JFP 12/21: Egypt Says It Will Block International Gaza Freedom Marchers
Just Foreign Policy News
December 21, 2009
Egypt Says It Will Block International Gaza Freedom Marchers
The Egyptian government has announced that it will not allow internationals to enter Gaza for the Gaza Freedom March (in which Just Foreign Policy is participating.) Write the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and ask them to reverse the decision.
Quixote Center: Contact State on Escalating Human Rights Abuses in Honduras
There has been a spike in targeted murders and abductions following the November 29th "electoral event" in Honduras, the Quixote Center reports. Call Secretary of State Clinton and register your alarm at the escalation of human rights violations in Honduras.
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1) The U.S. military launched cruise missiles early Thursday against two suspected al-Qaeda sites in Yemen, ABC News reports. Until Friday, U.S. officials had "hedged" about any U.S. role in the strikes against Yemen and news reports from Yemen attributed the attacks to the Yemen Air Force, ABC says.
2) A local Yemeni official said on Sunday that 49 civilians, among them 23 children and 17 women, were killed in air strikes against Al-Qaeda, which he said were carried out "indiscriminately," AFP reports. [The airstrikes appear to be the same ones that the US took responsibility for on Friday, although the AFP story doesn't say this - JFP.]
3) On Saturday morning, the Senate passed a massive Pentagon spending bill that includes nearly $130 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Washington Post reports. One Democrat, Sen. Feingold, voted against the bill, along with 9 Republicans.
4) A "bunker buster" bomb intended to threaten Iran and North Korea is to be put into service by the US next December, six months later than previously scheduled, Reuters reports.
5) Those under siege in Gaza face another winter of intense personal suffering, former President Jimmy Carter writes in the Guardian. Despite offers by Palestinian leaders and international agencies to guarantee no use of imported materials for even defensive military purposes, cement, lumber, and panes of glass are not being permitted to pass entry points into Gaza. The US and other nations have accepted this abhorrent situation without forceful corrective action, Carter writes. The Quartet should begin rebuilding Gaza by organising relief efforts under the supervision of an active special envoy, overseeing a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and mediating an opening of the crossings.
6) The proposition that a troop surge in Afghanistan would contribute to stabilizing the country, as it did in Iraq, rests on two myths, writes Christopher Duquette in the Washington Times: First, the surge in Iraq caused the population to turn against the insurgents. Second, the conditions that enabled the surge to succeed in Iraq also exist in Afghanistan. The troop surge in Iraq followed the grass-roots uprising in Al-Anbar province of the Sunnis against al Qaeda in Iraq, so the surge was not a cause of the uprising. And there has been no grass-roots Awakening movement in Afghanistan to rival that of Iraq.
7) Human Rights Watch said the killing of an HIV/AIDS outreach worker on December 14 is part of a pattern of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Honduras that seems to have accelerated in the months since the coup. HRW called on Honduran authorities to open full investigations of all the reported killings.
8) President Obama's Afghanistan strategy is in trouble, overtaken by new political turmoil in Pakistan, writes Jonathan Landay for McClatchy. Moreover, Pakistani officials believe that a political settlement to the Afghan war can only be achieved with the participation of Mullah Omar, the Haqqani Network leaders and other leaders of the Pashtuns, the ethnic group that spans the border and dominates the Afghan insurgency, said Shuja Nawaz, an expert with the Atlantic Council.
9) Israeli military officials said authorities could soon use special commando units, unmanned spy planes and cellphone-jamming equipment to enforce a moratorium on new settlement construction in the West Bankdeepening a showdown between the government and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, AP reports. Settlers have repeatedly blocked inspectors and security forces trying to enter their communities to enforce the partial and temporary settlement freeze. The resistance has grown increasingly violent. AP notes the possibility that the authorities wanted the plan to be known, as it might help the government portray itself as willing to confront domestic opposition for the sake of peace.
10) Argentine Ambassador to the US Héctor Timmerman said Argentina was "highly disappointed" by critical statements about Argentina made by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, the Buenos Aires Herald reports. "Dialogue with the United States was supposed to be different," Timmerman said, suggesting that Valenzuela might have a personal agenda to undermine US-Argentine relations.
11) The Colombian government has announced it is building a new military base on its border with Venezuela and has activated six new airborne battalions equipped with US helicopters, the BBC reports. A BBC correspondent says the potential for conflict between the two countries is heightened.
1) Obama Ordered U.S. Military Strike on Yemen Terrorists
Cruise Missiles Launched Thursday Hit Two Suspected al Qaeda Sites; Major Escalation of US Efforts Against Terrorists
Brian Ross, Richard Esposito, Matthew Cole, Luis Martinez and Kirit Radia, ABC News, December 18, 2009
On orders from President Barack Obama, the U.S. military launched cruise missiles early Thursday against two suspected al-Qaeda sites in Yemen, administration officials told ABC News in a report broadcast on ABC World News with Charles Gibson.
One of the targeted sites was a suspected al Qaeda training camp north of the capitol, Sanaa, and the second target was a location where officials said "an imminent attack against a U.S. asset was being planned."
The Yemen attacks by the U.S. military represent a major escalation of the Obama administration's campaign against al Qaeda.
Until tonight, American officials had hedged about any U.S. role in the strikes against Yemen and news reports from Yemen attributed the attacks to the Yemen Air Force.
President Obama placed a call after the strikes to "congratulate" the President of Yemen, Ali Abdallah Salih, on his efforts against al Qaeda, according to White House officials.
A Yemeni official at the country's embassy in Washington insisted to ABC News Friday that the Thursday attacks were "planned and executed" by the Yemen government and police.
Along with the two U.S. cruise missile attacks, Yemen security forces carried out raids in three separate locations. As many as 120 people were killed in the three raids, according to reports from Yemen, and opposition leaders said many of the dead were innocent civilians.
American officials said the missile strikes were intended to disrupt a growing threat from the al Qaeda branch in Yemen, which claims to coordinate terror attacks against neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The al Qaeda presence in Yemen has been steadily growing in the last two years. "Al Qaeda generally has been pushed into these ungoverned areas, whether it is the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area [or Yemen]," said Richard Barrett, coordinator of the U.N.'s Taliban al-Qaeda Sancitions Monitoring Committee. "I think many of the key people have moved to Yemen."
The U.S. embassy was attacked by suspected al Qaeda gunmen last year. And the presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Qaaim al-Raymi, has frequently appeared on internet videos, offering an alternative to the training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"If they can go to Yemen just as easily or easier and get training there and come out again," said Barrett, "all your efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan are a waste of time."
Qaaim al-Raymi was considered a prime target of the attack Thursday but was reported to have escaped the attack. However, U.S. officials believe one of his top deputies may have been killed.
2) 49 civilians killed in air strike: local Yemeni official
AFP, Sunday, December 20 12:57 pm
A local Yemeni official said on Sunday that 49 civilians, among them 23 children and 17 women, were killed in air strikes against Al-Qaeda, which he said were carried out "indiscriminately."
Exiled southern leader Ali Salem al-Baid had accused the Yemeni authorities of killing at least 62 civilians in Thursday's air strikes Sanaa said targeted an Al-Qaeda training camp in the southern province of Abyan.
The local official from the Al-Mahfed region, which includes the village of Al-Maajala where the strike took place, on Sunday confirmed civilian deaths. "The raid was carried out indiscriminately and killed 49 civilians, including 23 children and 17 women," said the official, who did not wish to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
A tribal leader from the Al-Kazam tribe too confirmed civilian deaths. "In total, 49 civilians were killed," he told AFP. "Al-Qaeda has chosen to build its training centre on land where bedouin nomads pitch their tents, and the government forces believe the nomads harbour Al-Qaeda forces," said the leader, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
3) Senate Passes Defense Spending Bill
Paul Kane and Ben Pershing, Washington Post, Sunday, December 20, 2009; A06
In a rare early Saturday morning vote, the Senate passed a massive Pentagon spending bill that includes nearly $130 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a measure Republicans had tried to block as a means of delaying action on President Obama's health-care overhaul.
On an 88-10 vote, the Senate sent the defense appropriations bill to the White House for Obama's signature, clearing the last spending measure for the federal government.
The legislation includes normal funding for the wars but does not include what likely will be $30 billion to $40 billion in additional money for the 30,000 more troops Obama plans to send into Afghanistan next year, funds that Congress will not consider until next spring.
Once those efforts were defeated and the return to the health-care debate was a foregone conclusion, 30 Republicans supported the final vote for military funding and nine opposed it. One Democrat, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), voted against the bill, in line with his antiwar beliefs, but only after giving Democrats a critical vote in an early Friday morning GOP filibuster attempt.
4) Pentagon Delays New 'Bunker Buster' Bomb
Jim Wolf, Reuters, Saturday, December 19 02:34 am
A "bunker buster" bomb with more than 10 times the explosive power of its predecessor is to be put into service by the United States next December, six months later than previously scheduled, the Defence Department told Reuters on Friday.
The deployment's timing may help shape new calculations in long standoffs with Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs, much of which are believed to be underground to avoid detection and enhance their chances of surviving an attack.
The precision-guided, 30,000-pound (13,636 kilos) Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, is designed to destroy potential targets such as deeply buried facilities that are beyond the reach of existing penetrating bombs.
"Funding delays and enhancements to the planned test schedule have pushed the capability availability date to December 2010," Tara Rigler, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an email.
Congress agreed to a Pentagon request, made public in August, to shift fiscal 2009 budget funds to speed the Boeing-built bomb's tie-in to the radar-evading B-2 bomber, the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal. At the time, Andy Bourland, an Air Force spokesman, had said B-2, built by Northrop Grumman ., would be capable of carrying the bomb by July 2010.
The MOP's planned deployment "amounts to a message to Iran," said Kenneth Katzman, an Iran expert for the U.S. Congress. "It cannot count on the main elements of its nuclear program surviving if there is a conflict."
Military analysts doubt Israel could disable Iran's nuclear facilities in a raid even with dozens of aircraft. Tehran has had years to build covert facilities, spread elements of its programs and develop options for recovering from an attack.
"Strong as Israeli forces are, they lack the scale, range and other capabilities to carry out the kind of massive strike the U.S. could launch," Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon strategist now at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in September.
5) Gaza Must Be Rebuilt Now
We can wait no longer to restart the peace process. The human suffering demands urgent relief
Jimmy Carter, The Guardian, Saturday 19 December 2009
It is generally recognised that the Middle East peace process is in the doldrums, almost moribund. Israeli settlement expansion within Palestine continues, and PLO leaders refuse to join in renewed peace talks without a settlement freeze, knowing that no Arab or Islamic nation will accept any comprehensive agreement while Israel retains control of East Jerusalem.
US objections have impeded Egyptian efforts to resolve differences between Hamas and Fatah that could lead to 2010 elections. With this stalemate, PLO leaders have decided that President Mahmoud Abbas will continue in power until elections can be held - a decision condemned by many Palestinians.
In summary: UN resolutions, Geneva conventions, previous agreements between Israelis and Palestinians, the Arab peace initiative, and official policies of the US and other nations are all being ignored. In the meantime, the demolition of Arab houses, expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Palestinian recalcitrance threaten any real prospect for peace.
Of more immediate concern, those under siege in Gaza face another winter of intense personal suffering. I visited Gaza after the devastating January war and observed homeless people huddling in makeshift tents, under plastic sheets, or in caves dug into the debris of their former homes. Despite offers by Palestinian leaders and international agencies to guarantee no use of imported materials for even defensive military purposes, cement, lumber, and panes of glass are not being permitted to pass entry points into Gaza. The US and other nations have accepted this abhorrent situation without forceful corrective action.
I have discussed ways to assist the citizens of Gaza with a number of Arab and European leaders and their common response is that the Israeli blockade makes any assistance impossible.
President Obama was right to insist on a two-state solution and a complete settlement freeze as the basis for negotiations. Since Israel has rejected the freeze and the Palestinians won't negotiate without it, a logical step is for all Quartet members (the US, EU, Russia and UN) to support the Obama proposal by declaring any further expansion of settlements illegal and refusing to veto UN security council decisions to condemn such settlements. This might restrain Israel and also bring Palestinians to the negotiating table.
At the same time, the Quartet should join with Turkey and invite Syria and Israel to negotiate a solution to the Golan Heights dispute.
Without ascribing blame to any of the disputing parties, the Quartet also should begin rebuilding Gaza by organising relief efforts under the supervision of an active special envoy, overseeing a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and mediating an opening of the crossings. The cries of homeless and freezing people demand immediate relief. This is a time for bold action, and the season for forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.
6) Myths And Troop Surges
The merging lane of two presidencies
Christopher Duquette, Washington Times, Monday, December 21, 2009
[Duquette, an economist, spent six months in 2006-07 at Camp Victory in Baghdad with the U.S. military staff that works against IEDs. He is also a Navy veteran of the 1991 Gulf War.]
The proposition that a troop surge in Afghanistan would contribute to stabilizing the country, as it did in Iraq, rests on two myths: First, the surge in Iraq caused the population to turn against the insurgents. Second, the conditions that enabled the surge to succeed in Iraq also exist in Afghanistan.
Myth 1: The security gains from the surge in Iraq caused the population to turn against the insurgents. The history of the Iraq war shows that the troop surge in Iraq followed the grass-roots uprising in Al-Anbar province of the Sunnis against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The uprising, also known as the Awakening movement, began in September 2006 with Sheik Sittar albu-Risha.
AQI had overplayed its hand with its heavy-handed imposition of Shariah law and mistreatment of the residents of that majority-Sunni province. Such mistreatment included the summary executions of tribal leaders who opposed AQI and the forced marriages of their daughters to AQI fighters. Sheik Sittar organized a resistance movement that spread across the province and became the Awakening.
Mr. Bush announced the troop surge from the Oval Office on Jan. 10, 2007. The surge involved sending five more Army Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) and their associated support, along with about 4,000 Marines - nearly 30,000 troops in all. The additional five BCTs would make for 20 BCTs deployed in Iraq.
On Feb. 11, 2007, Gen. David H. Petraeus took command of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I). That same month, the first surge BCT deployed. The other four BCTs deployed over the next five months. By July, the full surge force was in-country. Insurgent activity began to decline shortly thereafter.
Had there been no Awakening in 2006, the surge might have played out differently in 2007. The violence might not have declined, and Mr. Obama might not have the option of being able to consider shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan.
That brings up Myth 2, that the conditions that enabled the surge to succeed in Iraq also exist in Afghanistan. There has been no grass-roots Awakening movement in Afghanistan to rival that of Iraq. Nor does the United States have a reliable partner in the Afghanistan government of Hamid Karzai. The writ of the Karzai government hardly extends beyond the capital of Kabul.
7) Honduras: Investigate Murders of LGBT People
Human Rights Watch, 16 Dec 2009 18:32:40 GMT
New York - The killing of an HIV/AIDS outreach worker on December 14, 2009, is part of a pattern of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Honduras that seems to have accelerated in the turbulent months since the June 28 coup, Human Rights Watch said today.
The organization called on Honduran authorities to open full investigations of all the reported killings, and to provide human rights training for the police and the judiciary about sexual orientation and gender identity. "The mounting violence against people who look or love differently in Honduras reflects a crisis of intolerance," said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.
The latest attack was on Walter Orlando Trochez, 27, who had been active both in the LGBT movement and in political activity opposing the coup. He was shot in the chest by an unidentified person late on the night of December 14 in downtown Tegucigalpa, near the Central Church.
Indyra Mendoza of Cattrachas, a local lesbian organization, told Human Rights Watch that he managed to call his friends on his mobile phone after the shooting. When they arrived at the scene, an ambulance was taking Trochez to Hospital Escuela, where he died. An autopsy revealed that he died from one shot to the chest.
On December 5, Trochez reported to the Attorney General's Office that four armed men in civilian clothes attempted to kidnap him on the previous day. He said there had been a series of threats against his life on the grounds of his participation in the resistance movement. "Walter used to go with me to recognize the bodies of our transgender friends when they were killed," Mendoza said. "Now I had to go on my own to identify his body."
Since June 28, the National Criminal Investigation Department in Tegucigalpa has documented at least seven killings of transgender and gay people in Honduras, including Trochez. Local LGBT advocates have asked the prosecutor's office for information about approximately nine more reported killings in the second largest city - San Pedro Sula - and neighboring cities.
8) Turmoil In Pakistan Threatens Obama's New Afghan Strategy
Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers, Mon, Dec. 21, 2009
Washington - Less than a month after he unveiled it, President Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy is in trouble, overtaken by new political turmoil in Pakistan that threatens to distract its bickering leaders from the fight against al Qaida and its Afghan and Pakistani allies.
Washington and Islamabad were already embroiled in a nasty quarrel over U.S. demands that Pakistan "do more" to eliminate Afghan guerrilla and al Qaida sanctuaries on its side of the remote border with Afghanistan.
Resolving the dispute now may have to await the outcome of what could be a long, messy battle for survival by the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition against the judiciary, the opposition and the powerful military.
"Everyone's attention in Pakistan will be on the new political order," said Nasim Ashraf, a scholar with the Middle East Institute who served in Pakistan's former military-run regime. Even without the crisis, Pakistani generals were unmoved by American denials that Obama's engagement in Afghanistan is limited, and they still see the Afghan militants as their best tools to stop rival India from enlisting Afghanistan in a plot to "encircle" Pakistan after a U.S withdrawal, many experts believe.
Obama's strategy "can't really deal with Pakistan's core security problem," said Stephen Cohen, a former senior State Department official with the Brookings Institution.
In his Dec. 1 speech announcing his new Afghanistan strategy, Obama acknowledged that its success "is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan." He pledged additional resources for Pakistan's hard-pressed security forces on top of $1.5 billion a year in non-military aid aimed at bolstering democratic governance and its crumbling infrastructure, health care and educational systems.
Yet even before Obama spoke, Pakistan made clear there were limits to what it was prepared to do for the United States, whose nine-year presence in Afghanistan is blamed by many Pakistanis for fueling the extremist violence in their country.
Meanwhile, the army-run Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the powerful spy agency, was widely seen behind a virulent media campaign that stoked anti-U.S. sentiment by claiming that Pakistan secretly is being flooded by U.S. spies and military contractors in cahoots with some of their own top officials.
Washington specifically wants Pakistan's army to follow up an operation against Pakistani Taliban in the South Waziristan tribal area with a drive against the Haqqani Network, the most fearsome Afghan insurgent group, and al Qaida in North Waziristan.
Pakistan, however, refused. There also is growing U.S. pressure on Pakistan to pursue Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar and his top aides, who are said by some U.S. officials to shuttle between their sanctuary in the Baluchistan Province capital of Quetta and Karachi, Pakistan's financial capital and main port.
Many experts said that Obama's approach to Pakistan lacks a political strategy to convince the military command that the Islamic groups it considers its best hedge against growing Indian influence in Afghanistan are a greater threat than India.
Pakistani generals "still want influence in Afghanistan and trust in the approach of supporting non-state actors as a way of maintaining that influence," said a Western analyst based in Pakistan who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely.
Moreover, Pakistani officials believe that a political settlement to the Afghan war can only be achieved with the participation of Omar, the Haqqani Network leaders and other leaders of the Pashtuns, the ethnic group that spans the border and dominates the Afghan insurgency, said Shuja Nawaz, an expert with the Atlantic Council, which promotes international understanding.
"The best scenario is the broad-based reintegration of all of the Pashtun elements," he said.
Another major problem for Obama, he said, is that Pakistani security forces are simply unable to undertake new operations. Those forces are being over-stretched in the struggle to maintain internal security and from the ongoing South Waziristan offensive and an operation last summer to clear militants from the Swat Valley, 60 miles from Islamabad, he said.
Pakistani forces "have such a huge task ahead of them in fighting the Pakistani Taliban," Nawaz said. "That is their number one priority."
9) Israel Threatens to Use Force Against Settlers
Ian Deitch, Associated Press, Sunday, December 20, 2009; 11:31 AM
Jerusalem - Israeli authorities could soon use special commando units, unmanned spy planes and cellphone-jamming equipment to enforce a moratorium on new settlement construction in the West Bank, military officials said Sunday, deepening a showdown between the government and Jewish settlers.
Enraged settlers leaders vowed to resist the plan, prompting Defense Minister Ehud Barak to warn that settlers would face the full wrath of the military if they continue to flout the 10-month construction slowdown.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the settlement slowdown last month in an attempt to restart peace talks with the Palestinians. But the Palestinians have rejected the plan because it allows for construction to proceed in 3,000 settlement homes already under construction in the West Bank and does not affect east Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will be their capital.
Nonetheless, settlers have repeatedly blocked inspectors and security forces trying to enter their communities to enforce the order. The resistance has grown increasingly violent.
The issue of settlements on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state is a key sticking point in Mideast peace efforts, with the Palestinians demanding a halt to all settlement construction as a condition for returning to peace talks. U.S. President Barack Obama made a similar demand shortly after taking office, but has since adopted a softer stance.
The military plan calls for the deployment of unmanned spy drones to photograph illegal construction, and would create closed military zones to keep out protesters and reporters during demolitions of illegal buildings, according to a military memo leaked to Israeli media and confirmed by The Associated Press. The document said various units of the military would be used, including special forces, military police and even communication specialists to jam settler cell phone frequencies.
The enforcement plan was drafted by the military's central command and most likely leaked by settler sympathizers within the army, according to military officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal orders not meant for public consumption.
Those same officials confirmed the plan to The Associated Press, though the army later said the plan was only a "first draft" for potential action.
The leak itself points to a growing concern among Israeli officials relating to insubordination. A number of nationalist soldiers have refused to obey orders to act against settlers. The government has jailed defiant servicemen, issued stern warnings to rebellious rabbis and expelled one pro-settler seminary from a program combining religious study and military service.
It's also possible the authorities wanted the plan to be known, as it might help the government portray itself as willing to confront domestic opposition for the sake of peace.
10) Timmerman on Obama's envoy statements: 'We are disappointed'
Buenos Aires Herald, Thursday, December 17, 2009
Argentine Ambassador to the US Héctor Timmerman referred to statements made by US's Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, and said that "we'll have to analyze which are the underlying factors behind his words: whether there has been a change in stance or if we are been demanded to state a new position." He added: "Judicial safety was not part of Valenzuela's agenda."
Timmerman declared that he had received a letter from Valenzuela before his visit, "where he pointed out the topics he was to be dealing here, and 'judicial safety' was not a part of the list". And he stated: "We are highly disappointed; dialogue with the United States was supposed to be different."
In addition, Argentina Ambassador considered that Valenzuela's agenda in Argentina "clearly shows his ideological position." Timmerman described Obama's envoy comments as "a complete ignorance of Argentine reality" and deepened: "They can be seen as a personal interest to block dialogue". Timmerman is convinced that Valenzuela is seeking ways to move this bilateral relationship backwards, "to level it with that of Menem, De La Rúa or Duhalde's administration; he is not willing to see that America Latina is living a whole different reality nowadays."
During these past days, Obama's envoy for Latin America held meetings with Macri, de Narváez and Cobos. "He was asked to open his agenda to every political sector, including the General Labour Confederation (CGT), the radical party and Movimiento Obrero workers' union, but it seems he has chosen to address those policymakers standing at the right wing of the political sector", he added.
11) Colombia beefs up forces on border with Venezuela
BBC, Sunday, 20 December 2009
The Colombian government has announced it is building a new military base on its border with Venezuela and has activated six new airborne battalions.
Relations between the two nations are at a historic low with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez already telling his generals to prepare for war. He moved 15,000 more troops up to the border, accusing Colombia and its ally, the US, of planning an attack.
A BBC correspondent says the potential for conflict is heightened.
Colombian Defence Minister Gabriel Silva announced the formation of a new base in La Guajira in the north, near the Venezuelan border.
At the same time, the Colombian army activated the new airborne battalions, which are equipped with US helicopters. The helicopter fleet, made up mainly of Blackhawks, now numbers 120, making the Colombian Army Air Corps the best equipped and most experienced in Latin America, the BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says.
Mr Silva said that the new base would have up to 1,000 soldiers.
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