Italy has once again retreated from a repeated pledge to return to Ethiopia a third-century 75-foot obelisk from the ancient city of Axum which fascist dictator Benito Mussolini brought to Rome as a prize of conquest after his invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in 1936. Italy initially pledged to return the obelisk in 1947, but never acted to fulfill the pledge. Last year, during a state visit by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a date was finally set--but has been repeatedly put off by Italy, citing technical difficulties. Most recently, on April 13, Italy cancelled a scheduled flight to deliver the first section of the obelisk, with the Italian Culture Ministry citing the lack of radar to ensure a safe landing of the cargo plane at Axum's airport .
Brian Grogan, a spokesman for Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief coordinator, told the UK Guardian that an average 10,000 civilians are dying each month in Darfur, totalling 180,000 over the past 18 months. These are only the victims of starvation or disease in refugee camps after being driven from their villages by government-backed militiamen. The estimate excludes those directly killed.
The UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), being held in Tanzania, has sentenced a former Rwandan civic leader to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to involvement in the 1994 genocide. Vincent Rutaganira, 60, is the fourth man to have pleaded guilty before the tribunal. Former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda was the first to plead guilty, and is serving his life sentence in Mali.
A day after "peacekeeping" troops got into a deadly gun battle with a Congolese militia, a UN official blamed "neighboring countries" for fueling the violence in Congo. The Pakistani "blue helmets" mixed it up with troops of the Nationalist & Integrationist Front (FNI) in the war-torn Ituri region, leaving 50 militiamen dead. The FNI allegedly attacked the UN troops as they were carrying out a local disarmament mission, and are also believed responsible for the ambush last week that left nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers dead.
Three international reports have fled Zimbabwe ahead of President Robert Mugabe's 81st birthday celebrations, and a fourth is in hiding after police searches their offices and threatened to have them arrested for slandering the state. Those who fled, Angus Shaw of AP, Brian Latham of Bloomberg news and Jaan Raath of the London Times, left last week following a Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organization statement that it had launched a manhunt for a fourth journalist, Cornelius Nduna, a freelancer for several news organizations. Nduna has yet to be found. His lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said the government accused him of possessing videotapes shot at a training camp for the Green Bombers, a government-backed youth militia. (AP, Feb. 22)
The UN's IRIN news agency reports that Nigerian troops shot and killed four villagers who were protesting at the main export terminal run by ChevronTexaco in the Niger Delta Feb. 4. Over 200 protesters from the village of Ugborodo near Warri occupied the Escravos plant just before dawn to demand a fairer share of revenues from the 300,000 barrels of crude oil that are pumped out every day. "Soldiers shot at them, killing four and injuring three others," said Helen Joe, one of the protest leaders.
The US is petitioning the UN Security Council not to prosecute Darfur war criminals--just another piece of Washington's ongoing campaign against the International Criminal Court, which could one day be used against US troops or political leaders. Meanwhile, a report by a five-person UN panel released Jan. 28 conveniently finds that while the Darfur violence is part of a government-orchestrated systematic campaign, it does not constitue "genocide". (IHT, Jan. 28) Just a day later, African Union peacekeepers reported that a Sudanese government airstrike on the Darfur village of Shangil Tobaya (40 miles south of El Fasher) left at least 100 civilians dead, and caused a thousand more to flee. Some 10,000 have fled violence in the Shangil Tobaya area in the past two weeks. (Boston Globe, Jan. 29) Pretty impolitic--you'd think the Khartoum butchers would have a better sense of timing. Then again, I guess they are entitled to their hubris, given how the whole world is giving them a blank check for butchery.