Australia: Protest U.S.-Australian military exercise

Peace, anti-nuclear, environment and anti-military campaigners from around Australia gathered June 10-12 for a Peace Convergence near the site of many of the exercises in joint U.S.-Australian military exercises involving 30,000 military participants and using live ammunition.

Peace events were also planned for other Australian cities and for Vieques, Puerto Rico, until 2003 the site for U.S. Naval bomb testing.

The exercise, “Talisman Sabre,” involves some highly environmentally sensitive areas.

The Guardian, newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia, said the June 10-30 joint maneuvers mark a new stage in joint action of the two countries’ military forces.

Besides the prospect of more such joint exercises, Australia is involved in the U.S. missile defense program through the Pentagon’s base at Pine Gap. The country is also hosting a new U.S. tank base, the U.S. Navy’s Sea Swap program, and three new U.S. training bases.

Colombia: Urge review of immunity pact

In a May 20 letter to President Uribe, Colombia’s Inspector General Edgardo Maya said the 1974 diplomatic treaty shielding U.S. soldiers from local prosecution violates Colombia’s constitution and should be reviewed, the Christian Science Monitor reported last week.

U.S. Ambassador William Wood insists U.S. troops committing misdeeds in Colombia will be tried in U.S. courts, and has said there will be no change to the treaty. But a group of Colombian senators points out the double standard under which 200 Colombians have been extradited to the U.S. during Uribe’s presidency. They seek to have Wood testify before Colombia’s Congress. “The minimum that we want is for them to inform us about how the investigations are going in the United States,” said Sen. Jimmy Chamorro.

Under the $3 billion Plan Colombia program, Washington can send up to 800 military personnel and 600 civilian contractors there at any one time.

Uganda: President backs multiparty system

Ugandan President Yoweri Musaveni said last week he will campaign for the country’s return to multiparty politics in a July 28 referendum, the UN’s IRIN news agency said.

“We cannot continue to deny people their right to belong where they want to belong,” Musaveni said.

In the referendum Ugandans will vote on whether the country should return to multiparty politics, banned since Musaveni came to power in 1986, or keep the current system where the ruling National Resistance Movement is the only recognized political group.

Major opposition parties have threatened to boycott the referendum, saying the government slated the referendum expecting voters would reject the proposal. But Musaveni told parliament that introducing multiparty democracy would counter allegations his government is violating people’s right to associate.

S. Korea: Gov’t rejects migrant worker union

The South Korean government said June 5 it will not recognize the “Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union” initiated by migrant workers in Korea last April to protect their rights, according to the Korean International Labor Foundation.

The independent union of 90 migrant workers from Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines and Indonesia, who work in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, is the first of its kind in the country.

The Labor Ministry said it rejected the MTU’s application because two out of three executive board members are classified as illegal employees under current labor laws. Officials said only foreigners working legally in Korea are entitled to the same labor rights as other Korean workers. Many MTU members have overstayed their Korean visas.

The MTU, which accuses the government of suppressing migrant worker rights, planned to follow up with a rally to demand recognition.

S. Africa: Steel talks deadlock

Last week’s wage talks between South Africa’s National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) and Steel Engineering Industry Federation (SEIFSA) continue to be deadlocked, the union said.

Calling the employers’ wage offer of 4.3 percent “disgraceful,” NUMSA reiterated its demand for a 12 percent hike for lower paid workers and 11 percent for those in higher pay grades. The union also wants wage parameters set at 6 percent to 10 percent for the second year, and a two-year wage agreement in the engineering and motor sectors.

NUMSA now plans to join a June 27 protest action initiated by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and will hold lunch-hour protests in all steel and engineering companies.

Though more negotiations were expected June 14, NUMSA spokesperson Dumisa Ntuli said, “We are not optimistic that the future wage talks will deliver the desired results. The wage talks have drawn definite distinctions between the parties.”

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (