Khamis, 17 Februari 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

The Star Online: World Updates


Europe faces risks with unrest in Arab world

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 07:44 AM PST

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe, with its history of war and authoritarianism not long in the past, is often quick to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law as the values it wants to see other states adopt.

Anti-government protesters march to the Presidential Palace in Sanaa February 13, 2011. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

But the unrest sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, bringing down authoritarian rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, has forced it to face an uncomfortable truth: for years it turned a blind eye to such undemocratic regimes, favouring stability and a semblance of order over the risk of political unrest or chaos.

The trade-off provided several benefits, keeping the threat of Islamist militancy in check and holding back a potential wave of economic migrants, while trade and business opportunities grew steadily, if not at exceptional rates.

Now, with popular revolts throughout the region, Europe is trying to carve out a new approach, while not appearing hypocritical or ending up on the wrong side of history. At the same time, many of the threats it feared most in the past, particularly migration, have become acute, not diminished.

"The European Union has been struggling to find an appropriate policy to apply to North Africa and the Middle East," said Clara O'Donnell of the Centre for European Reform.

"We are really at a point where there will be lots of difficult questions and I think right now the EU is clearly uncertain how it's going to address them."

The ability of Europe, and the United States, to influence peaceful democratic change may now be significantly reduced, analysts say, not least because European states remain unwilling to deliver the incentives that could encourage change.

"There is a risk that things go very badly," said O'Donnell. "Depending on how the transitions develop there could be significant civil unrest and violence in various North African regions."

A big threat, as already evidenced in Tunisia, where thousands of people have fled by boat to Italy, is migration, an issue that could easily spread to other regional states.

"Civil unrest can spill over into other countries and contribute potentially to further radicalisation of certain groups and it can have very significant spill over effects on the Middle East peace process," said O'Donnell.

"The problem is that the few incentives the EU could offer -- liberalising trade in agricultural goods and facilitating free movement of people -- it has been very averse to deliver."

Not only have countries in southern Europe resisted opening markets to competing goods from North Africa, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes and olive oils, populations across Europe don't want to see visa rules relaxed to allow in more migrants.

EASTERN EUROPE NOT A MODEL

Some commentators have compared the democratic wave sweeping North Africa and the Gulf with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe at the start of the 1990s. But Michael Emerson of the Centre for European Policy Studies said the EU now found itself in a fundamentally different position.

Two decades ago the EU was able to influence positive change by offering eventual membership to former Soviet bloc states. But North Africa has no such prospect and even offering visa-free travel remains politically unsellable in the EU.

"Visa-free for North Africa is not going to fly -- there are limits," Emerson said. "This is the difference between offering membership perspectives and not doing so. If you're not doing that, then your leverage is limited."

While the EU can step up programmes to promote democracy, it would have to work hard to rebuild its credibility among reformists in North Africa, said Richard Youngs of the Madrid-based think tank FRIDE.

"The EU has miscalculated badly over the last decade in equating the status quo with stability," he said. "It really has to show the EU is willing to live up to its commitments to integrate North African economies and political systems into a genuine project of regional integration."

The challenge for the EU is not so much having an influence -- its vast trading power and the attractions of a marketplace with 500 million consumers give it that -- but ensuring it brings that influence to bear quickly and in the right way.

"If we're seen to be seriously behind the curve, there is the risk of getting caught on the wrong side of history," said Youngs, pointing out that past experience has shown the risks of a radical backlash if heightened expectations of change after pro-democracy uprisings are not met.

"The international community has to act quite quickly and show that political change can be accompanied by really tangible economic and social change."

But with major vested interests in the region -- not least in the oil and gas sectors, in which North African states are big suppliers to the EU -- the bloc as a whole is likely to remain extremely cautious in its approach and to renewed unrest.

EU members with close historical ties in the region, particularly France and Italy, also frequently take positions that conflict with northern European member states.

"There comes the question of how they relate to countries with regimes still in place," said O'Donnell. "I don't see the EU transforming its approach to Libya, for example.

"But it's going to be very difficult for the EU to say it fully supports democratic transition in Egypt while not raising matters with Egypt's neighbours, when Egypt's neighbours are going to be quite uncomfortable with what's happening in Egypt."

(Editing by Luke Baker and David Stamp)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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FACTBOX - Global kidnap hotspots and ransom costs

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 07:44 AM PST

LONDON (Reuters) - Kidnap and ransom trends are in constant flux, with Somali piracy and Mexican kidnapping on the up, while hostage-taking in Colombia and Iraq is in decline.

Below is an overview of global kidnap trends with estimates of the numbers of foreigners taken captive every month, compiled largely with information from risk consultancy AKE's quarterly kidnap and ransom report.

INDIAN OCEAN -- 95 PER MONTH

Somali pirates hijacking merchant ships in the Indian Ocean frequently take more foreigners hostage in a single month than all other kidnappers in the world combined. Experts estimate several hundred Somalis head out in small boats and increasingly on larger captured motherships, boarding vessels and sailing them to pirate havens. At any given time, the pirates are estimated to hold up to 700 hostages, mainly aboard their ships in worsening conditions. Ransoms have risen swiftly over the last year, with the record payment said to be $9 million for a Korean tanker late last year. The average settlement per ship is estimated to be $3-4 million, with ships usually held for more than 100 days. Shippers warn that despite international naval patrols, the problem is worsening to the extent ships may be forced to take a longer route around Africa, driving up costs.

MEXICO -- 20 PER MONTH

Kidnapping in Mexico is rising swiftly. Most attacks target migrant workers from elsewhere in Central and Latin America. These range from "express kidnappings", in which the victim is taken to an ATM and forced to pay their own ransom, to abductions lasting up to about 60 days. Abductions of Mexicans are on the rise, but limited reporting makes estimating the numbers difficult. So far, Western nationals have not tended to be targeted. The upper limit for a payout has reportedly been $30 million.

GULF OF GUINEA -- 5 PER MONTH

While the dangers of piracy and attacks on shipping and oil platforms in the Gulf of Guinea pale in comparison to those in the Indian Ocean, the threat is seen growing particularly ahead of Nigeria's April 2011 elections. Attacks tend to be more violent than those from Somali pirates and the danger to crew higher. The average time in captivity is less than 30 days and ransoms vary from $10,000-$2 million.

NIGERIA -- 1-2 PER MONTH

Kidnapping of foreigners and locals continues to be a problem in Nigeria, particularly in the Niger Delta with the threat from both militants and armed gangs. Ransoms for foreign nationals range from $28,000-$204,000, with ransom payments for Nigerians generally less than $100,000. Time spent in captivity is varied, with the longest period some 465 days.

SUDAN -- 1 PER MONTH

Kidnapping, particularly of aid staff in Sudan's Darfur region, is seen on the increase and is restricting relief operations. Charity workers, United Nations staff and African Union peacekeepers have all been targeted. The average time spent in captivity is 100 days. There is insufficient data to estimate average ransom payments for foreign nationals. Sudanese command ransoms of less than $100,000.

AFGHANISTAN -- 1-2 PER MONTH

The risk of kidnap of foreigners, particularly aid staff, reduces relief work in Afghanistan. A particularly high proportion of kidnaps there ended in violent deaths, either through execution or during special forces rescue missions. Foreigners kidnapped and released alive can wait up to 300 days, with ransoms ranging from $300,000-$750,000. Some 5-10 Afghans are taken hostage each week with ransoms of less than $100,000.

SAHEL -- 1 PER MONTH

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) appears to have stepped up efforts to kidnap foreigners in North Africa's Sahel region, while local tribes have also used this as a revenue stream. Experts estimate kidnapping could have given $65 million to AQIM since 2005, the majority of its revenue stream. French forces have taken an increasingly aggressive approach with mixed results as they launch military rescue missions.

PAKISTAN -- 1 PER MONTH

Both militant groups and criminal gangs kidnap Pakistanis and occasionally foreigners. Pakistanis are generally held for about 30 days for ransoms of about $50,000, while foreigners tend to be held for longer with the record being 500 days.

REST OF AFRICA

Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia each see on average slightly less than one foreign national kidnapped a month. In Congo, risks are seen highest in the east, with extractive industry staff and aid workers most at risk. The number of foreigners kidnapped in Somalia is low as so few operate there, but ransoms can be as high as $3 million and victims held for prolonged periods. There are fears kidnapped foreigners might be sold to al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups who might kill them for propaganda value or try to trade them for prisoner exchange.

MIDDLE EAST

Kidnappings of both foreigners and local Iraqis soared in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion but have since fallen sharply. Yemen is now seen as the Middle Eastern country in which foreigners are most at risk of kidnap.

ASIA

Outside Pakistan and Afghanistan, the greatest danger of kidnap in Asia is seen in the Philippines. Islamist militants have targeted wealthy Chinese-Filipino businessmen and students.

LATIN AMERICA

Kidnapping in Colombia has fallen sharply due to disarray amongst militant groups, public anger at the tactic and better coordination by security forces. Kidnapping is seen on the increase in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

EUROPE

The former Soviet Union is seen as having the highest risk of kidnap for foreigners, while a bad harvest has seen an increasing trend of farmers being kidnapped in an attempt to gain control of their grain stores. Short duration "tiger kidnaps" are becoming increasingly common in Western Europe due to the economic crisis, particularly in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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