions about the East Asian economic miracle and sent investors fleeing Southeast Asia.
Although a small city-state, Singapore is the 12th-largest trading partner of the United States, with trade volume of $33.4 billion last year.
Mr. Goh said today that the agreement was a milestone in U.S.-Singapore relations. "The U.S.-Singapore F.T.A. is also the beginning of a trans-Pacific bridge between the U.S. and East Asia," he said. "I believe that it will catalyze greater trade liberalization in East Asia."
Described as the "gold standard" for free trade agreements, the pact guarantees that all American exports to Singapore will face zero tariffs immediately. Tariffs on imports from Singapore will largely disappear, with a small number being phased out within eight years. The agreement also provides protections for intellectual property, workers' rights and the environment.
The one complication in the agreement was controlling foreign currency flows, an issue that Singapore, like many other Asian nations, believed was critical to avoiding a repeat of the financial crisis. Singapore won a compromise that allows it to impose restrictions on foreign capital flows in a crisis.
Most important, said Nao Matsukata, the former director of policy and planning for Mr. Zoellick, the agreement gives the United States a "direct link to Southeast Asia, where we don't have the strongest economic ties."
India woos Burma with weapons deal
India is exporting arms to Burma for the first time - cementing New Delhi's growing ties with the military junta which it once shunned for its terrible human rights record. The Defence Ministry has confirmed the sale of 80 howitzers to the Burma military, but refused to divulge prices or the terms of payment.
"The arms exports reveal that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's government has pulled out all stops to befriend the military dictatorship in order to counter Chinese influence in Burma and Southeast Asia," said retired Lieutenant-Colonel J. K. Dutt, strategic affairs and international relations expert at Calcutta's Jadavpur University. This arms deal marked the beginning of a new phase in India-Burma relations.
Ironically, Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes is seen as a personal friend of Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. His official residence in New Delhi is a meeting point for activists of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy living in exile in India. He is believed to have opposed the deal but gave in under pressure from the Prime Minister's Office and Foreign Ministry.
Colonel Dutt said that howitzers produced by Indian ordnance factories were suited to Burma's hilly terrain, which is strikingly similar to India's north-east bordering Burma. The guns have a high trajectory which can clear hilltops and low mountains. According to a source, the arms consignment was despatched overland in Indian army trucks from the Eastern Command's 33rd Corps headquarters at Binaguri in Bengal.
Until now, China was the main weapons supplier to the Burmese military. The junta has a very favourable purchase agreement with China for buying tanks, armoured personnel carriers, rocket launchers, missiles, fighter planes, ships and submarines. Analysts say the ruling junta's 500,000-strong army is far too big considering that the economy is in a shambles and Burma has no external enemies to contend with.
India claims it is wooing the generals because it needs Burma's help to fight insurgent groups in the northeast and smash drug cartels. "But India's real worry is Burma's military ties with China, which it is desperately trying to weaken by supplying arms to the generals," Colonel Dutt said.
[Source: SCMP 24.5.03]
Iraq in danger of starvation, says UN
Iraqi agriculture is on the brink of collapse, with fears that many of its 24.5 million people will go hungry this summer, according to a confidential report being studied by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.
A special assessment prepared by the UN agency's staff in Rome, which has been seen by The Observer, reveals a catastrophe in the making, with crops and poultry being especially hard hit.
Government warehouses that would have served as the main suppliers of seeds, fertilisers and pesticide sprays have been looted, particularly in the centre and south of the country.
Iraqi farmers should now be planting tomatoes and onions, potatoes, cucumbers, water melon, peppers, beans and squash. But without seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, that will be hard - a situation exacerbated by the collapse of the pumping stations that powered the irrigation schemes on which the vegetable crop depends.
'Vegetables and poultry are particularly important because they are the main source of protein, vitamins, minerals and a host of micro-nutrients that are missing from the oil-for-food basket which is also why malnutrition is endemic in Iraq,' said spokesman Barry Came.
Sixty per cent of the population has depended on the oil-for-food programme, instituted at the end of the 1991 Gulf war. Under the programme, Iraq received supplies of wheat, pulses and flour in exchange for oil.
In the southern and central areas, vital irrigation networks have been destroyed, a once-thriving poultry industry has been ruined and there are predictions of disease and pestilence among both plants and animals.
Enormous difficulties are anticipated in harvesting winter crops, 1.2 million tons of wheat, barley, rice and maize. Under Saddam, harvesting normally started this month, with a touring fleet of ageing combined harvesters.
Lack of spare parts had long put a strain on the harvesters available and now no mechanism exists for purchasing the yield. In previous years, the Ministry of Trade bought the crop, stored it and arranged for banks to pay farmers, who in turn used the revenues to buy the seeds for their summer vegetable crops.
But this year no seeds have been planted because, even if the farmers had money to buy them, most of the seed stock has been looted or destroyed.
Iraqi's poultry industry, source of the half of the animal protein eaten by the population, is also in dire straits. All the soybean and protein concentrate feed stored in government warehouses was stolen, along with vaccines, drugs and medicines required to keep the stock healthy.
Both the major poultry projects that once supplied Iraqi chicken farmers with layers and hatching eggs have collapsed. Thousands of birds have starved to death.
Animal health is another major concern. Most of the veterinary hospitals and clinics were looted or destroyed, and vehicles, drugs, medicines and food ingredients disappeared.
The impact could be severe in a country where disease is rife among the 18 million sheep and goats and three million cattle. Some are capable of transmission to humans, so constant control is required.
The warning came as America's efforts to get Iraq's Health Ministry up and running twisted into farce, when it emerged that the new Minister concerned was a Saddam crony.
[Source: Observer 11.5.03]
|3. Urgent APPEAL - top|
MALAYSIA: ISA: Arbitrary Detention Without Trial
The International Security Act (ISA), that was enacted in the 1960s, remains frequently used to arrest, and indefinitely detain without trial, human rights and opposition campaigners.
The ISA reportedly allows the authorities to arbitrarily arrest, detain incommunicado and interrogate activists, without granting them access to legal counsel or family visits for up 60 days, and without conducting a trial for a period of up to two years. This period is, however, renewable by the Minister for Home Affairs, meaning that the person can effectively be detained indefinitely without a trial. In April 2003, the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) recommended that the Malaysian government abolished the ISA. In June 2003, the Minister for Home Affairs will decide whether to release six political prisoners, or to extend the detention for another two-year period.
Tien CHUA and Dr Badrulamin BAHROM have been detained incommunicado at the Kamunting Detention Camp and have suffered, with other political prisoners, degrading and brutal treatment, including, for Tien CHUA, being placed in solitary confinement, and paraded naked outside his dormitory.
The two-year detention without trial of the six "Reformasi" political prisoners that are being detained under the ISA will expire in June 2003. All six prisoners were detained in April 2001, prior to a mass demonstration in support of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was convicted in April 2000. The six political prisoners are:
The Malaysian government has failed to produce any evidence to support the claim made two years ago that these six political prisoners had attempted to overthrow the government through militant means. The prisoners continue to be held in Kamunting Detention Camp, deprived of their right to defend themselves in court. On 06 September 2002, the Federal Court of Malaysia ruled that the detention of these prisoners was mala fide (in bad faith). The ISA advisory board adopted the same opinion, recommending that the prisoners be released.
The OMCT Case MYS 110401.12, Ill-treatment/Arbitrary detention/Fair Trial, argues for the immediate release of these prisoners. The International Secretariat of OMCT is gravely concerned about the brutal and degrading treatment of the political prisoners at Kamunting Detention Camp. OMCT calls on the Malaysian Government to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the detainees at all time. OMCT is concerned that the detention without trial of the six political prisoners listed above may be extended, and that events at the camp may be used as an excuse to renew the detention order. OMCT calls for their immediate release. OMCT calls on the Malaysian government to abolish the ISA in accordance with the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission.
Please write to the authorities in Malaysia urging them to:
Send a clear message that human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Those responsible, including those in uniform who commit these crimes, should be found and brought to justice.
Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad,
Dato Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi,
Chairman, Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), Ybhg. Tan Sri Musa
Please also write to the embassies of Malaysia in your respective country.
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Calling for Volunteers
Vacancy at ISIS International
Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA):