Reporters on the Job

• BEHIND THE BURQA: Persuading his Afghan interpreter, Lutfullah Mashal, to help interview Afghan women in burqas was not easy, says reporter Philip Smucker.

"Mashal has great respect for women – like many Afghan men – he doesn't like to disturb women in the street, especially those wearing a burqa.

"The first billowing blue burqa that we saw ambling toward us outside the loya jirga [grand assembly] turned out to have a university-educated mother beneath (this page). She knew what she wanted from the meeting going on inside the vast white tent. 'We want our rights back,' she said."

But not every Afghan woman is ready to burn her burqa just yet, Philip says. "Whereas Afghanistan's blue burqa symbolizes repression to many outsiders, for some devout Islamic women it is a symbol of defiance toward the loose morality promoted by the Soviet occupation army in the 1980s. In other cases, Afghan men insisted that their women cover up in order to keep them away from the prying eyes of Russian soldiers.

"We met one mother of eight who said that the burqa was required by the brutal Taliban regime. 'But we have become accustomed to it now,' she said, walking down a street cratered by rocket fire. 'Now, I wear it because I like it. All I'm really hoping for from the loya jirga is a little peace and stability.' "

Follow-up on a Monitor Story

• SANDER THOENES CASE DROPPED: Indonesian prosecutors have dropped their investigation into the 1999 killing of Sander Thoenes, a Dutch journalist and Monitor contributor. United Nations and Dutch authorities have carried out separate investigations into his murder in East Timor, and identified a serving Indonesian officer as a prime suspect.

As reported in the Monitor (April 29), there were at least two eyewitnesses to the killing. But a spokesman in Indonesia's attorney general's office told The Associated Press that their investigators had not found enough evidence to prosecute.

"We know what the evidence is, and we think there is more than enough reason to bring this case to court," said Bart Jochem, a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman.

In a statement yesterday, Mr. Thoenes's family said that this case "and all the other human rights crimes in Indonesia should be brought to an international human rights tribunal.... If Indonesia continues to obstruct a fair trial, it should be subjected to an international boycott similar to the measures taken against other criminal states, such as Serbia, Burma, and Iraq."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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