Côte d’Ivoire: Peace pact signed

After four days of talks in Pretoria, South Africa, mediated by that country’s president, Thabo Mbeki, Ivorian government officials and rebel forces signed a new peace agreement April 6 to end an armed conflict that dates back to September 2002. The pact calls for disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation of rebels and pro-government militias, and elections next October.

Participating were President Laurent Gbagbo, rebel New Forces leader Guillaume Soro, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara and former President Henri Konan Bedie.

A remaining sticking point is the constitutional requirement that presidential candidates must have at least one Ivorian parent, which would keep Ouattara from running. This question is to be resolved by Mbeki, who promised a quick response.

Côte d’Ivoire, a former French colony, has recently announced the discovery of extensive oilfields. Many accuse France of backing the rebels.

Italy: Far right loses regional elections

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition lost 11 out of 13 regions to a center-left coalition in local elections April 4. Turnout was 71.4 percent among more than 41 million eligible voters. Berlusconi’s own Forza Italia party lost nearly seven percentage points, sinking to 18 percent of the overall vote, while the center-left coalition, which includes the communists, took six regions away from the right and strengthened its majority in the others. A communist won the presidency of the southern region of Puglia.

Despite his coalition’s winning only the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, its traditional strongholds, Berlusconi rejected calls for his resignation.

Iraq: War doubles child malnutrition

The war in Iraq and its aftermath have nearly doubled malnutrition rates among Iraqi children, according to a UN specialist on hunger.

Jean Ziegler, the UN Human Rights Commission’s expert on the right to food, said last month that acute malnutrition among children under 5 rose to 7.7 percent from 4 percent in April 2003. Acute malnutrition means a child is actually wasting away.

Ziegler called the plight of Iraqi children “a result of the war led by coalition forces,” and noted that over one-fourth of the country’s children don’t have enough to eat.

Mexico: U.S., Mexican unionists rally

Over 100 U.S. and Mexican trade unionists rallied March 28 at Grupo Mexico headquarters in Mexico City, demanding that the multinational corporation respect workers and their unions.

Grupo Mexico, with operations also in the U.S. and Peru, is the world’s third largest copper producer.

The rally was organized jointly by Mexico’s Miners and Metalworkers Union and the United Steelworkers of America. Last month, presidents of the two unions met in Phoenix, Ariz., and formally committed to joint actions in disputes with common employers. The unions, with their Peruvian counterpart, have also been working to form a hemisphere-wide coalition of metals and mining industry unions.

Last fall the Steelworkers sent a delegation of workers from Grupo Mexico’s Asarco facility in Arizona to the corporation’s smelter in Nacozari, Mexico, in solidarity with striking miners there. The company is now in talks with USWA and other unions representing some 750 workers at Grupo Mexico operations in Arizona and Texas.

Nepal: Hundreds still detained

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists joined last week in warning that release of some political prisoners does not mean the human rights situation in Nepal has improved.

Though some political prisoners were released April 1, “hundreds remain detained and arrests continue,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “A careful examination of the conduct by the government of Nepal by independent and credible sources in Nepal reveals that the government’s record is getting worse, not better,” he added.

Over 600 rights activists, journalists, lawyers, students and political activists remain in custody for peaceful and legitimate activities since King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency Feb. 1, the organizations said. Among them is Madav Kumar Nepal, head of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), held under house arrest.

The rights organizations said civilians are increasingly targets of vigilante violence by so-called village defense forces, and the country’s National Human Rights Commission has been barred from investigating abuses.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel

(mbechtel@pww.org). Roberta Wood and Susan Webb contributed to this week’s notes.