South News Sept 26 

Southeast Asians co-operate to fight fires 

More than 2,000 Malayasian firefighters have arrived in the Indonesian province of Sumatra to combat the forest fires that have created thick smog in much of south-east Asia.So far, two Indonesians have died from respiratory problems, and hundreds of thousands of people in six countries have been forced to wear masks when they leave their homes. 

Malaysian C-130 aircraft also were to be used in what is known as cloud seeding, an attempt to induce rain to help clear the air. Malaysia also would allow Indonesian cloud-seeding planes to use its airports in Kuala Lumpur and Sabah."This reflects the true Asean spirit of helping your neighbour and Dr Mahathir's decision to go all out to put out the fires is an example for other nations to follow",said National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health chairman Lee Lam Thye. 

Australia is providing satellite imaging of the bush fires to the Indonesian government and the NSW Government has written to the Commonwealth with the offer, suggesting the assistance be provided in the form of an aid package by the Federal Government. NSW Emergency Services Minister Bob Debus says the State's rural fire service is acknowleged as a world leader in forest fire suppression and management. In Victoria the United Firefighters Union has made a similar offer to help fight the Indonesian fires. 

Bush fires in Indonesia this week have dumped pollutants across much of Southeast Asia, causing two deaths, forcing schools to close. Fires have been burning on Sumatra and Borneo islands, sending a choking haze over Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the southern Philippines and southern Thailand. A state of emergency in Malaysia's Sarawak state, on Borneo island, continued for a fifth day, with pollution well above hazardous levels. 

The Malaysian government's air pollutant index -- which measures levels of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, lead and dust particles -- was about 150 on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, a level considered "unhealthy." Levels of 201-300 are said to be "very unhealthy," and 301 to 500 "hazardous." 

In Kuching, capital of Sarawak state, the air pollutant index was 651 on Wednesday, down from a record 839 on Tuesday, when residents said visibility was only a few feet. People were venturing outdoors today, though many wore masks, residents said. Many schools, factories and offices were closed. 

Malaysian Information Minister Mohamad Rahmat said the government was studying plans to spray water from the tops of tall buildings in the capital to dissolve some pollutants. It has called on citizens to wear protective masks. Environment minister, Law Hieng Ding, said 330,000 masks would be sent to Sarawak and distributed to children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems. The government has said it may consider evacuating some of Sarawak's 1.9 million people if the pollution worsens. 

Meteorologists have pointed to the El Nino phenomenon, the Pacific Ocean warming pattern believed to disrupt weather around the globe. They warn that seasonal monsoon rains needed to put out fires, clear the skies and save crops could be delayed for weeks. The El Nino induced drought has exacerbated the problem. Indonesia has tried unsucessfully to clear the skies by seeding clouds to produce rain.

The worst fires so far have been reported in eastern and southern Sumatra, Kalimantan on Borneo island and in the remote province of Irian Jaya on New Guinea island. Two Indonesians have died after suffering haze-related breathing problems, the People's Welfare Ministry said. More than 32,000 people on Sumatra and Borneo islands have suffered respiratory problems in the two months since the haze became a problem. Doctors also report numerous eye infections. 

Malaysian Health Minister Chua Jui Meng, who is attending a five-day Western Pacific Regional Meeting organised by the World Health Organisation in Sydney this week sought technical help from member countries to measure and analyse the components of the pollutants in the hazy atmosphere which cause illnesses. 

Chua had talks with Australian Health Minister Dr Michael Wooldridge about requests  to send their experts to help Malaysia tackle haze-related diseases affecting the elderly and the young. "I have  discussed the problem affecting Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia informally with several delegates and am very pleased with the good response," he said. 

 Sources: Malaysia: The Star   ,  Indonesia:  Indonesian Times online 

US told to pay its UN dues 

Sweden told the General Assembly on Wednesday that the United Nations cannot be reformed "under the threat of political and financial crisis," a clear reference to the U.S. refusal to pay its debts unconditionally. Swedish Foreign Minister Lena Hjelm-Wallen called on all U.N. debtors "including the main debtor, the United States," to pay their bills by the end of the year. It was the first time that the United States has been criticized by name by a developed nation for refusing to pay its U.N. bills estimated at $1.5 billion. 

CNN's Ted Turner's surprising $1 billion gift to the United Nations appears to catalysed complaints about U.S. debts to the world body "I hope it will inspire the governments to pay what they owe," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said of Turner's announcement offering to donate $100 million in stocks to the United Nations over 10 years, in part to shame the United States when he opened proceedings of the 52nd session on Monday. 

"Africa is of the view that for reforms to be meaningful and credible, they should seek to reinforce the pivotal role of the United Nations in development," President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said on the third day of the annual General Assembly debate. 

The United States has made cost-cutting reforms key to it paying its debt to the world body. But Mugabe said paring down development programs in favor of Western goals of maintaining peace and promoting human rights "will marginalize" the world organization. 

"We do not see reform simply as an exercise to trim the budget of the U.N.," Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral said. "Instead, reforms should contribute to a strengthened U.N. and its capacity to respond effectively to the priorities identified by the overwhelming majority of its membership." Gujral said there had been a "growing emphasis" in recent years on using the United Nations to promote democracy and human rights rather than for economic development. "International peace and stability will be enhanced only when all countries enjoy a minimum standard of economic self-sufficiency and well-being," Gujral said, calling the promotion of sustained economic development the "single most important target" for the United Nations. 

A reduction in U.S. dues is one of the conditions imposed by Congress before it will pay its debt to the United Nations. Virtually all other U.N. members want the United States to pay its bills first, then negotiate a new rate.To win support for its goals, the United States has proposed adding five new permanent members to the Security Council, the most powerful U.N. body and the only one authorized to send peacekeepers to troublespots. 

Under pressure from the U.S. Congress, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for streamlining U.N. operations to cut costs. But developing nations -- the overwhelming majority in the 185-member General Assembly -- fear any cuts will come out of developmental agencies, which they say give critical support to poor countries. 

The United States must win support of many developing countries if it is to convince the General Assembly to lower the American share of the annual U.N. budget to 20 percent, down from the current 25 percent.Washington also wants other nations, such as  European states, Japan  to pick up the slack with the  Clinton administration  recommending  permanent seats for Germany, Japan and three unspecified developing countries. 

Earlier in the week in a joint statement  issued  by the Executive Committee of the United Nations Development Group, the heads of United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)said,"Ted Turner's $1 billion contribution to the United Nations will have a tremendous impact on our work in all areas of development cooperation. We salute Mr. Turner's extremely generous and socially conscious decision. It comes at a crucial moment for the United Nations which grapples with dwindling resources to meet a growing array of vital needs." 

"Mr. Turner is showing not only great leadership with this magnanimous gesture, but also his keen understanding of the challenges facing the international community today. We share his profound sense of urgency in supporting the humanitarian and development efforts of the United Nations. All United Nations agencies will come together to ensure the best use of this extraordinary endowment. Mr. Turner's landmark gift is an example for all. We hope that individuals will come forward to join him in changing the world through the United Nations". 

South needs to phase in globalisation  

Developing nations hit by the effects of trade globalisation, should phase in policies suited to their own economic conditions, boost South-South cooperation,and not bow to Northern trading muscle or neo-liberal economic theory, says a U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report. 

Kotte, a German economist at UNCTAD's globalisation and development strategies division, urged Southern nations to carefully phase their integration into the world economy -- and not adopt the 'big bang' approach widely practised by some in recent years. The process of liberalisation should be tailored to the strength of the economy concerned, as well as that of the country's institutions, he told a briefing convened by the United Nations Information Centre in Geneva. 

UNCTAD says there is no economic law establishing that developing economies will catch up to developed countries in terms of income simply by opening up. Increased competition does not automatically translate into faster growth and development, nor do growth and development spontaneously reduce inequality, the study maintains.  The U.N. body adds that finances have gained ground on industry and rentiers on investors. In some developing countries, the interest payments on the foreign debt eats is equivalent to 15 percent of GDP. The portion of revenues going to remuneration of capital increased more than the share which went to jobs, employment and income insecurity are growing, and the gap between wages of skilled and unskilled labour is widening. 

Government policies devised to manage integration into the world economy can also ensure that rapid growth comes in tandem with the distribution of wealth to a wider sector of society, said Kotte. In most of these countries, says the report, policies designed to provide incentives to private firms to retain profits and invest them in new equipment, capacity and jobs have been critical ensuring that increased profits foster increased investment. 

Efforts to close off 'unproductive' saving and investment channels and discouraging luxury consumption have been key elements of the Tiger nations' economic policies. 'Luxury' consumption, even by the relative standards of poor nations, rests heavily on imported goods, which besides emphasising consumption over savings, puts a balance of payments squeeze on savings, investment and growth. 

UNCTAD sees a fundamental difference between the way export promotion policies and full-scale import liberalisation affect different countries. The North is better placed to exploit 'dynamic' comparative advantages such as know-how, its ability to develop infant industries. The North is also able to better take advantage of 'static' advantages, such as its existing economic leading edge over the South, while the developing nations' dependence on advantages such as labour and raw commodities is qualified by the fact that the value and usability of these resources is set by others. 

''There can be little doubt that such a process (of boosting exports while liberalising imports) depends crucially on investment,'' the report maintains, and the role of governments in bringing in this capital was much greater in the East Asian success than is typically assumed in the ''conventional'' approach to trade-led economic liberalisation. 

The report considers it important that efforts to manage emerging inequalities be included at the outset when designing development strategies, as was successfully done in some, though not in all, newly industrialising East Asian countries. According to the report, turning higher profits into general improvements in standards of living hinges on the creative energy of entrepreneurs. But it also regretted that the 'animal spirits' of the entrepreneurial class are not necessarily focused on creating new and productive assets. Instead they are often buying into existing assets with an eye on large speculative gains. 

In this world, finance has been gaining an upper hand over industry, and the get-rich-quick 'rentiers', as the eminent British economist John Maynard Keynes once called them, are gaining the edge over investors, said Kotte. The rich have gained everywhere, and not only in comparison to the poorest sections of society. In fact, the 'hollowing out' of the middle class has become a prominent feature of changes in income distribution in many countries. The tenor of the report lent qualified support to a number of NGOs and the non -aligned countries  who are increasingly critical of neo- liberal economic theory behind globalisation. 

Israel announces new West Bank construction 

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled plans to expand a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, defying UN calls to halt housing programmes in the occupied territories. 

He says Israel will soon start building 300 homes in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, one of several enclaves near the biblical town of Bethlehem. Mr Netanyahu announced the move during a visit to the settlement. He says his government plans to strengthen the group of Jewish settlements to the south and west of Bethlehem area where about 10,000 Israelis live. 

Since coming to power in June last year, the Netanyahu Government has been speeding up settlement building in the West Bank and in annexed east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state. 

A Palestinian Jerusalem resident stated, that the whole set of provocations, some months ago at Jebel Rh'neim (Har Homa), and  in Ras-el-Amud, the many house demolitions in Palestinian eastern Jerusalem during the last few weeks, initiated by Israeli right-wing extremists who hope to incite a new Intifada, followed by Israel's military force to return and conquer again the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, aimed at perpetuating Israeli colonial rule over all of Palestine. But, he warned, what will be the price for it: another "few thousand" Palestinian and Israeli casualties and war invalids? Is this the peace Netanyahu and his followers have in mind? 

Libya calls for end to sanctions at IMF meeting 

Libya called for an end to economic sanctions at a top-level gathering of international financial officials on Wednesday. 

 U.N. sanctions were imposed by the Security Council after Libyan authorities refused to extradite two of its citizens wanted in the United States and Britain or their alleged role in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. Libya has offered to hand the suspects over to the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, but Britain and the United States have rejected this. 

``We call upon the world community to lift these unjust and unjustified sanctions imposed on Libya,'' Libyan Finance Minister Mohamed Beit Al-Mal said in a statement to the annual meeting of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund. The minister said that the sanctions violated IMF directives on the liberalisation of international payments and the provisions of the World Trade Organisation Agreement, which calls for free trade. He said the sanctions had resulted in financial losses of more than $23 billion since the sanctions were imposed in 1992. 

The Arab League last weekend decided to ease the embargo.The foreign ministers of the 22-member  Arab League said Arab countries should permit flights in and out of Libya if they carry official Libyan delegations or sick people, pilgrims or workers. The  league said they would "urge Arab countries to take steps to ease the toughness of the sanctions against Libya until a final peaceful and just solution'' to Libya's dispute with the United Nations is reached. 

The league endorsed "flights that are for humanitarian reasons and which are linked to the transport of the dead and the import of medicines.'' It also backed the air freight of items such as emergency rescue equipment, civil aviation apparatus, and spare-parts for crop-spraying planes and pumping stations. 

Turkish tanks rumble into northern Iraq 

Turkish soldiers backed by tanks, armored vehicles and attack helicopters have entered northern Iraq amid reports of fighting between Turkish troops and separatist Kurdish rebels. Around 15,000 troops and more than 100 armored vehicles have crossed the border into northern Iraq.There is a further build-up of troops and armored vehicles between Habur and the Turkish town of Silopi,15 km away.

Dozens of tanks crossed into the Iraqi border town of Zakho from Habur in Turkey on Tuesday afternoon, according to a Reuters report. The Kurdish television channel Med TV said Turkish troops and armoured vehicles had also entered northern Iraq from Cukurca on the Turkish border east of Habur.

In May, some 10,000 Turkish troops poured into northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK guerrillas, who use the region as a base . The incursion caused widespread anger in the Arab world.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry has condemned a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq against Kurdish rebels and called for an immediate withdrawal of Turkish forces. ``The Republic of Iraq strongly condemns the new Turkish military aggression which represents a flagrant violation of Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity,'' an Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the ruling Baath party newspaper al-Thawra.

``Iraq completely rejects excuses given by the Turkish government for its operations in northern Iraq,'' the Iraqi spokesman said. He said Iraq ...''asked the Turkish government to withdraw its invading forces from inside Iraqi territory and desist from such practices...''

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz sent letters to the Arab League Secretary-General, head of the Islamic Conference Organisation and head of the Non-Aligned Movement informing them of the Turkish incursion. ``We hope that the Arab League, the Islamic Conference Organisation and the Non-Aligned Movement will shoulder their responsibilities and ask the Turkish government to withdraw its troops immediately and desist from violating Iraq's territory and sovereignty,'' Aziz was quoted by the Iraqi News Agency as saying in his letter.

``The Iraqi government preserves its legitimate right under international law to respond to such acts and demands compensation for the damage inflicted as a result of these Turkish incursions,'' he added.

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