Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fighting crime

Congress is trying to help Central American nations deal with soaring crime rates, often linked to drug dealers smuggling cocaine through the region to the United States.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee this week approved a resolution that puts Congress on record as recognizing the increase in crime and calls for expanded cooperation between the Bush administration and the seven nations in Central America.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, sponsored the resolution to draw attention to the increase in crime that affects Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

The New York Democrat noted that the resolution commends officials from the United States and Central America who met last month in Guatemala to open the Dialogue on Democratic Security, where the United States pledged $4 million to combat youth gangs.

“I am very pleased that U.S. and Central American officials have started to work together to combat violence in Central America,” he said, adding that “much remains to be done,” especially in drug-related crime.

About 90 percent of the South American cocaine smuggled into the United States goes through Central America, he said.

Mr. Engel cited the killing in February of three Salvadoran members of the Central American Parliament, which is based in Guatemala. They were killed by renegade Guatemalan policemen, who were later killed in prison.

“While this high-profile incident brought violence in Central America into the spotlight, it is unfortunately nothing new,” he said.

Time for action

Darfur activists in Washington called on the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers to Sudan as soon as they are recruited rather than waiting for one “big-bang deployment” that could take up to a year.

“If the U.N. waits for one big-bang deployment, sending nobody until everybody is ready, untold thousands more will die,” said Allyn Brooks-LaSure, a spokesman for the Save Darfur Coalition.

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday adopted a resolution authorizing a force of 26,000 peacekeepers to try to end the violence that has left an estimated 200,000 dead and 2.5 million refugees. The Bush administration has accused Sudan of supporting the genocide of black African villagers by arming Arab militias that have destroyed villages and killed and raped civilians in pursuit of Darfur rebels.

Mr. Brooks-LaSure said his organization fears that the United Nations will delaying sending in peacekeepers until they have the entire force ready to go.

“The promise of effective civilian protection and peacekeeping in the resolution will be realized only if the international community shows determined political will to make it work,” he said.

“The world has failed Darfur on past occasions, condemning millions to a horrific fate. World leaders must do better this time.”

Back to Cambodia

The U.S. ambassador to Cambodia this week handed over a priceless piece of history to the Southeast Asian nation.

Ambassador Joseph A. Mussomeli presented a piece of a sandstone sculpture of an Apsara dancer to Him Chhem, acting minister of culture and fine arts, in a ceremony at the National Museum in the capital, Phnom Penh.

The head of the dancer was smuggled out of Cambodia in violation of a bilateral agreement between the two nations to protect ancient Khmer stone, metal and ceramic archaeological items. The sculpture dates from about 1200.

The agreement was signed Sept. 19, 2003, but is retroactive to Dec. 2, 1999. Cambodia cited U.N. conventions to assist countries in protecting their national treasures when it asked the United States to help it protect its ancient artifacts.

c Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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