Somalia: Humanitarian crisis looms

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 10,000 Somalis entered refugee camps in northeast Kenya between January and May because of armed conflict in Somalia. The camps had already taken in some 130,000 mostly Somalian refugees.

“We need additional money to deal with the new arrivals,” Niaz Ahmad, UNHCR field officer in Dadaab, told Inter Press Service. “If we have a big influx tomorrow, we might not be able to provide for them according to standards.” UNHRC needs $2.5 million to provide shelter, food and other supplies for the new refugees.

The UN said over 300 people have been killed in Somalia in recent weeks, 1,500 have been injured and 17,000 displaced. Fighting resumed when private armies of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, allegedly funded by the U.S., engaged the Union of the Islamic Courts in a losing battle for the capital city, Mogadishu. Meeting in Khartoum June 22 under Arab League auspices, leaders of the Islamic Courts agreed to end hostilities. Talks are set to resume July 15.

Ecuador: Cuban programs aid thousands

The Ecuadorian press agency Altercom said Cuban programs have improved the lives of thousands of Ecuadorians, some in more ways than one. Under Operation Miracle, Cuban eye surgeons have restored vision to 1,632 people. Two hospitals have been built to enable surgeons to do eye surgery for 80 patients daily. Hundreds of thousands of people throughout Latin America and beyond are expected to receive vision-restoring surgery over the next few years.

Some whose vision has been restored go on to participate in the Cuban literacy program, “Yes, I can,” in which some 16,500 Ecuadorians have learned to read in the past year.

Nearly 2,000 young Ecuadorians are studying in Cuba under full scholarships, 900 of them medical students at the Latin American School of Medicine. In a few weeks 1,000 more students will be leaving for the island.

United Nations: Illegal small arms trade studied

As a Small Arms Review Conference began June 26 to evaluate the UN’s five-year-old program combating illegal arms sales, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan accepted a petition signed by 1 million people demanding limits on the global small arms trade.

“In a world awash with small arms, a quarter of the estimated $4 billion annual global gun trade is believed to be illicit,” said Annan. “Their continued proliferation exacerbates conflicts, sparks refugee flows, undermines the rule of law and spawns a culture of violence and impunity.”

In June 2005, the General Assembly adopted the “International Tracing Instrument,” an admittedly modest step toward tracing light weapons. But implementation has faltered, due to U.S.-led opposition that would deny the measure legal status, confining it instead to a political statement. The U.S. is said to be by far the world’s most active small arms trader.

Britain: Wal-Mart workers win bargaining rights

British General Union (GMB) Shop Stewards from the Asda Wal-Mart distribution depots confirmed June 28 that an agreement had been reached and a planned five-day strike called off.

“This new agreement which GMB and Asda Wal-Mart have worked very hard to achieve heralds a new fresh approach to representation and bargaining between the company and GMB,” said the union’s General Secretary, Paul Kenny.

The shop stewards had voted overwhelmingly June 22 for GMB members to strike at 20 Asda Wal-Mart distribution centers from June 30 through July 4. Asda, Britain’s second largest supermarket chain, has been owned by Wal-Mart since 1999.

Japan: CP decries U.S.-Japan military alliance

At last month’s 25th anniversary gathering of the National Association for a Peaceful, Democratic and Progressive Japan, Japanese Communist Party Chair Shii Kazuo said Japan has agreed to back U.S. pre-emptive attacks any place in the world, integrate its forces with the U.S. military, and accept new and larger bases in Japan and Okinawa. However, Shii said he is encouraged by the recent formation of some 5,000 “Article Nine Associations,” supporting anti-militarist provisions of the Japanese Constitution.

At a June 15 press conference, Shii voiced strong opposition to the planned deployment of a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the U.S. Yokosuka Naval Base. That same day, however, the Japanese government said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington would be based at Yokosuka as of June 2008. Japanese Communist Party representatives, appearing before military administrative officials June 15, demanded that the government reverse its agreement with U.S. base realignment plans. An official responded that although the government recognizes “the firm local opposition,” it would stand firm.

Nepal: U.S. threatens aid cutoff

The Bush administration warned last week that it would cut off millions of dollars in annual aid to Nepal if Maoist rebels join the country’s proposed interim government without first giving up their weapons.

The threat was made by U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty, who spoke after a meeting with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, according to the UK newspaper Morning Star.

The U.S. provides Nepal with $45 million a year in aid for development, education and health services.

In the wake of protests for democracy and against the monarchy, parties across the political spectrum negotiated a peace with Maoist rebels, bringing them into the political process.

Maoist leader Prachanda attacked Moriarty’s remarks, saying: “I am not surprised with the comments by the ambassador to Nepal, because he does not want peace in Nepal. He seems very unhappy and restless over the political development and is trying to dismantle the harmony that is about to develop among the political parties.”

Nepal’s Parliament has stripped the once all-powerful King Gyanendra of virtually all of his powers.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney ( Marilyn Bechtel contributed.