Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed concern over anti-aircraft and chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands, stating that it is in Israel’s interest to defend itself. On Wednesday, Syria’s Information Minister said that Syria would not use chemical weapons against Israel or its own citizens. The announcement comes a day after a senior Israeli intelligence officer said that the Assad regime’s forces have used chemical weapons against rebels. On Thursday April 25th, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that “the U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria”. While Secretary Hagel stated that the US “cannot confirm the origin of these weapons”, they are “very likely” to have originated with the Assad regime. The Secretary reiterated the obligation of the United States and its key partners and allies to “fully investigate, including with all key partners and allies and through the United Nations, evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria.” The disclosure was sent in a letter to several members of Congress. Senator John McCain responded by saying that “it’s pretty obvious that a red linehas been crossed” and called on the President to begin arming the rebels, enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, and to increase pressure on Russia to cease its support for the Assad regime.
Fighting has intensified at the strategic Minnigh airport in Aleppo province as rebels have taken a key military position outside the airport. The battle is part of a larger strategy of the rebels to cut off one of the Syrian regime’s supply routes. On Wednesday, fighting in Aleppo resulted in the destruction of a minaret of a 12th century mosque, part of a UNESCO world heritage site. Rebels and Syrian state forces have traded blame over the incident. On Monday, Syrian state media reported that armed rebels captured two Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops in northern Aleppo province. A Syriac member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition group, also reported the kidnapping. Clashes have also grown in the border villages of al-Qusayr near Lebanon. Syrian rebel groups have been firing shells into the Lebanese Hermel region, a stronghold of Hezbollah, in what they claim is retaliation for attacks by Hezbollah.
The European Union has eased its oil embargo on Syria in an effort to help the civilian population and the opposition. Under the new terms, European companies will be able to import crude oil and petroleum products from opposition-held areas. On Tuesday, the EU’s anti-terror chief stated that hundreds of Europeans are fighting in Syria for rebel groups and expressed concern over their radicalization.
Syria accused international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi of partiality and interference after he criticized the regime’s response to a January offer of talks from opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib and said that Assad should not seek another term as president. Syrian state media also accused the United States of “[throwing] oil on the fire” on Sunday by doubling its aid to the opposition. The new aid package, announced on Saturday’s ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting, will go beyond providing food and medical supplies “to include other types of non-lethal supplies.”
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Mai-Mai Kata-Katanga rebel group, which operates in Katanga in southeast DRC, say that they are engaged in an armed campaign to gain autonomy for the province, a mission that traces back as far as July 1960, when Katanga tried to secede from the newly-independent country. They say that the richness of the province is not reflected in living conditions there. On March 23, the Mai-Mai Kata-Katanga launched an attack on Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga, trying to seize the seats of the governorate and the provincial assembly. They entered clashes with the Congolese army before surrendering to MONUSCO forces. 33 people were killed and 60 wounded in the conflict. The March 23 attack was not the first of such attacks. In May 2010, they raised their flag at the Place de la Poste square in Lubumbashi. They are also thought to be behind a number of other attacks.
Bosco Ntaganda’s statement on March 26 at the ICC has revived a long standing debate on Congolese nationality. “I was born in Rwanda but I am a Congolese citizen because I grew up in Congo. I prefer to speak in Kinyarwanda throughout this trial. I was informed of these accusations but I plead not guilty.” Many in Congo consider Kinyarwanda-speakers to be foreign. Yet many of these Kinyarwanda-speakers are Congolese Tutsi who have lived in Congo for generations and consider it their home.
M23 forces reportedly tried twice to protest against the new offensive UN brigade, but had to postpone because the local population refused to participate, and, to the contrary, fled town.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) on Wednesday said it is “ready and prepared” to hold direct talks with Khartoum to resolve the humanitarian crisis and reach a framework agreement on an inclusive process on the country’s new constitution. The SPLM-N, which is now coordinating with Darfuri rebels, hopes to discuss national issues with the government. However, the government believes that the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) should be the framework for Darfur, and wants to focus on establishing a settlement on South Kordofan and the Blue Nile.
The United States is ready to receive a senior envoy from Sudan in a bid to push forward the country’s peace process, an official stated on Wednesday, in a move criticized by human rights advocates. The United States invited a delegation led by an aide to President Omar al-Beshir, Nafie Ali Nafie, after he voiced an interest in traveling to Washington. In addition, the Sudanese defense minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein will head to Chad on Thursday despite an arrest warrant for him by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Saleh Mohammed Jerbo, an alleged war criminal indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), was killed last Friday in North Darfur. Jerbo, who was also the deputy general commander of the JEM-Bashar faction, was allegedly killed by the JEM, after the two groups started fighting last week. The JEM claims that Chadian troops are fighting alongside JEM-Bashar. According to a JEM spokesman, Chadian troops were “backed by tanks, warplanes and helicopters” in Tina. JEM-Bashar, led by Mohamed Bashar Ahmed, broke away from JEM last year and signed a peace treaty with the Sudanese government earlier this month. Jerbo was indicted by the ICC for supposedly killing 12 UNAMID peacekeepers in 2007. Together with an accomplice, they are suspected of leading 1,000 rebels in an attack on an UNAMID compound in Haskanita, Sudan.
On April 19th, one UNAMID peacekeeper was killed and two others injured in an attack by unidentified assailants on the Mission’s team site near Muhajeriya, East Darfur State. Reports from eyewitnesses claim that pro-government militias killed 18 civilians in the East Darfur cities of Muhajeriya and Labado after government forces recaptured the two towns between Tuesday and Wednesday as Sudan Liberation Army -Minni Minawi withdrew. An estimated 40,000 people have been displaced by the fighting between the Sudanese army and rebel forces of SLA-MM in the region. Witnesses also claimed that the militia had kidnapped a number of girls from inside the UNAMID team site in Muhajeriya and raped them. Several citizens were reportedly tortured, they added.
SLA-MM also claims to have shelled the airport of Nyala, capital of South Darfur, on Monday. This is the first operation of its kind since the war in Darfur began over a decade ago. SLA-MM says the bombardment is a warning to the government that its forces are getting “close” to the town. Earlier this month a Sudanese MP had suggested Nyala could fall in the hands of rebels at “any moment” as the city is besieged by them and lacks security. Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir recently relieved the governor of South Darfur from his duties following the increasing insecurity in the state.
At least three people, believed to have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, were rescued by South Sudan security forces at its border with Central African Republic (CAR) on Wednesday. Western Equatoria state officials said the southern army (SPLA) served as part of the African Union (AU) forces. The soldiers, locally known as ‘Arrow Boys,’ liberated a six-year old boy and two young women from rebel captivity. One of those rescued, Mibinina Kumboringi, is suspected to have been a wife of the LRA leader, Joseph Kony. Kumboringi told state authorities that rebels abducted her about six years ago, after raiding a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), looting food items and abducting several other people.
South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, has announced the formation of a new national reconciliation committee in a move seen as a response to public concerns, a week after suspending the process. Kiir on April 22, appointed the Archbishop of Episcopal Church, Daniel Deng Bul, to chair the national reconciliation committee, deputized by the Archbishop of Catholic Church, Paride Taban. This is the second time the president has appointed Archbishop Bul to chair a reconciliation process, after his first appointment to chair the process among the tribes in his home state of Jonglei, last year. According to the Sudan Tribune, Bul, in the process of reconciling tribes in Jonglei, was accused by the Murle community of allegedly siding with the Dinka Bor, his tribe, prompting the Murle to withdraw from the reconciliation process and demanding for appointment of a neutral person to chair it.
The US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) has carried out a survey among the citizens on the ongoing constitutional making process in South Sudan. According to the survey, the majority people of South Sudan want the freedoms of movement and expression to be clearly stipulated in the permanent constitution. The majority of citizens also gave most of their concerns for access to education in addition to term limits for the president. In addition, the majority of citizens want a multiparty democracy in South Sudan and detest the one-party system. The survey also expressed the importance of respecting and developing traditional authority at local levels in the country, and found that most South Sudanese oppose early marriages, and hope to recognize the disputed Abyei region as part of their country.
Donor and development partners have pledged up to $300 million as aid to support South Sudan’s turbulent economy, the country’s ministry of Finance has announced. Much of this new support, according to the ministry, would be provided through the government budget. The decision, the ministry said in a statement, emerged out of this week’s South Sudan Economic Partners Forum, hosted by the US Department of State on April 16.
Lastly, talks between the Sudan and South Sudan governments established ten border crossing points along their border, eight of which are to open immediately. Both governments hope the border openings will promote trade and easier movement among the two countries.