Nation Special

Children ‘armed’ to teeth in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Try as he might, Baghdad businessman Ibrahim Georges can’t persuade his 11-year-old daughter Sandy to lay down her arms in favour of something less hostile, such as a doll.
“She loves her gun,” Georges said as Sandy, short-haired and dressed in long trousers and T-shirt, proudly displayed a menacing GC toy automatic rifle that, according to a bold stamp on the side, was made in China.
“She never plays with dolls,” added Georges ruefully, outside their home in a quiet residential street in the relatively calm western Karrada suburb.

“It has laser and can fire on regular or on automatic,” said Sandy, brandishing the gun that can spit out 6mm BB pellets hard enough to take out an eye and is sold in a box carrying a warning, “The best for 18 and up.”
“All the children in the streets have toy guns,” said Georges with a shrug, pointing to a gang of boys with whom he said his daughter plays “cops and robbers.”

“They see adults carrying guns all the time. Who can blame them?”
Children’s make-believe war games, which often reflect the sectarian conflict raging across Iraq, have alarmed some parents and educators, and the government has expressed concern at the flood of toy weapons on the streets.
Earlier this year, Trade Minister Abed Falah al-Sudani considered banning the toys because they look so realistic. However, given the seeming impossibility of the task, he appears to have shelved the idea.
Whether invented by parents to scare their children or whether it really happened, children all know the reason it would, perhaps, not be a good idea to point a plastic weapon anywhere near a US soldier.
“One boy was killed by an American soldier who mistook his toy for a real gun,” said one of Sandy’s friends, who gave his name as Zain and his age as 12, parroting the correct answer.

According to shopkeeper Uday Mohammed, the incident really did happen “about a year ago in Diyala province,” which is why he warns children buying guns from his store to be ultra careful about displaying them in public.
Mohammed said toy guns are his biggest sellers by far, and that there had been a run on imitation weapons during the just-ended Eid al-Fitr Muslim festival, when children are given new clothes and toys.

“I normally sell 10 to 12 guns a day,” he said, pointing to a range of weapons in boxes ranging from plastic pistols and crude weapons that shoot rubber darts, to an ultra-sophisticated automatic rifle that boasts laser, an “infrared callimater” and “illuminate blueness”.
“But over Eid we sold many, many more,” he said. “If the children were not coming in to buy guns, they were coming in to buy pellets.”
Prices range from 5,000 to 40,000 dinars (four to 32 dollars), but the favourite, according to 24-year-old Mohammed, is the MP7AI rifle, reasonably priced at 10,000 dinars.

“It is cheaper and it is the type of rifle children see in American movies; that’s why it is so popular,” said the computer engineer who is selling toys because he cannot find work in his own specialised sphere.
He said he was concerned at the increasing demand for toy guns, even though it was helping keep the tills jingling.
“I don’t think it is good; children become aggressive when they play with guns,” he said. “Children are seeing too many people with guns -- from the police to the army to the militias.”

The only psychological study carried out in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 was on children by the Association of Psychologists of Iraq (API) early last year. It found that the violence was profoundly affecting them.
“The only things they have on their minds are guns, bullets, death and a fear of the US occupation,” said API spokesman Marwan Abdullah when he released the report.

Up in Baghdad’s northeastern suburb of Al-Shab, a Shiite bastion of the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, young children too are pre-occupied with guns.
“I like toy guns; they are nice. We play cops and robbers chasing each others. All of my friends are carrying toy guns too,” said Riyadh, eight.

He added, with a shy smile, that he feels a hero carrying a gun, “just like the heroes in ‘Space Toon’ television.”
His neighbour, 10-year-old Haider, has another reason to play with his toy gun.
“I love it. I like holding it and going outside to kill evildoers. I like to go outside at night like my uncle (a member of the Mahdi Army),” said the boy wearing a ragged T-shirt.

Not far away in Sadr City. In the vast ghetto where Sadr is considered a hero and his militia calls the shots, children in their war games reflect the bitter sectarian divides -- one side gets to be Shiite militiamen, the other Sunni insurgents.
In other neighbourhoods, it’s police versus “terrorists”, or army versus Al-Qaeda, according to local news reports.
Another vendor, Hassan, 27, runs a stall in Bab al-Sharji in the centre of Baghdad. He confirmed that guns are the all-time favourites with children, male or female.
“Children prefer guns to trains, balls or radios,” he said.


Iran’s top nuclear negotiator resigns

(AFP) - Iran’s top negotiator on its controversial nuclear programme, Ali Larijani, has resigned, the state news agency IRNA reported on Saturday, quoting the Islamic republic’s government spokesman.
“Larijani had resigned several times and finally the president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) accepted his resignation,” Gholam Hossein Elham was quoted as saying.

“The appointment of Larijani’s replacement is under study,” he added.
Elham added that Iran’s meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will go ahead “as scheduled with the new head of supreme national security council,” which was headed by Larijani as his official title.
Larijani said earlier this week that he would hold fresh talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana next Tuesday in Rome on Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West.

On Friday, Iranian media reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has made a proposal over Iran’s atomic programme, contradicting Larijani.
Larijani had said on Wednesday that Putin made a special proposal to break the deadlock over the nuclear programme in talks with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his landmark visit to Iran this week.
But Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency: “There was no nuclear proposal.”
Ahmadinejad did not explain his contradiction of the remarks by Larijani, an influential figure in the Islamic republic who is also an ex-head of state broadcasting.

Despite several meetings during the past year, Larijani and Solana have not overcome the deadlock over Tehran’s refusal to suspend its sensitive uranium enrichment activities.
Solana must report to major world powers Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States before mid-November on Iran’s willingness to give up uranium enrichment in exchange for political and trade incentives.
The West, led by the United States, believes that Iran’s nuclear programme is cover for a drive to develop an atomic bomb, but Tehran insists it is for civilian objectives only.


Suspected pedophile was ‘person of interest’ in Canada

(AFP) - Canadian schoolteacher accused of sexually abusing boys across Southeast Asia and arrested in Thailand Friday was a “person of interest” for police in his native province of British Columbia, officials said.
“It appears that he was a person of interest since 2004,” Annie Linteau, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), told AFP.

“We’re certainly interested here, but we are unable to confirm or deny that there is an ongoing investigation,” Linteau added
Local media reported that federal authorities have received complaints from residents of the Vancouver area, saying they have been victims of sexual harassment on the part of Christopher Paul Neil.

CBC television reported many young boys have complained about Neil’s sexual advances, but no formal charges had been filed.
If sexual assault of harassment charges are brought against Neil in Canada, Ottawa could ask for his extradition.
A worldwide search for Neil began just 10 days ago with an appeal from Interpol for the public’s help in tracking down the man seen in 200 photos on the Internet that appeared to show him abusing a dozen young boys.
Neil, who is from the Vancouver suburb of Maple Ridge, was arrested in Thailand’s third-largest city, Nakhon Ratchasima.


Myanmar under fresh pressure after new US sanctions

YANGON (AFP) - Military-run Myanmar was under renewed pressure Saturday after the United States announced a new round of sanctions following the junta’s bloody crackdown on dissent here.
US President George W. Bush’s new penalties targeted the country’s military leaders late Friday and also urged China and India, Myanmar’s neighbours and main allies, to step up pressure on the military government.
It is the second time in four weeks that the United States has increased sanctions on the junta following the regime’s clampdown on protests.

State media in Yangon has yet to speak about the latest US action, while detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), also declined to comment on the move.
However, a Yangon-based diplomat voiced scepticism over the impact of the latest US sanctions designed to pressure the junta into ending its repression of pro-democracy activists.
“The junta leaders may feel nervous because the United States was stepping up pressure very quickly,” said the diplomat, who declined to be named.

“But the impact of the latest US sanctions is limited at best. I don’t think Myanmar’s top leaders still hold vast assets in the United States,” he said.
The military government has been under international pressure since it violently put down peaceful protests, led by Buddhist monks, in Yangon on September 26, killing at least 13 people and detaining some 3,000 people.
In the wake of the violence, the United States ordered a freeze on the assets of 14 top officials, including Myanmar’s junta leader General Than Shwe.

On Friday, Washington further tightened sanctions by adding 11 more junta leaders, including 10 government ministers, to the existing list of 14 officials whose US assets have been frozen.
Anti-junta rallies began in August following a massive hike in fuel prices and snowballed into the biggest challenge to the iron-fisted regime in nearly two decades.

The bloody crackdown sparked global outrage against the junta, with the United States and the European Union tightening sanctions, while the United Nations also urged the regime to open talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.
The United States has imposed sanctions due to Myanmar’s rights abuses, including the detention of 62-year-old Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past 18 years under house arrest in Yangon.
Aung San Suu Kyi has publicly discouraged foreign investment in Myanmar in a bid to pile pressure on the military, which has ruled the Southeast Asian country since 1962.

But the impact of the sanctions has been weakened by the eagerness of China, India and Thailand to tap Myanmar’s rich natural wealth to fuel their own growing economies.


Criminal’ Blackwater must leave, others can stay: Iraq

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq repeated a call for US firm Blackwater to leave on Saturday almost five weeks after its guards killed as many as 17 civilians, but said it had no problem with other companies that obeyed the law.
“The Iraqi government doesn’t want Blackwater to stay in Iraq,” said a statement from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. “There is popular anger against this company because of the crime they committed.”
On September 16, Blackwater guards protecting a US State Department convoy unleashed a hail of bullets in a crowded Baghdad square and killed as many as 17 civilians when they thought they were being ambushed.
Blackwater boss Erik Prince has rejected an Iraqi report that said the killings were unprovoked, insisting that his men were fired upon.
“The government is not against security contractors as long as companies stick to the law,” Dabbagh’s statement said.
The Baghdad government, which since the Blackwater incident has drafted a law that would regulate the activities of private security contractors, said there must be criteria to punish such companies if they mess up.