Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
9 - 15 December 1999
Issue No. 459
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A week in the world

Losers and Lusophones

By Gamal Nkrumah

Let's straighten out one misconception: cultural ties indeed are often used to bridge yawning gaps in the ideological orientation of different states. There might be no diplomatic relations between the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, better known as North Korea, on the one hand and the Republic of Korea, or South Korea, and the United States on the other, but "cultural workers" are routinely welcome in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, even if they are not quite ideologically sound. This week there was unmistakable evidence that there are cultural links between Pyongyang, on the one hand, and Seoul and Washington on the other.

The American president's half brother, Roger Clinton, who is a singer and band leader, performed with some two dozen South Korean pop stars in a 2,000-seat auditorium in Pyongyang. Critics were divided as to whether the gimmick was a publicity coup for Pyongyang, or the latest in a long list of Roger's vain attempts to embarrass his big brother Bill. Among the pieces performed were "Korea is One" and "Super Harvest Visits Chongsan Field".

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, Portugal's border with the People's Republic of China is being repainted for the very last time this week. The Portuguese colony of Macau is reverting to Chinese ownership after 442 years. As of 19 December 1999, the 450,000 inhabitants of Macau will, like the six million of Hong Kong, live under a "special administrative region".

Further to the south, in another former Portuguese colony in Asia, celebrations are under way for soon-to-be-independent East Timor. This week, Nobel peace laureate and independence campaigner Jose Ramos Horta's triumphant return to his homeland turned out to be a truly festive occasion. Horta, the son of an East Timorese woman and a Portuguese naval officer, who lost a sister and three brothers in the anti-colonial struggle against Portugal and later Indonesia, was banished to Mozambique for criticising Portuguese colonialism. He returned to East Timor on the eve of the April 1974 military coup that overthrew the right-wing ruling military dictatorship in Portugal and led to Lisbon shedding off her empire in Africa and Asia.

In Mozambique, yet another Lusophone country and former Portuguese colony across the Indian Ocean in Africa, former US president Jimmy Carter pronounced the recently held elections as "overwhelmingly free and fair". Carter, who many suspect of desperately craving a Nobel prize, headed a 50-member international monitoring team to scrutinise Mozambique's voting. Mozambican President Joachim Chissano, a former Marxist and leader of the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), was being challenged by Afonso Dhlakhama, leader of the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO). Final official results are expected to be announced on 20 December. FRELIMO and RENAMO are former battlefield enemies who fought a bitter civil war fuelled by the Cold War which lasted for over 15 years and claimed the lives of 600,000 people.

The first general election in Mozambique took place in 1994, two years after a United Nations-brokered peace plan formally ended the country's civil war. In the 1994 election, RENAMO won 45 per cent of the seats against FRELIMO's 55 per cent.

Back across the Indian Ocean, in Indonesia, Hassan Mohamed di Tiro, the leader of the Free Aceh independence movement, called on "all Acehnese men, women, old and young, to be ready to face the enemy. We will make every inch of this sacred land a field of war. We are ready to die like our ancestors who died in holy wars against foreign colonisers." Ominously, Indonesia's Minister for Political Affairs and Security Gen Wiranto warned, "The [Jakarta] government would not fail to take repressive measures in cases where it was facing recalcitrant parties that violated the law."

To Jakarta's chagrin, the 23rd anniversary of the Free Aceh independence movement was celebrated amid much agitation for independence for Indonesia's westernmost province. Violent clashes in Aceh, 1,000 miles northwest of Jakarta, claimed many lives. An estimated 5,000 people have been killed at the hands of Indonesian security forces since 1989. The credibility of Indonesia's newly-elected President Abdurahman Wahid is fast eroding. "I don't believe a word coming out of President Wahid," Acehnese independence leader Abdullah Syaffei told reporters in Aceh. "[Wahid] said Aceh is a province with a special status, but it really isn't. He said troops would be pulled out, but they came the next day. So I don't trust that man."

And, in Saran, which forms part of the Moluccan Islands, historically known as the fabled Spice Islands, on Indonesia's eastern fringes, over 40 people were killed in as many days in fighting between Muslims and Christians.

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