Elsewhere, around the globe, the conflicts continue... From Colombia to Congo, Afghanistan to Thailand - a world of turmoil
By Raymond Whitaker
[The Independent - 02 March 2003]:
The interim president of Afghanistan – the focus of obsessive international attention a year ago – was in Wash-ington last week to urge George Bush to continue supporting his country, no matter what happens in Iraq.
Apart from the growing nuclear threat from North Korea and the endless violence in Israel and the occupied territories, the looming war in Iraq has driven most other events out of the news. After their meeting the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, and Mr Bush reaffirmed their "iron-clad and lasting partnership" in pursuit of a "prosperous, democratic" Afghanistan. But at almost the same moment the United Nations announced it was suspending operations in parts of the country because of fighting between warlords and general insecurity.
If Afghanistan has fallen out of the news, other conflicts have slipped even further down the agenda. In the past week the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, took time out from the Iraq crisis in a last-ditch attempt to end the 29-year division of Cyprus. The civil war in Colombia, which has lasted even longer, threatened to spill over into neighbouring Latin American countries. The number of people killed in a crackdown on drugs in Thailand reached 1,100, according to some estimates. And further peace talks in South Africa failed to stem the murderous civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But all these developments were more or less ignored.
Despite urging them to seize a "once in a generation" chance, Mr Annan could not persuade Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to agree on the latest revision of a complex power-sharing plan that would create a single state and set off population and territory exchanges. In the end he suggested leaving the decision to the communities they represent. If polls can take place, there is still time for the island to enter the European Union as a united country in 2004.
The recent kidnapping by Colombia's Farc rebels of three Americans on "US government business" in the south of the country has alarmed the US public, but Colombia's neighbours are more worried that the instability will spread to them.
The hardline government of Alvaro Uribe, who became President in August, has embarked on the toughest anti-terrorism measures seen in Colombia in decades, and the rebels have responded with a spate of bombings. When Spanish and Colombian missions were bombed in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, last week, there were initial fears of Farc involvement.
Thailand has an equally hardline leader in Thaksin Shinawatra, whose latest anti-drugs campaign has evolved into a near-war. More than 1,100 people have been killed – including 10 children and a pregnant woman who happened to be passing during a drugs raid. The authorities suggest that the toll is so high because gangs are killing potential informers; the police say they have shot "only" 22 people, all in self-defence.
The Prime Minister has vowed to wipe out methamphetamine trafficking, which blights the lives of three million addicts, by the end of April. One statistic is claimed as a measure of success: the price of a speed tablet has quintupled to 400 baht, or £6.
Despite a peace deal signed in December between President Joseph Kabila's government and key rebel move- ments, fighting is still claiming thousands of lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Aid agencies say a flu epidemic in the desperately poor state has killed more than 1,000 people. But it is hard to get attention – even the recent UN report which accused Congo rebels of cannibalism went largely unnoticed.
Last week a helicopter carrying General Mountago Diallo, the chief of the UN military mission, came under fire. If it had been Hans Blix, there would have been a sensation, but Gen Diallo's close shave caused scarcely a ripple. Fortunately, he was unhurt.
Reports by Phil Reeves in Delhi, Daniel Howden in Athens, Mark Duffy in Bogota, Jan McGirk in Bangkok and Basildon Peta in Johannesburg