Japan: Accord with Australia seen as targeting China

Visiting in Tokyo, Australian Prime Minister John Howard signed an agreement on March 13 with his Japanese counterpart described by the BBC as a “Security Declaration.”

A free trade agreement with Japan, which is Australia’s largest export customer, is expected in April. A columnist in The Australian, owned by Rupert Murdoch, sees Australia as entering into “three-way security arrangements with Japan and the U.S. to include India in a four-way security agreement that would encircle China.”

Vice President Dick Cheney apparently rehearsed the scenario with Australian leaders during his visit earlier in March. Australia’s Guardian regards last year’s Lombok Pact between Indonesia and Australia as directed against China. It accuses the Howard government of colluding with Washington in designs upon cheap labor and natural resources in China and Asia, and to undermine Chinese socialism. In 2006 Australia signed a treaty of “amity and cooperation” with other Asian nations, including China and Russia.

Poland: Anti-gay law threatens teachers

Human Rights Watch has informed Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski that proposed legislation to remove teachers who speak about homosexuality “would threaten civil and political rights.”

EFE News reports that Poland’s education minister, Roman Giertych, who also heads the League of Polish Families, part of the governing coalition, declared on March 15 that “teachers revealing their homosexuality would be dismissed.” At a recent meeting of EU education ministers, he exhorted European governments to prohibit abortions and “homosexual propaganda.”

Critics see the measures as distracting Polish attention away from problems of unemployment and emigration, both of which are mounting.

Afghanistan: U.S. Marines face probe on massacre

Marines accused of shooting and killing civilians after a suicide bombing in Afghanistan are under U.S. investigation, and their entire unit has been ordered to leave the country early, The Associated Press reported March 23.

Army Maj. Gen. Francis H. Kearney III ordered the unit of about 120 Marines out of Afghanistan and initiated an investigation into the March 4 incident, said Lt. Col. Lou Leto, spokesman at Kearney’s command headquarters. Another spokesman, Maj. Cliff Gilmore, said that the unit is already in the process of leaving.

In the March 4 incident in Nangahar province, an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into a convoy of Marines that U.S. officials said also came under fire from gunmen. As many as 10 Afghans were killed and 34 wounded as the convoy made an escape. Injured Afghans said the Americans fired on civilian cars and pedestrians as they sped away.

U.S. military officials claimed some of the civilian casualties may have been caused by the militants.

Hundreds of Afghans held a demonstration against the U.S. massacre afterward, and President Hamid Karzai condemned the incident.

Leto said the Marines, after being ambushed, responded in a way that created “perceptions [that] have really damaged the relationship between the local population and this unit.”

“The relationship you have with the local population while conducting counterinsurgency operations is very important, and because the perceptions damaged that, it probably degraded the [Marine] unit’s ability to fulfill those kinds of missions,” Leto added. “So the general felt it was best to move them out of that area.”

Uganda: President delivers land to corporations

President Yoweri Museveni’s Cabinet recently announced its intention to hand over 17,531 acres of Uganda’s Mabira forest reserve to a corporate sugar producer owned by the Mehta Group, a multinational corporation. Parliamentary approval is the next step.

Mehta Group spokespersons point to the prospects of increased employment, replenished sugar stores and export income. But environmentalists and previously evicted Ugandans don’t buy it.

“The government’s recommendation is a slap in their face,” said Achilles Byaruhanga of Nature Uganda, referring to those who were evicted.

The National Forestry Authority sees the reserve as a tourist resource — it received 62 percent of Uganda’s tourists in 2005-2006 — and sanctuary for endangered species. Conflict between evicted communities and the government is likely, environmentalists say. Portraying himself as locked in an “ideological struggle,” President Museveni in February denounced “people who lack the vision to see into the future.” He promised that similar measures are forthcoming. Critics complain that he has handed over other forestlands, prison and hospital land, and a Kampala school to private interests, according to AllAfrica.com.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @ megalink.net).