Archive for July 2007

Russia against setting timeframes for Kosovo status

July 31, 2007

Russia is against setting artificial timetables to decide Kosovo’s status and attempts to predetermine the
outcome, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman said Tuesday.

Mikhail Kamynin said status talks could start soon “if they are thoroughly prepared by the Contact Group.”

“The UN secretary general is expected to launch this process, which will remain within UN channels, under the supervision of the UN Security Council,” he said.

A UN plan to grant sovereignty to Kosovo, regardless of Serbia’s objections, has been removed from the UN Security Council agenda under pressure from veto-wielding Russia, Serbia’s long-standing ally.

The Contact Group, comprised of diplomats from the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Russia, has agreed on 120 days of additional talks between Belgrade and Pristina.

Formally a part of Serbia and its historical heart, Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, when NATO air strikes ousted Serbian troops over the alleged ethnic cleansing of Albanian separatists.
 
Source: RIA Novosti

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AFGHANISTAN: Environmental crisis looms as conflict goes on

July 30, 2007

Afghanistan will face a serious environmental crisis, which will have grave consequences for millions of its estimated 27 million population, if the government and international aid organisations continue ignoring the country’s degrading environment, experts warn.

“More than 80 percent of [Afghanistan’s] land could be subject to soil erosion… soil fertility is declining, salinisation is on the increase, water tables have dramatically fallen, de-vegetation is extensive and soil erosion by water and wind is widespread,” said a recent report – called Sustainable Land Management 2007 – by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MoAF).

Abdul Rahman Hotaky, chairman of the Afghan Organisation for Human Rights and Environmental Protection (AOHREP), said there many reasons why the future of the country’s environment was grim: more than 26 years of armed conflict, population displacement and extended drought; the misuse of natural resources; the lack of a law enforcement authority; and the lack of appropriate policies for the environment.
Deforestation

“In the last two decades, we have lost over 70 percent of our forests throughout the country,” Hotaky told IRIN on 29 July in the capital, Kabul.

Extensive deforestation has has multiple social, environmental and economic implications for million of Afghans, Hotaky added.

One of the immediately visible humanitarian implications of deforestation is the country’s increasingly vulnerability to various natural disasters, specialists say.

“Recently, we witnessed increasing numbers of floods, avalanches and landslides as a result of deforestation,” said Hazrat Hussain Khaurin, the director of the forests and rangeland department in the food and agriculture ministry.

According to government statistics, until the early 1980s, about 19,000sqkm of Afghanistan’s 652,225sqkm territory was covered by forests, which were a sustainable source of income for the government and its citizens.

Because of the many years of war since then, Afghanistan now faces the complete eradication of its forests, Khaurin said.
Desertification
While agriculture and animal husbandry constitute the backbone of Afghanistan’s underdeveloped economy, up to 50 percent of its farmlands have not been cultivated for the last two decades due to various natural and human factors, indicated the Sustainable Land Management 2007 report.

Afghanistan’s geomorphology has historically comprised highlands, rugged terrains and flatlands, and partly arid deserts. However, the deserts have been rapidly expanding in southern, eastern and northern regions of the country.

“Neither the government nor impoverished Afghan farmers have the basic technology or required resources to resist widening desertification,” said Khaurin. “Thousands of hectares of agricultural land have been covered by moving sands in seven southern and southwestern provinces,” he added.

Bushes and other plants that once created natural buffers against sand movement and flash floods flows have been used as fuel by local residents for many years.

Many Afghans refugees who return to their rural communities from neighbouring countries find it impossible to cultivate infertile and arid land with very little irrigation and farming facilities.

“Desertification has exacerbated already widespread poverty among many Afghan farmers who seem hapless to tackle problems created by this natural crisis,” said Hotaky of the human rights and environment protection body.

Against a rapidly increasing population, which requires food, fuel and shelter, among other things, the volume of Afghanistan’s agricultural produce has decreased by 50 percent decrease over the past few years, the food and agriculture ministry said.

Lack of attention

For decades, Afghan governments who have came to power have concentrated on winning wars, ensuring stability and solving political dilemmas while paying little attention to a degrading environment, specialists say.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a study found that Afghanistan’s long-term environmental degradation is caused, in part, by a complete collapse of local and national forms of governance.

Should Afghanistan fail to address its environmental problems within its reconstruction period, it will face “a future without water, forests, wildlife and clean air”, according to UNEP’s Post Conflict Assessment for Afghanistan.

Source: IRIN

Outline of current Greek economy trends

July 30, 2007

Greece, Ireland, Finland, and Luxembourg are the most rapidly growing economies in the EU-15, Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said. Presenting the Ministry’s report on current developments and prospects of the Greek economy, Mr. Alogoskoufis noted that Greece’s GDP grew by 4.3 percent in 2006, compared with a 2.7 percent growth rate in the Eurozone, and by 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2007 compared with a 3.0 percent growth rate in the Eurozone.

Mr. Alogoskoufis said the country’s fiscal deficit was expected to fall to 2.4 percent of GDP this year, from 7.9 percent of GDP in 2004. Commenting on strong economic growth rates, the Minister said they reflected a significant increase in investments and exports, and not an expansive fiscal policy as in past.

Exports grew by 13.7 percent in 2005 and by 18.2 percent in 2006, and investments rose 12.7 percent last year contributing by 77 percent to Greek economic growth rate. Investments grew by 15 percent in the first three months of 2007, from 9.9 percent last year. The Minister added that foreign investments are flowing into the country again. Last year, there was a capital inflow of 4.3 billion EURO that represents 2% of GDP.

Mr. Alogoskoufis said fiscal consolidation was achieved without cutting social spending or reducing households’ incomes. Greek households’ real available income grew by 3.4 percent in 2005 and by 4.0 percent in 2006, leading to a 3.7 percent increase in private consumption over the two-year period.

Average inflation eased to 3.2 percent in 2006 from 3.5 percent in 2005, and unemployment dropped to 8.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006, from 11.3 percent in the first quarter of 2004.

Within the framework of reforms, taxation was reduced by 10 percentage points for businesses, from 35% to 25%. This policy proved correct as it facilitated the increase of investments. During the same period, tax rates for partnerships and limited companies were reduced from 25% to 20%.

The Minister also mentioned that the investment incentives law is making the most of the country’s competitive advantages and is reinforcing its regions. Since the beginning of its implementation, more than 18,000 new jobs have been created and investment plans of 6.6 billion EURO have been approved. With Public-Private Partnerships, Greece is encouraging the creation of necessary infrastructure. To date, the Bi-Ministerial PPP Committee has approved projects of 2.5 billion EURO.
 
 
Source: ELKE

Bush faces Saudi arms hurdle

July 30, 2007

By By Patti Waldmeir in Washington
 

The Bush administration’s plans for a giant package of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and military aid to Israel ran into congressional opposition at the weekend, with some congressmen vowing to introduce legislation to block the proposal.

The deal, due to be announced this morning ahead of a trip to the Middle East by Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, is expected to include $20bn (€14.7bn, £9.9bn) in advanced arms for Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf countries, offset by $30bn in aid to Israel.

It is being presented as part of an effort by the Bush administration to counter the rising influence of Iran. Another part of the package will be military assistance worth some $13bn in the next decade for Egypt.

The Saudi package is expected to upgrade the country’s missile defences and air force and increase its naval capabilities.

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, signalled satisfaction with the proposed deal on Sunday. He said he and President George W. Bush had agreed in talks at the White House last month that Israel would receive $30bn in US military aid over the next decade, averaging $3bn a year.

“This is an increase of 25 per cent for the military aid to Israel from the United States,” he said.

“Other than the increase in aid, we received an explicit and detailed commitment to guarantee Israel’s qualitative advantage over other Arab states.

“We understand the United States’ need to assist the moderate Arab states, which are standing in one front with the United States and us in the struggle against Iran.”

But Congress members immediately vowed to oppose the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler, Democratic congressmen, said they would introduce legislation to block the deal “the minute Congress is officially notified”.

Saudi Arabia had “not been a true ally in furthering the United States’ interests in the Middle East”, they said in a statement.

Congressman Roy Blunt, Republican House whip, said getting the deal through Congress would be “a challenge”.

“The Saudis have looked the other way for a long time on the issue of terrorism,” he said. Although some progress had been made, the Saudis had “not done all they could do” to prevent funding from reaching terrorist groups.

There is specific concern in Congress about the alleged complicity of the Saudi authorities in the cross-border movement of Sunni extremists into Iraq.

Congress may reject large arms sales under the terms of the Arms Control Export Act of 1976. The president is required to notify Congress of impending arms deals, and the legislature has 30 days to pass a Joint Resolution of Disapproval. Such a resolution was used in 1986 when Congress convinced President Ronald Reagan to cut back an arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

The $20bn Saudi package would be one of the biggest arms deals negotiated by the Bush administration. Human rights groups also criticised the deal.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

Global defence update

July 28, 2007

Germany signs for F125 frigate production

The German Federal Office of Defence Technology and Procurement (BWB) has awarded the ARGE F125 consortium, led by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), a contract to build four multipurpose frigates for the German Navy. The programme, with an estimated value of EUR2 billion (GBP2.7 billion), will from December 2014 deliver four of the new 6,800-ton frigates specifically designed to support multinational crisis response and stabilisation operations, such as those conducted by German F122 (Bremen-class) and F123 (Brandenburg-class) frigates off the coast of Lebanon.

Indonesia receives first SIGMA corvette

The first of four new 91 m corvettes built by Schelde Naval Shipbuilding for the Indonesian Navy (Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Laut, TNI-AL) was handed over on 2 July. Indonesia’s Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Slamet Soebijanto, formally received the vessel in a ceremony at the Dutch port of Vlissingen.

US Aegis BMD destroyer makes first warhead intercept
A separating ballistic missile ‘warhead’ has been intercepted outside the Earth’s atmosphere by a US Navy (USN) Arleigh Burke-class destroyer launching an SM-3 Block IA missile. The successful engagement by USS Decatur on 22 June is a first for a destroyer equipped with Lockheed Martin’s Aegis BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence) combat system.

Stork’s aerospace earnings fall 400%
Stork NV saw earnings within its aerospace division plunge more than 400 per cent during the second quarter of the year as it was forced to make a “major provision” relating to the troubled NH90 transport helicopter programme. The Dutch group – which holds a 5.5 per cent stake in the NH Industries consortium and supplies the landing gear and associated components for the NH90 – reported that earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) within the aerospace unit dwindled from a profit of EUR10 million (USD14 million) in the second quarter (Q2) of 2006 to a loss of EUR31.3 million in the most recent quarter.
Counter-IED expenditure will rise, says report
Spending on counter-improvised explosive device (IED) equipment is set to increase between 2008 and 2012 as roadside bombs become a “strategic problem”, according to an independent report published this month. US-based Homeland Security Research’s ‘Global Counter-IED Markets and Technologies Forecast 2008-2012’ – based on efforts by government, militaries and the private sector to mitigate threats and damage caused by roadside bombs – said the market was expected to grow by about 12 per cent.

US and UK plan ‘approved community’ for defence trade
The US and the UK have agreed to create a pool of companies eligible to exchange goods and services between the two countries without an export licence. While the exact details of the defence trade treaty have not yet been worked out, Washington and London are expected to draw up a list of eligible firms during talks to be held over the next few months.
Al-Quds Brigade reveals extended-range rocket
The Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement in the Gaza Strip, have revealed an indigenously designed extended-range Quds 4 rocket. The system is claimed to be “a two-stage rocket with a range up to 18-22 km”.
Egypt’s Fast Missile Craft programme faces uncertainty
The Egyptian Navy’s Fast Missile Craft programme and other weapons purchases could be jeopardised by moves in the US Congress to pre-condition USD200 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Egypt. VT Halter Marine was awarded a USD41 million contract on 22 June, by US Naval Sea Systems Command, to modify the command-and-control systems of three vessels Egypt is purchasing from the US through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s (DSCA) Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.

Source: Jane’s Defence Journal

Russia’s UTair sends helicopter to fight Greek fires

July 27, 2007

UTair, Russia’s largest helicopter operator, has sent a helicopter to Greece, where forest fires have been raging, an airline spokesman said Friday.

“The UTair airline [based in the Khanty-Mansi autonomy in the northwest Urals] has sent a Mi-26 helicopter with the crew to Greece to tackle major forest fires,” the spokesman said. The aircraft can carry 15 metric tons of water.

Greek firefighters reported over 100 new fires in 12 hours of Thursday alone, while earlier reports said up to 40,000 hectares of woodland had burned down in the country so far this summer.

The Greek Prime Minister Konstandinos Karamanlis requested Thursday extra assistance from Russian aircraft in extinguishing forest fires, which have developed into a severe threat in the country.

Viktor Beltsov from the Russian Emergencies Ministry said a group of two planes and three helicopters would be sent to Greece Friday, including an Il-76 tanker aircraft that can carry 42 metric tons of water.

The “water bomber” returned last weekend from a firefighting mission in neighboring Bulgaria, where it released over 400 metric tons of water on fires near Stara Zagora, in the central part of the country, Saturday.

The Achaias region in the north of the Peloponnesus peninsula was hit hardest. Forest fires stretched over an area of 40 kilometers (25 miles) there Thursday morning, killing four people. Half of a village was burned down in the same region.

Hundreds of tourists were evacuated in Cephalonia in the Ionian Sea, where it was impossible to extinguish fire until the sea stopped it. Up to 4,500 hectares of forest burned down.

The situation improved slightly late Thursday, with temperatures falling from 45 degrees Centigrade (113 degrees Fahrenheit) to 39 degrees Centigrade (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit). The heat is expected to subside over the weekend.

Thousands of firefighters and over 600 servicemen are currently tackling the fires in Greece. The Greek air fleet, which has 17 Canandair tanker jets, has recently been handling non-stop flights during the daytime. The arrival of the Russian aircraft should render substantial assistance to Greece.

Scorching weather has caused large-scale forest fires throughout the Balkan Peninsula this summer, with fires also reported in Bulgaria, Italy and Macedonia. Meanwhile, Britain has seen unprecedented floods.

UTair, one of the global leaders in the helicopter business, has a pool of 180 helicopters, including over 20 Mi-26s, aircraft with the world’s highest cargo capacity, capable of carrying 20 metric tons.
Source: RIA Novosti

Hungary, Serbia to sign strategic cooperation agreement

July 27, 2007

Backa Topola, Serbia, July 26 (MTI) 

The Hungarian and the Serbian parliaments are scheduled to sign a strategic cooperation agreement later this year regarding ways Hungary will promote Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union, Hungarian Speaker of Parliament Katalin Szili told MTI after talks with her Serbia counterpart Oliver Dulic in Backa Topola, N Serbia.

The two speakers agreed that from now on they would meet in the same town each July.

Szili is scheduled to give a lecture at the “Tolerance” youth camp, a Hungarian-Serbian initiative to familiarise young people living along the Danube with the European Union and to promote cooperation among Danube nations.

Participants in the Backa Topola camp are from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia.

Source: Hungarian News Agency