Friday, January 31, 2003

Cote d'Ivoire: Peace accord "opens Pandora's box".

Date: Friday 31 January 2003
Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: Peace accord "opens Pandora's box".
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference

By Elizabeth Kendal


The details of the Cote d'Ivoire peace deal brokered in Marcoussis on the outskirts of Paris, France, beggar belief. One wonders how anyone could ever have considered it workable.

The peace deal amounts to little more than a humiliating surrender being negotiated by foreign powers and forced upon the democratically elected President of Cote d'Ivoire and the army that has loyally defended him. Five leading Ivorian political parties, as well as traditional chiefs, have joined the army in rejecting the deal. They want a government of national unity, they want peace and reconciliation, but they refuse to share power with rebel militias that have taken up arms against the nation. They want to re-negotiate, something the rebels refuse to consider.

There is more than peace at stake. What is at stake here is the integrity of an ethnically and religiously mixed nation that has upheld complete religious freedom for all its citizens and has been the base of much West African Christian mission. Both Islam and Christianity have grown phenomenally.

Something else at stake is the stability of West Africa. If a reward of power is handed to foreign and network sponsored Muslim rebel militias in Cote d'Ivoire, then what is to prevent similar foreign and network sponsored Muslim rebels uprising in other ethnically / religiously mixed nations such as Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria - pushing the religious fault-line all the way south to the coast?

As influential loyalist youth leader Ble Goude said, "France has disappointed us. They gave power to people who took up arms against Ivory Coast. They have opened Pandora's box."

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PEACE DEAL INVOKES RELIGIOUS FIGHTING.

A French-brokered peace accord was signed on 25 January 2003 in Marcoussis on the outskirts of Paris France, that was supposed to end the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire. The result however, has not been peace. While Muslim rebel militias and their supporters in the north and west of Cote d'Ivoire celebrated, Christians, government supporters and all who respect political due process fell into despair. Some government supporters rioted against French interests in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

Eventually on 28 January, Christian / Muslim fighting broke out in Abobo and Agboville. The fighting in Agboville, 80 km north of coastal Abidjan, left 15 dead, more than 40 wounded, churches and mosques razed.

CONTENTIOUS AND UNWORKABLE

At the December 2002 peace talks in Lome, Togo, ECOWAS Co-ordinator, President Eyadema insisted that, "the search for a political settlement should involve, exclusively, the Ivorian major political parties." As the main rebel group, the MPCI, is a rebel militia without a political wing, it was suggested that if the rebels wanted to be given a political voice then they should form or transform the MPCI into a political party. At that point the rebels walked out of the talks.

Under the terms of the French-brokered 25 January Paris agreement, the foreign and network sponsored Muslim rebels who staged the coup and ignited the conflict that has split the nation and left hundreds dead and up to one million displaced, would be legitimised and rewarded with the interior and defence portfolios in a government of national unity. The rebels would therefore have control of the army that has been loyal to democratically elected President Gbagbo. (For details of the peace deal - see link 1)

"CONSTITUTIONAL COUP"

According to the BBC (22 Jan 2003) Cote d'Ivoire Parliamentary speaker Mamadou Koulibaly, walked out of the Paris peace talks on Monday 20 January accusing the French mediator, Pierre Mazeaud, of "trying to stage a constitutional coup" by trying to do something that "the rebels have failed to achieve militarily". It is important to note that Koulibaly is a northern Muslim.

FOREIGN INTERESTS

It must not be forgotten that France has financial interests in a change of government in Cote d'Ivoire. When Alassane Ouattara was Prime Minister, he permitted Cote d'Ivoire's public services to be freely placed in French hands. France has since run a monopoly on Cote d'Ivoire's water, electricity and telecommunications. President Gbagbo is not in favour of renewing those contracts in 2004. France is looking for a leadership in Cote d'Ivoire that will serve French interests, and that is not Gbagbo. As noted by Ivory Coast's first lady, Simone Gbagbo, "France wants him to fall." (Link 2)

As part of the peace deal, Seydou Elimane Diarra has been appointed (chosen by French president Jacques Chirac) to lead a government of national unity. Diarra, a northern Muslim, has worked closely with Gbagbo on national reconciliation in the past. (Profile - link 3)

The China Daily reported from Abidjan (28 Jan), "France further displayed who was boss on = Saturday by announcing Diarra's nomination itself and not letting Gbagbo, who was in Paris for a French-sponsored summit of African leaders on his country's crisis, do the honours. Sources said a meeting between Gbagbo and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac on Saturday (25 Jan) saw the latter take a firm line with the underlying message that Gbagbo had no choice but to accept the treaty." (Link 4)

Reuters reported (28 Jan), "Adding to doubts over the deal from another quarter, former President Henri Konan Bedie of the still strong Democratic Party said government posts were apportioned out during a corridor meeting in Paris by Chirac, his foreign minister, U.N. Secretary-General Koffi Annan and Gabon's President Omar Bongo. 'The Ivorian political parties never got to say a word,' Bedie told Le Parisien."

(Note - Gabon's President El Hadj Omar Bongo was formerly known as President Albert-Bernard Bongo until, under the influence of Libya's Colonel Gadhafi, he converted to Islam and changed his name in 1973. - EK)

SEEKING A JUST PEACE

The army immediately rejected the French-brokered peace deal. By 29 January, the Associated Press was reporting that President Gbagbo's own political party and some members of his Cabinet had joined the outcry. (Link 2)

"'The decision is an act of national humiliation for the president and the national armed forces of Ivory Coast, and we hereby declare that it is null and void,' Interior Minister Paul Yao N'dre said late Tuesday (28 Jan).

"N'dre spoke in Togo, saying he had been sent there by Gbagbo to ask that fellow West African leaders 'help find a lasting, equitable, African solution to the crisis.'

"Gbagbo's governing party joined three other parties in saying the division of ministries was forced on Ivory Coast at the Paris talks. In a statement, the four parties said France, the United Nations and others should help renegotiate a deal that is 'fair and just.'

By 30 January Cote d'Ivoire's leading traditional chiefs had also rejected the deal to give power to the rebels. France is pressuring Gbagbo to uphold the deal and the rebels (MPCI), who say they refuse to re-negotiate, have defiantly heaped scorn on the armed forces, saying they were "not worthy of leading the destinies of the defence and security forces of the new Ivorian nation." (Link 5).

President Gbagbo will address the nation soon - possibly Saturday evening.


Links

1) "Ivory Coast peace plan" BBC 24 January 2003
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/2691129.stm

2) "French Flee Ivory Coast as Deal Falters" By Austin Merrill
Associated Press Writer 29 Jan 2003
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62134-2003Jan29.html

3) Profile: Seydou Elimane Diarra. BBC 25 Jan 2003
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/2694499.stm

4)"France goes into bat for Cote d'Ivoire"
China Daily. Agency via Xinhua 28 Jan 2003
http://www1.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2003-01-28/103070.html

5) "Ivory Coast president defers key address as peace deal cracks
up" AFP 30 January 2003
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/030129/1/36y4r.html

Friday, January 24, 2003

Turkmenistan: "Cracks in the marble".

Date: Friday 24 January 2003
Subj: Turkmenistan: "Cracks in the marble".
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON NIYAZOV

On 25 November 2002, gunman opened fire on the car carrying Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurad Niyazov. Afterwards, President Niyazov told an emergency cabinet meeting that a truck had pulled out and blocked the path of his car. Attackers then opened fire on the presidential convoy from the truck and two other vehicles. Amazingly, the President was not even injured in the attack, which he has labelled as an assassination attempt.

In fact, the "assassination" was so brilliantly blundered that some observers and analysts suspect Niyazov may have set it up himself. Without a moments delay he began to name political opponents as suspects. A massive purge ensued, quickly and mercilessly, on political opponents, discontents and foreigners, attracting international attention.

On 17 January 2003 the Brussels based International Crisis Group (ICG) (http://www.crisisweb.org) released a report on Turkmenistan entitled, "Cracks in the Marble: Turkmenistan's Failing Dictatorship." A summary of the report can be found at the link given below. It contains a further link to the full 51-page report, available in pdf format.

I highly recommend the full 51-page report to anyone working on religious liberty issues in Turkmenistan. It is comprehensive and yet concise, and while it gives only a small space to religious persecution, it gives good political background and goes into great and fascinating detail about the failing power structures within present-day Turkmenistan.

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RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

Religious persecution is mentioned in the summary. "Under Niyazov's repressive rule, alternative political parties have been outlawed, there are no free media outlets, access to the Internet is severely restricted, and non-official religious groups are persecuted."

Regarding persecution of Christians, ICG's full report states, "Despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, non-traditional denominations are barred from basic activities. The law on religious organisations requires that religious groups must have at least 500 members in each locality in which they wish to register in order to gain legal status. In practice, this means that, unlike Sunni Muslims and Russian Christian Orthodox believers, members of the Armenian Apostolic, Baptist, Pentecostalist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'I and Hare Krishna churches are unable to register and are, therefore, persecuted by the KNB." (page 25)

(NB - the KNB is the "Komitet Natsionalnoi Bezopastnosti" or Committee for National Security - successor to the Soviet KGB.)

"Non-Russian-Orthodox Christian groups such as Baptists have also suffered harassment and persecution, including torture of clergy and confiscation of Property." (page 26)

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THE KNB

The report describes the KNB and prison system that Turkmenistan's Christians know so well.

"The KNB was given absolute power over other state institutions to carry out its work and enjoyed immunity, with no real accountability under the justice system, until March 2002. It is believed to employ up to 3,000 members and a much wider network of informers. Its methods of control include the collection of compromising materials on potential opponents and blackmail, but it also frequently resorts to harassment, abductions, imprisonment, torture and assassination by special agents." (page 6)

"Persons detained by the KNB are either sent to prisons or immediately to labour camps where mortality rates are extremely high. Prisoners in these camps are repeatedly beaten and tortured by guards and forced to carry out strenuous work in appalling conditions. Batyr Mukhamedov, a journalist who was imprisoned for 27 weeks in labour camps, described daily cases of abuse, including deaths caused by beatings with metal instruments. An estimated 20,000 people - both criminals and regime opponents are imprisoned in camps, including camps for women and psychiatric hospitals." (page 7)

It is sobering to consider that peaceful Christians such as Baptist lay-preacher Shageldy Atakov, have suffered through the prison and labour camp system, and young men such as Protestant pastor Shokhrat Piriyev and his colleagues have been tortured almost to death at the hands of the KNB, dispossessed of everything they owned, for possession of Jesus videos. Turkmenistan's Church has lived with this terror for many years.

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What is most interesting to know is that the KNB may be turning against President Niyazov. In his paranoia over absolute power, he has been purging the KNB ruthlessly.

"Niyazov began his move against the KNB in March 2002, when he dismissed Mukhammed Nazarov, the organisation's head and hitherto one of his most loyal supporters. Nazarov was arrested and sentenced to twenty years in prison. A further 60 officers are also believed to be in prison, and some reports suggest that at least four officers have been executed, and 80 per cent of the leadership of the KNB has been affected by the purge." (page 9)

"Despite Niyazov's efforts, the KNB still appears to represent a potential source of opposition. The purges have provoked widespread opposition, according to those with contacts in the security forces. One interviewee says: 'The officers are extremely resentful because they are now falling victims to the system that they applied to society for years: arrests, torture, imprisonment, and confiscation of property. They realise that they have lost their protected position and now have nothing else to lose.'

"According to another observer, 'Many KNB agents have destroyed files, and refuse to follow orders from Turkmenbashi (Niyazov). Basically, the KNB is not functioning any more'." (page 9)

LINK

Cracks in the Marble: Turkmenistan's Failing Dictatorship.
International Crisis Group.
Osh/Brussels, 17 January 2003
http://www.crisisweb.org/projects/showreport.cfm?reportid=871

Monday, January 6, 2003

Religious Liberty 2003

Date: Monday 6 January 2003
Subj: Religious Liberty 2003
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


Lack of religious freedom has always been an issue in Islam; however, the advance of the Islamic renewal movement and Islamic militancy has accentuated this. The rise of Hindutva over the past decade now extends to alleged government complicity in religious violence, and, in parts of India, anti-conversion legislation. Likewise the rise of Buddhist nationalism and militancy, which has lead to increased persecution, may soon extend to anti-conversion legislation being introduced in Sri Lanka.

On top of this there is the rise of Orthodox nationalism in some parts of Eastern Europe that is seeing increased hostility demonstrated towards the non-Orthodox, and the threat from the Government of Israel to make Israel a "Jewish Democracy" with increasing proposed restrictions on non-Jews living in the land.

What is most surprising is that religious freedom is being denigrated in the West by people who enjoy it, expect it as their right and take it for granted.

A NEGATIVE PERSPECTIVE

An article printed in the New York Times on 31 December 2002 entitled "With Missionaries Spreading, Muslims' Anger is Following" By Susan Sachs, was written in response to the murder of three Christian workers in the Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen.

Sachs says, as "evangelical Christian emissaries" have spread throughout the world they have provoked anger. She cites the shooting murders of Bonnie Penner Weatherall in Lebanon (Nov 2002) and Dr. Martha Myers, William Koehn, Kathleen Gariety in Yemen (Dec 2002) and the burning of Graham, Philip and Timothy Stains in India (Jan 1999), as examples.

Sachs displays little sympathy and goes on to say, "Christian missionaries have been active across much of the Muslim Middle East for hundreds of years, at least as far back as the Crusades." In this one sentence that reeks of ignorance, she establishes Christians in the minds of her readers as white, aggressive, foreign invaders. Is she really ignorant of the fact that Christianity originated IN and spread FROM the Middle East in the first century AD or is this deliberate and provocative anti-Christian disinformation?

Sachs also notes, "But successive generations of missionaries found that proselytising to Muslims was a dangerous business. Under Muslim law, conversion from Islam is punishable by death." Yet she states this with absolutely NO judgement, as if it is merely an acceptable cultural practise that should be respected, not a shocking breach of fundamental human rights.

Sachs, who refers to the Southern Baptist Convention as "a proselytising sect", then and paints a picture of Christian workers ("missionaries") as those who use allurement and even deception to ensnare and convert children, the sick and the poor, with a total disregard for the law of the land.

A POSITIVE PERSPECTIVE

The very next day, however, the New York Times printed an article from Jibla, Yemen, that gave a totally different perspective. Associated Press writer Salah Nasrawi writes from Jibla, "For many here, the American missionaries at a Baptist hospital here were not seen as Christian intruders in a Muslim land, but as friends to the residents of this poor town in the rugged hills of southern Yemen"

Nasrawi then relays testimonies from among the numerous Yemenis grieving the loss of their dear friends who delivered their babies, treated their ills and visited profusely. (Link 1 - a must read!)

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY UNDER ATTACK

Sachs' disdain for slain "missionaries" issue reminds me of a comment by Kate Clark, correspondent in Afghanistan for the BBC at the time of the arrest of the eight foreign Shelter Now aid workers.

Kate Clark comments in a 25 August 2001 article entitled "Modern missionaries", that both Islam and Christianity are "proselytising faiths". She then gives an account of the pressure that was put on her to convert to Islam while she was working in the Middle East.

Clark however, is unruffled and non-judgemental. As someone who clearly understands, accepts and respects the principal of religious freedom, Clark has no qualms about proselytising. She appears to respect the believer's right to exercise their religion, knowing she is free to accept or reject it.

However, in regards to Christian proselytism and the Western reaction towards the arrest of the Shelter Now workers she notes, "What's ironic is how little sympathy any potential Christian missionary receives in the West in the year 2001. Generally, it seems that if the Shelter Now employees had been arrested for being gay or trying to improve women's lives - like carrying out clandestine literacy classes - there would be far more outrage at their arrests." (Link 2 - another must read!)

There is little doubt that the issue of religious liberty will play an increasingly significant role in domestic and international politics in 2003 and beyond. It will be interesting to see how the Western world, with its rich Christian heritage and ethic, manages to defend religious liberty now it so "enlightened" and driven by secularism.

As Johannes Aagaard wrote in 1982, "The days of 'missio triumfans' have passed and the days of 'missio pressa' have come." (footnote 1).

Philip Jenkins, in his book, "The next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity", suggests that a future Christendom may define itself not by ideological harmony or by political alliances, but simply along the lines of "its unity against a common outside threat" (footnote 2).

Maybe the Church is truly coming full-circle.

Welcome to 2003.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Washington Post (also printed in New York Times)
"Yemeni Town Mourns U.S. Missionaries", by Salah Nasrawi
Associated Press Writer. 31 December 2002.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A59814-2002Dec31

2) BBC News Online
"Modern missionaries", Kate Clark, 25 August 2001 UK
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/from_our_own_correspondent/1508120.
stm

Footnotes

1) Quote from page 61,"Believing in the Future: Towards a Missiology
of Western Culture." By David J. Bosch, Trinity Press International
1995. Bosch quotes Aagaard's "The Soft Age Has Gone." 1982

2) Quote from page 190, "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global
Christianity." By Philip Jenkins, Oxford University Press 2002