October 31, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 44

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“There are a lot of powerful countries meddling in a weak state and a lot of strategic interests involved.”

— An anonymous regional analyst on Niger’s burgeoning uranium rebellion (see “Africa’s Resource Wars II,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
Iran’s other little problem — inflation
Resistance deepens to Afghan poppy spraying
A taste of old Russia

*Uganda*
New hopes and hurdles for Uganda peace

*Africa’s Resource Wars I*
Blood diamonds sullied, but still glitter

*Africa’s Resource Wars II*
Uranium ignites Niger strife

*Dissent*
Old wounds deepen for government critics


TOP STORIES

* Iran’s Other Little Problem — Inflation

Nary a word about Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions or headline-grabbing trip to the United States appeared in a recent Agence France-Presse article.

Instead, the piece focused entirely on rising complaints about his economic stewardship, which experts say will push inflation to more than 20 percent this year.

Rising costs for food and services have hit the poor hardest, prompting a leading reformist ayatollah to claim that the problem is “making the people cry out.”

Opponents blame Ahmadinejad for “frittering away” abundant oil revenue on highly visible infrastructure projects, which one conservative in Parliament said has awakened “the inflation monster.”

Source:

“Ahmadinejad’s economic performance under fire again – from both sides”
Agence France-Presse, October 30, 2007

* Resistance Deepens to Afghan Poppy Spraying

A secretive test-spraying of “harmless plastic granules” over Afghan poppy crops has revealed deepening opposition to drug- eradication efforts backed by the United States.

The program, intended to gauge reactions to future spraying of real herbicide, provoked questions and outrage from local farmers all the way up to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, reports McClatchy Newspapers.

Opium produced from Afghan poppies contributes as much as $100 million annually to the insurgent Taliban’s coffers. Eradication efforts thus far have done little to stem the harvest, and now fears are deepening over the impacts of toxic herbicides on water supplies, livestock and humans.

Source:

“Outcry against poisoning Afghanistan poppies”
McClatchy Newspapers, October 26, 2007

* A Taste of Old Russia

European authorities are decrying a move by Russia to cut the number of international observers at its upcoming December 2 vote from 465 to 70 individuals.

A spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which organizes vote-monitoring teams, said the plan would greatly reduce its capacity for “meaningful observation,” reports the International Herald Tribune.

The cutbacks come amid increasing concerns of a return to authoritarian rule. Changes in election laws will largely prevent opposition candidates from winning seats, and according to the BBC, televised debates have been scheduled for “off peak” times, such as mid-morning or late at night.

United Russia, the largest party supporting the agenda of President Vladimir Putin, has chosen to skip the debates altogether, bringing sharp criticism from the Moscow Helsinki Group, an outspoken human rights group.

Source:

“Russia moves to cut elections oversight in ex-Soviet states”
International Herald Tribune, October 31, 2007

“Russia ‘Curbing Poll Observers'”
BBC News, October 31, 2007


UGANDA

* New Hope and Hurdles for Uganda Peace

Overshadowed by the Darfur conflict, one of Africa’s most bloody and intractable rebellions inches closer to resolution.

Reconciliation is on the agenda in Uganda, where an unprecedented meeting between elected President Yoweri Musevini and leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army is scheduled for the capital city of Kampala, reports The Monitor, a leading newspaper there.

The LRA, renowned for extraordinarily cruelty in its attacks on rural villages, and children in particular, has been locked in conflict with the government for decades.

One of the decisive issues in the conflict is the fate of Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, and wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.

The human-rights advocacy group Enough says that only three options exist for Kony — “accountability, asylum or arrest.”

The choices are not appealing to Kony and his lieutenants, who remain on the run, haunted by ICC arrest warrants, and the specter of homegrown vengeance.

Activists say that residents of northern Uganda, center of the LRA’s rebellion, have already killed Kony’s brothers, and his other associates must now travel with armed escorts.

Sources:

“Uganda: LRA Delegates to Meet Museveni”
The Monitor (Uganda), October 31, 2007

“Uganda: Third Country Asylum for Kony”
The Monitor (Uganda), October 30, 2007

“Uganda: A War Against Children”
Newsdesk.org, April 1, 2005


AFRICA’S RESOURCE WARS I

* Blood Diamonds Sullied, But Still Glitter

Delegates from 70 countries and international groups will meet in Brussels next week to discuss progress in stamping out trade in “conflict diamonds.”

Also called blood diamonds, the rare gems are unearthed in war zones and are used to fund militant operations.

SABC News reports that the multinational Kimberly Process has successfully reduced the trade from 15 to one percent of all diamonds sold on the world market.

An opinion piece in The News, a Liberian newspaper, even notes that Sierra Leone, once riven by civil war fueled by diamond smuggling, now seeks to develop a lucrative tourist industry focused on its “spectacular” beaches.

But Reuters reports that Belgian authorities also seized 14 million euros worth of suspect diamonds in Antwerp last weekend.

China’s Xinhua news agency claims the seizure targeted the Peri Diamond company, and was a “slap in the face” of the Antwerp World Diamond Center, a leader in battle against blood diamonds.

Antwerp is home to trade in 80 percent of the world’s rough diamonds, and 50 percent of those cut and polished.

Swiss officials have also turned over documents to Belgian authorities, as part of an investigation into five Geneva- based firms that are accused of using fake certificates to import US$525 million in raw diamonds, the Associated Press reports.

Radio Jamaica also notes that officials in Guyana have seized “4,000 karats of smuggled diamonds,” which a “locally based international company was attempting to export to Dubai.”

Sources:

“Sierra Leone: From Blood Diamonds to Beaches, Country Aims to Develop Tourist Sector”
The News (Liberia), October 21, 2007

“Brussels to host annual diamond meeting”
SABC News, October 30, 2007

“Belgian authorities confiscate blood diamonds”
Xinhua (China), October 29, 2007

“Belgium investigates suspected blood diamond trade”
Reuters, October 29, 2007

“Swiss authorities will hand over documents to aid Belgian blood diamond probe”
Associated Press, October 11, 2007

“Guyanese mining officials seize blood diamonds”
Radio Jamaica, October 23, 2007


AFRICA’S RESOURCES WARS II

* Uranium Wealth Ignites Niger Strife

Africa’s struggle with mineral wealth and regional poverty has a new poster child, as Tuareg nomads in Niger take up arms for a greater share of the booming uranium trade there.

Niger is not only the continent’s leading uranium exporter, it is also one of the most impoverished — a situation exacerbated by progressively severe drought.

According to ISN Security Watch in Switzerland, a nascent rebellion by nomadic Tuareg rebels has claimed the lives of 50 soldiers, although the government claims the attacks were by drug smugglers and robbers, and has deployed “thousands” of troops to the region.

The situation is further complicated by the presence of foreign mining companies, which have been the target of rebel attacks — but are also blamed for exacerbating the violence.

In particular, the government blames Areva, a French company, which until recently had a monopoly on the uranium trade there, of exhorting rebels to attack its competitors.

The rebels, meanwhile, say they are victims of racism and political neglect, claim that China has offered military aid to Niger in return for favorable mining contracts, and also blame Areva for helping fund government oppression through uranium sales.

Libya, at the country’s northern border, has also been blamed for backing the rebels as it seeks greater access to the radioactive mineral.

The conflict is taking its toll on civil society in Niger.

According to the Media Foundation of West Africa, a government regulatory agency has suspended operations at several radio stations and newspapers since the Tuareg conflict began.

Sources:

“Niger: The uranium curse”
ISN Security Watch, October 31, 2007

“Niger Tuareg rebels threaten Areva’s uranium mines”
Reuters, October 30, 2007

“Media Regulatory Body Threatens to Close Radio And Television Stations”
Media Foundation of West Africa, October 25, 2007


DISSENT

* Old Wounds Deepen for Government Critics

A snapshot of anti-government and protest movements in Bolivia, Zimbabwe and the Philippines reveals little progress towards healing old wounds.

In fact, some appear to be deepening.

Bolivia’s Fault Lines

In eastern Bolivia, opposition to the socialist government of Evo Morales is digging in over attempts to nationalize lucrative natural gas fields for the benefit of the impoverished, majority Indian communities of the western highlands.

Morales is pushing towards a December 14 constitutional convention, which would give greater power to Aymara and Quechua Indians, reports the San Francisco Chronicle’s Foreign Service.

Public response has been divisive. Troops and counter-protestors turned out after thousands of citizens of the prosperous Santa Cruz state took over an airport to protest Morales’ policies.

The Chronicle also cites a report in Brazil’s O Globo newspaper quoting an anonymous Santa Cruz official who claims that 12,000 anti-Morales militants are lurking in the jungle, waiting for an opportunity to strike.

Protesting a Presidential Pardon

The Philippines, meanwhile, saw a stormy protest following President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s pardon of her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, who had served a six-year “detention” in his vacation house for graft and corruption.

Protestors, who helped topple Estrada in 2001, say the pardon skirted normal procedures and made a mockery of the justice system there, and that the pardon will “weaken” Arroyo politically.

A Ray of Sunshine?

In Zimbabwe, the repressive regime of Robert Mugabe appeared to open ever so slightly, by announcing it would consider the reinstatement of the publishing license for the nation’s popular Daily News newspaper.

The government had twice overturned a Supreme Court ruling that threw out a four-year-old ban on the newspaper, but recently opted to restore a government panel that could issue a license “impartially,” within the parameters set out by the court ruling.

Sources:

“Racial, regional rivalries threaten to tear Bolivia apart”
San Francisco Chronicle, October 28, 2007

“Bolivia — A Talent for Upheaval”
Newsdesk.org, March 18, 2005

“Zim to consider licence for banned Daily News”
Mail & Guardian (South Africa), October 31, 2007

“Civil society members rally vs Estrada pardon in Makati”
Inquirer.net (Philippines), October 30, 2007


Editor: Josh Wilson

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