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Weekly News Brief 9/13

Breaking News: Libya

On Tuesday night, an armed group attacked the US embassy in Libya, leading to the deaths of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other US personnel. The attack was spurred by protests over an amateur film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which mocks and insults the Prophet Muhammad. Although the film was released in the US in July, it was translated into Arabic approximately eight days ago and quickly spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In response to the killings, 50 members of the Marine Corps were dispatched to Libya to reinforce existing troops. Up to 10 Libyan security guards, who had been fighting the attackers, were also killed in the attack on the consulate. On Wednesday night, residents of Tripoli and Benghazi staged demonstrations to condemn the attack and express their remorse of the death of Ambassador Stevens.

The film has received similar reception in Egypt, with protesters replacing the US flag with the black Islamic flag; Tunisia, where 50 protesters burned US flags outside of the embassy in Tunis; and Yemen, where demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Sanaa, burning a US flag and setting cars aflame. The film is said to have been written by an Israeli-American man, and promoted by Morris Sadek, an anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian living in California.

The US is now conducting an investigation to figure out if the attack in Libya was a spontaneous reaction to the film or pre-planned. The New York Times reports that, “the assailants seemed organized, well trained and heavily armed, and they appeared to have at least some level of advance planning,” and a senior Obama administration official told reporters that, “it was clearly a complex attack.” Reports are still developing, but for more information see articles by Wired and BBC.

Al Jazeera has released a short informational video on the Libya situation, which you can watch here.


On Tuesday, September 11, Radio Dabanga reported that four civilians were killed in East Jebel Marra, North Darfur, as a result of aerial bombings by a Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) Antonov airplane. The plane flew above the area for about two hours before dropping 10 bombs, killing a woman and a child as well as a number of herd animals in the area. The shelling and killings on the ground have been ongoing for the past two months.

Also in Darfur, it is reported that a splinter rebel group has emerged from the existing Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The communiqué said the dissident group had held a meeting in Furawiyya, North Darfur on 8 and 9 September, where they decided to relieve JEM leader Gibril Ibrahim. The group appointed Mohamed Bashar Ahmed, a cousin of Ibrahim, as interim president of the splinter group’s military council.

JEM former general commander, Bakheit Abdallah Abdel-Karim (Dabajo), who was fired by Ibrahim last month, was instated as the general commander in the splinter group. Ali Wafi, former JEM military spokesperson, was appointed as spokesperson of the military council. Sources say the faction has high military strength, as they have over 150 vehicles and sophisticated weapons that were brought from Libya last year.

According to SAF’s official spokesperson Al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad, on Monday 18 members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army North (SPLM/A-N) were killed in an attack which targeted SPLM/A-N positions in Jibal Daloka area (south of South Kordofan’s capital Kadugli). Although Al-Sawarmi admitted such incidence, and that a number of SAF soldiers were killed and injured, the SPLM/A-N has denied the occurrence of any clashes with the Sudanese army.

South Sudan

The co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), Luka Biong, said that the United States has expressed its support to the organization of a referendum on the status of Abyei and to uphold the rights of the Ngok Dinka in the disputed area. Biong was in Washington, where he met with the Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Princeton Lyman, and US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, and Director of African Affairs in the White House, Grant Harris. From Washington, Biong headed to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa to join the South Sudanese delegation for the talks over the outstanding between the two countries which includes the final status of Abyei.


At the end of August, the Myanmar government lifted the ban on over 2,000 blacklisted dissidents. Many dissidents quickly returned to Burma to push the government’s ongoing reforms. However, more than 4,000 names remain blacklisted.

On September 2, hundreds of Buddhist monks marched in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, in solidarity of President Thein Sein’s proposal to send the Rohingya to Bangladesh. Thousands of Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine have been displaced after violence erupted between the two groups due to allegations of the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three Rohingya men. The Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority living in eastern Bangladesh and western Burma, have been denied citizenship and deemed unwelcome by both Myanmar’s President and Bangladesh’s Prime Minister (see a video interview here of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister explaining why she won’t help the Rohingya). The ongoing conflict has been highly scrutinized by the international community as the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar government has been slow to allow aid organizations access to affected areas. Newly appointed US Ambassador Derek Mitchell completed an official visit to the affected areas Monday, September 10.

China has come under criticism for the forced repatriation of Kachin refugees living in camps in Yunnan province. As many as 5,000 people will be forced to return to Burma. The Kachin, one of Burma’s nine main ethnic groups, have been fleeing northern Burma since fighting began last June between the Myanmar government and the Kachin Independence Army.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic leader of Burma’s democratic reform and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is due to visit the US later this month, making stops in Washington DC, New York, Kentucky, Indiana, and California. You can check out her speaking schedule here. Suu Kyi has recently been criticised for her silence on the Rohingya. Some analysts say that Suu Kyi, now an elected official in Burma, has avoided the Rohingya issue as to not upset her predominantly Buddhist electorate.

In other news, due to Obama’s recent lifting of US investment sanctions, Coca-Cola will soon be available in Myanmar for the first time in more than 60 years.


Today, September 13, UN-Arab League envoy and mediator Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Syria for the first time since taking up his post. His spokesman said he would hold talks with both the government and “representatives of the Syrian opposition and civil society” during his visit. On Wednesday, he met Syrian opposition officials in Cairo.

Also today, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will evaluate a proposal to join a team of non-aligned nations to solve the crisis in Syria. These countries include Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Inflation is rising in Syria, the AFP reporting that the buying power of ordinary Syrians has been slashed by a third. Economist Mohammad Jumaa is quoted as saying that economic sanctions have brought about “a reduction in products and services offered on the market which, set against the high demand of consumers, has caused the price rise.”

Clashes in the northwest town of Saraqeb have led to the deaths of at least 18 government soldiers. Also in the northwest, Idib has been the subject of heavy bombings over the past two weeks. In Homs, in central Syria, WHO estimates that 550,000 out of the 2.2 million population need humanitarian aid. Most of Syria’s pharmaceutical plants are located in Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus, which have suffered extensive damage due to the conflict.

As of this week, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards reports that Syrian refugees in surrounding countries have reached the following numbers: 85,197 in Jordan, 78,431 in Turkey, 66,915 in Lebanon, and 22,563 in Iraq. However, many have not yet registered with authorities, and these numbers may be off by tens of thousands.

For Al Jazeera’s Live Blog on Syria, click here.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

According to the UN News Centre, a proposal for a neutral force to quell the violence in eastern Congo is being considered by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The concept was proposed by the Great Lakes countries at a regional summit in July. The fighting in the east has uprooted nearly half a million people in the past months including approximately 220,000 people in North Kivu and 200,000 is South Kivu, with over 51,000 fleeing to Uganda and Rwanda. Human Rights Watch has documented the forced recruitment of at least 137 young men and boys since July and the execution of 33 recruits who had tried to escape.

The M23 now controls a portion of Congo larger than Delaware and has developed a strong PR front, trying to portray a gentle image through press releases, interviews, and a strong web presence. You can hear NPR’s report here. Frederick Golooba, a Ugandan political scientist, says that as Tutsi, the M23 are motivated by a desire to protect their community, not by “power and bridandry.” Jason Stearns adds that “In private, they’re telling people the only way [they] can maintain [their] interests–economic, political and security–is to have [their] own country.” While important to hear both sides of the story, it should be noted that NPR provides a simplistic version of Tutsi-Hutu power struggles in the region, equating it to an “ethnic hatred”–a claim scholars have vehemently argued against since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In other news, WHO reports that if not brought under control soon, Congo’s ebola outbreak risks spreading to major towns. Thus far, the disease has affected people in the towns of Isiro and Viadana in Orientale province in the northeast of the country. In august, 16 people in Uganda died of ebola, although the outbreaks are not believed to be connected.

Coming to Syracuse Stage on Friday is the world premiere of a documentary theatre piece entitled “Cry for Peace: Voices From the Congo.” The 90-minute piece features a cast of five former residents of Congo, who will “speak of the anguish of living in a country under constant assault from its neighbors and tribal discord within its borders.” For ticketing information, click here.

By the STAND Education Team: Mac Hamilton, Julius Wani, & Alex Colley-Hart

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