Friday, July 30, 2004


Namibia On the Brink of a Serious Crisis
Namibia and the rest of southern Africa face one of the world's most serious humanitarian crises, a top United Nations official has warned. Fresh from visits to Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland, James Morris, the UN Secretary General's special envoy for humanitarian needs in southern Africa, has warned of serious consequences if nothing is done to stem the crisis.

"The numbers of food-insecure and vulnerable households tell of an extraordinary human tragedy and southern Africa must still be considered the location of one of the world's most serious humanitarian crises," Morris wrote in a report to the UN.
When he was in Namibia last month, Morris urged Namibia to play a greater role in combating the effects of HIV-AIDS and to offer improved access to services for the rapidly growing number of orphans and vulnerable women.

He said the Government needed to step up efforts to deal with the "humanitarian crisis" in the country.

"I am particularly concerned about the plight of orphans and women and their inability to access critical necessities such as food, clean water, education, and health care," he said.

Morris came to review how the international community could more effectively assist Namibia in battling HIV-AIDS, food security and the drain of human resources.

"An expedited implementation of commitments is required if Namibia is to get through this crisis without losing an entire generation," said Morris.

Namibia ranks among the top five countries in the world most affected by HIV-AIDS. The virus has become the country's leading cause of mortality with nearly a quarter of a million people infected. Average life expectancy will decline to around 40 years of age by the end of 2005 - 25 per cent lower than without HIV. There are already more than 120 000 orphans and vulnerable children in Namibia and the number will reach 250 000 by the year 2020.

The World Food Programme, Unicef and the Namibian Government recently put together a joint appeal of US$5,8 million to help over 600 000 orphans and other vulnerable children and women suffering from the combined effects of erratic weather, severe poverty and worsening HIV-AIDS rates.
However, funding has been slow and this has had a serious effect on the UN's ability to adequately support the most vulnerable groups.
Source; The Namibian (Windhoek). July 04
Write: by Christof Maletsky

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Zambia wants 15-25 year jail terms for hackers
Zambia's government is to present a tough bill on cyber crime to parliament on Friday that will see convicted hackers and other offenders face harsh sentences ranging from 15 to 25 years in jail.

The Computer Misuse and Crimes Bill enjoys strong backing from bankers and the Computer Society of Zambia, a group of professionals promoting computer use, who say hacking into dormant accounts has become a problem in this poor southern African country.

"We feel this law will help to deal with the increasing number of electronic frauds and hacking especially in the financial sector," said Milner Makuni, president of the Computer Society of Zambia.

The most famous cyber offence in Zambia was committed by a young computer whizkid who hacked the State House website and replaced the picture of then president Frederick Chiluba with a cartoon.

He was arrested and charged with defamaing the head of state but the case failed to succeed because there was no law in Zambia which deals with cyber crimes.

"The bill, once passed, will help to deal with high tech cyber crimes that our current legal system cannot address," said Bob Samakai, a ministry of communication permanent secretary.

But some cyber experts worry that the measure is likely to be abused by the authorities to curb access to the Internet.

"It is difficult to regulate the use of computers and Internet because we are dealing with a world wide web," said Brenda Zulu, a renowned cyber journalist who specialises in online reporting.

She said the country should first develop a policy on Information Communication Technology (ICT) before rushing to enact legislation on computers.

Currently, the Zambian government is seeking public input in the draft ICT policy, which is yet to be adopted.

"This law is very vague and not necessary for Zambia at the moment," said Lloyd Himambo, an editor of Zambia's online newspaper, The Watchdog.

He said regulating the use of computers will be a difficult undertaking and wondered how such a law will be enforced in Zambia, a country where computers are a preserve of the rich.

About 1 in 1,000 Zambians owns a computer, according to unofficial estimates.

The Computer Society of Zambia agrees that enforcing such a law will be difficult, but pledged to help train police officers to understand cyber crimes.

"I think what people should be fighting for is to upgrade their security features on their websites to deal with hacking but not to criminalise it," said Zulu, adding that hacking a site can be done outside Zambia making it difficult to track the offenders.

A senior Zambian lawyer, who has studied the bill, said it is an "import of the British Act" and lacks local input.

"I think this law is very advanced for the Zambian society and government should not rush it through parliament before reaching consensus," he said, on condition of anonymity.
Source; AFP. July 04
Write; by Dickson Jere

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Church pair caught in the act
A Malawian court convicted a Catholic priest and a nun of disorderly conduct on Thursday after they were caught engaged in a sexual act in a parked car with tinted windows. The Malawian priest, 43, and the 26-year-old nun from neighbouring Zambia spent the night in police cells after being caught in the act on Wednesday, police said. A court in the capital Lilongwe handed down suspended jail sentences of six months with hard labour after the pair pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct.

"These people were caught in a sex act," Assistant Superintendent Kelvin Maigwa told Reuters.

Officials in the Church, whose priests are barred from sex or marriage, declined to comment. Passers-by alerted police at Lilongwe International Airport after the parked Toyota Corolla, which had tinted windows, began shaking in what police described as "a funny manner".
Source; Independent Online. July 04

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What were SA men doing in Pakistan?
Islamabad and Johannesburg - The two South Africans held in Pakistan by intelligence agents were caught with a top al-Qaeda operative after a fierce gunbattle at the weekend.

The operative, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, is of the world's most wanted men with a $25-million (about R157-million) price on his head.

He was in custody in Pakistan on Friday for his suspected role in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

'It is a big achievement for our security forces'
On Thursday Pakistan's high commissioner in Pretoria, Akbar Zeb, expressed doubt that the two South African men being held captive on suspicion of terrorism activities were only tourists.

They had been granted visas on July 10 to visit Pakistan for "tourism" purposes.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad called Zeb in to insist that South Africa's high commission in Pakistan be given consular access to the men.

Zeb assured Pahad that the high commission in Islamabad would be given consular access to the two men "very soon" - once his government's intelligence authorities had completed their initial investigations.

The two South African suspects, believed to be 20-year-old Islamic-studies student Zubair Ismail of Laudium and Feroz Ganchi, reported to be from Fordsburg, were arrested on Sunday along with Ghailani and 13 others.

He is wanted for the death of Americans
They were arrested in a house in the city of Gujrat after a 14-hour gunbattle. Police seized firearms, ammunition, grenades and maps.

But the families of the men in South Africa claim Ismail was in Pakistan to study while Ganchi, a doctor, was there for relief work.

Others said the men were on a hiking expedition.

Zeb dismissed speculation in the South African media that there had been a muddle over the men's identities or that the men arrested had stolen passports from Ganchi and Ismail.

According to Sapa, Pahad met the Ganchi family, at their request, on Wednesday to tell them what the government was doing.

"Ghailani and the others were arrested after the firefight in Gujrat, about 175km south-east of Islamabad, Pakistan Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said.

"It is a big achievement for our security forces," he said.

The US's $25-million reward for the capture of the Tanzanian national is the same bounty offered for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 19 others on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Most Wanted Terrorist List.

Ghailani is probably the most senior al-Qaeda operative caught in Pakistan since the arrest in March 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"He is wanted for the death of Americans," said an official in Washington on condition of anonymity.

Ghailani, who is in his early 30s and goes by the nicknames "Foopie" and "Ahmed the Tanzanian", was indicted in New York in 1998 for the synchronised blasts that blew up the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people.

Washington blamed al-Qaeda for the devastating bombings and carried out a missile attack on Afghan military training camps run by Bin Laden shortly afterwards. Bin Laden escaped unhurt.

Four al-Qaeda supporters were sentenced to life in prison in October 2001 by a Manhattan federal judge for the bombings.

The FBI and the Manhattan US Attorney's office had no immediate comment on Ghailani's arrest.

Hayat said Pakistani security forces had been acting on a tip-off when they raided a suspected militant hideout in Gujrat. One policeman was slightly wounded in the gunbattle, he added.

Hayat said Ghailani, his Uzbek wife and up to eight other foreigners, including two South Africans, were among those arrested.

Those held included four men, three women and five children, Pakistan's Nation newspaper said today.

"They were strangers, and they acted as such, keeping mostly to themselves," the newspaper said, quoting neighbours.

Pakistan had not yet received a request from the US for Ghailani's extradition, Hayat said.

"He has been in Pakistan for some time. We have to establish the exact nature of his activities and scope of his network in Pakistan.

"Only after we have exhausted our inquiries shall we be able to hand him over to the US."

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage praised Pakistan's pursuit of al-Qaeda-linked fighters during a visit to Islamabad this month.

US officials suspect that Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and other al-Qaeda supporters are hiding somewhere in rugged tribal areas along the Afghan border and have pressured Pakistan to pursue foreign militants in the lawless region.

Up to 600 fighters, including Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks, are believed to be in the tribal belt, many of them sheltered by tribesmen who have also been involved in fierce clashes with Pakistani troops this year.

Pakistani forces launched two major operations this year in the region after President Pervez Musharraf vowed to clear the country of foreign militants accused of attacks in Pakistan, including two attempts on his life in December, and strikes on US-led forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan says it has arrested hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters and handed them over to the US since it joined the US-led war on terror in the wake of September 11. - Reuters and Independent News Service.
Source; The Star. July 04
Write; by Zeeshan Haider, Beauregard Tromp and Peter Fabricius

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Uzbek Blasts Hit U.S., Israeli Embassy, Prosecution
Explosions struck the U.S. and Israeli embassies and the prosecutor's office in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on Friday, causing a number of casualties.
"An explosion has occurred outside the prosecutor's office," said Svetlana Ardykova, head of the prosecution's press service.
Russia's Interfax news agency quoted an official at the U.S. embassy as saying the blast had been caused by a suicide bomber with explosives attached to his waist.
Israel radio said an explosion had hit its embassy in the capital of the ex-Soviet Central Asian state, killing two local people.
Fifteen people are now standing trial in Tashkent on charges of trying to overthrow the ex-Soviet state in connection with attacks in February that killed nearly 50 people.
The defendants were said to have been followers of the extreme Islamist al Qaeda organization.
Uzbekistan was a staging post for the U.S. operation that ousted the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan and has allowed Washington the use of an air base.
The administration of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who unabashedly uses tough methods to root out Islamic extremism, stands accused by rights groups of widespread human rights violations.
Source; Reuters. July 04

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Lebanese national arrested in connection with March 11 bombs
Spanish police arrested a Lebanese national on Wednesday evening for his alleged connection with the perpetrators of the March 11 terrorist attacks in Madrid.
The man, Semaan Gaby Eid, had reportedly been in contact with Jamal Ahmidan, El Chino, considered a mastermind behind the Madrid blasts and one of the terrorists who killed themselves in April's Leganés explosion. Gaby Eid is also believed to have played a role in the purchase of the explosives used in the attacks. At the time of his arrest in Madrid's Carabanchel district, Gaby Eid was carrying forged papers.
Source; El Pais. July 04
Write; by Marta Zhein

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'Terror' Against the Press
The curious saga of the Boston FBI's 'unconfirmed reports' of a right-wing threat to the media July 29th, 2004 4:25 PM BOSTON-It looks like the FBI's Boston field office faked a threat of domestic terrorism just before the start of the Democratic National Convention by leaking "unconfirmed" reports of white supremacist groups readying an attack against media vehicles in Boston. Fox News, for one, reportedly was wildly trying to disguise its trucks by covering up its logos.

The effect of this probably was to make the press even more suspicious of anti-war demonstrators than it already is-to even view them as possible terrorists, and if not actual terrorists, then a crowd within which terrorists could operate.

All of this is taking place in an atmosphere of fear and tension whipped up by the Bush administration, with its reports of Al Qaeda "sleeping cells" preparing to strike against America in the midst of the presidential campaign. (See my July 16 article on a chilling Election Day scenario.)

The white supremacists on the far right have never shown any great interest in the war on terror, and they usually try to use the press, not attack it. Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, which tracks the far right, told Glynn Wilson of the serious-minded Southerner Daily News blog, "We have had no indication whatsoever, not an inkling, that there is any kind of violent action planned by the radical right in Boston. We follow these groups quite closely."

ABC News said last week (basing its report on anonymous sources) that, just before the convention opened on July 23, statements by a domestic group of college-age people in the Midwest triggered the FBI warning, according to Wilson. The ABC report said the group's members had not gone to Boston, Wilson noted. Other warnings of "a very real concern" about impending "violent action by white supremacists" emanated from the Secret Service, the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Boston police, Wilson said.

CNN reported July 23 that "authorities fear that some protesters are preparing to target the media" and that the "Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating." According to the CNN story, the FBI's Boston office issued a statement saying it had "unconfirmed information" that, as CNN put it, "a domestic group plans to attack media vehicles, possibly with 'explosives or incendiary devices.' "

Special Agent Gail A. Marcinkiewicz, the public affairs coordinator for the Boston FBI office, told the Southerner that the report of a "radical domestic terrorist group" planning an attack on media trucks in Boston was "unconfirmed."

Wilson noted that Boston authorities, according to ABC, were worried about two right-wing white supremacist groups in particular: Volksfront and White Revolution. Potok told Wilson that some members of Volksfront pleaded guilty last year in the beating death of a homeless black man, and the Volksfront online bulletin board recently carried a posting urging members to go to Boston and "rally."

"But there was no suggestion whatsoever of any violence," Potok told Wilson, "let alone violence against media trucks. . . . I find it extremely difficult to believe that White Revolution or Volksfront would be involved in an action like this."

Overall, the racist far-right would just love to get some publicity from the war on terror, but these people are stuck in the Stone Age when it comes to weaponry and ideas, and they are definitely not into suicide bombings. Such groups have always tried to manipulate the press, not attack it-except for such rare cases as the neo-Nazis' murder of Denver talk-radio host Alan Berg in 1984.
Source; Mondo Boston. July 04
Write; by James Ridgeway

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Colombian Bishop Is Freed
Marxist rebels of the National Liberation Army on Tuesday released a Roman Catholic bishop, Misael Vacca, two days after his kidnapping prompted condemnation from Pope John Paul II and a rescue operation by Colombia's army.
Church officials told reporters that Bishop Vacca, of the city of Yopal, was found safe in a small town northeast of Bogotá, the capital.
Rebels of the Liberation Army, which was for years led by a Spanish priest, had said they planned to release him with a message to give to the government. But President Álvaro Uribe, whose father was killed by guerrillas, did not wait and ordered troops and helicopters into rugged mountains in northeastern Colombia.
Source; NYT. July 04

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Arms Trade Booming in Northern Kenya
Nairobi Women and children are used as conduits for trans-border trade in guns and ammunition in the northern Kenya, a new study reveals.
The guns and the bullets are then transported to various parts of the country including Nairobi by donkey carts, trucks and, sometimes, government vehicles.
The research, which is a campaign against small arms by Oxfam - a British development and charitable organisation - says that the weapons come from Ethiopia, which borders Kenya to the North and Somalia which borders Kenya to the East. Others come from Uganda and the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo.
The weapons are picked at the Manyatta Burji-Moyale in Ethiopia. Most of these are normally destined for markets in Eastleigh and Kariobangi North estates in Nairobi, the study, done early this year, says.
Most of this thriving business goes on under the noses of border officials who either look the other way or are too ignorant to know what goes on.
In Mandera, the source of the ammunition and guns is the Suftu area of Ethiopia and Gedo region of Somalia. The entry point is Suftu, Mandera/Somalia border and several other secret routes. The weapons are ferried using donkeys, human couriers and lorries. Most of these find markets in Wajir, Isiolo, Meru, Marsabit and, occasionally, West Pokot.

Unlike in Moyale, ammunition sale in Mandera is done more discreetly. The sale, most of the time, takes place in the middle of the night as opposed to Moyale where business is transacted throughout the day.
The source of ammunition that comes through Wajir is Lower Juba region, Kismayu and Mogadishu
The main entry point is Diff, and through numerous cut lines paved during the oil exploration in the mid 1980s.

The mode of transport is lorries that ferry uncustomed goods from Somalia and human couriers.
Most of the ammunition from Somalia that comes through Mandera is readily gobbled up by Mandera, southern Moyale, eastern part of Marsabit and Wajir north.

In Isiolo, the source of the arms is the Oromo Liberation Front rebels. Others come from Wajir due to the differences between the Ajuran and Degodia community, and also from Kenya Police through the regular and Kenya Police Reservists (homeguards).

The entry points are Merti, Garba Tulla, Modogashe and Habaswein.
In Garissa, the source of the weapons is Somalia, especially the Upper Shabelle and Lower Juba.
The traffickers get in through Diff, Liboi and Daadab and carry their deadly cargo by bus and lorries. Others are disguised as livestock traders.

Most of these arms find their way into Ijara, Tana River, Ukambani and Nairobi.
West Pokot gets its arms from the Democratic Republic of Congo and also Karamojong in Uganda.

The guns, which are used in cattle rustling, enter Pokot through Kacheliba, Alale and Turkwel. A brand new AK-47, the Oxfam report says, can go for as little as Sh10,000 while a bullet can go for even Sh50.
In Samburu, gunrunners get their products from West Pokot, Isiolo, Turkana, Uganda and Sudan.
They come through Nyahururu, Barsaloi, Baragoi, South Horr, Ngurunit and Archer's Post and find a ready market in Maralal, Barsaloi and Baragoi.

The string of world-class tourist hotels and lodges that dot the banks of Ewaso Ng'iro in Samburu district is a clear testimony that development can flourish in the arid and semi-arid areas. Interestingly, these investments are never attacked despite being in a bandit-prone area.
A member of the Moyale Peace and Reconciliation Committee says that the government's indifference and vast and porous Ethiopian border largely contribute to the spread of small arms in district.
In Moyale this "business" is monopolised by women and truck loaders who transport it to Nairobi concealed as jerry cans carrying old engine oil. Every other day a convoy of nine lorries depart from Moyale carrying an estimated 560 rounds of ammunition.

"I can afford to buy food for my children and that is the basic thing I should provide for them. The rest, like going to school, are luxuries I can't afford to give to them. I don't beg and neither does my husband rob other people," says Marre Hirbo, 38, speaking of her bullet business.

She carries them disguised in a bag of maize seeds and crosses the border nonchalantly in the morning.
She normally picks them from her younger sister's house, a few metres from Moyale-Ethiopia's police headquarters, sandwiched between a mosque and the Ethiopian military barracks.
On the Kenyan side at Manyatta Burji village where her house is, somebody is waiting on the tail of a convoy travelling to Nairobi. Marre buys a jerry can and half fills it with engine oil where her 60 ammunition are dipped, then hidden in the back of a truck for the long journey to Nairobi.
She justifies her trade again: "The government has failed to develop Moyale, what are we expected to do?"
There are more than 16 police roadblocks from Moyale to Nairobi during the day and twice the number at night. Yet the bullets arrive in Nairobi unnoticed.

In Wajir, an intelligence officer monitoring terrorism and other related activities confided that as long as the cut-lines paved during the exploration of oil in the mid-1980's are there, it will be a gigantic task to stop the small arms trade in Wajir and Garissa besides the act of terror itself.
The officer says the region is sitting on a time bomb, adding that there are many illegal activities based on local and cross-border politics as well as others of economic dimension controlled from Somalia going on and can easily be missed by a undiscerning eye.

"Every transaction here is so intricate that it needs a trained eye, a lot of patience and intensive networking to understand and uncover," he adds.
Those who sell their animals to livestock markets in Garba-Tulla, Merti, Modogashe and Sericho transport arms. A bullet normally costs Sh100, says the report.

The guns and ammo are used to protect the animals while on transit to market centres. Once they reach the market, the guns and ammo are sold at the same time the animals are disposed of.
"We have to pay school fees and other needs during the dry season when the prices of our livestock are at the lowest. So once in a while we sell them out of the stock that we keep for emergency," says Aden, a former school teacher.

The proximity of Wajir to Somalia, the little presence of the government and the vastness of the area has made trade in small arms and ammunition so lucrative that it offers alternative employment to local youths.
The proliferation of arms in the area is also attributed to suspicions and conflicts among the four clans that inhabit the district. Each clan controls a constituency.
The story of Garissa will never be complete without mentioning one of the most bloody conflicts in the entire province between the Ogaden/Auhlian and the Abdalla clans of the then greater Garissa before its split into Garissa and Ijara districts.

Two former senior government officials incited leaders of their respective clans to take up arms in what started as a fight over resource control but ended up as territorial battle. Ijara became a district as a result of the bloody war that claimed the lives of many of the "midwives" involved in its birth. Hundreds of arms and thousands of rounds of ammunition were bought from Somalia to the greater Garissa district.
The embers of these clan differences still smoulder, sometimes fanned by the winds from resource pressure, drought and land. However, after the 1997 General Election, there was a lull on the battlefront and peace took root thanks to the Pastoralists Peace and Development Initiative and the posting of Mr Mohammed Saleh, who comes from the region, as Provincial Commissioner. But this initiative was cut short after the transfer of the PC in 2002. Trafficking in ammunition seems to have been reactivated.

Isiolo is in the middle of Kenya. Its position is therefore of strategic importance. Due to its terrain and proximity and easy and fast access to major urban areas, Isiolo is a dream of every military commander. Its weather is ideal for desert warfare. The open spaces are best for the infantry and artillery.
Its seasonal rivers and sandy nature are the most important training ranges for the tanks and combat engineers and the British Army brings its troops for training there too, hence the town is surrounded by four military institutions namely School of Infantry (SOI), School of Combat Engineering near Archer's Post, the 78th Armoured Brigade and the 75th Artillery Battalion based at School of Artillery.

The Isiolo/Moyale Highway is one of the major arteries in the road network systems whose notoriety as a conduit for small arms and ammunition trade is well known to the authorities.
Isiolo is also a rendezvous for arms dealers, traders, travellers and livestock traders from the northern region except Turkana and Tana River. Its location in the heart of Kenya, therefore, is of significant strategic importance.
Ewaso Ng'iro traverses four provinces as it flows and drains into Lorian Swamp in North Eastern Province. The river, which forms one of Kenya's largest basins, is the lifeline of the agriculturists in the upper catchment, the wildlife and tourism in the middle and the pastoralists in the lower area.
These combined factors attract other pastoralists who bring their livestock to Isiolo and hence much pressure is put on the land leading to conflicts. For this reason, many of these pastoralists buy arms to protect themselves or to raid others.

A G3 in Isiolo goes for Sh30,000 while an AK-47 sells at Sh20,000. Bullets from police officers after an operation go for between Sh30-60 but when there is no operation they costs Sh100. They are also sold further afield to the Samburu in Wamba, Archer's Post, Serolipi, the Rendilles of Marille and Laisamis and Turkanas of Baragoi transported by lorries that ferry goods to Marsabit on the Nairobi/Addis Highway.

In 1997, Isiolo was a battle front between the Degodia clan from Wajir West and the Borans after the Degodia, who had come in search of water and pasture for the livestock most of which had been wiped out by a prolonged drought. However, they extended their welcome and the Borans were not amused. The Degodias were armed and so for the Borans to tackle them, they sought weapons from the Ethiopian cousins in the Oromo Liberation Front. A war erupted killing many.

In Samburu East constituency, the British Army had pitched camp and its Artillery and Infantry units practise three times in a year at the Laresoro range a few kilometres outside the sleepy town of Archer's Post.
"The guns in Samburu came from North Eastern Province. The Samburus bought them from the Somalis after we came under attack from several neighbouring tribes," says Sammy Leshore, Samburu East MP. The chairman of the Samburu Peace Committee, Mr S. Lenairoshi also says people buy bullets from policemen and homeguards. In Alale sub-district of West Pokot the weapons are bought from Uganda - they just walk across the border and back without any hindrance.
In 2003 alone, more than 32,000 people were displaced in Kerio Valley and areas bordering West Pokot due to banditry and cattle rustling activities, recalls Oxfam.
Source; The Nation (Nairobi). July 04
Write; by Mburu Mwangi and Said Wabera

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The new 'Great Game' in Central Asia
Geostrategic considerations, the struggle against terrorism, and concrete economic interests are among the intertwining strands of a new 'Great Game' in Central Asia, with the US inheriting Britain's imperial role and trying to consolidate its post-Cold War sphere of influence.

About two years ago, I visited the US airbase in Bagram, some thirty miles north of the Afghan capital Kabul. A US Army public affairs officer, a friendly Texan, gave me a tour of the sprawling camp, set up after the ouster of the Taliban in December 2001. It was a clear day, and one Chinook helicopter after the other took off to transport combat troops into the nearby mountains. As we walked past the endless rows of tents and men in desert camouflage uniforms, I spotted a wooden pole carrying two makeshift street signs. They read "Exxon Street" and "Petro Boulevard”. Slightly embarrassed, the PA officer explained, "This is the fuel handlers' workplace. The signs are obviously a joke, a sort of irony." As I am sure it was. It just seemed an uncanny sight as I was researching the potential links between the "war on terror" and US oil interests in Central Asia.

Strategic struggle for Wild East
I had already traveled thousands of miles from the Caucasus peaks across the Caspian Sea and the Central Asian plains all the way down to the Afghan Hindu Kush. On that journey I met with and interviewed warlords, diplomats, politicians, generals, and oil bosses. They are all players in a geo-strategic struggle that has become increasingly intertwined with the war on terror: the "New Great Game". In this re-run of the first "Great Game," the nineteenth-century imperial rivalry between the British Empire and czarist Russia, powerful players once again position themselves to control the heart of the Eurasian landmass, left in a post-Soviet power vacuum. Today the US has taken over the leading role from the British. Along with the ever-present Russians, new regional powers such as China, Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan have entered the arena, and transnational oil corporations are also pursuing their own interests in a brash, Wild East style. Since 11 September 2001, the Bush Administration has undertaken a massive military buildup in Central Asia, deploying thousands of US troops, not only in Afghanistan but also in the republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia. These first US combat troops on former Soviet territory have dramatically altered the geo-strategic power equations in the region, with Washington trying to seal the Cold War victory against Russia, contain Chinese influence, and tighten the noose around Iran.

Oil giants covet Caspian riches
Most importantly, however, the Bush Administration is using the "war on terror" to further US energy interests in Central Asia. The bad news is that this dramatic geopolitical gamble involving thuggish dictators and corrupt Saudi oil sheiks is likely to produce only more terrorists, jeopardizing US prospects of victory. The main spoils in today's Great Game are the Caspian energy reserves, principally oil and gas. On its shores, and at the bottom of the Caspian Sea, lie the world's biggest untapped fossil fuel resources. Estimates range from 85 to 190 billion barrels of crude, worth up to US$5 trillion. According the US Energy Department, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan alone could sit on more than 130 billion barrels, more than three times the US reserves. Oil giants such as ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and British Petroleum have already invested more than US$30 billion in new production facilities. The aggressive US pursuit of oil interests in the Caspian did not start with the Bush Administration, but under Clinton who personally conducted oil and pipeline diplomacy with Caspian leaders. US industry leaders were impressed. "I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian," declared Dick Cheney in 1998 in a speech to oil industrialists in Washington. Cheney was then still CEO of the oil-services giant Halliburton. In May 2001 Cheney, now US Vice President, recommended in the Administration's seminal National Energy Policy report that "the President make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy," singling out the Caspian Basin as a "rapidly growing new area of supply."

Chemical dependency
Keen to outdo Clinton's oil record, the Bush Administration took the new Great Game into its second round. With potential oil production of up to 4.7 million barrels per day by 2010, the Caspian region has become crucial to the US policy of "diversifying energy supply”. The other major supplier is the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, where both the Clinton and the Bush administrations have vigorously developed US oil interests and strengthened ties with corrupt West African regimes. The strategy of supply diversification is designed to wean the US off its dependence on the Arab-dominated OPEC cartel, which has been using its near-monopoly position as leverage against industrialized countries. As global oil consumption keeps surging and many oil wells outside the Middle East are nearing depletion, OPEC is in the long run going to expand its share of the world market even further. At the same time, the US will have to import more than two-thirds of its total energy needs by 2010, mostly from the volatile Middle East. Many people in Washington are particularly uncomfortable with the growing turmoil in Saudi Arabia, whose terror ties have been exposed since the 11 September 2001 terror attacks. As the recent bombings and attacks on oil installations have shown, there is a growing risk that radical Islamist groups could topple the corrupt Saud dynasty, only to then stop the flow of oil to "infidels." The consequences of 8 million barrels of oil - 10 per cent of global production - disappearing from the world markets overnight would be disastrous. Even without any such anti-Western revolution, the Saudi petrol is already, as it were, ideologically contaminated. To supply the ideological deficit left by lack of democracy, the Saudi ruling elite relies on the fundamentalist Wahhabi version of Islam - many of whose preachers see no room for compromise with nations like the US.

Tapping new veins
To escape its Faustian pact with Saudi Arabia, the US has tried to reduce its dependence on Saudi oil sheiks by seeking to secure access to the fabulous oil and gas resources in the Gulf of Guinea and the Caspian. Central Asia, however, is no less volatile than the Middle East, and oil politics are only making matters worse: Fierce conflicts have broken out over pipeline routes from the landlocked Caspian region to high-sea ports. Russia, still regarding itself as imperial overlord of its former colonies, promotes pipeline routes across its territory, notably Chechnya, in the North Caucasus. China, whose dependence on imported oil increases with its rapid industrialization, wants to build eastbound pipelines from Kazakhstan. Iran is offering its pipeline network for exports via the Persian Gulf. By contrast, both the Clinton and Bush administrations have championed two pipelines that would avoid both Russia and Iran. One of them, first planned by the US oil company Unocal in the mid-1990s, would run from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean. Several months after the US-led overthrow of the Taliban regime Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal adviser, signed a treaty with Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf and the Turkmen dictator Saparmurat Niazov to authorize construction of a US$3.2 billion gas pipeline through the Herat-Kandahar corridor in Afghanistan, with a projected capacity of about 1 trillion cubic feet of gas per year. A feasibility study is under way, and a parallel pipeline for oil is also planned for a later stage. So far, however, continuing warlordism in Afghanistan has prevented any private investor from coming forward. Construction has already begun on a gigantic, $3.8 billion oil pipeline from Azerbaijan's capital of Baku via neighboring Georgia to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. British Petroleum Amoco, its main operator, has invested billions in oil-rich Azerbaijan and can count on firm political support from the Bush Administration, which stationed about 500 elite troops in war-torn Georgia in May 2002.

Pipeline perpetuates instability
Controversial for environmental and social reasons, as it is unlikely to alleviate poverty in the notoriously corrupt transit countries, the pipeline project also perpetuates instability in the South Caucasus. With thousands of Russian troops still stationed in Georgia and Armenia, Moscow has for years sought to deter Western pipeline investors by fomenting bloody ethnic conflicts near the pipeline route, in the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan and in the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Adjaria. Washington's Great Game opponents in Moscow and Beijing resent the dramatically growing US influence in their strategic backyard. Worried that the US presence might encourage internal unrest in its predominantly Muslim Central Asian province of Xingjian, China has recently held joint military exercises with Kyrgyzstan. The Russian government initially tolerated the US intrusion into its former empire, hoping Washington would in turn ignore Russian atrocities in Chechnya. However, for the Kremlin, the much-hyped "new strategic partnership" against terror between the Kremlin and the White House has always been little more than a tactical and temporary marriage of convenience to allow Russia's battered economy to recover with the help of capital from Western companies. It is unthinkable for the majority of the Russian establishment to permanently cede its hegemonic claims on Central Asia. Russia's Defense Ministry has repeatedly demanded that the US pull out of Russia's backyard within two years. Significantly, President Putin has signed new security pacts with the Central Asian rulers and last October personally opened a new Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan. It is the first base Moscow has set up outside Russia's borders since the end of the cold war. Equipped with fighter jets, it lies only thirty-five miles away from the US airbase.

Strange bedfellows
Besides raising the specter of interstate conflict, the Bush Administration's energy imperialism jeopardizes the few successes in the war on terror. That is because the resentment US policies cause in Central Asia makes it easier for al Qaida-like organizations to recruit new fighters. They hate the US because in its search for antiterrorist allies in the new Great Game, the Bush Administration has wooed some of the region's most brutal autocrats, including Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliev, Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev and Pakistan's Musharraf. The most tyrannical of Washington's new allies is Islam Karimov, the former Stalinist dictator of Uzbekistan who allowed US troops to set up a large and permanent military base on Uzbek soil during the Afghan campaign in late 2001. Ever since, the Bush Administration has turned a blind eye to the Karimov regime's brutal suppression of opposition and Islamic groups. "Such people must be shot in the head. If necessary, I will shoot them myself," Karimov once famously told his rubber-stamp parliament. Although the US State Department acknowledges that Uzbek security forces use "torture as a routine investigation technique," Washington in 2002 gave the Karimov regime US$500 million in aid and rent payments for the US airbase in Khanabad. Though Uzbek Muslims can be arrested simply for wearing a long beard, the State Department also quietly removed Uzbekistan from its annual list of countries where freedom of religion is under threat. Even though the US this year held back US$18 million in aid, Powell assured Karimov he was still in their good books. "Uzbekistan is an important partner of the United States in the war on terror and we have many shared strategic goals. This decision does not mean that either our interests in the region or our desire for continued cooperation with Uzbekistan has changed," the State Department said. The current US policy of aiding Central Asian tyrants for the sake of oil politics repeats the very same mistakes that gave rise to bin Ladenism in the 1980s and 1990s because their disgusted subjects increasingly embrace militant Islam and virulent anti-Americanism. Tellingly, Uzbekistan has recently seen a sharp increase in terrorist activities, with several bomb attacks shaking Tashkent in April, including the first-ever suicide bombings in Central Asia. More than forty people died in gun battles between the terrorists and security forces.

Alternatives to fossil fuels needed
The 11 September attacks have shown that the US government can no longer afford to be indifferent toward how badly dictators in the Middle East and Central Asia treat their people, as long as they keep the oil flowing. So, while the war on terror may not be all about oil, certainly in one sense it should be about just that. A bold policy to reduce the addiction to oil would be a wise strategy to win the epic struggle against terrorism. In the short term, this means saving energy through more efficient technologies, necessary anyway to slow the greenhouse effect and global warming. The Bush Administration's old-style energy policies of yet more fossil-fuel production and waste are continuing in the wrong direction. It is time to realize that more gas-guzzling Hummers on US highways only lead to more Humvees (and US soldiers) near oilfields. What is urgently needed instead - for security reasons - is a sustainable alternative energy policy. Ultimately, no matter how cleverly the US plays its cards in the New Great Game in Central Asia and no matter how many military forces are deployed to protect oilfields and pipelines, the oil infrastructure might prove too vulnerable to terrorist attacks to guarantee a stable supply anyway. The Caspian region may be the next big gas station but, as in the Middle East, there are already a lot of men running around throwing matches.
Write; by Yuumei. July 04