Ron Moreau

Stories by Ron Moreau

  • A Fragile Friendship

    Many Pakistani men joined the Army to defend their homeland from India. They are ready and willing to fight and die, if necessary. The problem is, for many of these men, they are fighting the wrong enemy. Young officers, ranging in rank from captain to colonel, are not convinced they should be risking their lives on Pakistan's new, western front to hunt down Taliban and Qaeda remnants. These missions in support of the U.S.-led war on terror require patrolling rugged areas, where troops could face threats from local tribes as much as from Qaeda holdouts. "America forced these guys in here," grouses one colonel, "and now we are being asked to clean up their mess."Late last month a Pakistani Army major, captain and eight infantrymen, operating on U.S.-supplied intelligence, were killed in a Qaeda ambush near the Afghan border. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf continues to promise the risks are worth the rewards. But the rank and file are not so sure. Now, in mess halls and officer...
  • Perils Of Power

    The war on terror made the world glad that Pakistan had a dictator. On Sept. 12, Gen. Proves Musharraf did not need to consult any pesky politicians or civic groups before turning against the Taliban. In January he did not check with his lawyers before banning several Muslim extremist groups and arresting thousands of their cadres. The decision to aid U.S. military forces in hunting down Qaeda remnants in Pakistan had to be cleared with only a few, handpicked generals. And the war on terror should have made Musharraf glad, too: desperately needed by Washington, he has been all but immune to international criticism.Yet over the past nine months, Musharraf's dictatorial bent has eroded his standing within Pakistan. The January crackdown infuriated the military's former allies in the Islamist movement, as did his more recent decision to block insurgents from crossing into India's half of Kashmir. He has consistently refused calls from moderate politicians to share power: despite claims...
  • THE MISSING WEEK

    Sometimes it seems like the only person telling the truth in the Daniel Pearl case is the man accused of kidnapping The Wall Street Journal reporter. After turning himself in on Feb. 5, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, 28, told agents from Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that Pearl's captors had sent him a coded message saying the American had been executed. The ISI, NEWSWEEK has learned, chose not to mention that to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying instead that Pearl would be rescued shortly. For his part, Musharraf didn't publicly admit that Saeed was in custody until a week later, when at a press conference in Washington he said he was "reasonably certain" Pearl was alive.In fact, that missing week may have sabotaged the investigation by giving Pearl's killers time to disappear. "The ISI never shared with us any information about what Saeed had told them," says a senior Pakistani police investigator. Equally worrying is what the deception says about...
  • The Toughest Job In The World

    The Wall Street of Kabul is a place called Shahzadeh Market. And the closest thing that Shahzadeh Market has to a Master of the Universe is Said Fahim Khaksar. Dressed in a black leather jacket and a white skullcap, Khaksar flicks through grimy wads of rupees, dollars and afghanis with fingers ringed in gold. In recent weeks he has lost $10,000 doing what comes naturally in Afghanistan: betting against the future of his currency--and his country. Instead, the afghani has tripled in value against the U.S. dollar, a stunning signal of confidence that something is going right in Afghanistan for a change. A key reason: the newly installed interim government of President Hamid Karzai, who took office on Dec. 22. Such is the mood that even Khaksar doesn't seem to mind much the bath he's just taken. "If the political situation improves and there's peace, it's OK," he says with a shrug.Hamid Karzai will need all of his remarkable diplomatic skills to win over a country that has learned,...
  • The Great Conciliator

    Even his supporters say that Hamid Karzai is best suited to lead Afghanistan because of what he's not. He is not an obstreperous warlord with blood on his hands, plunder on his mind and a ragtag army. He is not tainted by association with the mujahedin who flattened Kabul after driving out the Soviets, or with the fanatical Taliban who took their place. He is not a bully, or a crook, or a chauvinist, or a zealot--none of the things that have defined Afghan leaders over the past 23 years. During the six weeks he spent behind enemy lines, masterminding the collapse of the Taliban in their southern Pashtun strongholds, he never once held a gun.He also lacks certain leadership qualities. "He is alone, doesn't represent a party, has no political base outside his tribe and is not widely known in Afghanistan," says a Western diplomat in Islamabad. Negotiators in Bonn chose the 44-year-old Karzai to head the Afghan interim government that takes office on Dec. 22 in part because he hadn't...
  • The Next Battle

    In the cities and towns of war-torn Afghanistan, the lightning collapse of Taliban control has felt to many like liberation. Men have cut off their long beards, children have flown kites, women have listened to musty old film songs. The country would appear to have been reborn overnight, its most urgent problem solved. Yet for hundreds of thousands of Afghans, trapped in isolated mountain villages battered by years of drought and war, suffering will not be dispelled so easily.In fact, the rapid advance of anti-Taliban forces has in many ways complicated the task of getting aid to those Afghans most in danger of starving. Relief workers face many of the same obstacles they did when the Taliban dominated the country--winter being the most pressing. In the so-called hunger belt running across the highlands of seven northern provinces, the survival of up to 3 million people depends on the arrival of food shipments before mid-December; some 700,000 of those are already malnourished and...
  • Delivered From Evil

    Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry were used to being roused from their cell beds by ranting soldiers toting AK-47s. Since the U.S. bombing campaign started five weeks earlier, their Taliban captors had kept the two American aid workers and six other Western hostages on the run with them nearly every night. But this time, as they were herded into a van packed with rocket launchers and other military equipment, the women sensed something was different. These were new jailers who seemed frighteningly on edge, not warm and friendly like the previous ones. After a three-hour trip down dark roads lined with tanks, the van stopped and the soldiers forced the hostages into a cold metal shipping container. The prisoners curled into the fetal position and waited out the night. "We knew the only way we'd get out of this is if God intervened," said Curry.The next morning the prisoners were trucked to another makeshift jail in the town of Ghazni, 80 miles from Kabul. Within moments the daily round...
  • Saving The Coral Reefs

    For 34 years said Nuhung made a fairly easy living as a fisherman. He would take his small boat out off the coastal village of Tumbak, on the eastern coast of Indonesia's North Sulawesi province, to the reefs. Looking into the clear water, he would see schools of groupers, wrasse and coral trout feeding off the protozoans, algae and crustaceans that live among the coral. Then he would make use of the fishing techniques handed down from his father and his grandfather: he filled empty Coke bottles with fertilizers and kerosene and fashioned matches into fuses that could burn underwater. Five or 10 bombs dropped one by one over the side would send plumes of water 15 feet into the air and kill fish anywhere within a dozen meters. Nuhung had only to dive down and collect a boatload of the larger, marketable fish and leave the rest for the gulls and sharks.Like thousands of other demolition fishermen, Nuhung never gave much thought to the coral below. The waters of the Indonesian...
  • East Timor: A Victory For One, Not Many

    Once upon a time the result would have been clear cause for celebration: a tiny country frees itself from the shackles of a colonizing power and, in free and democratic elections, brings its freedom fighters to power. But in East Timor, that precise outcome may spell trouble ahead.Election results to be announced this week indicate that the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, or Fretilin, has likely won a commanding 55 out of 88 parliamentary seats in a vote held on Aug. 30. That's five seats shy of the number required to pass a constitution--the Legislature's first task--without consulting other parties. But the victory ensures that Fretilin will dominate the island nation's first government. Even revered independence leader Xanana Gusmo, almost certain to be voted president of the new republic in elections in April 2002, stumped for smaller parties during the campaign, arguing that his former comrades should not be given too much power. "A big Fretilin win could...
  • Ring In The Old

    Indonesia's most famous housewife suddenly has a much bigger house. After nearly two years as a silent and often sidelined vice president--and six months of quietly backing her former boss Abdurrahman Wahid into a corner--Megawati Sukarnoputri now has the keys to the palace where she grew up. She has the presidency she thought was rightfully hers when her party won the most votes in 1999 elections. She has the good will of the international community, many, if not most, of her citizens and a large swath of the political establishment. "The popular mood is that this is a new chance for Indonesia--let's help her out," says legislator Sabam Siagian.She will need all the help she can get. Not only does Megawati confront the same mountain of challenges that defied the erratic Wahid--a basket-case economy, corrupt and debt-ridden companies and banks, a ballooning budget deficit, ethnic tensions, separatist violence and general lawlessness. But in order to get anything done, she must rely...
  • After The Ouster

    Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid predicted a national calamity if the country's supreme political body, the People's Consultative Assembly, or MPR, removed him from office on allegations of corruption and incompetence. His hotheaded supporters would pour into the streets, he warned, and several provinces immediately would declare independence. He was dead wrong.On Monday, as Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri took the presidential oath of office with a Koran held over her head, Jakarta and the entire nation were quiet. Aside from several church bombings which may or may not have had a political motive, there were no significant demonstrations protesting Wahid's constitutional ouster. No province threatened to break away, and most Indonesians simply seemed relieved that the nearly-blind Muslim scholar's 21 tumultuous months in office were finally over. "The popular mood is that this is a new chance for Indonesia," says MPR member Sabam Siagian. "Let's help her out."Megawati...
  • Transplanted Trouble

    Hill 1200 is a long way from Afghanistan. But the view from the Thai military outpost, which sits along the Burmese border, is awfully familiar. Until the Taliban banned its cultivation last year, the fields of arid Afghanistan were filled with opium poppy--75 percent of the world's supply. The elimination of this year's crop has naturally driven up prices for opium paste and its derivative, heroin, across the world. Down here along the Thai-Burma border, where ethnic Wa militias have been churning out ya ba ("crazy drug"), or methamphetamine, pills for the Thai market, the locals are rushing to fill the gap.From Hill 1200, Thai soldiers keep an eye on a ramshackle collection of green-roofed buildings that goes by the name of Muang Yawn Mai; they say the hills around the hamlet are carpeted in new poppy plants. "These people used to grow opium before," Lt. Gen. Wattanachai Chaimuanwong, the straight-talking commander of Thailand's Third Army, says of the Wa, who have moved to Muang...
  • A Mother's Search

    As Pham Kim Hy displays the carefully preserved keepsakes-baby clothes, booties, a red Ho Chi Minh Youth neckerchief, high-school notebooks-that belonged to her son, Ho Viet Dung, her eyes well with tears.She pulls out a family photo album filled with faded snapshots of the handsome young man. In one image, he is with his high-school sweetheart; in another, he strums a guitar. A photograph from July 1970, taken just before the 18-year-old Dung headed south to the front along the Ho Chi Minh trail, shows him dressed in his North Vietnamese uniform, smiling and confident. Finally his mother unfolds a worn letter, dated March 1972. "My dear beloved family. We are ready to go to battle," Dung wrote from Dak To in South Vietnam's Central Highlands. "But please don't worry for me. Spring is here."After the letter, Hy, who is now 72, never heard from her son again. She only knew that the battle for Dak To had been a particularly bloody one. For the next three years, she held on to the hope...
  • North Korea: A Portrait Of True Grit

    Park Choong Il is lucky to be alive, but is prepared to die. He keeps a small plastic bag filled with rat poison in his pocket. "I would rather kill myself than be taken back to prison in North Korea," says the 23-year-old former street urchin, who recently escaped from Kim Jong Il's dictatorship for the second time in 18 months. "I don't even like to remember what happened to me. It's too painful to think about."Park is one of thousands of desperate North Koreans who've escaped from that impoverished country in recent years. Nearly all flee into China, and many are quickly arrested by Chinese police and, like Park, forcibly returned to the communist regime, where they are punished by internment in Pyongyang's brutal prison system. Frail and boyish-looking, Park is suffering from memory lapses as a result of the mistreatment he claims to have suffered during his eight-month ordeal. Thinking he was dying, North Korean officials released him from prison last August and allowed him to...
  • North Korea: A Portrait Of True Grit

    Park Choong Il is lucky to be alive, but is prepared to die. He keeps a small plastic bag filled with rat poison in his pocket. "I would rather kill myself than be taken back to prison in North Korea," says the 23-year-old former street urchin, who recently escaped from Kim Jong Il's dictatorship for the second time in 18 months. "I don't even like to remember what happened to me. It's too painful to think about."Park is one of thousands of desperate North Koreans who've escaped from that impoverished country in recent years. Nearly all flee into China, and many are quickly arrested by Chinese police and, like Park, forcibly returned to the communist regime, where they are punished by internment in Pyongyang's brutal prison system. Frail and boyish-looking, Park is suffering from memory lapses as a result of the mistreatment he claims to have suffered during his eight-month ordeal. Thinking he was dying, North Korean officials released him from prison last August and allowed him to...
  • A Military Comeback

    Indonesian Army Gen. Endriartono Sutarto seems at his best in tight spots. In 1998, just before the fall of President Suharto, Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto, the former dictator's powerful son-in-law, demanded that Sutarto swear an oath of loyalty to defend the beleaguered president. Sutarto refused, saying a soldier's allegiance is to the country, not to any individual. The general's mettle was tested again this year by President Abdurrahman Wahid, who's fighting for his political life. At least three times since January, Wahid has asked Sutarto, now the Army's chief of staff, to support a state-of-emergency decree, the first step in the president's effort to "freeze" and ultimately disband a hostile Parliament. By doing so the president was in effect offering Sutarto--and the Indonesian military--a chance to regain much of the power the armed forces had lost when Suharto resigned three years ago.Once again Sutarto, 54, refused. The stocky, U.S.-trained military leader is no fool: he...
  • Indonesia: The Next Threat To Peace

    Thousands of frenzied followers of Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid massed outside Parliament in Jakarta last week. They vowed to attack the building and fight to the death to defend the embattled president. But the angry protesters made little impression on the 500 lawmakers gathered inside. For the third time, they voted overwhelmingly to censure the president--and more important, to push ahead with his impeachment on charges of incompetence. For Wahid, it may be a final blow. The legislators mandated that a special meeting of the People's Consultative Assembly (or MPR, the country's supreme political body) be held on Aug. 1. The MPR has the power to boot Wahid from office, and experts say it will almost certainly do so. "He's finished," says Jusuf Wanandi, head of the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Adds a Western diplomat in Jakarta: "He's gone. It's hard to conceive of any survival scenario for him."Wahid dug his own grave. He never took the...
  • Indonesia: 'He's Finished'

    As thousands of militant supporters of Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid rallied outside parliament today in Jakarta, vowing to attack the building and stop the session inside, lawmakers didn't flinch. They voted overwhelmingly to call a special meeting of the country's supreme political body, the People's Consultative Assembly, or MPR, that has the power to-and probably will-remove him from office perhaps as early as August. ...
  • Mega's Moment

    It's easy to underestimate Megawati Sukarnoputri. Don't. Her lifelong family friend Abdurrahman Wahid has repeatedly fallen into that trap during his 18 months as Indonesia's president. He and his advisers misinterpreted the vice president's tactful silences as a sign of her unquestioning support. Wahid would brag about her blind loyalty, adding that she wasn't smart enough to take his place. He publicly called her "stupid" at least once. And of all the president's many errors, his persistent misjudgment of Megawati is the one that will likely cost him his job--or at least most of his powers. Close friends say she is tired of the snide remarks and rude treatment. More than that, though, she is convinced that the man she has always addressed as "brother" can no longer be trusted to run the country. ...
  • The Fruits Of War

    Soldiers dressed in combat fatigues and black hoods would normally inspire fear in an Acehnese village. But not these commandos. As nearly a dozen fighters approach the edges of a hamlet some 30km southwest of the town of Bireun, their hoods are revealed to be jilbab--the Muslim head scarves worn by women. They display gold costume jewelry and very real AK-47s. They wear both red lipstick and red shoulder patches that say live together, die together in Acehnese. They are a reconnaissance force from the all-female Cut Nyak Dhien unit of Aceh's militant Free Aceh Movement (known by its Indonesian acronym, GAM), and they are not just playing soldier. "I have no fear of fighting or dying," says a preternaturally cool 21-year-old named Rosmiati. "All that matters is our freedom." ...
  • The Scare Spreads East

    The last thing Dr. Somwang meant to do was start a panic. For weeks, rumors had circulated that mad-cow disease had struck its first human victims in Thailand. Western experts had already warned the country to be on the lookout: Thai farmers imported European animal feed at a time when the British mad-cow crisis was peaking in the mid-1990s. So late last month Somwang, a respected research scientist, called a press conference to explain the confusion. Two patients in a Bangkok hospital were suffering from a brain illness "similar" (but unrelated) to mad cow, he explained. Unfortunately, whoever typed his press release dropped the "similar," leaving the impression that mad cow had indeed struck. "I'm so sorry," Somwang said days later. "We didn't mean to do any damage."It was too late. Even the animal form of the scourge, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), has not yet surfaced in Asia. But the fear has. Consumers are avoiding beef. Government regulators are besieged with worried...
  • A GLOBAL GAP

    For all his adult life, Van Thavi, 33, and his neighbors in the remote Cambodian village of Robib had been cut off from civilization, courtesy of Pol Pot's ruthless army. Soldiers would hide in long-abandoned rubber plantations along the only route to town and ambush passersby, or lay mines on the deeply potholed road and its rickety bridges. By the time the Khmer Rouge was driven from the area in the spring of 1998, the villagers had become habituated to their isolation.So it was all the more shocking when, one sunny day last year, a military helicopter descended from the sky and disgorged Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and technology guru Nicholas Negroponte and American philanthropist Bernard Krisher. They had come to announce that something called the Internet had arrived at last in the village. "You probably will not understand what I am telling you today," said Krisher over a squeaking public-address system, "but in six months you will." The assembled crowd of...
  • Indonesia V. Suharto

    During his 32-year autocracy, Indonesian President Suharto had a knack for keeping people in doubt about his plans. He was a man of few words. He rarely said "yes" or "no." Rather, he would convey decisions by body language--a grunt, a nod of the head or stony silence--which his top aides would then interpret to the public. Two years ago the former dictator was forced to resign to avert political and economic chaos. But Suharto still manages to keep his fractious nation in suspense, despite the fact that he's now 79 years old, deeply unpopular and in poor health. Last week nearly everyone wondered if he would appear at the first day of his corruption trial. He did not. When the trial opened in an Agriculture Ministry auditorium in Jakarta, the presiding judge asked, "Is the defendant in the courtroom?" The state's chief prosecutor replied: "No, your honor." Suharto had stayed home in defiance of the law. "He's still the old Suharto," says Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, who...
  • Peace Unrequited

    Maria de Fatima Ximenes Diaz is not easily defeated. A year ago Indonesian soldiers and East Timorese militiamen burned her home and destroyed her clinic in an orgy of killing, looting and arson. She camped out under a tree on the waterfront of the East Timorese capital of Dili--one of the hundreds of thousands of East Timorese who had been driven from their homes following East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia. Today the 12-bed clinic where Ximenes used to secretly treat wounded pro-independence guerrillas has been repaired. A dozen Kenyan soldiers, who are part of the United Nations' 8,000-man Peacekeeping Force, are installing a new roof, doors and windows on a nearby house in order to turn it into a surgical theater. Dozens of patients wait on plastic chairs in the clinic's dirt yard to see a doctor. "It's a miracle," enthuses Ximenes. "We had courage to resist the Indonesians, and now we have the courage to rebuild."But the demons are still haunting East Timor. For...
  • An Island Holy War

    The headquarters for the Islamic Protection Front (FPI) seems more like a Club Med resort than a command center for anti-Christian warriors on the Moluccan Islands. Abu Bakar Wahid, the FPI's leader, works in a tin-roofed office on sleepy Tidore Island--one of hundreds that comprise the Moluccan chain, which stretches across a wide swath of sea in eastern Indonesia. The building sits on a palm-lined beach at the base of the verdant Kiematubu Volcano. From there the 49-year-old Islamic cleric has a commanding view of the nearby island of Halmahera, several kilometers away. Halmahera has become a key battleground in the Moluccas' bloody, 18-month-old feud. For Abu Bakar, the fight is nothing short of a holy war; in recent months he's been tirelessly training young volunteer warriors for the jihad. "I send men wherever they are needed to fight," says the FPI leader, who wears a checked sarong and traditional high-collar shirt. "Just as our Indonesian independence fighters with their...
  • Foiling The Brotherhood

    Usually, the loudest noises in the jungles of northern Malaysia are the screeches of wild monkeys and the whine of the occasional buzz saw. But for five tense days last week, the jungle became a battleground. Gunfire and loud explosions shattered the silence. More than 2,000 heavily armed soldiers surrounded a group of 27 Islamic cultists who had taken four hostages, stolen a large cache of arms and were holed up on a hilltop near the little town of Sauk. The gunmen were members of an obscure group called the Brotherhood of Inner Power, which aims to set up an Islamic state. Shouting over bullhorns, their wives begged them to surrender. When the soldiers fired on their positions, the rebels taunted them by blasting pop songs on a cassette player. At midnight the rebels would start chanting Qur'anic verses. Finally, the government's unarmed field commander entered the rebels' camp to persuade the leader, Mohd Amin Mohd Razali, to give up. When Amin tried to shoot him, the commander...
  • Is Gus Dur Out Of Touch?

    Masseurs don't normally get involved in the financial affairs of state, but then most countries are not run like Indonesia. In early January a man named Suwondo, who worked as both a masseur and a business partner for Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, went on an unusual errand. As described in embezzlement charges filed by Indonesian prosecutors, he paid a visit to Bulog, Indonesia's state-run food-distribution agency. Many Indonesians now believe that Bulog was a favorite cash cow for the corrupt in the government of former president Suharto. His cronies would regularly, it is now thought, siphon money from the agency for personal needs. Suwondo (like many Indonesians he has only one name) wanted to do much the same, apparently. Prosecutors charge that, acting on what he said was Wahid's behalf, Suwondo requested $12 million in cash from a senior Bulog official. The official, named Sapuan, refused the request, saying he needed written authorization from the president. On Jan....
  • South Korea's Vietnam

    April 1, 1967, should have been a forgettable day for Nguyen Van Thoi. He'd trudged off, as he did most mornings, to work in the rice fields near his village of Vinh Xuan in South Vietnam. True, he had more than the usual war worries to think about: South Korean soldiers, in Vietnam to help the United States fight the communists, had recently conducted sweeps through nearby villages. The Koreans had forced the neighboring farmers at gunpoint to move into special enclaves, enclosed by barbed wire, euphemistically called New Life Villages. The Korean strategy was to put the locals out of the reach of the Viet Cong. But for poor peasants like Thoi, the promise of a "New Life" was a lie. He didn't want to become an internal refugee. He wanted to stay home.Suddenly, Thoi heard the long, loud tat-tat-tat of automatic-weapons fire and the distant thud of exploding grenades. He lay low in the fields for hours, finally returning to Vinh Xuan around 5 p.m. Sprawled in great pools of blood in...
  • Digging For Trouble

    The Aghawagon Valley hardly seems like one of the wealthiest places on earth. The Indonesian government has spent as little as possible on developing the California-size province of Irian Jaya. In remote corners of the mountainous interior, local women still wear only grass skirts and men go naked except for a traditional koteka, a decorative gourd to cover the penis. Life tends to be far less picturesque along the Aghawagon River, where jeans, T shirts and shabby dresses are the rule. Three years ago the overcrowded valley's poverty broke into tribal war between the native Amungme people and the more numerous Dani settlers who were lured here from hundreds of kilometers away by false hopes of easy money for illiterate laborers. Nine people were killed before local authorities could restore peace. Thousands of inhabitants were relocated down the frothy, dark-gray river, to new homes in the delta town of Timika. Thousands of others remain, most of them scratching a subsistence from...