Saturday, March 26, 2011

Libyan intervention - two views from contrasting camps

WAS there any real justification in the devastating intervention in Libya - initially French, British and US-led and now with NATO driving? Is there really a moral case for this "no-fly zone" sham? Is it really all about saving civilian lives, or blatantly ensuring a regime change with control of oil once again the bottom line? There is a long list of countries that probably deserved foreign intervention in recent years, but were simply ignored with fossil fuels not being a critical factor: Somalia and international piracy, Ivory Coast, Sudan and Zimbabwe just to name a few. All left in the dustbin of Western hypocrisy. Here are some contrasting views from two columnists - Gordon Campbell on Scoop and the London Daily Mirror's Tony Parsons. Campbell contrasts the Libyan and Iraqi scenarios, defending the attack on Libya while condemning the invasion of Iraq, but Parsons brands the British involvement in Libya as simply "insane". Campbell writes:
Was the intervention in Libya justified – and if so, does that mean the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was justified? The conditions laid down by the French for their participation in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libyan air space go some way to answering those questions. Before they would join in any military action in Libya, the French were asking for (a) a clear UN resolution for the intervention(b) it had to be a UN operation, not one led by NATO (c) there would have to be some Arab involvement in the force, however token and (d) there would have to be a direct request and support for that intervention from a significant part of the civilian population.

Image: Tim Denee

France’s stance is relevant not simply because it is one of the thre
e main partners in the military force now attacking Libya. In 2003, it had been the most articulate opponent of the US invasion of Iraq, for reasons set out in this speech to the UN in 2003 by its then Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. All the conditions France have asked for in 2011 stand in striking contrast to the Iraq situation – which had no valid UN mandate, was a unilateral American-led adventure, had no Arab participation, and was in response to no direct threat to the people of Iraq, unlike the direct threat being posed to the people of Benghazi.

The immediacy of the murderous threat that Colonel Gaddafi posed to the civilian populations in the Libyan towns and cities that contain the rebels mark the main difference from the situation in Iraq. Without that immediate threat, the rationale for military action to topple the tyrant in Libya sounds almost identical to the Bush administration’s justification for intervening to topple the tyrant in Iraq.
Parsons in the Mirror says that if British prime minister David Cameron "had to send his kids to war, we'd all live in peace". In his latest column, he wrote:
It costs £900,000 for every Tomahawk missile ­– I am so glad we didn’t waste all that money on something stupid.

Oh, what a stupid war. Oh, what a dumb Britain. Stark raving mad – a country with empty pockets starting another open-ended, multi-billion pound conflict when we haven’t even finished the last one.

Are we insane? Have we learned nothing?

A country that can’t afford to police its own streets acting as though it can police the world. A country that is cutting back on military spending sending its ­undermanned, ­overstretched forces off to fight some more.

A country that can’t take care of its old people taking on the burden of caring for the oppressed people of Libya. A country that is currently closing down day centres for disabled children deciding it can afford another conflict that will waste millions every single day.

Barmy. Yet somehow so easy to understand. Thatcher, Blair and now Cameron – they all found it impossible to ignore the ­seductive call of war.

How much more satisfying it must be to confront the likes of General Galtieri, Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi than to deal with the problems of rising unemployment, soaring inflation, failing schools, housing ­shortages, a stagnant economy and all the rest.

Thatcher set the tone for the modern British Prime Minister. A nice little war can define your entire career. It’s far easier than creating jobs, wealth, hope.
But Parsons reckons that Thatcher had at least an achievable - and winable - goal. And he is decidedly nervous about a crop of "soft" politicians with little appreciation of the devastation of war; who can decide so casually on a warmongering path.
As I have noted before, it is terminally dangerous to have an army, navy and air force commanded by politicians who have never heard a shot fired in anger.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Band of 50's nuclear last stand at Japan's Fukushima

AS 120,000 people were ordered to stay in indoors and a further 70,000 evacuated from the 30km danger zone in northern Japan around stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station today, thoughts turned to the 50 volunteers who will probably pay a high price for trying to save the country from an even greater catastrophe. Their sacrifice follows the devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake 120km off the east coast of Honshu on Friday, followed by an apocalyptic tsunami that swept an estimated 6500 people to their deaths. The technicians, soldiers and workers have been described by two journalists of The New York Times as the "faceless fifty". They remain unnamed. One newspaper branded them the "atomic samurai". However, just as this item was being published, it has been reported that even this group has now been ordered out of the danger zone after new radiation spikes. They later returned.

Keith Bradsher and Hiroko Tabuchi's dispatch from Tokyo headlined "Last Defence at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers" began like this:
A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station on Tuesday — and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe.

They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air.

They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.

They are the faceless 50, the unnamed operators who stayed behind. They have volunteered, or been assigned, to pump seawater on dangerously exposed nuclear fuel, already thought to be partly melting and spewing radioactive material, to prevent full meltdowns that could throw thousands of tons of radioactive dust high into the air and imperil millions of their compatriots.

The company continued to fight problems in several reactors on Wednesday, including a fire at the plant.

The workers are being asked to make escalating — and perhaps existential — sacrifices that so far are being only implicitly acknowledged: Japan’s Health Ministry said Tuesday that it was raising the legal limit on the amount of radiation exposure to which each worker could be exposed, to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts, five times the maximum exposure permitted for nuclear plant workers in the United States.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Memo to PINA – get your Vanuatu facts right

SO PINA finally came to the party, after days of Pacific journos asking around the region’s traps why hasn’t the main media organisation taken up the cudgels of media freedom? Yet again? PINA finally acted four days after the March 4 brutal political attack and assault on Vanuatu Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones. The publisher plans to take a private prosecution against Public Utilities Minister Harry Iauko and the “gang of eight” henchmen, who were allegedly led by the politician in the attack, if the police fail to act.

Current PINA (Pacific Islands News Association) president Moses Stevens is also from Vanuatu, but Stevens and Neil-Jones have been feuding for years. PINA should have been at the forefront of the Pacific protests. Instead, it wagged the tail.

Auckland-based Pacific Media Centre made a statement on Saturday as soon as the front page of the Daily Post had been sighted, branding the attack as “mindless brutality”, the Cook Islands-based Pacific Freedom Forum followed on Sunday with condemnation. Then followed the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and Samoa-based Pasifika Media Association on Monday with Fiji-based PINA and the Media Asosiesen blong Vanuatu (MAV) bringing up the rear on Tuesday.

Even then there was a grudging sting in Stevens’ statement with a reference to alleged “biased reporting”. Here, Neil-Jones, holds PINA to account for its attempt at qualifying the seriousness of the attack.

By Marc Neil-Jones

I have today sent the following email to Moses Stevens thanking him for his PINA statement of support. I have also thanked MAV for their support.

Much appreciated Moses. Despite our differences, this
assault is an outrage and Iauko should be sacked. I thank you for PINA support despite us not being members currently.

One thing in relation to your press statement on Iauko's allegation of “bias” [in] reporting. The “news” he
reacted to on Friday was Transparency International's weekly opinion column which is vetted by lawyers and based on their own investigations into corruption. It is an opinion piece based on fact and documentary evidence in their investigations, vetted by a qualified lawyer. Same as the two opinionated letters to the editor [published] on that same day voicing anger and irritation over Iauko's actions in suspending the Airports Vanuatu board. My article earlier in the week on him suspending the AV board did not need comment from him as I had a copy of his letter to the board suspending them and I spoke to two board members and the expat adviser who had been told not to come into the office, all of whom confirmed what had happened.

I was shown the letter from Iauko. I was asked to investigate the legality of it and this was where the news thrust was as Iauko as Minister of Public Utilities is only a 50 percent shareholder in Airports Vanuatu and the Minister of Finance has the other 50 percent. I received advice from our lawyers his action was illegal if he had not got the support of Moana Carcasses. I called Moana and he confirmed that he knew nothing about it, had not been contacted by Iauko before he sent letters out suspending the board over allegations of malpractice and that Iauko could not do anything without his support and that what he had done was not right.

News hook
That was the news hook. I had proof the letter had been sent without any approval from Carcasses.

I didn't need to contact Iauko as he couldn't deny it as I had the letter. It was not “bias” in any way and just because we write about a minister if we are basing the story on documentary evidence, eg Joe Ligo's official report on corrupti
on in Lands while he was Director-General of Lands and had the power to get any file, document or staff he needed to do a thorough investigation for a report requested by the PM. He was the most senior civil servant in lands when he did the investigation and report, which is why it is so damaging. I simply quoted direct from the official report and raised questions on why tenders hadn't been followed that resulted in Kalsakau getting land without a tender for 1/10th of its value.

The government could have got vt50 million but they got next to nothing. I accept VBTC [Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation] would have to get “the other side” in order to put them in the best possible light as they are owned by government but we do not need to, provided ethics are followed and the news item is based on fact and not opinion. If Iauko had a problem with Transparency International's criticism of him, he should have taken it up with them or take them to court in the normal way.

You have in fact inferred that we were “biased” and have asked for more balanced reporting. This seems to be agreeing with the minister and you voicing your concerns. I have issues with that as the news on Iauko was perfectly good, followed standard journalism practice and was no excuse for him breaking the la
w and clearly breaching the Leadership Code.

Transparency International are a very well known NGO fighting corruption and Marie-Noelle Patterson has a huge reputation following her years as
Ombudsman. I have no problem whatsoever with their opinions and we do not need permission from Iauko or his comment before we run the column or a letter to the editor. I hope you can see this Moses.

Assaulted a number of times
For your information, I have been assaulted a number of times and no
t twice as is being claimed. Correctional Services with Jackson Noel a couple of years ago which has not gone to court; Christopher Emele's family with two men and two women when I was breaking news he didn't like on the VMA; assault and rough handling by the police when I was thrown in jail for demanding an officer who assaulted Sam Taffo at a rugby game between [the Police team] and USP [University of the South Pacific] be suspended; assault by Morkin Steven when he was Minister of Finance at Trader Vics, when he reacted to news of his drunken behaviour and car crash was carried.

I let that go as he profusely apologised afterwards. I was also assaulted by one of Willie Jimmy’s boys over a news item on a court case involving Willie that was in the paper when I was having a friendly conversation with Willie Jimmy at Club Vanuatu. If you recall, Willie then called up and told me to keep him out of the story or he would come and smash the office up - and I refused.

Sabby Natongs sent his boys in when we broke the news of his private security force assisting the VMF. He reacted and tried to stop us printing and I was assaulted. He made me do a custom ceremony at Blacksands and invited VBTC radio and TV to cover my apology.

A year or two later, Natapei as PM admitted in Parliament that Tanna boys under Sabby were helping the VMF and now Sabby even advertises it. He used custom against me when the paper was accurate all along. There have been other minor instances in the 1990s I have forgotten about. Brain cells tend to go when you are hit around so much!

Health issues
At 53 years of age and an insulin dependent diabetic with health issues [and] not writing much, how bad does this look when Iauko needs to come in [a
nd] bash an older guy with eight other people. If he was a real man he would come by himself as I am a lot older and weaker than him.

This clearly isn't right and my problem now is that I am highly cynical of whether the police and female Public Prosecutor will have the balls to take Iauko to court or not.
They haven't with my past two assaults.

Marc Neil-Jones
Vanuatu Daily Post

Port Vila
Images: Top: Marc Neil-Jones (centre) and staff; PINA president Moses Stevens. - Pacific Scoop. Middle: Marc with Café Pacific publisher David Robie in the press room during better times. - Photo: Del Abcede/PMC


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vanuatu's 'gang of brutes' and climate of impunity

DEVASTATING. This was the withering attack in an editorial by the "the board" of Transparency Vanuatu against disgraced Infrastructure and Public Works Minister Harry Iauko. Under fire from all media and civil society quarters, but mostly from Transparency (TV), the minister should fall on his sword and quit politics. But it will never happen. Will Prime Minister Sato Kilman sit up and take notice, let alone purge his thuggish minister? Hardly. His majority is too slender. Self interest is the name of the game. The Vanuatu politicians will close ranks and shield their rotten apple.

This climate of impunity in the Pacific for attacks against journalists and media is outrageous. Fortunately, we don't yet have anything like the media casualty rate of the Philippines where impunity is a national disease. The region and newshounds have much to thank TV for - tirelessly led by former Ombudsman Marie-Noelle Ferrieux-Patterson, who is just as successful a scourge of corrupt politicians in her civil society role as she was in public office. She is an inspiring example of how news media and civil society agencies can work together to bring politicians to account. The editorial began:
"The scandalous physical attack (a crime under Vanuatu’s Penal Code) on the Daily Post publisher, Marc Neil-Jones, allegedly instigated by the Minister of Public Works, Harry Iauko Iaris – the latest in a line of reported accusations of unwise or corrupt actions by the minister – is definitive proof that Iauko is totally unfit to hold any public office, let alone a leadership position.

"It is clear from letters to the editor that the conduct of this minister, whose daily life is paid for from public funds, is a shameful embarrassment to the people of Vanuatu. As a minister of State, Mr Iauko represents the whole country, not just his own small group of voters.

"If the Sato Kilman government wants to retain any serious credibility, swift and decisive sanctions will need to be taken against Minister Iauko.

"Instead of the political maturity that we should have the right to expect from our government ministers 30 years after Independence, we are witnessing the sickening display of a gang of undisciplined brutes …"
Read the full editorial by Transparency Vanuatu.

Photos: Public Works Minister Harry Iauko being sworn in last year;
assaulted Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones.

Check out these news items and others on Pacific Media Centre Online about the attack on the Daily Post.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Libya: The African mercenary question

John Liebhardt, who a year or two ago was posting some excellent analytical blogs on post-coup political developments in Fiji – in contrast to the rabid anti-coup blogs (and some pro-blogs for that matter) that were obsessed with political point scoring and obscuring the truth – has recently turned his attention to the Middle East. This extract is from his post on the vexed “mercenary” issue on Global Voices - and the full article is well worth a browse. It strikes a chord when Café Pacific recalls the foiled Sandline mercenary adventure plot against rebels in Bougainville in 1997:

ONE OF the more distressing sub-plots in the ongoing two-week uprising against Colonel Muammar Al Gaddafi in Libya has been reports of the Libyan leader's alleged use of “African mercenaries” to prop up his falling regime.

Global Voices has covered stories of mercenaries from Serbia bombing civilians from airplanes. But the majority of speculation regarding mercenaries portrays them as “foreign” or “African” — meaning from Sub-Sahara Africa and “Black”. This storyline is echoed everywhere in international media, in Arabic media, and in online citizen media and videos.

Why put a Black face on the mercenary story when people in Libya are both light and dark skinned?

In an open letter to Al Jazeera posted on the blog Sky, Soil & Everything In Between, KonWomyn worries that the broadcaster's shorthand description simply has become “mercenaries from Africa”, instead of looking deeper into who these people actually are, and that this description is being copied in media around the world.

Fear is another reason these claims are widely perpetuated. In a comment on a blog post on about mercenaries in Libya, “Benedict writes:
… in a climate of fear and scarce information, rumours that violence is being carried out by shadowy outsiders often spread widely (e.g. the rumours of ‘Arabs' beating protesters in Iran in 2009). Secondly, there are plenty of African migrants in Libya who may be seized as scapegoats by angry crowds, and there are also black Libyans, some of who may be members of the security forces.
Nonetheless, captured mercenaries in Libya have so far included people with identification papers from Tunisia, Nigeria and Guinea (Conakry) and Chad. In Ghana there are rumours that people in Accra had been offered as much as US$ 2,500 to fight for Gaddafi. And in Ethiopia local people have reportedly also been hired to fight. The video above is of an alleged mercenary captured by locals in the oil town of Al Barqa, Libya.

Destination Libya
For many in Sub-Saharan Africa, Libya has long been an employment magnet and also acted as a port of call for those wanting to migrate to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. An estimated 1.5 million people from south of the Sahara live in Libya, working mainly in the oil and construction industry.

Gaddafi is also financially and politically involved with governments south of the Sahara. The Libyan military has trained several rebel groups in the past, and has also recruited mercenaries on previous occasions.

In the early years of his rule, Gaddafi, who was affectionately known as “the Guide,” attempted to unify and Arabize the swath of land just south of the Sahara desert by pressing young migrants everywhere from the Sahel to Pakistan to fight as a single unit in wars in Chad, Uganda, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.

Attacks on migrants
The immediate problem is that people in Libya from Sub-Saharan Africa have been attacked simply because people assume they are mercenaries. On the Ethiopian Review blog, several people commented on a post about Ethiopian mercenaries with fears that innocent refugees would become targets of mobs.

One commenter, “Ganamo” wrote:
Some of those could be innocent refugees. During uprising in a mob mentality people most often do not differentiate well between criminals and innocent foreigners. I have to say this because I believe it from learning it through an experience. While revolution must go on we must be carefully to stand for refugees. Specially Ethiopians in Diaspora since their government cares only for their money and abandons them on their times of need, while other countries are evacuating their citizens. Where will Ethiopian Refugees in Libya go?
Some bloggers and activists from Sub-Saharan Africa see the mercenary issue as opening a window into the chauvinistic attitudes of those from North Africa.

Map source: National Post

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