Report: Developing Stability in Kurdistan, South Sudan, Cameroon, Colombia & Korea

Report: Developing Stability in Kurdistan, South Sudan, Cameroon, Colombia & Korea
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Event Report - Peace Zones: Creating Avenues for Stability through Development
- South Sudan, Cameroon, Kurdistan, Colombia and Korea

By Velma Anne Ruth, M.Ed., President, ABS Community Research, Inc.

Opening Comments

This roundtable discussion was opened with remarks by Dr. Antonio Betancourt, Director, UPF Office of Peace & Security Affairs.

The concept of “peace zones” was first introduced in 1947 through the UN’s Security Council Resolution 181 to promote peace in Jerusalem. Since then, the United Nations has engaged dozens of peacekeeping missions through the development of international coalitions for stability, addressing crises of military proportions, humanitarian, volatile conflicts and major natural disasters. Over time, as conflicts deteriorate, large territories are designated to promote advancement, such as industrial zones for trade, production, and resulting economic growth which facilitates strength in diplomacy between neighboring nations.

During his speech at the United Nations in 2000, UPF Founder Reverend Dr. Sun Myung Moon raised the concept of “peace zones,” drawing on United Nations history and capabilities to promote stability in conflicted territories by fostering a global authority in leadership and governance which embraces the collective intervention of multiple nations into a coalition that addresses security, humanitarian aid, democracy, and economic development.

Intervention is brought into disputed borders that “pass through rivers, mountains, fields, or the sea, [where] we can create buffer zones or peace zones along these borders.” These are “protected territories that promote peace, prosperity, and reconciliation”... “free of racial and sexual discrimination, human rights violations, and war” as Reverend Moon described. He further proposed that the peace zones would be green, such as with low carbon footprint, environmentally sound, and promoting natural resources. At the height of stability, the territories could engage “cultural promotion, exhibition halls, museums, educational sites, and peace parks in this zone in order to teach visitors important lessons regarding peace.”

In the course of peacekeeping missions, surrounding intervention, and follow-on nation-building, land designated by a given nation, local or regional authority promotes stability through ongoing negotiation, management of refugees and internal displacement, or establishing industrial trade zones that promote economic growth and partnership between nations or territories.

Through international cooperation, the concept of “peace zones” can and is furthered through partnerships between government, charitable, corporate and financial institutions that share visions of stability for the given territories, committing valuable assets to the strategic process for the greater benefit of indigenous and surrounding peoples through security, medical development, housing, industrial growth and job creation.

Peace zones, “peace cities,” charter cities, or peace parks, like the one proposed by President Park Geun-hye of South Korea for the DMZ between the two Koreas, can be established in other border areas of conflict, and territories between developed and under developed areas. They can assist in promoting stability. Consider the borders of the U.S., Mexico, and other Central America nations. Guerrillas and violence in Latin America like in Colombia, ongoing volatility and unrest in Africa, in countries like Democratic Republic of Congo with Rwanda and Uganda, border conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, integrating territories between Jordan and Syria, the intersection of Kurdistan that is Iran-Iraq-Syria-Turkey, disputed regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and beyond.

Peace cities may be designated locations within a given country, or between countries, that deepens capacities for growing stability through developing infrastructure towards higher qualities of life. The most opportune peace cities would give indigenous peoples avenues to establish prosperity for themselves, their families and communities by implementing internationally renowned best practices in legal systems, in technology, finance, banking, health, law, and open markets for sustainable solutions in green energy, water, agriculture, and beyond.

Today, we will be looking at four case studies – Korea, South Sudan, Colombia, and Kurdistan.

The roundtable discussion was moderated by Velma Anne Ruth, M.Ed., President, Independent Review, Inc and Executive Director, Middle East Democracy Federation. Velma welcomed all participants in appreciation, and also to Universal Peace Federation for hosting this event and recently appointing her an Ambassador for Peace, in hopes that many Ambassadors for Peace from around the world can join forces in addressing issues such that we are discussing today.

Velma reflected that people in this room know her well, because they work closely together in support of their countries, or many countries around the world. But that this is a first opportunity also for many to meet each other, and be introduced to the Universal Peace Federation.

The concept of Peace Zones is something that Velma views as a long-term mission for many countries, where we can begin with the seeds of development in promoting stability. There are some critical issues that many people are facing in the world, while it seems that our global security is vastly deteriorating. These issues include water, food, health, housing, sewage, agriculture, energy, alternative energy, and the fundamental governance of infrastructure such as democracy, diplomacy, and intelligence.

Over the course of strategic planning and program implementation, the most important component is the people that are impacted, the voices from within the given country, village, or community being served, their direct participation and opinions on how any development supports their advancement, because it is the people that make up the infrastructure, and it is the human assets that are the beneficiaries. For example, Velma expressed, she as an American cannot tell her friends in Cameroon, South Sudan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, or otherwise how to develop their own country. All she can do is offer resources in support of their independent aspirations. Then what we can do is identify locations to begin, where do we start the budding of internal assets towards more national advancement.

Korea and the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has served as a buffer zone between North and South Korea since the 1953 Armistice ending the Korean War. It has seen discussion of numerous possible co-ventures, most notably a nature reserve, but by and large, the DMZ remains a no-man’s land directly controlled by each nation’s military with numerous Armistice violations in the past 60 years.

The roundtable was joined by special guest speaker Dr. Seung-ho Lee, President of DMZ Forum. Dr. Lee’s opened his comments highlighting that this year, 2013 we observe the 60th anniversary of the DMZ, given the Korean War ended in 1953. Since then security concerns continue in northeast Asia. From a global perspective the Korean peninsula is the highest security concern, while North Korea (DPRK) is always saying that they are at risk from outside the country, and DMZ has been their frontline.

Many people, including South Korea have been trying to turn the DMZ into a peace park. Dr. Lee reflected on North Korea’s perspective, and how to persuade them into this program, which is an idea of UNESCO. Dr. Lee explained that the DMZ separates two major mountains, one in North Korea, the other in South Korea, and both mountains are national parks on either side. Joining the land in between the two mountains would promote a peace park.

Dr. Lee discussed primary concerns of the peace park as turning this commission into a peace treaty, transitioning DMZ into a world heritage site, the process of designating sites, and operating through UNESCO without security risk.

In reference to Dr. Lee’s organization DMZ Forum, “The Korean Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. It is 250 km (160 miles) long, approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) wide and is the most heavily militarized border in the world.”

“The DMZ clearly demonstrates how nature can restore itself after the destructive effects of war. There we can see rare and endangered species. Due to nearly 60 years without human intrusion, the area’s biodiversity has thrived, creating a place that is both
ecologically and culturally significant. Protected migratory birds also thrive in the DMZ and recently it is reported that the tiger has survived in the DMZ.

“The DMZ has great cultural value to Koreans and to all the world’s peoples. It is a living symbol of the costs of war, one that can inspire us to strive for peace. It serves as an educational site, teaching us that sacrifice need not be in vain, and that if we work together, we can bring peace, prosperity, and ecological sustainability even to those places most damaged by the ravages of war.

DMZ Forum continues reflecting on the proposal to “Turn Korea’s DMZ into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each UNESCO World Heritage Site represents cultural and ecological treasures important to us all. The DMZ is a very special place that reflects both the tragedy of war in the 20th century and the beauty and wealth of Korea’s unique ecology. Today, it is protected only because on-going hostilities deny human access to the area. To ensure its continued survival, it is our responsibility as global citizens to preserve the DMZ’s historical and ecological significance through registering it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Special guest Dr. Mark Barry is a professor of international relations and global management, an independent Asian affairs analyst, author and media contributor, specializing in US-DPRK relations for over 22 years. Dr. Barry suggested “what is significant is that the idea of a DMZ peace park, which goes back at least as far as the early 1980s, is no longer merely an idea but South Korean official policy.

“President Park Geun-hye first publicly proposed it in a speech before a Joint Meeting of the U.S. Congress this past May, and reiterated it in her annual Liberation Day message on August 15. However, as senior North Korean officials have affirmed, the two Koreas can make progress on a DMZ peace park only when they are able to fully agree and successfully operate the existing Special Economic Zone in Kaesong, just north of the DMZ. That zone where almost 200 South Korean companies have manufacturing operations, which had been temporarily shut down by the North from April through September, is only now just getting back to normal operation. The North Koreans see successful operation of Kaesong as a prerequisite to something much larger, which is consideration and implementation of a peace zone of some kind in the DMZ.”

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. Michael Kirby, former High Court judge was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to chair a landmark commission of inquiry into North Korea, including address to “forced starvation, prison camps, torture, arbitrary detention, discrimination, restrictions to freedom of expression and movement, murder and abductions.”

According to ABC news in Australia:

"Testimony heard thus far points to widespread and serious violations in all areas," Mr Kirby told the [UN Human Rights] council, to which he is due to deliver a full report next year. He said the evidence had "given a face and voice to great human suffering."

"The commission listened to political prison camp survivors who suffered through childhoods of starvation and unspeakable atrocities, as a product of the 'guilt by association' practice, punishing other generations for a family member's perceived political views or affiliation," he said. Among the stark testimony was that from a man imprisoned from birth, who lived on rodents, lizards and grass, and witnessed the public execution of his mother and brother. Mr Kirby also heard from a woman who saw a fellow inmate forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, and from a man obliged to burn the corpses of starved inmates and scatter their ashes on fields.

Mr Kirby also spotlighted torture and sexual violence, detention for watching foreign soap operas or having religious beliefs, kidnapping citizens of South Korea and Japan, massive malnutrition, and the total control by the regime's propaganda apparatus.”

In nations where human rights atrocities are so severe, the level of dictatorial regime over common citizenry, activists, and beyond is commonly the internal violent result of restrictions over freedom to organize, free speech, and other social freedoms that may be threatening progress over a DMZ peace park. Despite the common cultural thread of Korean identity between northerners and southerners, from an intelligence perspective the notion that North Koreans and South Koreans may be able to associate freely within a public space could very well present the greatest threat to DPRK security. An open nature preserve immediately enables social freedoms, and is not a controlled environment.

Given labor is more easily controlled by the north, this may explain why the Kaesong North-South Korea Industrial Complex is allowed to be active.

The road for DMZ Forum and UNESCO in establishing the peace park is no doubt in the spiritual vision of establishing a peace zone for Korea. In hopes that the road may be shorter than longer, may the results of UNHRC’s inquiry into North Korea promote many opportunities for the North Korean people to more freely associate with their brothers and sisters in South Korea, through a peace park and extended means.

South Sudan

On July 9, 2013 South Sudan celebrated its second independence day, as the youngest of all countries in the world. Separated from the north, where Sudan maintains conflicts over Darfur, border conflicts with the South, and other issues discussed in this segment, South Sudan maintains a bulk of natural resources that has yet to be tapped and invested in by foreign market leaders such as energy, minerals, and agriculture. To date, American company and financial institution investments have been limited, while competitors and Europe and Asia are gaining speed in consideration of promising outputs. Sudan has been lacking proper health infrastructure for decades, and the South has been struggling to rectify, while is waiting for industry advancements to empower social conditions. Philosophically, the Sudanese share goals of development in promoting stability between north and South, where of work, health, water, and food resources would lessen need for conflict overall. In this theory, any designated location for development whether in border areas or deeper in-country would share the vision of a peace zone.

In this session, a presentation was given by Dr. Matilda Rial and Dr. Joseph Agolory, board members of South Sudan Health Development Group, who support collaboration between private sector advancements in medicine and water with the Republic of South Sudan, Ministry of Health, state and local governments in country, while directly engaging South Sudanese diaspora in promoting the cause. Special guests included a delegation from the Embassy of South Sudan whom provided comment in representing their Ambassador Dr. Akec Khoc: Counselor Aban Pagan Othow, Counselor Aisau F. Robert, and Third Secretary Raymond Opi Silas Awiyo.

The presentation began with a quote from Ambassador Dr. Akec Khoc, reflecting his aspirations in promoting the health and wellness of South Sudan, considering also that he is a medical doctor by training.

“As a post-conflict third world Country, South Sudan needs assistance to improve the quality of health service delivery to the population, raise the capacity of the service providers and avail quality medicines at reasonable prices to be accessible by all citizens. Many more could still be said. However, if we could achieve these three objectives, our population can live better and longer lives....We must contribute to transforming our society.”

Historically, Ambassador Akec has been Ambassador of Sudan before its division, and Ambassador to the United Nations. He has also been appointed by Universal Peace Federation as an Ambassador for Peace. It is with much appreciation to His Excellency that the South Sudanese diaspora and South Sudanese leadership can work together with shared goals. Through the Ambassador’s advocacy, the South Sudan Health Development Group adopted His Excellency’s quote as their mission statement.

Speeches were accompanied by a slide show exhibiting a series of maps including Doctors Without Borders current activities between north Sudan and South Sudan, current medical and sanitation conditions, ongoing conflicts and security issues.

With regards to ongoing conflicts, Dr. Joseph Agolory shared:

Sudan and South Sudan have been in conflict for 23 years, and South Sudan just celebrated its second year of independence. Agreements were signed for South Sudan to become an independent country because certain issues that were not addressed in the north, were resolved in the south, meanwhile security issues continue to plague internal displacement. There continues to be land disputes between ethnic groups, clashes over border disputes, many have been wounded, many have died or been displaced between north and south as a result of this conflict. South Sudan inherits the problems that have been ongoing, still needing to improve quality of health services, food and drinking water conditions, while the people continue to be ill, have no where to go for treatment such as malaria, treatment of traumatic conditions, there is insufficient amounts of medicine, and inadequate medical facilities. The Doctors Without Borders efforts are very organized with a multitude of staff, but still is not sufficient to address South Sudan’s dire medical needs.

Dr. Matilda Rial continued the presentation exhibiting pictures from her medical mission to South Sudan in August 2013. The images detailed broken equipment, insufficient medicines and anesthesia (leaving patients to suffer through surgery without it), overflowing waiting areas showing hundreds of people who are left untreated due to the few visiting physicians who were restricted on time and availability, mounds of garbage collected and surrounding medical facilities without any waste management program (thereby promoting disease), and limited water resources mobilized through UN water tanker trucks.

Over the course of exhibit, Dr. Rial voiced medical statistics directly from the Ministry of Health, which the Embassy delegation reiterated and reflected upon in follow-up.

In South Sudan there are three (3) teaching hospitals, 1147 functional and 340 nonfunctional health facilities. A given primary health care unit (PHC) may see 15,000 patients, county hospitals each have 300,000 patients in need on average, and state hospitals each 500,000 patients in need on average. There is a disproportionate distribution of health facilities in urban areas, and health centers not distributed evenly overall.

South Sudanese medical facilities are currently short staffed at 0.5 physicians / 100,000 population, as compared to the WHO standard of 1 / 600. 40% of the South Sudanese people have access to health within a 5 km distance, however due to lack of roads, poor road quality, and lack of medical transportation, 5 km is a distance too often too difficult to reach. For example, in trauma and intensive care situations such as spinal or head inury, lack of care leads to infection, and death.

Dr. Rial also shared images from OBGYN and pediatric wards. According to the Ministry of Health, in South Sudan 60% of the female population are at birthing age (13-40 years old). there is a very high maternal mortality rate as only 14% of births receive any assistance which does not necessarily include any medical doctor or medical staff, while 13.6% of births are in a medical facility, and merely 10% of births are serviced by medical personnel. In South Sudan, there are 2 midwives per 100,000 people and a lack of contraception resources.

The infant mortality rate is extraordinarily high at 75 infant deaths per 1000 births (2010). Mortality for children under 5 is also high, at 105 deaths per 1000 children (2010). Unfortunately, one condition easily prevented through proper access to clean water and nutritious food is diarrhea, however diarrhea is a top killer of children.

In terms of infectious disease, cancer and diagnostics, diagnostic, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, surgical, and other treatment capacities are lacking in disease areas. South Sudan lacks access to medicines, and lacks proper storage facility and transportation units. Further, neglected tropical diseases present a bulk of issues.

In South Sudan, malaria is the top killer, and the situation is worsened by false positive diagnosis, and over-prescribed treatment. Out of 100,000 population there are 140 TB cases. 3% of the population has HIV / AIDS. And South Sudan holds 98% of the worlds cases of guinea worm-water. Additional tragic conditions include Typhoid, malnutrition, respiratory disease, and renal kidney failures given lack of dialysis treatment.

Another promoter of disease is travel and immigration, as people move freely between South Sudan, Ethiopia, Congo-Kinshasa, carrying and transmitting diseases with them.

With regards to environmental health risks, a good environment is required for good health, but South Sudan is currently struggling with contaminated environment. Poor water quality, excessive sewage, and lack of waste management system promote major health risks. 40% of the population has access to improved water, yet through wells which may be contaminated due to lack of waste management. For those traveling to obtain water, there persons may venture for at least one hour each way to obtain the resource. Meanwhile, 52% of the population has no access to improved water, and there are extensive contaminants in the Nile River. Unfortunately, sewage systems are only present in official offices, and 95% of population does not have access to any sewage system.

In reflection also of strong collaboration through the South Sudan Health Development Group, Dr. Rial and the Embassy delegation collectively cited the need for overall medical infrastructure such as extended fully operating clinics and hospitals, water resources, waste management, and beyond.

For objectives in development, targeting vital issues is a first step in leveraging infrastructure. Providing clean water, medicine and medical care are crucial areas to address, as most of disease is tied to lack of access to water and medical care. Access to clean water can reduce deathly yet preventable disease such as typhoid and diarrhea. Promoting access to food resources improves nutritional conditions and capacities for disease prevention.

A key priority is building medical facilities that are fully functional, which includes advancing medical transportation and increasing access to vaccination for children, and providing community health education and raising awareness on prevention of disease and managing waste. Further, addressing waste management and sewage systems can reduce flies that promote and spread disease like malaria, and can be advanced into waste-to-energy systems that reduce expenses on health infrastructure by providing energy resource and removing excessive waste products that causes illness.

Joining discussion on medical and water conditions in Africa were multiple representatives of Cameroonian village associations, women’s and human rights groups, who are friends to South Sudan Health Development Group through ABS Community Research, Inc.. In collaborative dialog, South Sudanese and Cameroonian diaspora share local conditions, challenges, experiences and strategies to promote solutions.

First to compare the South Sudanese conditions to Cameroonian village conditions was Samuel Mbueh, US representative for his Meta village Chief, and President of MECUDA representing 31 villages in the English-speaking Momo Division of Cameroon. Mr. Mbueh highlighted the ongoing commitment of his people to obtain water resources as a key foundation for health promotion, and to advance the one small medical clinic that they have for over 40,000 people. 


The next special Cameroonian speaker was Joseph Tezi, President of Ngyen Mbo village association, Director of Cameroon American Economic Advancement Group, and lawyer by training. Mr. Tezi greatly appreciated all who attended to share their stories, simply reflected on his continuing commitment to working together. Mr. Tezi organically applys the concept of peace zones in his village as a first step to inspiring over 72 other villages plus urban areas throughout Cameroon to advance medical and water challenges that all face.

A delegation of Cameroonian women also shared concern and aspiration for bringing about resolves, especially through the role of women as leaders in social and economic issues, and advancing out of human rights atrocities that often occur against women. These representatives included Emelyn Besem of Upper Banyang Women’s Organization, plus Anna Forgwi, Mary Kombo, Elizabeth Asaha Ufei, and Vivian Tamufor of African Women’s Rights Group. Ms. Ufei is also a member of MECUDA, Ngyen Mbo, and Women’s Federation for World Peace.

According to Bloomberg in April 2012, while three US corporations were preparing for developments in Cameroon, U.S. Agency for International Development prepared return to the country after an 18-year absence with U.S. Ambassador Robert Jackson. According to the US Department of State, “The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) runs a number of programs in Cameroon, mainly through its regional office in Ghana, and primarily in the health sector. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also has activities in Cameroon, mostly in HIV/AIDS prevention. Peace Corps volunteers work in maternal child health, youth empowerment, and sustainable livelihoods.”

Throughout the country, according to national statistics, approximately half (48%) of rural inhabitants do not have access to improved drinking water, and 65% of the rural population does not have access to improved sanitation. The degree of infectious disease risk is very high. Prevalent food or waterborne diseases include bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever. Prevalent vectorborne diseases include malaria and yellow fever, and water contact diseases include schistosomiasis. In addition, 16.6% of children under 5 are underweight.

With the support of ABS Community Research, Inc and Island Sky Foundation, Cameroon Economic Advancement Group supports over seventy (70) Cameroonian villages as addressed in the cause of water and medical development, whereby provisions of water throughout rural areas are a means to prevent disease, promote health, and begin advancing village level medical infrastructure through charitable programs.

Richard Groden, Director, Island Sky Foundation works with both the South Sudanese and Cameroonian groups, also through his efforts with the international charity One Village Planet, and role as board member of ABS Community Research, Inc. Mr. Groden participated via Skype from his company headquarters in Florida, where his team manages allocation of atmospheric water machines, medical supplement, military supply, alternative energy and fuel saving solutions, sustainable village programs and more in over 35 countries between Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Asia, in cooperation also with American and European institutions.

Mr. Groden reflected on his commitment to continuing to work with the presenting organizations and all in need of water and sustainable resources, suggesting that provision of clean health promoting water is a crucial tool to promoting and building peace. He often sees young girls and women with the task of fetching water daily or weekly, where they walk along roads unprotected, vulnerable to attack, rape, having their water stolen, or worse. If peoples are provided with water resources in their immediate location, given hygienic solutions, that the provisions can immediately reduce risk and disease upon communities, and leverage opportunities for societal advancement. Water infrastructure, whether on- or off-grid is central to the cycle of stability: it provides healthful resource for consumption, cleaning, and medicine; water furthers local farming through irrigation; plus agricultural and natural waste can be combined and power facilities through waste-to-energy solutions. Further, water can be locally bottled and distributed at low-cost to the consumer in environments where contaminated water is being hand-bottled because commercialized brand water or tanks are not affordable for rural areas or working class. And distributing localized water resources can create jobs, boost economies, and provide opportunities to raise revenues that can be applied to purchasing vital items such as soap or medicine. Overall, Mr. Groden commended the versatility of all event attendees and those they represent for collectively addressing the challenges of obtaining water and health solutions as a means to promote peace.

Kurdistan: Syria and Iran

In the public arena, the quest for freedom in Syria is at hand. However, this is not the ultimate conquest. The original Free Syrian Army are defectors from Assad’s military, are secular in political disposition, and historically have ongoing disagreements with those who claim to represent them to international bodies such as Friends of Syria, as they are firmly against terrorism, dictatorial domination, and risking their lives to liberate their nation. There are at least 60 different militant groups of varying size and network capacity who claim to be part of the opposition, meanwhile some of those extremist groups attack the very original Free Syrian Army. The plethora of fighters is far more diverse in ethnic origin, political disposition, and economic aspiration than Syria was before the 2011 revolution was seized by terrorist groups on all sides, Iranian backed Hezbollah, PKK and PJAK backed PYD, al Qaeda, Salafists, Wahabis, Taliban, Jundallah, the list goes on. This is compounded by Israeli military attacks, in consideration also of the Israeli settlement inside Syria known as Golan Heights.

So why the sudden infiltration of Lebanese terrorists and Iranian military, Turkish and Iranian extremists, Pakistani terrorists, and the global al Qaeda network into Syria? Energy. Any nation, corporate, or other kind of sponsor paying the way for military action inside Syria has this as a means to an end, and is tied to a network of business leaders, all pledging democracy. Meanwhile, millions of people are displaced, become refugees, become ill, starve, hundreds of thousands die. What is the price tag on this much human suffering, that the international community struggles to meet? What is the incentive for paying terrorists and purchasing such massive amounts of weaponry in a country that was not so sectarian, much more pro-diversity before the influx of terrorists?

At least $228 Trillion is at stake inside Syria. This is over four times (4X) the global GDP. Obviously, it is not about the amount of crude that Syria produces, which is on the down slide. It is about the 8.5 Trillion Cubic Feet of natural gas in proved reserves, and 277,930 barrels per day of natural gas already being produced, plus 182,460 barrels of crude produced per day, a measure according to the US Department of Energy against current market values of crude and natural gas. Some of the major energy sector stakeholders are in play: Russia which continues to operate in Syria, plus Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, France which founded Friends of Syria, UK, United States, Israel who has just recently engaged in a Syria energy deal with former US Vice President Dick Cheney, and more. Meanwhile the border nations to Syria are feeling the brunt of issues, experiencing both extreme refugee crises and cross border warfare, including Jordan which is already host to millions of Palestinian refugees, Lebanon which suffers regularly from terror attacks, Turkey whose nation is compounded by both Iranian and Syrian refugees while managing ongoing conflicts with terrorist Kurdish PKK, and beyond.

Next to Iraq, Syria is a battle based also in Kurdistan. Kurdistan is comprised of border regions against the following nations: Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The Iraqi Kurdish region is the sole liberated, where Kurdistan Regional Government leadership works tirelessly on unity and peace between the four nations through humanitarian aid, regional economic partnerships, and defensive (not offensive) security apparatus. For decades, policy recognizing genocidal offensive by Saddam Hussein against Kurds remains in the draft originally written by former US Ambassador Peter Galbraith, and to date the Iranian government continues these atrocities. Among surviving lineage, some turn to extreme violence and join the Kurdish militant groups, but most are seeking to be protected from racist oppression, to be liberated throughout all four nations, and to be part of the modern world. Overall, at the heart of Kurdistan is a quest to establish peace between the regions of four-nations, much like a peace zone, but in more nationalistic terms, building unity through mutual identity: Iranian Kurdish, Syrian Kurdish, Iraqi Kurdish, Turkish Kurdish. Many assume that the Kurdish people seek to separate from those four nations, but the Kurdistan Regional Government policy is otherwise, and just, considering “federalism” as a means to establish Kurdish peace zones in each country: Iranian Kurdistan, Syrian Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Turkish Kurdistan.

Special invited guests to this Peace Forum event included Syrian Kurds and diverse Iranian opposition seeking nonviolent solutions, respective scholars, humanitarian aid and government relations consultants. The primary speakers for this section were board members of Iran Roundtable, Sharif Behruz of the Iranian Kurdish community and Habib Azarsina of the Azeri Iranian community, presenting the concept of “federalism” and the significance of diversity to peace process. Mr. Azarsina further expressed that the onset of Hassan Rouhani’s Presidency brings hope that a moderate may be positioned to work with the diverse representation that is Iran, and build stability through cultural unity.

Mr. Azarsina reflected on the map of his homeland, Iran and the Azeri region, highlighting the population spread between territories. Iran Roundtable represents the total nationalities in Iran: Persian, Kurdish, Azeri, Ahwaz Arab, Turkmen, Balochi sharing quest for peace zones with Afghanistan and Pakistan, and more. In Mr. Azarsina’s reflection, “federalism” is the recognition of cultural density per region within Iran, and promoting stability towards Tehran by addressing development from the border areas, more human rights orientation, and less corrupt practices in cultural regions, especially those with heavy oil concentrations, such as Ahwaz.

According to reports from inside Iranian embassies, the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), Iran’s defense forces recently took control of energy resources through their top ranking leadership at the Ministry of Oil, explaining deepening oppression against Ahwaz, Kurds, and IRGC presence fighting and training militants in Syria. The IRGC and all military affairs are overseen by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, above President Hassan Rouhani. According to Iranian diplomats, Khamenei’s governance is modeled directly after North Korea under Kim Jong Il.

Special guest Jehad Saleh is a Syrian Kurdish journalist and writer based in Washington DC, who has co-hosted the Kurdish National Council to US Department of State and other institutions with his associate Sirwan Kejjo, also one of the few Syrian Kurds in the United States. Kurdish National Council is a panel of twelve (12) Syrian Kurdish parties committed to nonviolent solutions in the peace process, that are sponsored by the Kurdistan Regional Government, and are advocated for to the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Syrian National Coalition (i.e., Kurdish Democratic Party, Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party, Yekiti Party, Azadi Party, and subsequent branches). Mr. Saleh’s father, Hassan Saleh is a prominent leader of the Yekiti Party, based in Syria.

In his comments, Mr. Saleh reflected on the population map of Syria and Syrian Kurdistan (“Rojava”). The northern region is larger majority Kurdish, and was considered an ad hoc peace zone until the rise of Al Nusra Front (al Qaeda) conflicts with PYD (Syrian Kurdish militants). PYD issues are compounded by PJAK (Iranian Kurdish militants), PKK (Turkish Kurdish militants), PYD political imprisonment of Syrian Kurds who are against Assad, while PYD and leader Salih Muslim maintains PKK, Iranian and Assad government backing, according to witness testimony, investigative journalists, and leaks from Assad’s Air Force intelligence unit.

Syrian Kurdistan is a gateway for both refugees to move into Turkey, for Arab internal displacement into the Kurdish area, and for weapons trafficking into Syria. The recent increase in tensions has lead Turkey to plan a wall to be constructed along the border, as a nonviolent alternative to border control engagement. On the Iraqi border, the Iraqi Kurdish region has been decreasing in size due to the rise of Iraqi dominance in the country, but moreover in the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which as Mr. Saleh described, is also a heated source of tension engaging military activities inside Syria. Recently, ISIS threatened stability in the peace zone of Iraqi Kurdistan, with car bombs and a failed suicide bombing against the intelligence center of Kurdistan Regional Government, the first attack in Erbil after 6 years.

Unfortunately, due to the combination of terror backing the PYD, as verified by the US Department of State, and lack of Free Syrian Army presence in Syrian Kurdistan, the northern territory is restricted against receiving humanitarian aid from the international community, while it maintains the bulk of current Syrian government energy production.

Special guest Samira Ghaderi, Director, American Kurdish Council and law student is both Iranian Kurdish and Azeri. Her comments reinforced fellow people’s representatives statements on the necessity of embracing diversity to achieving peace and stability.

Special guest Ken Feltman, past President of the International Association of Political Consultants and past President of the American League of Lobbyists, has advised prominent global figures including former French President Nicholas Sarkozy who founded Friends of Syria, and former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Mr. Feltman shared a story of where he was advising a nation on establishing their political process, with regards to free, fair, and frequent elections. He reflected on the concept of a “mulligan” in golf, where you can swing the golf club multiple times and keep trying until you get a good shot in. Mr. Feltman commented on the time during overthrow of President Mubarak, when he shared this mulligan story with a group of Egyptian diaspora and students at Columbia University, encouraging the same. At once, a young Egyptian student stood and raised his fist saying: “You don’t understand, we are electing our next Mubarak. And we are going to change the constitution...” In fact, within months, this is what occurred with President Morsi’s administration, which was overthrown in short time.

Whether Kurdistan, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, or in another Middle Eastern nation, challenges for the people against establishing peace zones are the same: fundamental lack of representation for the vast majority of people’s who seek nonviolent solutions, and liberty from oppressive dictators and vile terror groups. As a starting point, both Syrian Kurdish political party and humanitarian groups, Iran Roundtable plus affiliate cultural groups and political parties, and indigenous development interests within the Iraqi Kurdish region are advocated for through ABS Community Research, Inc.. By maintaining a commitment to nonviolent solutions in promoting stability, leaders from the region work together locally to see their dreams of peace to fruition. Every Middle Easterner at the roundtable in this segment is a gateway to millions of people who seek diversity, unity, positive economic relations, and model their movements entirely after the UN Declaration of Human Rights, despite the media propaganda and extensive government relations that chimes against them. In these communities, for every member state of the Arab League, plus Iran, it is agreed that a mere 5-15% of peoples are on the side of volatility. In this ratio, there is no reason that the entire Middle East could not be a peace zone.

In remembrance of Xelil Kawe, member of Syrian Kurdish Azadi (Freedom) political party who was killed on October 4, 2013 in a PYD political prison after being detailed for two weeks. The first Syrian Kurdish opposition to Assad that lost his life in a PYD political prison.

Colombia & Farclandia

As part of the peace talks launched in 1998, the government of Colombia granted FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization, a safe haven larger than the state of Maryland. Known as Farclandia, the zone was largely controlled by FARC. Despite the government’s willingness to offer land-for-peace, FARC continues terrorist attacks most recently on Colombia’s oil industry.

FARC is the oldest and largest terrorist organization in Colombia. According to the US Justice Department, FARC supplies more than 60% of the cocaine entering the US. In addition to illegal drug trafficking, FARC also profits from kidnappings, extortion schemes, and an unofficial “tax” it levies in the countryside for “protection” and social services. In 2002 and 2006, President Alvaro Uribe won the election based on his offensive against FARC. He was succeeded by Juan Manuel Santos in 2010 who followed the anti-FARC platform. The terrorists control large areas in the rural region, particularly in the south and east, where the government is weak.

Presenting at this roundtable was guest speaker Mr. James Patton, Executive Vice President, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. Mr. Patton addressed three items: the effort in Colombia to create a Peace Zone, Peace Zones as a general concept, and the idea of a Peace City.

In 1998, then president Andres Pastrana ceded a 42,000 sq km territory (called Farclandia) to the FARC to facilitate peace talks. The war between the Colombian government and the terrorists has been going on since 1964.

The Colombians are now reaching a half-century mark of violence with a very brief window of semi-peace.

Mr. Patton presented concerns about calling this a Peace Zone. A Peace Zone is something you create consciously with the intention to address certain conditions. The Colombians really didn’t try to address the root causes of the conflict. It was a carrot to bring the FARC faction to the table. They were given a huge portion of territory the size of Switzerland but without any political legitimacy. They were not chosen by the people. They didn’t do anything to transform the realities of the area. The FARC has many sympathizers primarily because the government has done such a bad job in providing any services. The people were happy to have a group there that would nominally take care of their basic needs. There was no effort on behalf of the government or FARC to actually take care the people. That was one of the seeds of failure. Another seed of failure, there wasn’t any concession by this group other than to come to the talks. So just by their presence they were ceded this territory. It was widely perceived as abject failure and used to create a window of opportunity for the FARC to rearm themselves. The territory is prime area for growing coca and marijuana. It is a fertile area good for growing plant products and illegal trafficking.

The government has given up on FARC coming to the table. There are tragic stories of retaliation against civilian sympathizers including chain-sawing people to death and throwing the body in the river.

If you’re going to create a Peace Zone then the nation down to the community level must participate and support the peace process.

Secondly, the zone should be defined by two sovereign states so the military can be pulled out and the people won’t fight. Then we can install art centers. Like a civil society, they can get to know one another and hope the fighting can stop. This supposes the area can be demilitarized and the government is actually in control.

South Sudan offers a model to study. Health is a major issue there. The area between the nations is defined and agreed upon.

The third point about the Peace Zones entails external actors / guardians to create something like a tax-free zone for peace. This raises concerns. Primarily, people don’t want to give up their autonomy to a paternalistic or colonial power. This would lead to communities of exclusion.

It is a logistical challenge. You can’t create a Peace Zone unless you have access to that infrastructure. A lot of places have very limited access to infrastructure. In South Sudan, a country the size of Texas, access to infrastructure is a major issue. It is very hard to apply that model.

The question of Peace Cities is extremely intriguing. The question is how to get from here to there? You’re talking about the potential of these communities to self mobilize in an effective and stable manner.

One of the worst things that comes out of creating a Peace Zone community in Colombia is you’re really taking away the responsibility from the federal government. What happens is that interests become politicized or to be more cynical, corruption results.

There is a world migration going on. Seventy five percent of humanity lives in an urban environment. Everyday there is a massive flight to the urban center. They don’t return to their homeland. Poverty in urban areas is worse than in the rural areas where neighbors and family can help. They just don’t have the resources. If the option is starving, then people will steal or do anything to survive.

The idea of creating Peace Zones in the urban peripheral zones, which is where most people are and where there is the most conflict and stress, is interesting. This is where the government does not reach. There is little infrastructure and access to the basic needs – electricity, education, etc. -- so it falls on the private sector. The private sector are the wealthy elite who control the security services and the power structures.

It’s in the urban settlements where most people suffer from violence. The impact of global warming will be felt in the coming years. The seas are rising.

The idea of exploring urban Peace Zones is very important. I hope we can come back and discuss this further. It will challenge the municipal governments, which tend to be underfunded with a weak tax base.

The communities must have a serious interest in having stability. In the Balkan states, women in the markets asked the armed guards to leave. “We can’t feed our families.” Women tend to be noncombatants with the exception that 35% of the FARC are women. The women in the Balkans were able to convince the men to back down so they could manage the daily household duties. What happened in that space was an exchange of more than just market goods. It was an exchange of ideas and cultures, an exchange of needs and interests that helped to inform the combatants and help them to nonviolently gauge the transformation of the conflict. Those young people credit their mothers and sisters who went to the markets, with opening their eyes.

Mr. Patton continued his contribution to this discussion, offering further structural definitions and considerations for developing effective peace zones, that may be applied to many territories.

What makes for a viable Peace Zone? How do we define a Peace Zone? Authentic “Peace Zones” should not be conflated with areas that are set up “ad hoc” at the margin of disasters – including man-made ones such as violent conflict. An authentic Peace Zone needs to be a conscious construction with the aim of addressing the root causes and conditions that are generating conflict, and that proactively generates the conditions for promoting and sustaining peace. The relevant decisions regarding that space should consciously advance that goal.

The Caguan area that was set-aside for the FARC in Colombia during the Pastrana administration is not a good example. This 42K km region was not truly a Peace Zone, since it was not an area wherein policies were implemented to advance the process of resolving conditions for conflict. In fact, it was an area cordoned off for a single armed actor that was embroiled in a civil conflict, without any civil society or public policy changes for that region. The government essentially ceded a huge portion of territory to a fighting force that had no legal standing for the populace in its exercise of the democratic definition of its own government.

Two types of Peace Zones seem functional:

Zones that begin with the exclusion of armed actors and armed conflict, or; Areas that are established to grapple with the more profound issues that are the underlying conditions for a conflict, such as economic insecurity, lack of infrastructure, a broken state-civil society contract, and group identity issues. In many cases these issues exist apart from a major armed civil conflict and are instead related to general social instability – in this conception, Peace Cities are and intriguing idea.

Peace City (loosely defined as a municipal area that tries to build a self-contained system that deals with the root conditions of social instability in an integrated fashion) is an interesting idea, for the following reasons:

Massive (and global) rural-urban migration. Upwards of 75% of human communities are now located in urban or peri-urban areas (as opposed to slightly more than 60% less than 50 years ago), and the number is growing as conflict and environmental pressures push people out of rural areas, and urban economic opportunities (real or imagined) draw them from rural lifestyles – and urban poverty is exponentially more dehumanizing and deadly than rural poverty;

The problems with peripheral zones, loosely defined here as the areas at the fringes of cities where many Municipal services, including infrastructure, water and sanitation, transportation and security, among others, simply do not reach. Coupled with traditionally inconsistent governance, including corruption, unequal tax collection, and unequal access to goods and services for citizens, often based on economic class or ethnic heritage, these areas are rife with the conditions for conflict as they are the primary place where poor rural migrants locate themselves – adding stress to deeply stressed systems;

Social exclusion is the primary result of the above. Vast portions of the urban poor feel (quite accurately) completely abandoned by the social “center” where power, privilege and access lie. Commitment to and interest in the “accepted” norms, institutional rules and social behaviors as defined by that center are at best irrelevant to this periphery, at worst, a target for their contempt and outrage.

The difficulties associated with establishing Urban Peace Zones (or Peace Cities) that grapple with this breadth of issues are fairly significant:

The very municipal governments that must implement any kind of policies to deal with these problems are both underfunded and with unreliable and profoundly weak capacity, in many cases (including funds);

Formal security mechanisms, which are an essential complement to the gradual implementation of policies that will address citizen insecurity, are notoriously imbalanced in urban areas – with many services essentially coopted by the wealthy and powerful elite to protect the very systems that maintain their position. Reorienting and depending on these institutions will be difficult;

There are commensurate negative incentives in both the governance and the private sector for the provision of basic services that will begin to remove the greatest source of a sense of social exclusion, which in many cases is the primary motive and justification for social unrest.


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