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Weekly News Brief 11/15/12

Democratic Republic of Congo

Colonel Albert Kahasha and 35 fighters from other rebel groups including the Raia Mutomboki and Nyatura armed groups surrendered in Bukavu on Monday. Through a series of 6 investigations the UN has determined that these groups have been “behind [the] ethnically motivated tit-for-tat massacres between April and September which left at least 264 dead.” With the heavy focus by the international community on the emergence of activities of the M23 armed group, a security vacuum emerged allowing for smaller armed groups to conduct ethnically motivated massacres in the region. Kahasha is described as a “big fish” leader in these massacres, and his act of surrender alongside other top commanders of these smaller armed groups is a great step forward for the communities living in the South Kivu province.

On Monday, the UN added Sultani Makenga, an M23 leader, to its sanction list.  In accordance, the United States has imposed sanctions against Makenga as well. The UN sanctions committee on DR Congo released a statement saying that "Sultani Makenga has committed and is responsible for serious violations of international law involving the targeting of women and children in situations of armed conflict, including killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction, and forced displacement.”  Under the sanctions, Makenga will be subject to a travel ban and assets freeze.

On Tuesday, Uganda closed its south-western border with the DRC due to reports that M23 rebels were collecting taxes from those crossing into Congo. In other regional news, religious leaders in Rwanda have petitioned the United Nations to “distance itself” from the recent report claiming that Rwanda is aiding the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo.  The religious leaders questioned the integrity of the experts involved in compiling the report and expressed disappointment “at the unfair attempts to undermine and derail Rwanda’s modest progress towards economic and social transformation.”


At least 26 are dead and 10 missing following a 6.8-magnitude earthquake that struck 70 miles north of Burma’s second largest city, Mandalay, last week. Many buildings and a bridge were destroyed, and relief has been slow to reach the afflicted area.

US President Obama will visit Burma on November 19 and become the first sitting US president to do so. He will meet with Myanmar President Thein Sein as well as Nobel Peace Prize winner, now MP, Aung San Suu Kyi. The visit signifies greater US interest following recent transition from a military dictatorship and democratic reforms in Burma. However, the visit has been highly scrutinized by human rights groups. Additionally, government officials announced Thursday, November 15 that 452 prisoners will be released prior to Obama’s arrival, just as some were prior to Hillary Clinton’s visit to Burma in November, 2011. However, it is believed none of them will be prisoners of conscience. (To read STAND’s response to the announcement of President Obama’s trip to Burma, click here)

Last week, a ship carrying 110 Rohingya, fleeing conflict in Rakhine State to Malaysia, sunk in the Bay of Bengal. Around 85 people are missing and feared to be dead. Other boats carrying Rohingya looking for refuge in Bangladesh have been turned back by Bangladeshi authorities, despite repeated demands from the UN urging Bangladesh to open its borders to aid those fleeing the ongoing violence.

Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in India on Tuesday to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and others as part of a five-day trip aimed to establish closer ties between India and Myanmar.


On November 6, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who defected from the regime last August. Hijab told Lavrov that dialogue with Syrian president Al-Assad or other Syrian officials with blood on their hands is not possible. Lavrov allegedly said that Moscow’s official position was to remain uninvolved in the conflict, while Hijab allegedly responded that he was in the office when Syria received a batch of weapons from Russia at no charge. Hijab turned down an offer to continue discussions with the Russian government, saying he will not visit Moscow until Russia changes its policy on Syria. North Korea is also suspected of sending arms into Syria. Reports are surfacing from an incident in May when South Korea seized a ship carrying graphite cylinders used to create rockets.

Sheikh Ahmad Mouaz al-Khatib is the new leader of the Syrian National Coalition, a newly formed unity group to topple al-Assad. Khatib is an Imam, author, and activist, and was an early supporter of opposition forces. 20 days into anti-regime protests, he spoke at the funeral of an anti-government protester killed by security forces. “We speak up for the freedom of every human in this country; for every Sunni, Alawite, Ismaili, Christian, for every Arab and every Kurd,” he said. He has been arrested several times for his involvement in the movement, most recently in April 2012. Fadi Salem, a Syrian researcher in Dubai, describes Khatib as a “moderate Islamist” with a lot of support from conservative urban Sunnis, and believes he could be the right person to fight the rise of extremism in the country. The Gulf Co-operation Council has decided to recognize the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Turkey has also issued a statement supporting the Coalition.

At the Arab League headquarters in Cairo this weekend, Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, addressed European and Arab foreign ministers, warning of an overspill of violence into the region if the conflict continues. Her warning came as rebels took over a military post on the northeast border with Turkey, after killing 18 government soldiers.

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