UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today he’s accepted the resignation of the chief of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq, who has angered Washington and its allies. Hans von Sponeck has handed in a letter of resignation. He did not specify when the resignation had been tendered. Von Sponeck, who was appointed to the post in October of 1998, has infuriated the United States and Britain by saying that the UN Security Council should treat Iraq’s humanitarian needs separately from the council’s aim to monitor Baghdad’s disarmament. He has publicly criticized the UN sanctions and the Oil for Food program, which he said did not meet even the most basic needs of Iraq’s 22 million people. Von Sponeck was responsible for administering the more than $10 billion program, which allows Iraq to sell oil and use the revenues for humanitarian goods to ease civilian suffering that’s resulted from the sanctions. The sanctions have resulted in the death of more than a million people. And just today, over at the US mission to the United Nations here in New York, scores of people are planning to be arrested, protesting the sanctions against Iraq, as well as the continued bombing of Iraq.
A cyanide spill that polluted two European rivers will “poison the whole food chain for years to come,” according to a Hungarian environmental official. The head of Hungary’s environmental committee and parliament repeated assertions that the spill that contaminated the Danube and Tisza Rivers represents the biggest environmental catastrophe since Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident. The fact that heavy metals also got into the rivers means an even worse problem than the cyanide, he said in a television interview. The spill originated in northwestern Romania, where a gold mine overflowed January 30th, causing cyanide to pour into streams. A cyanide solution is used to separate gold ore from surrounding rock. The polluted water flowed west into Hungary, then to Yugoslavia, a federation made up of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro. The poison destroyed virtually all aquatic life in the Tisza River before entering the Danube. The Tisza is one of the country’s major rivers.
Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid today suspended his powerful security chief, General Wiranto, and instructed government investigators to determine if he bears any responsibility for the widespread violence in East Timor last year. The move, which Wiranto quickly accepted, is the latest development in a two-week standoff between the two men over whether the security chief should quit the cabinet. The decision means the general will be temporarily relieved of his duties while the probe is underway. Just in the last few weeks, two commissions, both the United Nations report and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, have come out with reports saying that the Indonesian military was responsible for the carnage leading up to and after the independence referendum of August 30th in East Timor.
Britain’s High Court will rule tomorrow whether Home Secretary Jack Straw must disclose a crucial medical report on former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, this according to legal authorities today. Straw has said that on the basis of the medical report, he is “minded” to let the ailing former strongman return home and escape trial. He has refused to disclose its contents after promising Pinochet that the report would be confidential. Belgium and six human rights groups want Straw to disclose the medical evidence that led him to declare that Pinochet is unfit to be extradited to Spain for trial on torture charges.
And this revelation in the New York Times on Sunday — reading from it: “Twenty-six years ago, as the forces of Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the Socialist government of Salvador Allende, two American supporters of President Allende were killed in Chile under circumstances that stirred suspicions of CIA involvement.” At the time, “American officials categorically denied any role in the young men’s deaths, which were dramatized in the 1982 movie Missing. Compelled by the Freedom of Information Act, the government in 1980 released the results of classified internal investigations, heavily censored in black ink, that appeared to clear the American and Chilean governments of any responsibility. But now, those thick black lines have been stripped away. Spurred by the arrest of General Pinochet in 1998, President Clinton has ordered the declassification of ‘all documents that shed light on human rights abuses, terrorism and other acts of political violence during and prior to the Pinochet era in Chile.’ Some of those documents make clear for the first time that the State Department concluded from almost the beginning that the Pinochet government had killed the men, Charles Horman, 31, and Frank Teruggi, 24.” And the investigators speculate “that the Chileans would not have done so without a green light from American intelligence.”