Sudan: Ceasefire extended

The Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) Feb. 28 extended their ongoing ceasefire for another month, while they continue to negotiate a final peace agreement. As a result of the 20-year civil war in southern Sudan, some 2 million people have died and another 4 million have been displaced.

A SPLM/A spokesman told the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks a final accord is anticipated soon.

The talks, now taking place between Sudan’s First Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha and SPLM/A leader John Garang, have made significant progress, with agreements signed last year on security arrangements and on wealth sharing during the proposed six and a half year transition period. Among remaining issues is the future of the oil-rich Abyei region, which the government sees as a key oil source but where a large part of the population identifies with the SPLM/A.

Korea: Joint march at Olympics

Korean athletes from North and South will march together in the opening ceremony at the Summer Olympics in Athens, and will work toward fielding a joint team for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, officials from the two Olympics Committees announced at a press conference in Athens on Feb. 25.

Both sides said they will hold working-level talks as soon as possible to finalize details for the joint march. These talks are expected to become regular sports talks between North and South.

Athletes from throughout the peninsula marched together for the first time in 2000, under a “unification” flag. The new agreement is expected to produce a new phase in relations between the two Koreas. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge confirmed last week that the Korean martial art taekwondo will not be excluded from future Olympics, and promised full support to inter-Korean sports exchanges.

Colombia: Spraying called harmful, useless

Three non-governmental organizations – the Latin America Working Group, EarthJustice, and the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense – are charging that aerial spraying of Colombia’s coca crops should be halted because it harms local farmers and the environment, and it is not affecting the availability of cocaine in the U.S.

Aerial spraying done under the U.S. “Plan Colombia” has devastated small farmers’ food crops alongside the coca, the report charges, while at the same time environmental guidelines for use of the extremely dangerous herbicide are consistently violated.

The report also contends that the program has not significantly affected the price, purity or supply of cocaine in the U.S.

United Nations: Global trade benefits are uneven

A two-year study by the International Labor Organization, released March 2, shows that capitalist globalization has widened the gap between rich and poor countries as well as within countries. The ILO study found that the opening of borders, new trade agreements and the founding of the World Trade Organization failed to speed the growth of the global gross national product, which lagged behind previous decades’ economic performance.

The report, “A Fair Globalization,” was prepared by 20 officials and experts. It found that 188 million people, or 6.2 percent of the labor force, are unemployed worldwide, while the gap between rich and poor countries has widened, with nations making up 14 percent of the world’s population accounting for half the world’s trade and foreign investment. It said globalization has harmed women in the developing countries more than men. (See related People before Profits column, page 8.)

Marianas: Nuke survivors need help

On the 50th anniversary of March 1, 1954 – the day the U.S. tested its most powerful hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll – many Marshall Islanders are furious over Washington’s ending of funds for a medical program for nuclear test victims and its reluctance to fulfill a request for $2 billion in compensation. Many islanders still cannot return to their original homes, while some who did return have suffered from “low level” radioactive exposure.

The four atolls said by the U.S. to be “exposed” during the U.S.’ 67 nuclear weapons tests – Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik – have received part of a promised $270 million compensation package, and Bikini and Rongelap have received additional cleanup funds. But the U.S.-funded Nuclear Claims Tribunal says this is only a fraction of the compensation these islands deserve.

Since September 2002 the Marshall Islands has had a petition before the U.S. Congress for $2 billion more in compensation. The administration has yet to respond.

India: 50 million go on strike

A nationwide general strike Feb. 24 involving 50 million people shut down government offices, schools and banks and halted public transport. Rail and flight operations stopped in India’s major cities and several ports were shut down.

The strike was called to demand restoration of the right to strike – recently banned by the Supreme Court of India – and against the anti-people economic policies of the government. The Center for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and other left unions called the strike.

“The working class asserted its right to strike in the face of a prohibition by the Supreme Court,” CITU President M.K. Pandhe said.

Police used force against strikers in Delhi, Orissa, Hariyana and Pondichery. Hundreds of postal workers rallied outside Mumbai’s (Bombay’s) main post office, said Reuters. “Not a single letter will be delivered in Mumbai today,” said Mangesh Parab, an postal union official.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel ( M.K.N. Moorthy contributed to this week’s notes.