Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shell Oil Case Set to Go to Court

Shell oil case set to go to court

A Dutch court has ruled it has the authority to hear a case brought by a group of Nigerian farmers against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.

The four farmers claim a subsidiary of Shell is responsible for contaminating their land in the Niger Delta.

They are seeking compensation and assurances that Shell will clean up the land polluted by alleged oil spills.

Shell denies any responsibility and had argued that the court has no authority in the case.

It said the spills, which sprung from a leak from a high-pressure pipeline in 2005 in Bayelsa State, were caused by sabotage by militant groups that have been fighting in the region.

Shell expressed "disappointment" at the ruling.

"We believe there are good arguments on the basis of which the district court could have concluded that it lacks jurisdiction in respect of these purely Nigerian matters."

In a separate case earlier this year, Shell agreed to pay millions of dollars to a group of Nigerians over alleged abuses of their rights in the Delta region.

Although Shell paid compensation, it did not accept responsibility for rights abuses.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/12/30 11:41:50 GMT

South African President Jacob Zuma Calls For End of 'Culture of Negativity'

Zuma calls for end of 'culture of negativity'


President Jacob Zuma said 2010 was the year for South Africans to renew their commitment to national unity.

"Together we must make 2010 the year in which we renew our commitment to national unity and nation building," Zuma said in a statement on Thursday.

He said January 1 would mark the beginning of the most important year in the country's history since 1994, with the Soccer World Cup the impetus behind nation building and economic recovery.

"The year 2010 must be the year in which for the first time, we all communicate positive messages about our country to the world -- the successes and possibilities.

"We have to put the culture of negativity behind us."

Political parties, traditional leaders, business, labour, youth, sports bodies, women, media, religious leaders and other sectors should put their efforts in ensuring the success of the tournament.

"Together as all South Africans, we must make this one of the most successful projects we have ever undertaken as a nation."

The World Cup must revive the spirit of unity as the Rugby World Cup did in 1995.

It should serve as a reminder that there was a lot to celebrate about the country.

"It must be a year in which we put South Africa first, and take forward our collective mission to shape this country into one of the most successful constitutional democracies in the world," Zuma said.

The World Cup, he said, had helped the country counter the effects of the recession as thousands of people had been employed and trained during the construction of stadiums

"It [the tournament] must contribute to long-term economic growth and the creation of decent jobs."

Citizens had a duty to welcome visitors and soccer teams to the country during the tournament.

"We must all be active ambassadors of our country," he said.

The success of Bafana Bafana in the tournament depended on the support they received from all South Africans.

"Most importantly, we must make 2010 an exciting and most enjoyable year for all of us. Happy New Year and happy 2010 Soccer World Cup to you all," Zuma said. - Sapa

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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North Korea Seeks Closer Ties With US

Friday, January 01, 2010
05:28 Mecca time, 02:28 GMT

North Korea seeks closer US ties

The North Korean leadership has indicated it may return to six-party talks it abandoned in 2009

North Korea has called for an end to hostile ties with the US and reaffirmed that it wants a nuclear free peninsula.

The call was made in a New Year joint editorial on Friday by several North Korean newspapers carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

"The fundamental task for ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the rest of Asia is to put an end to the hostile relationship between the DPRK and the USA," KCNA quoted the editorial as saying.

"It is the consistent stand of the DPRK [North Korea] to establish a lasting peace system on the Korean peninsula and make it nuclear-free through dialogue and negotiations."

North Korea has made similar pledges before and analysts have said Pyongyang may call for separate discussions on formally establishing diplomatic ties with the US before it agrees to resume six-party nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, China and the US.

'Actions louder than words'

In Washington, a state department official said the North should demonstrate its good intentions by returning to the six-party talks on its nuclear programme, which were last held a year ago.

"Actions speak louder than words," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "A good step forward would be to return to six-party talks."

Following a December visit by US envoy Stephen Bosworth who carried a letter to Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, from Barack Obama, the US president, Pyongyang has indicated it could return to the talks it abandoned in 2009.

North Korea reneged on a six-party deal to halt its nuclear programme in exchange for aid and an end to its international isolation about a year ago and was hit with fresh UN sanctions for its second nuclear test conducted in May.

The US and Pyongyang's neighbours want it to at least return to an agreement it walked away from to take apart its ageing Yongbyon nuclear plant, which makes plutonium, and let international inspectors back into the country.

The New Year editorial also put great emphasis on what it called bringing about "a radical turn in the people's standard of living".

This would be achieved by quicker development of light industry and agriculture, KCNA said.

"Our building of the country into an economic giant is aimed, to all intents and purposes, at radically improving the people's standard of living," the editorial quoted Kim as saying.

Friday's editorial also warned neighbouring South Korea against "committing acts that may aggravate the confrontation and tension, and take the road of respecting the inter-Korean declarations, promoting north-south dialogue and improving the relations between both sides".

Source: Agencies

Internationals In Cairo Set Off On March To Gaza In Protest Of Siege

Internationals In Cairo Set Off On March To Gaza In Protest Of Siege

Contact: Ann Wright, Egypt (19) 508-1493
Ziyaad Lunat, Egypt +20 191181340
Medea Benjamin, Egypt +20 18 956 1919
Ehab Lotayef, Egypt +20 17 638 2628 (Arabic)

(Cairo) Following Egypt's refusal to allow the Gaza Freedom Marchers to enter Gaza, the more than 1,300 peace-and-justice activists are setting out on foot. Despite police blockades set up throughout downtown Cairo in an attempt to pen the protesters in and prevent them from demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians, the internationals are unfurling their banners and calling on supporters of peace around the world to join them to demand the end of the siege of Gaza.

Egypt's offer to allow 100 of the 1400 marchers to enter Gaza was denounced as insufficient and deliberately divisive by the organizers. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs has sought to spin this last-minute offer as an act of goodwill for Palestinians and isolation of "troublemakers." The Gaza Freedom March categorically rejects these assertions. Activists are in Cairo because they are being prevented by the Egyptian government from reaching Gaza. "We do not wish to be here, Gaza has always been our final destination", said Max Ajl one of the marchers.

Some individuals managed to overcome the police barricades and began the march at the meeting point in Tahreer Square in downtown Cairo. They were joined by Egyptians who also wished to denounce the role of their government in sustaining the Gaza siege.

The authorities have sought to separate international from the locals. The police is brutally attacking the nonviolent marchers. Many plain clothes police officers have infiltrated the crowds and are violently assaulting them. "I was lifted by the Egyptian police forces and literally tossed over the fence," said Desiree Fairooz, one of the protesters. Marchers are chanting and resisting the attempt to disperse them vowing to remain in the square until they are allowed to go to Gaza. The GFM banner is hanging up high in a tree in the square. Some marchers are bleeding and riot police destroyed their cameras.

The Gaza Freedom March represents people from 43 countries with a diversity of backgrounds. They include peoples of all faiths, community leaders, peace activists, doctors, artists, students, politicians, authors and many others. They share a commitment to nonviolence and a determination to break the siege of Gaza.

"Egypt has tried every way possible to isolate us and to crush our spirit," the march organizers say. "However, we remain as committed as we ever to standing up against tyranny and repression. We will march as far as we can towards Gaza, and if we are stopped by force, we will hold our ground in protest. We call on those committed to justice and peace everywhere to support our stand for freedom for Palestinians."

Among the participants are Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker, Filipino Parliament member Walden Bello and former European Parliamentarian Luisa Morgantini from Italy. More than 20 of the marchers, including 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, have launched a hunger strike against the Egyptian crack-down and are now entering their fourth day

Gaza Freedom March Update: French Activist Reported Killed; Protests on Both Sides of Border to Break the Siege

French Gaza Freedom March activist killed in Cairo

Thu, 31 Dec 2009 14:10:15 GMT

Gaza Freedom March activists chanted slogans in front of Egyptian riot police during a protest at the center of Cairo, Egypt on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009

Organizers of the "Gaza Freedom March" report the death of a French citizen from injuries sustained at the hands of security forces during a demonstration in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Marie Renee died in the Cairo Hospital. She was traveling with a French delegation of approximately 300 nationals, Ma'an news agency reported.

Press TV presenter Yvan Ridley however didn't confirm the report.

The French delegates had earlier been camped out on the grounds surrounding the French Embassy in Cairo, reportedly flanked by two lines of Egyptian police.

Hundreds of activists with the "Gaza Freedom March" have continued demonstrations and sit-ins in Cairo to protest the Egyptian government's refusal to allow them to cross the border into the besieged Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday, Egyptian security allowed 84 of the 1,300 who registered to participate in the Gaza Freedom March into the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave All were traveling with the Codepink delegation, which organized two earlier trips into the blockaded Palestinian coastal sliver since the Israeli war on Gaza last year.

Another 1,200 activists from about 40 states remained in Cairo after Egypt refused entry for the group because of what they called the "sensitive situation" in the Palestinian territory.

The "Gaza Freedom March" activists were hoping to march into Gaza on the anniversary of Israel's 22-day offensive on the territory as a sign of solidarity with its people, carrying with them aid and supplies.

Israel has continued to close all border crossings to the Gaza Strip for more than two years. The illegal Israeli imposed blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has steadily tightened since 2007, has had a disastrous impact on the humanitarian and economic situation in the coastal enclave.

Some 1.5 million people are being denied their basic rights, including freedom of movement, and their rights to appropriate living conditions, work, health and education. Poverty and unemployment rates stand at approximately 80% and 60% respectively in the Gaza Strip.

Egypt with the Palestinian Authority's blessings has sealed its borders with the Gaza Strip, effectively cutting off the coastal enclave from the rest of the world.

Thursday, December 31, 2009
16:29 Mecca time, 13:29 GMT

Protests held against Gaza siege

Members of Gaza Freedom March, denied entry to Gaza, demonstrated in Cairo

Activists, both from Gaza and abroad, have held demonstrations on either side of an Israeli border crossing to the Palestinian territory, protesting against its continued siege by Israel.

Hundreds of protesters gathered around the Erez crossing on Thursday, to denounce the blockade that has caused immense suffering to those living in Gaza.

Nisreen el-Shamayleh, Al Jazeera's correspondent who was on the Israeli side of the crossing, estimated that about 600 protesters were present, many from mainly Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

"They represent Israeli-Palestinians as well as other Arab civil society organisations inside Israel and also with the support of some Israeli groups," she said.

"Their major demand is for Israel to stop the siege on Gaza and to stop the suffocation of Gazans living under this blockade. They're also calling on the international community to intervene."

The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade since 2007 when Hamas seized power in the territory.

The Erez crossing is the main entry and exit point to and from Gaza used by medical patients, journalists, diplomats and aid groups.

International support

On the Gaza side of the border, the demonstration was slower to get started, but protesters there were joined by 86 activists from the Gaza Freedom March, an international group that has been trying to get into Gaza with food and supplies.

Most of the Gaza Freedom March's 1,300-strong group were refused entry into Gaza by Egypt, which controls the Rafah crossing point, because of what Egyptian authorities said was the "sensitive situation" in the territory.

Many of those remaining in Egypt held separate demonstrations in Cairo.

Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, who was at the Cairo protest, told Al Jazeera the group had been surrounded by the police.

"I've spoken to some people who were pushed or kicked by police and a few people have [had] their cameras taken away," he said.

"I'd say there are about 200 people here. We had anticipated quite a few more, but earlier today police barricaded some of the hotels where we are staying ... I can't tell you how many people have been prevented from joining us."

A separate aid convoy has also been trying to reach Gaza through Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba.

Lorries from the Viva Palestina convoy began crossing from Jordan into Syria on Thursday.

The events around Gaza coincide with the one-year anniversary of Israel's devastating 22-day war on Gaza which left about 1,300 Palestinians dead. Thirteen Israelis also died in the conflict.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Palestine Solidarity Activists Enter Gaza, March Through Beit Hanoun

By Alex Kane
December 31, 2009

Occupied Palestinian Territory, Gaza City, Gaza Strip–About 85 international delegates marched with hundreds of Palestinians in the area of Beit Hanoun in Gaza yesterday afternoon. The protesters called on Israel, Egypt and the United States to lift the devastating siege on Gaza and to let the over 1,300 delegates from the Gaza Freedom March still in Cairo to be allowed in.

The delegates, who came from numerous countries, including the United States, France, Turkey, Canada, Germany and Australia, had crossed the Rafah border late last night. Along with the over 80 activists who crossed, humanitarian aid worth tens of thousands of dollars were brought in for the people of Gaza.

The crossing came after a tense day full of bitter debates and fights amongst the Gaza Freedom March delegates (for more, see Ellen Davidson’s piece here).

The Egyptian government had blocked any international activists from crossing for days, and they continue to repress activists still in Egypt. There have been reports of beatings, detainments and injuries of Palestine solidarity activists still in Cairo and el-Arish at the hands of Egyptian security forces. Egypt receives billions of dollars in economic and military aid from the United States, and also seals the border it shares with Gaza, though it occasionally opens it.

“Our happiness is not complete,” because the majority of the delegates are stuck in Egypt, said Ahmed Alnajjar, the director of international relations for the Ministry of Education in Gaza.

The march was much smaller than expected because of security concerns, according to Tighe Barry, an organizer with CODEPINK. Some Gazan non-governmental organizations pulled out of participating in the march after Hamas, the Islamist party that won democratic elections in Palestine in 2006, took a much bigger role than originally promised.

On the bus towards Gaza late Dec. 30, Barry stressed the importance of the smaller delegation breaking the siege, albeit in a small way, on the people of Gaza.

“We are cracking open the door, and we need to do this every day,” said Barry. “We set Gaza free in some ways.”

After two hours of marching, the international delegation led the way towards the Erez border crossing with Israel, which has been shut since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007. The activists and Gazans chanted “Free, Free Gaza, Free Free Palestine,” and “Lift the Siege.”

“We are living in jail. We are living in a cage. There is nowhere to go, what to do?” said Mustafa Elhawi, 51, a Gaza City resident who is on the board of directors for the Gazan Community Bridge Initiative. “We welcome people, delegations, like you coming here, and you just give us hope.”

The march advanced a little less than 500 meters away from Erez, but couldn’t go farther for fear of provoking the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israeli military killed three Gazans December 27 when they were seen crawling along the border between Israel and Gaza.

There was a separate march with about 300 people on the Israeli side of the Erez crossing.

Protesters demand access to Gaza

ILHAM RAWOOT | CAIRO, EGYPT - Dec 31 2009 10:36

Over 1 000 protesters and journalists from 43 countries converged on the Egyptian Museum in Cairo on Thursday morning, calling for Egypt to open the Rafah border with Gaza.

After a violent start to the protest, about 600 protesters sat down outside the museum, where they intend to stay until midnight.

The museum has been closed as well as a central metro station.

The police were earlier seen dragging women by their hair and beating and kicking seated protesters.

The protesters had gathered in Cairo to mark the first anniversary of Israel's devastating war on Gaza that killed 1 400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis also died.

Egypt then banned the activists from entering the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing, the only entry that bypasses Israel. The move has sparked a number of demonstrations. About three hundred French nationals have set up camp outside the French embassy and are demanding their government put pressure on Egypt to open the border. Also on Wednesday, a group of French and American delegates hung a larger-than-life Palestinian flag over one of the pyramids, the second demonstration of its kind in four days. There have also been protests at the Cairo Journalists’ Syndicate, the United States Embassy, and the United Nations headquarters at Cairo’s World Trade Centre.

Relations between the protesters and the government became strained on Tuesday evening, when Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and chairperson of the Red Crescent organisation, offered to allow 100 protesters into Gaza. The offer was accepted by one of the march organisers, Code Pink, a US anti-war group that is mainly composed of women. This sowed division among the protesters, with many countries, including South Africa, making a conscious decision not to go, as they felt it “diluted the message” and was a “sell-out strategy”.

Code Pink have since decided not to accept Egypt's offer.

Ziyaad Lunat, a member of the march coordinating committee, said they rejected Egypt's offer as a "token gesture".

"We refuse to whitewash the siege of Gaza. Our group will continue working to get all 1 362 marchers into Gaza as one step towards the ultimate goal for the complete end of the siege and the liberation of Palestine” said Lunat.

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
Web Address:

UN's Falk calls for sanctions against Israel

Thu, 31 Dec 2009 02:21:50 GMT
Press TV

Richard Falk is the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Gaza Strip

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Gaza Strip has called for military and economic sanctions against Israel.

"The UN has not been willing [yet] to give what's needed to exert significant pressure on Israel to lift the blockade that under any circumstances is unlawful," Richard Falk told Press TV on Thursday.

"The only thing that could be more effective would be a move toward economic sanctions that would include military assistance" to Israel, the UN diplomat underlined.

The UN independent expert on Palestinian rights has also criticized the international community for its failure to end the Israeli blockade against the Gaza Strip

He called for "some more effective international approach" to lift the three year blockade that "shocks the conscience of humanity".

He added that the plight of the Palestinians under the Israeli siege should prompt the international community to give the besieged population "some kind of protection."

Gaza has been under a tight Israeli blockade since June 2007, when Hamas took control of the populated area.

Afghanistan War Update: CIA Operatives Killed in Attack by Resistance Forces

Thursday, December 31, 2009
09:26 Mecca time, 06:26 GMT

Foreigners killed in Afghan attacks

Nearly 140 Canadian troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002

Five Canadians and eight Americans have been killed in two separate attacks in Afghanistan, with officials saying that the Americans were working for the CIA, the US intelligence agency.

The Taliban on Thursday claimed responsibility for the attack on the Americans, who were killed in a suicide attack on a US base in the eastern province of Khost.

A suicide bomber reportedly evaded security at the base and detonated an explosive belt in a room used as a fitness centre on Wednesday.

A former senior CIA officer who was stationed at the base said a combination of agency officers and contractors operated out of the remote outpost with the military and other agencies.

Initial reports suggested the men killed had been soldiers.

'Reconstruction staff'

"There has been a great deal of confusion when the reports emerged yesterday," Hashem Ahelbarra, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from the Afghan capital, Kabul, said.

"We contacted the spokesperson of Isaf [the International Security Assistance Force] to confirm to us that US soldiers were killed.

"Then he came back to us in half an hour and said there had been a great deal of confusion and actually 'no, these are not US soldiers but civilians'. They are members of the PRT, which is the provincial reconstruction team."

The PRT was established in Afghanistan in 2002 by the US to assist in reconstruction efforts at district and provincial levels.

US media reports said the Americans killed were employed by the CIA.

The Washington Post newspaper, citing US officials, said the eight killed were working for the CIA, while the Associated Press cited an unnamed US official as saying CIA employees were believed to be among the dead.

According to The Washington Post report, the CIA has been bolstering its ranks in Afghanistan in recent weeks, mirroring the increase in troops.

The CIA has not yet commented or confirmed the deaths.

The base in Khost, known as Forward Operating Base Chapman, is a centre for personnel working on reconstruction projects in the country.

The US has committed to send hundreds of civilians to support work on development projects that aim to undermine support for the Taliban and other fighters.

But as the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, many of the civilians working outside Kabul have retreated to army bases.

Several other people, none of them US or Nato troops, were wounded in the explosion, US defence officials said.

Canadians killed

The five Canadians were killed in a attack in the southern province of Kandahar just hours later.

The group, made up of four Canadian soldiers and a journalist accompanying them, were visiting community reconstruction projects and were killed when their armoured vehicle was hit by a bomb, the Canadian defence ministry said.

The journalist, Michelle Lang, was with The Calgary Herald.

The paper said Lang had been in the country since December 11 and was the first Canadian journalist to die in Afghanistan since Canada joined the international mission there in 2002.

The attack was the worst against Canada's military in the country in two years and brought its military deaths in Afghanistan to 138.

Canada has 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, but the mission has become increasingly unpopular at home and it is scheduled to be withdrawn at the end of 2011.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Dec 30 2009, 11:10 pm by Marc Ambinder

Eight CIA Officers Die In Afghanistan

The Central Intelligence Agency, the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence aren't commenting on press reports that eight CIA officers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated at a military base in the province of Khost.

The death of eight CIA officers would be the agency's worst toll since the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, when at least six officers were killed. Robert Baer, the now ubiquitous former CIA officer who spend years hunting down the Beirut bombers, has written that the agency never recovered from the loss of life that day. In an environment where the CIA is under extreme pressure from all corners, the Afghanistan massacre begins history as a tragedy that even under ordinary conditions the agency would find it hard to bear. Leon Panetta, the CIA director, must now add, to the mountain of pressing concerns, the grief counseling for thousands of employees.

The CIA's semi-covert Predator drone strike program, targeting Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who cross back and forth from Pakistan, has killed hundreds -- a number of which were most likely innocent civilians by any definition.

This is not to suggest an equivalence -- just to say that the agency's American operatives are most definitely combatants in this war, which is also to say that the rules of war and the legal understandings that the CIA is using to fight terrorism in Pakistan are not clear and not easily explicable to the American people. With the CIA's massive footprint in Afghanistan, some sort of tragedy was probably inevitable. (In 2001, officer Johnny Spann, a member of the CIA's Special Activities Division, was killed in action in Afghanistan.)

It is tempting to associate the three publicly known CIA-related mass murders -- the Beirut bombings, the 1993 shootings near CIA headquarters in Virginia and today's events -- with America's 30-plus year struggle against Islamic extremism. It is worth noting, however, that the CIA's two major traitors, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, directly caused the deaths of dozens of people who risked their life to protect American lives.

One also wonders how many CIA contacts -- people who helped provide actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda -- have been killed.,0,5154434.story

Afghanistan suicide bombing kills 8 CIA officers

The Taliban takes responsibility for the explosion at a U.S. base in Khowst province where the agency has a major presence. No U.S. or NATO military personnel are hurt.

By Greg Miller and Laura King
10:05 PM PST, December 30, 2009

Reporting from Rochester, N.Y. Laura King, and Kabul -- A bomber slipped inside a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday and detonated a suicide vest, killing eight CIA officers in one of the deadliest days in the agency's history, current and former U.S. officials said.

The attack took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khowst province, an area near the border with Pakistan that is a hotbed of insurgent activity. It also injured an undisclosed number of civilians, the officials said. No military personnel from U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces were killed or injured, they said.

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the CIA had a major presence at the base, in part because of the strategic location. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a message posted early Thursday on its Pashtu-language website.

The casualties highlight the increasingly important role the CIA is playing in Afghanistan, and come as the United States is embarking on a major buildup of its civilian workforce that parallels an increase in troop strength.

President Obama announced early this month that he planned to send an additional 30,000 troops to the country in an effort to break the momentum Taliban fighters have gained in many parts of the country. The deployment will bring the total U.S. military force in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000.

A former U.S. intelligence official knowledgeable about Wednesday's bombing said it had killed more CIA personnel than any attack since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983. Before Wednesday's attack, four CIA operatives had been killed in Afghanistan, the former official said.

The eight dead were CIA officers, the former official said. "They were all career CIA officials."

The U.S. official said the bomber detonated his explosive vest in an area that was used as a fitness center. CIA veterans were stunned by the news and at a loss to explain how a bomber was able to penetrate the compound's security.

"It's a forward operating base in a dicey area, but to get a suicide bomber inside the wires -- it's hard to understand how that could happen," the former official said.

Officials said this fall that the agency was deploying spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives in a buildup that would make its station there among the largest in CIA history.

Though the CIA station is based at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the bulk of its workforce is scattered among secret bases and military outposts dotting the country. Most CIA personnel in Afghanistan is involved in support functions such as providing security or managing computer systems, rather than in gathering and analyzing intelligence.

But some of the tasks civilians perform, particularly those involving law enforcement and intelligence gathering, are considered as dangerous as military duty. Three civilian Drug Enforcement Administration agents were killed in a helicopter crash in October in western Afghanistan. They were accompanying troops on a counternarcotics mission.

Khowst province has been a prime target of militants operating in eastern Afghanistan and just across the border in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Most of the foreign troops in the province are Americans.

The Chapman base is part of NATO's Regional Command East, which is supervised by the U.S. military. It also houses Western civilians working on reconstruction projects.

The main U.S. base in the province, known as Camp Salerno, has been the target of numerous attacks. Suicide bombers have blown themselves up just outside its gates while trying to penetrate the heavily fortified installation. Afghan civilians usually bear the brunt of such attacks.

Last week, Taliban militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests entered a building near a police station in the nearby city of Gardez, setting off a battle with U.S. and Afghan security forces that lasted the morning.

Meanwhile Wednesday, Western military officials said four Canadian soldiers and a Canadian journalist were killed in an explosion in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

The Canadian Press quoted journalists in Afghanistan as saying the journalist was reporter Michelle Lang, 34, of the Calgary Herald.

This year has seen the highest death toll among U.S. military forces since the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001. So far this year, 311 American troops have been killed, according to the independent website, bringing the death toll for U.S. forces during the war to 941.

A total of 138 Canadian troops have been killed, 32 of them this year, Canadian Press said.

Afghan bomb dead 'worked for CIA'

Eight Americans reportedly working for the CIA have died in a bomb attack in Afghanistan, the worst against US intelligence officials since 2001.

A bomber wearing an explosive vest entered Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province, near Pakistan.

A Taliban spokesman has said one of its members carried out the attack.

In a separate incident, four Canadian soldiers and a journalist died when their vehicle was blown up in the south-eastern province of Kandahar.

It is the worst fatal incident affecting Canadians in Afghanistan for more than two years.

'Award-winning reporter'

The journalist has been identified as Michelle Lang, 34, from the Calgary Herald, who had just arrived on her first assignment in the country.

The armoured vehicle the group were travelling in was touring local reconstruction projects.

An award-winning health reporter, her colleagues at the newspaper were said to have been devastated by the news of the death of Ms Lang, who was recently engaged to be married and described as bright, quick-witted and kind.

"We are all very saddened to hear this tragic news," Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert said in a statement. "Michelle covered health issues with professionalism, accuracy and thoroughness."

The BBC's Lee Carter, in Toronto, says the deaths will add to the conviction felt by many Canadians that the country has carried a disproportionate number of casualties - the total has now reached 138 - especially in comparison to some European Nato allies.

Remote areas

A Taliban spokesman has said the group was responsible for the suicide bomb attack at Chapman Base.

Speaking to the BBC, Zabiullah Mujahid claimed that the bomber was also an Afghan soldier and was wearing uniform when he managed to breach security at the base.

Initially, the dead Americans in Khost were described simply as civilians, but they were later reported to be affiliated to the CIA.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says the exact nature of their role is not year clear but some of those killed may have been contractors to the agency.


Kim Ghattas, Washington It is probably the deadliest attack against US intelligence officials since the start of the war in 2001. What was unusual about this attack was that the suicide bomber was able to detonate his explosives inside the base. In the past, such attacks would have mostly killed Afghan labourers lined up outside a base, looking for work. There will be a lots of questions asked about this attack - how exactly, for example, did the attacker manage to infiltrate the base, was it perhaps an inside job and did he get help from Afghans on the base?

The CIA has been increasing its presence in Afghanistan and is involved in work ranging from counter terrorism to counter narcotics. It also operates the unmanned aircraft used in aerial strikes against al-Qaeda fighters in the border areas of Pakistan.

Reports suggested the attacker struck inside the gym at the base. It is not clear how many people were injured.

"We mourn the loss of life in this attack, and are withholding further details pending notification of next of kin," US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

A spokesman for Isaf, the international Nato force in Afghanistan, said that "no US and no Isaf military personnel were killed or injured" in the incident.

Khost province - which is one of the Taliban's strongholds - has been targeted by militants over the past year.

The number of foreign civilians deployed in Afghanistan has been rising as international efforts there focus increasingly on development and aid.

Civilians work alongside military reconstruction teams at provincial bases around the country.

A "civilian surge" was one of the three core elements of the new US strategy for Afghanistan announced by US President Barack Obama at the beginning of the month.

This has been the deadliest year for foreign troops since the 2001 invasion.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/12/31 05:48:10 GMT

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
23:32 Mecca time, 20:32 GMT

Afghan soldier kills US serviceman

The US and Nato are to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan

An Afghan soldier has shot and killed a member of the US army and wounded two Italian troops at a base in western Afghanistan.

The soldier died of his wounds on Tuesday after the shooting during a supply operation in Bala Murghab in Badghis province at about 1130am (0700GMT), security officials said.

"An Isaf service member from the United States died following a shooting today in western Afghanistan," Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said in a statement.

"Isaf is working with its Afghan partners to investigate the incident.

"The soldier who opened fire was also wounded during the response from Isaf soldiers and the Afghan army who were at the scene. He was arrested immediately and is now under observation in the camp hospital."

The pair of Italian soldiers suffered only minor injuries and have returned to duty, an Italian military spokesman said.

Motive unclear

An Isaf spokesman said it was not clear whether the incident occured by accident or with intent.

The Afghan soldier is from an area north of Kabul, the capital, and is thought to have mental problems.

In November, an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers in the south of the country.

The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Barack Obama, the US president, has committed to increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan, with an emphasis on training local security forces.

Italy is one of more than 40 Nato countries with soldiers in Afghanistan to fight with Afghan forces against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Nato has been in Afghanistan following the US and UK's invasion of the country in 2001, to remove the Taliban, accused of harbouring al-Qaeda operatives, from power.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Taliban responsible for deaths of 8 'CIA agents' in Afghanistan

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a base in eastern Afghanistan that killed eight American citizens believed to be working for the CIA

By Toby Harnden in Washington
Published: 6:00AM GMT 31 Dec 2009

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that a Taliban bomber wearing a military uniform and a suicide vest entered a base in Khost and blew himself up inside the gym.

One official described Forward Operating Base Chapman, near the Pakistan border, as a former military compound that was “not a regular base” any more. Another source said the base was used by “other agencies”, suggesting that intelligence personnel were involved. Breaching a secure base that carries out potentially sensitive operations made it a particularly bold attack.

A US Congressional official said that CIA employees are believed to be among the dead.

The CIA has not yet commented on or confirmed the deaths.

In a separate incident, four Canadian soldiers and a journalist died when their vehicle was blown up in the south-eastern province of Kandahar. The journalist has been identified as Michelle Lang, 34, from the Calgary Herald, who had just arrived on her first assignment in the country.

The Khost bombing was one of the highest American civilian death tolls in a single incident during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The last known CIA fatality in Afghanistan was Johnny “Mike” Spann, a paramilitary office killed during a jail riot at Qala-i-Jangi in 2001.

Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, is one of the centres of the Taliban insurgency. Most foreigners working there are soldiers or contractors working in reconstruction and intelligence operations. Afghan civilian casualties in the area have been increasing, raising tensions between the Afghan government and Western forces.

The attack on the Americans came as the international forces in Afghanistan - numbering 113,000 and set to grow to 150,000 next year - were embroiled in controversy over the deaths of Afghan civilians in an operation on Saturday.

President Hamid Karzai has accused international forces of shooting dead ten unarmed civilians, including eight teenagers. Nato’s International Security Assistance Force has disputed the findings of an Afghan government investigation, saying the deaths occurred in a battle in which nine insurgents were killed.

Afghans protest civilian deaths in foreign raid

By Amin Jalali
Wednesday, December 30, 2009; 4:41 PM

ASADABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets on Wednesday to protest against a raid by foreign troops which Afghan officials say killed 10 civilians, but NATO forces said was a battle in which 9 insurgents died.

The incident, which took place in a remote part of eastern Afghanistan at the weekend, has inflamed tensions between the Afghan government and Western forces.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and ordered an investigation, but his denunciation comes at a time when there are signs that foreign forces' efforts to reduce civilian deaths may finally be having some effect.

Karzai's relationship with the West has soured following his fraud-ridden re-election in August and he is under mounting pressure to stamp out widespread government graft.

However, he is also under domestic pressure to do more to rein in foreign troops. Civilian casualties in previous attacks by NATO-led forces have stoked public anger toward both Westerners and the Afghan government they are backing.

Asadullah Wafa, head of the presidential delegation sent to investigate the weekend attack in Kunar province, one of the most remote and unstable corners in the east, said on Wednesday he had confirmed there were no insurgents among the dead.

"Those people that were killed were innocent civilians," Wafa told reporters. The victims were eight boys, aged between 13 and 18, and two men in their 20s, he added.

Wafa said foreign troops had been airlifted in for the attack, resolving some confusion about an operation which had previously been described by senior officials as both an airstrike and a "commando-style" raid.

The NATO-led force on Wednesday said they were questioning the claims of civilian casualties and called for a joint investigation with Afghan authorities.

A joint coalition and Afghan force entered the village of Ghazi Khan in Narang district in search of a known insurgent group, the NATO-led force said in a statement.

"As the joint assault force entered the village, they came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals," it said.

But Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Azimy earlier said Afghan troops had not taken part in the operation.


Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level in the eight years since the ouster of the Taliban. More than 2,000 civilians were killed in the first 10 months of this year, a 10 percent rise on the same period in 2008, according to U.N. figures.

But while total numbers of civilian casualties have risen year on year, the number of ordinary Afghans killed by Afghan and foreign forces decreased this year.

Seventy percent of civilians killed in the first 10 months of 2009 died in insurgent attacks, the United Nations said, up from 55 percent last year. Civilian deaths caused by foreign and Afghan troops fell from 38 percent in 2008 to 22 percent in 2009.

"We attribute this to concerted efforts on the part of the military forces to put civilians at the fore of military planning," said U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique.

There are around 110,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan and Washington is sending 30,000 more to try and quell the mounting violence. Other NATO countries are sending 7,000 more.

Since taking command in June, the commander of foreign troops, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, has issued new orders designed to reduce civilian deaths by placing limits on the use of firepower.

But for most Afghans, civilian deaths will continue to be an emotive issue.

In Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, which borders Kunar, around 200 university students rallied in the streets to protest, demanding those responsible for the weekend attack be brought to justice.

"We have no more patience. It has happened repeatedly. If it occurs again, we will drop our pens and take arms," one group chanted. Others blamed Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama.

"Death to Obama. Down with Karzai," they shouted.

In Kabul, a crowd of around a hundred, mostly young men, gathered in a western district to vent their frustration at the killings.

"Obama! Obama! Take your soldiers out of Afghanistan!" the protesters chanted, wearing blue headbands with the words: "Stop killing us!" Others held placards with pictures of dead children they said were killed by foreign troops. (Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Emma Graham-Harrison in KABUL; Writing by Jonathon Burch)

Iraq Oil Contract Goes to Angola

Iraq oil contract goes to Angola

The Angolan state-owned oil company, Sonangol, has signed two initial oilfield deals in Iraq.

The two, the Qayara and Najmah oilfields, are in Nineveh province, known as one of the most dangerous regions of the country.

There are frequent insurgencies there, as Sunni Islamic militants and al-Qaeda are both active.

Sonangol will be paid between $5 and $6 a barrel, one of the highest fees awarded in Iraq's oil deals.

The two fields combined contain an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of oil.

The deals were awarded in Iraq's second bidding round for oil contracts, held earlier this month. Contracts went to companies including Shell, CNPC and Lukoil.

Risky venture

The high fees for Sonangol reflect the risks and relatively low quality of oil at the two sites.

But they were well below what the company initially pitched for. The firm had proposed fees of between $8.50 and $12.50 a barrel.

Sonangol has said it will invest $2bn in Qayara and that several firms have shown an interest in forging joint exploration partnerships with it.

"There are at least five companies that have approached us and showed an interest to work with us to invest. We are still holding talks with them. The companies are European and American," said Paulino Jeronimo, exploration manager at Sonangol.

The deals must now be approved by Iraq's cabinet before they can be finalised.

Iraq is potentially a vastly rich oil country.

Its proven reserves now stand at 115bn barrels, below Iran's 137bn and Saudi Arabia's 264bn. But Iraq's data dates from the 1970s, before improvements in technology transformed the industry.

Angola is Africa's second most oil-rich nation after Nigeria.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/12/30 15:54:18 GMT

US Slaps New Duties on Chinese Steel

US slaps new duties on Chinese steel

By Alan Rappeport in Washington
December 31 2009 00:44

The US will impose tough new duties on Chinese steel piping imports, raising tensions with its biggest trading partner and emerging geopolitical rival.

With Chinese piping imports worth $2.8bn in 2008, the case is the biggest against China brought before the International Trade Commission, a US trade body.

It follows other US actions to counter a flood of goods that it claims China is exporting at below market prices.

The ITC’s ruling will slap Chinese companies with additional taxes ranging from 10 per cent to 16 per cent, and backs an earlier claim from the commerce department that argued that the US steel industry was being harmed by Chinese dumping. The US government has been under intense pressure to protect domestic industries to stem the flow of job losses.

“While the Chinese have been eating our lunch, this ruling doesn’t allow them to have our dinner also,” said Tom Danjczek, president of the US Steel Manufacturers Association.

Through its decision, the ITC is siding with US steel piping producers who argue subsidised Chinese imports have been harmful or could threaten the industry. The ruling will be passed on to the commerce department, which will impose the additional tax. “Nothing can create jobs faster in the United States than making China trade fairly,” said Roger Schagrin, a lawyer representing the US steel industry.

According to the Steel Manufacturers Association, China’s trade practices had cut US steel pipe and tube production 40 per cent in the past year and cost thousands of jobs. In spite of those claims, four of the six ITC commissioners based their ruling on the threat of future harm to the industry rather than on existing damages.

Steel piping is widely used by the oil industry for drilling and was in great demand last year when oil prices surged. The commerce department estimated that between 2006 and 2008 Chinese pipe imports surged 203 per cent. Daniel Porter, a lawyer representing 11 of China’s largest steel pipe exporters, said the decision was not fair because US steel pipe producers notched record profits in 2008 when they could not keep up with demand, which fell in 2009 along with oil prices.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” Mr Porter said, noting that his clients would consider appealing the case to the World Trade Organisation. “Demand collapsed, but that’s not the fault of the Chinese. In our view, the Chinese were just responding to the market.”

Friction between the US and China has been building this year after disputes over tariffs on tyres, cars and chickens. China denounced a move by the US earlier this year to tax imports of Chinese car and light truck tyres as a “serious act of trade protectionism”.

Pressure Rises on CIA After Delta Airline Incident in Detroit

Pressure rises on CIA after bomb plot

By Anna Fifield in Washington, Pilita Clark in London and Michael Steen in Amsterdam
Published: December 30 2009 21:42 | Last updated: December 30 2009 23:42

US intelligence agencies were on the back foot on Wednesday, defending their information sharing practices after being accused of multiple lapses that allowed a Nigerian man to board a Detroit-bound flight allegedly with explosives on Christmas Day.

Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department said they had passed on warnings about the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, after President Barack Obama said “there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have – and should have – been pieced together”.

Washington swung into blame mode after reports that agencies had been warned in August of a plot being planned from Yemen that involved a Nigerian man, possibly learning parts of his name. Mr Abdulmutallab’s father later reported concerns about his son to the US embassy in Nigeria on November 19.

Mr Obama suggested that this information was not passed on to the National Counterterrorism Center, a database of suspicious individuals created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

The CIA defended its actions.

“In November, we worked with the embassy to ensure [Mr Abdulmutallab] was in the government’s terrorist database – including mention of his possible extremist connections in Yemen,” the CIA said. “We also forwarded key biographical information about him to the NCTC.”

Describing the intelligence failures, a senior administration official said the information “was incomplete or partial in nature” and “it was not obvious or readily apparent that all of it spoke to this attack” although in hindsight it appears it did.

Republicans have called for the resignation of Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, and blame has also been levelled at Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence who oversees the NCTC.

Meanwhile in Amsterdam, where Mr Abdulmutallab boarded the aircraft with 80 grammes of explosives in his undergarments, Schiphol airport made full body scanners mandatory for US-bound passengers, in a decision that will put pressure on other airports to adopt similar security measures.

Guusje ter Horst, Dutch interior minister, said the scanners would be used within three weeks for passengers flying to the US after Mr Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit with 80 grammes of explosive in his undergarmetns.

Schiphol is one of several airports in Europe and the US, including Manchester and London’s Heathrow, that have carried out trials of full body scanners, which can detect anything hidden beneath clothing.

Ms ter Horst said the scanners had not previously been used for US flights because Washington did not want them to be the sole security check, preferring a combination with frisking, but an agreement had now been reached for their use.

She said rolling out the technology to cover all flights would need consent from the European parliament, which has raised privacy concerns. BAA, operator of Heathrow, said the issue was likely to be considered soon.

However, privacy campaigners’ concerns about the revealing black-and-white images the equipment produces have been an obstacle to their widespread introduction.

Zimbabwe News Update: Unity is the Best Enemy Repellent

Unity: Best enemy repellent

By Reason Wafawarova in SYDNEY, Australia

AS we come to the end of 2009, it is important for all Zimbabweans to once more be reminded of the need to appreciate the importance of oneness and the inviolability of patriotism.

The callous attitude towards the inclusive Government by Western governments and their representatives and agents is not surprising at all.

It must be understood in the context that whatever conflict we had among ourselves as Zimbabweans from 1999 — that conflict was a fight to repel an external enemy.

It was never a conflict to express a quest for tyranny or the love for self-inflicted suffering. That is the propaganda we have heard from the enemy and it is time we earnestly engaged ourselves in the national healing process that will help us rebuild a country we helped shatter by allowing ourselves to collaborate with those external forces that sought to strangulate our economy.

The denunciation of President Mugabe has become a secular doctrine in the West, and that fulmination is all rooted in the imperial commitment to world domination and the establishment of client states in place of the fallen colonies.

The cranky obsession with President Mugabe that we saw in the Western media after he joined 134 world leaders at a dinner hosted by the Queen of Denmark recently just goes to show that the enemy is not going to retreat just because we have decided to rebuild our shattered country as one family.

It was commendable that Mr Gordon Brown decided not be exiled in his own continent this time around and he attended the Copenhagen Summit without throwing the childish tantrums the way he did with the 2007 Lisbon EU-Africa Summit, which he boycotted by fleeing his own continent for Iraq.

As if it was of any necessity or relevance the handlers of the British Premier needlessly told Danish function organisers that Brown had no intention to speak to President Mugabe. It was all the now too familiar snivelling rhetoric that Britain is dead worried about human rights in Zimbabwe, and that its Premier is too holy to be in the same place with the President of Zimbabwe.

In 1999, the British government decided to invest in an illicit regime change agenda in Zimbabwe. This was a snorting effort at halting what Tony Blair saw as Mugabe’s “land invasion policy”.

The rascality of the regime change project became apparent when the United States weighed in with a sanctions law, ZDERA, and Australia’s John Howard came in with his rancorous campaign for the expulsion of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth.

In 2000, as we prepared for a parliamentary general election, our country was hit by a disastrous sabotage campaign targeted at basic commodities like sugar, fuel, salt and cooking oil. The calculation was to create conditions for a protest vote against Zanu PF and in favour of the British sponsored MDC. We fought back as a country. We confronted the enemy’s material superiority and abundant supplies with a collective political and revolutionary determination.

The vanguard of our national revolution — the war veterans, the Defence Forces, the youth and the masses decided against fighting from the same corner with the imperial aggressors.

It was a time to unleash a collective sense of genius, and the strategies adopted have written heroic deeds into the pages of African anti-imperialism history — albeit with a sad and dear price on the welfare side of our country.

This is how the revolution was protected. It was protected because it was under attack, and we as Zimbabweans owe our country protection day and night.

We defended the country not as a duty to protect Zanu-PF, but as a duty to defend the revolution.

The economic war that we saw against Zimbabwe in the last 10 years was just like any other war, which is nothing but an extension of politics.

The enemy’s politics were extended and became a sanctions war. Our politics were extended and became a generalised popular defence of the revolution and the country.

Two political lines confronted each other and the end result so far has been the GPA and the inclusive Government led by the West’s number one enemy, President Mugabe, and which includes arguably their number one favourite African politician, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Now it is time to think about all those who succumbed to death as the economy of the country was shattered by the ruinous Western sanctions onslaught. To us these people should be viewed as having fallen on the field of honour.

It is time to spare a thought for all those who were injured in political conflict, about the tearful families, our people from across the political divide who were touched by this confrontation. Each of us Zimbabweans must make an effort to surmount all feelings of hate, rejection, bitterness and hostility towards our fellow citizens.

It is time to repel the enemy — the real enemy behind this confrontation. We can all now see clearly that it is only the Western community that stands opposed to the inclusive Government and our efforts to rebuild our nation. We have the blessing and good will of all members of the family of nations but the West.

Each of us Zimbabweans must win the ultimate victory by killing all seeds of hostility and enmity within us towards fellow citizens.

This is an important victory to win — bigger than any election victory that anyone can ever dream of.

It is time to plant seeds of genuine love and oneness in our hearts — a love capable of withstanding the murderous assault of ruinous sanctions and isolation.

This kind of oneness and patriotism can only be built on the revolutionary bedrock of sincere love for our country and heritage.

This writer is convinced that each Zanu-PF member and supporter is capable of this kind of love for the MDC members and supporters, and likewise each MDC member and supporter is capable of this kind of love for those from Zanu-PF.

The principals presiding over the GPA have expressed a willingness to work together, and their respective parties have been doing more negotiations than fighting of late. All Zimbabweans should chant yes, to this. That chanting must then be put into practice.

We should all remember that there has never been anything but unity and oneness among Zimbabweans. Our confrontation has been in the context of the presence of an unwanted external enemy.

Our people — the real guardians of power in Zimbabwe — must speak loud and clear that in Zimbabwe we are one and our heritage and future is one. This is the cheapest and easiest way of repelling the enemy.

Those sheepish smiles from the faces of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora whenever they are confronted with patronising statements like “you poor thing”, or “aren’t you lucky to be here?” must be translated into bold declarations that we are neither poor nor lucky to be away from home.

On behalf of our country we must boldly tell the world that there are no more problems in our country and none of us should ever gain posture as an asylum seeker of any kind.

We must make it clear that we can return to Zimbabwe when and as we wish, in total freedom and pride.

We did not fight against the imperial onslaught in order to create refugees and economic prisoners. We fought to repel the enemy and we are happy that the objective of the enemy was thwarted.

Now that the enemy can be fully repelled by our one voice, it is time we realise that we are one family as Zimbabweans. We are our own liberators and together we will always triumph.

It is time to avoid being dragged and diverted into fights that are not for the benefit of our country and our people.

It is time to avoid being involved in concerns that are not concerns of our people in this mad race toward aid money and all manner of sponsored campaigns.

It is understandable that the pressures of want create this great temptation and pressure on some of our people to keep pace with welfare needs by stepping up to the dictates and requirements of the Western donor.

That only gives justification for the bellicose actions of such aid providers as the USAid and Endowment for Democracy, together with Britain’s Westminster Foundation.

When we do their bidding to dupe them into releasing those much wanted US dollars, all we are doing is providing them with a pretext for holding our country for ransom.

When we think we are duping those gullible immigration officials by dramatising false stories so we can be granted asylum, all we are doing is giving the enemy the pretext he needs to portray our country as having a terrible human rights record.

It is when we stop all this self-defeating behaviour that we can successfully repel the enemy.

The Western media, in reality the imperialist Press, has often said of Zimbabwe that recovery of the economy would take decades.

Now the same media has passed a sentence on itself by reversing its opinion — albeit in an attempt to create an economic wizard out of our Finance Minister.

Whichever way, the economic reality on the ground clearly shows that most of what they wrote about the state of Zimbabwe’s economy in the last five or so years was a slander. We can rebuild our country so fast if we stand as one and the enemy will be forced to come face-to-face-with his own slander.

We can live freely and happily as a family and the enemy who wrote that we were a pariah state will have to come face to face with his own slander.

Iraq, Guantanamo, Palestine and Afghanistan have shown the world who the real human rights abusers are. It is all now too clear.

It is time for Zimbabweans to wash away our shame and to re-establish the truth about our country and its true revolution. Those who detest the revolution for various illicit reasons will not stop causing confusion.

Their manoeuvres will continue and so we must brace ourselves for the battles that await us as a nation.

This writer would like to wish every Zimbabwean a happy 2010 — happiness in keeping with our national goal of rebuilding our economy and with the collective efforts we are all ready to make.

In wishing the nation a good and happy 2010, this writer would also like to plead with every Zimbabwean to brace up and look on the experience of the last ten years. This must be viewed as an unfortunate episode — nevertheless very rich in lessons.

We all need to analyse the experience so that we can benefit our future and the future of our revolution.

We must always remember that “when people stand up, imperialism trembles” as Thomas Sankara said on March 26, 1983; when he launched the Burkinabe Revolution.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

--Reason Wafawarova is a political writer and can be contacted on or reason@rwafa or visit

Land: The sticking point

By David Martin and Phyllis Johnson

THE Lancaster House conference had opened on September 10 1979 and concluded after 47 plenary sessions with agreement on a new constitution, arrangements for the transitional period preceding independence, and a ceasefire agreement on December 15, with the formal agreements being signed by the leaders of the delegations on December 21 1979.

THIS is the eighth and final article in a series on the Lancaster House agreement of December 21 1979.

The conference was a tortuous finale to the Rhodesian saga. Lord Carrington, the British Foreign Secretary, had been under pressure to reach a swift agreement at Lancaster House, and he used a mixture of shrewd diplomacy mixed with blunt determination with those who crossed him.

Ian Smith, the erstwhile Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, was to feel the sting of Carrington’s tongue when on one occasion he accused the Foreign Secretary of having blood on his hands.

“If there is blood on anyone’s hands, it is yours,” Carrington retorted angrily. During the Lancaster House conference, the Patriotic Front fought against constitutional provisions they regarded as racist (such as 20 seats in Parliament reserved for whites), against restrictions on constitutional changes, the retention of the Rhodesian forces, the restrictions placed on the ability of a new government to distribute land that had been taken from the Africans over the previous 90 years, the short length of time given for a ceasefire to take effect, the location of forces during the ceasefire, and many other issues.

The Prime Minister of the interim government of “Zimbabwe-Rhodesia”, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, fought to preserve his position as much as possible against constitutional changes that he felt would undermine it, for the retention of the Rhodesian forces, and any other item he felt he could turn to his advantage.

The Patriotic Front leaders faced pressures from two quarters: from their own guerrillas, many of whom viewed the unfolding events as an attempt to prevent them from gaining the military victory they believed was near; and from the Front Line States, who emphasised that the Patriotic Front could not be seen to be responsible for wrecking the conference and whose own economies were being wrecked by the war.

That they would have continued to support them had the conference collapsed is not in doubt, although they threatened otherwise, but, like Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and Britain, the Front Line States needed a settlement more than they needed a continuation of the war . . .

Throughout all the hot and cold flushes of hope and despondency, an air of inevitability hung over the Lancaster House conference, as indeed it had since that epic weekend in July in Lusaka when Commonwealth leaders met in summit and agreed on the holding of a conference.

No one could afford to be seen to be responsible for breaking the Lancaster House conference, and the guerrillas had brought Rhodesia to a point where it needed the end of the war even more than recognition and the lifting of sanctions.

There was only one way to end the war, and that was to agree to a new internationally acceptable constitution and to the holding of new British-supervised elections.

Once an independence constitution had been agreed, there was really no way out for either side.

The main principles of one-person-one-vote elections, majority rule and independence were all contained in it and even if the constitution was flawed on points of detail and obnoxious in some of its racial provisions, the fact remained that most of the main reasons for going to war had been removed — except for the issue of land reclamation.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Sonny Ramphal, had convened a secret meeting on this subject midway through the conference, in November 1979, at his official residence in the exclusive west end of London.

Initially only three people were present: Ramphal, Robert Mugabe and Joshua

Nkomo, as the political leaders of the Patriotic Front. The US Ambassador was later invited to join the meeting.

“The meeting concluded that the constitutional provisions proposed by the British would have to be accepted, but these would only be accepted alongside the resources necessary to pay for the land.

“It was decided that the US would make a gesture by starting such a fund, the stipulation was that it be referred to as an ‘Agricultural Development Fund’ and not as money to buy out the white farmers. We thought this would encourage the British. But this never happened.”

Ramphal blames Thatcher for not instituting the fund.

“In those first 10 years after independence, all of this should have been worked out in London. But it was not,” he said, adding that, “Robert was interested in the details as well as the principle regarding land at Lancaster House.”

--D. Martin and P. Johnson, The Struggle for Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga War, Faber/ZPH, 1981.

Land audit not a witch-hunt

IT is a fact that people always develop resistance to things that are not explained to them and this is why many farmers have been questioning Government’s motive for undertaking another land audit.

We thus commend the Government for spelling out the purpose of conducting yet another land audit and allaying fears of displacement.

The Government has done exceptionally well to define the terms of reference of the land audit amid growing fears among many farmers that it was designed to displace them from their pieces of land.

We are told the latest round of land audit seeks to help the Government come up with initiatives to empower farmers for sustainable food production.

New farmers will need a lot of persuasion to believe that this is indeed the motive.

They can’t quite trust the inclusive Government given tendencies by certain sections and elements of that Government to dine with our erstwhile colonisers.

We have always said that now is not the time to cause uncertainty on the farms but to come up with schemes that promote effective land use and productivity.

Schemes that ensure farmers are able to get back to the land, replenish the Grain Marketing Board’s strategic grain reserve, make a profit and help the nation attain food security really excite farmers and spur them to work hard.

Indeed, the focus has shifted from land redistribution to land use and if the envisaged land audit will help the nation achieve high productivity levels, then it is precisely what the doctor has ordered.

Let us come with policies that ensure that farmers are capacitated to productively use the land they were allocated. We strongly support the direction the land audit has taken.

It was quite refreshing to hear Minister of Lands and Land Resettlement Herbert Murerwa dispelling rumours that farmers would lose their land as a result of the audit.

Some farmers have done exceptionally well on the farms while others have struggled owing to various reasons and so we believe that before any displacement takes place Government needs such an audit to establish the reasons for the success and failure registered by farmers.

It would be unfair to conduct an audit largely designed to remove resettled farmers from their pieces of land without establishing the cause of failure.

We are told that the audit would assess activities on the ground, land uptake, production levels and availability of water sources.

These are the issues that should really concern not only farmers but the Government as well.

Anything that helps farmers to fully use the land allocated to them should get the support of everyone.

Once we achieve the production levels this country is renowned for, then a lot of money we have previously spent on imports can be channelled towards other sectors directly or indirectly involved with agriculture, such as seed houses and fertilizer firms to produce inputs to feed agriculture. Let not the land audit be used as a witch-hunt but as a correctional tool in cases were things were not done properly.

We want to encourage farmers to continue their cropping programmes without any fear, and trust that the audit will be conducted to their advantage.

2010: Africa, arise and shine!

THE countdown to 2010 is finally over. Tomorrow heralds an historic year, which is not just another New Year.

2010 is the year that will mark the end of the first decade of the 21st century — a century whose beginning was marked with so much hype.

The Arena salutes 2010 with hope and confidence that everyone will realise their dreams, and for those that religiously do New Year resolutions, may 2010 be different from the other years where you never went beyond the first one. This is the year when all resolutions should be realised.

Make that commitment that it is too special a year to leave things undone or unfinished, for you are part of the outfit that will make Africa arise and shine.

We reminisce not only the passage of an eventful year, 2009, but go down memory lane remembering many unforgettable moments of the past decade from a global perspective, simply because Zimbabwe is not an island.

We remember those moments that defined you and me; defined history; defined the future - events that cannot simply be ignored.

They are too many, so we do so randomly, and in some cases haphazardly. Leaving out some does not in any way diminish their relevance in shaping this decade.

We also go global because Zimbabwe will soon join other global citizens in celebrating 2010’s crowning moment, that moment when the beautiful game of soccer comes to Africa and lights up the continent. As the football fraternity descends on host nation South Africa in their thousands for the showcasing of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the whole of Africa will be with them.

Time will tell whether this soccer extravaganza will be the raison d’ĂȘtre in Africa’s reawakening.

Will the Fifa World Cup prove that Africa is the world’s last sleeping giant? Will other members of the international community learn a thing or two from the so-called “dark continent”?

Lest we forget, this first decade of the 21st century was marked initially by the Y2K (year 2000 compliancy) bug that obsessed many.

Most of you readers remember the scare – computers, banking or airline systems just coming to a standstill, after failing the compliancy tests and crash landing everything in the process.

But nothing of the sort happened. Life went on almost normally, although it became increasingly obvious that the 21st century was being reconfigured, by the very element feared by many – ICTs!

Apart from compliancy of electronic gizmos, it emerged that even people were supposed to be Y2K compliant. This meant a total overhaul in the way we view or do things in order to be fully operational in the new millennium.

Entering the 21st century was a milestone, but the transition from one hundred years to another century was a major challenge that has been felt in all spheres.

A decade later, as The Arena reminisces it does so with more questions than answers. Have we achieved compliancy not only for 2010, but for the next decade and beyond? How do we deal with future challenges? Is the global village now a reality and how can you and me be better citizens in that village?

Will it also take that village to raise the global citizen, and who decides on the modus operandi?

In Zimbabwe, it is not possible to talk about 2009 (milestones and failures alike), without looking at the year 2000, when the most revolutionary programmes initiated by Government kicked off in earnest — the land reform programme.

It was a programme that put Zimbabwe on a collision with its former colonial master Britain and its Western allies.

This single factor defined the Zimbabwe of the 21st century - politically, economically, culturally, socially and religiously. The major spin off was the imposition of illegal economic sanctions by the United States and other Western nations in 2001.

So much happened between then and now, but Zimbabwe has stood firm on its principles although the punishment was unbearable. It is also a matter of interpretation on how you and I understand the sum total of the countless events in the past decade.

Despite the relative peace and tranquility achieved after the formation of the inclusive Government early this year, sanctions remain a destablising factor on the Zimbabwean landscape.

The partial dollarisation and use of multiple hard currencies introduced at the beginning of the year also stabilised the economy slightly improving people’s living standards.

However, more tangible effects of this policy move still have to be realised, especially the revival of industrial and commercial sectors.

The Arena also hopes that everybody will throw their weight behind efforts by various sectors to depolarise our society and create an atmosphere of tolerance where everybody will fully utilise their potential to the maximum, and make Zimbabwe prosper.

The Arena also wonders whether the Fifa World Cup tournament will kick-start under the hostile sanctions regime, since Zimbabwe hopes to fulfill the mandate it made to South Africa – assist as best as possible so that the tournament is a successful African story.

The dawn of the century also saw Zimbabwe holding a referendum on a people driven constitution. When the “No” vote prevailed, Zimbabwe went back to the Lancaster House constitution, but with 2010 only hours away, it is hoped that current initiatives to come up with a home grown constitution will succeed, despite constraints.

Zimbabwe also celebrated its silver jubilee in 2005, and at one of the gatherings, music maestro Dorothy Masuka announced how happy she was to be finally back home.

But, the biggest surprise of the first decade was the discovery of diamonds at Chiadzwa in Marange after which the daring descended on the diamonds fields: panners, “buyers” and many more, until efforts were made to create order out of the chaos. The past decade also saw Zanu-PF nominating for the first time since independence a woman to its presidium, Cde Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru, who proceeded to become the first woman Vice President.

When MDC-T became part of the inclusive Government it also followed suit and elected Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe.

However, these high powered appointments have not seen women participating fully in major decision-making bodies. Like Shylock who demanded his pound of flesh, women want proportional representation in all key positions.

In the past decade, we have also celebrated exploits made by the likes of. Kirsty Coventry, Cara Black, Kevin Ulyett, Benjani Mwaruwari among others, who have done the nation proud on the international sporting arena.

Musicians like Oliver Mtukudzi have also been Zimbabwe’s true ambassadors, taking our songs in otherwise unfriendly arenas and in the process mellowing them.

This in no way diminishes achievements by everyone who played their part in positively telling the Zimbabwean story.

During the first half of the decade, Zimbabwean security forces foiled an attempt by mercenaries led by Simon Mann, to topple the government of Equatorial Guinea.

The past decade has also seen Zimbabwe losing some of its founding fathers and mothers. Among them were Vice Presidents Simon Muzenda and Joseph Msika; Mama MaFuyana, late Vice President Joshua Nkomo’s wife; and many more war of liberation heroes and heroines.

Zimbabwe also lost many notable personalities including Mrs Susan Tsvangirai, PM Tsvangirai’s wife, who died in a tragic car accident, barely three months after the formation of the inclusive Government.

We also lost many sporting and entertainment personalities; professionals in various disciplines and the rank and file of Zimbabweans.

The HIV and Aids pandemic has continued to claim more lives despite the awareness campaigns and the availability of anti-retroviral drugs, resulting in more children being orphaned and having more vulnerable people in our midst.

As the economic challenges worsened, many service delivery sectors were adversely affected, especially water and sanitation, resulting in thousands of deaths due to the cholera epidemic. Cholera and other diseases continue to pose serious threats countrywide.

The past decade also saw a sharp increase in cases of domestic violence and cases of child abuse, especially rape of minors. It is hoped that the new constitution will adequately protect all citizens from such people, especially sexual predators.

However, one of the major causes of untimely deaths in the past decade are the countless traffic accidents that continue to claim hundreds of lives, whose causes are numerous, including drunken driving, unroadworthy vehicles and pot holed roads.

The poor state of the nation’s road network is a major cause for concern. Together with power and energy supply, this is an area The Arena hopes will be prioritised in the reconstruction programme, since Zimbabwe is a major gateway to other regional trading destinations.

Zimbabwe has also not been spared by the climate change phenomenon, and the past decade has seen the nation experiencing one drought situation after another, a situation that has seriously affected the agricultural sector, which is supposed to be the backbone of the economy.

This has exacerbated poverty among various classes of people with vulnerable groups mostly affected. The net effect has been a heavy dependency on humanitarian assistance.

After three decades of investment in education and skills training, Zimbabwe lost a large majority of these skilled people to the Diaspora that continues to offer better remunerations.

Every sector has been seriously affected by the brain drain, especially the education sector which is the foundation of a well trained skills base.

Despite the closure of most companies where thousands lost jobs, schools continue to churn out youths whose chances of securing viable employment is bleak, unless Government and key stakeholders make deliberate efforts to resuscitate the industrial and commercial sectors.

From an international perspective, the single most important event that has defined this first decade is the September 11 2001 terror attacks in the United States. It is an event that is increasingly becoming a threat to international peace and security.

After the 9/11 attacks, the US redefined its relations with the rest of the world, as President George W Bush openly declared a “war on terror”, and put new meaning on “them” and “us”, a policy that has polarised nations in this post-Cold War era.

This was followed by the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the execution of Saddam Hussein for allegedly possessing weapons of mass destruction.

Peace and security have remained fragile in the Middle East, even after the death of Chairman Yasser Arafat. There is also instability in most parts of the world, especially after the global economic meltdown of 2008.

After the arrest last Friday of the 23-year old Nigerian on terrorism charges, it now remains to be seen whether US President Barack Obama’s talk on terrorism will take a different tone from that of his predecessor.

Although terror attacks have occurred on African soil, with some of the perpetrators having lived in Africa, it is the first time that an African has made such a daring move.

The decade also witnessed one of the most catastrophic natural disasters, the December 2004 tsunami that left more than 250 000 people dead and millions more homeless. More devastating national disasters followed, and climate change has continued to be blamed.

In 2008, the Sadc region also mourned the loss of Zambian President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa. And, that voice that entertained thousands for decades and campaigned against the evil apartheid system also fell silent in 2008.

Miriam Makeba or Mama Africa who could probably have been a major attraction at the soccer tournament suffered a heart attack while performing in France, and died shortly after.

But it was the death of pop icon Michael Jackson in 2009 that topped the bill. Single-handedly, MJ almost caused the collapse of the Internet, and this just goes to show how “bad” he really was. The best entertainer Hildegarde has ever known.

Changes in governments — in some cases through violent means took place in various parts of the world, with Africa remaining in the spotlight because of armed conflicts.

This decade also saw former Cuban President, Commandant Fidel Castro stepping down from office due to ill health. President Vladmir Putin did the same, but has remained in the Russian government as Prime Minister.

Four hundred years after black people landed in the United States as slaves, in 2008 the US finally elected Barack Obama as its first black president — and, he completes his first year in office in a few days time, under the shadow of terrorist threats.

Two decades ago they celebrated the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union which also ended the Cold War.

Two decades later, there has been a shift with the emergence of new economic and political power houses — Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC), minus the ‘-isms’. The power shift has been felt more this decade.

In golf, as the Tiger entered the Woods, dogged by sexual scandals, Usain Bolt continued to rule the roost in the athletic arena, while the Maputo Express, Maria Mutola, has slowed down.

The decade had also many weirdos. Before leaving office, President Bush had some nasty experiences with some members of the public, with one of them throwing a shoe at him.

But maybe Italy comes tops. Barely a month after Prime Minister Silvio Belusconi was seriously attacked by a member of the public believed to have psychological problems; then on Christmas Eve, a young woman attacked Pope Benedict XVI, while he was saying mass. And the initial claims were that she also had mental problems.

The 2008 financial meltdown is also one of the biggest events of the past decade, whose far-reaching impact is still being felt, and whose end seems to be nowhere near.

No one has been spared, and millions on all continents are jobless, and facing a bleak 2010.

However, even in my sleep, I would not hesitate to tell you that the Internet is the most revolutionary invention that has really shaped the first decade of the 21st century.

After getting acquainted to it in 1992, I never doubted that this was an invention that would reshape the 21st century in a manner that would defy odds.

The Internet hopes to be everywhere, used by all and sundry for all sorts of things: the good and the bad. It is creating virtual communities that act differently from the face-to-face communities we are used to.

Not only is it a computer mediated communication tool, but it is the world’s largest repository of information organised and stored in multi-media formats, and disseminated at great speed.

It defies, time, space and boundaries, and even legislations. It threatens all other technologies before it. It will continue to beat its own record, until another block buster invention comes up.

Indeed soccer is 2010’s major stimulant, but there is a lot more to this season of hope that is required in order to achieve the unrealised dreams of the past decade.

As The Arena looks forward to 2010, let’s not forget that the past decade was a decade of sorts: the beautiful and the ugly; the pleasant and the unpleasant.

It was a decade where Zimbabweans will remember pain and suffering, a decade characterised by lack of basics and one which some would love to describe as a lost decade.

But against all odds, they triumphed because of that intrinsic will power.

Woza 2010 and a happy New Year to you all!