Skip to main content

Dispatches The Buzz

Sudanese government bombs relief sites, u.s. remains mum

'The silence is deafening'

Sudan's government forces dropped 18 bombs on the town of Mapel in southern Sudan on Aug. 7. The attack killed at least seven civilians and narrowly missed a United Nations relief plane. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was "alarmed" by a spate of bombing raids from Khartoum that have now imperiled at least three UN planes, and he suspended relief flights into the region. UN officials also charged that Khartoum was deliberately targeting the flights. The aircraft at Mapel had been cleared for takeoff by the government and "the authorities must have known the plane was on the runway," said a UN spokesman. Sudanese bombers are targeting relief groups operating outside the UN's umbrella, too. The Belgian affiliate of Doctors Without Borders said on Aug. 3 that government bombers attacked a relief center and nearby plane in the southern province of Bahr el Ghazal. Relief pilots also report picking up radio transmissions indicating that the bombers tracked a Red Cross plane and bombed its landing site. Relief operators in southern Sudan told WORLD a de facto flight ban by the Khartoum government began two weeks ago, making it nearly impossible to supply areas affected by war-induced famine, including the Blue Nile region (WORLD, July 29). They say the raids have loosed bombs over more than 30 humanitarian targets since July, shutting down food and medical supplies to roughly 200,000 people displaced by fighting in southern Sudan since March. Government forces also reportedly are strafing areas in Upper Nile using Russian-made helicopter gunships. The attacks came as rebels fighting the government achieved territorial gains in both Blue Nile and Upper Nile provinces over the last two months. In Blue Nile, the flight ban stranded seven American workers for Safe Harbor International, who were evacuated last week by a private charter. "The U.S. government's silence on the latest bombings is deafening," said Roger Winter, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees. Mr. Winter visited southern Sudan as the July bombing raids were underway and told WORLD the intensified bombing campaign is clearly meant to chase UN-supported aid and private relief efforts from the region. "What the government of Sudan is doing is so pervasive, so targeted," he said. "It is only a matter of time before some American relief workers are killed." -Mindy Belz blazes force enviros to rethink logging

Under fire

Overworked and overwhelmed fire crews battled blazes last week in the West that were igniting just as older fires were brought under control. Sixty-six major fires blackened hundreds of thousands of acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Fires have raged for weeks across 11 Western states from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, laying waste to nearly four million acres since January in what may be the worst fire season in nearly half a century. The fires are bad enough that environmental groups are considering what once was unthinkable to them: encouraging logging to clear out some of the timber that has been fuel for the fires. "Thinning has a place, timber harvest has a place," the National Wildlife Federation's Tom France told USA Today. State looks at self-exclusion program

No betting men

Stop me before I bet again. That phrase may have new teeth soon for compulsive gamblers in New Jersey. The state is considering a "self-exclusion" program that lets people add themselves to the official list of people who are not allowed in casinos. Usually this group includes criminals, cheats, and mobsters, but gamblers could sign up and provide a photograph. The system, which is patterned on existing efforts in Connecticut, Missouri, Michigan, and Louisiana, would force casinos to deny listed people access to games, credit, complimentary items, check-cashing privileges, players club perks, and direct-mail promotions. A gambler who changed his mind could have his name removed from the list-with a formal request and a 30-day waiting period. Gamblers would not face criminal sanctions for violating their own ban, but casinos that let them in could face fines. Similar programs have not drawn large numbers of participants, according to Edward Looney, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, but they help keep some compulsive gamblers from relapsing. "The ones who are serious about getting rid of the temptations, they will go along with it," he said. Protesters, organizations call for an end to sanctions

Happy anniversary, Iraq

A surprising array of Iraq-watchers wants to mark the tenth anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait by giving the rogue nation a get-out-of-jail-free card. In Washington 250 demonstrators outside the White House and Treasury Department said a decade of international sanctions was crippling Saddam Hussein's people, not his government. They held aloft loaves of bread and chanted, "Stop the killing of Iraqi children." Police arrested104 of the protesters. Meanwhile human-rights organizations issued a joint statement on the anniversary calling for an end to current UN sanctions. They want the UN to lift sanctions that restrict "non-military" trade while continuing to choke Iraq's ability to import weapons. And last week, Venezuela's newly reelected president, Hugo Chavez, became the first foreign head of state to visit Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War. Mr. Chavez, who has befriended Cuba's Fidel Castro and lauded Libya as a model of "participatory democracy," met with President Saddam Hussein as part of a tour of oil-producing nations. But most surprising, Saddam Hussein's leading UN adversary, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, said sanctions should be lifted because Iraq has "qualitatively" met UN demands for disarmament. At the end of a six-day tour of the country, Mr. Ritter said he no longer believed Iraq is a threat to its neighbors. He said he did not visit suspected Iraqi weapons sites because he feared that both Baghdad and Washington would use the visits for propaganda purposes. Chinese authorities release Xu Yongze

Christian leader freed

The Chinese government released the country's most widely known house church leader to become a prisoner of the state. Authorities released Xu Yongze, also known as Peter Xu, on May 16 after he served a three-year "reeducation through labor" sentence for "establishing an illegal organization." Western media had been unable to confirm his release until last week, when Compass Direct reported it. The 58-year-old founder of the Born Again movement, at one time threatened with execution by Chinese officials, said international pressure improved prison conditions for him. But he was tortured during interrogation sessions just after his 1997 arrest, once having each arm handcuffed to an iron gate and stretched up off the ground in a gruesome crucifix position when the gates were opened. He said he was also routinely beaten. His labor camp sentence included stringing Christmas tree lights-at a 2,500 per day quota-for export to the United States. millions search for aliens through their computers

Beam them up

Is there life out there? Want to go look? The magazine Computerworld estimates that two million volunteers are donating spare time on their computers to help look for aliens. The project, known as SETI@home, is run by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, Calif. SETI recruits people with Internet connections to help analyze signals pulled down from a radio telescope in Puerto Rico. SETI's research program this month got an $11.5 million shot in the arm from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The money will go to help build receivers to search for radio waves from distant planets. Hundreds of 12-foot dish receivers will be built at the University of California at Berkeley. Like the science-fiction writers of the 1950s, some of these devotees hope that some benevolent entity from the great beyond will show us world peace. Many see it as a quest for a new world. Others simply think SETI is a cool way to blow money and technology. A few gearheads have souped up their PCs to give more power to SETI and feel good about their computing prowess. All the searching has so far turned up goose eggs. "As of yet, SETI@home has not detected any radio signals that indicate the presence of extraterrestrial intelligence," the project admits online. Woman killed after ex-husband humiliates her on tv

Talk-show murder

Jerry Springer's freak show took a really freaky turn with the death of Nancy Campbell-Panitz. First her ex-husband and his new wife made fun of her on national television; then she was found beaten to death late last month in her Sarasota home. On Springer, Eleanor Panitz, new bride of Ralf Panitz, called her predecessor "old" and "fat" in a typical trash TV exhibition. Mrs. Campbell-Panitz, who went on the air hoping to be reunited with her husband, walked off the stage. The rest of the story is hazy. The Springer episode was taped in May and broadcast July 24. Sometime before the airing, Mrs. Campbell-Panitz told a judge she feared for her life. Soon she was dead. Ralf and Eleanor Panitz fled and made it to Boston before turning themselves in to authorities. Mrs. Panitz is now free on $25,000 bond as a material witness to the slaying, but authorities are holding Mr. Panitz on a first-degree murder charge. Guild credits blacklisted wordsmiths

Red writers?

Nearly 25 years after his death, Dalton Trumbo is getting credit for writing seven movies that he wrote decades ago. This is all part of a campaign by the Writers Guild of America to credit writers who went unbilled because they were regarded as communists or communist allies. Since 1986 the union has changed the credits on 95 films, mostly lesser-known movies. Trumbo is receiving billing for movies like Terror in a Texas Town, The Boss, and The Green-Eyed Blonde, which few remember. His supporters claim he would have made better movies if he hadn't been one of the Hollywood Ten, a group that refused to testify before a House committee about their activities. "He had to write whatever was available," said Trumbo's son, Christopher. A lot of time has passed since the blacklist, so figuring out who wrote what is difficult. "You're talking about things that happened 40 and 50 years ago," remarked Bernard Gordon, who has gained 10 credits from the campaign. It's all part of Hollywood's ever-present attempt to paint as martyrs those who lost jobs because of 1950s populist anti-Communism. Today, Hollywood sees the whole era as a big witch-hunt-but during the 1930s and early 1940s many in Hollywood did regard the Soviet Union as a savior. Conservatives during that period were on a soft blacklist that arose once again in the 1960s. In recent decades the occasional movie with a conservative theme has been a noticeable occurrence. -Chris Stamper