Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ouvéa massacre film gripping tale of betrayal and political opportunism

Kanak militant leader Alphonse Dianou … “played superbly by his cousin Iabe Lapacas”. Image: Rebellion
WHEN THE headlines hit France in April 1988 about the latest saga in “les évènements” down under in New Caledonia, filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz was just 18. He remembers the gritty images of the Gossanna cave siege on television.

Indigenous Kanaks had massacred a quartet of gendarmes with machetes and shotguns and taken 27 others hostage.

There were also false reports of alleged decapitations and rape on Ouvéa in the remote Loyalty Islands.

But 13 years ago, Kassovitz’s father handed him the League of Human Rights report on the cave siege and he read the chilling real story for the first time.

A French military force of some 300 had been deployed in a retaliatory “invasion” of the island and the report detailed atrocities and summary executions that had left 19 Kanak hostage-takers dead in a dawn assault on 5 May 1988.

Kassovitz (La Haîne and Café au Lait) noted then how an elite police counter-terrorism unit negotiator, Captain Philippe Legorjus of the CIGN, was a central character in the disturbing events.

“I knew then there was the material for a wonderful movie and the script was virtually written,” Kassovitz recalled in a Femail interview. “The dramatic structure was in the report of those 10 days.”

Director Mathieu Kassovitz as the negotiator Captain Philippe Legorjus … “inspirational and credible”. Image: Rebellion
Many obstacles
On his first trip to Ouvéa to explore the possibility of making the movie, it seemed many obstacles could block getting such a project off the ground.

“Ten years had passed but people were still withdrawn into their grief. The subject was tabu. There had been no closure,” he says.

“There was a lot of religious and political in-fighting within the Kanak community.”

A decade on and 25 film scripts later, against all the odds and being forced to make the film on the French Polynesian island of Anaa instead of Ouvéa, a courageous 136min testimony to the Kanak struggle and search for justice has been finally achieved.

The film was released in France last November with the title L’Order et La Morale – a play on words from the title of the Legorjus autobiography, La Morale et l’Action, and on a statement by the hated Minister of Overseas Territories Bernard Pons, who said rather cynically: “Sometimes some deaths are necessary to uphold order and morality.”

Last night, the gripping docudrama was screened for the first time at the New Zealand International Film Festival – under the English-language title Rebellion, which loses the nuances of the French name.

But the film was never shown in New Caledonia on general release in the largest cinema chain. The Pacific territory's French operator refused to screen it.

Smaller cinemas played the film to packed audiences, both Kanak and French.

Inspirational performances
The movie succeeds with the inspirational and credible performances of both director Kassovitz as the frustrated but professional lead character Legorjus – who tried hard to seek a peaceful solution to the hostage crisis – and the Kanak pro-independence militant leader Alphonse Dianou, played superbly by his cousin Iabe Lapacas, aged only six at the time of the tragedy.

Negotiator Legorjus – who is also taken captive – and Dianou ironically form a trusting bond of fraternity and understanding and the French officer is released in a bid to broker a deal.

But tension builds as the film covers the 10 days of negotiations until the expediency of the power struggle between rightwing Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and socialist President François Mitterrand in Paris over the imminent outcome of the presidential elections takes over. Mitterrand calls for negotiations – but in reality orders the full catastrophe assault on the cave to free the hostages.

He wins the election.

Legorjus feels betrayed and subsequently resigns from the elite force after the assault. Dianou feels betrayed and is horrendously allowed to die from his wounds from the cave firefight.

Other Kanak prisoners were simply killed in cold blood.

And the Kanak community feel betrayed by both Legorjus and the pro-independence FLNKS. This sense of betrayal ultimately led to the assassination of charismatic FLNKS leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou and his deputy Yéiwene Yéiwene a year later in a ceremony marking the anniversary of the martyrs.

History lesson
Pastor Djubelly Wea, whose character features in the film giving Legorjus a Kanak history lesson while manacled to a coconut tree, was the assassin. He never forgave the FLNKS leadership for failing to negotiate on their behalf. (Although the FLNKS villain portrayed in the film is Franck Wahuzue).

Wea (played by relative Macki Wea) in turn was gunned down by Tjibaou’s bodyguard.

Having reported on the Kanak independence struggle for several years, watching Rebellion was an emotional rollercoaster for me. (In fact, I shared a hotel room in Manila at a “peace brigade” conference with Wea just months before the assassination).

Gossanna cave was tabu – and the film portrays traditional “custom” and beliefs very evocatively. In Kanak tradition, a promise made face-to-face is never broken.

Legorjus promised that the militants that they would live, a pledge that his superiors sabotaged for political capital. 

I don’t believe the militants ever intended to harm their captives – they were simply negotiating leverage after things went wrong in the Fayaoué hostage-taking. In fact, as portrayed in the film, the hostages were about to be freed anyway.

At the time, I wrote an account in my book Blood on their Banner – the blood being that symbolised by the Kanak flag as being shed by the martyrs of more than a century of French rule.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Repeal of Malaysian sedition law good news ... but?

A young woman buying a newspaper in a Kuala Lumpur bookstore. Photo: David Robie
MALAYSIAN news media have welcomed a planned repeal of the colonial-era sedition law as Asian communicators, journalism educators and researchers met near the capital this week to explore media issues.

But they are also cautious about plans for replacing the Sedition Act – made law in 1948 under British colonial rule and used against political opponents since independence – with a National Harmony Act as part of a political liberalisation policy.

“History has not made it easy to give up the untrammelled powers of the executive in favour of civil liberties to be arbitrated by the judiciary,” said the New Straits Times in an editorial headed “Freedom in harmony”.

The newspaper said the surprise announcement of the law change by Datuk Seri Najib Razak showed the prime minister was firm in his promise to “find the fine balance” that would realise the constitutional  provision of free expression for every citizen while keeping the peace.

However, the Times also stressed some areas with the legal changes were “non-negotiable” because they defined the political character of the multiracial nation.

“They are the ‘the monarchy, maintaining unity and the people’s rights’,” the paper said without explaining further.

Delivering the keynote address at the 40th anniversary Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC)-Universiti Teknologi Mara international conference at Shah Alam, near the capital of Kuala Lumpur, this week, Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said Malaysia needed to set up a social media council.

Now necessity
Social media had not only become the latest trend but it was now a necessity for the Malaysian community with about 12 million users of media such as Facebook.

“Through the council, they can think on and delve into issues on our community, security and legal obligations including giving education to school and university students,” he said.

His comments came in the wake of concerns expressed at the conference that Malaysia was exerting a greater ‘chilling” control over digital media with the controversial new Evidence Act, especially Section 114a, which puts local internet users at risk with the burden of proof  being shifted to them over legal breaches.

Masjaliza Hamzah, of Malaysia’s Centre for Independent Journalism, gave the conference an insightful presentation questioning the country’s reforms around new media.

Earlier this month, Syed Abdullah Hussein Al-Attas was arrested and detained under the Official Secrets Act as a result of a complaint by a group of 30 people over controversial posts about the Sultan of Johor.

A young woman who was with him at the time of his arrest is also being held, according to the media freedom organisation Reporters Sans Frontières.

Sedition charge
Three years ago, Karpal Singh, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), was charged with sedition after being accused of insulting the Sultan of Perak state.

Over the sedition law issue, the Star reported Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as claiming that repeal of the act was proof that the government was not making “empty promises” about political transformation.

The newspaper also reported that the proposed harmony law was being given the “thumbs up” by civil society groups and professional advocacy bodies.

Human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) chairman K. Arumugam said the new law must protect every individual’s fundamental liberties.

“If it will enable public expression and growth of information in the media, then we will welcome such an act,” he told the Star.

Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee said the government must ensure that the new law “refrained as much as possible” from “criminalising speech and ideas”.

In its editorial, the New Straits Times asked whether the “negative space” being shut down by the repeal of the Sedition Act could be replaced by an expanded “positive space” under the proposed harmony law.

Outlawed words
“From 1948 to the present, seditious words written and spoken about have been outlawed. And, for the most part, quite rightly so. Society, however, has changed from the onset of the Emergency and subsequent racial troubles to a better informed and demanding present.

“The arbitrary exercise of authority belongs to the past, and while what has been protected must continue to be protected, this should be done more judiciously.”

The Times editorial was apparently referring to the so-called Malayan Emergency, a guerrilla war fought by the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party with Commonwealth forces between 1948 and 1960, and cross-cultural clashes such as in March 2001.

The newspaper also called on citizens to support the “moral courage” and “political commitment” of the government while being patient about “temporary imperfections”.

Dr David Robie was at the AMIC conference to give a paper on East Timor, West Papua and peace journalism.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Ouvéa massacre – film Rebellion sheds new light

FLASHBACK TO 1988: Excerpt from  David Robie’s 1989 book Blood on their Banner about the cave massacre of 19 Kanak militants by French troops at dawn on 5 May 1988 on Ouvéa in the Loyalty Islands:

Leaders of the [pro-independence] FLNKS immediately challenged the official version of the attack. Léopold Jorédie issued a statement in which he questioned how the “Ouvéa massacre left 19 dead among the nationalists and no one injured” and the absence of bullet marks on the trees and empty cartridges on the ground at the site”. [Yéiwene] Yéiwene insisted that at no time did the kidnappers intend to kill the hostages – “this whole massacre was engineered by [then Overseas Territories Minister Bernard] Pons who knew very well there was never any question of killing the hostages”.  [Nidoish] Naisseline also condemned the action: “Pons and Chirac have behaved like assassins.” - Blood on their Banner, p. 277.

REBELLION [L’ordre et la morale] 2012:
In his most visceral and impassioned outing since 1995’s La Haine, Mathieu Kassovitz dramatises the extraordinary French military response to a New Caledonia hostage-taking in 1988. Starring as Philippe Legorjus, a captain in an elite counter-terrorist division hastily despatched to the Pacific territory, Kassovitz leads a uniformly excellent cast. Upon arrival, he discovers that the French army has been deployed too. Legorjus’ efforts to achieve a resolution through negotiation with the indigenous Kanak independence group clash with the blunter approach of the army and a different agenda from above.

His attempts to earn the trust of the hostage takers’ leader [Alphonse  Dianou], depicted in scenes of searing intensity, are constantly imperilled by a political battle playing out in Paris. Prime Minister Jacques Chirac is challenging François Mitterrand  for the presidency, and the distant conflict has become a central issue. Chirac is determined that the rebellion be quelled – by whatever means. And time is running out.

Based on the Legorjus memoir, Rebellion  has all the seat-edge of a thriller, buttressed by a real political heft. It delivers a gripping illustration of the bloody, expedient and far-reaching potential impact of colonial powers’ internal political squabbles. – NZ International Film Festival, July 2012

Rebellion is perhaps to the Kanak struggle what Balibo (portraying the killing of the Balibo Five journalists and Roger East) is to East Timor in popularising Pacific pro-independence campaigns on a global stage.  Screening at the NZ International Film Festival at the Civic, Auckland, on Monday, July 23, at 8.45pm.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Coup 4.5: Fiji 'democracy defenders' peddle bomber bravado

Coup 4.5 weblog ... television decree regime's latest big stick. Image: CP
By Graham Davis

THERE SEEMS to be no depths to which the depraved denizens of Coup 4.5  - the anti-government website – won’t plunge in their frustration at failing to derail Fiji’s march towards a fairer democracy. These so-called “journalists” are regular purveyors of racism and hate dressed up as respectable analysis but they’ve reached a new low with a link on how to make bombs.

Yes, they’ve carried a comment by someone calling himself/herself Pyro Farf who says:  
“Here’s what I’m reading:
 From a former top explosives expert with the Israeli Army comes a manual that presents ten simple yet powerful formulas for explosives and incendiaries that give the basis for making bombs, booby traps and mines. Learn to obtain or make the needed chemicals, or get substitutes.”
We’re not going to provide the link but it’s all there on Coup 4.5 [link provided reluctantly by CP] – the site that poses as the defender of democracy while purveying racism and, in a fresh outrage, promoting violence with a clear inference that people in Fiji try to dislodge the regime with home-made bombs.

They’ve also launched crude attacks on Professor Yash Ghai, head of Fiji’s Constitutional Commission, with articles casting him as a regime supporter that are a clear attempt to derail the constitutional process. The 4.5 gatekeepers have even allowed a comment posting calling on Professor Ghai to be charged with sedition. Quite on what grounds isn’t made clear but rationality isn’t the website’s strongest point.

The comment comes from a certain Mark Manning, a well known Sydney-based agitator who describes himself as a clinical hypnotherapist. As one correspondent has already quipped on 4.5, he’s clearly in the business of hypnotising himself with the delusion that the good Professor can be charged with anything at all.

Mark Manning is a regular feature at anti-regime rallies organised by the so called Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement, that rabble of ethno-nationalists, SDL supporters and hangers on who have trouble filling a church hall yet continually cast themselves as credible players in Fiji. He’s also a regular contributor to the Matavuvale website, where these sad characters gather to trade their fantasies and swap their most incisive bon mots. Among Manning’s choicest is to describe Grubsheet in lurid terms as someone who wipes the dictator’s nethers. The imagery is as crude as the language but this is evidently the best this hypnotherapist can conjure up.

Another regular contributor to both Coup 4.5 and Matavuvale is the charmless Ilisoni (Wilson)Tamanikaira, a man now banned from these columns for his overt racism and for urging Fijians (the real ones, of course) to beat Grubsheet to a pulp on sight. He and Mark Manning deserve each other, one a Fijian who appropriately resides in the red neck Australian city of Toowoomba (Pauline Hanson country), the other an Australian who evidently wishes he was Fijian but only if the country is run by people who wouldn’t allow him to be Fijian at all. Strangely, Manning is wedded to the SDL, surely an alliance of the most bizarre kind.

And so we have this gaggle of the politically dispossessed, racial supremacists (or both) plus their assorted camp followers, all quaintly banging their pots and pans offshore in support of a bastardised democracy like a bunch of Argentine washerwomen locked out of a bank. Their desperation is evidently reaching fever pitch as the constitutional process kicks into gear and their dreams of a comeback move further and further out of reach. So perhaps it’s to be expected that their agitation is also reaching fever pitch, whatever rationality they once had dissolving into mass hysteria and a steady stream of idle threats.

Few rational people care anymore about their loathsome politics and racism, not to mention the appalling hypocrisy of one-time coup makers such as Simione Kaitani screaming blue murder about democracy from their cosy perches in Australia.

But when the “journalists” at Coup 4.5 start issuing instructions about how to make home-made bombs -presumably to be detonated in the country they claim to love – it’s a bridge too far and let’s call it what it really is: criminal and sick.

Independent Fiji-born journalist Graham Davis publishes the blog Grubsheet.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Legendary Iguazu Falls billed among 'seven wonders'

IGUAZU FALLS in South America, one of the most dramatic waterfalls in the globe, has been named one of the world’s seven natural wonders.

Situated on the border of Brazil and Argentina, and also close to Paraguay, the falls – almost 3km wide - have been designated one of the new “seven wonders” in a ceremony late last month, while Café Pacific was holidaying in the neighbourhood.

The president of the New7Wonders organisation unveiled a placard designating the falls a natural wonder on May 27.

Café Pacific visited the falls from both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides – and also ended up in Paraguay – illegally (by accident) – for six hours.

Iguazu is named after the local indigenous Guarani words for “y” – meaning water – and "ûasú” - meaning big.

According to at least one legend, a traditional god wanted to a marry a maiden named Naipí. Instead, she fled with her earthly lover by canoe. The angry god split the river in half, creating some 275 cascading drops and condemned the pair to falling forever.

The boundary between Argentina and Brazil splits the Paraná River, just below the falls.

The Iguazu and Paraná rivers combine to make the falls with about half the water flow thundering down the spectacular Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo) - see David Robie video above.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rio+20 - a squandered 'to do' list from Hell

Sunrise at Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach ... but little joy in the Rio+20 conference outcomes. Photo: David Robie
Mac Margolis analyses the conference of 192 nations that was supposed to be mapping out solutions to climate change but has been widely branded a "colossal failure".

In a city park girding the gray Atlantic ocean, dozens of people stood on line before a giant tent, each toting small bags of garbage. They waited patiently, each one eager to add their bit to the work in progress—plastic artist Vik Muniz’s giant montage of the Rio de Janeiro made of recycled trash. Turning waste into art is Muniz’s specialty and a sorely needed skill set for the occasion.

Across town, in a cavernous convention hall, delegates from 192 nations were putting the finishing flourishes—and their bravest faces—on another piece of work, the final statement of Rio+20. But to hear it from green groups, social activists, and even some conference-goers, global leaders had turned Muniz’s idea on its ear, converting a precious and rare international summit into a squandered opportunity.

For the past three days, heads of state and ministers had gathered at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to hash out a global road map for reversing climate change and achieving economic growth for all without trashing the environment. They congratulated themselves on a job well done.

“I have not the slightest doubt that the outcome document you have adopted will provide an enduring legacy,” said Sha Zukang, secretary-general of the Rio+20 conference. “During this conference, you, the world’s leaders, renewed your political commitment for sustainable development.”

Marine life in peril
Others were not so sure. Optimistically dubbed “The Future We Want,” the conference statement read more like “The To-Do List From Hell.” With marine life in peril, global carbon emissions reaching a record 32 billion tons last year, and emerging market powerhouses led by China adding to the fumes, expectations were bright for concrete action. But by the end, world leaders were as conspicuously short on goals, timetables, and commitments as they were high on rhetoric.

In a speech in Rio, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called sustainable development “the only viable development” possible in the 21st century. “The only way to deliver lasting progress for everyone is by preserving our resources and protecting our common environment,” she added.

Part of the problem was the gymnastics of striking a balance among 192 nations, ranging from juggernauts to poorhouses. Brazilian wordsmiths who edited the final-document draft reportedly had to hit the delete button repeatedly to accommodate outliers and to keep talks from derailing. That they produced a document at all was already something of a triumph, an effort hailed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as a “victory for multilateralism.”

Brazilian wordsmiths who edited the final document draft reportedly had to hit the delete button repeatedly to accommodate outliers and to keep talks from derailing.

To others it was a pearl of underachievement. No new targets were set for slashing gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that scientists warn are overheating the atmosphere. When developing nations proposed creating a $30 billion fund to back green jobs and environmentally sustainable initiatives, the richest countries played deaf, distracted perhaps by the euro-zone crisis.

Protection measures
Likewise, specific measures for protecting the high seas and endangered reefs and marine fauna ended up on the cutting-room floor, with further discussion deferred to another environmental parley in 2015.

“It is frankly astonishing that world leaders all agreed that this is a major problem needing an international, coordinated solution and then deferred any decision on action for another two and a half years,” Susan Lieberman, international policy director for the Pew Environment Group, said in a statement. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that one in 10 natural heritage sites around the globe are endangered.

But while many in Rio despaired, others lobbied. Ivonne A-Baki, the secretary of state for Ecuador, worked the corridors in Rio to drum up support for protecting a 1 million–hectare patch of unspoiled rainforest. Yasuni Natonal Park, where the equator meets the Andes, is famed for its fabulous variety of plants and animals. It also sits on 846 million barrels of oil, fully a fifth of Ecuador’s proven reserves, worth an estimated $7.2 billion, a treasure trove for a poor country. But instead of cashing in that wealth, Ecuador declared the Yasuni off-limits to drilling and wants the world to pitch in.

“By leaving the oil in the ground, we avoid releasing 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” says Baki. “That’s about as much as France or Brazil emit in a year.”

In exchange for leaving the area intact, Ecuador is looking to raise $3.6 billion from international donors to help protect the park. Though Rio+20 failed to pass the vaunted $30 billion green fund, it was the perfect venue to tout the project.

“Sometimes in a big meeting like this, the good intentions stay on paper,” she said. “But we were in Rio to raise awareness. We have to understand that climate change is going to be a lot more expensive for the world than the current economic crisis.”

Pacific Rio+20 climate change blog
Rio+20 reports on Pacific Scoop
Pacific NGOs brand Rio+20 a failure
Poverty pollutes

Al Jazeera's Inside Story reports on the 'multinationals takeover'

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