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We did it!

After almost five years of hard work, the 4th War Resisters’ International Women’s Conference was held in late November in Thailand. The most ambitious conference yet, and the first one held outside Europe, the conference drew 170 women from 63 nations together. Judging by the participants’ evaluations, it was a success. Another measure of success was the fact that the core organizers were energized enough to want to work on the 5th women’s conference! Participants from South Africa and Aoteoroa/New Zealand offered to return home and ask their groups about possibly sponsoring the next conference, for some time after 1994. We hope to have a slide show ready soon about the Conference.

What did we gain by all the hard work and the risks many women took by participating in the conference? WRI and Its message of nonviolent struggle gained a higher profile among many groups, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Valuable exchanges took place between women from the South and the North, exchanges that will shape our future work. New networks were formed and old ones strengthened. We hope that you will use the pages of the WRI Women’s newsletter to keep the networks Informed of your activities.

You can read about how the conference can Influence future WRI action programs in the following pages. Perhaps the major contribution the conference made was to redefine war to Include violence against women. That violence takes many forms: the widespread rape of ‘enemy’ women, the Increased domestic violence as brutalized soldiers return home, the violence of hunger and poverty as the military budget grows fatter, the displacement as women and their children flee the fighting.

Women’s perspectives on war must be put on the agenda of WRI and on the agenda of every peace group. It’s time to re-open the debate between the feminist movement and the peace movement, to deepen our analysis of the inseparable links between sexism and militarism. If the conference succeeds in doing that, we have accomplished a great deal indeed.

Hundreds of women made this conference possible. To list all of your names would take the whole newsletter. We want to thank you, and to give particular thanks to all the Thai volunteers, to MiX who helped Caroline in the London office, to Fela, to Ken’s beautiful coverage of the Conference In Peace News (No. 2363, February 1993 issue), to all the Interpreters and translators, to the WRI Women’s Working Group, and most of all to the participants.

Shelley Anderson


Women came from Sri Lanka, Senegal, FIJI and the US; from Germany, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe and Croatia. In all, some 170 women from 63 nations gathered in late November (1992) , for the “Women Overcoming Violence” conference.

Violence against women, militarism and development were the three themes tackled by the 4th WRI Women’s Conference “Women Overcoming Violence”. An entire day was devoted to each theme, with an opening plenary session in the morning and workshops throughout the day. Resolutions for action were collected from the workshops. The last day of the Conference was devoted to discussion about what resolutions the whole Conference could accept, and ways they could be implemented.

Participants at the opening day of the Conference were greeted by Khunying Kanita of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW). The conference took place In APSW’s WE-TRAIN facilities, where abused women can find shelter and employment training. “APSW began during the United Nations’ Decade for Women,” Khunying Kanita said. “We opened the shelter 12 years ago. We could not call it a shelter for battered women, so we said It was for distressed women and children. We have helped more than 27,000 women—battered and deserted wives, girls forced Into prostitution, rape survivors—and children since then.”

Niramon Prudtatorn of Friends of Women then spoke. “Women are fighters,” she said. “We will try all efforts to do what we want to do. This conference Is made of pain and dreams. Many women have been hurt, violated, tortured, even women in this room.” Niramon asked a young social worker named Panyapom Sawangeri to then stand up. Panyapom had been shot months before at the APSW shelter while protecting a client from an angry husband.

Dr. Chatsumarn Kablisingh, internationally known for her feminist interpretations of Buddhist texts, then read from the writings of her mother, Ven. Voramal Kablisingh, a Buddhist nun who has established the first women’s temple in Thailand. The reading urged women to realize their full potential as peacemakers.


The November 26 plenary focused on violence against women. Moderated by Rada Gungaloo, who helped organize the first shelter for battered women in Mauritius. “Domestic violence is a common global issue,” said Yayori Matsui, a Japanese journalist and founder of the Asian Women’s Association. “Societies accept that beating women is a normal way of life. We must look at how we can change this attitude. Violence against women should be seen as a human rights issue.”

Roberta Bacic spoke of the nonviolent struggle against the 18-year long military dictatorship in Chile. The Mothers of the Disappeared gave people the courage to publicly resist the dictatorship. While “our struggle is now seen as the real history of the country,” and disappearances are now seen as a crime against humanity, many women still cannot get the pensions and child care benefits due them, as their ‘disappeared’ husbands have never been declared legally dead.

Elizabeth Ibua of Bougainville next spoke of the widespread wife battering In Papua New Guinea. “Men pay a bride price for women,” she said, “and so they feel they can do as they like with her.” Women’s groups have produced posters, a booklet series and a comic book for schools which have raised awareness about domestic violence. Elizabeth also spoke of the violent situation in Bougainville, where 4,000 people have died since the crisis over land rights began—most of them women land children.

“We are living in a violent world—and 90 percent of the violence is against women and children. Survival Is the concern of all women,” said Elaine Hewitt of Barbados, “yet we are left out of all development. We women need to be in politics because that’s where development policies are made. Women and development go hand in hand. Forward ever, backward never!”

The more than a dozen workshops that day showed that women were Indeed looking at ways to change such attitudes. A workshop on “Working with Rape Survivors” drew women from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. An Australian aboriginal woman spoke of the violence of being denied land rights, while a spokeswoman from Zimbabwe’s Musasa Project explained the counseling and public education they do around domestic violence and rape. Women of S.O.S. Femmes, the first refuge for battered women in Mauritius, are demanding a reform of the country’s social security system, so battered women living separately from their husbands can claim social security benefits In their own right. A video against domestic violence has been introduced into schools In Papua New Guinea, while the Pakistani women’s group Roshni has established a center for victims of torture.


November 27, which dealt with Women and Militarism, opened with a plenary session moderated by Adele Kirsten of South Africa. The speakers were Nicole Waia of Radio Djido in Kanaky, Angelica Kashunju of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Uganda, Carla Goffi of Mouvement Chretien pour Paix In Belgium and Rita Baua of the Asia-Pacific Peoples Forum in the Philippines.

Waia and Goffi sparked controversy, Waia because of her statement that the Kanaky independence movement was “forced to resort to violence if the world outside” was to know of their struggle; Goff’ because of her analysis that national service for young people could be a good thing, and that the end of Belgian conscription was a complete victory for the peace movement.

Kashunju reported on the Increased use of women by both sides during Uganda’s series of vicious coups. Rural women were forced to work as spies, couriers and assassins. Many women, Kashunju said, are still prisoners in military barracks, where they are raped by soldiers. Rita Baua talked of the 400,000 women prostituted around US military bases in the Philippines—and the 20,000 children who also survived by servicing US military personnel. The women’s movement was the first In the anti-bases movement,” she said, largely because the effects of the bases on women’s lives were so obvious. Some women’s groups are pushing for the conversion of the vacated bases into rehabilitation centers for prostitutes. The government’s response, in sharp contrast, is to keep the sex industry alive through tourism.

“Militarism and Prostitution” was also the topic of a day-long workshop, as was “Divided Countries and Communities: Women’s Struggle Against Civil War and Occupation”. Shorter workshops included “Women’s Actions Against the Army and Military Bases”, “War Trauma and Children”, “Women as War Refugees” and “Women and Conscientious Objection to Militarisation”.


The “Militarisation and Prostitution” workshop was attended by a dozen women from almost as many countries. The poverty caused by war and the presence of foreign troops, in this case United Nations troops, have resulted in a rise in prostitution in both Cambodia and former Yugoslavia. “The UN troops know only a few words,” said Stasa Zajovic of Belgrade’s Women in Black, “‘How much?’ and ‘where?’”

She also spoke about the mass rapes that are taking place throughout ex-Yugoslavia. “We have been trying to collect documentation about war rape,” she said. “We know that at the beginning of the war in Bosnia, military brothels were mobilized and that there has been massive violence. We have detected some characteristics. First, rape the enemy’s women. But the enemy’s are not sufficient, so rape your own.” She reported seeing a television interview where a gunman said he was paid 100 German marks for every bus load of Serbian women he shot. The gunman said he didn’t care, however, who he shot, so he killed Croatian and Muslim women also. “Serbians or Croats will only talk about the other side’s rapes,” said Zajovic. “But we know that women on all sides are raped.”

The military has also increased prostitution in other countries.. “There are many young widows,” in Cambodia because of the war, said Mrs. Dy Ratha of Cambodia. Women are now 69 percent of the Cambodian population. Poverty forces many women “to either work In hotels or go to the houses of foreign soldiers. In the countryside, soldiers ‘marry’ a woman for $2,000, then leave them when they return home. Prostitution has become much worse,” she said. Conference participants agreed to send letters of protest to Yasushi Akashi, head of the United Nations Transitional Authority

In Cambodia (UNTAC). Akashi helped fuel the increasing sexual harassment of Cambodian women by remarks he made in October: calling the UN troops “18-year-old, hot blooded soldiers”, he said the troops would naturally want to drink beer and chase “young beautiful beings of the opposite sex.”


Participants from Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Croatia and Bougainville, in a workshop on “Women in Divided Communities and Countries”, proposed a special women’s action for International Women’s Day, 8 March 1993. They encouraged peace groups like War Resisters’ International to give support to women living in countries divided by war to cross the line and reach out to women on the ‘other’ side, in order to make peace. Publicising the actions that take place around this theme would inspire others to seek peace.


The next day was devoted to the theme of Women and Development. The plenary session, moderated by WRI Women’s Working Group member Trini Leung of Hong Kong, featured Mereso Aglna of the 250,000 member Kenyan women’s organization Maemdeleo Ya Wanawake; Nelsa Curbelo of the Latin American peace and justice network, Serpaj; and Thai feminist Tongdee Potlyong. Suteera Thomson, director of the Gender and Development Research Institute in Bangkok, also spoke. “Women are grossly under-represented in national politics (in Thailand), and in shaping of public policies which bear directly on their lives and welfare,” she said. Despite the fact that women workers play a major role in Thailand’s booming economy (two-thirds of Thai women workers still receive about half of the minimum wage set by the government), only a few women hold elected positions.

“In September 242 women ran for Parliament,” she continued. “A record 15 were elected….The new women members of Parliament are well-versed on women’s issues and promised to cross party lines to cooperate with each other in ending discrimination against women, Improving wages and working conditions for women and* curbing the abuses of the sex industry….

“Looking back on our experience, it is clear to us that the key to our success was not the amount of money available for activities, but rather finding ways to work creatively with what was available; maximising the use of existing resources; effectively developing, maintaining and using networks; analyzing and synthesising the mass of available information; and deriving an appropriate strategy to meet the challenge before us,” she said.

These were important points for all the participants to remember as they shared information on developing strategies that would end violence against women.

After each morning’s plenary session there was a series of workshops, also devoted to the day’s theme. The following is Just an example of many of the workshops that took place. Talking circles (sometimes called affinity groups) also took place every day. Talking circles were informal, small discussion groups that allowed women to explore an issue in more depth, or to share experiences more personally.

Half-way through the Conference, the Thai organizers arranged a day-long bus tour. The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha inside Bangkok were visited; lunch was held in a beautiful sculpture garden outside the city, where the works of well-known Thal artist Mislem Yipintsol were shown. The temple of the Venerable Voramal Kablisingh, who has led the struggle for women’s ordination in Thailand, was visited. Her temple is the first—and so the only—Buddhist temple built for and by women in Thailand. The Venerable blessed the participants. Lastly, a school for young girls from marginalised communities was visited. The school is an innovative social project operated by Buddhist nuns, who are usually expected to not get Involved in social change work.


Workshop on WRI Women: Women already Involved in WRI held this workshop in order to get more women Involved and to bring women’s perspectives Into WRI policy; other participants were Interested in getting more information about WRI. Everyone was Interested in building a network of grassroots women workers throughout the world.

Religion and Nonviolence: The dangers of fundamentalism to women were recognized by all participants. Several examples were given where religion, if not the cause of violence, was used as a rationalization for violence. A Karen (an ethnic minority group in Burma) woman said the military dictatorship now in control in Burma destroys both Muslim mosques and Christian churches, frequently in the name of Buddhism. A Turkish woman said that Islam has become a way to oppose Western domination, while an Indian woman said religion should be replaced by spirituality. A woman who works in Cambodia gave an example of how religion helped to heal the wounds of war. It was agreed that women must be more vocal in expressing feminist interpretations of religious texts.

Lesbian Struggle Against Oppression: 13 women, over half of them from Asia, participated in this workshop. It was emphasized that lesbian rights are women’s rights. When lesbians organize around specific lesbian demands, especially within feminist groups, It is seen as divisive, immoral or trivial. Just as women’s rights are beginning to be seen as human rights, lesbian rights must be seen as an integral part of women’s rights. It was especially appreciated that Asian lesbians were willing to speak out and share their stories.

Changing Women’s Position in People’s Movements and Mixed Groups: The resource women spoke of discrimination and violence experienced by themselves and other women within political movements, mostly peace movements, in their home countries. A Canadian woman spoke of the situation of Innu women, who are leading the campaign against military bases in their community, but who are often abused by their husbands at home. A Turkish woman spoke of her experiences working with Kurdish women, who also have a leading role in the struggle of their people but who are systematically ill-treated by the men they work with.

It was agreed by all participants that though most women wanted to continue to work in mixed (female and male) groups, there was a strong need for women in these groups to form women’s caucuses and sometimes work separately from men. This was seen as an essential step in overcoming the problems expressed. It was noted that It is important to include all kinds of women in these caucuses, urban and rural, educated and not.

Neocolonialism and Militarism: Links between colonialism and militarism Include removal of people from their traditional lands, so that the land can be used for military purposes; military enforcement of corporate exploitation; diversion of resources from social programs to the military; and harassment and persecution of indigenous peoples by governments.

Europeans have attempted to maintain their political structures after ‘decolonization,’ so economic dependence of the colonized on the colonizers still exists. Language, traditional land bases, religion and culture are still being eroded by colonizers. It Is Important to identify mutual indigenous experiences across cultures, and to incorporate indigenous and land rights issues into demilitarization campaigns, people of color must be Included In leadership positions and indigenous culture supported.

Destruction of Indigenous Lands and Cultures: The resource woman and some of the participants spoke of their attempts to preserve indigenous culture on their traditional lands in the face of corporate and government encroachment. A representative from the group Women’s Grassroots outlined the possibilities of sustainable development in Senegal. was stressed that the attempt to preserve Indigenous cultures often generates government repression. Resolutions from the workshop included boycotting tropical timber, developing a database to link women working on similar issues, and asking every participant to reduce, re-use and recycle material goods, in order to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle.


During the last day of the Conference, the many resolutions that came out of the workshops were put together and given to all the talking circles (affinity groups). The talking circles discussed the resolutions, then selected a representative who met with all the other representatives and organizers. Out of this last meeting, the Conference officially accepted or rejected the resolutions, and decided upon actions that all the Conference participants agreed to work on.

The following are the resolutions that were discussed during the last day. Conference participants agreed to act on these resolutions; after a few of the resolutions there are specific requests for action from WRI.


“To the United Nations Security Council and our respective governments: We are women, some coming from countries with conflicting interests and countries at war, who have seen bloodshed, the loss of life and human dignity as a result of racism, sexism, antagonism and militarism, taking many different forms around the world. These have given rise to Internal strife, military intervention or foreign occupation.

We are making our voices heard as a condemnation against violence as a means of resolving any problems in a state or between states. We demand an immediate end to the war and violence between opposing sides within our countries and the Immediate withdrawal of foreign occupying forces from our countries. We who have undergone violence—including sexism—and war demand that all difference be resolved through peaceful negotiations and that every measure be taken for enhancing the quality of life. We shall not support efforts that do not respect human rights or that use violence against people, women and men, whether in their own countries or against other countries. This statement was initially signed by women from Cyprus and Turkey, from Serbia and Croatia, from South Africa, Russia, Morocco and Israel.

Proposal for WRI action

We propose that WRI encourage, promote and publicize special actions by women’s groups and women in peace groups on International Women’s Day, 8 March 1993, around the theme of ‘crossing the line.’ By this we mean that women’s groups would communicate with and plan Joint activities with other women’s groups in nations, communities, ethnic groups and cultures where they have experienced war or other kinds of conflicts. The goal of these activities would be to highlight the common experiences and peace principles that we have with women on the ‘other side’, whether we be from neighborhoods or nations In conflict. This might be between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot women, Israeli and Palestinian women, Croatian and Serbian and Bosnian women, or women of different racial groups or economic classes in the United States.

We think that every women’s group will find good examples in their situations. Due to the shortness of time, we expect this project to be, In most cases, relatively small. We ask WRI to act as a promoter and publicist for these activities, particularly by publishing the examples of activities that take place on this day. Groups should also send ideas for activities to their contacts abroad.


The WRI Women’s Conference condemns the sexual mistreatment and abuse of Cambodian and other women by some male members of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). We are sending a letter to this effect to Mr. Yasushi Akashi, head of UNTAC. Mr. Akashi has referred to the rise in prostitution as “normal” because “boys will be boys” and they are “18-year-old hot-bloodied soldiers” who deserve to enjoy “young, beautiful beings of the opposite sex.” We also demand that all United Nations personnel be educated about sexual harassment.

Proposal for WRI Action

This Conference calls for action being taken arbund the world every year on November 25, the International Day to End Violence Against Women. Activities could center on this day, while also being part of a possible six weeks of action, beginning with the Take Back the Night marches traditionally held in late October and extending until December 6, the anniversary of Canada’s Montreal Massacre (editor’s note: several years ago, 14 women in a Montreal university engineering class were shot to death by a young man, who left a note stating that he ‘hated feminists.’) We want to strengthen out international links by commemorating this day all over the world. This will empower our activities in our home countries.

We commit ourselves to inform each other about our activities on this day. We ask WRI to coordinate this information through the London office; to fundraise for this project; to send out two mailings per year, on before and one after November 25; to publish our activities in Peace News and the WRI Women’s Newsletter; and to give staff time towards coordinating, promoting and publicizing these events annually. The theme for 1993 is still under discussion: suggestions made so far are solidarity with migrant women and women refugees, and indigenous women. To choose themes now and in the future we ask the women at this conference to set up a committee which collects suggestions and decides. The committee should represent women from different countries and cultures. Communication can be by telephone, mall, fax and electronic mall—no travel is necessary.


Embittered about the very fact that the sexual abuse of women is possible at all, and that it has become the regular practice during war, the perverse ‘proof’ of the warrior’s power and the conqueror’s strategy, so that the rapists are already dissolved of every responsibility for their crimes: we demand:

  1. that rape be treated as a war crime and therefore demand that the 3rd section of the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 regarding the legal protection of women war victims be changed;
  2. Demand the establishment of an independent international court whose responsibility would be to punish those who are responsible for and who have committed such crimes against women;
  3. Appeal to all International and non-governmental women’s organizations, to peace groups and to women’s groups, to form independent teams of women as soon as possible in order to help organize rape crisis centers for psychological and financial help and support to raped women in areas at war, such as former. Yugoslavia; as for governments operating in these areas we expect their help and cooperation according to their authorities and International Conventions;
  4. Demand that all war camps, such as those throughout former Yugoslavia, be immediately closed, especially those In which women are exposed to sexual abuse by soldiers, to psychological torture and the worst forms of psychological and physical abuse, violence and manipulation.


The current model of economic power and development based on global domination by a few major powers has increased the gap between the rich and the poor, encouraging economic dependency and exploitation and fostering a consumer mentality. This has contributed to the destruction of cultures and values of cooperation and interdependency. We are also aware of the increasing domination of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which practically dictate the economic programs of countries indebted to them; and of the further exploitation of the poor by national capital. These are some of the problems that women in particular have experienced under this system: the existence of social, economic and political constraints which do not allow women to participate to their full capacity; lack of involvement in the decision-making process all levels; inhuman working conditions with limited maternity benefits; technological advancements which do not serve the interests of women.

We believe that it is possible and desirable to create a model of development which ensures the physical and material well-being of all, benefiting from each other’s resources and not exploiting them. Development should lead to social, emotional, economic and intellectual liberation. For this to happen, women must be empowered to change the unjust economic system (such as the multinationals and the military-industrial complex) and help create a society where all people, women and men, are involved in a participatory democracy, making decisions at local, regional, national and international levels; where values such as respect for human beings and the environment are nurtured, where in the workplace and in the household, people are valued above the product, where technology is more beneficial to all women. Only through solidarity amongst women of the world working towards this vision can these objectives be achieved.


We, the women of the WRI Women’s Conference, from different continents and countries, are concerned about the resurgence and the rise of the Ideology of the extreme right, expressed In such forms as racism, sexism, chauvinism, militarism and violence In our countries. We condemn as well the aspect of this ideology which threatens the rights and freedoms of women and their autonomy, and their rights to control their own lives, their bodies and their free thoughts. We condemn hatred and violence towards people of color, foreigners and refugees. We condemn the so-called ‘New World Order’ and the repression of people living with AIDS, gay and lesbian people and others.

The following resolutions were also proposed, but they were controversial and not adopted by the whole Conference:


Women’s rights and lesbian rights go hand In hand. Women struggling for independence, who are ‘too vocal’ In their criticism of structures that exploit other women, are silenced and discredited by being labelled lesbians. This attempt to divide women and stop our own struggle for autonomy and Independence must be stopped. Lesbians are subjected to physical violence like other women. Because we choose to have relationships with other women rather than men, we are sometimes even more vulnerable to such violence and abuse.

We ask the conference participants to return to your own communities and organizations with a commitment to putting lesbian rights on your agendas. Lesbians within your own organizations need support and recognition. We ask that you make a commitment to breaking down the silence and Invisibility that surround lesbianism and that you make an effort to learn about lesbian culture in your own community. This will in particular support lesbians in the South who are sometimes wrongly accused of following or being ‘corrupted’ by Western ideas.

This resolution was not passed. A small number of women felt uncomfortable with the proposal, though none actually blocked it. The failure of the proposal was due to the lack of time to find a satisfactory rewording, especially for the paragraph asking women to put lesbian rights on their organization’s agenda. There was also concern that the statement as written could put pressure on lesbian women to come out when it might not be safe or possible for them to do so. It was encouraging that all the participants, though coming from many different cultures and background, supported the fundamental recognition of the rights of lesbian women.


Recognizing that China Is a country where human rights and women’s rights are grossly violated and that representation and participation by non-governmental Chinese women’s organizations will be suppressed, we ask the conference to protest to the UN Women’s Rights Commission, which is preparing the 1995 Conference to be held In Beijing, to change the venue. We push for the International Women’s Conference to be held at a site where the local women can participate and speak freely and openly about their situation and problems.

We propose that our conference send a letter of protest, endorsed by all the participants and their organizations, to the respective governments and to the UN.

This resolution was blocked. Objections to this resolution, which had been endorsed by the WRI women’s core group, resulted in a petition that was presented to the organizers at the final plenary. The petition argued that holding the UN conference in China might be beneficial to the women there, and that most governments violate human rights. It became clear that this resolution could not be agreed to by the whole body, so it was withdrawn from the list of unanimously~.~ approved resolutions that WRI would follow up on.


If you would like to know more about the nonviolent work of War Resisters’ International, or the work of the WRI Women’s Working Group, you can contact any of the women listed below.

Staff woman in WRI office: Caroline Pinkney-Baird, WRI, 55 Dawes St., London SE17 1EL, UK. Tel. +4471 703 7189. FAX +44 708 2545.

WRI Women Executive and Council Members: Done Wilsnack (treasurer), 40 Rivington St. #5, New York, NY 10002, USA. Tel.(day) +1 212 228 0450. Fax +1 212 228 6193.

Christine Schweitzer, 22, W5000 Köln, Germany. Tel. (day) +49 571 24339. Fax (via “Graswurzelwerkstatt”) +49 221 765889.

Cecilia Moretti (vice-chair), Bartolome Mitre 2259 2Q piso, Departamento C, 1039 Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tel. +54 1 951 9355.

Veronica Kelly, ‘Umera’, Boreenmanagh Road, Cork, Ireland. Fax (write ‘Attention: Veronica Kelly’) +353 21 274347.

Trini Leung, P.O. Box 22, Yung Shu Wan, Lamma Island, Hong Kong. Fax +852 770 7388. E-mail:

Elzbieta Rawicz-Ofedzka, 60-366 Poznan, Szamotulska 6/1, Poland. Tel. +48 61 672563.

Joanne Sheehan (also contact for WRI Working Group on Nonviolence Training), P.O. Box 1093, Norwich, CT 06360, USA. Tel. (day) +1 203 889 5337.