World Watch

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The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia imposed the longest prison term in its history, sentencing a Bosnian Serb who called himself Adolf to 40 years. Goran Jelisic, who ran the notorious Luka prison camp in the northeast Bosnian town of Brcko, admitted torturing and killing 13 Croats and Bosnian Muslims in 1992, although the actual number of his victims may be much higher. Jelisic was convicted in October on 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but acquitted of the more serious charge of genocide. In denouncing Jelisic, who likened himself to Hitler, the court said his crimes were "repugnant, bestial and sadistic" and "shook the conscience of mankind." In Munich, meanwhile, a Bosnian Serb refugee was sentenced to life in prison under German law after being convicted of genocide and murder in the 1992 deaths of six Bosnian Muslims. Djurdard Kusljic, who was acting police chief of the Bosnian town of Vrbanjci at the start of the war, was found to have acted out of conviction in pursuing ethnic cleansing policies.

After months of negotiations, German and U.S. representatives reached agreement with German industry to compensate surviving slave and forced laborers from the Nazi era. A new fund totaling nearly $5.2 billion is to be established to pay reparations to an estimated 250,000 slave laborers, recruited from concentration camps, and 600,000 forced laborers, deported from eastern and central European countries to work in German factories. About 10 million people were made to work against their will for the Nazis. The number of survivors declines each year.

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu fired Prime Minister Radu Vasile, accusing him of incompetence and failing to implement economic reforms. Constantinescu then appointed the respected head of Romania's central bank, Mugur Isarescu, as Prime Minister. Isarescu has until Dec. 20 to form a cabinet and submit an economic plan. The crisis continued, however, as the main opposition group, the Party of Social Democracy, declared it would boycott parliamentary sessions to protest what it views as a breach of presidential authority.

Between 100 and 115 Russian soldiers were killed in Chechnya during a rash and unexplained foray into the center of Grozny by a Russian armored group. Associated Press and Reuters correspondents in the city personally counted bodies and described the destruction of seven Russian tanks and eight armored vehicles near the center of the besieged Chechen capital. Russian officials dismissed the reports as "disinformation" and a calculated plan by Western intelligence agencies to discredit the Russian government on the eve of parliamentary elections. Following the raid, Russian warplanes again attacked the city, which is believed to still harbor about 45,000 civilians, in an attempt to wipe out Chechen guerrillas.

Sudan's President, Lt. General Omar al-Bashir, dissolved the National Assembly and declared a state of emergency in a long-running power struggle with his former mentor, the parliamentary leader Hassan al-Turabi. Two captains commanding one ship will cause it to sink, Bashir said. But Turabi, who has been the Islamist government's main ideologue since it came to power in a 1989 military takeover, said the move amounted to another coup and called for opposition to the President's move. Although some government officials resigned in protest--including Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail--Bashir won strong backing from Arab League nations, including Egypt and Libya, and from Sudanese opposition groups. Bashir also has the support of most of the country's military forces. The move comes a week after Sudan and neighboring Uganda signed an agreement promising to halt support to guerrilla groups in each other's countries.

Insisting that its ruling was limited and poses no threat to free speech in Hong Kong, the territory's Court of Final Appeal upheld a ban of desecration of the Chinese and Hong Kong flags. Critics of the ruling asserted that it hurt freedom of expression and set a dangerous precedent. The decision came in the case of two Hong Kong activists convicted for writing "Shame" on a Chinese flag to mark the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing. Earlier this month, the court ruled that 17 people from mainland China had no legal right to remain in Hong Kong--a decision that reflected the views of the Chinese government and quashed the court's ruling last January that any mainlander with at least one Hong Kong parent was entitled to live in the territory. As Portugal returned Macau to China at the weekend, Amnesty International expressed concern that human rights were in jeopardy because constitutional protections under Macau's Basic Law were "riddled with ambiguities."

Japan announced its intention to end its freeze on food aid to North Korea, while U.N. officials said the North Korean economy is showing tentative improvement, with slightly better harvests. Still, according to the U.N. Children's Fund, a generation of children were "damaged for life" by the malnutrition suffered in more than four years of food shortages. A U.N. humanitarian coordinator in North Korea cautioned that without more dramatic gains, the country will remain dependent on international aid well into the future. North Korea is said to be suffering from a 1.3 million ton shortfall in harvests this year, a lack of modern drugs in hospitals and chronic malnutrition. Relations with Japan have thawed in recent months, after Pyongyang promised not to test-fire any more missiles--as long as its dialogue with the U.S. continued.

Twenty-two years after he signed the treaties relinquishing U.S. control of the Panama Canal at the end of this year, former President Jimmy Carter represented the U.S. at a ceremony marking the canal's handover to Panama, hosted by President Mireya Moscoso. The legal transfer of the canal--built at the beginning of the century, in a monumental feat of engineering--is to take place at noon on Dec. 31. Carter and Panama's then leader, General Omar Torrijos, signed agreements in September 1977 providing for the transfer of the canal and all the land surrounding it. All U.S. military personnel also are to leave. Their departure was welcomed by many in Panama, where the U.S. presence has long been controversial.

Despite torrential rains and mudslides that killed at least 200 people, 54% of Venezuelan voters turned out to overwhelmingly support a broad new constitution backed by President Hugo Chávez Frïas. The document, which renames the country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, was approved by over 71% of the vote. Some intellectuals, business people and Catholic clergy criticized the constitution, which grants sweeping new powers to Chávez. It extends the President's term from five to six years, eliminates the Senate, permits more state intervention in the economy, reduces civilian military oversight, maintains the government's oil monopoly and strengthens minority rights.

None of the six candidates in Chile's presidential election won the necessary 50% of the vote to claim victory. As a result, the two front-runners, Ricardo Lagos Escobar of the center-left Concertación coalition, and his right-wing rival, Joaquín Lavín Infante, representing the Alliance for Chile, face a Jan. 16 runoff. In the first round, just over 30,000 votes separated Lagos, with 47.96% support, from Lavín's 47.52%. Candidates from small leftist parties are expected to throw their support behind Concertación, which has governed Chile since 1989, the end of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte's 17-year military regime. The new President will succeed Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle.

An independent report commissioned by U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan declared that the U.N. and its member states critically failed Rwanda in 1994, when an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsi and moderate Hutu people were slaughtered. The U.N., according to the report, ignored evidence of impending genocide and then abandoned Rwandans to their fate once the massacres began. Officials, including Annan--then the head of U.N. peacekeeping operations--and former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, were shown to have been unwilling or unable to act. Acknowledging the U.N.'s failure, Annan expressed "deep remorse." French officials, meanwhile, confirmed the arrest of a Rwandan ex-cabinet minister in connection with the Hutu-led genocide. Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda, a former Education Minister, is to be turned over to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.