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Week of April 8, 2003

Program 0314


Jordan Foreign Minister | Transcript | MP3

Nation Building | Transcript | MP3

UN Crisis | Transcript | MP3

Iran Remembers War | Transcript | MP3

National Missile Defense | Transcript | MP3

Chechnya Constitution Vote | Transcript | MP3

Ivory Coast Peace | Transcript | MP3

Sri Lanka’s Hope | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

BASSEM AWADALLAH: Democracy and reform are homegrown crops. You cannot impose them from outside. They have to be part of your culture, they have to be part of your political and social structure.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Jordanians question the US plan for a democratic Iraq.

KEITH PORTER: And a former US defense secretary believes Iraq can be rebuilt.

JAMES SCHLESINGER: It will take some years and slow development, starting at the local level and working up towards the national level.

PORTER: But an Iranian military officer says toppling Saddam won’t necessarily reform Iraq.

COLONEL MOCHTAB MOUSAVI: [via a translator] It will not be an easy task to change the government. The only way to change the government is to change the attitude of people.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

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Jordan Foreign Minister

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MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. As the US-led war with Iraq continues, big questions are being asked all over the Middle East about Washington’s plans for the future governance of Baghdad. Will the United States install a US Army figure to run the country? Will the United Nations be involved in setting up a transitional administration? And can political change in Iraq export democracy and reform across the Arab world? As Common Ground‘s Simon Marks reports from Amman, Jordanian government officials are very concerned.

[The sound of Moslem worshippers crying in a mosque.]

SIMON MARKS: In the mosques of Jordan, worshippers have been shedding tears over the US-led war in Iraq. In the city of Irbid, about one hour’s drive north of the capital Amman, Friday prayers have been dominated by the sounds of mourning.

[The sound of Moslem worshippers crying in a mosque.]

MARKS: Around 1,500 worshippers packed into the city’s main mosque to honor the memory of four Jordanian students from Irbid killed by US-led forces in the opening days of the war. Civilian casualties of US-led air strikes, their bodies were brought home and laid to rest in a local cemetery. Their loss has led to public anger over a war that the White House says will liberate Iraq.

MARWAN MUASHER: We are definitely walking a tightrope.

MARKS: Marwan Muasher is Jordan’s Foreign Minister. He told me Jordan, which is anxious to maintain friendly relationships with the United States, is also under intense pressure from its citizens whose protests against the war are growing.

MUASHER: We have talked about this issue many times with the United States and Great Britain and have cautioned against the kind of developments that might develop because of war. There is no reason now crying over spilled milk. The war is a reality. What we need to focus on is to end it; what we need to focus on also is to make sure that the territorial integrity of Iraq is preserved, that the country is not split up into many states, and we need to make sure we have a short transition to a stable Iraqi government.

MARKS: Jordanian government ministers say they are constantly lobbying the United States about the need for a short war that leads to a stable Iraqi government. But here in Amman, they are worried that the war will be long and that any government installed by the United States will by definition be unstable.

BASSEM AWADALLAH: The longer this war persists, the more emotions it will evoke on the Arab and Muslim street, and the more hatred it will engender.

MARKS: Bassem Awadallah is Jordan’s Minister of Planning. He’s a close aide to King Abdullah. He’s spoken to policymakers in Washington who argue that the war will introduce democracy to Iraq and export reform throughout the Arab world, and he views the notion with cynicism.

AWADALLAH: Democracy and reform are homegrown crops. You cannot impose them from outside. They have to be part of your culture, they have to be part of your political and social structure. Democracy is a culture that has to be bred at the level of schools, at the level of universities, at the level of civil society. A modern civil society cannot be imposed by an outside power, be it the United States or any other power. It has to grow, it has to be nurtured; institutions have to be established in order to protect the viability of democracy, pluralism, tolerance, and acceptance in any one country. Iraq just as any other country.

[The sound of loud street protests.]

MARKS: And as the anti-war protests grow on the streets of Jordan—those Friday worshippers spilled out of the Mosque in Irbid and immediately began to demonstrate—the country’s Foreign Minister, Marwan Muasher, also expresses anguished doubts over the possible results of US policy across the border in Iraq.

MUASHER: It is a culture that needs to be embedded in people and needs to evolve over time. So I don’t think that anyone is expecting democracy—full democracy—to suddenly occur in the region. I think that if one keeps insisting on that, what you will see is full radicalization of the region rather than full democracy. And we will see hard line regimes popping up every where in the Middle East.

MARKS: The Jordanian government fears that the seeds are being planted for the radicalization of the Middle East. The protests here aren’t only anti-war. They’re also expressing the concerns of Jordan’s one-and-a-half million strong Palestinian community, which accuses the United States of hypocrisy for demanding Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, but failing to hold Israel to the same standards. Planning Minister Bassem Awadallah says even if a gleaming, modern democracy is built in Iraq, at the end of the day the Bush administration faces another enormous problem in the Middle East.

AWADALLAH: When you speak about Iraq, immediately people mention Palestine. Immediately. That is the reaction, they cannot separate the two issues. When you say the US role in Iraq, what is the US trying to do in Iraq, immediately the question or the answer that comes in response is “What about Palestine? What is the US doing about the Palestinians? What is the US doing about a peaceful re solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?” That is the major issue that the US has to confront in this region.

MARKS: For now, the United States has its hands full trying to bring Baghdad under control. And with every bomb that falls and every day that passes, the government here in Jordan worries that US policy is leading the Middle East in a perilous direction. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Amman, Jordan.

[Musical interlude]

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Nation Building

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PORTER: The future of Iraq is a government without Saddam Hussein at the head. That’s the result of the Bush administration’s promise of regime change for that country. What is not known is the shape of a future government for Iraq, a country of 24 million. Priscilla Huff reports on the plans for nation-building, starting with the promises of President Bush.

US PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’ll help that nation to build a just government after decades of brutal dictatorship. The form and leadership of that government is for the Iraqi people to choose. Anything they choose will be better than the misery and torture and murder they have known under Saddam Hussein.

PRISCILLA HUFF: President Bush is convinced just about any Iraqi government will be better than the regime of Saddam Hussein. And hawks have been pushing for a new Iraq, like Richard Perle of the Defense Policy Board.

RICHARD PERLE: I trust and hope and believe that we will leave behind a decent humane administration for that country, replacing what has been a reign of terror now for a quarter of a century.

HUFF: Since last August, the diverse membership of the Iraqi opposition have been meeting with officials at the State Department. At the time, they were confident. Dr. Hamid al-Bayati of the Iraqi Opposition told reporters, they were all on the same page.

DR. HAMID AL-BAYATI: That the US recognize that the Iraqi people and the forces of the opposition are united in their efforts to replace the dictatorship in our country.

HUFF: However, the opposition is fractured into distinct interest groups. The last remaining members of the former Iraqi royal family, Kurds, Turkmen, more secular Sunni Muslims and more conservative Sh’ia Muslims, with strong ties to Iran. Despite the differences, Iraqi expatriates continue to insist the preferred form of government is a federal-style democracy. Rend Rahim Franke heads The Iraq Foundation.

REND RAHIM FRANKE: They want to participate in the modern world as it is globally identified and defined. There is this thirst to move forward, to have elections. Every Iraqi I talk to, who comes out of Iraq, talks about elections.

HUFF: US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the Bush administration wants to move as quickly as possible on the transformation of the Iraqi government. But James Dobbins, a former diplomat now with the Rand Corporation, says moving too fast could lead to failure of an Iraqi democracy.

JAMES DOBBINS: It can be done. It’s not something that’s alien, it’s not Western and therefore something that can’t be exported, but it does take time and effort. And so the question is, are we going to devote the time and effort or are we gonna feel the need to move onto the next crisis and accept something short of that?

HUFF: James Schlesinger served as Defense Secretary for Presidents Nixon and Ford.

FORMER US DEFENSE SECRETARY JAMES SCHLESINGER: There are those who think of this as an instantaneous transformation into Jeffersonian democracy. That will not be the case. It will take some years and slow development, starting at the local level, working up towards the national level.

HUFF: During that transition, the new Iraqi leadership will have to keep the interest and attention of the US government. That could be their biggest challenge. Before he became president, George Bush said he wasn’t interested in nation building. For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.

[Musical interlude]

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UN Crisis

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MCHUGH: At the United Nations in New York there is a sense of disappointment that the weapons inspections in Iraq failed to divert a war. But the implications of military action in Iraq without the support of the Security Council has called into question the validity of the international organization. Suzanne Chislett reports.

SUZANNE CHISLETT: After more than 12 years of UN resolutions aimed at disarming Iraq and a war which saw allied forces move in to force Saddam Hussein’s troops out of Kuwait in 1991, Secretary General Kofi Annan confirmed the decision had been taken out of the hands of the United Nations and that he would withdraw all UN staff and weapons inspectors from Iraq.

SECRETARY GENERAL KOFI ANNAN: We will withdraw the UNICOM troops on the Iraq/Kuwaiti border who are also not able to operate. Implication of these withdrawals will mean that the mandates will be suspended because they will be inoperable. We cannot, for example, handle the oil for food when we do not have inspectors to monitor the imports and we don’t have the humanitarian personnel who would monitor the distribution.

CHISLETT: Moves are already underway to mend the broken international bridges, especially within the Security Council, which led to that decision. France, whose threat to veto any resolution on Iraq has been blamed by America for ending diplomacy, has already made moves to support efforts to prevent a major humanitarian crisis from developing and to help in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: [via a translator] War brings a share of victims, suffering, and displaced people. So it is a matter of urgency to prepare now to provide the required humanitarian assistance. And this imperative must prevail over our differences.

CHISLETT: Germany had a temporary seat on the Security Council as decisions were being made about Resolution 1441. It’s leader, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, voiced strong opposition to military action. But it too now insists the United Nations cannot be allowed to fall by the wayside as a result of the war with Iraq. And Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is calling for the Security Council to take back the lead in the Iraq crisis.

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER JOSCHKA FISCHER: This is crucial to world order and must continue to be the case in future. The UN is the key institution for the preservation of peace and stability and for the peaceful reconciliation of interests in the world of today and of tomorrow.

CHISLETT: UN correspondent Nathan King says the United Nations has regrouped before.

NATHAN KING: Throughout the whole Cold War period when the US and Russia used the UN as, to bully and cajole their proxies in the global war against each other. There has also been talk over Kosovo that the Council couldn’t come together, the Security Council. There’s also been talk over Rwanda, where basically all the major powers failed to come forward and admit that genocide was happening. No, the real question is how quickly the Security Council can be rebuilt and there’s already moves toward that.

CHISLETT: And those moves include possible reform of the UN at the very top. The United States has suggested it would be willing to see changes made to the Security Council to give more countries a voice in international discussions. There’s talk of seats for Africa and Latin America. But true Security Council reform would also mean reexamining the permanent veto powers of France, China, Russia, Britain, and the United States—a move which could prove more divisive than taking no action at all. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin says, despite the rift, his country wants to ensure the UN remains strong.

DE VILLEPIN: France has already proposed that our heads of state and government meet on the sidelines during the next general assembly to define together the new priorities for action. Let us recover the initiative in the regional conflicts that are destabilizing entire regions. And I am thinking in particular of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. How much more suffering must the peoples of the region endure before we force open the doors to peace? Let us not resign ourselves to an irreparable situation.

CHISLETT: British Prime Minister Tony Blair is credited with persuading US President George Bush to remain within the UN framework for as long as he did. He’s spent the last few months since the discussions began on Resolution 1441 jetting around the globe, working to build support for action to disarm Iraq. As final discussions took place in New York on whether to sanction military action, Mr. Blair told the House of Commons he feared the authority of the UN could be permanently damaged if the Security Council failed to reach a consensus. He says he didn’t take the decision to act outside the UN lightly and has now pledged to do all he can to rebuild the alliance as a stronger body.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: There are issues obviously, about the UN Security Council and reform of it. That’s something we would have to discuss with others. But I think the issue, in fact, is not really institutional. The issue is whether we can construct a sufficiently strong partnership between Europe and America and a global agenda around which people can unite. If they can’t unite politically then no amount of institutional tinkering will actually help us resolve those problems. And that is why at the end of this, I think we need a period of reflection and see how we put that partnership back together.

CHISLETT: And the key to the UN retaining its authority and not merely becoming an international talking shop will be the support of the United States. By taking the decision to act without Security Council backing, the world’s only remaining superpower has proven it is prepared to act alone if it believes it is in the best national interest. What is best for global interests is what binds the UN together. For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett in London.

PORTER: We’d like to know what you think. Can the United Nations still be effective? And should the UN Security Council be reformed? E-mail us your thoughts at [email protected] We may read some of your mail on the air.

MCHUGH: Remembering the Iran-Iraq war, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Iran Remembers War

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MCHUGH: The war in Iraq is reminding Iranians about their own war with their next-door neighbor. Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, sparking an eight-year battle that took hundreds of thousands of lives. As Roxana Saberi reports from Tehran, one Iranian officer who fought in the war says Hussein’s troops were well equipped and led by a ruthless ruler.

ROXANA SABERI: The Islamic Republic of Iran was less than a year old when its neighbor to the west, Iraq, invaded.

COLONEL MOCHTAB MOUSVI: [via a translator] Imam Khomeni ordered anyone who is able, should join the war, and many defenders of the regime were sent to the front.

SABERI: Mochtab Mousavi was one of hundreds of thousands of Iranians who joined the battle. Now, as the US leads attacks against Iraq, the colonel recalls his past fighting against the same country, led by the same leader.

COLONEL MOUSVI: [via a translator] We did that because we believed our regime was good, and we must defend the Iranian government.

SABERI: Mr. Mousavi joined the Revolutionary Guards, an elite Iranian unit charged with protecting the Islamic Revolution and its achievements. At age 14, he dropped out of school and started earning his education—in survival.

COLONEL MOUSVI: [via a translator] We started a war with a country that was well-armed, was a powerful nation. The central government was in control and was supported by the West.

SABERI: Colonel Mousavi says at first, Iran’s soldiers were poorly organized and had to use hand-made weapons. Iraq was better equipped, and he says its war machine was merciless. He recalls battles when Iraqi forces stopped some advancing Iranian troops with trenches of burning oil, and rampaged through a city in the south of Iran.

COLONEL MOUSAVI: [via a translator] In Abadan, our women, who were also Arab, they were captured by the Iraqis, they were treated in the worst possible, tragic way.

SABERI: But Iran also benefited from its larger population and religious dedication fanned by its mullahs. By mid-1982, Iran started to push Iraqis back to the border and beyond. That’s when the colonel says he experienced something he had never known.

COLONEL MOUSAVI: [via a translator] We didn’t know that we should wear special clothes against these chemical weapons. Many people were killed and injured. I had been injured by radiation from a bomb, and my team thought I was martyred.

SABERI: Mr. Mousavi lost consciousness. When he woke up, he saw his colleagues had placed a placard on his body because they thought he had been killed. But he says his injury was small and soon returned to the battlefront.

COLONEL MOUSAVI: [via a translator] We thought that we should do our holy duties, and we should use our blood in this mission.

SABERI: Though Mr. Mousavi survived, at least one million Iranians and Iraqis did not. As he watches today’s battle from the sidelines, this former soldier says his past might shed light on the problems the US will face in Iraq.

COLONEL MOUSAVI: [via a translator] It will not be an easy task to change the government because despite the economic problems that have existed in Iraq for a long time, the people continued to have Saddam in power. The only way to change the government is to change the attitude of people.

SABERI: The Iran-Iraq war ended with a cease fire after 8 years. Today, like many of his colleagues, Mr. Mousavi doesn’t want to see increased American presence in the region. But like most Iranians who remember their grim past, he does want to see regime change in his neighbor to the west. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi in Tehran.

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National Missile Defense

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PORTER: It was one of the hot-button issues, as the Bush administration took office, but with all that’s happened since then US missile defense plans are proceeding with relatively little fanfare. In December of last year the President announced his intention to have a basic system up and running as early as 2004. It all means that deployment will begin, even as testing of what promises to be a hugely complex endeavor continues. As Malcolm Brown reports, that approach has done nothing to ease the concerns of critics.

MALCOLM BROWN: George Bush came to office promising to create an anti-ballistic missile system to protect the United States and its allies from an accidental launch or from attack by so-called “rogue” nations. Now, two years on, it’s just one of many priorities being pursued in the broader war on terrorism.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This government is taking unprecedented measures to protect our people and defend our homeland.

BROWN: Missile defense merited just one short line in this year’s State of the Union address.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And this year, for the first time, we are beginning to field a defense to protect this nation against ballistic missiles. [The sound of applause.]

BROWN: The initial phase includes plans for the deployment of up to 20 ground-based interceptor missiles at two sites; one in California, the other in Alaska.

[The sound of a missile being launched.]

BROWN: The interceptor concept, first tested during the Clinton years, is designed to send what’s known as a “kill vehicle” into space to ram incoming warheads. The decision to move to real deployment has delighted long-time supporters like Frank Gaffney, President of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC.

FRANK GAFFNEY: I think it was a smashing idea. My only regret is that the deployment will take longer than I’m afraid we may have to put such a defense into place.

BROWN: Critics, though, say the whole approach is fundamentally flawed.

DR. NIRA SCHWARTZ: If this technology, God forbid, will have to be used one day, a lot of people will die.

BROWN: Dr. Nira Schwartz used to work as a senior engineer for defense contractor TRW. In 1996, she filed a lawsuit against her former employer, claiming that the company had deliberately covered up major flaws in technology designed to spot real warheads among decoys. Her case was dismissed in US federal court at the end of February after government attorneys argued that it could threaten national security. Despite that, Dr. Schwartz is pursuing her legal fight, saying that President Bush must be made aware of what she knows.

DR. NIRA SCHWARTZ: I heard on TV my president say that he is aware the technology is not perfect but they are going to perfect it. The true information does not reach him. There is a shield of lies and protection that prevent my president to know the truth.

BROWN: Supporters of Dr. Schwartz say that her long-running case remains relevant, because the allegedly flawed technology remains at the heart of planned missile defenses. Stephen Young is a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says that President Bush is more interested in being seen to do something, than engaging in a real debate about the technical shortcomings of the emerging system.

STEPHEN YOUNG: This is a long way for a system which is going to be working, any realistic system. It’s primarily politics. It’s about Bush saying, “I can defend the US. Here’s what we’ve done so far,” by—conveniently—the fall of 2004, when the next election is.

BROWN: And even if it functions perfectly, the critics say missile defense, as conceived, won’t protect against terrorist attack. They point out that it wouldn’t have prevented 9/11; nor, they say, would it stop a cargo ship carrying a nuclear device from sailing into an American port, or many other scenarios feared by security experts. Frank Gaffney, who was an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, doesn’t deny that there are other threats out there, but he says that’s no reason to ignore the missile danger.

GAFFNEY: To suggest that there are other ways that we could be attacked is not to address the possibility—and I think a growing possibility—that missile-owning states can be colluding with terrorists, or terrorists can simply be getting their hands on them without the middle men.

BROWN: Frank Gaffney says the ultimate solution lies above us.

GAFFNEY: I think in due course, you will definitely see weapons placed in space for the purposes of providing missile defense—perhaps anti-satellite or space control functions as well.

BROWN: Arms control advocates fear what will happen if the US follows that path. Joseph Cirincione heads the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: And this leads to an extremely dangerous scenario—one where other countries will feel threatened that they will have orbiting battle stations over their territory for the first time. This is why these things were banned by international treaties in the 1960s, to stop this kind of fear, this kind of insecurity and the consequences that that could engender.

BROWN: The result, critics say, would be a dangerous international arms race in space, all for a system that, in their view, won’t work. The counter argument is that an effective US missile defense with weapons in space would benefit world security. For Common Ground, I’m Malcolm Brown.

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KEITH PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, Russia’s plan for peace in Chechnya.

ANYA ARDAYEVA: For months prior to the referendum, the Kremlin advertised the vote as the beginning of a peace process in the province. However, human rights observers in Moscow doubt that will happen.

MCHUGH: Plus, a precarious peace in Western Africa. And cautious optimism in Sri Lanka.

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Chechnya Constitution Vote

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PORTER: Late last month, the people of Chechnya voted overwhelmingly for peace and unity with Russia—at least that’s what Russian authorities say. The vote came in a referendum on a Kremlin-backed constitution for the breakaway republic that has been locked in a war with the Russian central government for years. But critics in Chechnya and Moscow say the vote was nothing more than a farce. Anya Ardayeva has more.

ARDAYEVA: According to the official figures, more than 95 percent of participating voters supported the new constitution—and voter turnout was higher than 85 percent. Some say the results were reminiscent of elections during Soviet times, when one Communist Party candidate would get an overwhelming majority of the vote. But election commission officials say the vote was fair.

UNIDENTIFIED CHECHEN ELECTION COMMITTEE: [via a translator] We can say that the vote was free and that the will of the voters who participated in the election reflected the will of all Chechen people.

ARDAYEVA: Just hours after the polls closed, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his satisfaction with the approval of the Kremlin-backed Constitution. The document calls for presidential and parliamentary elections in the republic and confirms Chechnya’s status as part of Russia.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [via a translator] The people of Chechnya have made their choice for peace, a positive development together with Russia. That’s one conclusion. The second conclusion is that all those who still haven’t laid down their arms are now fighting not only for their false ideals but against their people as well. Their actions directly contradict the interests and the will of the Chechen people, as expressed in the referendum—a will to leave in peace. It is also important that we have put to rest the last serious problem with the unity of the Russian Federation.

ARDAYEVA: Chechnya, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. has experienced two bloody wars since 1994. The breakaway republic earned de facto independence in 1996 after Russian troops retreated. But Russian soldiers returned to the province three years later, following a series of apartment bombings blamed on Chechen rebels, and a rebel incursion into neighboring Dagestan. Experts say the decade of fighting has claimed as many as 200,000 lives from both sides. For months prior to the referendum, the Kremlin advertised the vote as the beginning of a peace process in the province. However, human rights observers in Moscow doubt that will happen. Oleg Orlov is with Russia’s most prominent human rights watchdog, Memorial. He says while observers could not find any proof that the results of the referendum were rigged, the high voter turnout figures were definitely questionable.

OLEG ORLOV: [via a translator] In Grozny, for instance, observers reported very low voter turnout. At one polling station, our observers were counting the number of people who came to vote between 9 am and 3 pm. They’ve counted 243 people. But the official data said that in the morning alone, 1,400 people had voted.

ARDAYEVA: Oleg Orlov also says many Chechens could have voted in favor of the new constitution, fearing revenge if they didn’t. People in Chechnya are well aware of so-called mopping up operations—when federal troops storm into a city or village, break into every house looking for militants, and arrest everyone who’s suspected of having any connections with them.

ORLOV: [via a translator] Wherever there is a danger for the population, a danger of revenge from the authorities, for instance, if one part of a village or the entire village doesn’t vote right, mopping up will follow. They will start taking people away at night. So people could have done it to avoid that threat. You see, the people who voted in favor of the new law—it is highly possible that these same people will give food and shelter to militants in their own home. There are two realities there: one is the referendum—it’s hard to call it a referendum even—and the other reality is everyday life with war, with opposition between militants and federal forces and the way people really feel about this war.

ARDAYEVA: Observers say that what federal authorities really need to do is start taking concrete steps to rebuild life in Chechnya—construct new housing, create jobs, bring some 150,000 refugees back to their homes. But first and foremost, they say that the Kremlin must tightly control Russian servicemen in the region and pay more attention to numerous Russian human rights violations. Until this is done, the locals will continue supporting the militants in one way or another. So far, reports say, very little has been done—either due to corruption among local officials or continuous fighting and oppression of civilians in the area.

ORLOV: [via a translator] In 1999, people in Chechnya were really tired of these militants—tired of the lack of power, kidnappings, militants who were financed from abroad. Everyone was tired. And the people were ready to accept federal troops in the region as a lesser evil. Everyone said, “Let the federal troops come, let them bring some order here.” But the federal troops started behaving in the wrong way. They didn’t bring any improvement in the security situation. On the contrary, people felt absolutely unprotected because federal troops acted like bandits themselves. That’s why the people were disappointed and that’s why this war is going on for so long—because the people support the militants.

ARDAYEVA: Shortly after referendum results were published, Vladimir Putin called on officials to draft an amnesty law for Chechen rebels who haven’t participated in terrorist activities. However, reports say a very small number of the militants will be actually included in the amnesty. Instead the move is seen as another effort to win support from the locals. But the Kremlin is pushing ahead with its peace plan. The newly approved referendum calls for presidential elections to be held in Chechnya no later than December 14th. For Common Ground, I am Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.

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Ivory Coast Peace

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PORTER: A failed coup last year in Ivory Coast led to months of civil war that threatened to drag in neighboring West African nations. The government and rebels have agreed to a power-sharing government. But despite heavy international pressure to make the deal work, Cote D’Ivoire, to give it its correct French name, still seems to be in danger of slipping away. Alastair Wanklyn has attended several rounds of peace talks held in Paris.

[The sound of street protesters chanting.]

ALASTAIR WANKLYN: Supporters chanted the name of President Laurent Gbagbo as he faced off a rebel bid for power last year. But their joy was short-lived. The failed coup led to civil war that fanned ethnic rivalries and turned Muslims against Christians and native Ivorians against their country’s European settlers.

ALEX VINES: This is a really serious situation which could drag a great chunk of West Africa into conflict. It’s very, very dangerous indeed.

WANKLYN: Ivory Coast, or Cote D’Ivorie in French, was until recently a model of stability and prosperity in Africa. So what are the roots of the trouble? As in several states in the region it has suffered from rivalries between Muslim and Christian citizens. It was Muslim rebels who tried to overthrow the elected Christian president, Gbagbo, last year. But Gbagbo’s election was itself controversial, as he had played the ethnic card in campaigning and opponents had boycotted the poll in protest. The African Union leader, South African President Thabo Mbeki, explains.

SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI: The election when it was held, the government of President Gbagbo was elected by less than 20 percent of the electorate. He was elected, but because there had been boycotts of the elections, there’s been all sorts of upheaval, it was necessary to bring in the political leaders that represented the other segment, the majority of the electorate of the Cote D’Ivorie.

ALEX VINES: Longer term, even the survival of Cote D’Ivoire as a unified state is at risk here now.

WANKLYN: This is Africa analyst Alex Vines of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

VINES: You have two rebel groups with different agendas, one in north and one towards Liberian border, and you have a very weakened sovereign dominance by the Ivorian government of President Gbagbo.

WANKLYN: The situation became so serious that in January the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and the combined members of the African Union tried to pressure the Ivorian government and rebels into sharing power, with a neutral prime minister, and giving Muslim rebels some of the power portfolios. At peace talks in Paris, Kofi Annan told parties they had to make it work.

UN SECRETARY GENERAL KOFI ANNAN: The inspiration for viable and stable peace has to spring from the leaders of Ivory Coast.

WANKLYN: But President Gbagbo initially resisted pressure to share power with rebel militias. His supporters felt the rebels had been rewarded for their insurgency. Only grudgingly, he signed.

VINES: President Gbagbo is in a very weak position because the rebels are actually stronger than him. One of the reasons I think he signed the agreement was he realized his army can’t deliver. And at the same time we see mercenary groups such as individuals with guns coming over from Liberia and elsewhere kind of fueling this. It’s a very dangerous situation.

WANKLYN: Ivory Coast’s new unity administration initially had places for more than 40 ministers. But in protest at the division of power, rebel factions and the main opposition group boycotted the inaugural session in mid-March. The United Nations Security Council was alarmed that parties could still ignore the international will for the deal to work, and called on all sides to put more effort into it. A statement was read by the Guinean ambassador to the UN, Mamady Traore.

GUINEAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UN MAMADY TRAORE: [via a translator] Members of the Security Council welcomed the first meeting of national reconciliation. But they expressed deep concern about the deplorable humanitarian situation and called on all parties to allow relief agencies unimpeded access to civilian populations.

WANKLYN: At one time Ivory Coast had the second largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa. It had an open doors policy for migrant laborers from elsewhere, and boasted a capital—Abijan—that was so prosperous and orderly that it became known as the Paris of Africa. Now, the peace arrangement and its implementation seem to be all that stand by way of barriers to disaster.

VINES: It was a good shot at trying to achieve something and to try and pull Cote D’Ivoire back from the brink. The problem is, I think, that President Gbagbo isn’t in control of his own destiny. I mean, the sadness of this whole thing is the Cote D’Ivoire issue is now being broken down into xenophobic ethnic lines and that’s a tremendously dangerous thing for what was Africa’s second largest leading economy and a kind of bastion of stability in a very volatile region.

WANKLYN: The continent put its effort into the peace deal, and the former colonial power, France, has deployed thousands of peacekeepers on the streets of Ivory Coast. But ultimately, analysts say, the will for peace has to be found at home. Alastair Wanklyn for Common Ground in Paris.

PORTER: Coming up, the status of Sri Lankan peace talks.

MCHUGH: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Sri Lanka’s Hope

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MCHUGH: In late February, the island nation of Sri Lanka celebrated the one-year anniversary of a cease fire, after 20 years of war. For two decades Sri Lanka has been torn apart by ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese, mostly Buddhists, and minority Tamils, who are mostly Hindus. A year of peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebel group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have sparked hope among many Sri Lankans that the war may be finally over.

PORTER: But both the army and the LTTE continue to recruit soldiers and stockpile arms, and the sixth round of peace talks between the LTTE and Sri Lanka are on shaky ground. The specter of war still looms over Sri Lanka, and many Sri Lankans have yet to taste the dividends of peace. From Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Miranda Kennedy reports.

[The sound of a Sri Lankan Tamil song.]

MIRANDA KENNEDY: Jaffna is the heartland of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who have fought for two decades with the Sinhalese majority for a separate Tamil state. Now Jaffna is occupied by the Sri Lankan army and it is a destroyed city. Even after one year of cease fire, the scars are still visible. Shattered houses line the streets and almost every building is scarred by shrapnel. More than 65,000 people have been killed on the tiny island of Sri Lanka in the battle waged against the Sri Lankan government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE. Father Bernard is a Tamil Catholic priest and human rights activist in Jaffna.

FATHER BERNARD: If the language of nonviolence is not understood, then we are forced to speak a language that will be understood. The Tamil identity would have been wiped out in Sri Lanka—if not through killing, through imposition of the Sinhala language and all sorts of measures—colonization of Tamil areas. Although I’m for nonviolence, I believe that had the Tigers not fought, that Tamils either would have been killed or somehow the Tamil phenomenon would not be existing now in Sri Lanka.

KENNEDY: After Sri Lanka gained its independence from Britain in 1948, the newly democratic state instituted sweeping discriminations against the Tamil people, who make up only 12 percent of Sri Lanka’s population. The state banned the Tamil language, forcing many Tamils out of government jobs, and attacks on Tamils became regular occurrences. To Villupillai Prabakaran, a teenage smuggler and car thief, it became clear that creating a Tamil state was the only option. So in 1975, he and his friends, steeped in the revolutionary theory of Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, founded the LTTE. A mass slaughter of Tamil civilians several years later helped win widespread support for his armed struggle. The LTTE quickly established itself as one of the most brutally efficient guerrilla groups in the world. Prabakaran has lived underground for two decades, leading the guerrilla war from deep in the island’s northern jungles.

[The sound of Buddhist chants and prayers played over loudspeakers.]

KENNEDY: Buddhists chant at the sacred Bodhi tree temple in Anuradhapura. In 1985, the LTTE attacked this temple, killing over 100 Sinhalese. The LTTE have a long history of political assassinations and attacks on civilian targets. Military analysts believe that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have studied the tactics of the LTTE, especially their ruthless use of suicide bombers, or Black Tigers. One year ago, the Norwegian government brokered a cease fire agreement between the two parties. Teitur Torkelsson is the spokesperson for the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission overseeing the cease fire.

TEITUR TORKELSSON: Both parties are broke. The government is out of money; LTTE is out of money, especially after 11th of September when their sources were made very difficult for them to get. And then, of course, the international environment is that no tolerance for any armed conflict for anything, almost. But what the LTTE very much longs for is international recognition, and you cannot have international recognition today if a part of the struggle is suicide bombing techniques, child recruitment, or any violation of human rights.

KENNEDY: The LTTE says they are now committed to peaceful means of achieving Tamil self-governance. Although Sri Lanka’s government unequivocally nixed the idea of a separate Tamil state, peace talks center around creating regional autonomy for the Tamils within Sri Lanka. Anton Balasingham is the chief LTTE negotiator in the peace talks.

ANTON BALASINGHAM: If Sri Lankan government offers the Tamil people a form of self government and autonomy, in recognition of our homeland, nationality, and also the right to self-determination, then we will consider that offer. But if the government refuses to give us proper autonomy, proper self-government, and continues with this repression then we have no other alternative but to fight for political independence and statehood.

KENNEDY: The question that dogs the LTTE is whether they can transform from a militant organization into a mainstream political entity. In the Sinhalese-majority south, many find it hard to imagine LTTE leader Prabakaran becoming a legitimate politician. Paikiyasothi Saravanamuttu is the Executive Director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. He is a close advisor to the Sri Lankan government in the peace talks.

PAIKIYASOTHI SARAVANAMUTTU: The LTTE has taken actions in the past which are fascistic in nature, there are no two ways about that. They have also taken actions which are terroristic in nature. But as an organization, they could not have functioned for so long and arrived at a position like this without some measure of popular support. This organization has now entered into a process, and one has to think of a process which yokes the two sides into a commitment to a just and peaceful political settlement.

KENNEDY: Many say the LTTE has doubled the size of its forces since the cease fire began. In villages across rebel-held Sri Lanka, parents whisper of their children being coerced or forced to join the LTTE. But few dare to speak of it publicly. Jaysorana Raj joined the Tigers when he was 13 years old. Now he is 22. Ten months ago, he deserted and surrendered to the Sri Lankan security forces.

JAYSORANA RAJ: [via a translator] the LTTE requested a lot of money from my parents, but they are very poor. So my mother gave them me instead. They had already given my brother, and he died in battle. I didn’t want to go to the LTTE; but now I am a traitor to them, and if I return to society, the LTTE will kill me. I am afraid to go home.

KENNEDY: Over the last year, UNICEF has recorded over 700 complaints of child conscription from parents. Although the LTTE denies ever recruiting soldiers under the age of 18, international attention has forced the LTTE to make concessions. They recently began a high profile campaign of returning underage fighters, who they say joined voluntarily. In early March, the LTTE signed an action plan with UNICEF to address the rights of children affected by war.

[The sound of children signing in an LTTE orphanage.]

KENNEDY: But in Tiger territory, the LTTE says they take care of thousands of children who lost their parents to the war, in orphanages like this one.

[The sound of children signing in an LTTE orphanage.]

KENNEDY: The LTTE’s cadres all say they joined the movement voluntarily, and many insist that the LTTE has brought them personal liberation. Madi is a 23-year-old LTTE lieutenant. When she’s not in the battlefield, she stands out from other women, in the LTTE uniform of trousers, long shirt, and wide canvas belt.

MADI: [via a translator] As freedom fighters we are ready to sacrifice our lives for our people; and because we fight for the Tamil people, we are respected. We move around the streets freely, men do not bother us. We stand shoulder to shoulder with men when we fight, and this has changed our community’s attitude to women.

KENNEDY: Most women in the rebel-held territory agree that the LTTE’s strong stance on the equality of women has improved their lives. But it’s clear that it is the civilian population of northern Sri Lanka that continues to suffer the most from the fallout of two decades of war. There are over one million unexploded land mines laid by both sides strewn across the Tamil region of Sri Lanka, and almost a million Sri Lankans have been internally displaced by the war. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans disappeared during the war. In Jaffna, Cerlil Vilsami is still waiting for his son to return. He has been missing since the Sri Lankan army detained him over five years ago.

CERLIL VILSAMI: Now he must be 25 years. He’s a young boy. He must be here I think, but we don’t know where. They have to answer us. They are not giving any answers. What are we to do?

KENNEDY: After Vilsami’s son disappeared, his daughter joined the LTTE to fight for her brother. She was killed in battle six months later.

[The sound of a Tamil song.]

KENNEDY: While the guns have fallen silent, the people of Sri Lanka are stranded somewhere between peace and war. Like Vilsami, they continue to wait for the dividends of what they hope will be a lasting peace. For Common Ground, I’m Miranda Kennedy, with Matthew Power, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

[The sound of a Tamil song.]

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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