Noung's world affairs journal

Ok, here's a new idea I'm trying. Every week I write a journal of some of the things that happened the week before that maybe the mainstream media wasn't too hot on picking up on, and some opinion pieces about whatever the main talking points of the week were. If you want to see a list of my sources see the bottom, I'll try to combine views and opinions from as many different countries and angles as possible. This posting covers the week 12th - 19th April, and sometimes I delve back further. I hope it's interesting.

The Congolese war against peace

Four and a half years ago, civil war began in Congo. Since then it has cost between two and three million lives (mainly from hunger and disease), and another 1000 were killed only a few weeks ago while the rest of the world was focused on the Middle East. At one time six foreign armies operated in Congo. The war began when Rwanda and Uganda sent troops to oust Laurent Kabila, who was president of Congo back then. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola then sent troops to back the government. Most of the foreign troops have now left (Rwanda withdrew last October and Uganda are supposed to be pulling out at the end of this month), but proxy fighting continues. For its part, Rwanda fears that its national interests are at stake because of Hutu rebels operating in East Congo, but there is another factor at stake: the region's natural resources, which include gold, diamonds and coltan. A U.N. report says that the value of the minerals Rwanda ilegally extracts from East Congo exceeds the value of all its exports. The involvement of South Africa and the United Nations doesn't seem to be helping anything (there are 5,000 U.N. observers), and many sides in the conflict are clamouring for the involvement of the United States.

It was the United Nations that first heard of this latest massacre, in the North East of the country. The spokesman of the U.N. mission to Congo (MONUC) put it this way -

"The investigating team heard that 966 people were massacred. They identified 20 mass graves and visited 49 seriously injured people in hospitals,"

The victim was the town of Drodro in the Ituri District (which is rich in gold), which has seen thousands of people die in ethnic clashes since the start of the war. U.N. inspectors confirmed the existence of mass graves in the town and the Ugandan government has sent troops to investigate.

Recently, various rebel leaders and the government signed an accord to create a transitional government and have elections in 2 1/2 years. This massacre is what followed. Troop movements continue as late as April 17th. So it seems that the people of Congo still have a while to wait. The withdrawl of Ugandese forces, which have been accused of playing off various factions in the region against each other, could eventually be a very positive move - but then, maybe not. A security vacuum would be left in Eastern Congo which rebel factions could move to meet. Uganda is calling for a neutral international force to move in, but I can't find any suggestion that the U.N. might move in. According to analysts a security presence of three brigades, plus air monitoring capabilities, is needed to bring peace to Ituri. Once peace was established, humanitarian aid could flow in more freely. Kofi Annan once said that "no-one can escape responsibility for the persistence of {Africa's} conflicts." Let's hope that eventually this will translate into real, armed action.

Multilateral talks and defections

Two things everyone's talking about this week are SARS and North Korea. For months North Korea has being posturing towards and cajoling the United States (which has moved long-range bombers to Guam, in range of the country), but no major discussion has been held since October. America has been calling for multilateral talks involving powers in the region, whereas North Korea wanted bilateral talks between itself and America. On the 17th, North Korea suddenly agreed to multilateral talks involving China, itself, and America. This offer, which was not ideal to the Americans but a good start, is rumoured to be the result of Chinese pressure on the North. This is quite a coup for China, which was able to show that it could help handle the North Korean problem, and help achieve a solution which didn't involve the use of force. China recently "accidently" cut off its supply of oil to North Korea for three days, a sharp reminder who's boss that maybe influenced Kim Jong-Il's thinking.

Everyone was happy that the North had finally come to its senses. Perhaps, Washington thought, the action in Iraq had sent them a clear message. Then, today, North Korea released a statement about the reprocessing of spent fuel rods (which could, if they so wished, lead to them developing a nuclear bomb in a few months). And the statements differed in the Korean and English language versions. In English, they said they were "successfully reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods". This was something they were specifically warned not to do by Washington, which had warned of grave consequences if they did. But the Korean language version said "We are successfully completing the final phase to the point of the reprocessing operation for some 8,000 spent fuel rods," which would imply they haven't started yet. No-one's quite sure what to think, but the general wisdom now seems to be that North Korea is just warning America to be realistic at the negotiating table in Beijing. We're just going to wait and see what happens as the talks progress, but the involvement of China is encouraging for everyone. Sino-American relations are likely to have a large impact on the region in the future, and a postive relationship between the two nations is bound to be beneficial for it.

The Times of London reported today that "up to 20" North Korean nuclear scientists had defected to the U.S., including Kyong Won-ha, the "father" of the North Korean nuclear program. The defections were reportedly aided by South Korean private citizens and non-government organizations in U.S. allies. Debriefing these officials is reportedly providing great insight into the Korean nuclear program, especially with regard to the reactor at Yongbyon.

The Middle East
Iraq, Syria, the United Nations

Now the war is effectively won (Syria notwithstanding, see below), the coalition needs to set about winning the peace. Whilst many lefty publications have been taking glee in American setbacks throughout the conflict, conservative ones have been aware that this would be the hardest part of the whole deal since the start. It's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be popular among neighbouring nations. Note the protests by Shia Muslims that took place in Iraq yesterday were mirrored by those taking place in Tehran at the time - there are factions inside Iraq with links to the outside, and they're after their slice of power. Tehran has 10,000 troops stationed on Iraq's border, presumably waiting to move in if America leaves before Iraq is capable of defending itself. Turkey is making noises about a "right of observation" in Northern Iraq and issuing instructions on which ethnic group in Iraq is allowed to settle in which city. Young Syrians shoot at Marines.

It seems that the U.S.-led coalition is the only force that can keep all this in check. All legitimate groups in Iraq must have a say in its future. But no other country should be allowed to dominate its future. Rival factions should not be allowed to start a civil war. The small remaining Ba'athist faction, sponsored by Damascus, cannot be allowed to establish a new regime of terror. Jacques Chirac wants the U.N. to be in "sole charge of the future of Iraq". Dream on, brother. The U.N. could not be trusted to rid Iraq of WMD, it could not be trusted to stop Hussein's support of terrorism, it could not be trusted to liberate the Iraqi people. Iraq's future must not be mortgaged to satisfy a dying organization's power-plays. The U.N. has a role in providing humanitarian assisstance and doing some routine tasks. It can be used as a forum for discussion. But Putin and Chirac can no longer hope for the role in events that they once dreamed of - they sacrificed that when they tried to be a "counterweight" to the unshakeable will of the United States of America.

The usual empty rhetoric coming out of Damascus about American "colonialism" (a particularly good one was "US officials define terrorism as targeting civilians for political purposes, which is exactly what they are doing in Iraq." I must have missed that,) are to be expected, but Ansar (whom the media seems to be referring to as "naive" - he only took power a few years ago) might just be pushing it a bit too far. On March 27th, Ansar announced that Iraq is

"a large Arab country with scientific, material and human resources . . . able to accomplish, at the least, what Lebanon accomplished, and more."

He's referring, of course, to the Syrian campaign to drive America and Israel out of Lebanon. The so-called "Lebonization of Iraq" - where outside groups move in and create anarchy - is much feared by anyone who wants a democratic future for Iraq. Syria is, in a way, acting in self-defence - it's scared by having a democratic neighbor next door, it's scared for what this means for its regime of terror and its precious chemical weapons. But America is standing up to it, chin to chin. No-one wants to see American troops in Damascus as well as Baghdad, and America has a lot of scope for economic and diplomatic pressure on Syria. Osama bin Laden once called America a "weak horse" but now it's a strong, kicking mule. Ansar could do to wise up and realize this. But if the days of him and those like him are numbered, as we can only hope they are, then maybe he'll realize it himself. The wind of democracy is blowing strong across the Arabian desert, and it may not be the Marines who liberate Damascus.

On April 17th, Syria refused to allow U.N. arms inspections. The United States maintains that Syria possesses chemical weapons, which it developed as a counter-measure against Israel.


The Asia Times

The Jerusalem Post

The London Times

The Moscow Times

The Washington Post

The Washington Times

The Weekly Standard