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NEW ZEALAND



Published: Mon, January 10, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



NEW ZEALAND

The New Zealand Herald, Jan. 5: It is easy to criticise the tourists at Phuket and other Indian Ocean resorts who went back to the beach a few days after the tsunami and lay in the sun within sight of the devastation. Did they not know that the dead were still being discovered among the debris and the survivors still sifting through the ruins of their lives? What possesses people that they can lie back and sun themselves instead of lending a hand? If they cannot make themselves useful, at least they could have the sensitivity to stay away, couldn't they?

Those who ask these questions are themselves a comfortable distance from the disaster. The same sentiments are not being heard from residents of the damaged resorts or their governments. Quite the contrary, the Thai authorities, for example, are anxious to ensure that tourists are not discouraged from returning wherever it is practicable.

Respectful distance

It is not uncommon for sensitive people to maintain a respectful distance from death for much longer than the bereaved would wish. That is true of personal grief and it is probably true of communities, too. Phuket, Sri Lanka and the other places are probably relieved to see signs of tourism returning. It is the tourists who probably feel more awkward about it, particularly if they come from wealthy Western countries where some of their compatriots think it wrong, at the best of times, to take holidays in the Third World.

Resorts swamped by the tsunamis need aid right now but not for too long. They have the spirit of enterprise and they need customers more than compassion. For them, leisure-seekers must return. Life must go on.

BRITAIN

The Guardian, London, Jan. 5: Kofi Annan may not have intended to echo the Queen when he said that 2004 had been an "annus horribilis." But the U.N. secretary-general has certainly been facing problems on a royal scale. He has now signalled a new start with the appointment of Mark Malloch Brown, a highly regarded British official, as his chief of staff. But the difficulties have not gone away. With the Asian tsunami disaster requiring the full and urgent attention of the world body, and its many critics sensing weakness, he cannot afford any more damaging distractions.

Annan was hailed as an experienced U.N. insider when he took over from Boutros Boutros-Ghali seven years ago, despite a patchy record as head of peacekeeping during the Bosnian and Rwandan crises. But in recent months the U.N. has faced damaging allegations of corruption in the Iraqi food-for-oil program (though this was largely the responsibility of the member states) -- worsened by the fact that Annan's son, Kojo, took payments from a firm involved. Then came staff complaints of sexual harassment and a prostitution scandal involving U.N. personnel in the Congo.

Too reverential?

Supporters of the U.N., like this newspaper, are often accused of being too reverential. That is to misrepresent the reality of an organisation that can only be as good as its members. The U.N. is far from perfect, but the only world body we have, still dominated by the victors of the Second World War, and needs reform, not marginalisation. Last month a blue chip panel recommended ways it could better meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, has some good ideas about improving poor aid delivery. Annan has begun what may be a wider shake-up at the top. He will be in Indonesia tomorrow at the tsunami donors conference. The world looks to him to take a confident lead commensurate with the noble ideals the U.N. embodies.

ISRAEL

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 5: On Monday, during the scuffle over the demolition of an illegal outpost near Yitzhar, a soldier felt the need to fire shots in the air when a settler tried to take away his rifle. An off-duty soldier who lives in Yitzhar joined the resisting settlers and was arrested.

Stones were thrown at soldiers, military vehicles were vandalized, and soldiers were called "Nazis." The writing is on the wall. But what does it say, and in whose interest is it to put it there?

Muddy fracas

The settlers involved in this muddy fracas are among the most radical, and they probably do not reflect the mindset of most residents of communities slated to be dismantled. But their behavior was clearly meant as both a signal and a call to arms. And the fact that it was meant to scare us does not mean that it shouldn't, even though the government must remain undeterred by violent intimidation.

Our democracy is facing a supreme test. We can see as well as anyone the tortuous and, in some sense, troubling path by which the disengagement plan has reached its current stage, but it cannot be argued that decisions approved by the cabinet and the Knesset are illegal.

The irony is that, as the prospect of violent resistance grows, the settler leaders and the radicals they won't stand up to are driving all of us, the people of Israel, into a corner. They are forcing a choice between anarchy and democracy. And they are drowning out legitimate questions about disengagement, such as Dichter's warning this week that Samaria could become like Gaza in the wake of a withdrawal.

Even if democracy ultimately wins out, the result of such a terrible choice could be that we will all lose.

SOUTH AFRICA

The Star, Johannesburg, Jan. 4: The comprehensive peace deal signed on Friday by the Sudanese government and its old rebel enemy, the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), is very encouraging. The war between them has dragged on for decades, claiming at least two million lives.

Peace deals have been signed before and not implemented, so unmitigated celebration would be premature. But observers say the old foes have forged real mutual trust in their years of negotiations, held in Kenya, so there is a much greater chance that this pact will stick

Darfur

Unfortunately, the deal does not include the western area of Darfur, where vicious fighting between Khartoum and the local people, led by two rebel groups, has broken out -- in many ways reflecting the war between Khartoum and southern Sudan.

It is hoped that the deal with southern Sudan will inspire similar success in the negotiations which the African Union is trying to conduct between Khartoum and the Darfur rebels.

Yet, so far, the southern Sudan negotiations have had, if anything, the opposite effect, inspiring the people of Darfur to rebel against the central government to force it to give them a better deal too.

But it is too late now for Khartoum to put that genie back in that bottle.




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