Sri Lanka  #sri lanka
Angola  #angola
Afghanistan  #afghanistan

Tamil Tigers

  October 1, 1998
  The Sri Lankan army has lost one of the largest towns in the north to the Tamil Tigers after a three-day battle that has left more than 1,000 dead.
  It admitted rebel forces had captured Kilinochchi - a strategically positioned town where the Tigers once had their headquarters.
  According to military figures around 500 soldiers and 600 rebels have died in the fierce battle for the town on the main road north.
  "We have pulled back from Kilinochchi," said Brigadier Sunil Tennekoon, the military's spokesman. "We have vacated the town."
  But the military said it had captured Mankulam, the Tamil Tiger stronghold 30 kilometres to the south.
  A jubilant spokesman described it as a ''great loss to the Tamil Tigers''. But analysts say it is small compensation for Kilinochchi.
  Both towns are on the main highway north, which the government has been trying to take in order to open up a land route to the Jaffna peninsula.
  The offensive to capture the highway was launched in May 1997.
 Before Thursday's defeat the government had succeeded in wresting two-thirds of the route from the rebels.
  Kilinochchi was controlled by the Tigers from 1990 until the military captured it in November 1996.
  Civilians fled the town when fighting heightened two years ago.
  Red Cross officials say Tamil Tigers have handed over the bodies of another 10 government troops, bringing the total to more than 600.
  LTTE's clandestine radio says there are 100 more bodies.
  But the military disputes the total saying not all the bodies handed over are soldiers.
  The battle for Killinochchi has been the most bloody engagement since rebels overran Mankulam military base in July 1996, wiping out more than 1,200 troops.
  The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the country's north and east.
  They say they are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese who control the government and the military.
  About 54,000 people have been killed since the fighting began in 1983.
  But our correspondent Susannah Price says it is clear there are no hopes for a political solution in the near future.  September 30, 1998
 900 dead in battle for key town
  The Sri Lankan army has lost at least 600 men as it tries to hold on to the key town of Kilinochchi in the face of a major Tamil Tiger offensive.
  The Tigers have handed over the bodies of 600 government soldiers to the International Red Cross; until now, the government had acknowledged losing 200 fighters.
  Rebels losses have also been heavy, in what BBC Colombo correspondent Susannah Price describes as the most serious escalation of Sri Lanka's civil war for two years. The fighting is continuing on two fronts.
  The separatists say they have lost 275 soldiers. The government believes the figure is far higher.
  Separatists win ground
  Military officials now concede they have lost control of part of Kilinochchi, though they say they have captured the town of Mankulam, 30 kilometres to the south. Analysts say this would be small compensation for the loss of Kilinochchi.
  Kilinochchi is on the main highway north, which the government has been trying to take in order to open up a land route to the Jaffna peninsula.
  Our correspondent says that after 14 years of civil war, people have become almost used to the conflict and to hearing these kind of casualty figures.
  About 54,000 people have lost their lives in the country's 14-year civil war.
  But our correspondent says it is clear there are no hopes for a political solution in the near future.
  Jaffna offensive
  The Jaffna Peninsula was captured by government troops in early 1996. But the sole land route to the region is still controlled by the Tigers.
  The government offensive to capture the highway was launched in May 1997, but the troops' advance has been stalled due to heavy resistance by the Tamil Tigers.
  The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been fighting for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east since 1983.
  They accuse the island's Sinhalese majority of oppressing the Tamil minority.



  January 28, 1998
  The Tamil Tigers were declared illegal by the Sri Lankan government on January 26
  Sri Lanka is a diverse nation. Sinhalese make up 74% of the population and are concentrated in the more densely populated south-west. Ceylon Tamils, whose South Indian ancestors have lived on the island for centuries, form around 12% of the population and live in the north and the east.
  Although Sinhalese are the clear majority, they are a majority with a minority complex, fearing the influence of the huge Tamil population across the Palk Straits in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The different groups tend to lead highly-segregated lives and live within their own communities, apart from in the capital, Colombo.
  Indian Tamils, a distinct ethnic group, represent about 6% of the population. They were brought to India in the nineteenth century by the British, to work in the tea and rubber plantations. They tend to live in south-central Sri Lanka. The population of Indian Tamils has been declining as many are repatriated to India.
  Other minorities include Veddas, Muslims (both Moors and Malays), and Burghers who are descendants of European colonial settlers.
  Most of the Sinhalese community are Buddhist, most Tamils are Hindu. Most of the Muslims practice Sunni Islam.
  Sri Lanka claims the world's second oldest continuous written history, a history which chronicles the hostility between the Sinhalese ('people of the lion'), who probably came to Sri Lanka from India around the 6th century BC and became Buddhists when the religion arrived around three hundred years later, and the Tamils who came from Southern India a few centuries later.
  Chronicles and religious mythology have played a key role in developing communal identity and animosity on the multi-ethnic island. Tension began as far back as 237 BC but the stories of that period have been coloured by the religious nationalism and revivalism of the twentieth century. The Sinhalese see the unity of the island as intertwined with the Buddhist faith and oppose any attempt to divide it or give the Tamil areas greater autonomy.
  In the early sixteenth century, the first Portuguese traders began to arrive and the Dutch supplanted the Portuguese, who were then in turn supplanted by the British, although Dutch influence remains in some areas, including the law. Britain took full control of the island in 1815 and established a plantation economy. In 1931, the British granted Ceylon self-rule and a universal franchise. On February 4, 1948 Ceylon became independent.
  The British colonial policy of divide and rule sowed the seeds of renewed tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities after Independence. Tamils, although well-educated, were given a disproportionate number of top jobs in the civil service by the British. Once the Sinhalese majority held sway, its politicians sought to redress the balance with populist but discriminatory policies against Tamils.
  In 1956, the victory of SWRD Bandaranaike on a platform of Sinhalese nationalism led to him declaring Sinhala to be the country's official language among other anti-Tamil measures. Communal tension and violence increased from 1956 onwards as Tamils became increasingly frustrated.
  By the mid-70s, Tamils were calling for a separate state in the north and east of the country. In the 1977 elections, the separatist TULF won all the seats in Tamil areas, while groups such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began to use violence for the same ends.
  In 1983, the country erupted into full scale communal violence after 13 soldiers were killed by Tamils. Hundreds of Tamils were killed in Colombo and 100,000 fled to south India. Members of the TULF were thrown out of parliament and the security forces moved into the north and east of the country to try to drive out militant groups.
  As the situation deteriorated, with human rights violations on both sides, Prime Minister Jayawardene sought to involve India through an agreement with its Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. India has a population of around 55 million Tamils, mainly in the state of Tamil Nadu and some Sri Lankans felt that the LTTE was gaining considerable support from them. Negotiations began in 1985 and the Sri Lankan government made a number of concessions to the Tamils with some devolution of power and official status for the Tamil language.
  In 1987 the Sri Lankan government went on a major military offensive in the north of the island but India raised objections to the methods used and warned that it would intervene on humanitarian grounds if it thought the Tamils were being starved out. Relations between the two countries deteriorated rapidly as Indian planes dropped supplies into Jaffna. In July 1987, India and Sri Lanka signed an accord, which the LTTE at first went along with, to try to settle the problem through devolution and greater autonomy for the Tamils while an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) would disarm the rebels.
  Concessions of autonomy to the Tamils led to a backlash among the Sinhalese population, especially around proposals to merge the northern and eastern parts of the island into a Tamil-dominated province. Sinhalese nationalism began to grow and was fanned by Bandaranaike's SLFP. It found violent expression in the JVP, who fought against the accord with India, undermining the government's position. The JVP assassinated a number of political figures and tried to intimidate voters during the 1988 election.
  Meanwhile, in the North, the accord was repudiated by the LTTE after the death of 15 of its fighters in custody. The Indians were then drawn into fighting with the Tamil Tigers with whom they were ill-equipped to deal.
  In 1989, peace talks resumed between the LTTE and Premadasa which led to Premadasa calling for the withdrawal of Indian troops. India withdrew its forces from Sri Lanka in May 1990. On May 21, 1991 Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in India during an election campaign trip. The Tigers were held responsible for the killing.
  Attempts have continued intermittently for the last few years to try to resolve the conflict but all have proved unsuccessful. In January 1995, the government and the Tigers agreed a truce, but this only lasted for a short period as the Tigers saw the proposals as inadequate and fighting resumed.
  In October of that year, the government launched an all-out offensive against the Tamil Tigers, in which important territory was taken including, in April 1996, the Jaffna peninsula.
  But the Tigers, who have considerable resources, show no signs of giving up and continue to attack military bases and use suicide bombers. In April 1997, then-British Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, was involved in trying to broker an agreement between the government and opposition parties to try to end the conflict. The rebels also assassinated two members of Sri Lanka's parliament in July 1997 in the eastern port of Trincomalee.
  Overall, an estimated 50,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
  On October 15 1997, Tamil Tiger guerrillas exploded a truck bomb and fought street battles with security forces in the heart of Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo. 18 people were killed and 105 wounded. Officials said the attack was aimed at the new 39-storey World Trade Center (WTC) building which also houses the Colombo Stock Exchange, the Central Bank and several foreign companies. The attack represented a serious blow to the Sri Lankan economy which was just beginning to pick up and attract foreign investment.
  The previous week, the U.S. State Department added the Tigers to its list of terrorist organisations, outlawing their activities and fund raising in the United States. The Tigers said the U.S. action would only escalate the war. The Sri Lankan government has been pursing a successful programme of trying to marginalise the Tigers internationally and emphasise their role as terrorists.
  President Chandrika Kumaratunga condemned the attack and said it would not deter her from efforts to resolve the civil war. She has proposed constitutional changes that would give more autonomy to all of Sri Lanka's provinces, including those dominated by Tamils. But her offer falls short of the independence Tamil militants have called for.
  Sinhalese extremists have also criticised the plan as giving away too much to the Tamils who have said that they will continue their fight for self-determination. Most of the fighting has come in a fierce offensive by the government to capture a strategic highway. The offensive began in May 1997 and is continuing to cause major casualties on both sides.
  On January 26 this year, the Sri Lankan government declared the LTTE an outlawed organisation with immediate effect. The move came after the bombing of a 16th century Buddhist shrine regarded as one of the most sacred in the Buddhist world. The attack killed sixteen people. The banning of the group scuppers any chance of negotiating an end to the violence in the short-term.
  The US banned the group in 1997, while India banned the LTTE after it was implicated in the 1991 assassination of Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The move will cause some complications for Britain as the Tamil Tigers have a headquarters in London and use it to raise funds -- funds which its critics claim are used for terrorist attacks.
  February 4 1998 saw Sri Lanka's 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations, with Britain's Prince Charles among the invited dignitaries.

  By Antony Goldman January 28, 1999
  At various stages, the violence has been characterised as anti-imperial and revolutionary, a Cold War proxy, or a brutal competition between rival elites for a wealth of natural resources.
  The key to an understanding of Angola's civil war lies with the enigmatic and charismatic rebel leader Jonas Savimbi whose National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) first took up arms against the colonial Portuguese and the two, more established liberation movements, in 1966.
  Initially Maoist but later pro-Western, for Unita, like the government, ideology has never been more than a useful tool for better prosecuting the struggle.
  Unita emerged because of a perceived dominance of the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) by mixed-race intellectuals from the coastal cities, and of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) by northerners.
  As independence approached in 1975, each side solicited the support of Cold War patrons, with Cubans helping the MPLA to take the capital, Luanda, South Africans siding with Unita and the United States supporting an increasingly ineffectual FNLA in the north.
  Despite criticism of external involvement, in reality it was more a case of the puppets pulling the strings of the puppet masters in a ruthless bid to seize the initiative.
  Ethnic tensions
  That process of institutionalising tensions based on class, race and ethnicity remains at the heart of the conflict:    In this context, Angola's ample natural resources - diamonds in the north east and crude oil in offshore waters - have similarly proved little more than a device to prolong a civil war that benefits a narrow elite on both sides.
  Peace agreements reached in 1974, 1989, 1991 and 1994 have all collapsed, leaving a country laid waste by war and a generation that has known nothing but conflict.
  Much of the responsibility must lie with the intransigence of political personalities on all sides so ready to exploit those fundamental cleavages within society that are as sharp today as when the fighting first began.
  Antony Goldman is Senior Africa Editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit
January 18, 1999
  Fighting has had dire consequences for civilian population
  The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has recommended ending the UN's peacekeeping mission in Angola.
  In a report to the UN Security Council, Mr Annan says the country's return to civil war means it would be pointless for the 1,000-strong mission to remain after its mandate runs out at the end of February.
  The UN accuses both the rebel movement, Unita, and the Angolan Government of failing to live up to their commitments under the Lusaka Protocol of 1994 aimed at bringing peace to the country after 30 years of civil war.
  Heavy fighting since December has forced the UN monitors in Angola to withdraw to the capital, Luanda.
  Since then, two UN planes have crashed after allegedly being shot down.
  The UN Security Council is likely to endorse Mr Annan's recommendation to withdraw in the next few days.
  Mr Annan said he envisaged that most UN personnel would be out of the country by the end of March, though he proposed to maintain a small force there for up to six months to supervise the withdrawal.
  The report says events of the last few months have demonstrated that the Angolan peace process has collapsed and that the country is now in a state of war.
  Mr Annan says heavy fighting is taking place in several regions, with dire consequences for the civilian population.
  The report says that while history will be the judge of why Angola has failed to make peace, in the meantime the warring parties and their leaders must assume full and direct responsibility for the suffering of their people.
  Mr Annan insists the parties' determination to take their chances on the battlefield leaves the UN no option but to withdraw.
  He says that the UN does not want to abandon Angola and is ready to provide humanitarian aid to the country and to resume a political presence there if the warring parties become serious about peace.
  Friday, July 31, 1998      As fears grow of a renewed civil war in Angola the United Nations has said it cannot say with certainty who committed a massacre that the government blames on Unita.
  A UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is due in Angola this weekend to try to persuade both sides to pull back from the brink.
  The move follows the EU's decision to increase pressure on Unita by imposing wide ranging sanctions on the former rebels, who are already under a UN embargo. 
  UN investigators say they have not found enough evidence to confirm who murdered villagers at Mbula in the Lunda Norte province on July 22 - even though survivors told the UN that they believed Unita carried out the attack.
  The Angolan Government has said that more than 200 people were killed, but the UN team said they could only find 105 bodies in eight mass graves at the site.
  The Unita leader, Jonas Savimbi, has denied that his troops had any part in the killings, which he says could have been carried out by rival diamond miners in the area.
  The massacre at Mbula was the deadliest so far in a spate of attacks which have destabilised Angola over the last three months. As tension escalates there have been growing signs that the rebels and the government are preparing for a new war.
  The BBC correspondent in Luanda says that in the wake of the massacre, virulent anti-Unita propaganda in the state-controlled media has risen to fever pitch.
  Senior government officials have used the killings as justification for calling for a major offensive against the rebel movement.
  In the last six weeks, the government has deployed at least 30 battalions of troops throughout the country, and has taken delivery of a major shipment of military aircraft from Russia.
  Government press gangs are operating in most provinces, rounding up young men at gunpoint to join the armed forces. 
  Our correspondent says Unita's troops constantly carry out small-scale attacks on civilian targets, killing government officials, and carrying-off young children to be trained as fighters.
  Caught between the two sides, tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing their villages and seeking refuge in large cities, or even in neighbouring countries.
  The Angolan Government signed a peace agreement with Unita in 1994, following a bloody 20-year-civil war.
  However the agreement has proved ineffectual, and the rebels have failed to implement its terms fully.
  September 2, 1998

 JOHANNESBURG -- Even as Angolan troops are busy propping up the neighboring government of Congo, prospects for peace in Angola seem to be diminishing.
  In a statement, the government urged the people to stay "calm, vigilant and to not act in a manner contrary to the spirit of national reconciliation."
  BUT MANY ANALYSTS SAID THEY FEARED THE COUNTRY WAS SLIDING INTO AN UNDECLARED WAR. In recent weeks the government has reported increasing clashes in the countryside, including a battle in the northern province of Malange that apparently left 200 dead.
  The creation of the government of national unity last year was in many ways the linchpin of the peace process, which has dragged on for far longer and cost far more than anyone expected. THE UNITED NATIONS HAS SPENT MORE THAN $1 BILLION ON PEACEKEEPING IN THIS RAVAGED -- IF OIL- AND DIAMOND-RICH -- COUNTRY.
  "What we are seeing is the gloves coming off again," said Richard Cornwell, a security analyst in South Africa with the Institute for Security Studies. "It all looks very dangerous."
  After more than 20 years of civil war that left most roads cratered, most industries destroyed and millions dead, Angola has been hovering somewhere between peace and war for more than three years.
  At stages, both the government -- headed by President Jose dos Santos -- and UNITA, the Portuguese acronym for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, have been faulted for foot dragging on the peace accord.
  But in the last year, international observers have held UNITA responsible for delaying the final stages of the 1994 accord, the Lusaka Protocol, and the United Nations has imposed sanctions including travel restrictions on UNITA leaders.
  Last week, UNITA issued declarations that lashed out at the United States, Russia and Portugal, the three countries that had official "observer" status in the peace process. The rebels said they would no longer deal with those countries, because they had disqualified themselves "by not observing the criteria of neutrality and balance in their activity."
  In suspending the unity government, dos Santos' party said recent clashes in the countryside had proved that UNITA had failed to disarm. UNITA has claimed that it no longer has any kind of army. But diplomats routinely estimate that it still has more than 30,000 well-trained and well-armed guerrilla fighters.
  In the spring, there appeared to be little left to do to complete the Lusaka Protocol. The government of National Unity had been formed, most of the districts had been turned over to government officials for administration, and thousand of UNITA soldiers had been demobilized.
  But the accomplishments were more paper victories than real ones. Clashes continued throughout the country, and as the time came for UNITA to give up its pivotal strongholds, the rebel leaders balked. UNITA officials said the newly installed government administrations were harassing and even killing its supporters throughout the country. In some cases, that was true, diplomats said.
  Nevertheless the government had set Monday as a deadline for Unita to turn over all territory. That did not occur.
  In a statement on Monday, the government said recent clashes had proved that UNITA had "violated the constitution of Angola, the law of political parties and the Lusaka Protocol."
  Some analysts said they believed that the two sides were gearing up for more sustained clashes and that even the government excursions into Congo were really more a question of its wanting to flush out UNITA rebels, who are holed up on the Congo side of the border, than support for the government of Laurent Kabila.
  A return to open warfare could mean years more of fighting, analysts said. Neither side is deemed to have the military power to annihilate the other. Although there are some well-trained and well-equipped regiments in the Angolan Army, many soldiers are conscripts who have not been properly trained or paid.
  And the government faces the difficulty of fighting an elusive guerrilla force.
  Angola won its independence from Portugal in 1975 and immediately plunged into a civil war, fueled by Cold War interests. On one side was dos Santos' party, the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, supported by Soviet and Cuban troops.
  On the other side was Jonas Savimbi's UNITA party, part anti-Communist movement and part personality cult, supported by the United States and South Africa.
  A truce was achieved in 1992, and elections were held. But when dos Santos won, Savimbi returned to war. In 1994, facing likely defeat, he agreed to the Lusaka Protocol.
  The fiery Savimbi has never been satisfied with what he agreed to, analysts said, and he has done his best to force new talks that would increase his power.

     Mujahadeen chased the Soviets from Afghaistan; now they fight among themselves
        the front line in Kabul

 Human Rights Watch report 11/1/98
No mercy: men, women and children were murdered in their homes as Taliban gunmen took over Mazar-e-Sharif

  by Michael Sheridan
THE first detailed eyewitness accounts of the massacre of up to 8,000 people by Islamic fundamentalist Taliban fighters who ran amok in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif last August have been passed to western governments.
 Testimony compiled by international observers and handed to western diplomats in Pakistan reveals that hundreds of people were packed into containers where they suffocated when the doors were locked in the searing midday heat. Men, women and children were shot in their homes and on the street, and hospital patients were murdered in their beds.
 The massacre occurred when, during an offensive aimed at seizing full control of Afghanistan for the first time, Mazar-e-Sharif was overrun by the Taliban, who have imposed the world's most extreme interpretation of Islam, barring women from education, banning television and forcing men to wear beards.
Statements made available to The Sunday Times describe a campaign of slaughter directed against a Shia Muslim minority, the Hazara. The evidence, regarded by experienced aid officials as "highly credible", paints a ghastly picture of butchery and rape as the Taliban shot and cut the throats of Hazaras.
 The claims are supported by the influential American group Human Rights Watch, which is due to reveal its own findings on the massacre today and will call on the United Nations to investigate what it describes as "one of the single worst examples of killings of civilians in Afghanistan's 20-year war".

August 4, 1998

  Taleban forces are closing on their opposition's main base
  Taleban fighters in Afghanistan are advancing on two fronts towards the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif - the main base for opposition forces and the last city outside Taleban control.
  The Red Cross has evacuated the last foreign aid workers from the city. Hundreds of residents are also fleeing.
  "A lot of families are trying to get out of the city and using any vehicle that can get them away," said a worker from the Belgium aid group Medecins sans Frontieres.
  Another aid worker said there were reports of fighting near the airport, on the eastern side of the city, and of heavy clashes to the west.
  A Taleban spokesman said its forces were pausing to build bunkers shore up defences.
  It is unclear when the Taleban will attempt to capture Mazar-e-Sharif.
  The opposition alliance says it is determined to hold the city and said any Taleban attack would be repelled - as it was last year.
  Then, the Taleban had to retreat with heavy casualties when an allied group turned against them.
  On Sunday, Taleban fighters seized the town of Sheberghan, leaving the way open to Mazar-e-Sharif.
  The anti-Taleban alliance is made up mostly of Afghanistan's religious and ethnic minorities.
  Calls for peace
  Earlier, Iran's special envoy for Afghan affairs, Ala'eddin Borujerdi, called for a halt to the bloodshed.
  "We believe that this fratricidal war in Afghanistan must stop," he said in an interview broadcast on Iranian radio on Sunday.
  "The basis for resolving the crisis in Afghanistan is predicated upon collective agreement and the establishment of an all-embracing, enduring and Islamic system of government so that, ultimately, conditions will be created to enable peace and tranquillity to replace conflict and war."
  Iran has been alarmed at the advances made by the Taleban in neighbouring Afghanistan at the expense of fellow Shi'ites.

September 8, 1998

  The manouvers are over - but Iranian troops will remain
  The commander of Iran's revolutionary guards, Major-General Yahya Rahim Safavi, has said that Iranian forces will remain near the border with Afghanistan after completing military exercises in the area.
  In remarks broadcast on Iranian TV, he said the exercises had been a success, but added that Iranian troops would not leave the area.
  "In order to reinforce deterrent power against foreign threats, the operating forces will remain in the area," he said.
  "The Islamic Republic will strongly defend its national interests against foreign threats."
  Safavi also said the exercises had had "a direct effect in preventing narcotics entering the country from the eastern border".
  Iran had also succeeded in developing a rapid deployment force capable of responding to unexpected crises, and "for the first time, we carried out joint land-air operations in a vast area and achieved the new doctrine of joint operations".
  Worsening relations
  Iran began the exercises last week amid signs of rising tension between Tehran and the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan.
  Relations had soured over the fate of a groups of Iran nationals who went missing when the Taleban had captured the opposition stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif.
  The missing Iranians included 10 diplomats.
  Some 70,000 troops took part in the manouevres - along with tanks, heavy artillery and attack aircraft.
  It was the biggest exercise of its type in the area.
  On Sunday, the Taleban authorities, concerned that Iran was planning to intervene militarily in Afghanistan, called on the United Nations to prevent it.
  However, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamene'i, ruled out any military confrontation with the Taleban.
, February 15, 1999  Russian Orthodox priest comforts a war veteran at the Kremlin 
  Ceremonies have been taking place in the countries of the former Soviet Union to mark the 10th anniversary of the Soviet pull-out from Afghanistan.
  The military defeat scarred a generation and provided an counterpoint to the other superpower humiliation - US involvement in Vietnam.
  About 500 veterans marched to the Kremlin to mark the end of the 10-year Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which ended with the humiliation of the once-proud Red Army.
  Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just outside the Kremlin walls, in memory of the 15,000 Soviet troops that were killed. As many as a million Afghans are estimated to have died in the fighting.
  A chapel is being built in St Petersburg in memory of the Russian war dead.
  In other ceremonies, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma inaugurated a memorial in Kiev; there was no official marking of the event in Afghanistan itself.
  Lessons from Afghanistan
  It was meant to be a small, victorious war, designed to counter Western-backed Islamist rebels and, at the same time, subdue economic and social discontent at home. It achieved exactly the opposite.
  The last commander to leave Afghan soil, Boris Gromov, said the war contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
  He added that Russia's military debacle in southern Russian republic of Chechnya five years later showed that the country's leaders had failed to learn the lessons of Afghanistan.
  Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader and head of state at the time of the pull-out, echoed these criticisms and said he faced an uphill battle persuading Soviet political and military leaders that retreat was the right thing to do.
  "We could not allow the withdrawal to turn into a flight with the whole world jeering," he said.
  He said the international community could still learn a lot from what happened.
  "What is needed is the real democratisation of international relations, the strengthening of the United Nations and other international organisations."
  Poor veterans
  The Afghan war was a large drain on Soviet resources and tens of thousands of war veterans now languish in poverty, their associations starved of cash and their pensions whittled away by inflation.
  They say they want to be remembered for their sacrifices, but that they also want to be allowed to live in retirement with dignity.
  Russian analyst Vladimir Grigorevich Korgun says the war permanently damaged the morale of the Red Army and also produced a wave of nationalism and growth in support for Islamic movements in all the former Soviet republics.
  In Afghanistan the withdrawal was welcomed but the jubilation was short-lived.
  Afghan factions have battled among themselves for the past decade, and although the Islamic Taleban movement now controls most of the country, including the capital Kabul, the legacy is one of a country still economically and socially devastated.

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