Posts Tagged ‘Mali’

Yemen Rebels Seize Military Base Once Used By U.S. Troops

January 29, 2015
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A Houthi fighter with a military vehicle seized from the army, outside  the presidential palace in San’a on Thursday.   

A Houthi fighter with a military vehicle seized from the army, outside the presidential palace in San’a on Thursday. Photo: Reuters
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SANAA, Yemen — Jan 29, 2015, 11:19 AM ET

The Spreading Menace of Boko Haram

January 27, 2015

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A screen grab made Tuesday from a video shows Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, delivering a message.  

A screen grab made from a video shows Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, delivering a message. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The jihadist group in Nigeria killed 11,245 people last year. Now their rampage seems ready to escalate in 2015.

By Emad Mostaque
The Wall Street Journal

The new year began with terror attacks in Paris inspired or orchestrated by al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula and ISIS and then reports of up to 2,000 residents killed by Boko Haram in a days-long massacre in Baga, Nigeria. While Paris has grabbed the majority of media attention, the events in Baga may prove to be the most significant as Boko Haram expands in northeastern Nigeria. This weekend the group captured the town of Monguno and its military barracks while simultaneously attacking the state capital, Maiduguri.

A key goal of all terrorists is to provoke outsize reactions by committing heinous deeds. This is particularly true of jihadists, whose main feature is the takfir they impose on the majority of other Muslims—declaring them not to be “true” believers and thus outside of their group and liable for death. High-profile attacks aim to polarize societies and create animus against mainstream Muslims, creating more potential recruits for the radical Islamists.

ISIS has intensified its bloodletting over the last year, using social media to amplify its mass beheadings and other fearsome deeds—and thus the group’s power and threat—in line with the recommendations outlined in jihad theoretician Abu Bakr Naji ’s 2006 text “The Management of Savagery.” However, ISIS has reached the limits of unopposed and easy expansion in Iraq as it now faces well-armed forces in non-Sunni areas, bolstered by coalition airstrikes. ISIS gains in Syria continue, but the group appears more contained, having failed to take Kobani from its Kurdish defenders.

In contrast, the Nigeria-based terror group Boko Haram seems bent on escalating the scale and terror of its violence in 2015—after killing an estimated 11,245 people last year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. It also appears to be on the edge of a significant expansion into neighboring states.

Boko Haram’s initial strategy was to try to undermine and gain control of the Kanuri ethnic regions of northeast Nigeria while looking to polarize society by attacking states along the Christian-Muslim divide known as the Middle Belt region. The Nigerian government response to this push has been slow, with only 25,000 poorly equipped troops deployed against Boko Haram in the country’s northeast. Nigeria’s whole defense budget for 2014 was only a third of the $5.8 billion security budget, small for a country with a GDP of more than $500 billion and facing an insurgency.

Following the tactics of ISIS, with whom Boko Haram appears to have advisory links at the least, the next stage is governance of the areas they have ravaged, along the classical warlord model. This will give a pool of potential conscripts to use as first-wave cannon fodder, allowing them to rapidly create tens of thousands of utterly disposable “recruits.” This has already included forcing a girl of about 10 years old to carry a bomb strapped to her into a market in Nigeria’s Borno state on Jan. 10, killing at least 16 people and highlighting how nobody is safe.

Boko Haram’s strategic shift from insurgency to governance is a main reason that it was particularly ruthless in its massacres in Baga this month. The city is close to the borders of three other Muslim-majority countries—Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Ominously, Baga was overwhelmed and decimated by Boko Haram even though the village housed both a significant Nigerian Civilian Joint Task Force militia and a multinational task force from neighboring states.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has stated his intention to expand the fight into these states, where—with the exception of Chad, which hosts the French Operation Barkhane task force—armies are generally weak and underequipped. Air support across the region is minimal and the terrain is less conducive to airstrikes than it has been in campaigns against ISIS in Syria or jihadists led by Iyad ag Ghali in Mali. Nigeria probably has only nine functional combat bombers. Without air power, forces like Boko Haram’s will be very difficult to dislodge once entrenched.

Regional populations remain extremely poor and inequality is pronounced. These conditions have fed increasing sectarian unrest, such as Niger protesters burning down 45 churches after protests against Charlie Hebdo following the Jan. 7 terrorist attack at the magazine in Paris. Boko Haram can exploit such unrest to spread and recruit, possibly linking up with other jihadist groups in the Sahel region.

We are also approaching a critical juncture within Nigeria as it holds elections on Feb. 14. A tight race may be decided in effect by the millions of northern voters Boko Haram keeps from the polls—which would aid Nigeria’s incumbent and largely southern-based People’s Democratic Party and lead to violence if the result is not accepted by the opposition northern All Progressives Congress. Meanwhile, the sharp drop in oil receipts is reducing the government’s ability to pay off southern Christian militias such as MEND, with whom a cease fire expires this year. Further devaluation of Nigeria’s currency, the naira, is likely as the central bank runs out of options, stoking more inflation and misery.

If Boko Haram is to be stopped from entrenching itself across the Sahel, Nigerian security forces and the existing French counterterror operations in the region urgently need significant multinational support—while preserving the rule of law. Nigeria must also admit to the scale of the problem and agree to accept more external aid. Unless greater attention is paid in the region to the jihadist cancer that feeds on violence, corruption and poverty, it may become inoperable.

Mr. Mostaque is a London-based strategist specializing in the Middle East and Africa at Ecstrat, an emerging-markets consultancy.

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Protesters rampage, burn churches in second day of Anti-Charlie Hebdo riots from Niger to Pakistan

January 17, 2015

(Reuters) – Stone-throwing demonstrators set fire to two churches in Niger’s capital Niamey on Saturday, in the latest protest in France’s former African colonies at French newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

A day after five people were killed in Niger in protests over the cartoons, protesters in Niamey attacked a police station and burned at least two police cars near the main mosque after authorities banned a meeting called by local Muslim leaders. Police responded with teargas.

File Photo: A car burns at the scene of a bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, on December 25, 2011

“They offended our Prophet Mohammed. That’s what we didn’t like,” said Amadou Abdoul Ouahab, who took part in the demonstration. “This is the reason why we have asked Muslims to come, so that we can explain this to them, but the state refused. That’s why we’re angry today.”

 Demonstrations were also reported in regional towns, including Maradi, 600 km (375 miles) east of Niamey, where two churches were burned. Another church and a residence of the foreign minister were burned in the eastern town of Goure.

Four Muslim preachers who had convened the meeting in Niamey were arrested, police sources said. Protesters burned the French flag and set up roadblocks on streets in the town center but no casualties were reported on Saturday.

The French embassy in Niamey warned its citizens not to go out on the streets.

The death toll from Friday’s clashes in Niger’s second largest city of Zinder, rose to five after emergency services discovered a burned body inside a Catholic Church.

On Friday, churches were burned, Christian homes looted and the French cultural center attacked during the violence in Zinder, residents said.

A police officer and three civilians had already been confirmed killed in the demonstrations against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, police sources said.

Peaceful marches took place after Friday prayers in the capital cities of other West African countries – Mali, Senegal and Mauritania – and Algeria in North Africa, all former French colonies.

In Algiers, several police were injured in clashes with protesters angered by the cartoons.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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Muslim world reacts angrily to Charlie Hebdo’s ‘survivor’ edition

  • Photographer is Adif Hasan now recovering after being shot in the chest
  • Around 200 protesters believed to have been involved in Kuratchi rallies 
  • Four die in Niger, 45 wounded, as angry protesters burn down churches
  • Violent clashes in Jordan after King and Queen attend ‘solidarity march’

By Steve Hopkins and Jay Akbar For Mailonline

Violent and bloody protests have erupted around the world as furious Muslims react to Charlie Hebdo’s ‘survivor’ edition – again featuring the holy Prophet Muhammad on its front cover.

As pictures emerged of a photographer shot in the chest during riots in Pakistan – so did the news of churches being burned down in Niger, and equally violent clashes in Jordan.

A bullet reportedly struck Adif Hasan’s lung and passed through his chest, as 200 protesters took to the streets outside the French consulate in Kuratchi.

It’s believed he was shot by demonstrators, and although his condition was at first thought to be serious, he was now said to be recovering.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2913372/Protesters-clash-police-outside-French-embassy-Pakistan-anger-continues-grow-Charlie-Hebdo-cover-portraying-Mohammad.html

 

Photographer Adif Hasan clasps his chest as bloods spills from the bullet wound, after he was shot as Charlie Hebdo protesters clashed with police in Pakistan outside the French consulate

Photographer Adif Hasan clasps his chest as bloods spills from the bullet wound, after he was shot as Charlie Hebdo protesters clashed with police in Pakistan outside the French consulate

Hasan rests in a vehicle, out of harms way; the bullet was said to have struck his lung and passed through his chest; the photographer is now said to be recovering 

Hasan rests in a vehicle, out of harms way; the bullet was said to have struck his lung and passed through his chest; the photographer is now said to be recovering

Pakistan police clash with Charlie Hebdo protesters

Protesters burned represenations of French flags as Pakisatani officials tried to get them under control using tear gas, batons and water cannons

Protesters burned represenations of French flags as Pakisatani officials tried to get them under control using tear gas, batons and water cannons

Pakistani police throw cannisters of tear gas at protesters who rallied outside the French consulate

Pakistani police throw cannisters of tear gas at protesters who rallied outside the French consulate

Al-Qaeda in Yemen admits responsibility for Charlie Hebdo attacks and warns West of more ‘tragedies and terror’

January 14, 2015

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“It is France that has shared all of America’s crimes.”

Nasr al-Ansi, a top commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
By Heather Saul
 

A top al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader has released a video claiming responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack and warning the West of more “tragedies and terror”.

Nasr al-Ansi, a top commander of AQAP as the branch is known, appeared in an 11-minute video posted Wednesday, saying that the massacre at Charlie Hebdo was in “vengeance for the Prophet.”

Twelve people were killed when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi launched their assault during an editorial meeting in the magazine’s offices.

The paper had in the past published cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed and today released the first edition since the massacre of its offices which also depicted Mohamed.

The video, entitled “A message regarding the Blessed Battle of Paris’, was released via the Al-Malahem Media arm of the group.

In it, Al-Ansi said France belongs to the “party of Satan” and warned of more “tragedies and terror.” He claimed the al-Qaeda branch “chose the target, laid out the plan and financed the operation”.

He highlights “crimes” committed in Central Africa, saying: “Look at it. It is France that has shared all of America’s crimes. It is France that has committed crimes in Mali and the Islamic Maghreb. It is France that supports the annihilation of Muslims in Central Africa in the name of race cleansing.”

Read more: New video emerges showing Kouachi brothers escaping

Al-Ansi also called for Muslim youth to “rise up” and described the Paris shooting as ” a new turning point in the history of confrontation”.

The video used footage of the 9/11 attacks, the Paris shooting, images of the attackers and quoted threats from deceased leader Osama bin Laden.

In a translation of the video under the heading ‘our message to the Western nation’, it added: “We have warned you before about the consequences of these deeds that your governments collude with under the pretext of ‘freedom of press’ or ‘freedom of ideas’.

“The freedom that is always tamed except when spreading vile and waging war on Allah and His Messengers and defaming the religion.

“We tell you once again: Stop your insults on our Prophet and sanctities. Stop spilling our blood. Leave our lands. Quit plundering our resources. Otherwise, by Allah, do not expect of us except tragedies and terror. You will look for peace and stability but you will not find it.”

Al-Ansi also praised the separate attack on a Jewish supermarket by Amedy Coulibaly.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/alqaeda-in-yemen-admits-responsibility-for-charlie-hebdo-attacks-and-warns-west-of-more-tragedies-and-terror-9976898.html

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Qaeda Group in Yemen Claims Responsibility for Charlie Hebdo Attack

The New York Times

PARIS — The militant group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, took responsibility on Wednesday for the bloody attack one week ago on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in which 12 people, including cartoonists and police officers, were killed.

The group accompanied its claim with an image of the Eiffel Tower dissolving.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo signaled the start of three days of bloodshed in which five more people died, four them customers at a kosher supermarket.

The group said in a statement on the Internet that it claimed responsibility “for this operation as a vengeance for the messenger of Allah” — an apparent reference to Charlie Hebdo’s frequent lampooning of the Prophet Muhammad with depictions that many Muslims consider sacrilegious.

Red the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/15/world/europe/al-qaeda-in-the-arabian-peninsula-charlie-hebdo.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=a-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

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Transparency International Issues Corruption Perceptions Index — Bad News For China On Free Speech, Accountable Government and Independent Judiciary

December 3, 2014

Transparency International

Corruption is a problem for all economies, requiring leading financial centres in the EU and US to act together with fast-growing economies to stop the corrupt from getting away with it, anti-corruption group Transparency International said today.

In the 20th edition of the Corruption Perceptions Index, scores for China (with a score of 36 out of 100), Turkey (45) and Angola (19) were among the biggest fallers with a drop of 4 or 5 points, despite average economic growth of more than 4 per cent over the last four years. Click here for the full index.

“The 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index shows that economic growth is undermined and efforts to stop corruption fade when leaders and high level officials abuse power to appropriate public funds for personal gain,” said José Ugaz, the chair of Transparency International.

“Corrupt officials smuggle ill-gotten assets into safe havens through offshore companies with absolute impunity,” Ugaz added. “Countries at the bottom need to adopt radical anti-corruption measures in favour of their people. Countries at the top of the index should make sure they don’t export corrupt practices to underdeveloped countries.”

More than two thirds of the 175 countries in the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index score below 50, on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean). Denmark comes out on top in 2014 with a score of 92 while North Korea and Somalia share last place, scoring just eight.

The scores of several countries rose or fell by four points or more. The biggest falls were in Turkey (-5), Angola, China, Malawi and Rwanda (all -4). The biggest improvers were Côte d´Ivoire, Egypt, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (+5), Afghanistan, Jordan, Mali and Swaziland (+4).

The Corruption Perceptions Index is based on expert opinions of public sector corruption. Countries’ scores can be helped by open government where the public can hold leaders to account, while a poor score is a sign of prevalent bribery, lack of punishment for corruption and public institutions that don’t respond to citizens’ needs.

Corruption in emerging economies

China’s score fell to 36 in 2014 from 40 in 2013, despite the fact the Chinese government launched an anti-corruption campaign targeting corrupt public officials. The government has recognized the need to follow officials who hide ill-gotten gains overseas. This January, leaked documents revealed 22,000 offshore clients from China and Hong Kong, including many of the country’s leaders.

The score matches a poor performance by Chinese companies in Transparency International’s recent report on corporate disclosure practices where all eight Chinese companies scored less than three out of ten.

Corruption and money laundering are also problems for the other BRIC countries. This year has seen questions raised related to a major oil company using secret companies to bribe politicians in Brazil (which scores 43), questions about Indians (38) using bank accounts in Mauritius (54) and Russians (27) doing the same in Cyprus (63).

“Grand corruption in big economies not only blocks basic human rights for the poorest but also creates governance problems and instability. Fast-growing economies whose governments refuse to be transparent and tolerate corruption, create a culture of impunity in which corruption thrives,” said Ugaz.

Countries on top must fight global corruption

Transparency International called on countries at the top of the index where public sector corruption is limited to stop encouraging it elsewhere by doing more to prevent money laundering and to stop secret companies from masking corruption.

While top performer Denmark has strong rule of law, support for civil society and clear rules governing the behaviour of those in public positions, it also set an example this November, announcing plans to create a public register including beneficial ownership information for all companies incorporated in Denmark. This measure, similar to those announced by Ukraine and the UK, will make it harder for the corrupt to hide behind companies registered in another person’s name.

The anti-corruption group is currently running a campaign to Unmask the Corrupt, urging European Union, United States and G20 countries to follow Denmark’s lead and create public registers that would make clear who really controls, or is the beneficial owner, of every company.

“None of us would fly on planes that do not register passengers, yet we allow secret companies to conceal illegal activity. Public registers that show who really owns a company would make it harder for the corrupt to take off with the spoils of their abuse of power,” said Transparency International Managing Director Cobus de Swardt.

http://www.transparency.org/news/pressrelease/corruption_perceptions_index_2014_clean_growth_at_risk

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From New York Times Blog

China’s very public campaign against graft has netted thousands of officials both big and small — “tigers” and “flies,” in Communist Party parlance — but the perception of China as a deeply corrupt country is only rising, according to a leading watchdog group.

In fact, global awareness of the scale of corruption in China is up sharply, according to the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, published on Wednesday by Transparency International, a nonprofit organization based in Berlin.

A spokesman for Transparency International, Thomas Coombes, said that China’s standing was damaged by the perception among some experts and businesspeople that its anticorruption campaign was partial, opaque and politically motivated, casting doubt on its efficacy.

“The campaign is just the tip of the iceberg, and is not even being done in a transparent manner,” Mr. Coombes said.

The index ranked China 104th among 175 countries, a drop of 20 places from last year, and the single largest drop in terms of ranking.

The worsening of perceptions of corruption in China may also be because the campaign, ordered by President Xi Jinping nearly two years ago, has exposed major structural problems in how corruption is being fought, Mr. Coombes said.

What Transparency International looks for as a sign of genuine improvement in the fight against corruption is “permanent and structural change,” he said.

“I think the problem is what China is not doing: transparency and accountability of public officials,” Mr. Coombes said.

What is missing are “stronger laws on bribery, access to information, whistleblower protection, more open budgets and asset declarations,” he said in an email.

Once again, Nordic countries topped the index, which grades countries on a scale of zero to 100, with a higher number indicating lower corruption. Denmark received the highest score at 92. China scored 36, a four-point drop from the previous year. Turkey fell by five points, the single biggest points drop.

New Zealand came second at 91, followed by Finland, Sweden and Norway.

“The fact that the Nordic countries are consistently on top shows how important free speech, accountable government and independent judiciary are to fighting corruption. These are all missing in China,” Mr. Coombes said.

Hong Kong

A police officer uses a baton on a pro-democracy protesters near the office of the Chief Executive in Hong Kong December 1, 2014. Tyrone Siu/REUTERS

China’s ranking put it just below Algeria and above Suriname. Three African countries — Angola, Malawi and Rwanda — also recorded four-point drops, the report said.

Corruption in most countries was a serious problem, the index found. More than two-thirds of countries scored below 50, the halfway mark to a corruption-free society.

The index is calculated from 12 independent sources, including surveys conducted by different groups of businesspeople and other experts. Among them is the Executive Opinion Survey by the World Economic Forum and the Rule of Law Index by the World Justice Project, which looks at the legal environment around corruption issues.

http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/china-slips-in-corruption-perceptions-report/?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

The world has misread the Middle East nightmare and our war without borders

October 11, 2014

By
Sydney Morning Herald

He expected it. But when the call came mid-morning on Thursday, Nizam Mougherit froze – the caller was threatening to behead Ibrahim, the 35-year-old’s younger brother who serves in the Lebanese Army.

Since early August, the so-called Islamic State and the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front, two of the strongest forces in the civil and sectarian war tearing Syria and Iraq apart, have been taunting the families of 37 cops and soldiers who were captured as the Islamists overran Arsal – a small town high in the wild mountain country that serves as Lebanon’s border with Syria, and a little more than 120 kilometres north-east of the capital.

“I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown,” Nizam told me of a chilling exchange with a male who identified himself as an IS operative and who then proceeded to lecture Nizam on the need for the families to put more effort into daily protests, at which they’ve been pushing for the Beirut government to comply with the jihadis’ demands for a prisoner swap – freedom for Ibrahim and his military and police colleagues, in return for the release of as many as 100 Islamist militiamen locked down in Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh Prison.

The families of captured Lebanese men, Darin Abu Kalfoni (left) holding a photo of her brother Nahi Abu Kalfoni, a soldier, and Hayfa Jaber holding a photo of her husband Maymoun Jaber.The families of captured Lebanese men, Darin Abu Kalfoni (left) holding a photo of her brother Nahi Abu Kalfoni, a soldier, and Hayfa Jaber holding a photo of her husband Maymoun Jaber. Photo: Kate Geraghty

“We need to do a deal fast,” the man from IS told him. “You have 48 hours – or the remaining prisoners will be executed by beheading.” There’s a Potemkin village feel to the tents erected on the pavement of Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square, named for the country’s first post-independence prime minister – he was assassinated in 1952. But the families come out to protest because they were effectively ordered to do so by their kin’s captors – so there’s just a few slabs of bottled water and none of the musty, dug-in permanence that characterised the encampments of the global Occupy movement or of Ukraine’s Maidan protests.

 

All involved here are Lebanese, not Western, which might explain why the plight of the dozens of prisoners and their families has failed to punch through as an international news story. But the threat is real – two of the hostages already have been beheaded and a third was gunned down, according to Islamic State’s social media postings.

A Qatari government official is mediating between the Beirut government and the Sunni fighters who have retreated into the mountains behind Arsal – but so far, no deal. And a few hours before Nizam Mougherit’s phone exchange on the urgency of beheadings, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon weighed in, expressing “grave concern” over what appears to be the Syria-based fundamentalist militias’ probing the defences in Lebanon’s border region, which are controlled by the Lebanese Shiite militia and political party, Hezbollah.

Conflict spreads: Lebanese police guard the area surrounding the Parliament in Beirut.Conflict spreads: Lebanese police guard the area surrounding the Parliament in Beirut. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Sit in the square with the families – sisters and wives, cousins and uncles milling with framed or banner-sized portraits of the captives – and it seems that the crisis roiling the Middle East is being miscast. As governments around the world opt in or out of the reluctant warrior Obama’s coalition, the focus stays narrowly on the fighting in Syria and Iraq and keeping both countries as the post-Ottoman Western constructs that they are.

It all seems to miss the point that this already is a regional, if not global conflict, in which the stakes are much higher than who turns on and off the lights in Damascus and Baghdad.

This is not just about skirmishing spilling over borders into Turkey and Lebanon, but about the direct involvement of forces and funders, policymakers and provocateurs from right across the region, seeking to direct the course of the violence to pursue outcomes in Syria and Iraq, but also in pursuit of bigger but tangential regional agendas.

Kidnappings continue: Families of missing Lebanese who were kidnapped by Islamic State militants and the Al-Nusra Front protest for their release in Beirut, Lebanon. Kidnappings continue: Families of missing Lebanese who were kidnapped by Islamic State militants and the Al-Nusra Front protest for their release in Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: AP

Beyond Lebanon, it has gone virtually unnoticed that two beheadings have been carried out and many more are threatened; and that a diplomat from Qatar is attempting to defuse a situation that gives Ban Ki-moon sleepless nights. The Saudis, who are Sunnis, are pumping $US1 billion ($1.1 billion) worth of French-supplied weapons into Lebanon; and right behind them are the Shiite Iranians, promising their own, separate weapons consignment for Beirut – value not disclosed.

Yet these little bits are parts of a dreadful whole, the complexities and dangers of which seem not to have been grasped around the world. The gifts of weapons from Riyadh and Tehran are just part of a slew of current arms deals in the region, estimated to be worth more than $US50 billion. And while all those weapons, no doubt, will help grow an already huge refugee crisis in the region, a UN appeal for $US1.7 billion to help the refugees, has received pledges for just 36 per cent of that target since it was launched late last year.

It’s all done with such naiveté and Boys’ Own enthusiasm, that you wonder if our leaders obsess about military options alone, because to kick butt is easier than all the other stuff that could be done.

Closing in: Islamic State militants stand next to an IS flag above Kobane.Closing in: Islamic State militants stand next to an IS flag above Kobane. Photo: AFP

More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks and an al-Qaeda-induced realisation that US intelligence services had nodded off on the Middle East, Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment credits the Obama administration with rightly sensing that apart from the military, there are ideological and religious dimensions to this conflict.

But then Professor Brown writes: “They are, however, particularly ill-equipped to understand, much less participate in, the non-military aspects of the struggle. And the consequences may not only be misunderstanding it, but more troubling, a return to the pattern of opportunistic alignments with autocrats that served US policy well in the short term, [but] at tremendous long-term cost.”

While all effort now goes into military attempts to solve a conflict for which all, from Obama down, admit that there is no military solution, a grim warning was issued in July by the UN negotiator who spent two years in search of a political solution to the crisis triggered in Syria by the last of the Arab Spring uprisings in the region.

“There is a serious risk that the entire region will blow up,” Lakhdar Brahimi warned in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, in which he predicted dire consequences for Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. “The conflict is not going to stay inside Syria. It will spill over into the region. It’s already destabilising Lebanon [where there are] 1.5 million refugees – that represents one-third of the population – if it were Germany, it would be the equivalent of 20 million people.”

Analysing the global misreading of how events might unfold in Syria, Brahimi harped back to an earlier assignment in his career: “It reminds me a lot of 1999 – then, I resigned from my first assignment as a UN special envoy to Afghanistan, because the UN Security Council had no interest in Afghanistan, a small country, poor, far away. I said one day it’s going to blow up in your faces – it did [and] Syria is much worse.”

And as for the notion implicit in the rhetoric of Obama and his coalition cheerleaders, that Syria somehow is to be rescued by and into the civilised world, Brahimi thinks otherwise – “It will become another Somalia. It will not be divided, as many have predicted. It’s going to be a failed state, with warlords all over the place.” And to the extent that there is a military solution – Washington and Canberra and the rest say that they will retrain the Iraqi military, on which the US already has spent hundreds of billions and lost thousands of its own troops in the process; and set up shoestring budget camps in Saudi Arabia to train ‘vetted moderate’ Syrian rebels to fight IS and the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

All of which prompted a gem of self-contradiction this week by Obama spokesman Josh Earnest: “Our strategy [in Syria] is reliant on something that is not yet in place…” But with intelligence agencies warning that as many as 6000 volunteers have flocked to IS training camps since the start of the US-led bombing in Iraq in August, other experts predict that if they continue to bomb the forces and facilities of the Nusra Front, which is al-Qaeda affiliated but opposed to IS, it would drive many Syrian Sunnis, and probably Iraqis too, to fight against the US and its allies.

Despite the coalition hype, it will be years before the Iraqi military or the Syrian rebels become effective fighting forces, and if past conflicts are a guide, only months will have passed before we are hearing complaints that there are no targets for air strikes. So who’ll provide boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of capitalising on air strikes over Syria and Iraq in the short-term and holding territory in the medium-term?

As it is, a good few of Obama’s Western allies are refusing to do air strikes in Syria and all are refusing to send troops to Syria. At the same time, news reports suggest that the US is doing the lion’s share of the current air strikes – despite several of the Gulf monarchs sending some of their air fleets.

But what about the Arab armies – why have they not been dispatched?

Those of us who were in the combined coalition columns as the first President Bush’s coalition forces rolled across the desert to liberate Kuwait in 1991, still chortle at the Saudi officer class, a good number of whom drove their own luxury SUVs to war, because they would not deign to ride in military machines.

With so much at stake in the region, perhaps one of the more disturbing aspects of the conflict as it shapes up, is the likelihood that the coalition will hew to the agenda of one of the myriad parties involved, at the expense of coalition unity and cohesion. Another is the inevitability that crisis momentum demands mission creep; or worse, that human error or mischief making could knock the whole venture off its axis.

What might be this crisis’ Franz Ferdinand moment? Recall that the archduke’s assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 precipitated World War I, the aftermath of which was so ruinous for the Middle East.

When I posed this question to the Beirut-based analyst Toufik Shouman, he responded: “We’re practically in a World War III moment now, but it’s controlled geographically and militarily…and what prevents the world from being dragged into a major global conflict is the [agenda differences] in the coalition that prevent agreement on the way forward, but you can’t rule out the Franz Ferdinand moment.”

Shouman ticked off the likely targets, if IS was to opt to take the fight beyond Syria and Iraq – the list of embassies, consulates and businesses representing the coalition countries would be long. He concluded: “… and IS claims that it is ready to attack targets in the US itself.”

Dr Anthony Cordesman, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, rebukes the US in a paper he published on Thursday. On the great difficulty of implementing coalition-based strategy, he writes: “This is particularly true when the US fails to honestly address its own problems and mistakes, minimises the costs and risks involved, and exaggerates criticism of its allies.”

Acknowledging the risk of mission creep, he said in a phone interview: “But you have to understand that there will be immense pushback against any effort to escalate – the US and its allies will try to control the mission to do what was originally described.”

But ask him about that Franz Ferdinand moment and suggestions pour out of him. Syria could shoot down a Turkish aircraft; the humanitarian dimension could be messed up; human displacement – “you can surely count on people to not understand that intervening to deal with a few thousand people can displace hundreds of thousands”; if IS advanced to a position from which it “threatened all of Iraq”; Iraq’s Sunnis could refuse to co-operate with the new Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad; if violence broke out between Turkey and its Kurdish minority and Iraq’s Kurds attempted to join in; if the Assad government in Syria was to step up its bombing of rebel forces “it could become a political problem too big to ignore”; and lastly, if IS was to lash out with a campaign of terrorist attacks that would provoke demands to escalate the coalition campaign.

“Fully agreeing” with the idea that the conflict has been miscast as war in two countries, rather than as a regional or even bigger conflict, veteran White House adviser and CIA analyst Bruce Riedel’s response to questions was a dire email in which he posits the current crisis in a seriously global framework.

“Al Qaedaism, the ideology, is stronger today than ever, thanks to the failure of the Arab spring and the battlefield has expanded from Mali to Pakistan and beyond to Australia and Europe,” he writes.

“The worst nightmare for me is a terror attack that provokes Indo-Pakistan war; second, is a Mumbai-like attack in a Western city.”

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/the-world-has-misread-the-middle-east-nightmare-and-our-war-without-borders-20141010-1143jt.html#ixzz3FpcXSmcY

Pentagon expands operations in Africa

September 2, 2014

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Al Shabaab soldiers sit outside a building during patrol along the streets of Dayniile district in Southern Mogadishu, March 5, 2012. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

By
The Washington Post

The Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth: an ancient caravan crossroads in the middle of the Sahara.

After months of negotiations, the government of Niger, a landlocked West African nation, has authorized the U.S. military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.

The previously undisclosed decision gives the Pentagon another surveillance hub — its second in Niger and third in the region — to track Islamist fighters who have destabilized parts of North and West Africa. It also advances a little-publicized U.S. strategy to tackle counterterrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent.

Although the two allies have a sporadic history of quarreling when it comes to military action, U.S. and French troops have been working hand in glove as they steadily expand their presence in impoverished West Africa. Both countries are alarmed by the presence of jihadist groups, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, that have taken root in states whose governments are unable to exert control over their own territory.

In Niamey, Niger’s capital, U.S. and French forces set up neighboring drone hangars last year to conduct reconnaissance flights over Mali, where about 1,200 French soldiers are trying to suppress a revolt that erupted in 2012.

A drone sits at a French army base in Niamey, Niger. France and the United States have ramped up their cooperation in Africa to counter terrorist threats. (Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

In Chad, the U.S. Air Force has been flying drones and other aircraft from a French military base to search for hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants in northern Nigeria.

The White House approved $10 million in emergency aid on Aug. 11 to help airlift French troops and provide midair refueling for French aircraft deployed to West Africa. Analysts said the monetary sum was less important than what it symbolized: U.S. endorsement of a new French plan to deploy 3,000 troops across the region.

“We have this confluence of interests where both countries are working much more closely than would have been thought possible just a couple of years ago,” said J. Peter Pham, an expert on African security at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

The cooperation is a turnabout from early 2013, when France deployed troops to northern Mali to try to prevent the country from breaking apart. The Obama administration was slow to respond to requests to provide crucial logistical support to French troops, a reflection of how the two countries have sometimes worked at cross-purposes on security policy.

France is protective of its economic and political interests in West Africa. Yet in 2008 it shrank its military presence on the continent and instead opened a base in the Persian Gulf, an area that the U.S. military sees as its sphere of influence. Around the same time, the Pentagon created an Africa Command and expanded its training partnerships with French-speaking countries on the continent, to the annoyance of some officials in Paris.

In July, however, French President François Hollande announced that his country would again bulk up its forces in West Africa. Under Operation Barkhane (a term for a crescent-shaped sand dune), France will permanently deploy 3,000 troops at bases in Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso.

French leaders consulted closely with U.S. officials before the operation. Pentagon officials said they were happy to let France take the lead on the ground, enabling the U.S. Air Force to focus on drone flights and other airborne missions that it is better equipped to handle.

“They have a similar strategy and aim about what they are doing,” said Sarah Covington, a sub-Saharan Africa analyst at IHS Country Risk, based in London. “The French have been in that region for decades now and have an extremely strong presence.”

The new base in Agadez will put U.S. drones closer to a desert corridor connecting northern Mali and southern Libya that is a key route for arms traffickers, drug smugglers and Islamist fighters migrating across the Sahara.

The city was once a magnet for ad­ven­ture tourists from Europe seeking a taste of nomad culture. But rebellions by Tuareg tribesmen in recent years and an influx of Islamists have made it a more dangerous place.

In a written response to questions, Benjamin A. Benson, a spokesman for Africa Command, called Agadez “an attractive option” for a base, “given its proximity to the threats in the region.”

In February, records show, the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency solicited bids for the delivery of more than 7 million gallons of jet and diesel fuel to Agadez later this year. In July, the Air Force posted a separate solicitation to upgrade the Agadez airport runway, a project estimated to cost between $5 million and $10 million. Documents cautioned that the project was still awaiting authorization from the government of Niger.

The next month, Mahamadou Issoufou, the president of Niger, traveled to Washington to attend the Obama administration’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. On Aug. 7, the day after the summit, Issoufou gave final approval to the Agadez drone base during a meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work; Army Gen. David Rodriguez, the leader of Africa Command; and several other participants, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.

Benson, the Africa Command spokesman, declined to say how many drones or U.S. military personnel will be deployed to Agadez, saying the operation is still in the planning stages.

The Pentagon continues to broaden its drone operations in Africa, despite growing demand for the aircraft in other conflict zones.

Since June, surveillance drones have been redeployed from bases in the Middle East to fly dozens of sorties a day over Iraq. The aircraft are also sorely needed in Afghanistan as the U.S. military draws down its forces there, as well as for counterterrorism missions in Yemen and Somalia.

The Pentagon also keeps watch over northern Libya with Predator drones that cross the Mediterranean from a U.S. base in Sicily, Italy.

The U.S. military would like to increase its reconnaissance flights over Libya, where Islamist factions and tribal militias have shattered the country. Having a drone base in Agadez will make it easier to reach the vast desert terrain in southern Libya, where many itinerant Islamist fighters have regrouped after being expelled from Mali, according to security analysts.

It is unclear whether the Pentagon will continue to operate drones from Niamey, the capital, about 500 miles southwest of Agadez, though some officials said it was unlikely. About 120 U.S. troops are deployed there at a Nigerien military base adjacent to the international airport.

French forces keep their own, small drone fleet in nearby hangars. It consists of two U.S.-built Reaper aircraft, purchased last year, and an older-model Harfang drone.

In contrast to the U.S. military, which is secretive about its drone operations, the French have been eager to show off their spy aircraft. When Hollande visited Niamey in July to tout Operation Barkhane, news photographers were permitted inside the French drone hangar.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.

Islamic extremism to blame as Christian deaths nearly double in a year – report

January 9, 2014

A partial view shot on November 30, 2013 shows icons and overturned funiture on the ground at the chruch of Saint Michael in the Syrian village of Qara.(AFP Photo / Ali Malek)

A partial view shot on November 30, 2013 shows icons and overturned furniture on the ground at the church of Saint Michael in the Syrian village of Qara.(AFP Photo / Ali Malek)

At least 2,100 Christians because of their beliefs in 2013 according to a group monitoring persecution of Christians worldwide. Most of the dead were in Syria, where radical Islamist groups have clamped down on a long-established religious minority.

Open Doors, a US-based non-denominational group that first formed  in the 1950s smuggling Bibles into Communist Eastern Europe,  conducts an annual survey of 50 countries where Christians suffer  the worst discrimination.

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Overwhelmingly, the main engine driving persecution of  Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries is Islamic  extremism,” write the authors.

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North Korea, which is officially atheist but is dominated by the  Kims’ personality cult, and where merely owning a Bible is  reportedly grounds enough for a life sentence or execution,  remains the worst country in the world for Christians.

.Open Doors  claims that as many as 70,000 believers are in North Korean labor  camps and prisons.

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But the rest of the top five is made up of Muslim states  suffering from internal instability, with Somalia, Syria, Iraq  and Afghanistan all earning a place.

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Of these, the situation has worsened “least surprisingly” in  Syria, which had a Christian population of more than 1.7 million  prior to the start of the internal conflict nearly three years  ago.
The Syrian opposition is increasingly ‘Islamizing’, and  Christians are becoming more vulnerable in all spheres of life.  Many Christians were reported to have been abducted, physically  harmed or killed, and many churches damaged or destroyed,”   write the authors.
The situation has deteriorated fundamentally since professional  foreign jihadists, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant  (ISIL), joined the fray.

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The most notable recent attacks have been on centuries-old  Aramaic-speaking communities, such as Maaloula and Sadad.

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Open Doors, which says that it uses conservative estimates  sourced from the news media and believers on the ground, claims  that at a “minimal count”, 1,213 Christians were   “martyred” in the country last year. The figure is  higher than the world total for 2012.

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Nigeria, which has a roughly equal split between Christians and  Muslims, is next on the list with 612 deaths, mostly at the hands  of newly-active militias in the north, such as Boko Haram, which  frequently bombs Christian schools and churches.

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In Somalia, “retreating al-Shabaab rebels vent their anger by  imposing an even more restrictive form of Sharia law” and  while the Christian minority is small, anyone who is found out to  follow the faith risks execution.

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Open Doors predicts that Central African Republic, which erupted  into a civil war at the end of last year, could be the hotspot to  watch out for in 2014.

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The country has been torn apart by warlords and especially  foreign mercenaries from Chad and Sudan who target Christians for  rape, robbery and murder,” write the authors.

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“Like Mali last year, Central African Republic shows how  rapidly a seemingly stable state can disintegrate and a Christian  minority or even majority can come to the brink of  extinction.”

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The report is from Open Doors

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Christian martyrdoms doubled in 2013, reports World Watch List in revealing its methodology for the first time.

Katherine Burgess
[ posted 1/8/2014 11:41AM ]
Aiming for 'Effective Anger': The Top 50 Countries Where It's Hardest To Be a Christian

Courtesy of Open Doors

Twice as many Christians were killed for their faith in 2013 as in 2012, according to the latest report on the world’s top 50 violators of Christian religious freedom.

However, the 2014 World Watch List (see full list below) from Open Doors International—which notes the increased impact of “failed states” and reveals its methodology for the first time—calculates a far lower total for Christian martyrdoms than recent estimates by other groups.

The top 10 nations “where Christians faced the most pressure and violence,” according to the WWL, were North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran. and Yemen. While North Korea has topped the list for 12 straight years, this is the first time that a sub-Saharan African country took the No. 2 slot.

“Overall, the 2014 list determines that pressure on Christians increased in 34 countries, decreased in five, and remained about the same in the remaining 14,” reports World Watch Monitor. The level of persecution “increased seriously” in eight countries: Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Colombia, and Kazakhstan. By contrast, it “decreased considerably” in two countries: Mali and Tanzania.

The list’s biggest debut: the Central African Republic (CAR), where strife between Muslims and Christians has displaced 1 million people and threatens to spread beyond the country’s borders, the United Nations recently warned.

“Like Mali last year, CAR shows how rapidly a seemingly stable state can disintegrate and a Christian minority or even majority can come to the brink of extinction,” said Open Doors in its press release. The CAR surged from being unranked to No. 16, much as Mali surged from unranked to No. 7 last year. (Mali has now fallen to No. 33.)

When only incidents of violence—including murders, rapes, kidnappings and church burnings—are assessed, the CAR ranks No. 1 worldwide, followed by Syria (though it produced far more martyrs). Rounding out this top 10: Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Colombia, Eritrea and Sudan. (The WWL’s overall rankings include both physical violence and other pressures against Christians, and Open Doors notes that violence is not the most prevalent form of religious persecution.)

The rapid rise of the CAR illustrated an increase of persecution in “failed states,” according to Open Doors. Six of the WWL’s top 10 countries—Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen—fit the organization’s definition of a failed state: “a weak state where social and political structures have collapsed to the point where government has little or no control.”

The report showed “the importance of a stable state as a guardian of religious liberty,” said Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, chief strategy officer who oversees the WWL, in an interview released by the organization.

The rankings continued last year’s trends of increased persecution in African nations and by Islamist extremism, which drove persecution in 36 of the 50 WWL countries, according to the new report.

Sri Lanka (No. 29) and Bangladesh (No. 48) also joined the 2014 list, while Azerbaijan, Uganda, and Kyrgyzstan dropped off entirely. Tanzania dropped significantly from No. 24 to No. 49, while Colombia climbed from No. 46 to No. 25.

The report calculates a total of 2,123 Christians were martyred in 2013, roughly twice the number in 2012. Syria and Nigeria led with 1,213 and 612 martyrs, respectively, followed by Pakistan (88), Egypt (83), Angola (16), Niger (15), Iraq (11), the CAR (9), and Colombia (8).

The difficult practice of measuring Christian martyrdoms worldwide drew scrutiny this year. Estimates range from 1,000 to 100,000. World Watch Monitor explains why the WWL count is so low.

In determining the degree of persecution, the report’s methodology separately assesses governmental and societal persecution. A groundbreaking 2009 report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found a high correlation between social hostilities and government restrictions. CT charted the comparisons between the Pew list and the WWL.

Open Doors claims the WWL is “the only annual survey of religious liberty conditions of Christians around the world,” and explains:

[The WWL] measures the degree of freedom Christian have to live out their faith in five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life, plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence. The methodology counts each sphere equally and is designed specifically to track the deep structures of persecution, and not merely incidents.

For the first time, Open Doors has published the methodology of the report, also having it independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, which praised the study.

“Above all, we want others to join in and help improve our standards and catalyze more study of the Persecuted Church, so that the sum of our knowledge will increase,” Boyd-MacMillan said.

The purpose of the report is to “create effective anger,” leading people to pray and act on behalf of persecuted Christians, he said. “It creates awareness and it requires a strategic response. And great research is the only way that effective anger can be produced.”

Brian Grim, a senior religion researcher at the Pew Research Center, told World Watch Monitor the good news behind such reports:

Reports like the World Watch List, and those we produce at Pew Research Center, stimulate discussion and action among groups such as the United Nations, the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress. In 2011 alone, the sources used in the latest Pew Research study reported that 76 percent of countries had government or societal initiatives to reduce religious restrictions or hostilities.

CT reported on the WWL rankings in 2009, 2012, and 2013, including a spotlight on where it’s hardest to believe. CT also noted how the State Department and USCIRF disagree on which countries deserves censure for mistreating religious minorities, as well as how, ironically, many nations on the WWL are bad for Christians but good for distributing Bibles.

Here is a summary of the 2014 World Watch List and how countries changed rank from 2013. Descriptions of persecution in all 50 countries can be found here.

Christians 'face extinction' amid sectarian terror, minister warns

Pakistani Christians protest against the suicide bombing in All Saints church in the northwestern city of Peshawar in September Photo: A MAJEED/AFP
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Vietnam Christians protest government persecution

Vietnam Christians protest government persecution

St. Mary Church in Fayoum attacked, looted

St. Mary Church in Fayoum, Egypt attacked and looted last August

7 DW:M Smyank

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People gather at the site of suicide attack on a church in Peshawar, Pakistan, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. A suicide bomb attack on a historic church in northwestern Pakistan killed scores of people Sunday, officials said, in one of the worst assaults on the country’s Christian minority in years. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad) AP

Mali separatist group declares end to ceasefire

November 29, 2013

(Reuters) – Mali’s MNLA Tuareg separatist group said on Friday it was ending a ceasefire agreed with the government in June and taking up arms following violence in the northern city of Kidal.

The declaration follows a series of incidents including clashes on Thursday between Malian troops and stone-throwing protesters who blocked a visit by the prime minister to the northern rebel stronghold of Kidal on Thursday. Several demonstrators were wounded but there were conflicting accounts of how they came about their injuries.

“The political and military wings of the Azawad (MNLA, MAA and HCUA) declare the lifting of the ceasefire with the central government in Bamako,” said a statement by Attaye Ag Mohamed, one of the MNLA’s founders.

“All our military positions are on alert,” said the statement, which asked the international community to witness that the government was to blame for hostilities on Thursday.

The west African country is in the process of restoring democracy after a coup last year led to al Qaeda-linked Islamists taking control of the north.

A French-led military offensive routed the Islamists but tension remains between the central government and Tuareg separatists demanding an independent homeland they call Azawad. The two sides are due to open negotiations over the status of the restive desert region.

(Reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg;)

UN rules out swift peacekeeping deployment to Central African Republic

November 28, 2013

Deputy secretary general said that even with a speedy security council resolution it would take months to deploy a team

By Mark Tran
The Guardian

MDG : CAR : Central African Republic refugees

Refugees cook food in Bouca. The town is home to a Catholic mission that has been aiding refugees alongside  Médecins Sans Frontières. Photograph: Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF/EPA

A UN peacekeeping force would take at least two or three months to deploy in the Central African Republic (CAR) even if there was a speedy UN security council resolution, Jan Eliasson, the UN deputy secretary general said on Wednesday.

The chronically unstable and landlocked country has plunged into chaos in recent months after a coalition of rebels overthrew the government in March. Eliasson, who was attending an EU development conference in Brussels, said the brutality and sectarian violence in the worsening crisis, could degenerate into widespread atrocities.

Given the time it would take to send peacekeepers, the UN is banking on a quick deployment of troops by France, the former colonial power, to restore some semblance of order as they did in Mali when Tuareg and jihadist rebels threatened to advance on the capital Bamako.

French officials this week expressed readiness to reinforce the 400 troops already in the capital Bangui. “France has already indicated sending 800 more troops to bring its total to 1,200, that will improve security,” said a veteran UN diplomat.

The world has paid little heed to the deteriorating situation in CAR, despite warnings from humanitarian organisations. But  reports of the savagery inflicted upon civilians is making the crisis increasingly difficult to ignore. Since seizing power, Seleka rebels have been accused by human rights groups of committing abuses including killings, rapes and conscription of child soldiers.

“It is a hugely critical situation. On Monday, I made one of my most dramatic reports to the [UN security] council,” Eliasson said. “It was not an early warning, it was a late warning.”

The violence in the mineral-rich but impoverished country has turned increasingly communal, pitting the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels against Christian militias. The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned this week that if CAR imploded as a result of a power vacuum, instability could threaten all the countries in the region. These include Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon.

The UN is counting on France acting as an effective stop-gap measure until an African Union force is deployed but it is unclear how quickly such a contingent is deployed amid questions over funding. There are 2,500 African regional peacekeeping troops in CAR. This is due to be increased to 3,600 by January. But they are stretched thin and struggling to maintain order in a land mass bigger than France where villages are often inaccessible by road.

Eliasson stressed the need for humanitarian workers to have access to those in need. “What we need are eyes and ears on the ground so they can have a calming influence,” he said.

In his report to the council on Monday, Eliasson said virtually the entire population of 4.6 million people was enduring “suffering beyond imagination”, and a third of the people are in dire need of food, healthcare, sanitation and shelter”.

Ban ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, last week presented the council options for supporting the AU-led operation financially and logistically, as well as the option of transforming it into a UN peacekeeping operation. Ban said he would back a UN force with nearly 11,000 soldiers and police if the crisis worsens.


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