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Daily Update |9 August 02 | Archive

COLOMBIA – Colombia’s Uribe to Fight Rebels
CHECHNYA – Feature: Humanitarian crisis in Chechnya
VENEZUELA – Nine Shot After Venezuelan Coup Ruling
DR CONGO – Congo Rebels Say Kinshasa Arms Hutus, Breaks Pact
SULAWESI – Fear Rises Among Christians In Tentena Over Possible Islamic Attack
GUJARAT – India poll chief tours riot state
DR CONGO – UN Warns of Possible Flare-Up Among Rival Rebel Groups

Colombia’s Uribe to Fight Rebels
VALLEDUPAR, Colombia- President Alvaro Uribe is pressing ahead with plans to equip 1 million Colombians with radios to report on rebel activity, even after the insurgents showed new daring with a mortar attack that killed 19 people on his inauguration day.

Uribe hopes that next time, making the public his eyes and ears will help stop something similar to the shelling that 20,000 troops and police who packed the capital were helpless to prevent.

"We must overcome fear," Uribe said in the provincial capital of Valledupar on Thursday, a day after the shelling. "We do that by everybody getting involved."

Uribe’s visit to this northern town came less than 24 hours after the inauguration-day shelling. But he was unruffled Thursday, determined to convince the country that an end to the violence would require teamwork.

"Those in danger are 40 million Colombians," he said, dressed in khaki pants and a short-sleeved yellow shirt with no tie. "If we all work together, we’ll get rid of this risk for everyone."

Some say the plan to recruit citizen informants and equip them with radios to report on rebels, a cornerstone of Uribe’s election campaign, may not be enough to prevent well-planned attacks like the one on Wednesday.

"We didn’t notice anything – if we had, I would have fulfilled my duty and told the authorities," said Jesus Beltran, who owns a restaurant two blocks from the house where the mortars were launched. "A politician could be living right next door to you and you might not know."

Authorities blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for the attack. The FARC, the largest leftist rebel group in Colombia with some 16,000 combatants, only rarely claims responsibility for its actions and has said nothing about Wednesday’s attack.

Police had not known the rebels possessed projectiles with such range. This capability may mark a new stage in the war – one in which neighbors with radios may be no match for the determined rebels.

Two of the mortars, fired from over a mile away in the house near Beltran’s restaurant, damaged the presidential palace and wounded police and bodyguards, while at least two others apparently went astray and hit a slum and a middle-class house blocks from the palace.

"It wasn’t known that this type of attack was within the capabilities of the terrorists," said Gen. Hector Dario Castro, Bogota’s chief of police.
At least 14 mortars were launched throughout the city, although some did not detonate.

Security officials also had 20,000 troops and police posted throughout the city, as well as helicopter gunships and a U.S. radar-equipped plane flying overhead.
Of the 19 people who died, three were children, hospital officials said. Twenty-four people remained hospitalized in serious condition.

As part of his informant plan, Uribe said he may also consider arming the citizen groups. Some participants will receive a small monthly stipend – about $40.

"Initially, (they) will not have guns because people will kill them to take the weapons, but the defense minister and the high commanders will study under what circumstances the use of arms could be authorized," Uribe said.

Uribe’s plan to recruit informants worries human rights groups, who fear civilians will be targeted even more frequently by the outlawed groups, or that they might align themselves with right-wing paramilitaries.

In Valledupar, officials told Uribe of the problems in their conflict-torn region, saying travel was nearly impossible because rebels have taken over the highways and kidnapped dozens of people.

Uribe hopes the citizen watch groups, or observer patrols, will make the highways safer.

In the meantime, most Colombians continue to live in fear as they cross their fingers that Uribe will deliver on his promises.

"We really have to be ready for anything here," said Luis Patino, 42, who lives near where the mortars were launched. "But we hope that this government will solve the problems that most affect us – security and unemployment."


Feature: Humanitarian crisis in Chechnya

By Yasmin Sati
From the International Desk
Published 8/8/2002 10:34 PM
WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Medecins Sans Frontieres, the Paris-based Doctors Without Borders, dealt another blow to humanitarian efforts in Chechnya by announcing Thursday it was suspending all but emergency aid for at least another two weeks.

MSF stopped its relief efforts — medical supplies as well as care — on July 29 in protest of the kidnapping of a Russian humanitarian aid worker six days earlier. The United Nations mission in Chechnya, with whom Nina Davidovich’s organization had affiliation, also suspended its programs.

Davidovich, head of a Russian non-governmental organization called Druzhba, has helped coordinate UNICEF pr
ograms in Chechnya to educate and counsel children victimized by nearly 10 years of conflict between Chechen separatists and Russian troops.
The situation has led Russia’s special envoy to Chechnya to declare a crisis in humanitarian aid. But at a Moscow press conference Monday, Abdul Khakim Sultygov told reporters the cause lay not with the incident and other dangers documented daily in the breakaway Russian province but with the weakness of the human rights organizations themselves.

"Corruption and irresponsibility displayed by officials of the international human-rights movement in the North Caucasus are the main reason for the crisis in the international human rights activities in this region," Russia’s official news agency Tass reported Sultygov as saying.

MSF, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, no doubt remembers its own experience in January with the Chechen business of kidnapping, when American MSF worker Kenny Gluck was held for 25 days before being released unharmed. A statement on the group’s Web site said it would re-evaluate its position regarding Davidovich’s kidnapping on Aug. 20.

Meanwhile, MSF and other aid organizations decry human rights violations on both sides but particularly accuse Russian security forces of exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. The troops have continued to detain hundreds of civilians without charges in Chechnya and Ingushetia, which neighbors Chechnya, despite the end of large-scale fighting, aid organization representatives told United Press International.

In a country-by-country report on human rights practices in 2001, the U.S. State Department also noted human rights violations still continue in many areas in Chechnya.

"Its (Russia’s) record was poor in Chechnya, where the federal security forces demonstrated little respect for basic human rights and there were credible reports of serious violations, including numerous reports of extrajudicial killings," said the report, released in March.

MSF, Human Rights Watch and others believe that the situation in Chechnya will not improve until the major international players speak strongly about the human rights violations there. Unfortunately, they add almost in unison, these days the United States, the United Nations and the European Union are paying much more attention to the war on terrorism.

"Since the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States international criticism of Russia’s methods in Chechnya has waned, as Russia has become a key partner in the international coalition against terrorism," said Anna Neistat, HRW’s Moscow director. "But Russia’s role in the coalition should not shield it from scrutiny or criticism."

Michel Hofman, head of the MSF mission, agreed, saying that the international community had raised the problem in Chechnya as a major issue before Sept. 11, but now "this has completely disappeared" because Russia has become a major partner in the fight against terrorism.
"At this moment, the willingness of the international community to address Chechnya has reduced dramatically," Hofman said.

Russian officials disagree. A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington told UPI the United States is following the situation very closely, as are human rights groups and the American media. However, he asserted, the situation in Chechnya is an "internal problem and we won’t accept pressure from the outside world."

The spokesman, Yevgeniy Khorishko, added: "Russia and the U.S. have developed close relations on the issue of terrorism and I’m sure that they will discuss links between terrorists in Chechnya and al Qaida."

Discussions need to happen soon because the human rights situation in Chechnya has gotten worse in the past nine months, said HRW’s Neistat. The Russian authorities have been surrounding villages with military vehicles and conducting house-to-house searches in Chechnya and recently in Ingushetia. She said all men between the ages of 15 and 55 are subject to sweep operations — being detained — for no apparent reason. Some of them are released after spending time in detention, but many of them disappear "without a trace," and this is a major concern, Neistat said.

"There has been quite a major shift in the leadership in Ingushetia," explained Hofman of MSF. The past leadership opposed removing the Chechens from the camps; however, the current leadership is in favor of removing the internally displaced people from their current locations, Hofman said.

"Since May of this year (the new leadership) has allowed Russian federal troops to operate on the territory of Ingushetia, which up to this point has never been allowed by the previous leadership," Hofman said.

"We have found that civilians in Chechnya and Ingushetia continue to suffer both from ruthless sweep operations by federal forces and abusive guerilla tactics employed by rebel fighters," Neistat said. "In recent months, we have documented numerous cases of arbitrary detention, torture, forced disappearance, extra judicial execution, extortion, and looting of civilian property."

The State Department also reports "politically motivated" disappearances by the government. It said that there were credible reports that Russian forces regularly beat, tortured and abused Chechen detainees and suspects.

"Arbitrary arrest and detention and police corruption remained problems," said the report, which is entitled "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001." It continued, "The government prosecuted some perpetrators of abuses, but many officials were not held accountable for their actions."
Another major concern for HRW and MSF is the fact that the 150,000 internally displaced people living in tent camps in Ingushetia are being forced by the Russian government to return to Chechnya by October, where living conditions are even worse.

"Most of them don’t feel it’s safe to return back to their homes, because especially for the males in the family, it’s highly risky to be back in Chechnya because they are subject to arbitrary arrests and violence," Hofman said. He added Russian authorities are persistent in getting rid of the camps in Ingushetia and move people back to Chechnya to prove that the situation is "normal and completely under control," when in fact, it’s not.
Embassy spokesman Khorishko said he had heard some rumors about this but he declined to comment on the issue.

Chechnya was part of the Soviet Union from 1936 until 1991, when it tried to follow the lead of Georgia, Azerbaijan and its other neighbors and declare itself independent. The Russian government refused to recognize Chechnya’s independence, and in December 1994 Russian troops invaded. Fighting between Russian and Chechen forces, resulting in more than 40,000 deaths and causing the displacement of many thousands more people, continued until mid-1996. Russia conceded autonomy while retaining Chechnya as a province.

But fighting between the two sides broke out again in 1999 following a series of bomb attacks in Moscow and southern Russia that authorities blamed on Chechen separatists. Since then much of Chechnya is in ruins and under Russian military occupation.

"Although Russian authorities have been continuously claiming that the conflict in Chechnya is winding down, the Chechen Republic still remains the only place in Europe where civilians are killed on a daily basis in armed conflict," Neistat said. "In the absence of meaningful government investigations into abuses, Russian forces continue to operate with an undiminished sense of impunity," she said.

Russian embassy officials insisted the situation in Chechnya is indeed improving, however. "The Russian government is taking all the necessary steps to improve the economic, human rights and agricultural situation in Chechnya," Khorishko said.


Nine Shot After Venezuelan Coup Ruling
By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – Nine people were shot and wounded in violent disturbances in Venezuela on Thursday after the Supreme Court rejected a proposal to put on trial four military officers accused in April’s uprising against President Hugo Chavez.

After police clashed with supporters of the populist leader clamoring against the ruling, at least eight civilians were wounded by gunfire and a police officer was shot in the leg, authorities said.

"They have taken eight people wounded by gunfire to Lidice Hospital," police commissioner Leobaldo Navas told local radio.

Navas said police defended themselves after coming under gunfire. Eyewitnesses interviewed by local media said at least seven civilians were wounded, two seriously, when police opened fire on demonstrators.

With National Guard troops ringing the building, Supreme Court magistrates earlier voted for a second time against a trial on rebellion charges in a case that last week triggered three days of street clashes.

"They have rejected the proposal … and once again defeated the attorney general who has tried by all means to prove a crime of rebellion that doesn’t exist," Rene Buroz, an attorney for the accused officers, told reporters.

The four high-ranking officers and others accused in the April 11-14 coup remain under investigation and still face possible trial on other charges. One of the supreme court magistrates, who rejected the rebellion trial proposal, will make another ruling on the case within a few days, Buroz said.


Venezuela’s Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez, a close ally of Chavez, wanted to put the officers on trial, alleging they had committed military rebellion by taking part in the president’s short-lived ouster.

Hundreds of troops in riot gear, backed by armored vehicles and at least one light tank, surrounded the court building. Thick black smoke from burning tires rose from nearby streets as news of ruling filtered out to pro-Chavez groups protesting outside.

Last week’s eruption of street violence was the worst since loyal troops put Chavez back in office after he was briefly ousted by rebel military officers four months ago. Police fired tear gas and riot pellets to control pro-Chavez demonstrators after the Supreme Court postponed the ruling until this week.

One officer and at least four civilians were wounded on Friday when snipers with rifles ambushed a police patrol in a poor neighborhood in western Caracas.

Venezuela’s bitter political divide has worsened since the coup as reconciliation talks have collapsed and supporters and foes of the outspoken president blame each other for more than 60 deaths during the April insurrection.

Chavez, a former paratrooper elected in 1998 after promising to stamp out corruption and aid the poor, faces mounting criticism from opponents who blame his self-styled "revolutionary" reforms for driving a wedge between the classes and edging the nation into recession.

The Supreme Court has become the focus of more recent political sparring as opponents of Chavez eye constitutional measures, such as a referendum or shortening his term, to topple the left-leaning Venezuelan leader. Most proposals are still mired in legal wrangling.

The president’s political foes have filed a flurry of charges against the president alleging his government is guilty of corruption, embezzlement and even crimes against humanity.


Congo Rebels Say Kinshasa Arms Hutus, Breaks Pact
By Finbarr O’Reilly

GOMA, Congo (Reuters) – Rwandan-backed Congolese rebels accused the government on Thursday of continuing to supply arms to Hutu militias and putting at risk a pact signed last week to help end Africa’s biggest war.

Kinshasa rejected the accusations and suggested the rebels were making them because they were in a tough position after the deal, which provides for the withdrawal of Rwandan troops in exchange for disarming the Hutus.

The fate of thousands of Hutus, accused of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, is key to ending a four-year conflict that has dragged in six armies and left an estimated two million people dead, most from starvation and disease.

Rwandan and Congolese presidents signed a deal in South Africa last week under which Rwanda agreed to pull out its troops in exchange for the disarmament and return of the Hutus.

But the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy said on Thursday it had evidence the government had supplied weapons at the towns of Sala Mabila and Nzonvu in eastern Congo to Hutu Interahamwe and other anti-rebel militias.

"A week after signing this deal, they are busy arming the negative forces, so we are becoming very pessimistic about this Pretoria accord," rebel spokesman Jean-Pierre Lola Kisanaga told Reuters in the eastern town of Goma.

Information Minister Kikaya bin Karubi told Reuters in Kinshasa that the accusations were nonsense.

"We are committed to the Pretoria agreement and we want to see it implemented. Those accusations are made because all those guys are in a bad shape," he said.


The Hutus, scattered in the forests and hills of lawless eastern Congo, have little desire to return to a home where they are accused of joining in the killing of 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

The rebels’ military commander earlier told Reuters they could be disarmed only if Kinshasa turned over the Hutu leaders.

"…their leaders are based in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi and if (President Joseph) Kabila gives the order to hand them over, their troops in the field will do as they are told and stop fighting," General Jean-Pierre Ondekane said.

United Nations officials have already warned that the disarmament of the Hutus within the proposed three-month timetable is near impossible and would need a much bigger force than the current mission.

U.N. estimates put at about 12,000 the number of Hutu fighters in eastern Congo. They also suspect some 5,000 soldiers of Rwanda’s former Hutu-dominated army might have been integrated into Congolese forces.

Many of the Hutus, while loosely allied to the government, are actually operating well behind rebel lines — putting them beyond the possibility of disarmament by Kinshasa’s forces.

If the Rwandan army and its rebel allies had been able to reach them for disarmament, the Hutus would already have been captured or killed.

The inevitable difficulty of disarming the Hutus leaves open the possibility for either side to blame the other for not fulfilling the deal, which was signed under heavy regional and Western diplomatic pressure.

Congo’s war started in 1998, when Uganda and Rwanda invaded to support the rebels. Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sent troops to back the government.

"Our military will never get tired, we are made for this, but the civilian population is exhausted and tired of war. We are from these families who are suffering, so we need to find a political solution," said Ondekane.

"Kabila can’t say he doesn’t know where they (the Hutus) are and he must also stop giving the Interahamwe logistical support because without his supplies they will become weak and give up," he said.

(Additional reporting by Mark Dummett in Kinshasa)


Sulawesi: Fear Rises Among Christians In Tentena Over Possible Islamic Attack

Tension is extremely high among the Christian community of Tentena (Poso district, Sulawesi Island, Indonesia) over fears of an imminent attack by Islamic extremists of the Laskar Jihad. The alert was launched today by the International Christian Concern human rights group, based on information from local sources. An unconfirmed number of Laskar Jihad combatants – thousands according to residents – were spotted near the Ranoncu bridge, less than 8km from Tentena, inhabited by 65-thousand Christians. Numerous shots and blasts were heard in the same zone. The Ranoncu bridge in fact represents the last point of defence of the villagers. Last year on November 18 the Christians of the same village and soldiers engaged in a six hour battle with the Laskar Jihad, managing to impede the combatants to reach the village. A military post was set up near the bridge last January, army officials underlined that for the moment the regular troops cannot intervene. The behaviour of the Indonesian soldiers was strongly criticised by local Christian leaders, who underlined that the community is practically defenceless. Many villagers have crafted their own weapons and are planning to defend Tentena at all costs.


India poll chief tours riot state

BBC – India’s independent Election Commission chief has begun a tour of the riot-affected state of Gujarat to determine if elections can be held there.

The visit follows the resignation earlier this month of the state’s Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, who has called for polls seven months ahead of schedule.

Mr Modi was heavily criticised for his handling of religious violence in the state, which erupted in February after an attack on a train carrying Hindu activists in Godhra.

More than 1,000 people – mainly Muslims – were killed in the riots, thousands of survivors lost their homes and about 12,000 people are still in relief camps.

Opposition parties are outraged at the call for early elections, saying a fair poll would be impossible given the numbers of Muslim refugees who are still too frightened to venture out to vote.

Final say
Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh is due to meet victims, civil-rights groups, civil servants, policemen and politicians to establish whether polls could be held.

Mr Lyngdoh, and his two colleagues on the three-member commission, began by visiting the scene of some of the worst riots in the Gujarat capital, Ahmedabad.

He visited the Gulbarg Society residential complex, where former MP Ehsan Jaffri and 38 others were burnt to death by mobs.
The team then travelled to Naroda Patiya, where at least 82 Muslims were burnt alive by another mob.
The commission will have the final say on whether elections can go ahead or not.

Mr Modi, who still has the backing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), insists that life in Gujarat has returned to normal.
He has also rejected allegations that his Hindu nationalist administration was complicit in the slaughter of Muslims following the Godhra attack.

The BJP itself is preparing for the polls with a meeting of its senior Gujarat leaders scheduled to take place in Delhi on Friday.

Hindu support
Civil-rights activists maintain that elections would be an insult to survivors, who are still waiting for compensation.

They also point out that thousands of people lost all their belongings, including their identity documents, in the violence and would therefore be unable to vote.

But Mr Modi insists he is justified in seeking a fresh mandate.

Analysts say by holding snap elections, Mr Modi and the BJP expect to return to power on a wave of Hindu support.


UN Warns of Possible Flare-Up Among Rival Rebel Groups

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
August 8, 2002
Posted to the web August 8, 2002
An official of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) said on Wednesday that there was a high risk of fierce fighting between rival pro-Ugandan rebel groups in the district of Isiro, 350 km north of the northeastern city of Kisangani.

"The situation in Isiro is worrying," Hamadoun Toure, spokesman for the UN mission, known as MONUC, said at a news conference.

Two factions of the dissident Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie – the RCD-K-ML (Kisangani – Mouvement de liberation) and the RCD-N (Nationale) – as well as the Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo, led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, have put their fighters on full alert. MONUC said RCD-K-ML fighters loyal to Mbusa Nyamwisi had pushed back those of Roger Lumbala’s RCD-N to Dungu, 130 km to the northeast, but that Bemba’s fighters had advanced to support Lumbala’s retreating forces.

"We are not far from confrontations," Toure said, "but we have appealed to each party to spare the civilians who would bear the brunt of any confrontation."

There was no reason to resume hostilities, he said, now that Rwanda and the DRC had signed a peace agreement. All the Ugandan-supported factions in this zone were signatories to another accord – April’s power-sharing deal signed in Sun City between the government in Kinshasa and the MLC.



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