News in brief

Lizard blockade

Plans to erect two mock Afghan villages in northwest Germany have been placed on hold after a court ruled that tests were necessary to assess the potential impact on (among other things) a rare sand lizard and a blue-winged grasshopper. Senior army commanders are apparently furious, as this could severely hamper training plans for 5,000 British troops.

Peace is popular

65% of people in Britain think that diplomacy should be used to solve the current Falklands oil dispute, according to an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll published on 5 March. Only 20% of Britons approved of the use of “any means necessary, including military force” to continue with the planned oil exploration.
Meanwhile, a similar proportion of people want the removal of British armed forces from Afghanistan by end the of 2010, according to a ComRes poll for the BBC’s Newsnight programme. 63% agreed that whoever formed the next government should implement this policy, only 33% of Britons disagreed.

Defence accepted

On 3 March, Hove crown court accepted that the EDO Decommissioners can argue a war crimes defence at their trial. The trial takes place in Brighton on 17 May. The EDO Decommissioners caused over £250,000 damage to the EDO arms factory in Brighton in January 2009 in protest at the war on Gaza, Write to EDO Decommissioner Elijah Smith, still in prison after 15 months: Elijah Smith, A3186AM, HMP Lewes, 1 Brighton Rd, Lewes, Sussex, BN7 1EA.

H&K trials

Five people who blockaded the Heckler & Koch small arms office in Nottingham (see PN 2519) pleaded guilty and were fined between £40 and £195. One activist pleaded not guilty: his trial is at Nottingham magistrates court on 20 May at 9.45am.

Nepal tension

The dire state of the stagnating Nepali peace process provoked a visit from straight-talking UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe.
In Kathmandu on 11 March, Pascoe pointed out that 50% of countries return to war within 10 years of a peace agreement being signed. Pascoe highlighted the question of “the future of the two armies”: the largely-unreformed royalist army, and the 19,600 Maoist guerrillas still living in UN-monitored camps “that were intended to last only a few months”.
Pascoe criticised the fact that there was “no agreed strategy for what to do about this”. “The effective integration and rehabilitation of former combatants is one of the most important factors distinguishing those countries that successfully navigate these transitions to peace,” he said.
“Former combatants need to be afforded a real stake in the economic, political and institutional life of the country.”
Meanwhile, a little-known Hindu fundamentalist group Bhisma Ekata Parishad shut down parts of the far-west as part of their campaign for a Hindu kingdom.
On 22 March, they burned two buses and a motorcycle for travelling during the “bandh” or general strike.
The same day, a visiting leader from India’s Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party, former BJP president Rajnath Singh, said he looked forward to the return of a Hindu state in Nepal.

Rock my world

On 18 March, peace activists Sylvia Boyes and Mary Millington were found guilty of the criminal act of painting words on a rock (near the Faslane nuclear submarine base) on 22 August 2009. The words were: “Scots! Say no to Trident.” The pair were each fined £50.

Joe Glenton gaoled

Joe Glenton, the British soldier who refused to return to fight in Afghanistan on moral grounds, and who has since become an anti-war activist, was jailed for nine months on 5 March, for going absent without leave. He is preparing to appeal.

Please send letters of support to: Joe Glenton, Military Corrective Training Centre, Berechurch Hall Camp, Colchester CO2 9NU.

Western Sahara

Sahrawi human rights activist Aminatou Haidar announced on 10 March that the Moroccan authorities had “violently” crushed peaceful protests in Western Sahara on 8 and 9 March.
Human rights activists Ennaama Asfaria and Sabbar Brahim were among the “many” people who were injured in 9 March protest in Fajla protest. Later in March, a Sahrawi human rights campaigner was beaten by Moroccan police after giving an interview to the BBC.
Rachid Sghir told BBC TV: “We can’t campaign for independence openly. We can’t even raise the Sahrawi flag or talk about the history of the Sahrawi people.”
Elsewhere, German human rights activists fear that a giant Sahara solar power project, which could provide Europe with 15% of its electricity needs, will be located in Western Sahara. Desertec chief Paul von Son has stated that the pilot project would be located in a coastal area of Morocco.
As the coastal regions of Morocco are either heavily-developed or reserved for tourism, this seems to mean Western Sahara, which has been illegally occupied since 1975.

Gandhi's integrity I

At the end of February, the Centre for Consumer Education in Kerala, India, won a high court injunction suspending the sales of a luxury Montblanc pen bearing the image and name of the “father of the nation”, Mohandas Gandhi.
Montblanc apologised unconditionally for the limited-edition £16,000 pen, which had been approved by Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi. He protested: “People are being deprived of the right to commemorate Gandhi and that’s a very un-Gandhian thing to do.”
Tushar Gandhi’s charitable foundation receives a payment for each pen sold.

Gandhi's integrity II

Meanwhile, Colombian pop singer and philanthropist Shakira cited Gandhi as an inspiration on 4 March when she received a medal from the United Nation’s International Labour Organisation for her work to promote social justice and the advancement of children worldwide.
Founder of the children’s charity Barefoot, Shakira declared: “Gandhi used to say ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’, and I’ve followed that maxim.” (Note: Gandhi also managed with very little clothing.)