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Unrest worsens, think tank says, putting pressure on U.S.

George W. Bush and his team of Cold War warriors face a world of increasing conflict, with military experts counting 68 countries suffering civil unrest, drug wars and other skirmishes. The number is up from 65 last year and nearly twice the average at the sunset of superpower rivalry in the late 1980s.

Of the 193 countries it examined, the National Defense Council Foundation found more than a third were in conflict. The think tank, which has retired military officers among its analysts, concluded the most dangerous strife is in Afghanistan.

"We're more in danger now _ citizens traveling abroad and trade routes are more in jeopardy than ever before," said retired Army Maj. F. Andy Messing Jr., executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based foundation.

"There are all these little wars going on and a lot of them are starting to . . . restrict marketplaces, resource bases and impact . . . our ability to navigate the globe safely," he said, adding that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and increasing world population add to the danger.

The report said the year's "stupidest conflict" is in Cameroon, where the government created and armed paramilitary groups to help stamp out widespread crime. "The militias and paramilitaries have created far more chaos and death than crime ever would have," the report said.

The foundation, which describes itself as a "right-of-center" think tank, is aligned with conservatives who advocate military spending reforms. Like Bush, it advocates limited U.S. intervention abroad.

"We can't intervene in this expanding plethora of conflicts," Messing said.

Retired Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell as secretary of state, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as vice president and repeat Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will face new dangers, said Messing, who briefed Bush on global defense issues in 1998.

"Unless they reconfigure the Department of Defense, they're going to have a lot of superfluous or unnecessary spending. They're going to have to look at what the actual threat is," Messing said.

The report is being sent to Bush, incoming members of Congress and defense officials. The foundation's analysis lists countries where turmoil has disrupted economies, politics or security.

Its count of 68 conflicts contrasts with the 31 counted by the Central Intelligence Agency this year. But CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the CIA list, which is classified, includes only conflicts with "high levels of organized violence between states or between contending groups within a state or with high levels of political or societal tension likely to erupt into violence."

The Washington-based Center for Defense Information, a more liberal research group that has issued reports skeptical of increased military spending, using different criteria, counted 39 wars at the beginning of the year, up from 37 in 1999.

The center's chief researcher, Ret. Army Col. Daniel Smith, said he counts major conflicts _ or active wars _ where at least 1,000 casualties have occurred, except in the case of Spain's Basque separatist movement, which was under that level but is included since it represented a resurgence of violence after more than a year of truce.

The report cites Afghanistan as the most dangerous nation in conflict not only because of civil war there, but also because its ruling Taliban allegedly sponsors terrorists and insurgents elsewhere, such as in China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya.

Fifteen countries were added to the list this year, and 12 were removed.

Among the additions, civil unrest contributed to violence in Albania, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Liberia; terrorism was part of the problem in Spain and Laos; drugs figured in the conflicts in Albania, Bolivia, El Salvador, Kazakstan, Laos and elsewhere.

Among places removed from the list was the Korean peninsula, where warming relations between the Communist North and democratic South meant fewer incursions and provocations.

The report also said there was less violence in Armenia, less terrorist activity in Greece and less civil unrest in Kenya. Civil order in Niger improved after the restoration of democracy, and violence decreased in Congo because of the peace accord, it said.

Countries joining the National Defense Council's list of world conflicts this year

Albania: Arrest of President Berisha leads to violent civil unrest; drug, human and weapons trafficking.

Bolivia: Narcotics production and trafficking; violent civil unrest.

Cameroon: Government-sponsored mass killings and incursions into Nigeria, and government suppression of protests.

Ivory Coast: Overthrow of Gen. Guei leads to violent civil unrest and mass killings; religious and anti-foreigner related violence.

El Salvador: Drug-related violence; kidnapping and extortion.

Fiji: Multiple coups, ethnic violence.

Guinea: Cross-border raids by Liberian rebel, government forces and Sierra Leone rebels.

Kazakstan: Invasion of disputed border region by Uzbekistan leads to civilian killings; militant attacks; and drug-related violence.

Kyrgyz Republic: Unrest surrounding President Akayev's re-election; terrorism.

Laos: Fighting between Hmong rebels and government troops.

Liberia: Civil war and cross-border raids by government and opposition forces.

Libya: Rioting and violence targeting foreigners; drug trafficking and related violence.

Solomon Islands: Coup followed by multiple ethnic-based insurrections.

Spain: Basque separatists renew attacks.

Tanzania: Violent civil unrest surrounding elections; violence against refugees.

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