- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Making history

The Ugandan ambassador yesterday greeted the Rwandan ambassador, as he joined a forum sponsored by The Washington Times on one of Africa's greatest conflicts.
"We're making a little history," Ugandan Ambassador Edyth Ssempala said to her Rwandan counterpart, Richard Sezibera, who had arrived late.
There, under the sparkling crystal chandeliers in The Times' auditorium, diplomats from all sides of the conflict in Congo sat around tables with editors of The Times and tried to hold a civil discussion about a very uncivil war.
Ileka Atoki, deputy chief of Congo's mission to the United Nations, drove down from New York to attend the forum. Ambassadors Leonard Iipumbu of Namibia and Simbi Mubako of Zimbabwe explained why their countries back Congo President Laurent Kabila.
Mrs. Ssempala and Mr. Sezibera defended their countries' support for the rebels trying to overthrow him.
Henry Simbakwira, deputy chief of mission at the Burundi Embassy, joined the group as an observer. He insisted his country is not involved in the conflict that Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has called "Africa's world war."
The diplomats addressed each other as "my brother" or "my sister," even as they traded charges about which country was at fault in the Central African war. A cease-fire reached last year is widely ignored. It called for the disarmament of rebel groups, the withdrawal of foreign forces and a national dialogue none of which has happened.
The closest they have come to a dialogue was yesterday's forum.
A full story and transcript of the discussion, the first of many being planned by The Times, will appear on Friday.

'Velvet divorce' final

Slovak Ambassador Martin Butora remembers the day last month when he learned of the final chapter being closed in the division of the former Czechoslovakia.
"It was a sunny morning, full of glittering snow and ice on the Potomac River," he wrote in the latest Slovak Embassy newsletter.
The Slovak parliament on Feb. 1 ratified a treaty that dealt with the last dispute in what Czechs and Slovaks call their "velvet divorce" of 1993. They refer to the end of communist rule in 1989 as the "velvet revolution."
The treaty called for the Czech Republic to forgive a $737 million debt it claimed against the Slovak Republic and to return more than 4 tons of Slovak gold.
"Seven years after the creation of two independent states, we have closed the last chapter on our peaceful velvet divorce," Mr. Butora wrote.
Now Slovakia is concentrating on preparing its economy to meet the standards for admission to the European Union and advocating a further expansion of NATO.
"NATO membership is of crucial importance for us," he wrote. "We believe that the country between the High Tatra [mountains] and the Danube River contains fertile soil for growing the most desirable plants the plants of security, freedom and democracy."
Mr. Butora candidly explained Slovakia's many problems, which include a high rate of unemployment and official corruption.
"It will take a long time to resolve many of these issues," he admitted. "All that we can do is continue our hopeful, though often painful, attempts to overcome them, and to learn from the experience of our friends and partners."

Guyana's debt relief

Guyana has a modest proposal for the world's financial institutions holding large Third World debt: Forget about it. At least for a while.
Ambassador Mohammed Ali Odeen Ishmael says creditors should agree to major debt relief for poor countries. He suggests they peg debt repayment to no more than 10 percent of a country's export earnings, at least for a period of time to allow the debtors to recover and eventually to pay back the loans.
Guyana almost collapsed under a debt service that equaled 100 percent of its export earnings, the ambassador said at a recent meeting of the Organization of American States.
The South American nation faced $2.1 billion in debt in 1992. That has been cut to $1.4 billion as creditor nations wrote off or rescheduled Guyana's debt.
"It is clear that one of the main reasons why so many of the developing nations have high rates of poverty is the stifling debt that they bear," Mr. Ishmael said.

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