News & Current Affairs

February 20, 2010

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

A Dutch soldier in Afghanistan

Dutch forces have been in Uruzgan since 2006

The Dutch government has collapsed over disagreements within the governing coalition on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan.

After marathon talks, Christian Democratic Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the Labour Party was quitting the government.

He offered his government’s resignation to Queen Beatrix in a telephone call.

The premier had been considering a Nato request for Dutch forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

But Labour, the second-largest coalition party, has opposed the move.

Just under 2,000 Dutch service personnel have been serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan since 2006, with 21 killed.

Their deployment has already been extended once.

Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together
Jan Peter Balkenende

The troops should have returned home in 2008, but they stayed on because no other Nato nation offered replacements.

The commitment is now due to end in August 2010.

The Dutch parliament voted in October 2009 that it must definitely stop by then, although the government has yet to endorse that vote.

Mr Balkenende’s centre-right Christian Democrats wanted to agree to Nato’s request to extend the Dutch presence in Afghanistan.

But this was bitterly opposed by the Dutch Labour Party.

The finance minister and leader of the Labour Party, Wouter Bos, demanded an immediate ruling from Mr Balkenende.

When they failed to reach a compromise, Labour said it was pulling out of the coalition.

Nato priority

Mr Balkenende said he would offer the cabinet’s resignation to the Dutch Queen Beatrix later on Saturday following the collapse of the government.

It was announced after a 16-hour cabinet meeting which ran into the early hours of Saturday morning.

The prime minister said there was no common ground between the parties.

“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together. There is no good path to allow this cabinet to go further,” he said.

The launch in 2001 of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for Afghanistan was the organisation’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said six months ago when he began his job that his priority was the war in Afghanistan.

As of October 2009, Isaf had more than 71,000 personnel from 42 different countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

Mr Balkenende had been considering the Nato request

The US provides the bulk of foreign forces in Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama has announced an extra 30,000 American troops for Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has said the next 18 months could prove crucial for the international mission in Afghanistan, after more than eight years of efforts to stabilise the country.

Afghanistan remains a deadly place for foreign forces.

Suicide attacks on Afghan civilians and roadside bomb strikes on international troops are common, with the Taliban strongly resurgent in many areas of the country.

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November 1, 2008

Libya compensates terror victims

People visit the Lockerbie Garden of Remembrance (image from May 2000)

Most of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing were Americans

Libya has paid $1.5bn into a US compensation fund for relatives of victims of terror attacks blamed on Tripoli, the US state department says.

The fund was agreed in August to settle remaining lawsuits in the US.

The attacks include the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco which killed three and wounded more than 200.

Under the deal, Libya did not accept responsibility for the attacks, but agreed to compensate victims.

It is the final step in a long diplomatic process, which has seen Libya come back into the international fold.

US contribution

The first $300m Libyan payment into the fund was made on 9 October, shortly after an historic visit to Tripoli by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Its second payment of $600m was received on Thursday and a final installment of $600m was made on Friday, said David Welch, the US diplomat who negotiated the settlement.

In exchange, President Bush has signed an executive order restoring the Libyan government’s immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing pending compensation cases in the US, the White House said.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs David Welch (l), and Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Fitouri (14.8.2008)

The US and Libya agreed to the compensation deal in August

Our correspondent says it is unclear why it took so long for the money to be paid into the fund.

She adds that there may have been contributions by American companies lured by business opportunities in Tripoli and keen to expedite the process of normalising ties.

The US State Department, however, has insisted that no money from the American taxpayer will be used for the US portion of the fund.

Libya has already paid the families of Lockerbie victims $8m (£4m) each, but it owes them $2m more.

The fund will also be used to compensate relatives of seven Americans who died in the bombing of a French UTA airliner over Chad in 1989.

In 2004, Libya agreed to pay $35m in compensation to non-US victims of the 1986 Berlin bombing.

In the same year, relatives of non-US victims of the UTA bombing accepted a payment of $1m each from the Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations.

Relations between Libya and the US improved in 2003 when Tripoli stopped working on weapons of mass destruction.

The decision led to the restoration of US diplomatic ties with Libya in 2006.

In turn, it was removed from America’s list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

September 18, 2008

Yemen faces new Jihad generation

Yemen faces new Jihad generation

Aftermath of attack on US embassy

New recruits actively target the Yemeni regime and its supporters like the US

The deadly car bombing outside the US embassy in Yemen represents an escalation in attacks against Western targets and shows al Qaeda-inspired jihadis are growing in ability and determination.

Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 16 people, but it is possible that other groups will come forward in the next few days.

There is a complex network of over-lapping splinter cells and claims of rival leadership within Yemen.

Extremist violence in Yemen has been on the rise since February 2006, when 23 prominent militants tunneled their way out of a high-security jail.

Ten Europeans and four Yemenis have died in attacks on tourist convoys in the past 15 months.

In March, a misfired mortar strike hit a girls’ school next door to the US embassy by mistake.

A subsequent bombing campaign in the capital – against an expatriate residential compound and oil company offices – prompted the US state department to evacuate all non-essential embassy staff from Yemen.

US employees had just started to return to their embassy desks at the end of August – so the timing of the latest attack is significant.

Crackdown

During July, Yemeni security forces killed five al-Qaeda suspects, disrupted a second cell and arrested more than 30 suspected al-Qaeda members.

Map of Yemen

In August, a prominent Islamic Jihad figure was arrested.

But this attack shows that effective leadership remains intact and operational capacity has not been disrupted.

Two Saudi passports were found among documents seized in the July raids and interrogations were said to have uncovered plans to launch attacks in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Yemen subsequently extradited eight Saudi nationals to Riyadh.

The raids underlined the importance to Saudi Arabia of Yemen’s internal security. But Yemen is also paying the price for the northern kingdom’s muscular clampdown on its own insurgents.

In March, a Saudi militant fundraiser said al-Qaeda had been defeated in Saudi Arabia and he called on his remaining associates to flee to Yemen to escape capture or assassination by the Saudi authorities.

The current migration of Saudi jihadis to Yemen coincides with the emergence of a transnational structure calling itself al-Qaeda in the South of the Arabian Peninsula.

Yemen’s mountainous terrain and the weak presence of state structures outside Sanaa have long fostered close ties between jihadis in these neighboring states.

Public education

Cash-strapped Yemen lacks the financial resources to tackle terrorism in the same robust manner as the Saudis; its per capita gross domestic product of $2,300 is dwarfed by the $23,200 seen across the northern border.

The government is moving to a policy of direct confrontation with the younger generation
Analyst Ahmed Saif

In recent years, the Yemeni government has pioneered a dialogue programme and poetry recitals to influence violent jihadis and tribesmen.

The most recent initiative is a two-hour feature film intended to educate the public about Islamic extremism.

The film, called The Losing Bet, follows two Yemeni jihadis who return home after being radicalized abroad.

They are directed by an al-Qaeda mastermind to recruit new members and carry out a “martyrdom operation”.

News footage from the aftermath of a real suicide bombing is edited into scenes of this creative new drama – written and produced by a popular Yemeni director.

The film was launched in August, at a five-star hotel that has previously been an intended target of foiled terrorist plots.

It comes as the government faces a new generation of violent Islamists who are blowing the old, inclusive consensus apart.

The young generation appears to be immune to the standard tactic of negotiation and compromise that President Ali Abdullah Saleh used with the Yemeni mujahideen who returned home at the end of Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union.

The Afghan veterans supported the northern tribes against the former socialist South Yemen during the 1994 civil war in return for a reputed “covenant of security” deal – where the government guaranteed protection inside Yemen as long as violence occurred outside the boundaries of the state.

But new recruits are actively targeting President Saleh’s regime, citing as provocation the torture and humiliation of captive al-Qaeda members.

In July, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a police station in Hadramaut. In a subsequent statement, a splinter cell pledged to continue attacks against security and intelligence structures.

Such an explicit declaration means there is no longer scope for dialogue, according to Ahmed Saif, director of the Sheba Centre for Security Studies.

“The government is moving to a policy of direct confrontation with the younger generation,” he says.

September 14, 2008

NZ firm warned of China milk risk

NZ firm warned of China milk risk

Babies suffering kidney stones possibly related to defective baby formula in hospital in Lanzhou, Gansu province, on 9 September

Babies have been suffering kidney stones – rare in young children

A Chinese firm accused of selling milk powder that has made babies unwell was warned in August over the safety of its product, its partner and co-owner says.

New Zealand-based dairy giant Fonterra said it had urged China’s Sanlu Group to recall the tainted powder six weeks before Sanlu took adequate action.

The Fonterra farmers’ co-operative owns a 43% stake in Sanlu.

More than 400 babies in China have been taken ill after using milk contaminated with the industrial chemical, melamine.

Melamine is used to make plastics and is banned from food. Ingesting it can lead to the development of kidney stones.

At least one child has reportedly died in China as a result of using the contaminated milk, which the firm recalled from sale on Thursday.

‘Severe punishment’

In a statement released on Sunday, Fonterra said it had urged Sanlu’s board to recall the milk powder as soon as it learnt of the contamination – on 2 August.

“From the day that we were advised of the product contamination issue in August, Fonterra called for a full public recall of all affected product and we have continued to push for this all along,” the statement said.

Chinese officials have complained that they were only alerted last Monday of the dangers posed by the milk. They said Sanlu’s customers had been complaining about the milk since March.

China’s Health Minister, Gao Qiang, said on Saturday that Sanlu “should shoulder major responsibility for this”.

He said those responsible for the contamination “would be dealt with severely”. Nineteen arrests have so far been made over the scandal, Chinese authorities say.

Some of the tainted milk had been sent to Taiwan but none had been sold to other foreign markets, Mr Gao said.

Melamine has been used by Chinese suppliers of animal feed components to make them appear to have more protein.

It was linked to the formation of kidney stones and kidney failure in pets in the United States last year, leading to thousands of deaths and illnesses.

A fake milk powder scandal in 2004 killed at least 13 babies in China’s eastern province of Anhui.

Investigators found that the milk given to these babies had no nutritional value, and the resulting scandal triggered widespread investigations into food safety.

September 10, 2008

Somali MP assassinated at mosque

Somali MP assassinated at mosque

Somali MP Mohamed Osman Maye

Mr Maye had publicly expressed his concern about the worsening violence

Somali MP Mohamed Osman Maye has been shot dead outside a mosque in the town of Baidoa, the seat of parliament.

He was thought to have been an ally of President Abdullahi Yusuf.

He is the first MP to have been assassinated since Ethiopian forces helped the interim government oust Islamists from power in December 2006.

Meanwhile, Islamist militants who took over the port town of Kismayo last month have imposed a curfew following the assassination of several residents.

“The curfew started on Monday night and will go on until we secure the town,” Abdurrahman Ali Mohamed, who is charge of security in the town, told BBC.

Insurgents of the al-Shabab group seized control of Kismayo in August after a three-day battle in which an estimated 70 civilians were killed.

Somalia’s third city, is strategically important because it serves as a port for the south of the country.

He says it is the biggest city the Islamists have seized during their 20-month insurgency.

Al-Shabab, a radical wing of the Union of Islamic Courts which ruled much of southern Somalia in 2006, has refused to participate in a UN-backed peace initiative taking place in Djibouti.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in fighting which has been worst in the capital, Mogadishu.

Earlier this week, Mr Maye gave a speech to parliament, expressing his concern about the worsening violence.

“He was shot in the head outside a mosque where he had attended evening prayers,” MP Amir Shaketi told the AFP news agency.

Somalia has been without a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered ongoing civil strife.

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