On April 29, 2008, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the Georgian government in Tbilisi of preparing to invade the pro-Moscow separatist region of Abkhazia, which is located on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, along the Russia-Georgia border. Russian officials announced that they would deploy more peacekeeping troops in the region to defend the separatists. Russian government representatives have claimed that the Georgian military has been reinforcing its garrison in the strategic enclave of the Upper Kodori Valley, the most important part of Abkhazia still under control of the Tbilisi government. The Russian Defense Ministry attributed the current crisis […]

MANTA, Ecuador — A decade ago, this was just another obscure, humid, Pacific coast fishing town, with a third-rate airport and a problem with narcotrafficking. Today, the city is a regular stop for cruise ships, boasts a first-rate airport and is a key outpost in the United States’ war on drugs. But the eight-year-old U.S. anti-drug presence here has both put Manta on the map and made the city a center of controversy. The local U.S. anti-narcotrafficking facility “is a pretext for expansionism,” charges attorney Miguel Moran, who believes that Washington and U.S. corporations want to control the region’s natural […]

BELGRADE, Serbia — Vlade Divac, the retired NBA basketball player, is up against his toughest opponent ever in his quest to end the refugee crisis in Serbia, home to the largest number of refugees in Europe, while distancing himself from the political stalemate that has gripped his native nation. More than 300,000 refugees and displaced persons from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo remain in Serbia, of which 6,700 still live in deplorable conditions in dilapidated schools, barracks, shipping containers and other forms of temporary housing. Many of these refugees, who fled to Serbia from the wars that ravaged the former Yugoslavia […]

KATMANDU, Nepal — After two weeks of counting, Nepal’s election results are official: a solid win for the former rebel Maoists and a humiliating slap in the face for the country’s traditional political parties. Almost nobody predicted the landslide victory, and now Nepal’s political elite and the international community are scrambling to deal with the world’s first ever elected Maoist government. The Maoists, for their part, have been sure to make the right noises on economic and diplomatic issues. They say they will use capitalism and multiparty democracy as stepping stones to achieve their socialist vision. But first they must […]

The visit to the United States earlier this month of Pope Benedict XVI, the spiritual leader of more than 60 million Americans, was a whirlwind affair. In between meetings with President Bush, a stopover at the Pope John Paul II cultural center, a meeting with a Jewish community group in New York and a visit to ground zero, Benedict also managed to slip in three masses and a handful of addresses to various ecumenical bodies. While the trip lasted just four days, precious little was left undone. Judging by his schedule, American domestic issues were clearly high atop the Pope’s […]

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda met with outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, outside Moscow this past weekend. The talks addressed preparations for this July’s Group of Eight summit, which Japan is hosting, as well as such perennial issues as how to improve the often strained security and economic relations between the two countries. Tokyo-Moscow ties have remained troubled for decades. This weekend’s Moscow summit failed to change the underlying causes of these difficulties. Despite the end of the Cold War, the two countries have been unable to resolve their territorial dispute over what the Russians […]

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SLOVAKIA LAW SEEN AS DANGER TO PRESS FREEDOM — As of June 1, anyone mentioned in a Slovak newspaper article will be entitled to a rebuttal in the same publication, according to provisions of a new law that has angered media freedom advocates and raised fears that official and self-censorship may be the law’s result. Under the law, anyone who objects to the use of their name in an article may complain to newspaper editors, who then will be responsible for printing a response by the complainer to the original reference, unless the paper can convince a court it is […]

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The arrest of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s cousin and political ally, Mario Uribe, on charges of conspiring with the country’s paramilitary groups, brings the country’s so-called “para-politics” scandal closer to the president’s inner circle. Mario Uribe’s arrest on April 22 and the ever-growing domestic scandal that links politicians with outlawed right-wing paramilitary groups is being seen as the most serious crisis facing President Uribe since he first came to power in 2002. A former senator who co-founded the Democratic Colombia Party with the president, Mario Uribe is one of the most prominent politicians engulfed in the scandal […]

Over the course of the last month, Chinese officials have engaged in a systematic campaign to purge dissent in Tibet. These actions are part of a long-term policy to assimilate Tibet into Han Chinese society. With the much anticipated 2008 Olympic Games a few months away, the international community and non-state actors have turned up the heat, demanding that Beijing engage in dialogue with the Dali Lama and stop repression of Tibetans and other minority groups, such as Uighurs. Heads of state have variously threatened and committed to boycotts of participation in the games’ opening ceremony. But those calling for […]

When talking about peace in the Middle East, the first parties that come to mind are Israelis and Palestinians. Lately, however, Syria has broken into the headlines, with conflicting news about peace and war. The talk, which alternates between ominous and promising, reflects the script of a very public performance with a very specific intended audience and a very clear desired outcome. In this case, the talk of peace and warnings of war is aimed at neither peace nor war. Its purpose is to solidify the status quo, at least for now. A couple of weeks ago, many believed war […]

Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, just completed his first official visit to Kazakhstan since September 2006. In a joint media appearance following talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Karimov noted that the two countries are the most influential states in Central Asia. He correctly observed that, “Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan may play a crucial role in solution of a number of principal matters, connected with the stability in the Central Asian region and prospects of its sustainable development.” Unfortunately, Uzbek-Kazakh relations have been characterized more by conflict than cooperation. Although Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have signed approximately 100 bilateral agreements since […]

This month’s NATO summit in Bucharest failed to produce a consensus in favor of proposals to offer Membership Action Plans (MAPs) to Georgia and Ukraine. The pro-MAP faction within NATO, led by the United States and also including Canada and most Eastern European countries, failed to overcome concerted resistance from most of the Western European member-states, led most vociferously by Germany and France. At the conclusion of the conference on April 3, NATO issued a cryptic joint communiqué stating that it “welcomed Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership and agreed that these countries will become members of NATO,” but […]

When Colombia bombed a guerrilla camp in Ecuador last month, igniting one of Latin America’s worst diplomatic spats in recent history and nearly sparking a regional war, the leaders at the center of the dispute each emerged with a most unexpected political reward: a boost in their domestic support. Recent opinion polls in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela illustrate that the nationalist stands taken by leaders of the three countries paid off for each of them politically. “All three leaders occupied different roles and all of them are satisfied,” said Juan Gabriel Valdés, former minister of foreign relations in Chile. Colombian […]

Though international policy analysts — past and present — have lavished attention on arms races, oil wars, blood diamonds, and other such sources of insecurity, few have spilled ink on an issue that now threatens global stability: the rising cost of grain. No surprise. Arms races have been the subject of Star Wars and James Bond movies, and conflict over diamonds carried the story in “Blood Diamond,” with the dashing Leonardo DiCaprio and the luscious Jennifer Connelly. Writing about rice and wheat is just not as sexy. But average food prices have risen 45 percent in the past nine months. […]

A German interior ministry proposal to grant Iraqi Christians asylum in Germany as a persecuted minority drew criticism last week from the chair of the Bundestag’s Human Rights Committee, who insisted that the program should be open to other Iraqis as well. “We should also accept Christians, because they are under particular pressure,” Herta Däubler-Gmelin said in remarks reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “but not only Christians.” “An appropriately large number of Iraqis should be taken in,” she added, “commensurate to Germany’s capacity and economic power.” Herta Däubler-Gmelin? If the name sounds familiar, that is because this is the […]

The U.S. military’s decision last week to release Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press photographer who has been held by U.S. military forces since April 2006 on accusations of links to terrorism, was not just a blow to the U.S. military’s case against one prisoner. The announcement by the U.S. military, which followed the rulings of an Iraqi judicial panel granting Hussein amnesty, also raised a question war proponents may not want to answer. Namely, if the sovereign institutions and political processes that the U.S. troop surge was supposed to help foster actually take hold, will the United States respect them? […]

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he will decide by late 2008 or early 2009 whether France will fully rejoin the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It is one of the more important issues left unresolved at the recently concluded Bucharest Summit, where Sarkozy proclaimed: “I reaffirm here France’s determination to pursue the process of renovating its relations with NATO.” Gen. Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO’s military structure in 1966 in protest over American dominance of the Atlantic Alliance. And more than 40 years later, the issue of American influence over European security remains a fundamental stumbling block to […]

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