Month: June 1999

Gun Lobby Control

Gun control has dominated the news lately, from Bill Clinton calling for raising the legal age of handgun owners from 18 to 21, to various bills making the rounds in Congress. All of these bills propose various changes to the law–some of those changes could be considered minor improvements, but a few are obvious attempts to roll back the laws currently in place. What they all have in common is this: they won’t keep guns out of the hands of kids.

Take the Littleton massacre, for example. Dylan Klebold, whose 18-year-old girlfriend bought three shotguns for him at a gun show, would not have been prevented from getting those guns if the strictest of these proposed gun control laws had already been in place. Most of these laws are aimed at controlling handguns, not shotguns. Even regulating handguns is a tricky business. Eric Harris obtained his TEC-DC9 semiautomatic handgun from a friend of a co-worker; this friend was over 21. Furthermore, a ban on the sale, import, or manufacture of semiautomatic weapons wouldn’t have stopped Harris from getting this gun, because there are already so many of this model in private hands. Any ban on the sale of new guns wouldn’t apply to used guns.

Trigger locks are another smokescreen. While they’re useful in preventing young children from accidentally shooting their baby brothers and sisters, any kid over the age of seven can probably figure out where Mommy or Daddy keeps the key. And most of us have already noticed that recent school shootings haven’t involved handguns. The teenage perpetrators have chosen instead to use the weapons they’re most familiar with: rifles or shotguns belonging to adult relatives. In the Atlanta school shooting last month, the teenaged shooter wasn’t hindered at all by his father’s locked gun cabinet. He knew where his dad kept the key, and he often took one or two guns out for a little target practice on the sly.

What legislators are really aiming at with these handgun laws are not to prevent the occasional white kid from shooting up his suburban school; they’re really trying to curb the use of guns in drug crimes, robberies, car theft, etc.–“inner city” crimes, as they’re called. But there are better ways to tackle this, and we’re all familiar with the litany: affordable housing, decent healthcare for low income families, money for drug rehab, an end to welfare “reform” that shoves families out onto the street and exposes kids to drugs and crime, programs that deal with domestic violence, and so on. All those things cost money; so, instead, Congress is beating its chest over violence in the media and cheap handguns.

Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office (Congress’ investigative arm) has released a new report that claims the U.S. military is selling old clips of .50 caliber armor-piercing bullets to a private contractor, who then refurbishes the clips and sells them to private gun dealers all over the U.S. More than 100,000 rounds of ammunition designed to pierce tanks, bring down helicopters, and slice through buildings were refurbished and sold by Talon Manufacturing last year. The report showed that these shells and the weapons that fire them–long-range sniper weapons–can easily be purchased in gun shops and over the Internet. There are fewer legal hurdles for buying sniper weapons than for buying a regular handgun. And while a person has to be 18 or older to get this weapon from a licensed dealer, there’s no penalty for a person who resells this gun second-hand to a kid of any age.

The military also auctions off broken semi-automatic weapons to gun dealers and gunsmiths who then put them back together with replacement parts and sell them. M-1 carbines and M-1 Garands can be purchased easily by the average person on the street, who is free to resell them to kids or to people with criminal records.

Teenagers can own their own shotguns, M-1s, sniper rifles, you name it. What their parents won’t let them own, they can still get access to–if not in their own home, then in the home of a friend. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reports that one out of every three households in the U.S. has a gun in the home or in a vehicle. Over seven million households nationwide have both children and guns. In 1.6 million of those homes with kids and guns, at least one gun was kept unlocked and loaded, ready to fire.

So while legislators debate minor changes in handgun laws, they’re distracting us from the main point. We’re already a heavily armed society. The damage is done. And the sale of those millions of guns have made millions of dollars for gun manufacturers and dealers. Quite a bit of that dough is being funneled through the NRA and other gun lobbying groups into the pockets of our legislators (including Slade Gorton), who are all too happy to make sure that no really strict gun control laws get passed. They’ll put on a nice sideshow instead.

It’s nearly a perfect circle. Too bad so many people–kids included–are dying.

Sources: “Armor-piercing ammo being sold as surplus,” Chicago Tribune, 6/16/99 and “Million U.S. homes mix guns and children,” Reuters Health, 6/15/99.

Kosovo Agreement

Is peace really on the way for Kosovo? A look at the agreement signed last week reveals several large loopholes.

Under the Rambouillet proposal, the Yugoslav army would have had six months to withdraw from Kosovo and Serbian police would have been decommissioned over a 2 year period while a new multi-ethnic police force was trained. Now, under the new agreement, the Yugoslav army has only 7 days in which to withdraw all forces–which could be a near impossibility, given that the bombing has destroyed fuel storage facilities, roads, bridges, and communications infrastructure.

Eve-Ann Prentice, a reporter for The Times of London, who was recently stationed in Kosovo, claims that KLA sniper units control many of the roads in Western Kosovo. KLA snipers often pin down Yugoslav units on the move and could make it more difficult for troops to leave, especially if individual KLA units decide to operate on their own and pursue the retreating army. A number of analysts have described the KLA as disunited, with many groups cut off from the main force operating from bases in Albania.

Under the Rambouillet proposal, the KLA would have been required to disarm within a four-month period. The current peace agreement still requires the KLA to disarm, but sets no deadline. In addition, the new agreement contains no language regarding the political future of Kosovo and makes no mention of autonomy or independence for the province–a shortfall that could doom the entire agreement, since the KLA is unlikely to accept anything short of autonomy.

KLA members have already expressed their dissatisfaction. Ilir Rama, a KLA official in Tirana, said: “We are not prepared to even discuss the future status of our army until the Serb forces have left Kosovo. And we won’t be discussing disarmament anyway.” NATO is anticipating that it will have to rapidly move coalition troops into Kosovo from Albania to prevent KLA forces from engaging in revenge killings as Yugoslav troops withdraw.

A clue as to whether or not the KLA will engage in revenge killing can be found in the background of their new leader: Agim Ceku, an ethnic Albanian who fought in the Croatian army under the fascist Croat President Franjo Tudjman. Under Tudjman, Ceku was the commander in charge of “Operation Storm,” which emptied the Krajina of its Serbian population; an estimated 600 civilians were killed and over 200,000 Serbs fled during this assault. Ceku’s not the type to lay down his arms and show restraint.

The KLA has also warned that it is willing to carry the conflict to Macedonia, which has a sizable Albanian minority (about 2,000 of the KLA’s fighters are from Macedonia). And while the KLA has resisted allowing Islamic fundamentalists from Afghanistan and the Middle East into its ranks, that could soon change if the West pushes the KLA to disarm and tries to cut off its supply lines. A similar scenario occurred in Bosnia, when the Bosnian army, suffering under the arms embargo, began accepting weapons and mercenaries from Muslim states.

But the worst loophole in the agreement is that NATO is free to continue the bombing campaign until Yugoslavian troops have withdrawn. The agreement contains no details as to how the verification process will function, what constitutes compliance, or if the bombs can continue to fall even if only one soldier remains behind. It has the potential to be an open-ended nightmare, just like the sanctions on Iraq. It can never be proven that Iraq isn’t hiding a few weapons and so the sanctions continue. Likewise, NATO can always claim that a handful of Yugoslavian soldiers are hiding out in Kosovo. This leaves NATO and the U.S. (whose planes compose 75% of the NATO force) free to bomb at will for as long as they like, or to resume bombing whenever they please.

Sources: “Q&A: Did the Serbs lose out?,” BBC, 6/4/99; “KLA threatens new wave of killing,” Electronic Telegraph (U.K.), 6/4/99; “Peace Deal Disappoints Kosovo Separatists,” LA Times, 6/4/99; “The KLA’s New Model Leader,” Drago Hedl, Institute of War & Peace Reporting; and “Refugee camps raising radicals,” Christian Science Monitor, 6/3/99.

War Watch

News You Can Use

Here are a few important and ignored facts on the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, with sources provided in brackets:

Shortly after NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, NPR reported that the CIA used a Belgrade map from 1992. Further CIA targeting incompetence has come to light: on May 20, NATO bombs hit a hospital in Belgrade, and damaged the residences of the Swedish, Spanish, Norwegian, and Swiss ambassadors and the Libyan Embassy. Two days later, NATO bombed a KLA stronghold at Kosare. NATO spokesmen claimed that Kosare had only recently been overrun by the KLA, but the truth is that the KLA had been in control of the area for at least a month. Kosare was a main staging area for the KLA to smuggle weapons and fighters into Kosovo. The KLA had been escorting Western reporters to Kosare since early May and it had also been visited by a Western television crew. NATO has now become more sophisticated about its targeting mistakes and is blaming them on the Serbian military. After bombing a prison in the belief that it was being used as military housing (destroying it with 15 missiles in two separate strikes over three days), NATO discovered that the prison actually contained–surprise!–prisoners and KLA rebels. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said that if prisoners were in the jail, then that was “the responsibility of the Serbs.” [NPR news broadcast, 5/10/99; “NATO Bomb Said to Hit Belgrade Hospital,” Washington Post, 5/21/99; “NATO Admits Hitting Albanian Post,” AP, 5/22/99; “NATO Hits Key KLA Base In New Intelligence Mistake,” Reuters, 5/22/99; and “Prison bombed twice,” BBC, 5/22/99.]

The NATO alliance is fracturing. Britain’s Tony Blair wants to start a ground war as soon as possible. Bill Clinton has stepped up the air war, but doesn’t want a ground war. NATO commanders continue to draw up plans to begin one as early as July. The government of Greece has called for a 48 hour halt to the bombing campaign, even if Milosevic doesn’t agree to withdraw troops from Kosovo. The German and Russian governments have supported a short-term ceasefire, too, and the German government has completely rejected any ground war. A French official expressed horror at Tony Blair’s statements: “Why are the British doing this? They are alone.” Demonstrators in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia burnt Blair in effigy and waved placards saying “Welcome Murderer” as Blair began his tour of the Balkans last week. [“U.K. isolated as NATO split widens,” Manchester Guardian Weekly, 5/23/99; “Peace Gesture Proposed: Bombing pause backed,” Herald reporter in Berlin, 5/22/99; “Schroder’s Blunt ‘No’ to Ground Troops in Kosovo Reflects Depth of German Sensitivities,” New York Times, 5/20/99.]

Italy is joining the call for a ceasefire, as Italian fishermen have been injured pulling unexploded bombs out of the Mediterranean Sea near Venice. The bombs are being jettisoned over the sea by NATO aircraft. Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema is desperately trying to avoid a split in his coalition government, as the Italian Communist Party, the Italian Greens, the separatist Northern League, the moderate People’s Party, and some MPs of the main left-wing party, Democratici di Sinistra have all come out against the war. [“War in the Balkans–Anger grows over bombs found in nets,” BBC, 5/16/99.]

The U.S. government and press have been quick to accuse Serb forces of using Albanian Kosovars for human shields, especially after NATO’s bombing of the town of Korisa killed 87 Albanian refugees. Helen Kinghan, a reporter for The Irish Times, based in Brussels, Belgium, wrote: “NATO is not prepared to accuse the Yugoslav army outright of using ethnic Albanian refugees as human shields. Washington, however, had no such scruples…” Elaine Lafferty, another reporter for the same paper, based in Belgrade, reports: “Many displaced people have been hiding in rough conditions. Unsubstantiated reports say the police rounded up a number of them and told them they had dealt with the KLA in the area and they could come home. It is suggested they were told to stay for the night at Korisa before finding their own homes and were put up in the garrison while the police stayed in the houses.” Notice she used the word “police,” not “soldiers.” Meanwhile, NATO has refused to release any evidence that Korisa was a “legitimate military target.” [“UN humanitarian mission arrives in Belgrade,” The Irish Times, 5/17/99, and “NATO Won’t Release Korisa Evidence,” Washington Post, 5/21/99.]

Paul Watson, a reporter for the LA Times, is one of the few reporters who has actually visited Kosovo. On the same day that NATO spokesmen claimed that over 100,000 Albanian men between the ages of 14 and 60 were “unaccounted for” and implied that they had been massacred, Watson gave a different picture of the war. It’s worth quoting in some detail:

“Something strange is going on in this Kosovo Albanian village in what was once a hard-line guerrilla stronghold, where NATO accuses Serbs of committing genocide. An estimated 15,000 displaced ethnic Albanians live in and around Svetlje, in northern Kosovo, and hundreds of young men are everywhere, strolling along the dirt roads or lying on the grass on a spring day. So many fighting-age men in a region where the Kosovo Liberation Army fought some of its fiercest battles against Serbian forces are a challenge to the black-and-white versions of what is happening here.

“By their own accounts, the men are not living in a concentration camp, nor being forced to labor for the police or army, nor serving as human shields for Serbs. Instead, they are waiting with their families for permission to follow thousands who have risked going back home to nearby villages because they do not want to give up and leave Kosovo, a province of Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic. ‘We wanted to stay here where we were born,’ Skender Velia, 39, said through a translator. ‘Those who wanted to go through Macedonia and on to Europe have already left. We did not want to follow.’

“…Kosovo Albanians continue to flee Yugoslavia, often with detailed accounts of atrocities by Serbian security forces or paramilitaries. Yet thousands of other ethnic Albanians are coming out of hiding in forests and in the mountains, hungry and frightened, and either going back home or waiting for police permission to do so.

“While Serbian police seize the identity documents of Kosovo Albanians crossing the border into Albania or Macedonia, government officials in Pristina, Kosovo’s provincial capital, issue new identity cards to ethnic Albanians still here. The Kosovo Democratic Initiative, an ethnic Albanian political party opposed to the KLA’s fight for independence, is distributing relief aid, offering membership cards and gathering the names of Serbs accused of committing atrocities. ‘As an Albanian, I am convinced that the Serbian government and security forces are not committing any kind of genocide,’ Fatmir Seholi, the party’s spokesman, said in an interview Sunday. ‘But in a war, even innocent people die,’ Seholi said. ‘In every war, there are those who want to profit. Here there is a minority of people who wanted to steal, but that’s not genocide. These are only crimes.’

“As an Albanian, Seholi also knows the risks of questioning claims that Yugoslavia’s leaders, police and military are committing crimes against humanity in Kosovo. His father, Malic Seholi, was killed Jan. 9, 1997, apparently for being too cooperative with Serbian authorities. The KLA later claimed responsibility for the slaying in a statement published in Bujku, a local Albanian-language newspaper, his son said…

“…After waves of looting, arson, killings and other attacks turned many of Kosovo’s cities into virtual ghost towns, the government took steps to restore order, and ethnic Albanians began to move back, often under police protection. Of an estimated 100,000 people living in Pristina, roughly 80,000 are ethnic Albanians and a quarter of those are displaced people from the Podujevo area living with relatives, friends or in abandoned homes, Seholi said. An additional 32,000 ethnic Albanians are living in and around Podujevo itself, he added. A total of 120,000 ethnic Albanians are waiting to return to their homes in four areas–near Podujevo, Pristina, Stimlje and Prizren–while another 350,000 have proper homes, Seholi estimated.” [“In One Village, Albanian Men Are Everywhere,” Paul Watson, LA Times, 5/17/99.]

For those of us used to seeing impoverished refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the Kosovar refugees present a different picture. Reporters in Macedonia have described Kosovar refugees as “an unexpected goldmine” for the local inhabitants of impoverished towns in Macedonia, where the refugees regularly windowshop, dine in restaurants, make international phone calls to relatives, and even ride bumper cars. A refugee in Cegrane describes his living conditions as follows: “We feel welcome here. We come and go freely–we only have to ask for a paper from the Red Cross. It’s a little bit like home.” [“Refugees spell boom times for Macedonia town,” Agence France Presse, 5/16/99.]

Veteran refugee worker Lynne Miller was pulled from a refugee camp in Somalia and sent to Macedonia. She was shocked at what she found: “one of her first crises in Macedonia was an urgent request from a medical team. A diabetic refugee had crossed the border. Could she provide a special diet? She couldn’t believe what she was hearing, much less that she was able to fulfill the request. ‘In Africa, we don’t have special food or diets. There are no diabetics in the camps,’ she said. ‘They just die.'” And the LA Times reports the following: “The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is spending about 11 cents a day per refugee in Africa. In the Balkans, the figure is $1.23, more than 11 times greater. Some refugee camps in Africa have one doctor for every 100,000 refugees. In Macedonia, camps have as many as one doctor per 700 refugees–a ratio far better than that of many communities in Los Angeles … The camps in Africa hold as many as 500,000 people. Up to 6,000 refugees there die each day from cholera and other public health diseases. In Macedonia, the largest camp holds 33,000 people. So far, there have been no deaths from public health emergencies such as an epidemic or starvation.” [“Relief Camps for Africans, Kosovars Worlds Apart,” LA Times, 5/21/99.]

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