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In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Summer Books 2002," July 7, 2002

'Victims, not criminals'

Cambodian police arrested 14 girls on June 20 who were illegally trafficked into Cambodia for sex. A charity organization was providing shelter for the young women after they were rescued during a May 23 police raid on a brothel in Phnom Penh's red-light district. But when police discovered the girls had entered Cambodia "illegally" (never mind against their will), they secured warrants for their arrest and transferred them to Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of the capital. Three were released on bail four days later pending trial. Police officers from the Minors Protection Section of the Anti-Trafficking Unit at the Ministry of Interior conducted both the rescue operation and the subsequent arrests. Cambodian authorities say the girls are all more than 18 years of age, but Human Rights Watch said observers present during the arrest and charity workers who sheltered them say some of them are as young as 12. Age, according to Human Rights Watch researcher Sara Colm, is ultimately irrelevant: "The point is that they are victims, not criminals." | Mindy Belz


India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp. is finalizing plans to buy a 25 percent stake in Sudan oil operations from Canadian-based Talisman Energy. Talisman has been the only North American firm to participate in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co. It runs the Sudan project and produces 230,000 barrels of oil per day in the heart of war-torn territory that has been the site of many government atrocities. Talisman's activities in the region made it the target of boycotts from U.S. mutual funds, along with protests from Christian groups and human-rights organizations. The deal, slated for completion by July 31, would sell a 12-million-acre concession owned by Talisman and a 930-mile pipeline to the Red Sea. Malaysia and China are other partners in the oil venture. Fighting between the Islamic regime and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which favors self-determination and the rights of Christians and other minorities, increasingly centers on the oil region. Talisman and other energy firms have extended oil development as the National Islamic Front burned out villages and crops of locals (see "The politics of starvation," July 28, 2001) in the Western Upper Nile, where oil pumping is based. Government helicopter gunships used Talisman airstrips as a base of operations for attacks on civilians in the region that have displaced 150,000-300,000 Sudanese in Western Upper Nile between January and April of this year alone, according to a UN report. The sale, rumored at $750 million, will net Talisman a handsome profit over its original 1998 investment. But experts say that is half a billion less than what the company said it would consider a year ago-a drop related to the bad publicity and divestment campaign. "Their exit is an unambiguous victory for those who refuse to accept the oil-driven destruction of Sudan," said Smith College professor Eric Reeves. | Mindy Belz

Earl change

Middle East met Deep South on June 25 as Alabama primary voters defeated a five-term lawmaker who was a vocal critic of Israel. Rep. Earl Hilliard, the first black congressman from Alabama since Reconstruction, lost the runoff by 12 points against Artur Davis, a 34-year-old, Harvard-educated lawyer. Mr. Davis also is African-American, but the two men differed sharply on other questions of ethnicity. Mr. Hilliard, the incumbent, supported a variety of Arab causes during his tenure, even visiting Libya in 1997 over the objections of the Clinton State Department. Earlier this spring, he was one of just a handful of lawmakers who refused to support a resolution backing Israel in its war against terrorism. That stance vaulted the little-known Mr. Davis into national prominence. Jewish groups across the country poured money into his campaign, and by election day he had raised almost $100,000 more than the incumbent. Mr. Hilliard tried to portray his opponent as a Republican in disguise, and black leaders nationwide-from the Rev. Al Sharpton to the Congressional Black Caucus-rushed to his aid. But voters didn't buy it, as Mr. Davis noted in his victory speech: "Racial division and religious bigotry have no place in the 7th district. We are one people. We are one community, and anyone who comes into this city to divide us is going to be sent back home." | Bob Jones

My way, or a clogged highway

Republican Senators are fuming at Democratic delays in approving judicial and executive-branch nominees. John McCain got so fed up last week that he announced he'd halt the entire nomination process unless the Senate quickly approved a new member for the Federal Election Commission (FEC). One catch: The nominee Mr. McCain is fighting for is a Democrat. Sen. McCain and other champions of new campaign-finance restrictions were infuriated by a recent 4-2 vote by the FEC that essentially gutted the limits on soft-money donations under the McCain-Feingold bill. By law, the commission is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, but Karl J. Sandstrom, a Democratic appointee, voted with the Republican members to weaken the soft-money limits. In May, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recommended Ellen Weintraub to replace Mr. Sandstrom, who is serving only until his successor is named. The McCain-Daschle alliance hopes that Ms. Weintraub, a Washington lawyer, will have fewer scruples about protecting free speech than Mr. Sandstrom, who has been forced to defend his vote against bitter criticism by his own party. The White House says it is taking Mr. Daschle's recommendation "very seriously," but a spokesman points out that Ms. Weintraub's name surfaced only six weeks ago. Meanwhile, scores of President Bush's nominees have been held up for 10 times that long. If Sen. McCain makes good on his threat, they may have to wait a lot longer. | Bob Jones


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