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Weekly News Brief 4/25/2013

Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed concern over anti-aircraft and chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands, stating that it is in Israel’s interest to defend itself. On Wednesday, Syria’s Information Minister said that Syria would not use chemical weapons against Israel or its own citizens. The announcement comes a day after a senior Israeli intelligence officer said that the Assad regime’s forces have used chemical weapons against rebels. On Thursday April 25th, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that “the U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria”. While Secretary Hagel stated that the US “cannot confirm the origin of these weapons”, they are “very likely” to have originated with the Assad regime. The Secretary reiterated the obligation of the United States and its key partners and allies to “fully investigate, including with all key partners and allies and through the United Nations, evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria.” The disclosure was sent in a letter to several members of Congress. Senator John McCain responded by saying that “it’s pretty obvious that a red linehas been crossed” and called on the President to begin arming the rebels, enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, and to increase pressure on Russia to cease its support for the Assad regime.

Fighting has intensified at the strategic Minnigh airport in Aleppo province as rebels have taken a key military position outside the airport. The battle is part of a larger strategy of the rebels to cut off one of the Syrian regime’s supply routes. On Wednesday, fighting in Aleppo resulted in the destruction of a minaret of a 12th century mosque, part of a UNESCO world heritage site. Rebels and Syrian state forces have traded blame over the incident. On Monday, Syrian state media reported that armed rebels captured two Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops in northern Aleppo province. A Syriac member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition group, also reported the kidnapping. Clashes have also grown in the border villages of al-Qusayr near Lebanon. Syrian rebel groups have been firing shells into the Lebanese Hermel region, a stronghold of Hezbollah, in what they claim is retaliation for attacks by Hezbollah.

The European Union has eased its oil embargo on Syria in an effort to help the civilian population and the opposition. Under the new terms, European companies will be able to import crude oil and petroleum products from opposition-held areas. On Tuesday, the EU’s anti-terror chief stated that hundreds of Europeans are fighting in Syria for rebel groups and expressed concern over their radicalization.

Syria accused international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi of partiality and interference after he criticized the regime’s response to a January offer of talks from opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib and said that Assad should not seek another term as president. Syrian state media also accused the United States of “[throwing] oil on the fire” on Sunday by doubling its aid to the opposition. The new aid package, announced on Saturday’s ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting, will go beyond providing food and medical supplies “to include other types of non-lethal supplies.”

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Mai-Mai Kata-Katanga rebel group, which operates in Katanga in southeast DRC, say that they are engaged in an armed campaign to gain autonomy for the province, a mission that traces back as far as July 1960, when Katanga tried to secede from the newly-independent country. They say that the richness of the province is not reflected in living conditions there. On March 23, the Mai-Mai Kata-Katanga launched an attack on Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga, trying to seize the seats of the governorate and the provincial assembly. They entered clashes with the Congolese army before surrendering to MONUSCO forces. 33 people were killed and 60 wounded in the conflict. The March 23 attack was not the first of such attacks. In May 2010, they raised their flag at the Place de la Poste square in Lubumbashi. They are also thought to be behind a number of other attacks.

Bosco Ntaganda’s statement on March 26 at the ICC has revived a long standing debate on Congolese nationality. “I was born in Rwanda but I am a Congolese citizen because I grew up in Congo. I prefer to speak in Kinyarwanda throughout this trial. I was informed of these accusations but I plead not guilty.” Many in Congo consider Kinyarwanda-speakers to be foreign. Yet many of these Kinyarwanda-speakers are Congolese Tutsi who have lived in Congo for generations and consider it their home.

M23 forces reportedly tried twice to protest against the new offensive UN brigade, but had to postpone because the local population refused to participate, and, to the contrary, fled town.

Sudan

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) on Wednesday said it is “ready and prepared” to hold direct talks with Khartoum to resolve the humanitarian crisis and reach a framework agreement on an inclusive process on the country’s new constitution. The SPLM-N, which is now coordinating with Darfuri rebels, hopes to discuss national issues with the government. However, the government believes that the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) should be the framework for Darfur, and wants to focus on establishing a settlement on South Kordofan and the Blue Nile.

The United States is ready to receive a senior envoy from Sudan in a bid to push forward the country’s peace process, an official stated on Wednesday, in a move criticized by human rights advocates. The United States invited a delegation led by an aide to President Omar al-Beshir, Nafie Ali Nafie, after he voiced an interest in traveling to Washington. In addition, the Sudanese defense minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein will head to Chad on Thursday despite an arrest warrant for him by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Darfur

Saleh Mohammed Jerbo, an alleged war criminal indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), was killed last Friday in North Darfur. Jerbo, who was also the deputy general commander of the JEM-Bashar faction, was allegedly killed by the JEM, after the two groups started fighting last week. The JEM claims that Chadian troops are fighting alongside JEM-Bashar. According to a JEM spokesman, Chadian troops were “backed by tanks, warplanes and helicopters” in Tina. JEM-Bashar, led by Mohamed Bashar Ahmed, broke away from JEM last year and signed a peace treaty with the Sudanese government earlier this month. Jerbo was indicted by the ICC for supposedly killing 12 UNAMID peacekeepers in 2007. Together with an accomplice, they are suspected of leading 1,000 rebels in an attack on an UNAMID compound in Haskanita, Sudan.

On April 19th, one UNAMID peacekeeper was killed and two others injured in an attack by unidentified assailants on the Mission’s team site near Muhajeriya, East Darfur State. Reports from eyewitnesses claim that pro-government militias killed 18 civilians in the East Darfur cities of Muhajeriya and Labado after government forces recaptured the two towns between Tuesday and Wednesday as Sudan Liberation Army -Minni Minawi withdrew. An estimated 40,000 people have been displaced by the fighting between the Sudanese army and rebel forces of SLA-MM in the region. Witnesses also claimed that the militia had kidnapped a number of girls from inside the UNAMID team site in Muhajeriya and raped them. Several citizens were reportedly tortured, they added.

SLA-MM also claims to have shelled the airport of Nyala, capital of South Darfur, on Monday. This is the first operation of its kind since the war in Darfur began over a decade ago. SLA-MM says the bombardment is a warning to the government that its forces are getting “close” to the town. Earlier this month a Sudanese MP had suggested Nyala could fall in the hands of rebels at “any moment” as the city is besieged by them and lacks security. Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir recently relieved the governor of South Darfur from his duties following the increasing insecurity in the state.

South Sudan

At least three people, believed to have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, were rescued by South Sudan security forces at its border with Central African Republic (CAR) on Wednesday. Western Equatoria state officials said the southern army (SPLA) served as part of the African Union (AU) forces. The soldiers, locally known as ‘Arrow Boys,’ liberated a six-year old boy and two young women from rebel captivity. One of those rescued, Mibinina Kumboringi, is suspected to have been a wife of the LRA leader, Joseph Kony. Kumboringi told state authorities that rebels abducted her about six years ago, after raiding a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), looting food items and abducting several other people.

South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, has announced the formation of a new national reconciliation committee in a move seen as a response to public concerns, a week after suspending the process. Kiir on April 22, appointed the Archbishop of Episcopal Church, Daniel Deng Bul, to chair the national reconciliation committee, deputized by the Archbishop of Catholic Church, Paride Taban. This is the second time the president has appointed Archbishop Bul to chair a reconciliation process, after his first appointment to chair the process among the tribes in his home state of Jonglei, last year. According to the Sudan Tribune, Bul, in the process of reconciling tribes in Jonglei, was accused by the Murle community of allegedly siding with the Dinka Bor, his tribe, prompting the Murle to withdraw from the reconciliation process and demanding for appointment of a neutral person to chair it.

The US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) has carried out a survey among the citizens on the ongoing constitutional making process in South Sudan. According to the survey, the majority people of South Sudan want the freedoms of movement and expression to be clearly stipulated in the permanent constitution. The majority of citizens also gave most of their concerns for access to education in addition to term limits for the president. In addition, the majority of citizens want a multiparty democracy in South Sudan and detest the one-party system. The survey also expressed the importance of respecting and developing traditional authority at local levels in the country, and found that most South Sudanese oppose early marriages, and hope to recognize the disputed Abyei region as part of their country.

Donor and development partners have pledged up to $300 million as aid to support South Sudan’s turbulent economy, the country’s ministry of Finance has announced. Much of this new support, according to the ministry, would be provided through the government budget. The decision, the ministry said in a statement, emerged out of this week’s South Sudan Economic Partners Forum, hosted by the US Department of State on April 16.

Lastly, talks between the Sudan and South Sudan governments established ten border crossing points along their border, eight of which are to open immediately. Both governments hope the border openings will promote trade and easier movement among the two countries.

Weekly News Brief 4/18/2013

Syria

On Monday, a Lebanese official announced that Lebanon will send a letter of complaint to the Arab League over recent violations of its territory along the Syrian border, urging the UN to address the increasing refugee crisis. Hezbollah also condemned the violations of Lebanese territory and blamed Syrian rebel groups for one attack. On Sunday, rockets fired into the Hermel region of Lebanon from Syria, killing two and wounding others. UN diplomats said Tuesday that the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, may cut ties with the Arab League.

According to diplomats at the UN, Brahimi has stated that the Arab League’s moves to recognize the opposition have undermined his role as a neutral mediator. Also on Tuesday, Belgian police arrested six men on charges of aiding in jihadist recruitment for Syrian rebel groups.

Russia and Turkey remain split on ending the Syrian crisis ahead of a meeting of a core group of the Friends of the Syrian People, a cooperative of states and organizations that meets periodically to discuss the Syrian crisis outside of the UN, scheduled for Saturday. Russia has denounced the Friends of the Syrian People as making a negative contribution to the Geneva decision and to fostering dialogue in the civil war. On Wednesday, differences emerged in the testimonies given before Congress by Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel over the coherence of the Syrian opposition. Secretary Kerry expressed a more optimistic view over the possibilities of supplying arms to moderates within the Syrian opposition, while Secretary Hagel, along with General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned that the situation within the opposition had become more confused.

Last Thursday, the Syrian National Coalition stated that Syrian government forces massacred 60 civilians in what the Coalition described as revenge killings for rebel gains in the area. The reported massacre took place in the town of Sunamayn, which has seen heavy fighting between government and rebel forces in recent days and is near a strategic highway between Damascus and Dara’a. The same day, the Local Coordination Committees, a network of Syrian activists working on the ground, denounced al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s call for an Islamic state in Syria as “blatant interference in Syria’s internal affairs.” On Tuesday, rebels regained ground lost on Sunday to Syrian government forces in a battle for control over the main highway leading to Aleppo and a truce was held in the northern Aleppo district of al-Sakhour to allow Red Crescent workers and members of an opposition local council to collect 31 mostly-civilian bodies. Opposition groups accuse government snipers of killing the civilians. An activist group also reported Tuesday that a government rocket attack killed 7, including children, in a village located between Homs and the Lebanese border.

Burma

According to Reuters, the European Union will lift all sanctions “with the exception of the embargo on arms” on Burma next week. This follows the easing of sanctions by the United States over past two years in recognition of Burma’s recent democratic reforms. Rights groups are expected to strongly criticise the move, particularly following recent sectarian violence against Muslims in central Burma that some have called genocide.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi broke her two-week silence last week on the violence in central Burma that targeted Muslims, leaving 43 dead and 13,000 displaced. Suu Kyi advocated for the “rule of law and security for people” as essential to deal with both current and possible future violence.

Following Suu Kyi’s comments, three Muslims were sentenced to 14 years in prison for their role in the recent outbreak of violence. The three people included the owner and two employees of a gold shop where the violence began. According to the court, fighting broke out over the appraisal of a gold hair clip that was allegedly damaged at the store. The fighting quickly spread throughout the town of Meikhtila and, eventually, the region. As of yet, no Buddhists have been convicted.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Two Congolese military officers have been suspended for their implication in mass rapes and other human rights violations committed in Minova in the east in late November 2012. Investigations found that two FARDC units engaged in these atrocities, and in February, MONUSCO sent a letter to FARDC’s chief of staff requesting formal suspension of these units. Last week, the government announced that several arrests had been made as an interim disciplinary measure, and that a number of officers had been suspended and put at the disposal of the Military Prosecutor.

As a result of instability in the Central African Republic, there are now over 30,000 refugees in the DRC, 1,000 in Cameroon, and nearly 7,000 in Chad.

Sudan

Violent battles between the rebel group Sudan Liberation Army -Minni Minawi (SLA-MM) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) over control of Labado and Muhajeriya in East Darfur broke out last week causing about 36,000 civilians to flee to UNAMID bases for protection.The SLA-MM held control of Labado for a short period of time before the SAF forces ousted them. Following the recapture of Labado, the SAF said rebels caused much chaos and looting in the city during their control. SLA-MM in turn blamed the army and allied militias for killing 10 civilians during the town’s takeover.

Fighting between the Misseriya and Salamat tribes resumed in Central Darfur on Thursday.  The fighting came one day after leaders from both groups signed a ceasefire. The conflict has already caused 10,000 people to be displaced. The spokesman of the SAF announced the recapture of the Dandor garrison near South Kordofan’s capital from rebel forces on Wednesday. SPLM-N claims it shelled the headquarters of the SAF headquarters in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan, in response to the airstrikes on civilian areas by the army.  On Monday, SPLM-N forces had taken control of Dandor garrison, and they plan to regroup and attack the government even more “violently” in the future.

Direct talks between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement- North (SPLM-N) to settle the South Kordofan and Blue Nile conflict will start on April 23, announced the rebel group on Monday.

South Sudan

An independent Swiss Research Group, the Small Arms Survey, issued a report that affirms that Sudan has supplied weapons and ammunition to rebels fighting South Sudan’s government.  Sightings of Sudanese aircraft dropping weapons in South Sudan, as well as the discovery of new Sudanese and foreign manufactured arms offer proof to the suspicions of the South Sudan government.  The report also explains that the SPLM supports the SPLM-N but with significantly less arms support than the Sudanese government has offered South Sudanese rebel groups.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has withdrawn some powers from his vice president, possibly because he is a likely challenger for the ruling party leadership. Kiir, who has led the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) since 2005, also halted a national reconciliation initiative that had been launched by Vice President Riak Machar, which had been viewed as an attempt to raise his political profile. The two men were on opposing sides of a split within the SPLM during much of the 1983-2005 civil war that ended after the two factions reunited.

The Sudan oil ministry said Sunday that the first crude oil from South Sudan reached its territory, bringing both impoverished nations closer to billions of dollars in revenue after a dispute over fees. This good news comes shortly after presidents Al Bashir and Kiir met in Juba last week, where they both agreed to restart trade relations. The discussions unfortunately did not yield a resolution to controversial status of Abyei.

Weekly News Brief 4/11/2013

Syria

Jordan opened a second refugee camp, paid for by the United Arab Emirates, for Syrians fleeing the conflict on Wednesday. The current refugee camp in Jordan, Zaatari, may see services cut back as UNICEF faces extreme funding shortages. Meanwhile, President Obama has signed off on a new non-lethal aid package for the Syrian opposition. Other US government agencies outside of the White House have not yet been briefed on the final elements of the package, but it is expected to include defensive military equipment such as body armor and night-vision goggles. Syrian refugees are expected to triple in Jordan by the end of the year.

As fighting continues in the strategic Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud that rebels entered last week, Kurdish militia YPG has joined with Arab rebel groups to fight government forces there. Although the groups have joined together in Sheikh Maqsoud, they remain in separate areas and have expressed distrust towards one another. After an air raid killed 15 people on Saturday, Kurdish forces killed five Syrian government soldiers at an army checkpoint. Much of Aleppo has seen power outages since the uprising began, and recently water supplies have begun to be cut as well. Official Syrian state media has blamed the shortages on the country’s insecurity and the difficulties involved in carrying fuel. Last month, a suicide bomber was reported to have killed a pro-Assad Sunni preacher in a Damascus mosque. Recently, however, a video has begun circulating casting doubt that his death and that of 50 others was caused by a suicide bomber and raised speculation that the sheikh was killed by the Assad regime.

On Wednesday, UN diplomats announced that talks with the Assad regime reached an impasse over investigating the Assad regime’s possible use of chemical weapons near Aleppo last month. In addition to the attack in Aleppo, the Assad regime has been accused of using chemical weapons near Damascus in March and in Homs in December. The Assad regime is insisting the UN only investigate the Aleppo attack, while UN officials are pressing to investigate the attack in Homs as well. Britain and France have pushed for the inspectors to be allowed to investigate all three incidents. Also on Wednesday, activists reported at least 42 deaths in clashes in the southern province of Daraa.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the Syrian Air Force of indiscriminate and even deliberate air strikes against civilians. The report also accused rebel groups of operating in heavily populated areas, and called for all governments and companies to cease supplying the Assad regime. It also called for Iraq to allow third-party monitors to inspect convoys and planes for weapons being sent to aid the Assad regime.Iraqi officials announced they have not found weapons in any of the three inspections of Syrian-bound planes conducted as of Wednesday of this week. On Tuesday, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) announced a merger with Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra. Al-Nusra claimed they had not been informed of this decision and pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of al-Qaeda.

Sudan

$3.6 billion was pledged for the development and reconstruction of Darfur at the end of the two-day international donor forum held this weekend. The goal of the conference, held in Doha, Qatar, was to raise $7.2 billion in development aid for the region, making the final total “disappointing” to the UN. The pledged figure includes $2.65 billion dollars from the Khartoum government as part of the 2011 Darfur peace deal (DDPD) with largest donation from the conference at $500 million, pledged by the government of Qatar. The total pledged amount will be distributed over six years.

Protests against the Qatar conference took place across Darfur on Friday by demonstrators who argued that the lack of security made reconstruction efforts premature. The protesters consisted of rebel groups who had opposed the DDPD. In contrast, head of the Darfur Regional Authority (and former head of the LJM and signatory to the DDPD), Tijani el-Sissi, viewed the conference as a success. The pledges cover more than the $177 million needed for urgent projects.

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, was kept from travelling to Kenya to watch the swearing-in of the country’s new president. A Kenyan government spokesperson stated that the government of Sudan was invited to attend, just not Bashir. Bashir was also prepared to travel to Chad for a summit of African leaders, making it his fourth visit to the country despite his arrest warrant, but the event was postponed due to unrelated reasons. The Government in Khartoum has also announced that Bashir will visit South Sudan tomorrow. The visit is in response to an invitation from South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir who visited Khartoum last October. The two Presidents are expected to discuss the remaining outstanding issues between the two states, including the Abyei referendum and the issue of disputed border areas, including “Mile 14.”

The World Food Program (WFP) announced on Thursday the start of its first humanitarian operation in two towns in the Blue Nile, targeting some 51,000 people in dire need of food assistance. Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) Secretary General Yasir Arman, however, minimized this operation saying there is no major breakthrough in the Blue Nile state, stressing that SPLM-N-controlled areas are not included in this operation.Adding support to his claims, the SPLM-N declared that the Sudanese government dropped 16 bombs on different Blue Nile villages on Tuesday, killing five civilians, one child and four adults.

Ali Kushayb, indicted for war crimes in Darfur by the ICC, is leading deadly clashes in Central Darfur between two ethnic groups. Tensions began to rise last Wednesday morning after a member of the Misseriya tribe allegedly tried looting and opening fire on a Salamat man. Hostilities erupted the next day in spite of an attempted mediation. Misseriya fighters have reportedly received the backup of members of the Central Reserve Forces, known as Abu Tira, and are being led by Ali Kushayb. Abu Tira, sometimes described as pro-government militia, have replaced SAF in the region and are said to be a source of insecurity for many of the displaced. Sources are not yet able to confirm the latest death toll, although on Monday different witness accounts put the total number of dead as high as 163 in several different clashes. Salamat fighters now say they are close to capturing Ali Kushayb.  The former militia leader is accused of committing murders, rapes and forcibly displacing thousands of people. An arrest warrant was issued for him in 2007.

As a result of violent clashes between the Sudanese army (SAF) and two rebel groups in North Darfur, 150 acres of land are reportedly on fire. No casualties have yet been accounted for as a result of the fire.  On Monday, the rebel groups Sudan Liberation Army of Abdel Wahid (SLA-AW) and Sudan Liberation Movement for Justice (SLMJ) claimed to have killed 18 SAF soldiers in a joint offensive. The rebels further claimed to have seized an army garrison in East Jebel Marra.

A young child and three adults were killed when an Antonov aircraft “belonging to the Sudanese air forces” dropped several bombs in South Darfur on Sunday. In addition, air strikes carried out by the Sudan Air Force on Saturday evening reportedly left nine people dead in East Darfur, seven of whom were under the age of ten.

South Sudan

Five UN peacekeepers and seven civilian staff from UNMISS were killed on Tuesday in an ambush by an unidentified armed group in Jonglei state. In response, on Wednesday, the South Sudanese Army (SPLA) deployed additional forces into Jonglei State in order to maintain security and find the perpetrators of the attack.

UN agencies in South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile states are stockpiling supplies of food and relief items in preparation for a potential fresh influx of refugees from the Sudanese border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

South Sudan has resumed oil production this weekend, bringing cheers from citizens and a boost to the economy after a halt of more than a year. The long-awaited resumption of production comes after Sudan and South Sudan signed a series of agreements last month in Addis Ababa, including an agreement on oil production.

Burma

Last Friday, eight people died and 15 were injured after a brawl in an Indonesia immigration detention centre. The detention centre housed more than 100 Rohingya refugees, intercepted by Indonesian authorities fleeing on boats, and 11 Buddhist accused of illegally fishing. When the Rohingya inmates learned of the recent violence against Muslims in central Burma that left at least 42 dead, some lashed out against the 11 Buddhist inmates, killing eight of them. Some Rohingya were injured while the remaining three Buddhist inmates escaped the brawl uninjured.

The Myanmar government and Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO)  ‘mutually’ agreed to postpone peace talks scheduled for Wednesday. Both parties claimed they needed more time for preparations following difficulties and disagreements in organizing the attendance of foreign observers from China, the UK, and the US. Some reports also have Japan expressing interest in leading the peace talks. The last round of peace talks was held in the Chinese town of Ruili in mid-March.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

On April 7, reports surfaced that South Africa’s army, SANDF, had deployed troops in the DRC. David Maynier, the Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans (the Shadow Cabinet is a group of individuals who scrutinize their counterparts in the executive government, developing alternative policies), called on President Zuma to immediately inform Parliament if the defence force is being deployed in the DRC. The SANDF will be part of the MONUSCO intervention brigade that was recently authorized by the UN Security Council; there are already SANDF forces within MONUSCO. Xolani Mabanga, spokesperson of SANDF said on Monday that they are “ready to tackle” the M23.  Zuma has been scrutinized since 13 SANDF forces were killed in the Central African Republic last week. SANDF forces have since been withdrawn from CAR.

At Mugunga 3 refugee camp in North Kivu, displaced youth are asking to be partners in administration of humanitarian aid, rather than simply beneficiaries.  “It pains us to see Goma youth coming to work at the camp while we’re unemployed,” said one young refugee, who wishes to remain anonymous. Another commented, “These NGOs do not want us to become financially independent. They are exploiting our situation.” The camp hosts over 8,000 families and is run by MSF. MSF’s head of mission in North Kivu, Philippe le Vaillant, says that there aren’t enough jobs to accommodate the large number of unemployed refugees. Limited funds, institutional politics, and Congolese labor laws compound the difficulty of employing youth living in camps.

Central African Republic

African heads of state refuse to recognize rebel leader Michel Djotodia as CAR’s legitimate leader, and the African Union has suspended the CAR’s membership. Francois Bozize, who was overthrown in the coup, took power in a military coup against former PResident Patisse in 2003.

The situation in the CAR remains volatile, humanitarian access is limited, looting is pervasive, and children are being recruited by armed forces. UNICEF has flown in over 23 tonnes of essential medical supplies and water tanks in order to assist the approximately 200,000 people in dire need of assistance. Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the CAR, Margaret Vogt, emphasizes that the Libreville Agreements signed on 11 January are essential to restore legality in the country.

The Washington Post declared on Wednesday that two human skeletons were found in Bozize’s home in the CAR. It is unclear who the deceased are, and why they might have been hidden in Bozize’s home. The AFP says that ritual killings are common in the CAR, and that it could be possible that the bones were stored for use in witchcraft practices, although these practices are more common in remote areas rather than in the capital.

Weekly News Brief 4/04/2013

Syria

Last Thursday, a mortar attack on the University of Damascus killed at least 12 and wounded several others. The Assad regime and rebel groups blame each other for the attack. The increased violence in the capital city has caused more and more residents to flee the city.

Anti-government activist groups have reported several key territorial gains for rebels in Syria’s south. The Syrian rebel gains come as rebels work to secure a corridor from the Jordanian border to the capital in light of a recent influx of weapons. Neighboring Arab governments have increased weapons shipments to rebels in the south in a route through Jordan in coordination with the US government. The US and Jordan also stepped up training of Syrian rebels in hopes of establishing a buffer zone along the Jordanian border. Rebel gains in the south have not only caused concern among Syria’s southern neighbors, Jordan and Israel, but also among the minority Druze population located there who feel threatened by Islamic militant groups among the rebels. Rebels also made gains in Sheikh Maqsoud, a strategic neighborhood in Aleppo on Saturday, although different groups have given conflicting reports on the extensiveness of rebel advances. Rebel groups killed a pro-regime Sunni cleric after entering the neighborhood,some reports stating that he was beheaded and paraded through the streets. On Sunday, reports emerged of heavy shelling in Shekh Maqsoud by government forces. A Syrian state news agency also accused rebels of setting fire to oil fields in eastern Syria on Sunday.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Defense Minister warned Palestinian fighters and the Syrian regime that it will respond to any attacks in its territory. This statement comes after a rocket was launched into southern Israel from Gaza and a Syrian mortar shell landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Israeli military responded by firing from a tank towards the source of fire in Syria and launching three air strikes on Gaza. Also on Wednesday, a Syrian government helicopter fired several rockets on the outskirts of a Lebanese town lying on the Syrian border. No casualties were reported. Last Friday, following US pressure to halt Iranian weapon flow through Iraq, Iraq announced that it will stop more aircrafts crossing its airspace and vehicles travelling through Iraqi territory to search for such weapons. Rebels claim to have shot down an Iranian aircraft carrying Syrian weapons last Thursday. As the conflict intensifies, Iraqi government officials have grown increasingly concerned over cooperation between militant Islamist groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria and Sunni extremist groups in Iraq.Syria was one of three countries to vote against the world’s first global arms treatyregulating conventional arms trade at the UN General Assembly meeting on Tuesday. 23 countries abstained, but only North Korea, Iran, and Syria voted against the treaty. The UN has released information indicating that it will consider all options, including a peacekeeping mission, in the event that Assad’s government falls.

Sudan

Authorities in Sudan released seven political prisoners Tuesday, a day after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ordered the release of all political detainees. They are all members of country’s main political opposition alliance. They had been held since January, after signing a document that calls for the overthrow of President Bashir. Bashir ordered the release of all political detainees as part of efforts to hold a dialogue with rebel and opposition groups on a new constitution. Authorities in Sudan are believed to be holding hundreds of other protesters and opposition figures.

Thirty-one people captured almost one week ago by a Darfur rebel group (SLA-AW) were released on Saturday in Central Darfur. In addition, a Sudan court issued death sentencesfor seven Prisoners of War belonging to the rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) last Thursday. Darfur’s JEM-Bashar (a breakaway group of JEM) are being assigned positions in the Sudanese government after signing a protocol of political and military participation with the Sudanese government on Friday.

Darfur students blame Sudan militias for a fire that destroyed several dormitories at Khartoum University. They believe the militias targeted the dormitories because the inhabitants were from Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. In addition, a massive fire broke out on Thursday afternoon at a South Darfur camp and residents are calling it a “method to dismantle the camp.”

The Sudanese government dropped 17 bombs on the Nuba Mountains on Wednesday. One SPLA-N member was killed according to a spokesman of the rebel group. He also said that he believes “millions of people” continue to suffer in Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and the Nuba Mountains because “this corrupt” regime denies them food, medicine and education and uses delaying tactics to increase their suffering.

South Sudan

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir will visit South Sudan for the first time since its independence as soon as this week, cementing new deals on oil and border security between the two countries. The South accuses Sudan of launching an attack ahead of Bashir’s visit, killing several people in an area that was agreed to be demarcated as a Safe Demilitarized Border Zone by the two nations. The South Sudanese government still intends to host the Sudanese president.

On Sunday it was reported that a flood displaced over 12,000 in Jonglei state. In addition, the South Sudan army (SPLA) on Tuesday said they captured airbases allegedly used by David Yau Yau’s rebel group in Jonglei to receive military aid from the government of neighboring Sudan.

Burma

Violence has subsided after nine consecutive days of religiously motivated violence in central Burma. Last Thursday, March 28, Myanmar President Thein Sein spoke on the recent outbreak of violence and said he would not hesitate to use force to quell further unrest. In total, 43 people were killed, 93 hospitalized, and 1,277 homes, 77 shops, and 37 mosques  were destroyed (click here to view before-and-after satellite images of the destruction in Meiktila). The situation remains tense; 13 children died in a fire at a mosque on Tuesday in the country’s largest city, Yangon, although officials were quick to blame an electrical fault.

A growing anti-Muslim campaign known as “969” has also added to the increasing tensions. The movement’s head, nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu, has denied allegations that he or members of his organization are to blame for the recent sectarian violence.

In other news, the Myanmar military has begun to reposition itself around Shan State to clear way for a Chinese-backed dam. the Myanmar military has ordered the Shan State Army-North, the regional rebel army, out of the area, violating a 2012 peace agreement.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, made a 10-day visit to DRC for the first time in her role, meeting with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, Congo’s Minister of Gender, members of Parliament, and representatives of civil society to discuss the problem of impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence. “I am here to listen and to learn. As an African woman from a post-conflict country – Sierra Leone – I recognize the many challenges currently facing the Congo,” she said. A Joint Communique signed March 30 lists commitments made by the government, including fighting impunity, accelerating security sector reforms, creating vetting mechanisms when integrating former combatants into the national army, ensuring better control of mineral resources, and greater support services for survivors.

On March 28, the UNSC approved the creation of its first-ever “offensive” combat force, intended to “neutralize and disarm” the M23, other Congolese rebels, and foreign armed groups in eastern DRC. This intervention brigade will work within MONUSCO’s existing forces and will consist of three infantry battalions, one artillery and one special forces and reconnaissance company headquartered in Goma. The mandate is for one year, and will be considered for renewal if necessary.

Clashes between the DRC armed forces and the Alliance pour des Patriotes pour un Congo (APCLS) were renewed in Kitchanga in eastern DRC, on Monday, killing 11 APCLS combatants and one government soldier. Since the fighting began in February, tens of civilians have been killed, hundreds wounded, and thousands displaced.

Central African Republic

More than 50 South African soldiers may have been killed in combat in the CAR on March 23, though South African and French authorities have confirmed the number at 13.The South African soldiers were fighting to protect mining and oil contracts signed by South African  companies with CAR President François Bozizé. South African troops have since withdrawn.

Uganda’s New Vision reports that Uganda and the US have suspended operations to hunt down Joseph Kony in the CAR due to Séléka’s hold on power. “The African Union was operatin in Central Africa under the Bozizé government, and since Séléka is not recognized by the African Union we had to suspend operations,” said Felix Kuliagye, Political Commissar of the Ugandan Army. Uganda will not be removing troops from the CAR, but operations will be suspended. This suspension could give the LRA time to grow and continue crimes in the CAR.

According to RFI, France’s public radio, on Sunday, CAR’s Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye named a 34-member cabinet that includes nine ministers from the Séléka rebel coalition, eight from the former opposition, and one close to François Bozizé. A government spokesperson said the ministers would be sworn in later this week. The rebels have not agreed on who should lead the nation, however. Séléka’s publicly acknowledged military leader, Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia, announced last Monday that he considers himself Head of State, but others in the rebel coalition say that a consensus on his appointment asSéléka’s leader was never reached. Members of the Economic Community of Central African States met in Djamena, Chad, deciding that it is impossible to “recognize a self-proclaimed president.”

For more information on Séléka and what their takeover may mean for the future of the CAR, see Think Africa Press’ analysis here.

Weekly News Brief 3/28/13

Syria

Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Syria’s main opposition group, resigned Sunday stating that international powers have failed to help the rebels and that he could only improve the situation outside the Coalition. Analysts have speculated that al-Khatib resigned due to frustration over disproportional influence by Qatar and Islamists in the Coalition. However, Khatib stated that the Coalition refuses to discuss his resignation, which leaves the possibility that he may be asked to reverse his decision. Meanwhile, the political and media coordinator of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced that the FSA refuses to recognize the newly elected prime minister of the SNC’s newly formed interim government, Ghassan Hito, on the grounds that the Coalition did not form a consensus on his election.

On Tuesday, SNC replaced the Assad regime in the Syrian embassy to the Arab League as the League embraced the right for members to supply military aid to the rebels. The move drew sharp criticism from the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran. The following day, Assad sent a letter calling for help from the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the BRICS countries, calling for help to end the war. Russia, China, and South Africa have voted against UNSC resolutions on Syria previously. Moaz Al-Khatib’s call for the US to use Patriot missile defense batteries located in Turkey against Syrian warplanes at the Arab League summit was rebuffed by US officials, who reiterated the purely defensive nature of the missiles.

On Monday, Jordan closed its main border crossing with Syria following increased clashes nearby between Assad forces and rebels. Fighting has also increased in the Quneitra region near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Local Coordination Committees reporting rebels overrunning several army posts. Fighting also intensified in Damascus. Last Thursday, a suicide bombing in a Damascus mosque killed one of the top pro-Assad Sunni preachers and 41 others, wounding at least 84 more.

The New York Times reported that Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey have been funneling arms to Syrian rebels with the help of the CIA since early 2012. Arms flows intensified late last year, corresponding to increased rebel gains. American officials stated that the role of the CIA has been purely consultative, and was offered to influence suppliers to direct arms away from Islamist groups and to prohibit certain weapons that could later be used for terrorism from entering Syria. Some rebels have expressed frustration over the American role in the arms supply, saying that it has limited access to crucial weaponry in the struggle against Assad.

Burma

As of Tuesday, March 26, at least 40 people are confirmed dead and more than 12,000 displaced following sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in central Burma. The violence began last Wednesday, March 20, in Meikhtila following an argument between a Muslim-owned gold shop and a Buddhist couple. The conflict quickly escalated, spreading throughout the area to other nearby towns and even the capital, Naypyidaw causing Myanmar President Thein Sein to impose a state of emergency in the area. Many shops and homes, particularly those of Muslims, as well as mosques, were burned to the ground. Some reports (Washington PostNew York Times) claimed that rumors on social media contributed to the quick escalation and spread of violence in central Burma. The Myanmar military was quickly sent to the area to quell the violence with curfews and bans on public gatherings imposed in nine separate townships. The Myanmar government, as well as the US, UN, and others, emphasized a strong desire to bring about peace, fearing that this religious violence could threaten recent democratic reforms.

On Wednesday, March 27, opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi attended an annual military parade for the first time. Held in the nation’s capital Naypyidaw, the parade commemorated Armed Forces Day. The military, which imprisoned Suu Kyi and many of her supporters, claimed they intended to stay involved in national politics. To the objection of Suu Kyi and her party, the National League of Democracy, the Myanmar constitution guarantees the once-ruling military 25% of Parliament.

In other news, a fire in Thai refugee camp killed 37 and left 2,300 people homeless on Friday, March 22. Many of those killed and left homeless were refugees from Burma.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Bosco Ntaganda’s surrender marks the first time that a suspect has surrendered voluntarily to International Criminal Court (ICC) custody. He arrived in The Hague on Friday, after surrendering himself to the US embassy in Kigali. Arrest warrants for Ntaganda were issued in 2006 and 2012 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and sexual slavery, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and pillaging during the Ituri conflict in northeastern Congo in 2002-2003.

On Tuesday, Ntaganda made his first appearance before the court. His lawyer says he plans to apply for interim release. The charges hearing will begin on September 23, 2013, when judges will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe Ntaganda committed each of the crimes he is accused of. Should the charges be confirmed, the case will go to trial. London-based Chatham House says, “Bosco’s surrender clears the way to a negotiated settlement between the M23 and the Congolese government. More symbolically, it marks the end of a cycle of Rwandan-backed rebellions that started at the beginning of the second Congo war in the 1990s,” claiming that “the M23 is likely to be the final iteration of a pattern that has shaped Eastern DRC for fifteen years […] but it is not going to be transformative.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda N’tungamulongo agreed that the upcoming UNSC resolution on the DRC should strengthen the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission and endorse the Secretary-General’s approach to addressing the root causes of instability in the Great Lakes region. He has also called on the UNSC to authorize the deployment of a special MONUSCO force with the ability to conduct, with or without the Congolese army, offensive operations against all armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.

On March 23, Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Joseph Kabila of DRC, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Denis Sassou-N’Guesso of Republic of Congo-Brazzaville met in Brazzaville to discuss ongoing regional efforts towards ending conflict in eastern DRC and establishing security in the region. The leaders also expressed strong concerns on recent developments in the central African Republic, where Francois Bozize was overthrown earlier this week.

Central African Republic

President Francois Bozize of the CAR fled to Congo after rebels took control of the capital, Bangui, as well as the presidential palace, on Sunday. Since Friday, several towns have fallen after a peace accord between the rebels and the government collapsed. The rebels are made up of several opposition groups officially known as the Séléka coalition. They have faced little resistance from the ill-trained and ill-equipped CAR army. Bozize and his family have since relocated to Cameroon.

A few days before the coup, Amy Martin, the head of the Bangui branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN that security was deteriorating, and that “The agreed conditions are not being respected by either side: release [by the government] of prisoners, the quartering of armed forces by Séléka. There are more rumours of additional former rebel groups to join the Séléka coalition. All remain very uncertain and unpredictable.” Margaret Vogt, Special Representative to the Secretary-General for the CAR, added that “Séléka now controls three-quarters of the country.” The Séléka offensive began on 10 December 2012, and is the latest in a series of crises in the CAR. For an in-depth analysis, see Danny Hirschel-Burns’ blog post here.

Ugandan troops remain deployed around border areas of the CAR, DRC, and South Sudan, where Joseph Kony and the LRA are thought to be. Some analysts believe that the African Union’s decision to suspend the CAR from the AU may have negative effects on the hunt for the LRA. “If Séléka is unable to consolidate control, it would further the physical and tactical net within the which LRA can seek opportunities to rebuild weapons caches,” said Angelo Izama of the US-based Open Society Foundation. The LRA Crisis Tracker reports that in February the LRA was responsible for 13 civilian deaths and 17 abductions in the CAR, and UNOCHA says an estimated 443,000 people are currently displaced in LRA-affected areas. In addition, 5,663 Sudanese refugees in the CAR have been uprooted because of the coup d’état, and are now living in “deplorable” conditions.

South Sudan

Reports surfaced today that a heavy military battle inside South Sudan’s border killed 163people, mostly rebels, when government forces clashed with rebels affiliated with David Yau Yau. South Sudan accuses Sudan of arming Yau Yau’s rebellion in order to block South Sudan’s plans to build an oil pipeline through Ethiopia to a port in Djbouti. Sudan has repeatedly denied these accusations. South Sudan has accused the government of Sudan of launching a heavy and coordinated attack on Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, killing at least three innocent civilians and wounding several others. These reports come as the UN verified this week that Sudan and South Sudan have moved troops from Abyei, the first step of the demilitarization of the border zone that should be completed by early April.

Jonglei women vow to leave men if violence continues. They also demanded that women be given greater involvement in peace talks and political decisionmaking processes. The women-only peace conference outlined 20 key recommendations aimed at bringing peace to their communities and the state at large. The recommendations largely relate to education, security, infrastructure and rights.

A recent article “South Sudan’s Red Army comes of age,” explains how the former child soldier army of South Sudan that fought for independence since the 1980s, called the Red Army, is now becoming a civil society organization. “In a landmark transition from warfare to welfare, former child soldiers in the Red Army are establishing a foundation aimed at addressing social problems in South Sudan.”

Cash was stolen from South Sudan’s President’s Salva Kiir’s Office this week.  Original reports stated millions of dollars were robbed, but those amounts were denied by Kiir. It is believed that 176,000 Sudanese pounds and $14,000 (US Dollars) were stolen.

Sudan

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) announced its readiness for direct talks with Khartoum and proposed a constitutional conference brokered by African mediation. Although the Vice President of Sudan welcomes talks with opposition groups, many are skeptical of his sincerity, as several key members of opposition are still under arrest.

A 64-year-old Sudanese Christian woman is being held without charge by the Sudanese government. This comes as part of a larger crackdown on Christian churches, orphanages, and schools.

In Darfur, reports continue to show sexual violence towards women and girls by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), as well as lawlessness in the region. Militia groups have reportedly looted 50 million Pounds’ in goods from a Central Darfur IDP camp, and seized 31 displaced people at gunpoint on Sunday. The arbitrary seizures are accredited to the SLM-AW Darfuri rebel group.

Weekly News Brief 3/22/13

Democratic Republic of the Congo

On Saturday, The New Times in Rwanda reported an influx of over 200 Congolese refugees into North and Western Rwanda, a group that includes combatants. Jean-Marie Runiga, former president of M23, was among the refugees, and was detained separately for his safety. Over 25,000 Congolese refugees entered Rwanda due to conflict in eastern DRC last year.

On Monday, former Congolese general, International Criminal Court (ICC) indictee, and current leader of an M23 faction, Bosco Ntaganda, turned himself in to the US Embassy in Kigali, asking to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague. It is unclear at present why he turned himself in, although The Washington Post offers a few explanations:

1) Laura Seay of Morehouse College suggests that he may have “lost some of his powerful backers in Rwanda,” and that he may have “decided to sell them out,” even if it meant serving time himself.

2) His sponsors, particularly those in the Rwandan government, may have encouraged him to turn himself in, or offered him an ultimatum.

3) The most compelling: Perhaps he thought his days in Central Africa were numbered and saw surrender as the best route to safety. His faction of M23 suffered a defeat on Saturday, which caused the aforementioned influx of refugees into Rwanda. Because of Runiga’s arrest, and the M23 split, his options were limited.

4) The least compelling: Perhaps Ntaganda arranged a deal with the ICC in order to get a more sympathetic trial.

Check out Kris Berwouts’ analysis on the Ntaganda surrender here, and Amnesty International’s fact page about the crisis in the DRC here.

The Daily Nation in Kenya reports that government officials from the DRC are sneaking into Kenya disguised as refugees to track down Congolese citizens who have fled the country. Last month, three Congolese nationals were kidnapped and tortured for three days before being released. The director of the League of People’s Lawyers, a Kenya-based Congolese human rights organization, said that a number of Congolese asylum seekers have been attacked in Nairobi by unknown people. The situation is being investigated.

Syria

The main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, elected Ghassan Hitto to serve as prime minister of its interim government early Tuesday in Istanbul. The Coalition hopes that Hitto’s government will be able to administer rebel-held areas in Syria, although it remains unclear as to whether or not all rebel groups will accept the interim government’s authority.

Later on Tuesday, both rebels and the Assad regime accused one another of using chemical weapons in an attack in the Khan al-Assal area of Aleppo Province. The first reports came from the Syrian state news agency SANA that reported 26 deaths and at least 86 wounded from a rocket launched by rebels containing chemical materials. Rebel commanders denied the charge, stating that they do not have the military capabilities to launch a chemical weapons attack. The White House and State Department have largely dismissed the government’s charge, and are still investigating the possibility of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. The Obama Administration has previously identified a chemical attack by the Assad regime as a “red line” for military involvement. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has indicated that it is taking the Syrian government’s charge seriously, stressing the need for a political solution.

Reports emerged Monday of a Syrian government airstrike on targets near the Lebanese town of Arsal. Lebanese President Michel Sleiman condemned the attack while Damascus denies launching the attack. The opposition future parliamentary bloc has called on the Lebanese government to file a complaint at the UN and Arab League. The airstrike came after a warning sent by Damascus to Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry that it would attack rebels in Lebanon if incursions into Syrian territory were not stopped and has been confirmed by the US State Department. Damascus also saw heavy fighting on Monday. Three mortar shells struck central Damascus, one landing near Tishreen Palace, one of three that Assad uses. On Sunday, rebel groups captured a government military intelligence compound near Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Debate has grown in the European Union over lifting an EU embargo to allow military support to the rebels. While the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, urges caution, France and Britain are in favor of lifting the embargo, stating that it is the only way to make political progress in the conflict. US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the US would not oppose any European efforts to arm the rebels.

Sudan

On Wednesday, Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir said he intends to step down in 2015 for the next presidential election after more than 20 years in power. Al-Bashir seized power in a 1989 coup that toppled an elected government. He was last elected in 2010, a year before Sudan’s southern region became independent. At this point it is uncertain who his party will endorse to replace him. This is partially due to divisions in his party. As recently as this week, about a dozen members of Sudan’s Armed Forces (SAF) have gone on trial on charges of trying to stage a coup against Al-Bashir. In November, Sudan arrested its former spy chief and other senior military and security officials after foiling the alleged coup attempt.

This Tuesday, Sudan and South Sudan agreed to form a new mechanism to deal with accusations of supporting or harboring of rebel groups in the two countries. In addition, just yesterday, Sudan offered to hold talks with southern rebel group SPLM-N for first time, to discuss the 2005 peace plan.

Unfortunately, it seems that despite these positive developments, there is still a systematic campaign by the government of Sudan to target civilians from the Nuba Mountains. There seems to be an effort to cleanse the region of non-Arab and Muslim ethnic groups by denying Nubian Christians’ and Nuba peoples’ rights to practice cultural and social activities. An example of this is the arbitrary arrests of recent Nubian church officials. So far, 20 months of war in South Kordofan have created horrible political and humanitarian situations in the state, where Nubians are forced to flee their homes, and humanitarian aid is obstructed from entering the region. The UN recently declared, “from 2011 to 2012, humanitarian funding for Sudan dropped by 9 per cent.” This means that Sudanese agencies must find ways to do more with less by targeting the most vulnerable, and utilizing local capacities and resources for aid.

As the Obama administration prepares to nominate a new special envoy to Sudan, Tim Carney, Act for Sudan, a major Sudan advocacy organization, is attempting to head off his possible nomination. Its main concerns are his stance on US policy on Sudan, which the organization believes could undermine peace efforts in the region by offering rewards to President Bashir.

Despite the controversial move in Sudan to possibly train judges to amputate limbs as parts of sentences for crimes, there is some good news about law in Sudan. The Sudanese parliament expects to receive a draft bill from the cabinet soon containing an anti-human trafficking law.

Darfur

Two tribes that fought violently in South Darfur last month signed a ceasefire agreement. Disputes over land ownership between the Beni Halba and Gimr tribes left eight dead, four wounded, and six villages burned. The Sudanese government signed an agreement with a breakaway faction from Sudan’s Liberation Movement of Abdel Wahid Nur (SLM-AW) called “Darfur Front for Injustice Rebuttal.” The new group argues that the SLM-AW does not have realistic goals for peace, and is not willing to work with the government. An SLM-AW representative believes that the agreement with the new group is the Sudanese government’s way of creating an image of divisions among rebel forces.

The Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) said on Friday that it has killed some 260 Sudanese soldiers following clashes that took place near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. The SAF stated that the armed forces ‘killed and injured a hundred rebels’ in two recent clashes. The SLA-MM was recently charged with killing four civilians in South Darfur outside Nyala. The four civilians from the nomadic Rizeigat tribe were apparently killed in cold blood on 15 March when forces from the SLA-MM, who had been involved in an unsuccessful pursuit of SAF, attacked their encampment. Meanwhile, another nine civilians are reportedly missing after apparently being forced to join the SAF during a separate attack on the 14th of March.

Witnesses from El Salam camp claim that 500 border guards stormed the site at on Thursday “to support” the pro-government militia convoy that has been stationed in the area. According to the displaced, insurgents beat camp residents, especially women, with sticks, whips, and rifle butts. Homes and properties were also looted. Border guards have completely surrounded the camp and have blocked the road between Nyala and El Salam. The displaced claim to be living in fear due to the threat of imminent attacks by the militias.

The health minister of Central Darfur revealed the state’s hospitals are facing a “significant lack” of drugs and medical equipment. Organizations working at a North Darfur camp announced they would no longer be able to financially maintain the water pumps at the site. The decision coincides with the beginning of the summer “when displaced need water the most.” The displaced do not have money to keep the pumps operating themselves. In addition, more than 30 water pumps at the camp are not working, also due to the lack of financial means to repair them. In addition to these urgent needs, Darfur this past week has seen arbitrary arrests, a shortage of midwives in displaced camps, and rape of the displaced.

South Sudan

The Sudan and South Sudan armies have completed withdrawal of troops from disputed border areas, announced a high-ranking Sudanese officer on Saturday. The South Sudan army (SPLA) states that it will respect the security agreement reached with Sudan, but will protect and defend its territorial integrity if attacked. South Sudan claims that an attack from Sudan killed at least one man after troop withdrawals this week, though no retaliatory response from South Sudan was witnessed so far. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appointed a new head of the Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). UNISFA’s main mandate is to ensure the redeployment of troops out of the contested area and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians.

In addition to removing troops from the border as part of the recent deal, South Sudan ordered oil companies and pipeline operators to immediately resume production of crude oil for delivery to international markets through Sudan on Thursday, a move seen as part of its commitment to implement the agreement signed this week. In addition to resuming oil export through Sudan, South Sudan’s government recently signed an agreement with Ethiopia and Djibouti to export oil by truck from through their ports by July, at least until a study on a pipeline linking the three countries is completed. South Sudan is considering building two pipelines, one via Ethiopia and another across Kenya to the port of Lamu, as an alternative to the one that runs through Sudan.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it is preparing to relocate thousands of South Sudanese refugees stranded at Ethiopian border villages. There are 16,000 reported South Sudanese refugees in neighboring Ethiopia who escaped inter-ethnic violence and a rebellion in Jonglei state, with more arriving in Ethiopia daily (about 20 per day), including a recent group of 200 South Sudanese. The refugees have been living in host communities for about a year and it has been difficult to relocate them, as most arrived with their livestock. The UNHCR has also redoubled emergency preparations in Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region, which borders Sudan, for a possible fresh influx to Ethiopia, after recent reports of renewed fighting in Blue Nile state.

South Sudan and several international partners have signed an agreement that recommits them to the fight and control of malaria in the new country by 2018. Malaria is negatively impacting the economy of the country and is the leading cause of death, and paralyzes the workforce. Malaria constitutes 25% of all disease-related deaths in South Sudan despite the ministry’s prevention effort, which has distributed 8 million mosquito nets across the country.

Lastly, a high ranking South Sudanese judge resigned, accusing Chief Justice Chan Reec Madut of nepotism and the entire judiciary of incompetence and lacking transparency.

Burma

At least 13 people are dead and many more seriously injured following communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Meikhtila Township in Central Burma. Allegedly, the violence began following a disagreement between a Muslim-owned gold shop and one of its Buddhist customers on Wednesday, March 20. Violence continued into the next day with several buildings destroyed, including shops and a mosque. Police forces were dispatched to quell the violence and a curfew is now in place. This latest clash followsincreased tensions in Burma’s Rakhine State between the stateless Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine where over 110,000 people have been displaced.

On Monday, March 18, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced increased aid, trade, and military ties with Myanmar while hosting Myanmar President Thein Sein. Gillard praised Burma’s recent progress yet also expressed concern over the country’s human rights record and relations with ethnic nationalities.

In other news, it has been reported that the Myanmar military used recent UN convoys in Kachin State to safely reposition its troops. The UN was delivering humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people in Hpakant in western Kachin State. Hpakant is famed for its jade, from which taxes, which used find the Kachin Independence Organization, now go to the Myanmar government, making the area a source of potential conflict.

Weekly News Brief 3/14/13

Burma

Last weekend, the Myanmar opposition group the National League for Democracy (NLD) ended its party congress with Aung San Suu Kyi remaining its leader. The NLD has been struggling in recent months to deliver a unified message on specific policies and cope with an ever-increasing membership.

On Monday March 11 and Tuesday March 12, Myanmar government officials met with Kachin representatives from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and its military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the Chinese town of Ruili. The meetings were the result of new rounds of talks held in February. The KIO are fighting for greater political autonomy within Burma. With more than 100,000 people displaced since fighting began in 2011, the conflict has tarnished Burma’s democratic reforms.

At Monday’s talks, the KIO rejected the Myanmar government’s request for a ceasefire, claiming they wanted greater assurances and new, well-defined boundaries. A mutual ceasefire agreement has yet to be reached since fighting began in June 2011 after a 17-year-old ceasefire agreement broke down. However, on Tuesday, both parties agreed to coordinate on each other’s troop movements to help reduce violence and “tensions” in areas of conflict, making way for a potential ceasefire agreement. Another round of talks is scheduled to take place within the next month.

Sudan & South Sudan

Sudan and South Sudan have agreed to withdraw troops from contested border areas, in the latest attempt to set up a demilitarized buffer zone. The deal states that the armed forces of both sides must be 10 kilometers from the border regions.  Both nations state that they have begun to withdraw troops, South Sudan specifying it should complete the movement by April 5th. The two countries have also agreed to resume the flow of southern oil exports through pipelines in Sudan within two weeks, more than a year after Juba shut down its entire output. As Sudan and South Sudan announced their moves to demilitarize the border, Khartoum’s forces said they clashed with rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Blue Nile.

Hundreds of South Sudanese citizens and political leaders converged on Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, to celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday, where speakers called for an end to early marriage and violence against women in the world’s youngest country.  Child and forced marriage is particularly widespread in South Sudan where nearly half of women between the ages of 15 and 19 are married – some as young as 12.  The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement stated that 25% of government seats should be filled by women, although the SPLM, the ruling party in South Sudan, struggled to fill this quota, largely due to low literacy rates especially among women (70%).

On March 8, Hilde Johnson, special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General and head of the U.N. Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), detailed the Mission’s work as state-builders and the challenges it faces at a discourse held at the United States Institute of Peace. Some of the challenges include logistical issues of poor transportation systems, low funding and resources, and misunderstandings between the UN Mission and the South Sudanese citizens. Despite these difficulties, UNMISS successfully moved forces into Pibor of Jonglei state to protect civilians from rebel forces by strengthening the South Sudanese army twice since independence.

Syria

Western diplomats have stated that Iran has stepped up arms support for the Assad regime in recent months. According to these diplomats, Iran has chiefly shipped arms to the Assad regime through Iraqi airspace and territory, although Iraqi officials deny this. It was also reported that some Iranian arms are flying through Turkish airspace before landing in Lebanon, where they are used to supply the Assad regime and its affiliated militias. Turkish officials denied any such activity in Turkish airspace. On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced that France and Britain are now prepared to begin arming Syrian rebels even without unanimous support from the European Union.

An increasingly desperate Assad regime has stepped up use of paramilitary groups, begun aggressively recruiting Christians, and used the top state-appointed Muslim cleric for recruitment. The United States government has accused Iran of helping the Assad regime build the groups on the Iranian model of their Basij militias. In response to the enlistment of the top state-appointed Muslim cleric to recruit on behalf of the Assad regime, a group calling itself the Coalition of Free Alawite Youth announced on Tuesday that it would help Alawites flee to Turkey who did not wish to take up arms.

The United Nations announced Thursday that the amount of registered Syrian refugees jumped ten percent in just week to exceed 1.1 million people. The increase in Syrian refugees correlates with reports coming from Amnesty International stating that the regime has increasingly used lethal battlefield weapons on residential areas in recent months.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

A Tripartite Summit with the presidents of Angola, South Africa, and Congo, began on Tuesday, aimed at discussing the situation in eastern Congo with an aim to implement the Framework Agreement for peace, stability and cooperation in Congo and the wider region.

According to Ugandan newspaper The New Vision, if the M23 agrees to lay down arms and sign a peace accord this week, the Congolese government will grant them limited amnestyand offer them positions in the national army. They also would speed up the return of Congolese Tutsi refugees from Rwanda. Bertrand Bisimwa, the newly elected M23 political leader of the Makenga faction said he was not aware of such a deal. Think Africa Press offers a compelling analysis of divisions within the M23 rebel group here.

Because of ongoing instability and fighting in Goma and the Kivus, brothels have risen in number in the city. Many girls between the ages of 13 and 17 inhabit these brothels, many from the country, hoping to make money to send home to their families. For young girls, there are few alternatives to sex work to make money. Inter Press Service reports here. Deaths in detention centers have also sharply risen over the last year, nearly doubling from 56 in 2011 to 101 in 2012. Of the 101 deaths, 24 were from torture or ill-treatment, and others were due to poor conditions caused by overcrowding, malnutrition, and access to healthcare.

Weekly News Brief 3/07/13

Burma

An increasing number of Rohingya are fleeing Bangladesh to escape ongoing communal violence and substandard living conditions. The UNHCR has expressed concern over the number of people who have boarded the smugglers’ boats. According to the UN, as many as 13,000 people left by boat and 500 died at sea. Most boats head south for Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In the press release, UNHCR “recognizes the regional dimension of the irregular movements of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants by sea,” and states that, “Genuine cooperative regional approaches that promote sharing of burdens and responsibility could offer asylum seekers and refugees an alternative to dangerous and exploitative boat journeys.” A boatload of over 120 Rohingya arrived in Jakarta earlier this week.

A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross this week visited the Kachin town of Laiza. The Kachin Independence Army has been fighting the Myanmar military for greater autonomy since ceasefire agreements broke down in June 2011. This was the first time in months that aid organizations were allowed access to the area by the Myanmar government.

In other news, Naypyidaw has approved a $1.15 billion military budget, one-fifth of the total budget, from which a majority of funds is to be built on “hardware”.  Under the 2008 Constitution, the military holds 25% of the seats in Parliament. Additionally, a parliamentary commission has discovered that the Myanmar military has forcibly seized about 250,000 acres of farmland from villagers. The report urges the military to return untouched land to their owners or to reimburse them if their land has been developed.

Sudan

Sudan and South Sudan will resume stalled talks on Thursday to set up a demilitarized border zone
. At the last meeting on January 19, both sides traded accusations of making new demands for the border zone. Khartoum also accuses Juba of backing rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, two Sudan border states. Juba denies this. South Sudan claims that Sudan often bombs its territory and accuses Sudan of supporting rebels in South Sudan led by David Yau Yau. Apart from oil and the buffer zone, the two countries must agree on ownership of Abyei and other disputed areas.

On Friday it was reported that the Sudanese army would send reinforcements to southern Blue Nile state where government forces are battling rebels from the SPLM-N.

Darfur

joint offensive of two Darfur rebel groups against the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in North Darfur left more than 25 government soldiers dead on Wednesday, JEM and SLA-MM rebel movements say. The battle took place on the road connected to the North Darfur capital El Fasher.

There are signs of progress following reconciliation meetings between the Arab Abbala and Beni Hussein tribes brokered by state authorities last week in Saraf Omra, North Darfur. Roads have been reopened for the first time since February 21, “enabling food, commerce and urgently needed supplies to reach the area.” Most vital roads in the war-affected region had been closed since clashes over control of a gold mine of Jebel Amer broke out on January 5th. This prevented thousands of displaced from receiving aid for weeks. Over 100,000 people fled their homes in connection with the first wave of tribal fighting, making this the largest forced displacement in Darfur in years. A second wave of tribal clashes erupted on February 21.

Last weekend, a planned two-day visit of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to North Darfur sparked negative reactions among three of Darfur’s rebel groups who ensured the trip would not go “smoothly.”Al-Bashir postponed his trip after severe clashes broke out between the Sudan Revolutionary Forces (SRF) and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in Wad Bahr, a village on the border of Darfur and North Kordofan.

On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the date of the trial of two former Darfur rebels accused of killing UNAMID peacekeepers in 2007. The assault involved approximately 1,000 rebel attackers, and resulted in the death of 12 peacekeepers.  The trial will start in May 2014.

South Sudan

Two clashes between soldiers and rebels resulted in the deaths of 33 people.
 South Sudanese troops killed 28 fighters led by the rebel leader David Yau Yau in the restive state of Jonglei.

Syria

The Assad regime launched an offensive against rebel forces on Wednesday, with warplanes striking targets throughout Syria. Dozens were wounded or killed in the northern city of Raqa, most of whom rebel forces had recently overrun. Government warplanes also raided the city of Homs, which is now mostly under government control with the exception of a few rebel-held districts. Rebel enclaves near Damascus and in northwest Syria were also subject to bombings. Opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib visited Syria on Sunday for the first time since his exile last year. His visit appears to be a move to address skepticism among some rebel groups toward the Syrian National Coalition, the representative of the Syrian opposition abroad.

Syrian government forces that had crossed into Iraq for refuge were ambushed on Monday, leaving 48 dead. Iraqi officials have blamed the attack on Al-Qaeda. Iraqi Prime Minister Ali al-Moussawi, stated the soldiers were allowed into Iraq for humanitarian purposes and that Iraq was not picking sides in the Syrian conflict. On Sunday, Iraq shut down the Iraqi side of the Syrian-Iraqi border crossing of Rabia after Syrian rebel forces captured the Syrian side.

A Syrian rebel brigade in southern Syria near Israeli-occupied Golan Heights has seized 21 UN peacekeepers. The captured peacekeepers are part of the UN observer force that has monitored the Syrian-Israeli ceasefire line since the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The rebel group demanded that Syrian government forces withdraw from the nearby village of Jamla, threatening to treat the peacekeepers as “prisoners of war” if their demands were not met within 24 hours. On Monday, Israel warned the UN Security Council that it “cannot be expected to stand idle” as the Syrian conflict spills over its borders.

American and Russian diplomats are planning to meet this Friday with the international mediator for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. On Tuesday, American Secretary of State John Kerry stated in a joint press conference with the Qatari Prime Minister that he believes arms for Syrian rebels are increasingly being channeled to moderate militarized groups within the Syrian opposition.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The M23 delegation in Kampala has split into two factions following internal clashes within the leadership. Last week, M23 clashed after political leader Jean Marie Runiga was linked with General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the ICC. One faction is representing General Makenga, the military leader of M23, and the other is representing Runiga.

On Tuesday, ICRC staff entered Kitchanga, Masisi, North Kivu to find corpses lying in the streets and “extensive destruction.” St. Benoit Hospital, one of two hospitals in the city, had been hit by shells. For an extended analysis and background, see IRIN’s report here.

Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon called on the Security Council to create an intervention brigade within the UN peacekeeping operation in DRC to combat rebel groups in eastern Congo. The brigade would have the ability to conduct counter-offensive operation against all armed groups threatening peace, with or without the Congolese army and also help to neutralize and disarm groups. Additionally, the UNHCR is seeking $70 million to help forcibly displaced Congolese civilians in the Great Lakes region this year, and will be split amongst the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda.

On Monday, a bilateral cooperation agreement between South Sudan and DRC was initiated in order to make their common borders safer and protect it from dissident groups that may create insecurity. Issues of trade, customs and migration services are to be addressed by both countries.

Weekly News Brief 2/28/2013

Sudan

United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNECOSOC) president Nestor Osorio will announce a compromise this week by which Sudan will not head the humanitarian segment at the council, as previously planned, and instead take on a different role. The Sudanese government has paid $516,085 to the United Nations to reinstate its voting rights after being suspended over the accumulation of financial arrears.

Israel deported at least 1,000 Sudanese refugees to North Sudan without informing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and despite the fact that “[Sudan] has vowed to punish any of its citizens who ever set foot in Israel.” Government doctors amputated a man’s right hand and left foot by court order in Khartoum on February 14, 2013, in violation of the absolute prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishments, four human rights groups said Wednesday.

Renewed clashes in North Darfur between Abbala and Beni Hussein tribesmen have “highlighted once more the vulnerability of civilians in the area” killing 50 people in the past week. Meanwhile, those who fled their homes due to last month’s hostilities between the tribes are still living under trees, by creeks or in the outskirts of the town. The UN estimates that 100,000 people were displaced in connection with the clashes over control of a gold mine in Jebel Amer on 5 January. They stated this is the largest forced displacement in Darfur in years.

Members of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) that signed the Doha peace agreement with the government of Sudan clashed with pro-government militias at a market in North Darfur.

Also, the military spokesman of the Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid (SLM-AW) disclosed that 23 children died of diarrhea after drinking water polluted by toxic bombs following last week’s bombings in South Jebel Marra, Central Darfur.

Crimes against humanity have been taking place in Darfur for the past ten years. Join STAND and our partner organizations in calling on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UNSC, and the African Union to bring relief, peace, and justice to Darfur by visiting http://www.darfur10.com/.

South Sudan

A child protection survey was launched in Unity State in South Sudan. The state’s minister for gender, child welfare and social development, Lubna Abdelgani, said Tuesday that the issue of girl’s being forced to marry before they are of a mature age needs to addressed. The survey will take place in all 10 South Sudanese states. Voices of America published an article on GBV in South Sudan.  The article explains the violence faced by women including rape and beatings, the lack of choice they have in terms of choosing husbands, and their lack of rights and capacities to seek redress for their grievances.

The deputy speaker of South Sudan’s parliament has backed calls for the young nation toadopt a leaner more efficient government that would better able to provide the services needed by the population.

Syria

On Tuesday, fighting intensified near the historic Umayyad Mosque in the Old City of Aleppo. Clashes also erupted near a police academy that has become a government military base west of Aleppo. Increased fighting in southern Syria as well has led to a surge in refugees fleeing across the border to Jordan. In the past few days, about 3,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan per night. Syrian activist groups have been working to collect evidence of human rights abuses as the conflict continues. These groups met in Turkey in January where they launched the National Preparatory Committee for Transitional Justice. The Committee is collecting all dates and information available from all Syrian activist groups.

Syrian rebels have agreed to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the international “Friends of Syria” meeting in Rome after initially rebuffing the offer.  The shift in rebel stance comes in light of a pledge from Secretary Kerry to increase non-lethal support for the rebels. While assistance so far has been limited to communications and logistical support, it may be magnified to include meals and medical supplies. The rebels have also refused an offer from the Assad regime to meet for talks. Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) Chief of Staff Selim Idriss stated the FSA would not meet with Assad until “all the killing stops, or before the army withdraws from the cities”. The Assad regime has agreed to renew passports of Syrian citizens overseas, one of two conditions put forward last month by opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib to meet with the Assad regimes for talks.

In an apparent change in policy, Saudi Arabia has begun supplying rebels with armspurchased in Croatia. These arms began arriving to Syria in December in shipments sent through Jordan. The arms may have contributed to rebel gains this past winter. On Wednesday, Iraqi minister Hadi al-Amiri declared that Turkish and Qatari support for “al Qaeda (in Syria) . . . is a declaration of armed action against Iraq.” Al-Amiri is the transport minister and the head of the formerly armed militant group Badr Organization. Sectarian tensions have been rising in Iraq, especially in the Sunni stronghold of Anbar bordering Syria, where protests have recently been staged against the Shi’ite-led government and al-Qaeda linked militants appear to be regrouping.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ahead of last weekend’s peace talks in Addis Ababa, the UN urged the UNSC to authorize an additional military brigade force within the current peacekeeping forces to respond to the unstable security situations caused by violence in Katanga and the Kivus. In Katanga province in the southeast of the country, approximately 316,000 people have been displaced by the activities of Mayi Mayi leader Gédéon.

A peace agreement was finally signed by regional governments on Sunday, February 24,including Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, DRC, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Rwanda President Paul Kagame welcomed the agreement, which he says has been a collaborative regional effort, addresses multi-faceted root causes, and will serve not as an end result of a peace process, but as a step in the right direction. A group of prominent Congolese and international NGOs welcomed the agreement, but support additional measures, including the appointment of a high-profile UN Special Envoy to mediate on a domestic and regional level, the inclusion of Congolese civil society and Congo’s donor partners in oversight mechanisms, and the tying of donor aid to benchmarks and collaboration between government, donors, and civil society.

Ugandan forces have deployed on the DRC-Uganda border following renewed fighting between Mai Mai rebels and M23 rebels in Nyamirima. The two groups are fighting for control of the borderline, which the Mai Mai claims to be their ancestral land. Large numbers of Congolese continue to flee their homes and seek refuge in Uganda.

Yesterday, MONUSCO reported heavy fighting near its base in North Kivu between Congolese armed forces and elements of the Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain (APCLS). At least one civilian was killed and nine others injured, including one of MONUSCO’s peacekeepers. A decision on further UN troops is expected after Ban Ki-moon briefs the Council on recent developments related to the DRC, including the signing of the peace agreement.

Burma

Fearing greater conflict in Kachin State, China has been conducting military exercises in neighboring Yunnan Province to bolster border security. Although the military exercises happen each year, Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua described the military exercises in Yunnan as training for “real combat to increase their capacity to control the border.” China is due to host peace talks in the town of Ruili next month between the Myanmar military and Kachin Independence Army to bring about an end to the conflict, which has displaced more than 100,000 people.

In other news, on Friday, February 22, the United States “relaxed” sanctions on four large Burmese banks as a reward for the country’s recent democratic reforms.

Weekly News Brief 2/21/13

Syria

Syrian state media reported two mortar shell explosions near a presidential palace on Tuesday. The palace, one of three in Damascus, hosts visiting dignitaries but is not a residence of President Assad. Syrian state media and the Associated Press reported a mortar strike near Tishreen stadium this Wednesday, killing one footballer and injuring several others. On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 31 people were killed in a surface-to-air missile strike on a residential area in Aleppo. Opposition sources also reported 50 people killed in Damascus suburbs on Tuesday, including at least 20 killed in an airstrike on Hamouriyeh. The Assad regime has reported that the Aleppo airport remains in government hands, despite facing “intensive attacks by gunmen.”

Kurdish militias and Arab anti-regime rebels reached an agreement to cease three months of hostilities that began when Islamist groups entered Ras al-Ain in November, seizing a crossing on the Turkish border. The FSA signed the agreement on behalf of all rebel groups except Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra, which took part in the talks and favored the agreement. The second most powerful Islamist group in the area, Ghuruba al-Sham, also supported the agreement. Under this agreement, all military forces are to be withdrawn from the city and Kurdish fighters are to join the anti-Assad rebels. On Wednesday, theFSA warned Hezbollah militants that if they do not stop fighting with the Syrian regime within 48 hours, they “will respond to the sources of fire by our hands and eliminate it from inside the Lebanese lands.” Former Lebanese information minister and parliament member Michel Samaha and Syrian Major General Ali Mamlouk have been indicted with charges of planning terrorist attacks inside Lebanon. Lebanese authorities are seeking the death penalty for both men.

The Arab League and Russia proposed on Wednesday to broker talks between anti-government rebels and the Assad regime. The Arab League and Russia are working to establish direct contact between the opposition and the Syrian regime, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Khatim is scheduled to visit Russia on Monday and opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib is expected in March. Russia also dispatched two planes to Syria to evacuate its citizens and sent four warships to the Mediterranean, which a military source said might be used for a future evacuation of Russian citizens.

United Nations agencies have warned of a ‘humanitarian tragedy’ in Syria, including in the rebel-held north, an area that aid workers are largely unable to reach and which is currently suffering a typhoid outbreak. Human Rights Watch called for the Syrian government to allow aid to cross all borders on February 11, and announced that donors should increase support for NGOs already bringing aid across the border with Turkey into opposition-held areas.  An independent team at the UN announced on Monday that Syrians on both sides of the conflict have committed war crimes and urged the UN Security Council to hold perpetrators accountable, possibly by prosecution at the International Criminal Court.

Sudan

This week, an ongoing military offensive by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in the Blue Nile State has so far forced thousands to flee into South Sudan.  Dozens of SPLM-N rebels were killed in the aerial bombardments, leading the government of Sudan to claim that it liberated the area. One source is quoted as saying, “The Sudan air force is bombarding the whole southern Blue Nile every hour.” Despite a deal reached in September of last year between Sudan and South Sudan, the two nations have failed to create a demilitarised border buffer zone, largely because Sudan accuses the government of South Sudan of supporting the SPLM-N rebels that it continues to fight. However the SPLM-N this week has offered to negotiate a ceasefire with the Sudanese government to allow for the introduction of humanitarian relief.

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir visited Chad this weekend, and despite being obligated as a signatory of the Rome Statute to arrest him, the Chadian government allowed him to return home freely. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009, charging him with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Darfur

Despite the UN passing an arms embargo on Sudan last week, there are many weaknesses to the current Security Council resolutions for Sudan. Eric Reeves writes of the importance of a stricter policy towards the government’s perpetual acts of violence towards its own citizens in Darfur, highlighting the recent escalation of violence in Darfur in the past week including:

Simultaneous anti-government violence persists. Last week a joint rebel offensive killed 87 SAF soldiers. Lastly, the government of Sudan was accused of harboring fugitive Islamist Malian rebels in Darfur after JEM forces witnessed them in the region.

South Sudan

There has been an outbreak of hepatitis E that has affected more than 6,000 people in South Sudan refugee camps since July, killing 111.

South Sudan’s government this week was accused of detaining scores of opposition figures without issuing arrest warrants or giving them access to lawyers since unrest broke out in a northwestern town in December. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) just released a publication concerning the rise of undemocratic tendencies of the South Sudanese government.  Examples include the persecution of journalists, the lack of progress on developing a constitution, and several acts of violence towards UN peacekeepers. (USIP also released a publication last week on the economic pressures building in Sudan).

South Sudan recently retired over 100 generalsas part of a sweeping restructuring of the former rebel force, in a move partly aimed at demilitarizing the fledgling nation’s government.  The move is considered a positive step towards separating civilians and members of the military in the government.

Burma

On Thursday, February 2, MSF claimed it was being denied access to some groups of Rohingya in Rakhine State by government officials. MSF is only allowed to visit the Rohingya IDP camps one day a week. Because the predominantly Muslim Rohingya are viewed by the Myanmar government as illegal Bengali migrants, the Rohingya, even when seriously ill, are not permitted to travel outside the camps to seek treatment. Since June 2012, nearly 110,000 people have been displaced due to ongoing violence between the Rohingya and Rakhine people. MSF has been accused by the Myanmar government of favoring the Rohingya over the Rakhine. A United Nations peace envoy recently criticized the government about continuing human rights violations throughout the country despite recent democratic reforms, citing ongoing instances of torture, arbitrary arrests, and lack of basic rights and health care for the Rohingya.

Last week, opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said she is willing to mediate peace talks between the Myanmar government and Burma’s various ethnic nationalities, particularly the ongoing conflict in Kachin State. The announcement was made on Tuesday, February 12, which is Union Day in Burma, a day that celebrates Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, who signed an agreement with Burma’s ethnic nationalities to seek independence from the British. The Kachin, as well as other ethnic nationalities in Burma, pursue the right of self-determination, which is denied under Burma’s current constitution.

Representatives from the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) met with Myanmar officials on Tuesday, February 19, the day prior to a larger peace talk. The two parties agreed to meet for the first time in Burma’s capital Naypyidaw sometime in the near future to gain trust and discuss the continuation of a ceasefire in northern Shan State between the Myanmar military and the RCSS’s armed wings, Shan State Army North and Shan State Army South. Recent violence in Shan State has threatened to undermine the ceasefire agreement.

On Wednesday, February 20, representatives from the Myanmar government met with members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The UNFC is an umbrella organization that represents many ethnic nationalities of Burma, including the Kachin, which has been involved in bitter conflict with the Myanmar military since June 2011. Yet, it was reported that no Myanmar military officials would take part in the meeting. In a joint statement, the peace talks were described as “frank and friendly”. No major developments were reached about the ongoing violence in Kachin State, with the dialogue being defined as “very informal” in a tweet by Al Jazeera correspondent Wayne Hay.  The Myanmar government and UNFC did, however, engage in discussion for the first time on how to supply humanitarian aid to ethnic areas.

On Monday, February 10th, Burma observed US-led military exercises in Thailand as part of the two countries’ closer diplomatic relationship. The joint military exercise, codenamed “Cobra Gold” is the largest of its kind in Asia.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The International Center for Transitional Justice has highlighted four military court casesinvolving dozens of Congolese citizens, human rights violations, and an outstanding $1 million in unpaid reparations owed by the government. In each case, egregious crimes were carried out by the Congolese government.

Security forces have caused 53,000 people to flee Punia in Eastern DRC in Katanga Province due to harassment and threats. Punia is near a large mining site that has been victim to clashes between government forces and Mai Mai rebels. The World Food Programme has had trouble delivering food aid to the area, because of the lack of storage facilities and transportation issues. WFP flew into the area on February 15, bringing 20 tons of food, which they said would feed 8,000 people for five days. MSF is having trouble medically assisting victims of violence in Katanga Province as well.

On February 11, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson called for a global effort to help the DRC. “The first step is for the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and other countries in the region to sign a United Nations Framework Agreement on the deployment of a joint U.N. and African Union force in the DRC. Then, a comprehensive peace process needs to be launched, involving local communities, especially in the Kivu region of eastern DRC, civil society groups and international organizations. He said because of the size and complexity of the challenges, a senior, high-level U.N. envoy is needed to coordinate the work.” Last week, STAND students across the country called on President Obama to appoint an envoy to the peace process.

Hundreds of thousands of IDPs remain in DRC because of decades-long violence in the east. There are many issues with the often-impromptu IDP camps, writes Caelin Briggs, as they are often unsupported by the UNHCR or the Congolese government. Hunger remains a huge issue for many. Taylor Toeka Kakala writes, however, of IDPs helped by programs run by Caritas International to grow their own food from the IDP camps. About 30,000 people are affected by the program, able to grow crops to sustain themselves.