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Weekly News Brief 5/02/2013



About 95 people are still missing three days after the collapse of a gold mine pit in North Darfur. Sources say rescue workers have not yet reached the Jebel ‘Amer mine, which the local commissioner attributes to the poor security situation in the region. In January, Jebel ‘Amer was the source of a deadly conflict between the Abbala and Beni Hussein tribes who fought over its control. More than 150,000 people were displaced by renewed violence in Darfur in the first three months of 2013. For a summary of the recent escalation of violence in Darfur click here. For a brief summary of the conflict in Darfur as it has evolved over the past decade click here.The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels swept through Umm Rawaba in North Kordofan on Saturday morning in an attack that took the Sudanese government and observers by surprise. The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which launched an unprecedented assault on Sudan’s twin capital city of Omdurman in May 2008, confirmed its role in the attack. JEM is a member of the SRF, which also includes the Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), which is fighting the Sudanese army in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. It also includes the factions of Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) and another of Abdel-Wahid Mohamed Nur (SLM-AW).

A new report confirms Sudan’s renewal of support to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group from October 2009 through at least February 2013. The report includes satellite imagery of a likely LRA encampment in Sudanese-controlled territory where rebel leader Joseph Kony was last sighted in late 2012 and reportedly remained for several weeks. The imagery indicates the camp was abandoned by March 2013, but Kony reportedly remains nearby in neighboring Central African Republic and could seek to reestablish his presence in Sudanese-controlled territory in coming months.

A first round of mediated peace talks between Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement – North has ended without an agreement. Talks are centered on politics, security and providing humanitarian aid to Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

South Sudan

More than 1,000 members of one of the largest active rebel groups in South Sudan, the South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM), are poised to lay down arms and surrender to the government, officials said last week. According to a government spokesperson, the surrendering rebels will not be prosecuted. South Sudan President Salva Kiir offered amnesty to all rebel groups operating in South Sudan after he took office in 2011. The SSLM was formed in 1999 to fight with southern Sudanese rebels against Khartoum in Sudan’s long civil war. But ahead of South Sudan’s independence in 2011, the rebels turned against Juba, accusing officials of corruption and tribal favoritism. They were one of the largest of the active rebel groups in the state. A team from the SPLA is scheduled to arrive in Unity State on Friday for talks on integrating members of the SSLM into the national army.

An attack on Pibor town by about 200 insurgents led by David Yau Yau has left one SPLA soldier and two rebels dead, officials said Tuesday. The attack, which took place on Monday, followed another raid by Yau Yau’s forces on an SPLA base on Sunday. No one was killed in that attack, which came days after South Sudan President Salva Kiir offered amnesty to six rebel groups, including Yau Yau’s, who have been fighting the government. SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said the attack on Pibor made it clear that Yau Yau was not going to accept Kiir’s offer of amnesty.

The spokesperson for the South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A) has denied the group was among thousands of rebel fighters that surrendered to the government after accepting an amnesty offer by president Salva Kiir. The SSDM/A was formed in 2010 by former SPLA general George Athor after he failed in his bid to become governor of Jonglei state.


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emphasized Iran’s ongoing support for the Assad administration and stated that a rebel victory would destabilize the whole region on Sunday. His remarks follow efforts by Egyptian and Iranian officials to establish an “Islamic quartet” with Turkey and Saudi Arabia to help resolve the conflict. On Tuesday, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah made similar remarks, saying that the Assad regime has “real friends in the region” that would not allow it to fall. The main opposition group, the National Syrian Coalition, condemned his statements as threats and warned against any intervention by Iran or Hezbollah.

On Monday, an Israeli lawmaker stated that that Syria’s chemical weapons have begun “trickling” to Hezbollah and that he “has no doubt” that the Assad administration has already used chemical weapons. Israeli defense officials have distanced themselves from this statement. Turkish government and health officials announced Wednesday that Turkey has begun testing blood samples taken from Syrian casualties to assess whether or not they were the victims of chemical weapons. Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari said Tuesday that the use of chemical weapons in Syria cannot be tolerated and demanded a UN investigation of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Aleppo by rebel groups. He has so far refused calls for investigation into two other alleged uses of chemical weapons.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron stated that there is “limited but growing” evidence that the Assad regime has in fact used chemical weapons and agreed with the Obama administration’s warning that use of chemical weapons would constitute a ‘red line’ for possible intervention, but cautioned that the latest intelligence does not yet constitute proof of such usage. Meanwhile, President Obama stated that he was not prepared to act unilaterally in Syria and suggested that an international consensus on whether or not the Assad regime used chemical weapons in Syria would be necessary for any military intervention. Senior administration officials have also revealed that the Obama administration is preparing to arm the Syrian opposition and has “taken steps to assert more aggressive U.S. leadership” among those seeking to oust President Assad. The officials also emphasized that the administration will continue to pursue political negotiation and is seeking to dissuade Russia from continuing its support of the Assad administration.

On Wednesday, President Assad made a public appearance at a power plant in central Damascus to commemorate Labour Day as one of only three public visits this year. This visit comes a day after a bombing in downtown Damascus was reported by Syrian state television to have killed at least 13 people and wounded many others. On Monday, a car bombing targeting Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki exploded, killing at least nine people.


More anti-Muslim violence erupted again on Tuesday. Mosques and Muslim-owned properties were destroyed, although with no injuries have yet been reported. A Buddhist monk named Wirathu, who calls himself the “Burmese Bin Laden”, has been inciting anti-Muslim sentiments and gaining popularity across central Burma. He was sentenced to 25 years of prison in 2001 for his preaching but was released in 2010. Wirathu and his nationalist, anti-Muslim movement known as “969” has been accused of inspiring recent sectarian violence against Muslims in Meikhtila, Central Burma, which has left over 40 dead and 13,000 displaced.

Human Rights Watch published a report on the status of Rohingya in Burma on April 22. The Rohingya are a stateless, Muslim people in Western Burma that were the subject of widespread communal violence late last year. The report urges the Myanmar government to grant citizenship and other basic human rights to the Rohingya and allow humanitarian organizations and the UN access to afflicted areas. Most importantly, however, Human Rights Watch accuses the Myanmar government of failing to stop ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. A day after the Human Rights Watch report, Myanmar President Thein Sein was awarded a prize for his efforts towards peace by the International Crisis Group. Additionally, the EU lifted many of its sanctions against Burma. However, an arms embargo remains in place.

In response to the sectarian violence against Muslims late last year, a Myanmar government commission released its findings on Monday. The investigation suggested that family planning education would help mitigate the “undermined peaceful coexistence” caused by the Rohingya. Additionally, the commission recommended upholding the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law that denies citizenship and other basic rights to the Rohingya. The commission also claimed that those displaced should not yet return to their homes because the risk of violence is still too great. However, the commission did urge the Myanmar government to quell hate speech and increase aid funding.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

At the end of March the UNSC approved a resolution to extend the mandate of MONUSCO, the UN force in the DRC, and to create an intervention brigade tasked with conducting “targeted offensive operations” against rebel groups. The brigade will be led by a Tanzanian general and will consist of 3,069 troops from Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. Christoph Vogel at Think Africa Press is skeptical that an additional force will be able to solve the underlying issues any better than previous forces. With such a small number of troops, it is unlikely that the intervention brigade will be able to confront the multiple armed groups that have formed in the DRC. Their inability to focus on more multiple issues may discredit them in the eyes of locals. In order for the brigade to be successful, he argues, it will need a flexible set of rules of engagement, material assets and equipment, and political support at various rebels. Many human rights leaders and activists have expressed concern that the intervention brigade will only further escalate violence against women and girls in the region.

According to IRIN, tens of thousands of displaced people in Katanga Province have received little or no humanitarian aid since attacks in December and January. Displacements are ongoing, with the most recent attack occurring on March 23. There are currently only 450 UN troops in Katanga, which is an area the size of France.

On April 29, Mary Robinson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, met with the senior leadership of the DRC and the UN mission in the DRC. Robinson is the former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and was appointed to this new position in March.

M23 ex-combatants are renouncing their ties with the group and applying for refugee status in Rwanda. If refugee status is given, they will be free to move freely or move to refugee camps in different parts of the country.

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