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Weekly News Brief: 02.23.09 – 03.02.09

In this week’s issue: the world anticipates an ICC arrest warrant for Bashir, ASEAN condemns repression in Burma, and Rwandan troops leave DRC, at least for now.

Featured: International Crisis Group’s Nick Grono discusses the possible scenarios that could follow an ICC arrest warrant for Bashir, expected this Wednesday.

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The International Criminal Court is set to issue its decision on an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir on Wednesday, March 4th. In light of speculations that a warrant will lead to an increase in violence, advocates in the U.S. are urging the Obama administration to make clear to Khartoum that the U.S. will not tolerate reprisal attacks against civilians, peacekeepers, or aid workers.

In efforts to stall the ICC proceedings, Bashir pledged “free” elections in Sudan in a statement on Thursday, and has traveled to Egypt in a series of meetings following the Doha deal on Darfur. Meanwhile, the rebel group JEM has vowed to topple Bashir the moment an arrest warrant is issued while restating its commitment to the Doha peace process..

In Darfur, UNAMID has increased patrols to 24-hours around two large IDP camps. In other security-related news, two Sudanese aid workers were shot and killed this weekend in an ambush.

There was a flurry of media attention this week around actor George Clooney, who reportedly met privately with President Obama and Vice President Biden to discuss Darfur. Clooney announced that he was assured the U.S. would soon appoint a new special envoy to Sudan, leading to speculations about who the appointee might be.

In the city of Malakal in Southern Sudan, fighting broke out between a Khartoum-backed militia and the Southern Sudanese army, resulting in dozens of deaths including 14 civilians and 100 wounded. This caused Southern Sudanese officials to accuse Khartoum of seeking to provoke a “new civil war


At the closing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on Sunday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva delivered a statement on behalf of the regional organization urging the Burmese junta to release political prisioners, allow democracy, and cooperate with the United Nations. During the summit, the Burmese Prime Minister refused to meet with Burmese rights groups, even though this dialogue was scheduled as part of the event.

Burmese Prime Minister reportedly announced that the ruling junta will allow United Nations officials to monitor its elections in 2010. The opposition National League of Democracy (NLD) has said it will not participate in elections unless all political prisoners, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are released.

The Burmese junta has said it will consider taking back ethnic Rohingyas who have fled Burma by the thousands for Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia over the past several years. However, the junta has said it will only accept the refugees if they are classified as "Bengali," since the Rohingya, who are Muslim, are not an officially recognized ethnic group. Thailand and other neighboring countries have begun expelling the Rohingya, a policy which has been widely condemned.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Rwandan soldiers have fully withdrawn from eastern DRC, marking an end to the Rwandan-Congolese joint military operation that began in January to eliminate the extremist Hutu FDLR militia.

While the operation has led to the repatriation of many FDLR fighters to Rwanda, an estimated 6,000 combatants remain at large and many have reportedly begun attacks on formerly held territory. Rwandan President Paul Kagame said Sunday that he would be willing to send troops back into Congo if he felt it necessary.

During visits to eastern DRC and to the Rwandan capital of Kigali this week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon praised the Rwandan-Congolese joint mission’s progress and welcomed further cooperation between the two governments. Ban also called on DRC President Joseph Kabila to increase efforts to combat sexual violence committed by militia groups and the Congolese army, and urged closer collaboration between the Congolese government and MONUC peacekeepers.

Pressure is mounting on the Congolese government to hand over former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Ntaganda, who took control of CNDP rebels after the arrest of General Laurent Nkunda, recently signed a peace deal with the Congolese government. While many view the agreement as a chance for peace in the Kivus, Ntaganda’s status as an indicted war criminal seriously complicates the situation.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and DRC President Joseph Kabila plan to meet this week to review the joint Ugandan-Congolese-South Sudanese military operation aimed at tracking down Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in eastern DRC. Kabila is under pressure from Congolese politicians to end the mission, which has resulted in massive reprisal attacks by the LRA.

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