The Humanitarian Times

October 7, 1999

 

- HIGH MALNUTRITION & MORTALITY FOUND IN W. CONGO REPUBLIC in the Pool region, west of Brazzaville, reports a multi-agency UN-led mission to war affected areas.

- OVER 100,000 DISPLACED IN CURRENT FLOODS IN MEXICO'S TABASCO REGION

- SIERRA LEONE TO RECEIVE 6,000 PEACEKEEPERS the UN has proposed in a plan that is supported in Sierra Leone which needs to demobilize armed factions.

- NEW "CONFLICT WEB" SITE ESTABLISHED BY USAID at www.info.usaid.gov/regions/afr/conflictweb with calendar of events & rich assortment of downloadable reports.

- ASSESSMENTS IN E TIMOR FIND HALF OF HOMES HAVE BEEN DESTROYED: according to the "UN Inter-Agency & Non-Governmental Organizations Preliminary Assessment of Needs for Humanitarian Assistance for East Timorese" just issued (October; on the web <www.reliefweb.int>): "100,000 of the displaced population East Timor are expected to return over the next six months; of those remaining in East Timor, many are displaced and have not been able to plant food crops for several months, due to insecurity; of the total displaced population (in East and West Timor), up to 490,000 are seriously affected and need full food rations for six months; a further 150,000 IDPs in East Timor have some means of self-sufficiency and may need half rations for six months; 100,000 returnees need full food rations." Relief groups can communicate through a new Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU) in Dili.

- HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF TIMORESE MISSING: as many as 500,000 (out of a total population of 850,000) E Timorese are unaccounted for, now that peacekeepers patrols are visiting rural towns which they find are often destroyed & empty. The Intl Crisis Group writes that indeterminate numbers of Timorese have been transmigrated to Java, Bali, Irian Jaya, Flores, Alor, Sumatra & Sulawesi. Yesterday the UN High Commss for Refugees criticized Indonesia's plans to register East Timorese in West Timor without intl involvement or supervision & it demanded full access to the refugees.

- UNHCR BUDGET PROJECTED AT $930 MILLION FOR COMING YEAR at the annual Ex Comm meetings in Geneva this week, at which UNHCR head Ogata cautioned against the growing involvement by the military in relief operations, saying it can jeopardize the security of refugees, & highlighting the greater technical expertise & experience of the civilian humanitarian agencies.

- 3.5M IRAQI CHILDREN TO BE IMMUNIZED AGAINST POLIO BY UN World Health Organization, following polio outbreak (35 cases in last 4 months). Also this month Iraqi troops are increasingly attacking & displacing Shiite minorities.

- THAI GOVT WILL TOUGH WITH BURMESE REFUGEES, AFTER EMBASSY SIEGE last week. Mobility of Burmese refugees will be restricted; pressures to resettle in third countries will mount.

- SOMALI TOWNSPEOPLE NEED TO BRING CRIMINALS TO JUSTICE or else aid agencies may be unable to help Somalia, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Randolph Kent, explained this week to Somalis, referring to killing of 3 aid workers in Somalia in recent months.

- ZIMBABWE'S $193M LOAN SUSPENDED BY INTL MONETARY FUND THIS WEEK over Zimbabwe's expenditure of a comparable amount of resources on troops fighting in Dem. Rep. Congo's war.

- UNESCO 1999 WEB PRIZE AWARDED TO UN OCHA's 'IRIN' - AFRICA's Integrated Reg. Inform Network, http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN/

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FOCUS ON DAGESTAN & CHECHNYA

 

With 2m inhabitants (2/3 of whom live in 700 villages), speaking 32 languages, Dagestan is strategically even more important than Chechnya.

Dagestanis are not united in seeking independence from Russia, though now Dagestan is caught in a war that will not end in the next few months. Last week Russia formally began another war with Chechnya, first with bombing (killing 400 civilians), and then with 50,000 Russian troops this week taking the northern lowlands (feasible for tanks & infantry) up to the Terek river which they reached this morning. Chechnya's Pres. decreed martial law this week. Russia Prime Minister Putin said that 10,000s displaced Chechens (now in Inguistia) will be resettled into this captured area in N Chechnya, while the military will control its 'cordon sanitaire' or fence against the rebels. Though Russians claim the moral analogy of NATO's recent bombing of Serbia, in Chechnya, Russia is bombing an area to which it has refused to cede independence, more akin to the UK bombing Liverpool into obliteration.

In the coming months, the Chechen & Dagestan forces will benefit from the safe bulwark of the southern mountain parts of Chechnya which Russians forces will not contest. And as the winter frost sets in, Russian troops will be heavily counter-attacked at their current positions, gradually increasing the Russian casualty rate, & making the conflict less & less popular with the Russian people, which, through the December elections for the new Duma, will influence policy toward Dagestan.

The historic backdrop to these issues are reviewed in books below, including the events that started in December 1994 when Russian troops first took Grozny, only to be repelled, leading Russia to intensely bomb Grozny to ruins. These authors all play the 1990's conflict backwards to the 1840s wars, explaining why Russian policy- makers fear, distrust & ultimately fail to understand the N Caucasus mountainpeople. The authors also reveal how poorly planned the Russian invasions have been, and how misinformed the Russian people have been kept about Chechnya's capabilities: though the Chechen forces were small in number & did not have sophisticated arms; they were far more intelligent fighters & their will would not be broken by a simple show of force (tanks & bombing). Dagestan too has a history of oppression by Russia, (before the current conflagration, in March 1996 Russian artillery bombarded a Dagestani village to strike against Chechens).

- "ALLAH'S MOUNTAINS: POLITICS & WAR IN THE RUSSIAN CAUCASUS" by Sebastian Smith (London: IB Tauris Pub) who writes of "Dagestan was the republic to watch... (it) lay on the path of the Azeri oil, train & road routes, while the capital Makhachkala was now Russia's last all- year warm water port on the Caspian. The internal situation looked explosive. Not only did all the main ethnic groups have political or territorial judges, they had ethnically based national fronts with their own politicians, business interests &, sometimes, paramilitaries.

Dagestan might have been expected to turn into a dozen miniature Yugoslavias. Paradoxically, however, the complexity of the ethnic map helped prevent a crisis. No single group was big enough to dominate, & territorial or political demands by one group invariably impacted too many others to get out of hand. But perhaps the most important factors calming Dagestan were widely shared gortsy culture & Moslem religion." After explaining Russia's laissez-fair policy toward Dagestan, Smith notes the ruthlessness of crime gangs &: "within a few years of the collapse of Soviet authority, Dagestan had become a seriously violent place, the leading region in Russia, bar Chechnya, for political killings & kidnappings. Terrorism had become standard business practice."

- "DAGHESTAN: TRADITION AND SURVIVAL" -- 'DAMNED IF THEY DO OR DON'T'. Robert Chenciner (1997 NY: St. Martin's Press) describes social mores, daily life, & governance in depth, based on field research in the '90s.

As do the other authors reviewed here, Chenciner describes how the very complicated panoply of ethnic groups & traditional non-violent means of social conduct have kept Dagestan safe from civil war (until now). He also explains that "at the Last Judgment, the Daghestan mountain man knows he will be recognized as a fighter, who only submitted to God, Shamil (an Avar imam who gained Dagestan's independence, briefly, in 1844) & Stalin." The author concludes that: "it seems that the N Caucasians are damned if they fight the Russians & damned if they don't." Each of several group-specific conflicts may also create humanitarian emergencies, for example: the Lezgins in Azerbaijan who are affiliated with Lezgins in Dagestan, the Avars who were expelled from Georgia, the Dargin shepherds in the southern Steppes.

- "CHECHNYA: CALAMITY IN THE CAUCASUS" PROVIDES READABLE BACKGROUND on the crisis in Chechnya, by Carlotta Gall & Thomas de Waal (1998 NY Univ Press). The authors describe how Russian troops were unprepared for actual fighting with Chechnya in 1994: "none of the 18 & 19-year old conscript soldiers had any training for urban warfare & had no idea of the dangers... the Chechens by comparison were fearless & often merciless." The authors explain the current repercussions of the large forced population displacements during & after WWII, including the 1m Volga Germans (shipped to Siberia), Buddhist Kalmyks, the Meskhetian Turks (from Georgia) & Greeks. Most notable are the deep wounds of the forced relocation, under Stalin, of 500,000 Chechens & Ingush to far-flung parts of the Soviet Union where an estimated 100,000 of them soon died of food insecurity.

The authors explain Chechen independence leader Dudayev's approaches to re-tool Chechnya's economy, no longer dependent on Russia, & taking advantage of its border status for barter & oil trade.

- Also see Greg Hansen & Robert Seely "War & Humanitarian Action in Chechnya" (Humanitarianism and War Project, # 32, Providence, RI: T Watson Institute: IISatBrown.edu). and see S Goldenberg's 1994 "Pride of Small Nations: The Caucasus & Post-Soviet Disorder" (London: Zed Books) summarizes the political economy of change & coping mechanisms discovered in the early 1990s, as trade, production, pensions for old people, national borders, & governance had to be re-invented in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan & the N Caucasus. She cites the important, but limited role of intl aid to old-age pensioners, internally displaced persons, & earthquake victims, showing how these groups too are reinventing the way they do business, confronted with the unique (political & winter cold) challenges of the region.

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The Humanitarian Times