121 nations sign land mine treaty
Ottawa: The treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines became a reality Thursday when 121 nations signed the accord despite major holdouts from the United States and Russia. They further pledged $500 million to cut the annual victim rate from its present level (10,000 killed and 16,000 maimed)
"We've come to this conclusion with unexpected and heartening speed," Canada's Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy. Axworthy said at the end of a three-day conference to sign the treaty and begin a global effort to remove mines from one-time battlefields around the world.
The number of countries that signed the treaty -- more than twice the number that originally backed the idea in October 1996 -- surprised the organizers, although some signatories were tiny states such as Vanuatu and San Marino. A few lacked the proper signing authority from their governments are expected to sign the treaty at the United Nations in New York next week. Joelle Bourgois, the French ambassador to the UN Disarmament Conference in Geneva predicted at least 140 countries would sign the treaty.
The treaty is the result of the efforts of a coalition of popular figures, governments and NGO's such as the Red Cross and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, led by American Jody Williams, who shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize and the campaign by Britain's late Princess Diana, which focused world attention on the human toll taken by land mines.
The Ottawa meeeting follows the "Declaration of Sana'a" in early November when representatives of 15 Arab governments meeting in Sana'a, Yemen, called on the international community to increase its influential contribution towards the complete elimination of suffering and tragedies caused by landmines.The Declaration appealed to the international community, particularly landmine exporting countries, to shoulder their humanitarian responsibilities in assisting affected countries in general, and Yemen in particular.
The treaty commits countries to stop making, using, stockpiling or transferring mines. It also commits those with mines in the ground to remove them within the next 10 years -- with international help, if necessary. An estimated 60 million to 100 million mines are in place 69 countries, and they kill or maim more than 25,000 people every year -- the equivalent of a victim every 22 minutes.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, a recent convert after a lengthy period of indecision, called on other non-signatories to get on board. "We are here today," said Downer, "to lay the foundation for a future world without landmines.
"The challenge now will be to turn the powerful international norm established by the Ottawa treaty into a universal one. "A significant number of countries -- including key landmine user and producer states -- are currently outside the Ottawa treaty and are likely to remain so for the medium term." He called on those states not to "remain outside the tent," insisting: "We must not end up with a permanent partial solution to the global landmines crisis."
President Clinton said the United States would sign only if an exception were made to allow continued use of mines to protect American troops in Korea. Russia, with a vast border to defend, says one reason it's not signing the treaty is because it doesn't have the money to conduct massive mine removal under the four-year deadline suggested by conference organizers.
"I think it's important for those countries to re-think their motives for not signing," said Dr. Julius Toth of the international medical assistance group Doctors Without Borders. "If they can justify to the children that I have to deal with when I'm working in the countries, with amputees and the victims of these mines ... they'd better come up with a pretty valid reason for not being on line."
US-Britain delays increase in Iraq food-for oil
United Nations : The United States and Britain won support to delay any immediate increase of the current $2 billion worth of oil for six months program to buy food and medicines sought by Iraq at a UN Security Council meeting Thursday.
The Security Council resolution came despite UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan report to the council which stated even if all the goods procured under the "oil-for-food formula" [Security Council resolution 986 (1995)] arrived on time, it was insufficient to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.
The 15-member body delayed a decision on whether Iraq could sell more oil until after it receives formal recommendation next month from Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Diplomatic sources said the Clinton Administration wanted to delay any increase in Iraqi oil sales to avoid criticism for offering concessions to Iraq. They said that Washington feared any dramatic change would be viewed as a concession to Saddam Hussein following recent crises over U.N. arms inspectors in Baghdad.
The US ambassador, Bill Richardson said, "I think by now it should be clear to all where genuine concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people resides. This concern has been unshaken by the determined efforts of the Iraqi Government to undercut the Security Council and its resolutions at every turn." Yet Director-General Mohamed Elbaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Thursday informed United Nations Secretary- General Kofi Annan that, in the nuclear field, it is highly unlikely that any proscribed activities occurred and that no relevant materials or equipment were diverted during the 23-day period of absence of IAEA inspectors from Iraq.
But in the British-drafted resolution, the council also expressed its intention to ``consider favorably'' any recommendation by Annan to increase the amount of oil Iraq can sell and make other changes in the program to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people after more than seven years of crippling sanctions. The text of SC resolution 1143 (1997),expresses the council's willingness "to take such action over additional resources as needed to meet the priority humanitarian requirements of the Iraqi people".
Russia and France had lobbied for stronger language in the resolution committing the council to an increase. They suggested the amount of oil be doubled to $4 billion over six months as a minimum. ``Given the scope of the humanitarian disaster in Iraq ... we should have gone further'' and increased the oil ceiling now, French Ambassador Alain Dejammet said. ``It is intolerable that the Iraqi people continue to suffer in perpetuity.''
Russian Ambassador Sergey V. Lavrov, said the humanitarian crisis was "truly disastrous for broad sectors of the Iraqi people". Chronic malnutrition persisted, infant mortality was a serious problem, and there was a growing threat of epidemics. He said the blocking of humanitarian applications in the committee monitoring the sanctions against Iraq had "lead to months of delays and destabilization of the whole dynamics of the delivery of basic supplies, including the most necessary medicines".
Earlier Thursday, Annan appealed to the council to take urgent measures to improve the program and loosen the controls on imports. The United States has help up contracts for goods, such as tires and helicopter parts, because they could be used by Iraq's military. But U.N. officials said those supplies were necessary for crop-dusting, delivery of humanitarian supplies and other authorized purposes.
Annan said he would submit a formal recommendation next month ``as to requirements for any additional financial resources,'' apparently including an increase in the amount of oil Iraq can sell. ``It is essential that we look at all aspects of the scheme and try and streamline it and let it run more efficiently,'' Annan said.
He also urged the Security Council to consider changes in the approval procedures of the U.N. Sanctions Committee, which includes the United States and the other 14 council members. ``It is understood that a relatively large number of applications were put on hold over the past year out of concern on the part of members of this committee about possible dual usage,'' Annan said. He assured the council that U.N. monitors would ``ascertain the end use of all goods and supplies.''
At a UN press briefing Tuesday the Executive Director, Office of the Iraq Programme, Benon Sevan, said the humanitarian situation in Iraq will get "worse and worse" unless urgent measures are taken to alleviate it and contain the risk of further deterioration. Mr. Sevan, who recently returned from a two-week visit to Iraq, said conditions "are terrible". There were serious complaints in the country about the quantity and quality of the basket of food being provided. The food was mostly starch, and there was insufficient protein. That should be looked into during the review; how to increase the food basket and how to introduce variety to meet the nutritional needs of the people. "We are not talking about luxury needs or six-course dinners", he said. "We are talking about meeting basic minimum needs."
Last week, UNICEF reported that 960,000 Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition and that the oil-for-food program has done little to alleviate suffering.U.N. aid agencies say it has done little to ease the plight of children under five, who are underfed and underweight.
CIA responsible for Berlin Bombing
Berlin : The prosecution's former star witness Musbah Abulghasem Eter on Thursday said the real mastermind behind the La Belle disco bombing was the CIA who recruited anti regime Libyans. Eter said the CIA had hired the hit team under the leadership of a Libyan opposition figure, Mohamed Aschur.
Prosecutors had expected Eter, who worked at the Libyan Embassy in then-communist East Berlin, to testify against his four co-defendants and implicate Libya in the attack on a Berlin disco favored by U.S. military personnel. Two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish woman died in the April 5, 1986, explosion and about 230 others were injured. US President Reagan accused Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi of ordering the bombing and retaliated with deadly air strikes on two Libyan cities.
Eter was detained by German authorities in summer 1996 and made statements to investigators at the German embassy in Malta, where he was a diplomat at the Libyan embassy there. He said the statement he made at the time had been incorrectly interpreted.
Two Palestinians, a Libyan and two German sisters were accused in a Berlin court of carrying out the attack on orders from Libyan agents at the former Libyan embassy in East Berlin. Prosecutors said in the charge sheet that it was aimed at "killing as many U.S. servicemen as possible" in response to the U.S. sinking of a Libyan patrol ship in the Gulf of Sirte. Washington responded to the bombing with the reprisal bombings of the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.
But he surprised the court on Tuesday by denying he or his four co-defendants were involved, and testified that the Libyan Embassy had not approved it either."The group who carried out the business in the disco is not the group which is sitting here," Eter told the court, speaking in Arabic through interpretors.
Prosecutors have accused Palestinian Yasser Shraydi, 38, of being the chief organizer of the attack commissioned by diplomats at the Libyan embassy in then communist East Berlin. He denies involvement.
Shraydi, they say, recruited Palestinian Ali Chanaa, 38, to help plan the attack and assemble the 6.6 lb. of explosives spiked with metal pieces. Chanaa's then wife, German Verena Chanaa, 38, is alleged to have helped select a "suitable" target and planted the bomb accompanied by her sister, Andrea Haeusler, 32, to appear less conspicuous. Shraydi is alleged to have paid Chanaa $5,200 and his wife $2,600. The three are accused of three counts of murder and multiple counts of attempted murder. The Chaanas deny the charges.
Meanwhile the Libyan news agency, JANA, asked Britain to extradite four men of masterminding and carrying out attacks in Libya and other unspecified countries. It said Tripoli's demand was contained in a memorandum handed Wednesday to the Italian ambassador, who oversees Britain's interests in Libya.
Libya said it took the initiative as part of its commitment to fight terrorism and cooperation with countries which are victims of or threatened by terrorism. Libya accused Britain of harbouring terrorists and providing them with logistical support. Britain continues to host terrorists allowing them to speak in public and issue statements calling for acts of sabotage and terrorist operations in Libya, JANA said.
Recently, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt accused Britain of hosting
terrorists trying to overthrow his government and replace it with an Islamic
Syria blames Israel for Middle East "explosive situation"
United Nations: It was not right for the international community to sit on its hands as the peace process it built fell apart, the representative of Syria, Khalil Abou-Hadid told the General Assembly Wednesday, as it considered the situation in the Middle East. He said the United States should stand by the basis of agreements it had put forward and the assurances made to the parties to the peace process.
International concern was dictated by the need to contain the explosive situation created by the extremist path taken by the Netanyahu Government, he said. No one could blame the Arab party, which cooperated in the peace process. The Arabs were prepared to resume talks at any time at the point where they were halted, he said. It was important to craft a united international stand. All available means of pressure must be brought to bear on the Israeli Government to stop it from threatening the region with more war. The chance of peace might be lost. Israel wanted to bargain with Arabs on something to which it had no rights, and did not own.
The representative of Jordan, Hasan Abu-Nimah said the parties to the Middle East conflict must commit themselves to the pursuit of peace. Israel's actions over the past months had endangered the process. It was the international community's duty to strengthen the role of the United Nations and support the sponsors of the peace process. If Security Council resolution 242 (1967), which was the very foundation of the peace process, were implemented, there should be insistence on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and full withdrawal of Israel's forces from territory occupied since 1967.
He said Jordan sought a peaceful settlement to the conflict that was just, lasting and global. Peace was needed by all the countries of the Middle East; it could herald the start of a normal life for the region. In 1994, Jordan signed a peaceful agreement with Israel, which could serve as a model for other countries. It was not merely a document, but was based on mutual respect and respect for commitment. Peace could be brought about only by total eradication of the causes of the conflict. The question of Jerusalem and East Jerusalem was at the heart of the issue of peace, and the international community should reject the annexation of the city by Israel.
Dore Gold (Israel) said it was a myth to assert that the peace process was in an idyllic state until the current Israeli Government. It was forgotten that hundreds of rockets fired from southern Lebanon had fallen on northern Israel, that repeated deliveries by Iranian aircraft of weapons for Hizbullah arrived at Damascus airport and were shipped through Lebanon. The repeated bus bombings that occurred during negotiations were also forgotten. The missiles and bombings originated in areas under the control of Israel's negotiating partners.
Statements were also made by Lebanon,Iran, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Australia, Thailand, Cyprus and Norway.
Fayssal Mekdad, Syria, in exercise of the right of reply said there had been "fabrications and lies" in the Israeli statement. Delegates were aware of the historic facts on the Middle East. Israel was the first to initiate aggression in Syria from 1947 to 1967, with the objective of expelling Syrian farmers from their lands and preventing them from harvesting their crops. Those actions were documented in United Nations reports. The Israeli representative claimed that Golan was important to Israel's security. That was the language used by Israel to annex the Syrian Golan in 1981 and it was the same language used by the present Israeli Prime Minister to preserve the present occupation of that area. Syria would not accept giving up one inch of its soil. Could anyone expect Syria to establish peace with the Israeli Government while Syrian land was still in Israeli hands?
In a guarantee to Syria, the United States had said it would not accept the annexation of Syrian land by Israel. The Israeli representative had spoken jocularly about armaments in the Middle East. The world knew that Israel was qualitatively and quantitatively superior in armaments to the Arab States. It possessed nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction which it manufactured locally and other sophisticated weapons received from abroad, such as tanks, planes and cannons.
Daily statements by the Israeli Prime Minister on his decision to preserve Israel's occupation of Arab territories and the construction of more projects in Syrian Golan confirmed the emptiness of the speeches made by the Israeli representative, in an effort to enhance the image of his country's leadership. Syria reconfirmed its commitment to peace on the basis from which it started in Madrid, and not on any other basis whose only purpose was to satisfy Israeli arrogance and the perpetuation of its hegemony.
Arab League to seek support for Libya
Cairo: The Arab League said Wednesday it will urge Islamic leaders meeting in Iran next week to back a resolution calling for the easing of U.N. sanctions imposed on Libya in 1992.
"I expect the proposals adopted by the Arab League foreign ministers' meeting in September on Libya to receive the support of Islamic nations" at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, said Arab League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel Meguid.
He said he will ask the Islamic Conference to put the Libyan issue on the agenda of the Dec. 8-11 summit in Tehran.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday decided to send a mission to Libya to examine the impact of the sanctions in mid-December for talks with Libyan officials over sanctions imposed on the country by the world body five years ago.
The Libyan news agency, JANA, as saying that the delegation will include three diplomats. It added that the decision to send the delegation followed a meeting with the Libyan representative at the UN, Abouzeid Dourda. The Libyan diplomat had previously informed Annan of Tripoli's preparedness to receive the UN delegation.
Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo in September called on all member countries to ignore the U.N. air embargo on Libya in a bid to ease hardships on its people.
UN rights body questions sanctions regime
Geneva : A UN rights body, in an implicit challenge to US policy on Iraq, has urged the Security Council to consider the economic and social rights of vulnerable civilians before slapping on sanctions, its chairman said on Thursday.
Philip Alston, chairman of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said exemption mechanisms allowing food and medical supplies to be imported into countries under sanctions were ``completely inadequate.'' Speaking to a news conference on Thursday he expected the statement adopted by his committee late on Thursday to ruffle feathers in the Security Council.
Alston said UN sanctions committees set humanitarian exemptions for each state under sanctions. But he said they failed to ensure full protection of economic and social rights.
``There are measures that can be adopted to make sure that the vulnerable parts of the population are not affected to anywhere near the extent that they currently are. Those measures have been specifically ignored so far," the Australian law professor said. ``The evidence, overwhelmingly -- from UN sources, let alone other sources, and we have a lot of reports on this -- is that the exemption mechanisms are completely inadequate.
``We believe that there is in fact a legal obligation which applies to all countries to respect the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and that neither the United Nations nor any regional body is exempt from that obligation.
``The bottom line...will be that respect for human rights cannot be left at the door of the Security Council,'' he added. ``In other words, when governments go into the Council chamber, they cannot leave a suitcase which contains human rights commitments at the door and forget about it...''
The committee monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by 137 states. The 1976 pact recognises rights to work, to form and join trade unions, to social security, as well as to adequate standards of living, health and education.
All five permanent members of the Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) have signed the pact. Developing countries often cite the right to economic development as being as important as civil and political rights. China and the United States have not yet ratified the economic and social rights pact, although Beijing recently informed the United Nations of its intention to do so.