Thursday, August 03, 2006

She is a war criminal

*** The MoD has been forced to admit the massacre of Africans in Kenya after 50 years of secrecy. At the time, the British military was awarding prizes to soldiers who met targets for murdering increasingly large numbers of Kenyans. The mastermind of this particular war crime described it as a "bloody good show". The MoD have always claimed the victims of the atrocity had been "insurgents" but in fact knew that they were members of the local security force who had signed-up to assist the occupation in order to feed their families.

The same ruthless imperial "divide-and-conquer" strategies, and attitudes, are at work in Iraq and Afghanistan today. ***Kenya's Bloody SummerA file: War Office 32/16103 makes very disturbing reading. It reveals how on the 17th and 18 th of June 1953, soldier's of the British Army's, slaughtered twenty two Hundred Kenyan civilians. They were rounded up, on two separate groups, taken into a forest near the town of Chuka in the central Kenyan highlands and then shot or bayoneted.

The incidents happened during the height of the Mau Mau insurgency. Yet these men, far from being Mau Mau members, were actually members of the British Colonial Home Guard. One of the dead, who were simply left to lie where they fell, was just 12 years-old. The 5 th Battalion of the King's African Rifles were commanded by the now notorious British officer, Major Gerry Griffiths. Griffiths, who was also a Kenyan settler, bore a deep grudge towards the local Kikuyu tribe after blaming one of them for killing his horse. He even went as far as offering rewards for shooting them. He told his men that should they happen to kill a Kikuyu who was employed by the government or a civilian firm, they could always stick a panga knife in his dead hand to make it look like he was a Mau Mau fighter. Griffiths , was finally convicted of murdering two of the Kikuyu guides his men were using to track down Mau Mau insurgents, but neither he, nor any other British soldier has ever been tried or convicted for the slaughter in the woods.

Records held in the Kenyan National Archive in Nairobi show that the British government did compensate the families of the 22 victims in what they described as " blood money ". That was supposed to mark the end of the matter Until now the file that details this story has been kept tightly closed. Half a century later, 11 pages remain secret despite repeated requests under the Freedom of Information Act and continuing protests from the Kenyan government.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Storm in the Horn

It has the makings of a perfect storm extending right across the Horn of Africa. The 15-year war of all against all in Somalia is threatening to morph into an international war bringing chaos and disaster to the rest of the region, and the al-Qaida-obsessed "securocrats" in Washington are the ones to blame.

The Somalis have nobody to blame but themselves for their basic plight. Although Somalia has only one ethnic group, one language and one religion, its people are deeply divided by clan, and when long-ruling dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, the clan leaders were unable to unite and form a new government. Instead, the country fell into civil war and anarchy.

A U.S.-led military intervention in 1992 tried to restore order, but after 18 American soldiers and a thousand Somalis were killed in a single day (the "Black Hawk Down" episode), U.S. forces pulled out. By 1995 all the other United Nations troops had followed, and Somalia was abandoned to its fate as a real-life version of the Mad Max films: no government, no police, no schools, no law, just the trigger-happy troops of rival warlords roaring around in "technicals," pickups mounted with machine guns or anti-aircraft cannon, stealing and killing to their heart's content.
But U.S. interest in Somalia reignited after the terrorist attacks of 2001, because as a Muslim country without a government it seemed a potential haven for Islamist terrorists. At first American policy concentrated on re-creating a national government, and by 2004 a transitional regime blessed by the United Nations and the African Union and led by one of the warlords, Abdulahi Yusuf, was installed in the town of Baidoa. But he was not in the capital, Mogadishu, because the three warlords who ruled that city rejected his authority. So did most other Somalis.
Meanwhile, a different kind of authority was emerging in Mogadishu: the Islamic courts. It was an attempt, paid for by local businessmen, to restore order by using religious law to settle disputes and punish criminals.

Each clan's court has jurisdiction only over its own clan members, but it was a start on rebuilding a law-abiding society, and in 2004 they all joined to form the Union of Islamic Courts. Unfortunately, the mere use of the word "Islamic" spooked the U.S. government.
As usual, Washington's response was mainly military. It decided that the Union of Islamic Courts was a threat, and in February CIA planes delivered large amounts of money and guns to the three warlords who dominated Mogadishu. They named themselves the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, and started trying to suppress the UIC.
Rarely has any CIA plot backfired so comprehensively. Volunteers flooded in from all over southern Somalia to resist the warlords' attack on the only institution that showed any promise of restoring law and order in the country.

By early June the last of the warlords had been driven out of Mogadishu, which is now entirely in the hands of the UIC, and for the first time in 15 years ordinary citizens are safe from robbery, rape and murder.
It is by no means clear that the UIC must fall into the hands of Islamist radicals who will turn Somalia into a safe haven for anti-American terrorists. Left to their own devices, the moderate majority of Somalis can probably ensure that what finally emerges is a moderate Islamic government with strong popular support.But Washington panicked, and last week it let Ethiopia send troops in to protect the isolated "Interim Government" in Baidoa. That probably means renewed war, and across borders this time.Ethiopia has five times as many people as Somalia and has already fought two border wars with it, in 1964 and 1977. (Somalia claims most of Ethiopia's Ogaden region, where the people are mostly Muslim and ethnically Somali.) But now it's more complex:

Ethiopia is a largely Christian country with big and restive Muslim minorities, and President Meles Zenawi is terrified that militant Islamists in power in Somalia might help those minorities to rebel, but this would not be happening without Washington's consent. It is exactly the wrong response.On June 10, Abdulahi Yusuf's unelected "parliament" in Baidoa voted to seek foreign troops. On June 20 the first Ethiopian troops were spotted in Baidoa -- and on the same day Sheik Mukhtar Robow, the UIC's deputy head of security, declared: "God willing, we will remove the Ethiopians in our country and wage a jihad against them."

Just when Somalia was about to escape from its long nightmare, a new and worse one has appeared: the prospect of a war that would consume the entire Horn of Africa (for Eritrea, teetering on the brink of another war with Ethiopia itself, is already sending aid to the UIC). The entire Horn of Africa could spend the next five years going through a catastrophe similar to what the Great Lakes region of Africa suffered in the later 1990s
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