Dec. 19th, 2006

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The front page of all of the Toronto newspapers is full of news of the latest Canadian offensive in Afghanistan. As described by (among other sources) this CBC report, this offensive may yet win the war against the Taliban.

In this military mission, the Canadian Forces have arranged better co-operation with both the government of Afghanistan and Afghan security forces to reduce the risk of harm to Canadian troops, including friendly fire attacks, Mike Kampman, chief of staff for the Regional Command Southern Headquarters in Afghanistan, told CBC News.

"We do everything in our power to reduce the risk of this operation, but at the end of the day we can never reduce the risk to zero," Kampman said.

"Canadians should feel confident that everything is being done to reduce the risk as much as possible," he said, adding that "we would love to have this mission over by Christmas."

Canada has more than 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, the majority stationed in the south at Kandahar airfield. Forty-four Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have died in Afghanistan since Canada first sent troops there in early 2002.

In May 2006, members of Parliament voted to keep Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan for two years longer than previously planned.

All this coverage reminds me of the description of another conflict.

The voice from the telescreen paused. A trumpet call, clear and beautiful, floated into the stagnant air. The voice continued raspingly:

‘Attention! Your attention, please! A newsflash has this moment arrived from the Malabar front. Our forces in South India have won a glorious victory. I am authorized to say that the action we are now reporting may well bring the war within measurable distance of its end. Here is the newsflash -’

Bad news coming, thought Winston. And sure enough, following on a gory description of the annihilation of a Eurasian army, with stupendous figures of killed and prisoners, came the announcement that, as from next week, the chocolate ration would be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty.

Winston belched again. The gin was wearing off, leaving a deflated feeling.
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Last June, I wrote briefly about the vissicitudes of identity in the region of the East Prussia, stretching along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea from Danzig to Klaipeda, in the several generations since the 1945 expulsion of the region's German population and its resettlement by (from south to north) Poles, Russians, and Lithuanians. The central area of East Prussia, a knot of territory surrounding the region's capital once known as Königsberg, now constitutes the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, home to nearly one million people separated from the Russian metropole by Lithuania and Belarus.

Justin Walley recent article in The Baltic Times, "The Russian soul, detached", is an interesting travelogue describing his experiences of that province. The area's remoteness from the European Union that surrounds it is what first strikes him:

Finding reliable background information about Kaliningrad in a time of mass global communication is strikingly difficult. In fact there are seemingly more English-language Web sites devoted to clam diving than there are to this tiny Russian exclave. A “Kaliningrad” word search on the Internet brings up news agency reports of smuggling, an AIDS epidemic, spying, and of an Su-27 fighter plane crashing in Lithuania en route to one of the exclave’s secretive military bases.

When I told some Latvians that I was going to Kaliningrad on holiday they reacted as if I'd just told them I wanted to spend a few days participating in a reality show where I would be incarcerated on a prison island. Most of my British friends think Kaliningrad is somewhere between Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk in the middle of deepest, darkest Siberia.

Walley's overall impression of Kaliningrad seems to be a generally positive one, though modified by a sense of the region's relative emptiness. Though it is likely unfair to characterize Kaliningrad as a "black hole" in the middle of Europe, it is safe to say that without a particularly privileged position in the Russian and European economies, and suffering from a certain amount of isolation, Kaliningrad's prospects are at best mixed. Kaliningrad independence or radical autonomy is unlikely because of the central government's concerns for the integrity of the Russian state and the Russian identity of the people who now live there. European policies seem to balance the fine line between trying to engage with Kaliningrad separately and trying to prevent the territory's insertion into Europe as a source of migrants, disease, and other perceived ills from the rest of Russia.
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Via the New York Times, an article on the ongoing HIV trial in Libya:

A Libyan court on Tuesday again sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to be shot by a firing squad for deliberately infecting more than 400 children with H.I.V., more than 50 of whom have died. The decision complicates Libya’s efforts to improve relations with the West.

[. . .]

The episode began in February 1998 when the nurses arrived to take up jobs at Al Fateh Children’s Hospital in Benghazi, the country’s second largest city. By August that year, children at the hospital began testing positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Health authorities soon realized they had a major problem.

An investigation concluded that the infections came from the wards where the Bulgarian nurses had been assigned. Dozens of Bulgarian medical workers were arrested, and vials of H.I.V.-tainted blood were found in a videotaped search of one nurse’s apartment.

According to a Libyan intelligence report submitted to the court, that nurse, Kristiyana Vulcheva, later confessed that the vials had been given to her by a British friend who was working in Libya. She said she and her colleagues had used the vials to infect the children.

Colonel Qaddafi subsequently charged that the health care workers had acted on the orders of the Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad.

I mentioned this case last December, predicting that the Libyan government would find some way to not execute the five Bulgarians and one Palestinian held on trumped-up charges. It still might, since the judicial murder of five citizens of Bulgaria, a country soon to join the European Union, would be an excellent way for Libya to scuttle its tentative rapprochement with Europe and the wider world.

Make no mistake: In all probability, these six people are innocent of the charges made against them. Scientists working at Oxford University have demonstrated that the pattern of HIV infections, and of co-infections with different hepatitis viruses, strongly suggest a breakdown of basic sanitary conventions in the Benghazi children's hospital. The Libyan state has resisted calls for independent review, instead producing a shoddy report to try to buttress the state's case. It certainly isn't as if Libya is free of HIV infections to begin with, not with patterns of IV drug use that has led to an "almost tenfold increase in infections in young men in the early 2000s" and the presence of a large immigrant population from high HIV-seroprevalence sub-Saharan Africa.

Luc Montagnier, discoverer of HIV and author of a previous report that also clears the accused, said it best when he said that the existence of the HIV infections was "embarassing politically for Gaddafi, but there is the pressure of the parents, who absolutely need to find a scapegoat. Of course this can't be the Libyans, so it falls on the medics." Blaming the foreigners always works.

It shouldn't here, not at the expense of six innocent lives. I'd normally refer people to the website of the Libyan embassy in Canada, but the site seems to be down. How about you try to pull up the contact information there, and on the sites of its kindred elsewhere in the world, too?
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