Nando Times
20th century's conflicts loom over dawn of 21st

(January 2, 2000) - The global landscape may take on a new look in 2000 in the new year, the new century, and the new millennium. But a world full of trouble spots can never truly ring out the old.

In the coming year, Israelis and Arabs may cross a threshold toward lasting peace. Northern Ireland's "men of violence" may lay down their arms for good. With the resignation of Boris Yeltsin, many Russians hope for more stable leadership in the Kremlin.

But in Chechnya, in Africa, in the Taiwan Strait, along Korea's 38th parallel, and elsewhere around the globe, the new century inherits a legacy of war or the threat of war from the old, a legacy the peacemaker-in-chief hopes mankind will work to disown.

"The 20th century has been the most murderous in human history," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said as the century neared its end. "We must make sure the 21st is more peaceful, and more humane."

The Associated Press asked some of its correspondents around the world to assess the prospects for 2000. Here are their reports:

MIDDLE EAST

JERUSALEM - The new year dawns with a crucial deadline looming for Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have set a February target to reach the broad outlines of a final peace treaty, and are aiming at September for the final accord itself.

The deadlines seem optimistic to all. To be decided are the most difficult issues dividing the two sides, among them the ultimate borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

But for the moment, the Arab-Israeli peace process has been jump-started by the sudden progress between Israel and Syria. In a genuine breakthrough, the two foes resumed talks Dec. 15 in Washington after a nearly four-year stalemate.

The dramatic development means peace between the two foes could come in 2000. And it also gives credence to Barak's pledge to pull Israeli troops out of southern Lebanon by July. Syria is the main power broker in Lebanon.

Succession is the question in several Arab states.

Syrian President Hafez Assad is widely believed to be grooming his son Bashar to take over, though his plans may be challenged by other members of the clan or by military or political leaders.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's trip to France in late 1999 for medical treatment raised questions about his health and his country's political future. Mubarak, 71, has led Egypt since 1981 and has no vice president or other apparent heir.

In Saudi Arabia, 75-year-old King Fahd spends much of his time out of the country after suffering a stroke and has already handed over day-to-day control to Crown Prince Abdullah, himself in his 70s.

Throughout the region, political thinkers are calling for a shift to democracy. But there is little sign the ruling elites are prepared to give up control.
-JOCELYN NOVECK

RUSSIA AND FORMER SOVIET STATES

MOSCOW - Many Russians hope their unhappy country will get a new chance in 2000 with the resignation of President Boris Yeltsin, who dominated Russia during a decade of upheaval and missed opportunities.

Despite amassing vast power, Yeltsin failed to carry out many of the democratic and market reforms he championed, and most Russians want new, effective leadership to halt decades of economic and social decline.

Everything will center on March elections, for which Russia's political factions are already preparing. Yeltsin's successor is likely to have similar pro-democratic, pro-market policies and the goal of making Russia a world power - something that will worry the West, although there is little chance of another Cold War.

Yeltsin resigned on New Year's Eve, naming Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting president. That will help Putin's chances in the upcoming polls - but there are still challenges ahead. The war in Chechnya, which boosted Putin's fortunes, is likely to drag on and could work against him if there is no clear-cut victory.

The presidential election will be a major step in cementing democracy. Although many Russians have not seen material benefits from post-Soviet reforms, they seem unwilling to return to the country's autocratic past.

Russia, Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union are likely to go on staggering from one crisis to another. Their economies are in shambles and most governments appear incapable of turning things around. Corruption and crime is rampant in many countries.

Most of the Central Asian nations are sinking into authoritarian, one-party rule, and Belarus has revived Soviet-style political and economic controls.
-BARRY RENFREW

ASIA

BEIJING - Asian nations begin the 21st century buoyed by the prospects of recovery as their battered financial markets and industries gradually recuperate from the region's economic crisis.

The return to rapid growth depends on continuing reforms to establish stronger, less corrupt financial and political systems. Separatist violence in Indonesia, labor unrest in China and chronic food and fuel shortages in North Korea remain potentially destabilizing factors.

With unemployment at close to a record high and wages still falling in recession-bound Japan, there are signs that government spending is bringing a rebound in confidence and consumer demand. Confidence in Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's economic policies will be a key factor in elections due by autumn.

Other Asian countries expect steadier improvement, with stronger exports and healthier financial markets aiding growth in the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

China's economy has been fortified by heavy state spending and a modest recovery in exports, but the government is struggling to keep a lid on protests by millions of workers left unemployed by restructuring of inefficient state industries.

Malaysian President Mahathir Mohamad, recently elected to his fifth term, will be trying hard to woo back many of the majority Malays who expressed disapproval of his rule by backing orthodox Islamic groups. Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai is expected to try to delay parliamentary elections as long as possible to take advantage of the improved economy.

Tensions between North and South Korea have eased, but remain volatile between China and Taiwan, which holds a presidential election in March. India has a watchful eye on the new military regime in rival Pakistan.
-ELAINE KURTENBACH

EUROPE

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union marches into 2000 with a mandate to get into defense and a will to expand early in the decade to include many of western Europe's former enemies to the east.

As part of its new common foreign and security policy, the 15-nation EU has pledged to develop its own military capability, beginning with a rapid reaction force eventually able to deploy up to 60,000 soldiers on short notice. This, they say, is for crises in which the United States does not want to get involved through NATO.

At the same time, negotiations press ahead to allow Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Cyprus into the EU, while a number of other countries continue their candidacies, but on a slower track.

Peace should deepen its roots in one corner of Europe. The Irish Republican Army and other paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland are in negotiations to surrender their arms by May under the British province's 1998 peace accord.

Sitting like painful boils on the rump of Europe's peace and prosperity are Kosovo and Bosnia, leftover problems from the 1990s that show no sign of going away soon.

NATO will reduce its forces in Bosnia from 34,000 to 19,000, but no one pretends peace and stability are at hand. There is no light at the end of the tunnel in Kosovo, either, where 50,000 NATO-led soldiers and United Nations administrators struggle to end violence spawned by ethnic hatred.

Yugoslavia remains a pariah state, with President Slobodan Milosevic wanted for trial by an international war crimes tribunal.

Albania, Romania and Bulgaria are mired in economic problems, a legacy of their communist past and subsequent mismanagement. While Romanians stage protest demonstrations in growing numbers, Bulgaria is showing signs of a modest turnaround.
-JEFFREY ULBRICH

LATIN AMERICA

MEXICO CITY - After a free-market revolution that wiped out dictatorships over the past two decades, Latin America is seeing a return of authoritarianism. This time, it's the voters who are putting the strongmen into power.

The most vivid example is Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez, a populist former paratrooper, overwhelmingly won a referendum Dec. 15 to rewrite the constitution. The new charter aims to clean up widespread corruption and expand the rights of minorities - but also limits the freedom of the press and extends the presidential term limit.

Critics say Chavez is centering too much power in the presidency. His supporters respond that that's not necessarily bad in a society as troubled and chaotic as Venezuela's.

A similar situation has taken place under President Alberto Fujimori in Peru. After two terms in which he led a "self-coup" and personally oversaw most aspects of government, he is trying to maneuver around the constitution to run for a third.

In some countries, opposition parties are making clear advances, although the parties long in power still have the edge.

Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has governed for seven decades, appears positioned to win again in elections July 2 - but only after a series of internal changes, including its first primary to select a presidential candidate.

Uruguay's Colorado Party, which has alternated in power with another centrist party since the 1830s, enters the year having soundly beat a strengthened socialist opposition in November elections.

An improved economy in Brazil appears to have defused discontent fed by a slump that began in 1998.

Colombia's 40-year-old civil war rages stronger than ever, as shown by recent major fighting in the jungles and a car bombing in the capital.
-NIKO PRICE

CARIBBEAN

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - It is a time of disquiet in the Caribbean, where countries like Jamaica - which suffered deadly riots over price hikes - fear the impact of economic globalization.

Throughout the region, there is resentment of diminished U.S. aid at a time when, more than ever, Washington is soliciting the islands' cooperation in the war on drugs.

St. Lucia and other nations of the eastern Caribbean are especially angry over American efforts to undercut their privileged banana exports to the European Union. They argue that their vulnerable, tiny economies must be helped to compete.

Crime-plagued English-speaking countries have delayed plans to establish their own supreme court but negotiations continue. They want to break their dependence on Britain's Privy Council, which has angered them by impeding execution of criminals.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, faces a huge challenge with March elections coming up as U.S. and U.N. missions are pulling out. There are fears of unrest as former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide tries to return to power.

The region's bright spots are the Dominican Republic, rapidly developing on the strength of a booming tourism sector and close U.S. ties, and Trinidad and Tobago, a leading exporter of liquified natural gas. But in Trinidad - as in Guyana - ethnic tensions are growing between communities descended from Africans and East Indians.

In Puerto Rico, protesters promise to push their campaign to evict the U.S. Navy from the live-fire training grounds on the island of Vieques. Some fear the effort could harm Puerto Rico's ties with Washington, which supports the island with $11 billion in federal money each year.
-DAN PERRY

AFRICA

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - Africa enters 2000 with war tearing at the heart of the continent and AIDS felling its people in unprecedented numbers.

Fighting in Congo began in August 1998 and has drawn in nearly a dozen African countries since then, either as suppliers of troops and arms or as havens for refugees. A peace accord was signed over the summer, but combat still flares up.

AIDS is wreaking havoc across sub-Saharan Africa, home to 70 percent of the world's 33.4 million people infected with the AIDS virus.

The World AIDS Conference comes to South Africa in July, spotlighting the region's intensifying health crisis. With up to a quarter of adults infected in some areas, scant financial resources are being used up and economies are being shackled by loss of workers.

Elections are scheduled in Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Tanzania, while Uganda plans a referendum on whether to return to a multiparty political system.

In southern Africa, most of the region's ruling parties - in Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana - are expected to govern with a firmer grip after winning elections in 1999.

Olusegun Obasanjo took office as Nigeria's elected president last May after 15 years of military rule, but Africa's most populous nation remains hobbled by ethnic fighting and economic turmoil.

Civil wars continue in Sudan and Angola. Former South African President Nelson Mandela will take over the mediator's role in Burundi, where ethnic fighting has killed 200,000 people in six years. Algeria is trying to mediate the Ethiopian-Eritrean border conflict.

After thousands were killed and thousands more dismembered in a grisly terror campaign by rebels, the people of Sierra Leone are watching to see if a fragile power-sharing accord holds in the new year.
-TIM SULLIVAN

AUSTRALIA AND PACIFIC

SYDNEY, Australia - The Summer Olympics are putting Australia in the international spotlight as the nation begins soul-searching and celebrating to mark the 100th anniversary of its founding.

While sporting achievement and the glitz of the world's largest peacetime event will be at the core of Games coverage, background reports about sensitive subjects, including the host country's treatment of its original inhabitants, have already began to appear.

The government is struggling to meet its goal of forging a formal document of reconciliation with the country's Aborigines, who after 200 years of white settlement are the nation's most disadvantaged minority.

The Games will also rekindle the republican debate. Queen Elizabeth II, whom Australians voted to retain as head of state in a November referendum, will visit in March, but Prime Minister John Howard has not invited her to officially open the Summer Games, as is convention.

In New Zealand, a decade of sometimes dramatic economic liberalization is coming to an end after the November election of Labor Prime Minister Helen Clark. She plans a shift back to leftist health and labor policies and re-regulation of sections of the economy, such as telecommunications and power.

The smaller Pacific states have enjoyed a brief glow of attention as the first places to greet the new millennium. Now most return to concerns about government financial mismanagement and whether rising sea levels will eventually sink the lowest-lying states.

One of the nations, Papua New Guinea, has hopes that new Prime Minister Mekere Morauta, a respected former central banker, will repair some of the damage from years of official corruption and patronage.
-ROHAN SULLIVAN

UNITED NATIONS

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations begins the year facing uncertainty over its new policy on Iraq, unsolved crises in Africa, uneasiness in the Balkans - and a fresh debate about its own role in the 21st century.

1999 saw conflict around the globe - in Kosovo, parts of Africa, Afghanistan, East Timor and most recently Chechnya. But it also saw a new willingness among countries to take action to stop gross human rights violations - in Kosovo and East Timor.

The United Nations has embarked on new peacekeeping missions in East Timor and Sierra Leone, slapped new sanctions on Afghanistan, and taken over the mammoth job of rebuilding Kosovo and East Timor.

Many conflicts remain on the Security Council's agenda - Angola, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Afghanistan, Sudan and above all Congo, where council members are expected to deploy peacekeepers in an effort to restore stability to central Africa. Burundi remains a possible flashpoint.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the United Nations will also be looking at a host of other problems - global warming, the AIDS epidemic, and the strains from economic globalization that showed up clearly at the recent Seattle summit of the World Trade Organization.

After eight months of negotiations, the Security Council in mid-December adopted a new policy toward Iraq that would return U.N. weapons inspectors and offer Baghdad the possibility of having sanctions lifted. But Iraq's initial rejection has set the stage for difficult negotiations.

To celebrate the new century, Annan is inviting leaders of all 188 U.N. member states to a General Assembly meeting in September on the theme "The United Nations in the 21st Century." One topic will be his call for the council to do something to protect civilians during war.
-EDITH M. LEDERER




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