Thursday, July 14, 2005

Quiet Wars: Laura Bush and the Twins in Africa

First Lady Laura Bush is in Rwanda today, visiting, along with her daughter Jenna and Tony Blair's wife Cherie, the museum and graveyard that memorialize the 1994 Tutsi-Hutu Rwandan violence in which 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. In company with Rwandan First Lady Janet Kagame, they joined the moment of silence with which Rwandans (and people all over the world) commemorated 53 deaths in the London bombings one week ago.

Meanwhile, in the Congo on Tuesday, assailants said to be Hutus burned to death 39 people in a remote village, leaving 17 others injured. Some 10,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels operate in eastern Congo after fleeing their homeland following the 1994 genocide, according to the AP report in Newsday. In May, the United Nations reported that Hutu rebels and local militiamen have killed, raped and kidnapped about 900 people since June 2004.
Asked about reports the attacks were retaliation for U.N. peacekeeping activities, Secretary General Kofi Annan said in New York: "It would be unfortunate if that were the case because really what our people on the ground are trying to do is to take effective measures to protect the population who've been harassed over the years by these militias."

Barbara Bush, Jenna's twin sister, was not with her mother in Rwanda, because she has apparently been working, in near-anonymity, at a AIDS clinic in Capetown, South Africa, for nearly two months. AIDS is the leading cause of death in Africa.
South Africa now has the most comprehensive AIDS strategy in Africa and will spend the equivalent of about $320 million on drug treatment over the next three years.
(Source: Reuters Health 03 March 2004)

In Kenya, according to the AP report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ethiopian bandits killed around 50 Kenyan villagers, including at least two dozen children hacked to death and their throats slashed at a boarding school in the village. Reprisals by villagers and Kenyan security forces claimed another twenty or so lives. The attackers were "believed to have crossed over to Ethiopia," and no arrests have been made.

In the Ivory Coast, a UN-backed disarmament program seeks to wean civilian militia and rebels from their guns. Over 55,000 combatants are expected to assemble to surrender their weapons (at different locations, of course), but will not actually give up their arms until the UN-brokered date.
The warring factions in Cote d'Ivoire have agreed a new timetable for disarmament that provides for rebel fighters to surrender their guns just four weeks before presidential elections due in October.

The rebels have failed to honour a string of earlier agreements to hand in their weapons, citing the failure of President Laurent Gbagbo to implement a series of agreed political reforms.

But the latest accord, hammered out by government and rebel military commanders on Saturday, provides for the rebels to surrender their guns to UN peacekeepers between 26 September and 3 October.

Disarmament efforts in other African nations have had varied success: A four-year, $83.6 million program in Burundi eventually resulted in disarming 14,000 former rebels; Sierra Leone disarmed 72,490 fighters, including 6,845 children, for just over $36 million; Mozambique's rebel Renamo fighters have refused both cash and aid to surrender their arms.

Even the Tsunami Aid has not escaped violence. When Somalia captured a UN-chartered ship carrying relief supplies in late June and sent a ransom demand to the ship's owners, the UN World Food Program responded by halting relief shipments to Somalia, according to Arabic News.
The decision, taken because of the insecurity of Somali waters, will be reviewed depending on the release of the food, vessel and crew, who are apparently being held for $500,000 ransom. WFP assists some 275,000 Somalis with 3,000 tons of food each month and currently has about two weeks' worth of food stocks in Somalia.

As we receive our daily deluge of news about Harry Potter, Gitmo, and Valerie Plame, let us pause a moment to remember those whose bad news is considerably worse. From Africa, even the death toll of the London bombings may seem pretty light.

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