The World Today for February 05, 2018



The Ticking Clock

After some five decades of war and years of bitter negotiations, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos managed to secure a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in November 2016 – promising an end to a brutal conflict that killed over 200,000 people and displaced nearly seven million, the Washington Post reported.

President Santos won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. But more than a year later, he’s still struggling to put the deal into effect as the end of his presidency approaches.

Strides have been made to realize many measures in the accord, wrote University of Birmingham research fellow Sanne Weber for the Conversation.

Members of Colombia’s Truth Commission have been elected, charged with developing a common narrative for the conflict. The nation’s Constitutional Court has approved a special judicial body for trying war-crime cases, and the FARC has disarmed and demobilized.

Even so, Weber writes, those efforts took months to accomplish, begging the question, “What will these peace and justice measures actually achieve?”

“Survivors’ experiences suggest that their key concerns are security and access to basic public services,” she added.

Such infrastructural development has been painfully slow – especially for those living in rural areas once controlled by the FARC.

Violence is rampant in the jungle enclaves abandoned by the FARC, with new guerrilla groups and criminal gangs sprouting up to fill the vacuum.

Some estimates count 55,000 forced displacements in 2017 alone, Euronews reported, while more than 100 human-rights activists were killed in Colombia in 2017.

“People here say they are going to kill everyone,” said Diomedes Isarama, from the remote town of Quibdo, referring to the National Liberation Army. Members of the leftist group killed his son, an indigenous leader, in October, forcing the family into exile.

“We survive, we have accommodation but sometimes we eat only once a day,” Isarama added.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) is now negotiating its own peace accord with the Colombian government, Reuters reported.

The group, which has about 2,000 members, has somewhat abided by the ceasefire that’s in place during the talks, being held in Quito, Ecuador. But it continues to spar with drug gangs and regularly engages in kidnappings and extortion, Bloomberg reported.

“We have to keep fighting, we have to keep shooting, to be able to build a more just Colombia,” a commander in the group told Bloomberg. “I don’t see enough common ground for the ELN to leave more than 50 years of its history on a negotiating table in Quito.”

If persistent fringe groups and an isolated population weren’t enough, President Santos is also being tripped up by members of Colombia’s Congress. Many of them are using the confusing details of the 2016 peace accord as a campaign stump for the 2018 presidential election, wrote Fabio Andres Diaz, of the International Institute of Social Studies, for the Conversation.

“If Colombia’s Congress keeps up its stall tactics, its country’s peace process may soon become just another statistic.”



Rebooting the Cold War

China joined Iran and Russia in criticizing Washington’s plan to develop low-yield nuclear bombs, saying the move flies in the face of the drive for nuclear disarmament.

“The country that owns the world’s largest nuclear arsenal should take the initiative to follow the trend instead of going against it,” the BBC reported China’s defense ministry as saying Sunday. Earlier, Russia condemned the plan and Iran said it would bring the world “closer to annihilation”.

The US military says the smaller bombs are necessary because its arsenal of larger nuclear weapons is seen as too devastating to be used.

The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released by the Pentagon Friday proposes developing weapons with a strength of under 20 kilotons, as well as several other measures to modernize America’s nuclear arsenal.

Coming as Washington struggles to contain Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the move prompted Beijing to call for the US to abandon its “Cold War mentality.”

Washington said the new weapons are needed to prevent others from using their own smaller nuclear weapons on the battlefield.


Terror on Trial

The trial of the prime suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks begins Monday in Brussels, where hundreds of armed police have been deployed to protect the court over the next four days.

Salah Abdeslam was transferred to Belgium secretly from a prison outside the French capital, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported.

A French citizen of Moroccan descent, Abdeslam faces charges of terrorism, possession of weapons and attempted murder related to a shootout with police in Brussels three days before his arrest in March 2016. He will face another trial in France for his alleged role in the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Hundreds of police will escort him to and from the jail, and another 200 officers are posted inside the court building in case of an attempted attack.


Still Talking

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union failed to finalize a coalition deal with the Social Democrat Party (SPD) by the target date for the agreement on Sunday.

Talks will continue Monday as Merkel still holds out hope for another so-called “grand coalition,” four months after her conservative bloc won an inconclusive national election, Bloomberg reported.

The parties reached a deal on refugee policy last week, but the SPD is still holding out for a curb on temporary work contracts, and a reform of the national health-care system to prevent doctors from billing higher fees for privately insured patients. Merkel’s conservatives are not keen on either measure.

If she fails to secure a deal, Merkel would be faced with the prospect of leading the country without a stable parliamentary majority or calling for a new election – which polls suggest would turn out much like the previous one. Meanwhile, the coalition deal must be approved by the SPD’s 440,000-odd members.


Natural Beauty

The pious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken steps lately to open up to Western influences. Movie theaters will soon screen films for the first time in 35 years, and women recently won the right to drive.

But modernization hasn’t gripped all aspects of society.

A scandal erupted recently in Riyadh when a veterinarian was caught injecting a dozen camels with Botox to gain an edge in the beauty portion of the kingdom’s annual King Abdulaziz camel festival, the Guardian reported.

Judges of camel beauty look for delicate ears and big noses. The rules forbid shaving or clipping body parts, as well as the use of cosmetics to enhance the camel’s allure.

But the size of this year’s prizes – $5.3-million in each category – apparently tempted some breeders to cheat.

Botox “makes the head more inflated so when the camel comes it’s like, ‘Oh, look at how big that head is. It has big lips, a big nose,'” Ali al-Mazrouei, the son of an Emirati camel breeder, told the Emirati daily the National.

The 12 contestants caught with enhancements were promptly disqualified, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t other beauties on display.

Click here to take a look.

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