Mon, Nov 15, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Blair to target poverty as a `root cause' of terrorism

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will today set out a new world vision for tackling poverty and democratic failure as he tries to refocus the war on terror on the root causes of conflict.

His Downing Street office, which has produced a map revealing the most dangerous threats in the world, is drawing up plans for more proactive intervention in "failing states" -- countries on the verge of collapse, which not only fail their own people but also become havens for drug dealing, organized crime or terrorism that threatens the West.

The map, drawn up by the prime minister's Strategy Unit, concentrates on Africa, which is seen as a potential breeding ground for fundamentalism.

Blair will also vigorously defend the "special relationship" with the US in his annual Mansion House speech on foreign affairs, as well as urging new initiatives on climate change and overseas aid.

Labour party strategists now believe the war on terror could become a plus at the election if reshaped around contributory factors such as poverty and repression, an approach described by Alan Milburn, Labour's election co-ordinator, yesterday as "tough on terrorism, dealing with Afghanistan and Iraq, and tough on the causes of it."

Blair's speech comes as a leading member of his Commission for Africa warns that images of war and starvation in the Western media are fueling Africa's conflicts.

Tidjane Thiam, commissioner for peace and security, called for a shift from picking up the pieces to a strategy of preventing conflicts.

The commission has noted the rise of al-Qaeda cells in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia among other countries, with poverty a climate for terrorism.

"You have these talented people with no opportunities: the fact that they resort to violence is sad but shouldn't be surprising," said Thiam, a Muslim and former Ivory Coast minister.

Conflict was also driven by Western interventions, he said, from unscrupulous business deals or small-arms sales to well-intentioned war reporting: "I have mixed feelings every time I see the leadership of a rebel militia on CNN or the BBC. You are building role models for a lot of young Africans and the subliminal message to them is `you cannot be heard, if you want to be heard get a gun.'"

Today the Department for International Development will launch a Rough Guide to the developing world, outlining ways individuals can help, from shopping ethically to volunteering overseas. It is aimed at tackling "compassion fatigue" by showing small changes can make a difference.

Thiam said charity appeals were welcome but did not tackle root causes.

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