The Humanitarian Times

September 10, 1999

 

- PARAMILITARIES DISPLACE 200,000 E. TIMOR CIVILIANS & BURN CAPITAL Dili while 26,000 Indonesian troops stood by & forcibly deported 10-50,000 Timorese to other parts of Indonesia. Though Indonesia's leaders agreed to honor East Timor's choice of independence, they are also sending a signal to other parts of Indonesia (Aceh province in the west, the Moluccan islands, the Papua of Irian Jaya) that independence is correlated with destruction. The UN has plans (currently blocked by Russia) to deploy an international peacekeeping force composed of Australian, New Zealand, French, Canadian, Thai, Bangladesh, & Pakistani troops. An estimated 1m Indonesians were killed in a military crackdown in 1965/66 when Gen Suharto overthrew the elected President, Sukarno, beginning a 31-year tyranny. Suharto invaded East Timor in 1975 & displaced 100,000s of Timorese in the late 1970s, using weapons provided by the US govt represented by (now-ambassador to the UN) Richard Holbrooke.

- FOREST FIRES SPREAD IN INDONESIA'S SUMATRA & KALIMANTAN, beginning anew a thick haze this dry season: www.haze-online.or.id, or www.ruf.uni-freiburg.de/fireglobe.

- SRI LANKA & TAMIL REBELS AGREE TO POLIO IMMUNIZATION CEASEFIRE.

The US Centers for Disease Control & Prev. reports that immunization with oral polio vaccine is achievable in active warzones as evidenced by recent successes in Sudan & Somalia.

- CONFLICT AVOIDED IN VENEZUELA AS CONGRESS IS GIVEN NEW FUNCTIONS (after being dissolved) by Pres. Chavez's new natl. Constituent Assembly.

- 150,000 NEWLY DISPLACED IN AFGHANISTAN FROM FIGHTING THIS SUMMER

- NEW EUROPEAN COMMISSION TEAM TO START NEXT WEEK after approval by the EU Parliament. Poul Nielson is appointed as the European Commissioner for Development & Humanitarian aid. Formerly Denmark's Minister for Dev. Cooperation, he replaces Italy's Emma Bonino, who will now serve in the European Parliament & may return to Italy as a Radical Party leader. Under the new European Commission system, ECHO (the humanitarian aid office) & the Directorate General development offices will be consolidated. Former Hong Kong Admintr, Chris Patton serves as general foreign affairs minister.

- UN SECURITY COUNCIL TO CONSIDER ROLE FOR KOSOVO's KLA under a UN plan to recruit current Albanian guerrillas into a civil emergency force after they have demobilized.

- US AWARDED $250 MILLION DE-MINING CONTRACT TO RONCO CORP, for mine detection, mine removal & related services, announced by the US Dept of State in Aug. Yet it has been alleged that RONCO was involved in marketing in Africa some of the landmines it will now be helping to remove.

- BURMA DICTATORS ARREST MORE DOZENS MORE DEMOCRACY ADVOCATES demonstrating fear of open civil debate, including jailing 2 British citizens in the last 2 weeks: James Mawdsley & Rachel Goldwyn. Mawdsley was given a 17 year prison term in Burma for carrying democracy literature into Burma from Thailand.

- TURKEY'S RECONSTRUCTION NEEDS TO PREPARE FOR NEXT QUAKE through enforcement of building standards, thicker iron rods, less sand in concrete mix, and reinforcement of structures in Istanbul. The next western-trending "strike-slip" quake along the North Anatolian fault in Turkey will hit Istanbul itself.

- NEW PEACE CORPS DIRECTOR WILL BE LATIN AMERICAN SPECIALIST Mark Schneider, a long-term USAID coordinator of aid & relief to C & S America. Despite Clinton's plan to expand the Peace Corps to over 10,000 volunteers, Congress is now preparing funding for fewer, closer to 7,000.

- LOWEST CASTE -- UNTOUCHABLES -- MAY DETERMINE INDIA'S ELECTIONS in some areas such as Uttar Pradesh, for first time in India's long history (reports the Christian Science Monitor).

- CONFERENCE ON ENV. CONSERVATION, DISPLACED & FORCED SETTLEMENT this week, through Sept 11, at the Refugee Studies Progr, Oxford, UK: rspeduatermine.ox.ac.uk.

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LITERATURE ON CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS

 

- "KOSOVO: HOW MYTHS & TRUTHS STARTED A WAR" BY JULIE MERTUS (1999 Berkeley: Univ California Press) traces the multitude of perceptions in Kosovo & Serbia on ethnic Albanian search for cultural identity, including interviews after the 1981 uprising in Kosovo, which was forcibly put down by Serbs as counter-revolutionary, setting the precedent of firm oppression. Other defining incidents are recalled through interviews. A public opinion survey conducted by the author found that "Serbs & Kosovo Albanians do not even know what each other wants. Keeping the Kosovo Albanian & Serbian peoples ignorant of each other reinforced fear & reliance on a top-down political solution for Kosovo. The lack of ongoing dialogue hid shared interests & common ground between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians." The author finds the intl. press & western govts only made division worse within Kosovo, prior to this year, when separatists were disregarded as viable intermediaries in discussion: "Outside of Serbia, stories of Albanian 'terrorists' were responsible for the intl. community's failure to deal directly with Albanian political leaders." Mertus devotes considerable space to the role of NGOs in conflict resolution. "NGOs often declare themselves to be agents of civil society without clarifying their role via-a-vis the state" Most foreign NGOs in Kosovo made the initial mistake, they forget that 2 de facto govts exist in Kosovo." Mertus describes the shortcomings of the many training workshops conducted by intl. NGOs, for example on grant proposal writing: "few of them found local workshops to be of practical use. Information on small business has been highly valued, but participants complain that they are shown no ways to obtain the equipment & other resources needed to start the business.

Communication skills workshops are seen as fun but of little practical utility. On the other hand, local NGOs tend to value workshops & trainings involving education & the media." With the exception of the Soros' Open Society Instit, most foreign agencies failed to support local initiatives.

Mertus concludes that the only workable solution for Kosovo today is "independence or division" where "ethnic minorities be accorded human rights." And: "Serbs may be satisfied if they can retain a small northern sliver of the territory" (rich in mineral resources).

Mertus also edited "The Suitcase, Refugee Voices from Bosnia & Croatia" (1997 Univ Calif) which captures the individual stories of war's victims, the trauma of flight, uncertainty, rape, & social exclusion.

- "CHILDREN OF ATLANTIS: VOICES FROM FORMER YUGOSLVIA" edited by Zdenko Lesic (1995 Budapest: Central European University Press) is similar to Mertus' books in that it is based on the testimonies of many young people reflecting on past events. Here the testimonies are presented directly, in the words of students who fled Bosnia, Croatia & Serbia to foreign lands, afraid of war at home. Example: "the political struggle in Belgrade turned out to be even more ruthless than the one in Bosnia.

National hatred flooded the streets, turning neighbor against neighbor.

My whole world was falling apart. One by one my friends were leaving the country in search of a better place to study and live."

- "BLOOD & VENGEANCE: ONE FAMILY'S STORY OF THE WAR IN BOSNIA" Chuck Sudetic 1998 NY: WW Norton & Co.) is arguably the most human & best told tale of the crisis in Bosnia, focusing on the people & events around the mountainous eastern border with Serbia, near Srebrenica, where in 1995 7,-9,000 civilian men were executed by General Mladic's Serb troops who were undeterred by unconvincing UN threats of (NATO) airstrikes: "The Serb general, having had long experience dealing with (UN leader) Akashi, knew he would be loath to approve air attacks even in cases of self-defense." Sudetic recounts how a few local Muslim raids against Serbs, after the Serbs had cut off food convoys to Srebrenica, provided the pretext Mladic needed to argue that the UN was failing to protect Serbs in the afe enclave of Srebrenica. In responding to Mladic, the UN's Akashi did not take into account the common knowledge that Mladic & Serbs had warned that they had a vendetta against the Muslim men of Srebrenica. Akashi replied to Sudetic, when interviewed by the author: "Oh, those (Muslim) men (who were massacred) of Srebrenica: such thieves, such a black market, such a mafia." Sudetic interviews his historical account with the tale of a Muslim family living near the border, that is displaced & partly separated and find now: "the question loomed whether it would be worth returning even if the opportunity arose. There was nothing left of the house -- Paja -- had no will to fight to liberate someone else's home, knowing he had no home of his own. He had no heart for taking vengeance upon anyone." Sudetic says that by June 1996 "Slobodan Milosevic & the nationalist Serb leadership in Bosnia had reneged on every pledge made at Dayton (intl peace accords) concerning the return of refugees the arrest of persons indicted for war crimes."

 

David Rieff's "Slaughterhouse" (1995 Simon & Schuster) recounts the naiveties of UN officials, the media and other actors in relief & conflict prevention 1991-1992. For a personal, blow-by-blow narrative of US negotiations to end the war, culminating in the Dayton accords, see Richard Holbrooke's 1998 "To End A War" (NY: Random House). Holbrooke focuses on the importance of high-level, tough, "all-out diplomatic" negotiations with Milosevic: "Had the US not intervened, the war would have continued for years & ended disastrously." Holbrooke's focus is on the US team & disregards the humanitarian field work of the UN, NGOs & volunteers.

 

Also recommended are P Corwin's 1999 "Dubious Mandate: A Memoir of the UN in Bosnia, Summer 1995" (Durham: Duke Univ Press); R Cohen's 1998 "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo" (NY: Random House); N Cigar's 1995 " Genocide in Rwanda" (College Station: Texas A&M); D Campbell's 1998 "National Deconstruction - Violence, Identity & Justice in Bosnia" (Minneapolis: Univ of Minn Press); & the various reports that provide strategic vision by the International Crisis Group.