Why Should Distributing the Polio Vaccine in Pakistan lead to Death?

US Army Capt. administring a vaccine to a Pakistani child, 2006. Photo: US Military/Wikimedia Commons

The huge rise in militancy across Pakistan (pdf) is also creating a number of hazards for aid workers. On New Year’s Day gunmen on motorbikes ambushed and killed six female aid workers and a doctor in Khayber-Pakhtunkhwa province. It marked the latest in a series of attacks on polio vaccination charity workers.

On December 18, five female aid workers were killed as they were administering polio vaccinations. The following day another polio supervisor was killed along with her driver in north-western town of Peshawar. » More

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Colombia – A Long Way to Peace?

Colombian Armed Forces. Photo: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/flickr

In the early hours of New Year’s Day, the Colombian Armed Forces launched [es] an air strike on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) camp located near Chigorodó, northwestern Colombia. The air strike was called after Elda Ramírez (aka ‘Mayerly’), considered a senior member of the FARC hierarchy, called a man who she believed was a drug dealer interested in buying cocaine. Instead, the dealer turned out to be an undercover police officer, and the consequent air attack claimed the lives of fourteen guerrilla fighters belonging to the FARC’s fifth front.

The air strike also occurred against the backdrop of negotiations between the FARC and Colombian government that have been ongoing since September 2012. To support the peace talks, the FARC announced a ceasefire on November 20. However, Colombia’s armed forces have continued military operations against the organization. On January 20, FARC announced that it had suspended the ceasefire and instead proposed a bilateral truce. » More

The Israeli Elections and the Future of the Peace Process

Secretary Clinton Meets With Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, here with US Secretary Clinton in December 2012. U.S. Department of State/flickr.

Not surprisingly, Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteynu coalition won a plurality of seats for the 19th Knesset in last week’s Israeli election. However, while his victory may have seemed certain, his post-election position is much weaker than some of the pre-election opinion polls had predicted and his struggle to form a government of his choice may have only just begun. A quick glance at the new electoral map shows that even with their projected 12-seat lead over the next largest party, forming a government with only right-wing parties (without the religious Orthodox) would leave Likud-Beiteynu short of the 60 seats needed for a Knesset majority. Representing the right-wing political establishment, Netanyahu has to reach out to one of the remaining three traditional Israeli political blocks; the ultra-Orthodox, the center-left and the Israeli Arab. Since no Israeli government is considered “legitimate” unless it has a Jewish majority, only the ultra-Orthodox and the center-left blocks are likely to be considered.

Netanyahu’s choices all mean different things in terms of the direction the prime minister could take Israel in the coming years. On the one hand, only the prime minister can tell us which issues he deems to be national priorities. Although we have a vague idea about Netanyahu’s Iran policies and his pro-settlement sentiments, it will really be his choice of coalition partners that will determine which national and international issues will make it to the top of the next Israeli government’s agenda. While the Iranian nuclear issue will surely continue to be a priority regardless of what shape the coalition takes, other issues—including the question of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks—may not be considered a priority at all. » More

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North Korea: A Sign of Change or the Same-Old Rhetoric?

Wall painting of the late Kim Il Sung. Photo: yeowatzup/flickr

Kim Jong-un’s New Year message emphasized, among other issues, the importance of inter-Korean relations. While many observers read this as a signal that North Korea plans to open-up in 2013, some bloggers and defectors beg to differ, claiming that Kim’s message contained the same old rhetoric of the past half century.

The North Korean leader’s message was well-received by some Western and South Korean media outlets. The New York Times, for example, suggested  that Kim’s speech was an ‘overture’ to the South. The paper was particularly intrigued by his comment that the “key to ending the divide of the nation and achieving reunification is to end the situation of confrontation between the North and the South”. Indeed, the same can also be said of Kim’s belief that “a basic precondition to improving North-South relations and advancing national reunification is to honor and implement North-South joint declarations”.

Others dug a little deeper. South Korea’s Unification Ministry blog parsed the statement by keywords and counted that the word ‘unification’ was used 22 times and often in conjunction with “frequent”. This, the blog concludes, reflects a pattern that has emerged over the past three years that suggests that increasing openness by North Korea is on the horizon.

Many observers were also intrigued by the change in format for the New Year’s message. Instead publishing his statement via the North Korean press – as favored by his late father – Kim emulated his grandfather and gave a televised address. This, suggests the North Korean Leadership Watch blog, adds credibility to arguments that Kim has been trying to emulate Kim il-Sung in order to win wider support among the North Korean population. The founder of North Korea was thought to be widely loved by the population, whereas Kim Jong-il was more feared than respected. Some reports have even speculated that Kim Jung-un intentionally gained weight and mimicked the way his grandfather walked and clapped. » More

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Central African Republic: How Strong Is The Peace Deal?

Rebel in Northern Central African Republic. Photo: hdptcar/flickr

On January 11, the Central African Republic (CAR) government, led by President François Bozizé, and the rebel coalition Séléka signed a new peace deal. The agreement comes after a month of political and military instability that saw rebels advance on the capital Bangui in an attempt to overthrow Bozizé during a military advance. It is expected that the peace deal will result in the naming of new a prime minister and the formation of a government of national unity. According to Centrafrique Presse Info, President Bozizé is expected to respect the decision to appoint Nicolas Tiangaye, [fr] a lawyer and former president of the Central African Human Rights League, as the country’s new prime minister. » More

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