Thursday, January 13, 2005

Call to resume peace talks in Uganda

Civil society groups have called for world pressure on parties of the conflict in Northern Uganda to resume peace talks, following the collapse of a ceasefire deal last Friday.

Over 1.6 million people have been displaced in the 18 year dispute between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government. Twenty thousand children are believed to have been kidnapped in order to stock the LRA with fighters, porters and sex slaves.

The Ugandan army claimed to have intercepted a radio order by the LRA's leader ordering attacks on refugee camps. The collapse of negotiations, for reasons that have not been disclosed by mediators, led to the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveri ordering the resumption of military action against the rebels.

Amma Naylor of Oxfam told the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks 'After 18 years of fighting, we have to face the fact that the so-called military solution is a pipe dream. But even if it were possible, we must never forget that the overwhelming majority of LRA fighters are abducted children. A military solution means killing these children.

'The attention of the international community needs to be given to Uganda. If not, then we will return to full-scale war in northern Uganda.'

The Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda are calling for the talks to be given more time. Their statement said:'It has been a decade since the last real peace talks were held. The people of northern Uganda cannot live with another 10 years of appalling suffering. We must make this peace process work'

QPSW has maintained a presence in Northern Uganda throughout the conflict. A factsheet on its work and more on the situation is available at:

First published in The Friend, 14 January 2005

UN attempt to provide drug solution

The UN is to revive Afghanistan's sugar industry to give growers an alternative to opium.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is to reopen Afghanistan's only sugar factory, which closed in the 1970s forcing the country to import 300,000 tons each year.

'The revival of the sugar industry could offer an alternative to poppy production and could help to boost incomes of family farmers by introducing a profitable cash crop,' Serge Verniau, FAO representative in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said.

Afghanistan's opium production has increased massively since the start of the 'war on terror' and the UNOffice on drugs and crime recently revealed that the country had 131,000 hectares of land dedicated to opium production last year, a record in its own history as well as making the country the biggest producer in the world.

The report called on the international community to do more in the country's battle against the illegal drug trade.

This initiative is being funded by Germany, who are also setting up projects for animal health and livestock production.

The factory is located 250 kilometres northwest of Kabul, an area which is considered to be the most suitable for sugar beet production. FAO will help to identify farmers to cultivate exclusively sugar beet under contract. Around 2000 growers will be selected and organized into groups.

Stop distracting me, stupid

The last two weeks have shown the overwhelming capacity of the British people to give to charity and to care for people hundreds of miles away. When the tsunami news was breaking, many people were glued to the TV coverage and buying newspapers every day, either because they had family or friends on holiday in the region or because they knew the areas and were genuinely concerned about the people there.

News was doing a service, which is as it should be. It was only as the news became increasingly mawkish that the press was exposed again as the lazy, profit-driven sensation-mongers that has switched thousands of people off newspapers in the past few years.

The media could pick up on two startling revalations: people can grasp a news story quickly if it is presented simply (a wave, a war, whatever) and that British people are perfectly willing to respond to death and destruction beyond the reach of their own holiday resorts. They aren’t just interested, but want to actively help and, given a coordinated approach that overcomes deep cynicism about charity beareaucracy, will donate in their hundreds of millions of pounds.
So can we expect to hear more about disasters taking place all over the world right now? Wars and diseases that are killing hundreds by the day? Perhaps the international bodies that work hard to solve these problems? Unlikely: as tsunami coverage begins to recede, it seems that the messy debris of Blair and Brown’s relationship is the only news worth printing.

For every column inch eaten up by idle fluff, spend a moment wondering what happened today in the world, even in our own country. Remind yourself that Israel is not the only long-standing conflict that you are capable of forming an interest in and that your parliamentarians are doing rather more than just gossiping about the prime minister and his vengeful ex.
Most importantly, remember that we don’t have to rely on mainstream news for a moment longer. As Thhomas Paine might have said, huzah for the internet.

First published in The Friend, 14 January 2005