Random items: Laos, Hamas, the Congo and Yemen

CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON LAOS

This past April, the House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment held a hearing on unexploded ordnance in Laos left from the US bombing campaign there. Between 1964 and 1973, the US “flew 580,000 bombing runs over Laos and dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on the countryside, double the amount dropped on Germany during World War II.” About 300 Laotians are killed or injured from the unexploded remnants of this air war each year. One of the main issues discussed during the hearing was the State Department’s efforts to help Laos clear its lands of these hazards. Subcommittee Chairman Chairman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega expressed concern because the department’s budget request for helping Laos in FY 2011 marks a decrease in funds from FY 2010.

Source: US Congress, House, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Legacies of War: Unexploded Ordnance in Laos (Washington, DC: GPO, 2010).

CRS ON HAMAS

The Congressional Research Service has released a report on the Palestinian militant group Hamas for the purpose of informing US policy makers. The report is notable for occasional expressions of nuance, such as the acknowledgment that “Hamas has confined its militancy to Israel and the Palestinian territories—distinguishing it from the broader aspirations expressed by Al Qaeda and its affiliates.” At one point it entertains the idea of limited engagement with Hamas using the US experience in Iraq’s Sunni Awakening as a model. The report also notes that legislatively imposed blanket ban on aid to Hamas in all forms–even to a Palestinian Authority with Hamas ministers–“could limit the Administration’s ability to offer incentives even if regional conditions present possible advantages to doing so.” The conclusion, while somewhat mealy-mouthed, leaves the average reader with the sense that the current hard-line US-Israeli policy toward Hamas is untenable and counter-productive.

Source: Jim Zanotti, Hamas: Background and Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2010).

UN REPORT ON THE DRC

A new report from a UN panel set up to investigate matters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has found that the national army (FARDC), has been penetrated by “criminal networks” which exploit natural resources. The presence of these networks has encouraged “pervasive insubordination, competing chains of command, failure to actively pursue armed groups, amounting in certain cases to collusion, and neglect of civilian protection.” It also focuses on the trade of gold from the eastern region of the DRC, which it declares is tainted by “pervasive secrecy.” The panel estimates that the North and South Kivu provinces produce over 300 kilos of gold every month allowing exporters generate $160 million per year in net revenues. The report singles out the United Arab Emirates for criticism, claiming that authorities there require only minimal documentation for gold shipments and absolutely no details on the origins or final destinations of the gold.

Source: UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Final Report (2010), Doc. ID: S/2010/596.

HRW ON YEMEN

Human Rights Watch is calling on the US to investigate the possibility that the aid it gives to Yemen to combat anti-US terror groups is being diverted to fight Houthi rebels in its northern region. The human rights group also points to State Department cables disclosed by WikiLeaks confirming a US missile strike on the southern Abyan province in December 2009. Even Saudi Arabia is criticized for an air strike it launched the same month that killed 70 civilians in the northern Sa’da governorate. The report gives extensive details on alleged violations of the laws of war by Yemen in its fight against the Houthi rebels. The violations include indiscriminate shelling and bombardment of civilian areas and the use of child soldiers.

Source: Human Rights Watch, “US: Investigate counterterrorism assistance to Yemen,” Press release (11 Dec. 2010). Christoph Wilcke and Gerry Simpson, All Quiet on the Northern Front? (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2010).

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