Congo: Militiamen disarm

Nearly 12,000 former combatants have disarmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as the number of former fighters joining disarmament programs has almost doubled in the last few weeks, the UN News Service reported. Among them were some 3,600 children.

The UN Organization Mission in the DRC has been able to go into previously inaccessible areas and build roads and distribute medicines to the population, UN spokesman Francois Dureau told journalists at the UN’s headquarters in New York.

Under the transitional constitution, elections were to have been held next month. But the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) said preparations were delayed pending approval of the new constitution and electoral law.

DPKO official Margaret Cary said the DRC’s 24 million people are scattered over a country the size of Western Europe, but “without roads.” She said voter education is continuing, and voter registration will start in June.

Armed groups still operate in Ituri and the Kivus, she said, but thousands of foreign fighters and their families have voluntarily returned home.

Haiti: Call to free all political prisoners

Several thousand supporters of Fanmi Lavalas, the party of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, demonstrated in Port-au-Prince May 4 to demand the release of political prisoners and protest their poor living conditions, the Haitian news agency AHP said.

Marching from the working-class Bel-Air district, the demonstrators demanded the release of all imprisoned Lavalas leaders and activists, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, reported in serious condition after 17 days on hunger strike. The marchers also called for an end to the U.S.- and French-backed interim government headed by Gerard Latortue, and protested the murder of five Lavalas activists killed during a peaceful demonstration April 27.

Shortly after the marchers presented a message at the United Nations office, police parked at a nearby gas station threatened the crowd, brandishing their weapons. The demonstrators called in dozens of UN soldiers, who forced the police to retreat and hide their arms.

Sweden: Unions demand tax hikes

The Swedish trade union organization LO is urging the government to raise the level of the VAT (value added tax) on food and culture to finance increased benefits.

Writing in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, LO economists Dan Andersson and Asa-Pia Jarliden Bergstrom also called for ending tax breaks on private pension savings.

“Our position on tax increases is that they should be as small as possible,” said Anderssen and Bergstrom. “However, when people demand better care for the elderly and more day care staff, then it should also be possible to finance this completely and raise taxes.”

Puerto Rico: Students win strike

Students at the University of Puerto Rico’s main campus in Rio Piedras signed an agreement with university administrators April 30, ending a three-week strike over a 33 percent tuition increase, Nicaragua Network’s Weekly News Update said.

Under the agreement, the tuition hike will be postponed while a committee reviews the university’s finances and seeks another solution to a deficit estimated to be nearly $24 million for the coming fiscal year.

The committee will include representatives of the administration, student councils from each of the university’s 11 campuses, the University Committee against the Increase, and the associations of professors and non-teaching employees.

If no alternative is found, the increase may still take effect next year.

The university serves some 60,000 undergraduates and 7,500 graduate students.

Ceylon: Unions protest privatization

Oil workers at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation held a lunch-hour picket May 4 to protest the government’s plans to sell part of the state-run company in order to raise $88 million to restructure the money-losing firm, TamilNet reported last week. The Joint Trade Unions Federation demanded the government make a public statement on the issue of privatization before the end of May.

Several unions have warned that the government will collapse if it continues to privatize state institutions and services.

On the same day, the 14,000-member Trade Union Collective held a four-hour strike to protest government restructuring of the Ceylon Electricity Board, disrupting power in Colombo and several other areas in the south. The government was reported ready to proceed with restructuring despite objections from the unions and others.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (