- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Uganda’s complaint

Uganda’s new ambassador is appealing for more understanding from the United States and other Western countries that fail to comprehend the African nation’s “traumatic struggle” against a brutal rebel army that kidnaps children and forces them to fight.

Ambassador Perezi Kamunanwire, who presented his credentials to President Bush this week, said his government will continue to resist foreign pressure to allow peacekeepers from the United Nations into the northern part of the country, where the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) has been fighting Ugandan forces for 20 years.

“We have spent an enormous amount of money fighting the LRA and protecting the people,” he told United Press International. “It has been a traumatic struggle for us. If our partners consulted with us instead of dictating their troubles to us, things would be much better.”

Mr. Kamunanwire insisted that the Ugandan army “is perfectly capable of dealing with the problem.”

Mr. Kamunanwire denounced LRA leader Joseph Kony, saying, “His atrocities are endless.”

The ambassador also defended his government against charges of widespread official corruption.

“Harsh punishment is reserved for people whose dirty hands steal from our cookie jar,” he said. “There aren’t many cookies to begin with, so it will be noticed if any are missing.”

In his remarks to Mr. Bush, the ambassador emphasized the similarities between Uganda and the United States.

“We are both multicultural democracies characterized by respect for the rule of law and for the dignity of every individual,” he said. “We both seek to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS and assure that future generations are free from this threat to health and well-being. We are allies in the war on terrorism.”

Before his appointment as ambassador, Mr. Kamunanwire taught black studies and international relations at the City University of New York. He served as Uganda’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1988 to 1996 and ambassador to Germany from 1986 to 1988.

Ethiopia’s challenge

The new ambassador from Ethiopia is widely recognized as an advocate for human rights, but his government is widely criticized for abusing them.

Ambassador Samuel Assefa presented his credentials to President Bush this week and insisted that Ethiopia is committed to democracy and political freedom.

“Ethiopia faces many challenges; but because of the moral, political and cultural support our country receives from the United States, those challenges are much easier to overcome,” Mr. Assefa said.

“Our two countries share a strong commitment to democratic governance and respect for the rule of law and seek to end terrorism in Africa and around the globe.”

The State Department, however, cites the overall poor human rights record of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. Ethiopia last year expelled representatives from three U.S. think tanks — the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems — before the May 15 elections that other observers criticized as unfair.

While Mr. Assefa was at the White House on Monday, his government was denounced on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, has introduced a bill to pressure Ethiopia to allow the return of the representatives from the three institutions and promote human rights or face a cutoff of U.S. security aid.

“On the one-year anniversary of Ethiopia’s general elections … it is imperative that the government of Ethiopia release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience,” said Mr. Smith, chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations.

Mr. Assefa, a former university vice president, has worked with the Heinrich Boll Foundation and the African Initiative for a Democratic World Order, among other human rights groups.

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