Sudan: Darfur conflict continues

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates nearly 200,000 refugees from Sudan’s western Darfur region have fled into eastern Chad after government forces and Janjawid militia attacked their villages. UNHCR also says over a million people have been internally displaced within Darfur as a result of the 16-month-old conflict and that 2 million people affected by the conflict in the semi-arid region urgently need humanitarian aid, the UN’s IRIN news agency said.

The conflict is increasingly spreading across the border into Chad, as the Janjawid, based mostly among Arabic-speaking nomadic people, have stepped up cross-border raids in a long-standing conflict with area farming communities.

The Darfur conflict increasingly threatens regional stability. At the same time, significant progress has been made toward a resolution of the long-standing conflict between Sudan’s government and the Sudan Rebel Movement/Army (SRMA) led by John Garang.

Bangladesh: Workers demand end to privatization

All the country’s trade union federations are joining together in a massive campaign opposing the government’s policy of privatizing state-owned industries, and demanding the reopening of factories the government has closed, the Communist Party of Bangladesh said last week.

Other demands include a national minimum wage linked to the cost of living, prompt payment of wages, lower prices for essential commodities, and resistance to armed religious fundamentalist forces. A huge rally in the capital city, Dhaka, on June 15 followed mass rallies in April and May called by the Coordination Committee for Protection of Workers and Employees in Industry. A nationwide all-day action is set for July 11, and one-day strikes are planned in industries and enterprises.

The unions are urging all progressive and democratic political parties and mass organizations to actively support the workers’ action program.

Guatemala: ‘Treat immigrants in Mexico better’

Guatemalan human rights activists are calling on the Mexican government to treat undocumented Guatemalans and other Central American immigrants better. The Attention for the Immigrant office on the border between the two countries said the growing number of undocumented Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans who are repatriated from Mexico often show signs of severe malnutrition, violence and physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Mexican police and immigration authorities, who abandon them on the border. Last year Mexico expelled nearly 175,000 Central Americans, many of whom are trying to reach the U.S. because the economic situation in their countries has deteriorated markedly under pressure of U.S. based transnational corporations.

France: CGT leads actions to uphold state utility

A national day of Action June 15 by the left-led CGT union federation in protest against plans to partly privatize the state electricity utility EDF brought thousands of workers into the streets, and resulted in blackouts in parts of Bordeaux, Grenoble, Cahors, Aaras and Limoges. In Paris alone, 6,000 power workers demonstrated.

The actions cut 12 percent of EDF’s output. Besides the six cities, power was also cut to the country homes of government supporters of the privatization plan.

The government seeks to allow up to 30 percent of capital in the EDF electricity utility and the GDR gas utility to be sold to private investors starting in 2005.

Diego Garcia: Islanders barred from returning

The hopes of some 4,500 former residents of Diego Garcia and their descendants to return to their strategically located Indian Ocean island home were dashed earlier this month by the British government. The island – part of the British Indian Ocean Territory – was leased to the U.S. which used its major base there in both Iraq wars.

A high court decision four years ago had opened the possibility for the islanders to go home. But on June 10 the British Foreign Office, bypassing Parliament by using an arbitrary form called “orders in council,” barred the former residents from returning to Diego Garcia or any of 64 other outlying islands. In the 1960s and 1970s when the island was being cleared for the base, Britain had induced many residents to leave by alleging they were not permanent residents of the island.

Haiti: Marchers demand Aristide’s return

Some 5,000 supporters of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide rallied in Port-au-Prince June 19 to demand his return to office and to condemn the Bush administration for forcing him from power. Protesters accused the U.S. of kidnapping Aristide on Feb. 29, and warned that they will boycott the coming general election if the president continues to be forced to remain in exile.

Conditions in Haiti remain chaotic and dangerous, with constant reports of violence by members of armed gangs – many of them former death squad members from previous dictatorships – whose insurgency preceded Aristide’s kidnapping.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel ( Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s notes.