In this week’s issue: the Government of Sudan attempts to clear the way for new attacks in South Darfur, refugees in Burma face new threats, and re-shuffling of alliances causes confusion and concern in Congo
Quote of the week: On the joint Rwanda-DRC military operation targeting FDLR militia in eastern DRC…
"Then there is the almost zany task of cobbling together the joint operation itself. That entails mixing Rwandan soldiers with the Congolese soldiers who once fought them, with the rebels who were fighting the Congolese, with the ragtag militias that were fighting the rebels — and the entire operation is targeting a group the Congolese army has collaborated with for years." –Washington Post, 2/1/2009
Fighting escalated this week between Sudanese government troops and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels, with the government bombing rebel positions in both North and South Darfur. The number of civilians killed and displaced in the recent fighting is currently unknown; however, Sudan expert Alex de Waal called it the worst violence in Darfur since the beginning of 2008. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the U.S. State Department have both issued statements condemning the fighting.
Meanwhile, the Government of Sudan has asked UN Peacekeepers to clear out of the town of Muhajeria, where government and rebel forces clashes earlier this week. JEM has since taken two more townsand declared it has free reign over Darfur.
JEM and a splinter of the SLA advanced towards Darfur’s largest city, El-Fasher, but clashed with Government forces. After intensive fighting with air strikes and heavy artillery for several days, it seems as ifcalm has returned to El-Fasher. For more information on the current status of Darfur‘s rebel groups, check out the ENOUGH Project’s new strategy paper, "Darfur Rebels 101."
In an unrelated but tragic incident, a civilian member of UNAMID was shot dead in an armed robbery.
A new Human Rights Watch report urges India to allow the UNHCR access to Chin refugees fleeing abusive conditions in West Burma. The Chins’ persecution at the hands of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is also augmented by the governments refusal to act in the face of famine and food shortages in the region.
Time magazine chronicles the most persecuted ethnic groups in Burma today: the Rohingya, the Shan, the Chin, the Karen and the Kachins.
Much controversy is being made over what to do with the multitudes of Rohingya (Burman Muslims), who are fleeing the country after Thai military cast the refugees’ boats back out to sea. The Rohingya number about 800,000 of the population of Burma and are not allowed citizenship because they are Muslim. About 1,000 Rohingya are adrift in the Bay of Bengal or the Indonesian archepeligo, after being denied asylum in various countries.
Over 5 million people in the regions affected by Cyclone Nargis are still having trouble getting food and live below the poverty line according to the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Military cooperation between DRC and Rwanda has been met with serious skepticism and concern, particularly among eastern Congo’s civilian population. While Rwandan troops crossed into DRC earlier this month with the stated goal of eliminating the extremist Hutu FDLR militia, many worry that the troops will not distinguish between FDLR fighters and Hutu civilians. Although the Rwandan troops were reportedly invited by DRC this time, their entry invokes Rwandan invasions in 1996 and 1998 that sparked the First and Second Congo Wars.
MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, was originally unaware of the DRC-Rwanda operation, adding to concerns about its legitimacy and intent. Now, however, the UN has offered logistical supportto the mission. DRC President Joseph Kabila rejected criticism of the joint operation and announced that foreign troops will be out of DRC by February.
Meanwhile, efforts to integrate Tutsi rebel fighters into the Congolese army following last week’s arrest of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda are not going as planned. Integration efforts are complicated by the participation of CNDP commander Bosco "The Terminator" Ntaganda, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
The International Criminal Court trial of former DRC rebel leader Thomas Lubanga got off to a shaky start last week, as the testimony of the prosecution’s first witness was called into question. The witness, a former child soldier, retracted testimony claiming he had been abducted by Lubanga’s militia, suggesting that he had been coached. Lubanga, who is the first ICC suspect to stand trial, has pled ‘not guilty’ to charges of recruiting child soldiers as young as 10 years old.
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