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Does microfinance make up for war crimes?

Well, no. When there are 300,000 Tamils languishing in IDP camps, even a $26 million investment in microfinance loans won’t erase the human rights violations that many of these civilivans faced in Sri Lanka’s frenzied campaign against the Tamil Tigers.

But, even if Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resettlement plan (180 days) is a little uncomfortably ambitious, microfinance seems a reasonably good idea — better, at least, than simply pretending that ethnic distinctions don’t exist, and that there are “only people who love their country and people who don’t love their country.”

Then again, on the more cynical side, it seems that Rajapaksa is pretty eager to pick up tactics favored by his Western trading partners, without dealing so much with the attendant difficulties. He’s followed George W. Bush’s maxim to root out terrorists pretty much to the letter, and his military offensive steamrolled over supposed values of freedom of the press, proportionality, and the human rights of civilians.

Is providing microfinance loans a gambit to stay in the West’s good graces? I wouldn’t be that derisive, because it does seem like a good step forward.  But I do wish that Rajapaksa was more willing to look backwards, at his own military’s conduct; it’s difficult to hold a truth and reconciliation process when he doesn’t want to “dig into the past.”

(image from flickr user aquaview under a Creative Commons license)

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Congratulations, Russia and Georgia

Your wrangling over the name of the UN mission that was scheduled to be extended last month, in a fairly de rigueur process, has resulted in the departure of the 130-odd UN observers that many in Abkhazia — from government officials to everyday people — trusted as the only effective objective presence in the border region.

“We were interested in the mission continuing its work,” Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said.

(The mission) opened contacts for us, making it possible for us to participate in the international (diplomatic) process; our problem would be discussed at U.N. Security Council meetings.” There are more than 200 E.U. observers in Georgia itself, but they are not allowed to enter Abkhazia. The E.U. observers only patrol the Georgian-controlled part of the conflict zone.

The U.N. cars used to patrol our village, and we would feel more secure,” said a 72-year-old woman who lives in Nabakevi in Abkhazia and declined to give her name. “The end of the mission to me means the end of the hope for peace.” [emphasis mine]

The concerns about Georgia and Russia gearing up for a another war should not be taken lightly. Last year’s confrontation was completely unnecessary, a result of foolish provocation from both sides. The short-sighted step of forcing out UN observers is a rash move down the same counterproductive line. Their departure may not be the end of peace prospects, but it certainly makes them look a lot dimmer.

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U.S. names Great Lakes Special Envoy

Will a new U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region (that’s Congo-Rwanda-Burundi, not Michigan-Wisconsin-Illinois) solve MONUC’s difficulties?  Well, no, but it’s still good to see the United States engaged in the oft-neglected region.  And the man tapped for the job, Howard Wolpe, is, as his informed introductions of many a speaker over at the Woodrow Wilson Center indicate, one of the more knowledgeable Africa hands that President Obama could have picked.

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Message to Eritrea

From the UN Security Council: quit arming Islamist insurgents in Somalia.  Or else, face the possibility of sanctions.

Eritrea’s support for al-Shabab militants is not helping what is crystallizing as an all-too-painfully-obvious consensus: if the Somali government isn’t supported (though I’d hasten to add, not by another Ethiopian occupation), then it will collapse.

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Bringing Pakistan’s displaced home — voluntarily

It’s encouraging to see that John Holmes, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator, understands one of the most fundamental principles of dealing with situations of mass displacement: that returns must be voluntary. If returns are forced, it means that people don’t yet feel safe returning to their homes, and the resettlement can effectively act as renewed displacement.

Discussing Pakistan’s plan to begin returns for some of the more than two million displaced by last month’s army offensive, Holmes was adamant:

“We have been clear to the government, and the humanitarian community has in general, that this has got to be voluntary and the government say they accept that.

“Obviously they want to encourage people to go back, but we need to be very careful that it is a proper process, that it is voluntary, that the conditions are right when they get there, the basic services as well as security,” he said.

The only awkward part was his admission that he is — understandably — “a bit uncomfortable” with the fact that the same army that conducted the military operation will also be leading the return program.

And in case anyone thought that returning two million people to their homes was going to be easy — it’s also going to cost billions of dollars in reconstruction. In two months, donors have met less than half of the UN’s rather modest appeal for $542 million.

(image from flickr user Al Jazeera English under a Creative Commons license)

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Babylon besieged!

Well, okay, actually just damaged.  But it is (mostly) because of war.

American troops and contractors in Iraq inflicted serious damage on the archaeological site of Babylon in Iraq, driving heavy machinery over once-sacred paths, bulldozing hilltops and digging trenches through the terrain, Unesco experts said Thursday. “The use of Babylon as a military base was a grave encroachment on this internationally known archaeological site,” said a report that the United Nations cultural agency presented in Paris.

This is what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon looked like before the American occupation 2500 years ago.  It’s a shame that one of the original Seven Wonders of the World still isn’t able to be recognized as a World Heritage site.  Saddam carving his name into some of the buildings also didn’t help.

(image from flickr user Carla216 under a Creative Commons license)

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