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Weekly News Brief 10/25/12

Democratic Republic of Congo

Igihe, a Rwandan news source, reports that on Saturday, M23 renamed itself the “Congolese Revolutionary Army.” The M23 is looking to take over more Congolese land, claiming that it would "bring change to the country, change the system that has made DR Congo what it is today, a system that impoverishes our population."

Human rights groups are criticizing Britain for giving the Rwandan government $26 million in aid despite of allegations of supporting the M23 rebellion. “Britain should not stand apart and make unilateral decisions from the international community.  We should send a united strong message to the government of Rwanda: we are serious, no more interference in DRC, otherwise there will be consequences," said opposition lawmaker Ivan Lewis. Voice of America notes that Britain is Rwanda’s biggest bilateral donor, allocating $130 million this year.  Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Rwanda as proof that the ‘cycle of poverty’ can be broken. President Obama renewed US sanctions for officials in DRC earlier this week.

Uganda said on Monday it would stop mediating in the conflict between the Democratic Republic of Congo and M23 rebels if the UN Security Council endorsed accusations that Uganda was supporting the rebels. Junior foreign affairs minister Asuman Kiyingi said Uganda would stop its mediation role even if the United Nations did not endorse the accusations but still imposed sanctions on M23 leaders. "We cannot try to bring two parties to the table to talk when one is under sanctions and the other is not," he said. This demand seems unlikely to be met, as the UN has already pledged to impose sanctions on those accused of violating the arms embargo to the M23.

On the conflict mineral front, in August the SEC began requiring companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals in the DRC. General Electric has developed a different approach to the SEC rule, releasing a report stating that the company is working with companies, NGOs, investors and government agencies “to foster a system that supports cutting out conflict minerals from the supply chain and improves reporting.” Yesterday marked the beginning of the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative, which you can read more about here.

The Ebola outbreak in northeastern DRC seems to be subsiding, according to WHO, as there have been no recorded deaths this week due to the disease.

In regional news, nine gunmen, reportedly of a new group called the Murundi People’s Front, in Burundi were shot dead in clashes with security forces. Since the 2010 boycott of the general elections by Burundi’s opposition, several acts of violence claimed by a number of rebel groups have occurred in Burundi. AFP notes that observers have feared that Burundi could slide back into full-blown civil conflict, which ended in a 2006 ceasefire agreement after 13 years of civil war.


Locations of Recently Reported Cluster Bomb Strikes across SyriaSyria has said its military command is still studying a proposal for an Eid al-Adha ceasefire with rebels, contradicting international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi’s announcement that Damascus had agreed to a truce. The final decision should be announced today before the beginning of the four-day religious holiday on Friday. Assad has, according to Syrian state TV, issued an amnesty for all crimes committed in Syria "up until today" – with the notable exclusion of "terrorist crimes". For the English translation of the  first three amnesty bylaws, see Al Jazeera’s translation here. On Monday, a top UN official said that the UN has made plans to assemble a peacekeeping force for Syria if a ceasefire proposed by a special envoy takes hold.

Yesterday alone, 25 people were killed in Douma outside of Damascus, yet it is unclear which side is responsible. A further 6 people were killed by a car bomb in southern Damascus. Bombing raids were carried out in the northern town of Maarat al-Numan by government forces–a town that has fallen to the rebels. Five people, including a woman and a child, were reported dead from that attack. This is indicative of the increasing amount of cluster bombs being employed by Syrian government forces, which Human Rights Watch has condemned and recorded here. A twenty year old refugee in a Turkish camp told reporters, "We used to have one or two rockets a day, now for the past 10 days it has become constant, we run from one shelter to another. They drop a few bombs and it’s like a massacre." Activists say that 75 people were executed in Deir Ezzor on Friday evening. Al Jazeera reports that the videos uploaded were too disturbing to post.

Armed groups in Aleppo are reportedly attacking and kidnapping businessmen who refuse to buy them weapons. Many have fled the country to safer locations, yet the question remains as to how the country will rebuild economically after the civil war. Amidst the violence, however, impromptu markets are springing up, selling groceries, cooking oil, and fresh meat. This is a subtle but important reminder of the resilience of people in times of war and hardship.

A leader in the Syrian National Council has said that they will not keep members of the Baath party from participating in a post-Assad regime. "I think you can learn from the mistakes that have been made in Iraq and in other countries…. We are not saying this party should be eradicated." said SNC Chairman Abdulbaset Sieda. Rebel fighters have also been issued their first paychecks since the beginning of the war, thought to be paid for by backers in Turkey.

Of particular geopolitical concern is the spillover of the Syria conflict into neighboring Lebanon. A car bombing and ensuing clashes brought the civil war in Syria into the heart of Lebanon and triggered a political crisis, with the opposition demanding the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet. Sunni Muslims and Alawites are reported to have clashed in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, killing at least four people, including Lebanese security chief Wissam al Hassan. The US is hoping that the political shift will bring change to the Cabinet, which has been powered by Hezbollah for years. Hezbollah has, however, condemned the attack. "This must be a Lebanese process. But the Lebanese people deserve so much better: they deserve to live in peace and they deserve to have a government that reflects their aspirations not acts as proxies and agents for outside forces," Hillary Clinton said.


On Thursday, October 18, talks concluded between a senior US envoy and high level Myanmar officials on the country’s current human rights record. The Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner led the delegation and said the talks were “refreshing” because, according to The Washington Post, Myanmar officials appeared willing, even open, to engaging in dialogue.

During his first ever press conference last Sunday, Myanmar President Thein Sein overcame his fear of speaking to journalists and touted to the press his administration’s successes. He also described his plan to bring about peace in Kachin State through talks, negotiations, and eventually a solution reached in parliament. However, many groups fighting Myanmar forces refuse to agree to any decision reached in the parliament created by the former military dictatorship. Additional, President Sein said that the government is willing to accept international assistance for the conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

New clashes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state erupted earlier this week. According to reports, several people have died and thousands more displaced due to continued and spreading violence within the region. New dusk-till-dawn curfews have now been enacted by authorities in two Rakhine townships.

Also, contrary to last week’s post, it is now known that the US has invited Myanmar to observe a joint military exercise in the region, signaling the possible beginning of US-Myanmar military ties.

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