Saturday, April 17, 2004

Jean-David Levitte

"What is at stake now in Iraq is huge," [French ambassador to the US] Jean-David Levitte told students in an address at San Diego State University's Institute on World Affairs. "Because of this, we have to work together, and France is ready to help."

In an interview, Levitte said that once an Iraqi government is elected as planned for June, France will be ready to train and equip Iraqi military police who can help establish and maintain security in the country.

"Security is the main challenge," Levitte said. "There will be no reconstruction without security."

Even so, he reiterated France's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion, saying, "We still consider this war was not necessary."

Levitte said there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to the United States and no evidence linking him to those who attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001, including Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

France does not intend to send its own troops to Iraq, even as part of a United Nations force, Levitte said.

San Diego Union Tribune 4/17/04

News Flash!!

W. actually likes something from France!

Poverty on rise in France

In 1970, 15% of the French population was officially poor. By 2001, this figure had dropped to 6.1%, which represents 3.7 million people, according to Bertrand Fragonard, president of the National Observatory for Poverty and Marginalization (part of the Ministry of Employment and Labor). But recent news has substantially darkened matters. On April 8, the Observatory released its third annual report which indicated that poverty has been on the rise again since 2002.

Poverty is measured as the share of the population with a monthly income at less than 50% of the median (which was €600 in 2001). One indicating factor in its rise was a 1.4% increase in 2002 of those seeking a form of public assistance complementary to income. In 2003, the increase was 4.9%. This is projected to rise yet again this year due to controversial reforms in unemployment insurance. The report also found that, while there were 85% fewer poor among the elderly than was the case 30 years ago, there were 38% more among employee households, including those who recently had work.

The working poor — persons active for at least six months out of the year and having held down a position for at least a year — number a million but their income has risen following increases in the minimum wage, property tax reforms, universal health coverage, the reform of housing subsidies and employment premiums.

According to Fragonard, the High Council for Employment, Income and Costs (CERC) estimates that one million children are cared for by families living under the poverty line. Without public assistance, the number of households living poverty would rise to 13.1% The income of the poorest 10% is comprised of at least 50% public funds. Yet increases in the various forms of public assistance, particularly housing subsidies, are insufficient to keep up with rising prices, according to the Observatory.

The report was completed prior to Jacques Chirac's announcement that the planned reform to shorten the duration of the "solidarity" premium — paid to those whose unemployment insurance has run out — would be suspended.

Taken together with a malfunctioning health system, sluggish economy, disastrous public finances, reduced productivity, a delapidated military, scientific research starved of funding, ghastly prisons, stagnant population growth, and faltering race relations, it seems there are a great many emergent causes for unhappiness in France at the moment.

Friday, April 16, 2004

He went down

file under this category. Le Monde reports:
As a silent march of a hundred people was unfolding on April 13 before the house of detention in Epinal (Vosges), the family of Erhan Celik, an 18 year-old from Metz who committed suicide on April 3 while in solitary confinement inside this prison, announced their intention to seek official redress before the administrative court of Strasbourg.

"It's plain to see that all the alarms were going off in this case and that the boy's life was in danger," says attorney Dominique Boh-Petit, lawyer for the parents of the boy. "Since his incarceration a year ago for petty crimes, Erhan attempted on seven occasions to end his life. Though transfered four times, he only received two days of psychiatric attention."

In a letter sent January 9 2004 to the regional office of the Strasbourg penitentiary administration, Mr. Tahsin Celik, Erhan's father, stated his worries: "I am very worried for my son. Since his incarceration in Metz, then in Nancy, he has repeatedly attempted suicide. We are suffering from constant anguish." On January 13, the Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle) prison director answered, saying that "both medical and correctional services are available in his area." Erhan Celik, who continued his attempts in the interim, was transfered on March 25 from Nancy to Epinal, after a two-week stay in a psychiatric ward. Several days after his arrival in les Vosges, he hung himself from the bars in a solitary confinement cell where he had just been sent for knocking over a guard. "By locking this boy up more than a hundred and fifty kilometers from his family and placing him in solitary confinement, where the likelihood of successfully committing suicide is seven times greater than in normal detention, the penitentiary administration knowingly increased the risk factors," said François Charlier, of the International Prison Observatory (OIP). "This matter typifies what not to do and runs counter to the recommendations of the psychiatrist Jean-Louis Terra, author of a report on suicide in prison." According to OIP, 120 prisoners committed suicide in 2003.
NB: 71 prisoners were executed in the United States last year, according to AI, versus France's 120 suicides (and given that the US has five times the population...) MiF noted this last year, saying that this was "a death penalty that dares not speak its name."

Thursday, April 15, 2004


It is worth remembering that on Chirac's last visit to Algeria in March of last year, the first by any French president since Algerian independence in 1962, he was met by a cheering crowd of somewhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million people (last November, I attended a lecture by Pascal Bruckner at NYU's maison française: he said the people in the crowd were really shouting, "Visa! Visa!").

Commentators largely attributed his newfound popularity to his opposition to American plans to go to war with Saddam. Indeed, the day after Chirac's visit, president Bouteflika told radio station Europe 1 Chirac deserved the Nobel peace prize for his opposition to war. Among Chirac's critics, was the heroic Cynon Valley (Wales) MP Anne Clwyd (who is also chair of Indict). She wrote wrote that Bouteflika "was perhaps persuaded of the merit of the nomination during a meeting he had in September 2002 with Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, the man responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent Iraqis. As the French would say, 'plus ça change.'"

Last October, Sa'ad Zaki, a Cairo date seller who and the main supplier to the city's grocery stores, told the AFP that the "the surprise of this Ramadan will the be the Chirac date," which sold for 20 Egyptian pounds ($3.20) per kilo. (The prophet is believed to have broken his Ramadan fast by eating dates and drinking goat's milk). The Chirac was being sold alongside the worst dates which had the same names as last year: the Sharon (10¢ per kilo) and the Bush (15¢). The Chirac was popular, Zaki said, because "the Arabs feel positions taken by Chirac on Iraq and the Palestinian cause are the most moderate." On Iraq, "France opposed the United States, the world superpower." The second highest quality date was the Yasser Arafat (70¢ to $1.50 per kilo).

This was a glaring illustration of France's politique arabe (or "Arab policy"). France has long sought to protect it's strategic, diplomatic and financial interests by adopting Arab causes and Jacques Chirac has been at the central to this strategy since his first days in national politics. On coming to power in 1981, François Mitterrand was desperate to prevent the withdrawal of Arab deposits from French banks. His repeated promises to end the sale of weapons to Iraq and his support for Israel irritated wealthy Arabs and their heads of state who had largely supported his opponent... Jacques Chirac. As it gathered speed, the capital flight risked devaluing the franc itself and Mitterrand was forced to go back on his campaign pledges.

France's famous beneficence toward Saddam wasn't simply a matter of securing Iraqi petrodollars (though that had a lot to do with it). Nor is France's outspoken, and sometimes scandalous, bias in favor of the Palestinian cause. Rather, both arise out of the strategic desire to court the entire Arab world.

During the Iran-Iraq war, France was way out in front of every other Western nation in its support for Saddam against the Iranian mullahs. In 1982, France made considerable sacrifices in order to lend Saddam five (5) fighter jets (from its own operational stocks!). But it wasn't long before they expected something in return. On page 128 of the investigative history Notre allié Saddam, Claude Angeli and Stéphanie Mesnier write
[Defense minister Charles] Hernu and [prime minister Claude] Cheysson then begin a series of visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait, accompanied by a few colleagues and by François Gutmann, secretary general the ministry of Foreign Affairs. The French are delighted by the improvement in their image among Arab nations. In 1982, three quarters of French weapons exports were sent to Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

"All the Arabs we met were asking us to give Iraq the Super-Etendard," said one of the diplomats present. "Our policy was informed and well thought-out. Besides, by the end of 1983, after the delivery of those five [Mirage fighter] planes, Cheysson went on a triumphal tour of the Gulf. The principal was the following: to cash in on the credit we had earned in the region. It rained contracts."
This policy lives on to this day, as Jonathan's translation below makes clear. From April 21 to 26, Defense minister Michèle Alliot-Marie will be touring the midde-east, visiting the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Jordan.

Since the passage of the ban on the hidjab, France's position in the Arab world has deterioated somewhat.

But I digress: the article Jonathan translates below is revealing, given the current context. Mohamed Benchicou, editor in chief of the Algerian daily Le Matin, and author of Bouteflika: an Algerian fraud, recently said the following during a live chat on
Libre: Isn't Jacques Chirac's trip to Algeria an absolute endorsement of the results of the presidential election? In a wider sense, what is the relationship between president Bouteflika and France?

Mohamed Benchicou
: President Chirac's brutal visit to Algeria has surprised the Algerians and particularly Algerian democrats, who do indeed see a kind of endorsement in this, not only of president Bouteflika, but of the fraud the returned him to office. Algerian republicans hope still hope that president Chirac's trip to Algiers will serve to relay a message to Bouteflika on the respect for his commitment to democracy, pluralism, and freedom of the press, and [to urge him] to avoid the temptation of Stalinist hegemony that returned him 85% of the vote in the first round of voting and the complete annihilation of the opposition. Let's hope that this message will be borne by president Chirac. As for Franco-Algerian relations, it is obvious that, in diplomatic and political terms, they've seen a fantastic rise, because, over the last five years, president Bouteflika has visited France seven times and President Chirac has visited Algeria twice, which is remarkable and which has brought diplomatic relations to a level heretofore unseen. But such good relations have remained strictly diplomatic. Algerians saw nothing of it. They have had no economic or commercial results, no new investments, nor have they seen the return of French companies to Algeria or the lifting of strict requirements for Algerians obtaining visas. There's just been a recrudescence of relations, of state visits and diplomatic ones.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

French 'lobster' alarms US troops

The BBC reports
A newly arrived French commander picked "homard", meaning lobster, as an alias, the newspaper Liberation reports.

He did not realise that it sounds like Omar, the first name of the Mullah who led the Taleban and is now on the run.


they let him go

The French reporter Alexandre Jordanov, taken hostage south of Baghdad on Sunday, has been released.

Anti-Semitism at the lycée Montaigne

The headmaster at one of the trendiest schools on the planet goes nuts:
"Interrogating 11 year-old students in the absence of their parents, including during class and recess times, threatening them with police action in order to obtain confessions, lying to them by promising to withdraw complaints he could not withdraw, are all methods that the members of the committee find unacceptable, especially in the educational setting," scolds the Human Rights League. Fifteen teachers informed the headmaster of their objections, as did [teachers' union] SNES.
Continue reading "Anti-Semitism at the Lycée Montaigne"

Like it is...

Window in Lebanon has been doing some great blogging recently. Take to-day's post on Orientialism: for instance:
Though rather typical of the way France's salon thinkers think, the analysis entitled Saddam, come back! and published in to-day's Libération is curious to say the least. In this pamphlet, which I presume is written for provocation, Barthélémy Courmont, a researcher at IRIS (Foreign and Strategic Relations Institute) explains that, "as was foreseable, the capture of Saddam Hussein has solved nothing. Worse yet, it may have durably worsened the security situation." Further on, he writes more to the glory of the one he calls the Reïs, a western way of demonstrating his knowledge of Arabic (reïs means leader in Arabic):
The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was entirely damnable. Entirely? Not necessarily. The Ba'th party, guarantor of the secularism and unity (albeit by force) a diverse nation, like the many that Western nations have successfully built, progressively made Iraq into a rogue state, but a state nevertheless. The villain was in power but it was possible to contain him when he got too big, particularly over the Kuwait border: our leaders could sleep with an easy conscience. However, the current situation has plunged the region into a chaos for which no response seems fitting.
It's not easy to realize that some do not want to understand anything and learn nothing with time. One the one hand, the Americans have been waging war the same way for centuries and they must now face problems that are unworthy of their military capacity; on the other, the Europeans like their dictators very well because they're reassuring. And because they've taken the time to learn the dictators' names. And the Arabic surnames one uses in salons, before adding, "I've spent two days in Iraq and I can tell you it was foreseable, the capture of Saddam Hussein would solve nothing..."

Massive Scandal on Horizon

Writing in Insight mag, Conservative reporter Kenneth R. Timmerman, author of the screed The French Betrayal of America, claims to have a scoop:
Among the revelations at the April 22 hearings [in Congress], Insight has learned from investigators directly working on the case, will be new details of oil vouchers allegedly granted to Patrick Maugein, a prominent crony of French President Jacques Chirac, said to total 72.2 million barrels.

Maugein's involvement in the U.N.-approved oil deals is significant, investigators say, because he is believed to be a conduit for backdoor payments to Chirac and his family. It was Chirac who spearheaded a worldwide coalition last year that opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and tried desperately to keep Saddam in power.

When the allegations of backdoor payments first surfaced in a Paris courtroom in 1998, Maugein swept them aside as "pure fantasy." And in a statement provided to Insight, he denies having raised funds for Chirac, his family or his political campaigns. But as more evidence begins to leak from the archives of Saddam's former oil ministry, such denials may become harder to sustain.

The vouchers were assigned to two trading companies, identified in the Iraqi documents as Trafigura and Ibex, both of which were involved in the Essex incident. Investigators say they believe both companies are tied to Maugein, either through beneficial ownership or contractual arrangement. Vouchers for an additional 11 million barrels were granted to Maugein business partner Cabecadas Rul de Soussa, according to the original Al-Mada list. The ties between de Soussa and Maugein were first revealed by Therese Raphael of the Wall Street Journal Europe.
Hat tip: Mårten (emphasis added)

Monday, April 12, 2004

Rwanda Revisited II: the Black Box

French troops (right) and Hutu militiamen
"Now that the Tutsi girls are all dead, it's your chance." — RTLM radio advising Hutu women to gussy themselves up for French troops.
Apologies for not getting to this second installment sooner. This is a large and demanding subject so it's tough to find enough free time to put it all together. Also, our friends at blogger had an emotional episode yesterday and I couldn't post.

On Wednesday, I wrote that I would try to put all the latest developments "in one place." I failed miserably, as the length of this followup shows.

Summary of the previous post on this matter:

Following the publication last March of excerpts from the final report of an investigation by the anti-terrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, well-placed witnesses are now openly stating that Rwandan president Kagame (whose racial views they say discounted the humanity of Rwandan Tutsis — who, unlike himself, had remained in the country after 1959), actively sought to provoke the genocide for his own political gain. Furthermore, the report has badly embarrassed Kofi Annan and called into question his competence during his time as head of UN peacekeeping operations (March 1993 - December 1996) — a failure he now regrets — by unearthing the presence at UN headquarters in New York of the cockpit voice recorder that came from former Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana's plane, which was shot down in the hours that preceded the start of the genocide, an act widely viewed as the genocide's precipitating event. The CVR had sat unnoticed for ten years but was "miraculously" discovered within 48 hours of Le Monde's revelations.

Annan has expressed astonishment at the find and claims that he actively participated with Bruguière's investigation though Bruguière's assistants assert that the opposite is true. Furthermore, the report brings to light the fact that both the UN and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda failed to investigate, going even so far in some instances as to take investigators off the case and bury an official report on atrocities committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the leader of which, Paul Kagame, is now president of Rwanda. Annan also refused to testify before a Belgian fact-finding mission and refused to allow General Roméo Dallaire, leader of UNAMIR, to do so either. Annan wrote that UN officials have "immunity from legal process in respect of their official acts."

Kagame has attempted to divert attention from the Bruguière's findings by accusing France of direct and indirect complicity in the genocide. That France bears a very serious share of responsibility for what happened in those months is not in doubt. A fact-finding mission by the French parliament arrived at very damning conclusions and a book on the matter has just been published that essentially corroborates Kagame's accusations.

Nevertheless, this does not alter the significance that Bruguière's findings have in relation to the nature of the man who is now leading the Rwandan government. Rather than a leader seeking to heal his country, the report suggests that its current president actively tried to provoke Africa's greatest ever genocide. It will also color public views of Rwanda's participation in the conflict in neighboring Congo, where local journalists accuse Rwanda of having plundered natural resources to spend the proceeds on the lush redevelopment of Kigali where, among other grand buildings, a five star hotel has been completed that charges prices few Rwandans, many of whom are struggling to eke out a living from farming, could ever afford.

Furthermore, it makes the current Belgian government appear rather novice: in his eagerness to demonstrate Belgium's newfound repentance and virtue, prime minister Verhofstadt may have rushed into a situation the cynical reality of which escaped him. When Le Monde published Bruiguière's findings, Kagame was on official visit to Belgium, meeting with Verhofstadt and King Albert II. Neither of them can have been too pleased to appear at joint press conferences with a guest who faced questions of this nature.

New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch's outraged book We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families also relied heavily on accounts provided by Kagame, making Gourevitch appear somewhat credulous in retrospect.

Last Thursday, Rwandan authorities held ceremonies in Kigali to mark the tenth anniversary of the genocide.

As part of a week long commemoration of the genocide, President Kagame spoke to a crowd of 65,000 inside the Amahoro ("peace" in kinyarwanda) national football stadium. The Belgian government has built a national memorial on a Kigali hilltop where survivors gathered on the 7th to bury 20 coffins holding the remains of hundreds of victims recently excavated from mass graves. Kagame then lit a flame that will burn for 100 days (the duration of the genocide) outside the newly built Kigali National Memorial Center.

The commemorations started with burial ceremony. Survivors draped in violet, the Rwandan color of mourning, sang in memory of the dead while their remains were lowered into the gigantic crypts of the memorial. Sobbing became increasingly audible in the stadium.

In the middle the packed crowd, someone shouted. "It was our neighbors. They killed us! They killed us all!" A woman overcome with emotion attempted to hurl herself down the steps and rows of chairs collapsed. She was removed with some difficulty. Similar dramas broke out in the stadium. "Who among us didn't shudder on hearing the cry that pierced our assembly?" asked African Unity president Alpha Oumar Konaré.

EU representative Brian Cowen, who is Irish minister for Foreign Affairs, was present at the ceremonies as was Belgian prime minister Verhofstadt and his 200 person retinue. "We failed in our most basic duty," said Verhofstadt. "Our duty of intervention and humanity."

Though he had been invited by Rwandan authorities, French undersecretary for foreign affairs Renaud Muselier decided to cut his trip short following president Kagame's accusations of complicity in the genocide.

Rwandan President Kagamé took the opportunity to berate France yet again: "they knowingly trained and armed the soldiers and militias who were to commit a genocide and they knew they were going to commit this genocide," he said. "The French deliberately saved the killers without protecting the victims." Most explosively, Kagamé also claimed that, during a Paris visit two years before the genocide, when his rebel forces were advancing on Rwanda, he was warned that, if his forces didn't stop their advance, "they wouldn't find any more of their own kind when the got to Kigali." The French "have the audacity to stand there without apologizing," he said.

On Thursday morning, French president Chirac observed a moment of silence for the victims. But following Kagamé's remarks at the ceremony, the MFA released the following statement: "Accusations that are both grave and unfounded have been leveled against France. This is why the decision has been made to shorten the Foreign Affairs undersecretary's stay in Kigali."

And fast and furious developments are continuously arising. The Rwandan government is now fixing the number of people killed, and whose names and places of death have been identified, at 937,000.

This month, British author Linda Melvern published a book that contains information from a transcript of the interrogation of former Rwandan prime minister Jean Kambanda, currently serving a life sentence for genocide. The BBC is reporting that a ICTR prosecutor Barbara Mulvaney flew to London to question Melvern about how she obtained the transcript (Melvern declined to reveal this, of course).

The BBC say that Kambanda's testimony "goes into remarkable detail" about how the genocide was organized. Some remarkable detail:
Interrogator: "Did any Tutsi complain to you?
Kambanda: "I did not have any."
"You did not have any. Do you have any information about what happened to the people whose ethnic origin was Tutsi?"
"They killed them."
"They killed them?"
"They killed them."
"It was the norm, wasn't it? They looted the Hutu and killed the Tutsi?"
The genocide was anything but a spontaneous explosion of violence, as many have long assumed, but rather an operation orchestrated by Hutu extremists from Rwanda's north attempting to maintain their hold on power. Melvern uses this and other documents to demonstrate the meticulous premeditation of the killing, revealing, for instance, Kambanda's testimony on cabinet-level discussions about the genocide. She also reveals that the Rwandan government imported $750,000 worth of Chinese machetes (enough to arm one in every three Rwanda men). Mulvern also discusses arms imports from France and Egypt shortly before the genocide and offers an "insider's account of the roadblocks where so many Tutsi lost their lives." Many of the road blocks were manned by French troops.

However, these revelations merely confirm what has long been known: the UN received a telegram on January 11, 1994 from its local force commander Roméo Dallaire who has since published a book on "the failure of Humanity in Rwanda." Dallaire sought protection for the wife and family of an informant, as well as the informant himself, who told Dallaire of Hutu plans for the Tutsi genocide and of the location of interahamwe arms caches. The informant revealed that all Tutsi in Kigali had been registered by the government and that Interahamwe personnel could kill 1,000 in as little as twenty minutes. Kofi Annan replied the same day telling Dallaire to inform president Habyarimana of the informant's statements — though the president's men were the ones they implicated.

Last february and March, filmmaker Georges Kapler filmed interviews with three Interahamwe militiamen which he presented in Paris. The three men say they were "trained and assisted" by France and one of them, Jean-Bosco Halimana, says that "the French gave us a license to kill. They came to support the genocide in a clear and visible manner."

Continue reading "Rwanda Revisited II: the Black Box"...