Weekly News Brief 10/18
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
A confidential report was leaked to Reuters on Wednesday, saying that Rwanda’s defence minister, General James Kabarebe, is effectively commanding the M23 rebellion in the DRC. The report says Kigali has supplied the M23 with heavy weapons and is helping with recruitment for the group. The report goes to to say that Uganda is also backing the M23 rebels in eastern Congo by providing direct troop reinforcements, weapons deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of external relations. The Chicago Tribune says that the rebellion is also being funded by traders in Rwanda who profit from smuggling tin, tungsten, and tantalum across the border. Both Rwanda and Uganda are strongly denying these allegations.
The M23 rebellion began in April. Since then, nearly half a million people have been displaced by fighting between the M23 and the national army. This would seem to be nothing new: for the past two decades, Rwanda has backed armed groups in eastern Congo to fight Hutu rebels who fled there after the 1994 genocide as well as gain access to natural resources in Congo. The DRC government is hoping that sanctions will be imposed on all of those named in the report.
Excerpts from Report, as noted in the Chicago Tribune:
The RDF (Rwandan army) recruitment for M23 within Rwanda has increased in the past four months," it said. "The main targets for recruitment are Rwandan demobilized soldiers and civilians, as well as Congolese refugees." The use and recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups, notably by M23, has increased," the report said, adding that over 250 children had been recruited. "Furthermore, certain M23 commanders have ordered the extrajudicial executions of dozens of recruits and prisoners of war." M23 uses boys on the frontlines as cover for advancing units, often after a week of training," the experts said. "Others act as porters, intelligence operatives and bodyguards. The rebels use young girls as cooks and as commanders' wives."
Despite these allegations, Rwanda was voted onto the UN Security Council today. It was unopposed in its bid for the African seat on the council, and will take the seat currently held by South Africa on January 1, 2013. Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo stated that her government will be able to offer a unique perspective on matters of war and peace at the Security Council. The last time Rwanda held a seat on the UNSC was in 1994, when they were able to use their influence to deny genocide allegations.
The DRC is hoping to increase taxes under its mining code in order to boost revenue. The mines ministry says it wants to increase the government’s stake in mining projects from 5 percent and get higher royalty payments from companies. Congo copper output reached 520,000 tons last year, which the mining industry hopes to triple by 2016. Investors in the area say this is a short-term solution to Congo’s problems and thinks it will undermine investment opportunities in Congo. In 2010, the US began requiring companies to disclose use of minerals from Congo, those profiting from the trade have easily adapted to the drop in price for some resources by shifting their focus to gold mining in Congo.
On Monday, Mohamed al-Beel Issa Zayyed, deputy head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) announced that JEM clashed with government forces in South Kordofan. According to Zayyed, “dozens of government forces were killed, including the force commander.” He added that the rebels destroyed three army vehicles and seized two another two that were carrying large quantities ammunition and weapons.
Darfur peace partners have said they are willing to settle divergences over security arrangements. The Joint Commission of the DDPD (Doha Document for Peace in Darfur) is set to break the deadlock between the Sudanese government and the former rebel Liberation and Justice Movement over the integration of LJM combatants in the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process. Issues related to the implementation of security arrangements will be discussed and, partners hope, will be settled within a month.
The Safe Demilitarized Buffer Zone (SDBZ) agreement between Sudan and South Sudan has caused widespread misunderstandings among the Dinka Aweil people of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state. A large crowd of civil right activists and residents of the state staged a peaceful procession in Juba on Monday, demanding the “immediate removal” of the 14 mile area from the Zone. Inhabitants of the state see it as an encroachment upon their land.
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has called for a ceasefire in Syria during the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins next Thursday. He has just arrived in Amman, Jordan, after visits to Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Syria’s state-run newspaper said on Wednesday that the biggest obstacle to a holiday ceasefire is the lack of an authority to sign for the rebels, who have no unified leadership. Yesterday, France hosted a meeting of Syrian revolutionary groups and diplomats to support civilian groups managing rebel-held areas. Diplomats from 20 countries were expected to participate.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that on Monday, at least 16 soldiers were killed in fighting near Aleppo, including the driver of a vehicle carrying three tons of explosives. On the Iraqi border, shelling by rebels killed three children, aged six, seven, and 12--these children were among at least 48 people killed nationwide. Rebels have forced Syrian troops from Maarat Al Numan, calling the victory a “major breakthrough.”
The World Health Organization states that fighting has significantly affected health facilities throughout the country, leaving 29% out of service, and damaging 271 out of 520 ambulances, leaving 177 out of service. Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme notes that prices for basic provisions in the country have nearly doubled since fighting began last March. Though they are feeding 1.4 million Syrians across the country, more remain out of reach because of ongoing violence. The EU has pushed fresh sanctions against the Assad regime, agreeing on an assets freeze and travel ban for 28 Syrians and two firms. This is the 19th round of sanctions, bringing the total blacklisted number of people to 181 and number of companies to 54.
In Turkey, the number of refugees has topped 100,000. Though previously, Turkey stated that they would only take up to 100,000 refugees, they have changed their position, saying that the country will not close its doors to refugees. However, Turkey-Syria relations remain tense. While Jordan has also announced that it will open a second camp, which will allow as many as 250,000 to enter their country, Iraq has begun limiting the number of refugees, saying it lacks the security and resources to hold them.
A new proposal to Myanmar’s parliament has called for each of Burma’s states’ greater autonomy. It is being proposed by an alliance of 10 political parties, five of which are those representing some of Burma many ethnic nationalities.
Also, with the recent easing of sanctions towards Burma, the US has said it will not engage in military ties with newly reformed country until its human rights issues are addressed.
On Wednesday, October 17, over 200 hundred lawyers held a demonstration in Burma's largest city, Yangon. They were protesting the proposed sale of one of the city's old colonial buildings to Chinese businessmen. Yangon has some of the world's best preserved colonial architecture for nothing else has been built in their place due to the country’s stagnant economy for much of the past 50 years. The protest is the second major protest in the city this month.