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The Beslan Atrocity
– extending sympathy and deploring terrorism. Speaking in Parliament on behalf of the Green Party on September 7 Keith Locke said that
”The Green Party totally condemns the unspeakable atrocity that has taken place. No political goal can justify sacrificing the lives of hundreds of innocent people, mainly children.
We must help the world community and Russia to track down all of those responsible for this outrageous terrorist act and bring them to justice.
We also have a duty to address the dire situation in Chechnya itself and the ongoing war there where atrocities are committed on both sides with almost total impunity, as Amnesty International points out, which provides a breeding ground for terrorists. We have to support the international agencies like the United Nations Human Rights Committee in ending such practices.
However, on this day or hearts must go first and foremost to the Russian people and in particular the families of those who have died in Beslan in their days of anguish.”
Who Watches the Watchers?
On September 1 Keith revealed that the high-powered Parliamentary committee charged with monitoring the country’s intelligence services has met for a total of just three and a half hours over the past two years.
In response to a written parliamentary question, the Prime Minister admitted that the Intelligence and Security Committee had only met five times since the July 27, 2002 election. The meetings lasted a total of 211 minutes, with the longest being for 49 minutes.
“A parliamentary select committee meets together for longer each week than this committee has in two years,” said Keith, Green spokesperson on Security and Intelligence. “The very people who are entrusted with ‘watching the watchers’ actually spend less than two minutes a week, on average, doing their job.
“How can committee members keep a proper oversight on the activities of our spies and ‘analysts’ when meetings aren’t long enough to receive a proper briefing from security chiefs?
“The New Zealand intelligence communities naïve trust in US security assessments could easily have led us into the war against Iraq.
“On December 4, 2002 our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a paper saying ‘It is a fair assumption from the evidence that Iraq has a chemical and biological weapons capacity today’ and that ‘Iraq does represent a growing threat to international peace and security’.
“Only the mass opposition of the New Zealand people kept us out of America’s illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq. It certainly wasn’t because the Intelligence and Security Committee analysed the ‘evidence’ and asked the hard questions.
“The time has come to review the committee’s composition, powers and role,” said Mr Locke. “Its make-up isn’t representative of parliament, it clearly does not meet often enough and it doesn’t have access to operational material.”
Behind the Tragedy at Beslan
. The following commentary from Igor Torbakov (posted September 7, 2004 at
) puts the Beslan tragedy into a wider context of conflict within the former Soviet states and their diverse peoples.
(Igor Torbakov is a freelance journalist and researcher who specialises in CIS political affairs. He holds an MA in History from Moscow State University and a PhD from the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. He was Research Scholar at the Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 1988-1997; a Visiting Scholar at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC, 1995, and a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University, New York, 2000. He is now based in Istanbul, Turkey.)
”Beslan Tragedy has Potential to Fan Conflict Across the Caucasus
The Beslan hostage tragedy has the potential to spark upheaval across the Caucasus, political analysts in Moscow are saying. Some influential commentators warn the Kremlin must alter its security approach toward the region. However, President Vladimir Putin appears intent on tightening Russia’s security apparatus, rather than re-examining existing policies.
The death toll from the hostage crisis in North Ossetian town of Beslan exceeds 350. Beyond that, facts related to the three-day ordeal remain sketchy. Russian authorities said initially there were about 350 hostages, when it turned out that there were over 1,000 held in the Beslan school. Later, Russian officials claimed that 10 of the hostage-takers killed on September 3 were “Arabs.” Yet, evidence to substantiate the claim has not been produced. There has also been conflicting statements about the number and the fate of the hostage-takers. At first, there were reports that some of the militants might have escaped. For a brief interval, Russian authorities insisted all the militants had died during the frenzied final hours of the hostage drama. But on September 5 a man purported to be a hostage taker was paraded on Russian television.
Confronted with what is by any measure a glaring failure of the Kremlin’s efforts to stabilize the Caucasus – a region that has been a cauldron of ethnic and political discontent going back to the late 1980s – Putin has resorted to blaming the policy implementers, and not the policy itself, for the breakdown. “We have to admit we showed no understanding of the danger of the processes occurring in our country and the world at large,” Putin said in a televised address September 4. “We failed to react appropriately to them and, instead, displayed weakness. And the weak are beaten.”
Putin in his televised address showed no inclination to explore the nuances that are driving the violence in the Caucasus, specifically the origins and the dynamic of the Chechen conflict, which, under Moscow’s mismanagement, has become infused with a volatile radical Islamic element that encourages the use of terrorist tactics. Instead, Putin ordered Russian security agencies to build “a new system of forces and means for exercising control over the situation in the North Caucasus.”
In an interview published September 7 by the British newspaper The Guardian, Putin ruled out a public inquiry into the Beslan crisis, adding that the government would not engage in talks with “child killers.” While ruling out a public report, Putin said that an internal Kremlin investigation would be carried out so that he could “establish the chronicle of events and find out who is responsible and might be punished.”
Political analysts have long warned about the spread of instability from war-torn Chechnya to other areas of Russia’s North Caucasus region. A recent string of terrorist acts – starting with a June raid in Ingushetia and stretching to the Beslan tragedy — underscores the fact that the Kremlin has failed to contain the Chechen conflict, some regional experts say.
Not only is the North Caucasus combustible, Russia is simultaneously confronting a political dilemma in the South Caucasus, namely in Georgia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is striving to re-establish Tbilisi’s authority over the break-away regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow has long acted as the de facto protector of the two regions’ separatist ambitions. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
“Russia is actually facing a whole range of multi-vector threats coming from the Caucasus Range,” the Izvestia daily noted in a recent commentary.
Russian security experts warn the Beslan attack, and the Kremlin’s reaction to the tragedy, can ignite instability all across Russia’s southern flank. Already, South Ossetia has teetered in recent weeks on the brink of renewed conflict. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Now, North Ossetia has the potential to turn into a “Russian Bosnia,” some analysts say, a reference to the Balkan state that disintegrated amid ethnic warfare in the mid 1990s.
Two types of conflicts can erupt at any moment: an ethnic and religious conflict between Christian Ossetians and Muslim Ingush; and an ethno-territorial struggle between Georgians and Ossetians. Analysts are most concerned about the danger of the hostage tragedy provoking a fresh Ossetian-Ingush clash. The two nations have coexisted uneasily for decades.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ossetians and Ingush fought a brief, bloody conflict over disputed land in the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia. Those clashes resulted in an estimated 600 deaths, and the expulsion of almost all of the approximately 35,000 Ingush then living in the area. In recent years, about 15,000 Ingush returned to the Prigorodny district, their presence warily tolerated by Ossetians.
Unconfirmed reports that some of the Beslan hostage takers were Ingush holds the potential to shatter the precarious peace between the two nationalities. North Ossetians are convinced that the Ingush constituted the bulk of the attackers, a North Ossetian government official told the Russky Kuryer newspaper. “Basically no one in the republic is talking about the Chechens,” the newspaper quoted the official as saying. According to Sergei Arutyunov, the head of the Caucasus Department at the Moscow-based Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, “the conflict in the Prigorodny region could resume and this could lead to a huge amount of bloodshed.”
The Beslan tragedy is also stoking antagonism between Russia and Georgia. The two countries have traded rancorous rhetorical volleys on the South Ossetia issue for much of the summer. Now, Russia and Georgia are sparring over the detention of two Georgian journalists, who were seized as they were trying to cover the fallout from the Beslan events.
Georgia’s Foreign Ministry has described Russia’s detention of the Georgian news crew as “outrageous.” Russian authorities claim the two Georgian journalists entered Russia improperly. On September 6, a Russian court ordered the two Georgians to remain in custody. A statement issued by Georgian MPs September 7 cautioned that “If the Russian political elite does not pay attention to this issue, we will consider that Russia is politically persecuting the Georgian journalists,” the Civil Georgia web site reported.
While there is a consensus in Russia’s policy-making community that the dual tension in North and South Ossetia presents a grave threat to Russia’s security, experts disagree on how Moscow should handle developments. Some hawkish political analysts are urging Russia to get tough with Georgia. One Kremlin-connected observer, Gleb Pavlovsky, who heads the Effective Policy Foundation, told the Russky Zhurnal website; those who planned a terrorist act in Beslan wouldn’t have chosen North Ossetia as a target if Saakashvili hadn’t “unfrozen the Ossetian issue.”
In sharp contrast, a significant number of experts are urging the Kremlin to seek an accommodation with Tbilisi on the South Ossetia issue. The conflict-fraught situation in North Ossetia, Arutyunov told the Vremya Novostei daily, should prompt Russia to press for a rapid settlement of the South Ossetia issue. The end result of this process, Arutyunov contends, should be full-fledged and internationally guaranteed autonomy of South Ossetia within Georgia. For Moscow, he continues, Tbilisi’s friendship and assistance are absolutely necessary to contain the potential for violence in the North Caucasus.
Liberal-minded regional specialists say urgent changes are needed in the Kremlin’s Caucasus strategy, warning the consequences of maintaining Russia’s current policies could prove “catastrophic.” The mere revamping and strengthening of security forces, as Putin demands, will not help Russia meet the challenges it faces in its southern underbelly, they say. “If there are no [policy] changes, Russia will be drawn into the endless war with terrorists and will suffer one defeat after the other,” the liberal Russian lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov argues in a commentary published in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily. ”
Other useful reports and comments on the events at Bresland and their wider significance can be found at
Al Qaeda among the Chechens
As Russians bury their dead, officials look at terrorist links to Chechen rebels
Three Years Later: Peaceful Tomorrows 9/11/04 Statement
Nearly three years ago, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows was born out of a shared belief that America’s military response to the 9/11 attacks which took our loved ones’ lives would result in the deaths of countless innocent civilians and increase recruitment for terrorist causes, making the United States, and the world, less safe and less free for generations to come.
Today, as we commemorate September 11, 2004, we find that our worst fears have been realized. The terrorism of September 11th has been neither neutralized, nor ended, by the terrorism of war.
Since our bombing and military action in Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of more than 130 American troops and an estimated 4,000 civilians – and compounded by our failure to rebuild that broken nation–we have seen the return of Taliban warlords, the departure of relief agencies, and the continuing deaths of American service people and innocent civilians. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has acknowledged that he is seeking the support of former Taliban officials in an effort to stabilize the political process. Osama bin Laden remains at large, and al-Qaeda remains a potent terrorist force, as evidenced by the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, Spain.
Our illegal, immoral and unjustified invasion of Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks, has cost the lives of 1,000 American troops and an estimated 12,000 Iraqi civilians, while leaving tens of thousands of others physically and emotionally traumatized. Today, our continuing occupation, our failure to provide basic services like electricity and water, and our torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib has turned Iraq into a focus of anti-American sentiment where a new generation of terrorists is being recruited from around the world.
In Guantanamo, approximately 600 detainees from 40 countries remain incarcerated without charge and without access to lawyers. Those who have been returned to their home countries attest to conditions that violate the Geneva Conventions and our own democratic principles. In America, the USA Patriot Act gives government free reign to surveil law-abiding citizens. Restrictions on peaceful protest mock our Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly. Meanwhile, bias crimes and discrimination continue to cast a shadow over our nation.
That all of this has been done in the names of our loved ones who died on September 11th makes the suffering of their innocent counterparts around the world even harder to take. When actions that are making the world less secure are carried out in the name of US security, we must reconsider the true sources of the security, freedom, and respect we once commanded around the globe.
Is the source of our security and freedom the exercise of overwhelming military power? Have we found security and freedom by dividing the world into “us and them,” and labeling entire nations “evil”? Three years ago, the French declared, “We are all Americans,” and Iranians held spontaneous candlelight vigils for our dead. Today, American prestige is at an all-time low. Friend and foe alike tremble at the sense of exceptionalism that drives America to conduct pre-emptive war.
And what example have we set by our use of violence as a tool for addressing complex grievances? In the past week, heartbreaking pictures of children abducted and killed in Russia remind us that terrorism against civilian populations, which did not begin on September 11th, has not abated as a result of our actions since then. In Iraq, abductions of more than 40 civilians from nations including Japan, Jordan, Italy, China, Ukraine, South Korea, Egypt, Nepal, India, Kenya, the Philippines, Bulgaria and our own have escalated the level of human suffering.
On September 11th, 2002, we urged America to participate fully in the global community, by honoring international treaties, endorsing and participating in the International Criminal Court, following the United Nations charter, and agreeing in word and action to the precepts of international law. Today, we redouble our call for America to return to full membership in the community of nations.
We call for an end to war as our nation’s one blunt instrument of foreign policy in our increasingly complex world. We recognize that our freedoms and security derive not from politicians or the Pentagon, but from our Constitution, and call on all Americans to rise in its defense against the triple threats of fear, lies and ignorance.
Finally, we draw hope from those around the globe whose historical experiences of terrorism and war have brought them not to a place of vengeance, but to a commitment to creating a peaceful world. They include victims of the violence in Israel and Palestine; families of victims of the Bali nightclub bombing; family members of those killed in Oklahoma City; atomic bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki; those who survived the bombing of Guernica, Spain and Dresden, Germany; those affected by terrorism in Kenya; Cambodia; Chechnya; South Africa; Northern Ireland; Bosnia; Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Through their witness and their efforts towards reconciliation, they have demonstrated that peace begins in the heart of every individual, and that people united have an unparalleled power to change the world.
Every day, we choose to create the world we want to live in, through our words and through our actions. Today, we reach out to others around the world who recognize that war is not the answer. Today, three years after September 11th, we continue to choose peace.
JustPeace was produced by Christine Dann, Tim Hannah and Keith Locke, MP
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