JFP 4/27: Schakowsky Backs McGovern; Obama Faces Decision on Taliban Talks
Just Foreign Policy News
April 27, 2010
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Urge Congress to End the War in Afghanistan
Urge your representatives to support the Feingold-McGovern-Jones bill for a timetable for military withdrawal. (H.R.5015/ S.3197)
If we can get 100 co-sponsors in the House in the next few weeks, we may able to get on a vote on a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the supplemental.
New House co-sponsors: Ed Pastor [AZ-4]; Steve Rothman [NJ-9]; Jan Schakowsky [IL-9]. Current House co-sponsors, according to Thomas: 35.
A Year of War Would Pay for Local Jobs Bill
If McGovern's bill shortens the war in Afghanistan by a year, that would pay the two-year cost of the Local Jobs for America Act.
Mondoweiss: UC divestment spreads - UC San Diego to vote on bill tomorrow
The resolution calls for the UC system to stop investing in companies such as General Electric and United Technologies, which supporters of the resolution claim promote violence by providing technology - such as helicopters and aircraft engines - to warring countries around the world. Senior Leena Barakat - who helped draft the resolution - said the UCSD version was altered to ensure that it condemned human-rights violations as a whole, and not specifically actions taken by the state of Israel.
Peace Action West hiring Deputy Political Director
1) Before President Karzai arrives in Washington next month, President Obama has to make clear key decisions on the course of peacemaking in Afghanistan, writes Ahmed Rashid in the Washington Post. According to U.S. and Afghan officials, Karzai's first question when he arrives will be whether Washington supports his efforts at reconciliation with the senior Taliban leadership. Taliban leaders have made clear that they want to talk directly to the US, and Karzai knows his discussions with the Taliban cannot go further without public U.S. support and a commitment to engage. The Afghans want a clear answer from Washington.
2) Reflecting the sharply deteriorating security situation in Kandahar, the UN pulled foreign staff out of the city and instructed hundreds of local employees not to come to work, the Los Angeles Times reports.
3) The Committee to Protect Journalists said the US should hold comprehensive, impartial and public inquiries into the deaths of 16 journalists and three media support workers killed by U.S. troops in Iraq, Reuters reports.
4) The US military says it is negotiating with foreign governments to take non-Afghan prisoners from its prison at the Bagram airbase, Al Jazeera reports. "We're working to move [the detainees] back into the legal systems of their countries," said the head of detainee operations. The US has promised to hand over the Bagram facility to Afghan authorities by the end of the year.
5) To comply with Israel's High Court ruling calling for the ban on Palestinians from using Highway 443 in the West Bank, the Israeli military plans to create only two entry points within nine miles, and there are no plans to reopen an artery linking the highway to Ramallah, the main reason Palestinians want access, the Washington Post reports. In the 1980s, the Court ruled that in order to expropriate Palestinian land for the construction of Highway 443, the road had to serve the local Palestinian population. Israel couldn't seize Palestinian land and build a road exclusively for Israelis, it said. Without access to Ramallah, the highway is largely a road to nowhere for Palestinians, the Post says. The way the army is implementing the court's decision shows "the farce of the rule of law when it comes to the occupied territories," says the Israeli lawyer who filed the initial court petition on behalf of the Palestinians.
6) Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian protesters opposed to construction of Israel's West Bank separation barrier, AP reports. In one incident, paramilitary border police wrestled a teenage boy to the ground, then fired pepper spray directly into his face. [AP's Nasser Shiyoukhi captured this incident clearly with a photo, see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/27/AR2010042701058.html -JFP]
7) Palestinian President Abbas signed a law banning Palestinians from working in Israeli settlements and selling settlement goods, with violators facing up to five years in prison and stiff fines, AP reports. Power failures have been disastrous for small businesses.
8) Iran's foreign minister expressed optimism Iran would soon strike a deal with the international community to provide his country with nuclear fuel, AP reports.
9) Pakistan is in the throes of an energy crisis, with Pakistanis now enduring about 12 hours of power cuts a day, the New York Times reports.
10) Colombia's Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus may become president in a second round of voting against former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, according to poll results broadcast by RCN Television, Bloomberg reports. Mockus may get 50 percent support in a runoff vote June 20 versus 37 percent for Santos, a poll by Ipsos-Napoleon Franco showed. In the first round of elections on May 30, Mockus may garner 38 percent against 29 percent for Santos, the poll said.
11) The Red Cross said murder, rape and general violence have driven tens of thousands from their homes in rural Colombia in the last year, Reuters reports. Indigenous communities and those descended from African slaves in the south and along the Pacific coast were the worst hit. Official figures showed the total number of people displaced by years of violence now stood at 3.3 million, out of a total population of around 46 million.
12) Seven Honduran broadcasters have been killed since March 1, the Washington Post reports. Most of the victims had reported on organized crime in the northern coastal region of Honduras, a key transshipment point for U.S.-bound cocaine. Reporters Without Borders recently declared Honduras "the world's deadliest country for the media." Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch said the government of President Lobo has shown little willingness to solve a pattern of threats, harassment and attacks on grass-roots leaders, unionists and priests since the coup.
1) Afghan crunch time: Obama must decide whether to talk to the Taliban
Ahmed Rashid, Washington Post, Tuesday, April 27, 2010; A17
Before President Hamid Karzai arrives in Washington next month, President Obama has to make clear key decisions on the course of war and peacemaking in Afghanistan.
Neighboring countries and most Afghans believe that the endgame has begun for a post-U.S. Afghanistan. There are just 14 months for the U.S. military surge to show results while Washington simultaneously prepares to begin its July 2011 troop withdrawal and handover to the Afghan government. Already, efforts to jockey for future control of Afghanistan have been seen among Pakistan, India, Iran and even Russia. Several NATO countries eager to withdraw forces are frustrated. It is clear in the region that someone will have to mediate with the Taliban, but in the absence of U.S. leadership, a tug of war is taking place over who will do it, when, how and where.
The recent spat between the White House and Karzai - which has cooled down thanks in part to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan - largely stemmed from Karzai's growing frustration over questions about which the Obama administration has been unclear.
According to U.S. and Afghan officials, Karzai's first question when he arrives will be whether Washington supports his efforts at reconciliation with the senior Taliban leadership. In January, the United States and NATO agreed to reintegration - bringing in Taliban foot soldiers and low-level commanders - but Washington balked at full reconciliation, saying it wants to see the Taliban weakened militarily over the next six to 12 months before considering talks with its leaders.
Karzai's representatives, however, have spent the past 12 months holding talks about talks with senior Taliban representatives in several Arab Gulf states. Taliban leaders have made clear that they want to talk directly to the United States, and Karzai knows his discussions with the Taliban cannot go further without public U.S. support and a commitment to engage. The Afghans want a clear answer from Washington that they will lead any future negotiations.
The Obama Cabinet is set to discuss this issue, but it has been divided, including over how American voters would react to talks with the Taliban. Nevertheless, Karzai is hoping for a positive decision by the time he arrives in Washington. The issue is complicated by the Pakistani military's determination to guide or even dominate the peace process rather than leave it to the Afghans.
Pakistan holds many of the cards: Taliban leaders and their families live in Pakistan and are in close touch with the military and its Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). Some Taliban allies, such as the network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, are even closer to the ISI. Although the military is finally hunting down the Pakistani Taliban in the Northwest tribal areas, the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani extremists in Punjab province are being left alone.
The January arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the No. 2 Taliban leader, in Karachi and the unexplained arrests and subsequent freeing of several other leading Taliban figures have demonstrated to Kabul and Washington the Pakistani military's clout.
Karzai and most Afghans fear that if Washington waits too long to decide about talking to the Taliban, control will fall to the ISI as happened in the 1980s and 1990s - when Washington abandoned Afghanistan to Russia and Pakistan but the ISI played favorites and was unable to end the civil war among Afghan factions.
Almost all Afghans, including Karzai's Pashtun supporters, the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance and even the Taliban oppose any major role for the ISI, as do most regional powers, particularly India, Iran, Russia and the five Central Asian republics.
When Karzai visited Islamabad on March 10 to find out why his interlocutor Mullah Baradar was arrested, he was, according to Afghan officials, bluntly told by Pakistan's generals that the Americans are bound to leave and that if he wanted Pakistani help resolving issues with the Taliban, he would first have to close Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad. Pakistani officials deny threatening Karzai and insist that they want a peaceful and stable Afghanistan once the Americans leave. But other sources have confirmed that such ultimatums were delivered.
Pakistan is convinced that Karzai is allowing India to undermine Pakistan's western border regions through its four consulates in Afghanistan and has demanded that Afghanistan close the consulates.
For a sovereign Afghanistan, this is an impossible request, but it is just the opening gambit in a looming test of wills. Pakistan's maneuvers have prompted India to try reactivating its 1990s alliance with Iran, Russia and Central Asia, which supported the former Northern Alliance in a civil war against the Pakistan-backed Taliban regime.
Pakistan's military has virtually taken control of foreign policy and strategic decision making from the civilian government. Thus Pakistan's foreign policy reflects the military's obsession with India.
The region and NATO countries are eager to hear from Washington on dealing with the Taliban. A U.S. decision is needed before regional tensions further escalate. The Obama administration must signal greater clarity about talking to the Taliban if the United States and NATO are to help the Afghans structure any future dialogue with the Taliban and if Afghans are not to feel abandoned once again to the whims of their neighbors.
2) U.N. Pulls Foreign Staff Out Of Kandahar
Local staffers were also told to stay home. The decisions reflect the perilous state of security in Afghanistan's second-largest city, where two civilians were killed in explosions Monday.
Laura King, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2010
Kabul - Reflecting the sharply deteriorating security situation in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest metropolis, the United Nations on Monday pulled foreign staff out of the city and instructed hundreds of local employees not to come to work.
The move came on the same day as a series of explosions in the city killed two civilians.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces have set their sights on Kandahar with the aim of driving the Taliban out of the city this summer. Kandahar, home to about 1 million people, is the country's southern hub and the insurgency's spiritual home.
Most of the 30,000 arriving American troop reinforcements are being deployed in the south, and many will take part in the offensive, which is already in its early stages. Troops are trying to clear insurgents from districts surrounding the city, and have been hunting mid-level Taliban field commanders.
Taliban fighters, in turn, have ratcheted up attacks around the city, assassinating government officials and employees of international organizations. Last week, the city's respected deputy mayor was gunned down as he prayed in a mosque.
U.N. officials described the pullout of foreign staffers as a temporary measure and said the move would be under ongoing review.
President Hamid Karzai, on a state visit to India, condemned the Kandahar attacks. American officials have said the military campaign around the city will not move ahead without the Afghan leader's approval.
Karzai has provided qualified public support for the military push in Kandahar, his home province. He has appealed to the West to do more to prevent civilian casualties in the course of the fighting, and has told tribal elders from Kandahar that Western troops will not move in unless the Afghan people want them there.
3) Journalist Group Demands Probes Into Iraq Deaths
Michelle Nichols, Reuters, Monday, April 26, 2010; 5:24 PM
New York - The United States should hold comprehensive, impartial and public inquiries into the deaths of 16 journalists and three media support workers killed by U.S. troops in Iraq, a media lobby group said on Monday. In a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said thorough investigations into the deaths were needed to ensure lessons were integrated into future military and media training.
The deaths of the journalists and media support workers in the war, which began in 2003, have been back in the spotlight after a video of a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff, was leaked to WikiLeaks, a group which says it promotes leaks to fight government and corporate corruption.
The U.S. military's Central Command has said it has no plans to reopen an investigation into that incident, which killed Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40.
Some international law and human rights experts who have watched the video say the Apache helicopter crew in the footage may have acted illegally.
"We are particularly concerned that the troops in the helicopter mistook a camera for a weapon. This is not the first such claim by the U.S. military," Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Joel Simon said in the letter.
Attached to the letter is a list of all the journalists and media workers killed by U.S. troops in Iraq. They include Reuters cameramen Taras Protsyuk and Mazen Dana, killed in separate incidents in 2003, and Reuters soundman Waleed Khaled, killed in 2005.
"While we have not found evidence that U.S. troops intentionally targeted journalists in any of these cases, our research shows that the majority of the killings were either not sufficiently investigated or that the military failed to publicly disclose its findings," Simon said.
"We renew our call for comprehensive, impartial, and public inquiries into all of these cases," he said. "These investigations would benefit both the military and the media so long as the lessons learned are integrated into future training."
David Schlesinger, Reuters' editor-in-chief, called this month for a new investigation of the 2007 incident. "Reuters from the start has called for transparency and an objective inquiry so that all can learn lessons from this tragedy," he said.
4) US 'to transfer Bagram detainees'
Al Jazeera, Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The US military has told Al Jazeera that it is negotiating with foreign governments to take non-Afghan prisoners from its controversial prison at the Bagram airbase outside Kabul, the Afghan capital.
Vice-Admiral Robert Harward of the Joint Task Force 435, who is head of detainee operations, said "a very, very small population" of foreigners are held at Bagram. "We're currently co-ordinating with those governments," he told Al Jazeera. "We're working to move them [the detainees] back into the legal systems of their countries."
The US has promised to hand over the Bagram facility to Afghan authorities by the end of the year.
Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said the Afghans wanted the foreign detainees transferred before they take over. "The Afghans wouldn't want to take control of these detainees when it came under Afghan control, and that's why America is talking to some of the governments where these prisoners come from to see if they will take these prisoners," he said. "At the same time, since the beginning of the year, there has been a series of releases of Afghan prisoners, substantially reducing the size of the prison population."
Bays said a US source and an Afghan official had put the number of foreign nationals held at Bagram to about 30 and 60 respectively.
5) Sharing a West Bank highway proves a tall order for Israel, Palestinians
Janine Zacharia, Washington Post, Monday, April 26, 2010; A09
Beit Ur al-Tahta, West Bank - For eight years, Israeli commuters have whizzed between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on Highway 443, a road whose West Bank portion is lined with barriers, off-limits to Palestinians who live along the way.
Naji Suliman, mayor of the Palestinian community of Beit Ur al-Tahta, thought that would change after a decision by Israel's Supreme Court calling for the ban on Palestinians to be lifted by May. Then, after meeting with an Israeli military commander last week, Suliman concluded that Israel's actions came "just for public relations."
To comply with the court ruling, the military plans to create only two entry points within nine miles, and Palestinians would be subject to searches. There are no plans to reopen an artery linking the highway to the commercial hub of Ramallah, which Suliman said is the main reason his residents want access.
"I know that in the Israeli eyes it's very acceptable to say that it's a security problem," said Limor Yehuda, the civil rights lawyer who filed the initial court petition on behalf of the Palestinians. "But it's not a security problem. It's an economic and transportation issue." In a written appeal to the Justice Ministry on Sunday, Yehuda described the access plan as a "huge disappointment" and asked the authorities to open all entry and exit points and facilitate access to Ramallah.
In the 1980s, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that in order to expropriate Palestinian land for the construction of Highway 443, the road had to serve the needs of the local Palestinian population. Under rules of occupation, Israel couldn't seize Palestinian land and build a road exclusively for Israelis, it said.
After it was finished, Israelis and Palestinians managed to share the road mostly in peace until the outbreak in 2000 of what's known as the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, when deadly attacks on Israeli motorists began. The road was completely closed to Palestinians in 2002.
The high court in its recent ruling left it to the Israeli army to decide on access arrangements. It didn't require the army to open the artery to Ramallah. Without it, the highway is largely a road to nowhere for Palestinians.
Israel finished alternative roads last year for Palestinians, which the army says are adequate. Palestinians, however, complain about floods, circuitous routes and lengthier travel times - it takes an hour instead of 15 minutes to get to Ramallah. The increased transportation costs for Palestinians have also hurt the local economy.
Because of all this, Yehuda, the civil rights lawyer, celebrated in December when the court agreed that blocking Palestinian access to the road was beyond the military commander's authority. Her elation has since turned to disappointment.
The way the army is implementing the court's decision shows "the farce of the rule of law when it comes to the occupied territories and the inability of the legal system to give real redress to people's claims," Yehuda said. "We give these people no hope and no ability to be able to safeguard their rights," she said, "so what options do we leave them with?"
6) Israeli forces demolish settlers' 'Obama's Shack'
Israeli forces demolish settlers' 'Obama's Shack'
Daniella Cheslow, Associated Press, Tuesday, April 27, 2010; 2:24 PM
Jerusalem - Israeli security forces demolished a handful of illegal structures in West Bank settlements Tuesday, including a wooden bunker that hard-line Jewish activists had defiantly named after President Barack Obama.
Israeli forces also clashed with Palestinian protesters opposed to construction of Israel's West Bank separation barrier. In one incident, paramilitary border police wrestled a teenage boy to the ground, then fired pepper spray directly into his face to subdue him. The youth, screaming in pain, was then arrested.
Nine structures in Jewish settlements were removed, including a wooden bunker north of Jerusalem known as "Obama's Shack," Israeli military officials said. Young settlers threw burning tires at security forces in another location, and two people were arrested.
Authorities said the structures demolished Tuesday had been built in violation of a 10-month freeze on new construction in West Bank settlements. Netanyahu announced the freeze in November under pressure from Obama, who opposes settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem - captured lands that the Palestinians claim for a future state.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said he will not freeze construction in east Jerusalem. Israel considers the area, home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, part of its eternal, undivided capital. But this week, Jerusalem municipal officials said Netanyahu has imposed an unofficial freeze in east Jerusalem since the dispute with Biden erupted on March 9. Netanyahu has not commented publicly on the claims.
Despite the signs of progress, new violence broke out Tuesday between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters opposed to the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank. About 45 protesters in Walajeh, a Palestinian village that straddles the outskirts of Jerusalem, lay down in front of bulldozers working on the barrier.
Protest organizers said soldiers beat activists, including a 14-year-old boy who had climbed on a bulldozer. Mahmoud al-Araj, one of the organizers, said soldiers forcibly opened the boy's eyes and sprayed pepper spray in his face.
7) Palestinians ban sale of Israeli settlement goods
Mohammed Daraghmeh, Associated Press, Monday, April 26, 2010; 4:33 PM
Ramallah, West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday signed a law banning Palestinians from working in Israeli settlements and selling settlement goods, with violators facing up to five years in prison and stiff fines. The law marks the Palestinians' most determined campaign against the settlements Israel has built on lands they want for a state. The Palestinians vehemently oppose the settlements but many rely on them for work.
Nearly half a million Israelis live on war-won land claimed by the Palestinians, including nearly 300,000 Israelis in more than 120 settlements in the West Bank. Israel has resisted U.S. demands for a settlement freeze, agreeing only to a temporary slowdown. Palestinian government officials estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 Palestinians work in settlements and that between $200 million and $500 million worth of settlement goods are sold to Palestinians in the West Bank every year.
In recent months, Palestinian security forces began intercepting and confiscating shipments of settlement goods to Palestinian businesses. Products range from agricultural goods to cosmetics. As part of the campaign, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tossed settlement products into a bonfire.
Under the new law, which is to go into effect next week, those distributing or selling settlement products face up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $14,000, said Abbas' legal adviser, Hassan al-Ouri. The law also bans work in settlements, with violators facing between one and five years in prison, al-Ouri said.
It was not immediately clear whether the law would only apply to those seeking employment in settlements in the future or also to those currently working there. In March, Palestinian Economics Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh said the Palestinian Authority would try to find alternatives for those currently working in settlements but suggested they would not face punishment.
8) Iran FM hopeful for nuke fuel deal, no sanctions
Nasser Karimi, Associated Press, Tuesday, April 27, 2010; 1:56 PM
Tehran, Iran - Iran's foreign minister on Tuesday expressed optimism Tehran would soon strike a deal with the international community to provide his country with nuclear fuel - the latest in a new Iranian diplomatic push to stave off fresh U.N. sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.
As part of the push, top Iranian officials have been courting some non-permanent Security Council members to pre-empt possible sanctions. Only permanent Council members could veto proposed sanctions, but strong opposition by non-permanent members could strengthen Iran's case.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held talks with Bosnian leaders Monday after making little progress in Austria over the weekend. And last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Uganda, another non-permanent member of the 15-nation Council.
On Tuesday, Mottaki held talks with visiting Brazilian counterpart Celso Amorim. "We are hopeful to see a fuel exchange go into operation in the near future," Mottaki said, adding that Brazil, also a non-permanent member, could play a more effective decision-making role in the Council.
Amorim said both Iran and the West should show more flexibility in efforts to find a peaceful solution. Iran should provide guarantee that its nuclear program has no military ambitions in return for enjoying its right to have peaceful nuclear technology, the Brazilian top diplomat said.
Separately, Amorim was quoted as saying in an interview with the official IRNA news agency that a swap between Iran and the West could take place in Brazil, if his country was asked to host the exchange. "Such a proposal has not been offered to us so far," Amorim said, according to IRNA. "If we receive it, we consider it."
9) Pakistanis Living on Brink, and Often in the Dark
Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, April 26, 2010
Lahore, Pakistan - The Taliban may be plotting bombings, and the economy is on the brink. But these days, the single biggest woe tormenting Pakistanis is as basic as an electric light bulb. Pakistan is in the throes of an energy crisis, with Pakistanis now enduring about 12 hours of power cuts a day, a grueling schedule that is melting ice, stopping fans and enraging an already exhausted populace just as the blast furnace of summer gets started.
In an effort to stem that frustration, Pakistan's government held an emergency meeting last week, bringing together top bureaucrats from across the country. But instead of easing the problem, it aggravated it, ordering power-saving measures that seemed calculated to smother some Pakistanis' last remaining pleasures.
The power failures could prove destabilizing if they go unchecked, analysts said. Pakistan badly needs its economy to expand to make space for its bulging young population, and chronic power cuts work against that. It is a concern for the United States, which is trying to help steady Pakistan's wobbly finances and keep its democratically elected government afloat. The Obama administration has pledged about $1 billion for energy over the next five years.
Industry experts said they were skeptical the government had a way to close the growing gap between Pakistan's demand for power and the energy sector's ability to produce it. "There is nobody in Islamabad who is working on a coherent, integrated plan," said one industry executive who asked not to be identified because he did not want to be seen as being critical of the government. "The discussion just keeps going in circles."
Here in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, the power failures have been disastrous for small businesses. Ali Raza, a printing press owner, has watched his once-prospering label business sag as power cuts bite into printing time, delaying orders and frustrating clients.
Late last year, he sold two large Swedish presses and fired half his 35-member staff. He has given up much of his upper-middle-class lifestyle, selling his Toyota, quitting his gym and limiting purchases of fruit and meat.
As his life and business shrink, so does his determination to stay in Pakistan. "I should move from here before I have nothing," he said, sitting in his office next to a blank computer monitor and motionless fan. "Staying means committing suicide."
10) Colombia's Mockus Would Beat Santos for Presidency, Poll Says
Helen Murphy, Bloomberg, April 27 http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aPSGq8Gs5jv8
Colombia's Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus may become president in a second round of voting against former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, according to poll results broadcast last night by RCN Television.
Mockus may get 50 percent support in a runoff vote June 20 versus 37 percent for Santos, a poll by Ipsos-Napoleon Franco showed. In the first round of elections on May 30, Mockus may garner 38 percent against 29 percent for Santos, the poll said.
11) Killings, violence wrack rural Colombia: Red Cross
Robert Evans, Reuters, Monday, April 26, 2010; 8:19 AM
Geneva - Murder, rape and general violence have driven tens of thousands from their homes in rural Colombia in the last year in a problem ignored during the presidential election campaign, the ICRC said on Monday. Indigenous communities and those descended from African slaves in the south and along the Pacific coast were the worst hit, the humanitarian organization's chief representative in the Latin American country said.
"Many are being forced to flee because of threats to their lives. Other are subjected to extra-judicial killings or to sexual violence, and yet most of their tragedies go unreported," the official, Christophe Beney, told a news conference.
The Swiss-based ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, had recorded some 800 alleged violations of global humanitarian law over the past year, all linked to fighting involving the army, paramilitaries and Marxist rebels, he said. These included 28 killings, 61 direct attacks against civilians and communities, and 84 disappearances. Death threats were widely used to force people to flee their homes.
Uribe's drive against the rebels, some of whom are accused of running drugs, have attracted foreign investment to Colombia by making the cities and major highways across the country safer than they have been for many years.
But the new focus of the fighting in more remote regions - especially in the south along the border with Ecuador and along the Pacific coast - means that the plight of the rural poor who bear the brunt of it has become almost invisible, said Beney.
Official figures, he said, showed that the total number of people displaced by years of violence now stood at 3.3 million - out of a total population of around 46 million - and very few dared to return home
12) Seven Honduran broadcasters slain since March 1
Anne-Marie O'Connor, Washington Post, Saturday, April 24, 2010; A07
Honduran television reporter Jorge Alberto "Georgino" Orellana had just left the station where he hosted his own show when a man stepped from the shadows, shot him dead and vanished. On Tuesday, Orellana became the seventh Honduran broadcaster to be gunned down since March 1 in a country where complaints about human rights abuses have increased since a military-led coup in June.
Most of the victims had reported on organized crime in the northern coastal region of Honduras, a key transshipment point for U.S.-bound cocaine.
Reporters Without Borders recently declared Honduras "the world's deadliest country for the media."
"This is unprecedented," said Carlos Lauria of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. "Journalists are being targeted, and the state is almost absent. It's a green light for these people." Lauria said the killings appeared to be "the work of hit men, very professional."
Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch said the government of President Porfirio Lobo has shown little willingness to solve a pattern of threats, harassment and attacks on grass-roots leaders, unionists and priests since the coup.
"Lobo just recently woke up and realized this could become a serious obstacle on his agenda to rejoining the international community," Vivanco said. "But it's not good enough. It's too little, too late. They need to investigate and prosecute those responsible for threats and abuses. They need to prosecute those who are in bed with organized crime."
Lobo has been trying to persuade the Organization of American States to reinstate Honduras, which was suspended after the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in June. OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said in December that the reinstatement of Honduras "will only be possible when this country reaches a true restoration of its democratic regime and the outcome of the coup of June 28 has been overcome."
Honduran media watchdog groups say that finding a single motive in the killings is difficult but that the modus operandi in each case is similar.
Two of the journalists, Jose Bayardo Mairena and Manuel Juarez, were driving through eastern Honduras when assassins riddled their car with bullets on March 27 and then shot them at close range, according to media reports.
Both men worked for a radio program that has reported on under-the-table logging contracts awarded to private enterprise in violation of national environmental codes. Mairena had covered organized crime and a contentious land dispute.
Nahum Palacios Arteaga, who had reported on the same land dispute, was driving in the northern town of Tocoa on March 14 when gunmen in two cars fatally shot him with AK-47 assault rifles. Palacios had complained about death threats, which he believed came from the military.
During the coup, troops raided Palacios's office and home, confiscated his car and equipment, and held his children at gunpoint, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which had urged officials to provide him with security.
After his death, the commission lamented "that the state did not implement precautionary measures to protect his life."
David Meza, a reporter for El Patio radio station, was shot to death from a van March 11 as he drove in the lush seaside town of La Ceiba. Meza, who had reported on organized crime, had received anonymous calls warning him to be "careful," according to the media groups and local reports.
Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, 26, an entertainment show host, was shot to death as he drove home from work March 1. A radio show host who supported the coup, Karol Cabrera, was wounded in the attack and believes she was the target. Three months earlier, gunman had killed her 16-year-old pregnant daughter.
Luis Antonio Chavez, 22, who hosted a children's radio program, was shot to death April 13.
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