Sunday, November 30, 2003

Burundi: reluctant rebel group in peace talks?

"The government sent a delegation to negotiate with the FNL [National Liberation Forces] to Nairobi, to try to convince them to join the current peace process," a government source who requested anonymity told AFP.

The talks, held in the presence of US ambassador to Burundi, James Yellin, and the UN envoy to Burundi, Berhanu Dinka, came just four days after FNL rebels shelled the presidential mansion in the capital. (link)
Here is a Q&A from the BBC for some BG on the conflict and a good explainer on the difference between the FNL and FDD (the rebel group that has already signed on to the peace agreement)

UPDATE: The FNL delegates have walked out of the talks ...
"It was a waste of time. The international community promised us talks witht the Tutsis and they sent us a government delegation," complained [spokesperson Pasteur] Habimana.

The FNL has long refused to negotiate with the government, insisting the real power in Burundi lay with the Tutsi leadership of the army.

"We are ready to resume negotiations with the Tutsis anytime but we will never negotiate with the Bujumbura government which does not exist," said Habimana.

Cote d'Ivoire: gov't soldiers to the French -- "leave"

"We are telling the whites to leave the front line... we have the means to get rid of them (the rebels)... in 48 hours we will liberate the country," said an unidentified officer in a red beret, surrounded by soldiers in fatigues.

"Your army is with you. This is not a coup d'etat. This is not a rebellion."

State radio said the statement was by Ivory Coast's security and defense forces. It said the soldiers forced their way into the state television building in the main city of Abidjan on Sunday, although there was no violence. (link)

Zimbabwe: a bit about the new chief of the military

Constantine Guveya Chiwenga, promoted to the role [Commander of Defence Forces] from army chief, was involved in rallying soldiers behind Mugabe's 2002 re-election and seizing land from a white commercial farmer under Mugabe's land reform programme, according to local independent newspapers.

Most of Zimbabwe's military top brass are veterans of the 1970s war against white minority rule who are fiercely loyal to Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party.

... Zvinavashe [former Commander of Defence Forces], Chiwenga and air force commander Perence Shiri stirred controversy before elections last year by saying the security forces would never allow ''anyone opposed to the ideals of the...liberation war'' to come to power, local media said -- an apparent reference to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. (link)

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Rwanda/DRC: agreement to repatriate Hutus within a year

Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo agreed at a mini-summit in Pretoria on Thursday to work together to repatriate Rwandan Hutus from the east of the DRC within a year, a communique said.

... In a landmark agreement signed on July 30, 2002, Rwanda agreed to withdraw its 20,000 troops from the DRC and Kinshasa was given 90 days to round up, disarm and repatriate Rwandan Hutu fighters still on its soil.

That 90-day deadline proved illusory, and Thursday's communique said the disarmament and repatriation should be completed within 12 months. (link)

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Eritrea moves troops towards border

Eritrea told the U.N. its troops had moved westwards towards the border "for harvesting, agricultural and construction purposes", the U.N. said in a statement. (link)

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Zimbabwe: former army officers claim they stuffed ballots

Two former Zimbabwean army officers said yesterday that they helped to rig President Robert Mugabe's re-election last year by stuffing ballot boxes with thousands of false postal votes.

They said that they were forced to fake thousands of ballots in the names of soldiers serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as for many fictitious voters.

Herbert Ndlovu, 43, and Primrose Tshuma, 42, made the claims at a press conference in Johannesburg.

The officers fled to South Africa after being tortured ... accused of switching allegiances to the ... movement for Democratic Change (MDC).(link)

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Mauritania: opposition leader formally charged

Opposition leader, Mohamed Ould Haidallah and 15 others (including his son) have been formally charged with "conspiring to destroy the state" and other charges along the same vein.

Haidallah challenged President Maaouiya Ould Taya in elections earlier this month ... and obviously, Haidallah lost. The opposition claims there was fraud.

According to this Reuters story, the Justice Ministry spokesperson said the trial could take place before Dec. 9 ... the same story also quotes unnamed officials as saying the trial could begin as soon as next Monday.

Haidallah was arrested the day before the Nov 7 elections, released, then arrested again two days after the election.

Haidallah is a former president ... he took power in a 1979 coup ... then five years later, there was a coup against Haidallah, led by the current president Taya.

And this past June, there was a coup attempt against Taya and he still appears a bit jumpy.

Here is an AP piece on how Taya is cracking down on the Islamists in his country ... the piece argues that Taya "... is courting continuing American approval at the risk of an Islamic backlash."

Kenya: ex-MP charged with murder of Somali peace delegate

A Kenyan politician has been charged with the murder of a delegate at the ongoing Somali peace talks in Nairobi.

Adan Keynan is alleged to have killed Sheikh Ibrahim Ali Abdulleh. The ex-MP, who is also of Somali origin, denies the charges saying they are political.

... Early this month, Ahmed Rashid Mohamed, another delegate at the talks was also killed. (link)

Nigeria: Obasanjo says Mugabe not invited to Commonwealth Summit

``He will not have an invitation,'' Obasanjo said of Mugabe. ``He can come on a bilateral basis, but not during'' the summit. (link)
This article has a bit more meat on Obasanjo's statements about Taylor too.

Nigeria: Obasanjo would "persuade" Taylor to stand trial

Nigeria would hand over former Liberian President Charles Taylor to Liberia if that country wanted to try him for war crimes, President Olusegun Obasanjo said Tuesday.

...But Obasanjo said he would "persuade him" to go to Liberia if that country sought to try him.

"If Liberia asks him to come home and face something I believe he will understand sufficiently the need to go," he told foreign journalists at his farm near Lagos. (link)

Monday, November 24, 2003

Iraq: thousands of teachers fired

I just saw this story ... according to UPI, the Iraqi CPA has fired 28,000 teachers as part of its anti-Baath Party measures.
A Central Command spokesman, speaking to UPI from Baghdad, acknowledged that the firings had taken place but said the figure of 28,000 "is too high."

He was unable, however, after two days, to supply UPI with a lower, revised total.
Another notable de-bathification effort.... 400,000 Iraqi soldiers were disbanded ... 400,000 soldiers (who know how to use weapons) are now jobless.

DRC: Mobutu's son returns to Kinchasa

First Amin's son ... and now Mobutu's ...
Manda Mobutu, 43, was welcomed at the airport by 200 cheering supporters, reports Reuters news agency.

He fled when his father was ousted in 1997 after a 32-year rule of notorious corruption and brutality.

An aide said that Manda's Rally party would contest elections due in 2005 but did not say if Manda would run himself.

Manda is seeking to have his father's body repatriated from Morocco, where he died in 1997. (link)

Kenya: likely to cut more civil servant jobs

Last Friday, the IMF ended a three-year freeze on foreign aid by granting Kenya a $252.8 million loan. They had stopped giving Kenya money because of the high level of corruption in the country.

And now the World Bank wants the country to cut the number of civil servants...
Speaking at a donor consultative group meeting in Nairobi, World Bank country director Makhtar Diop said Kenya had more civil servants than other African countries and one of the largest number of parastatals [state owned companies].

He, however, said the demand to make the Government less bloated and more efficient should not be seen as coming from donor countries.

The issue had been raised by President Kibaki himself and was part of the Narc manifesto, he said.

Nigeria: teaching "discipline" through the courts

Bola Tinubu, the [Lagos] state governor, has introduced a campaign known as the "Kick Against Indiscipline", which employs mobile courtrooms and marshals in lime-green shirts to dispense instant justice to citizens who block drains, drop litter or relieve themselves in public.

"We are saving Lagosians from themselves," claims Babatunde Ogungbamila, a Lagos state government adviser. "We are saving them from their own bad habits."

... State officials are keen to play down parallels with the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari, a dictator in the mid-1980s who claimed he would arrest the country's social decline - and clean up Lagos - through a "war on indiscipline".

Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian author, has written of the time as a darkly farcical period featuring compulsory sanitation days and punishment for misdemeanours that included horsewhipping, forcing people to squat with their hands on their ears and hopping on the spot, frog-style. (link)
Lagos has a population of 13.4 million and was the capital of Nigeria until 1991 when the capital was moved Abuja ... mainly because of the trash and the chaos of Lagos.

As the article goes on to say ... the idea of improving Lagos is welcomed but the fines are high for people who are incredibly poor ($7.50 for littering) ... and facilities are poor (only 10% receive satisfactory trash pick-up service).

Libya: US to review Libya travel ban every 90 days

The United States said on Monday it would renew the ban on U.S. citizens visiting Libya for a year but would review it every three months, a signal Washington could ease some sanctions if Tripoli addressed U.S. concerns on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

... "Accordingly, all United States passports shall remain invalid for travel to, in, or through Libya unless specifically validated for such travel under the authority of the Secretary of State," he added. "The Department of State will review this restriction every three months while it remains in effect." (link)

Uganda: anti-LRA community militia

Musa Ecweru, a member of parliament, has helped build a community-based milita group to counter the Lord's Resistance Army. And it appears to be working.
His men crushed an attempt by the LRA in June this year to expand its operations to Teso, Ecweru's home, after analysing what he calls the LRA's tactics of creating ''terror corridors.''

''The LRA has survived by maximum brutality which creates terror. This displaces people and creates a vacuum or corridor where they can roam at will,'' he said.

Ecweru says he has succeeded because he recruited scouts from the community who, unlike army troops, actually speak the local language [Acholi]. Another factor was that the [Teso] community, never having been beaten into despair by the LRA, retained a strong will to survive and strongly backed his so-called ''Arrow'' force [by providing intelligence etc...].
[all inserts between brackets are mine]

And the militia group has the support of the government ... its members are paid by the government.

About a week back, President Museveni ordered that the Arrow Group in Teso and the Amuka Group in Lango, be paid Shs 1.5 billion in back pay. But this partnership is not without its critics.
The payment of militia fighters has been a contentious issue. Some people claimed that militia commanders had misappropriated about Shs 2 billion released to facilitate operations.

Ecweru said the proposed payment has excited militia fighters, each of whom earns Shs 60,000 monthly.
So how many milita fighters are there?

My guess (based on some basic math) ... Shs 1.5 billion in back pay, Shs 60,000 monthly salary, and the pay being 3 months in arrears ... there are about 8,400 militia members.

Note this is a rough guess cause there are a few other militia groups and I'm not sure if they figure into this back pay scheme. Also, the Arrow Group by itself has about 7,000 members ... sooo ... let me know if you figure it out.

One more thing ... a few weeks back, there was a report that 'Brigadier' Charles Tabuley, the LRA's second in command, had been killed by government forces during fighting in the Teso region. However ...
Eresu said he saw Tabuley being killed. He said there's no way Tabuley could be alive. Tabuley was reportedly killed in an ambush on October 29. However, one Isaac Ochola who escaped from rebel captivity told The Monitor that Tabuley was not killed. (link)

Uganda: Amin's son threatens to track down LRA leader

Taban Amin, former rebel and son of the late dictator Idi Amin, has called on Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army to give up the fight. Amin appeared on a radio show and sent this warning to Kony ... "If you do not want to come out of the bush and you think you can continue hiding in Sudan, I will hunt you from wherever you will hide."

Amin and his 2,500 fighters recently took advantage of an amnesty law to emerge from their base in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Nigeria/US: threat of sanctions re: Taylor softened

The bill's final language was not completed, but committee aides said [House] lawmakers softened Senate-passed provisions that would have cut off aid to Nigeria and Serbia and Montenegro if they did not turn over two figures wanted for war crimes.

The bill eases the threat of sanctions, but urges Nigeria to surrender exiled former Liberian President Charles Taylor to a war crimes tribunal, and Serbia to cooperate in turning over Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb army commander blamed for ordering the massacre of 7,000 Muslims at Srebrenica. (link)
Here is the last post on the issue.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Algeria: leader of Islamist rebel group captured?

A few days ago, Algerian newspapers reported that security forces have arrested Rachid Abou Tourab, head of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

But ... (there is a but) ...
But the security forces have neither confirmed nor denied the reports, which are not the first to say that a hardline extremist leader has been captured or even killed in Algeria.

The Press reported in July that Abou Tourab was one of 15 armed Islamic extremists killed during a security forces operation in the Tamezguida forest, known to be a GIA stronghold in the Medea region, south of Algiers. Algerian newspapers had also reported the death of Abou Tourab’s predecessor, Antar Zouabri, several times before he was confirmed killed in a gun battle with security forces in the town of Boufarik, south of Algiers.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Mozambique: election went off well

Yay good news...
Giving the [European Union Observer] mission's preliminary assessment at a Maputo press conference on Friday, its leader, Jose Mendiluce, said that the voting "from the opening of the polling stations through to the count went absolutely normally, and the secrecy of the vote was guaranteed".

Kenya: much ado over handbags

11 women MPs walked into chambers carrying their handbags ...
The action caused an uproar, with Mr Raphael Wanjala (Budalangi, Narc) demanding that the Speaker address the issue.

"Mr Speaker Sir, is it in order for the women to carry their handbags. They could be carrying offensive weapons," he said.

... Water Development Minister Martha Karua said ... men MPs could too be carrying offensive weapons in their pockets.
And the women MPs staged a walkout in protest. The anti-handbag rule was instituted months ago ... because handbags can be used to carry something dangerous into the chambers.


Nigeria: didn't get stolen money back from Swiss

The Nigerian government is trying to get back $3 billion (or $4 billion, depending on your source) which was stashed in European banks by the late dictator Sani Abacha ... $640 million of that is in Swiss banks. The Swiss had agreed to return the cash as long as it was used for infrastructure projects ... however ...
... Swiss justice ministry said the money could not be released yet for procedural reasons.

The ministry added that the $640 million blocked in Swiss bank accounts was also subject to a investigation at a Geneva court into fraud and money laundering, and could not be released without the court's agreement.
Last post on this story here.

Uganda: 34 MPs boycott parliament over security in the north

MPs from north and east Uganda, worst hit by a 17-year brutal rebellion, are boycotting parliament until the security situation improves.

...Cecilia Ogwal, MP for Lira, scene of several recent attacks, said President Yoweri Museveni should call for international help or resign, reports The Monitor newspaper. (link)

Cote d'Ivoire: two day talks in Ghana end

Ghanaian President John Kufuor hosted talks between Ivorian PM Seydou Diarra and Soro Guillaume, Sec. Gen. of the rebel "New Forces" ... nothing happened.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Egypt: Mubarak health scare

The man is 77 years old ... and according to reports, he's in good health. I don't know how much you can read into today's incident but it's certainly a good reminder that he's mortal.
President Hosni Mubarak interrupted a nationally televised speech for some 45 minutes on Wednesday because of what were described as minor health problems, the unusual pause underscoring the fact that he has never designated a successor.

Senior cabinet ministers moved quickly to assure the nation that a combination of flu, antibiotics and the daily fast of Ramadan had momentarily felled the Egyptian leader, who returned to the podium in Parliament to finish his speech.

... He was almost all the way through his speech when his words suddenly slurred, he coughed and he appeared to lean on the lectern for support. The cameraman for the state-run Egyptian television pulled away and then the picture was cut, but the sound continued and shouting could be heard from the parliamentary chamber.

After a brief pause the television began broadcasting pictures from the early days of his presidency combined with songs praising him, convincing some viewers that he had died.
And who would succeed Mubarak if he were to pass away ... this Atlantic Monthly article offers profiles of the two men most likely to take over ... Mubarak's son Gamal and Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief (also mediator with the Palestinians).

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Nigeria: anti-retroviral drugs withdrawn

Nigeria's National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), has ordered that anti-retrovial drugs be withdrawn because the stuff out there has expired or is about to expire.

human testing of Ebola vaccine begins ...

The WHO has confirmed there's an Ebola outbreak in the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) ... and since the outbreak is in an area near the border with Gabon, health officials there are on high alert. Last year, an Ebola outbreak in Gabon killed 53 people.

So a report that the National Institute of Health has begun human testing of an Ebola vaccine offers some measure of good news.
The experimental DNA vaccine is synthesized using modified, inactivated genes from the Ebola virus. Because it does not contain any infectious material from the Ebola virus, recipients cannot get the disease, said Dr. Gary Nabel, who directs the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, Maryland.

Researchers plan to test the vaccine on 27 people aged 18 to 44. They are expected to receive three injections of either the experimental vaccine or a placebo at the institute over a two-month period. Then they will be monitored for one year.
But they're having trouble getting people to volunteer for the trial. They only have two of the 27 volunteers they need.
"People freak out about Ebola," said Margaret McCluskey, the director of nursing at the NIH's vaccine research center ....
Uhhh ... yah!

One of the volunteers is a gardner who works in McCluskey's neighbourhood ... and another is a nurse at the NIH.

There's some really interesting info in this press release from the NIH.
A gap of two decades separated the first Ebola epidemic of 1976 and the next, which arose in 1995. In recent years, for reasons unknown, outbreaks of Ebola are occurring with increasing frequency.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Haiti: anniversary of slave revolt

200 year ago, Hatian slaves fought for and gained their freedom.
Haiti is a shell of what it was two centuries ago when its rich alluvial plains and slave labor made it the wealthiest colony in the New World.

That prosperity impelled Napoleon Bonaparte to order 15,000 troops to oust Toussaint Louverture, a former slave who rallied blacks. The French eventually captured Louverture and imprisoned him in a bleak mountain cell on the French-Swiss border, where he died.

Shortly afterward, however, French troops, weakened by yellow fever, surrendered to Haitian forces.

Vertieres has since become a celebrated victory of black over white, poor over privileged.

Monday, November 17, 2003

I am falling progressively behind on making these posts .... and there's so much interesting stuff going on ....

So here goes ...

In the Ivory Coast, rebels have declared a state of emergency in the areas they control, saying that President Laurent Gbagbo is readying to go to war. Also today, two high-ranking rebel leaders were in Togo to speak with that country's president where they reaffirmed their support of the peace deal. For what it's worth, earlier last week, following a fruitless summit in Ghana, some rebel leader had intimated that the North might secede. But by the end of the week, rebels were denying the secession story.

And that strange story in South Africa ... about whether the chief prosecutor (who is black) was an apartheid era spy. A former Transport Minister, Mac Maharaj, testified that he received information that Bulelani Ngcuka was a spy in 1989 or 1990, just as white minority rule was ending. A few weeks back, Ngcuka was accused of being agent RS452 ... and a woman lawyer came out and admitted that she was in fact agent RS452 (see this earlier post). Here is a long-ish piece on RS452, Vanessa Burton (worth reading).

Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo is considering inviting Mugabe to next month's Commonwealth Summit ... a move which threatens to split the organization.

And another Zimbabwe story ... police set-up roadblocks and raided tourist-related businesses to seize foreign currency. The country is broke. In a related story, the government has ordered that doctors and nurses be arrested because their two week old strike over pay has basically crippled the country's health care system. "Under the country's laws, health personnel cannot go on strike because their services are considered essential and indispensable to the community." Military doctors and nurses have been filling in at the state-run institutions.

Here is a country you don't often hear about ... the US has renewed ties with Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea's president had his opponents imprisoned and tortured, had his presidential predecessor executed by firing squad, helped himself to the state treasury at will. State radio recently declared him "like God."

Teodoro Obiang might seem an unlikely candidate for warmer relations with Washington, except for one thing — his tiny West African country's got a tremendous amount of oil.
Should have mentioned it ... Burundi government and the FDD, the largest rebel group, signed a deal on Sunday, ending 10 years of civil war. Peace? Not quite yet. They still need the FNL to come onboard.

In Rwanda, a story of reconciliation (of sorts). Paul Rwarakabije, a Hutu militia leader who had been fighting against the Rwandan government from his base in the DRC, returned to Rwanda with 103 of his fighters. Rwarakabije led the FDLR (Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda) and has renounced violence ... which is a good thing for both Rwanda and the DRC because, according to this story, he commanded a force of between 15,000 and 20,000 men.
Rwarakabije, a former Rwandan army officer, has not been accused of having played a role in the [genocide]....

Rwanda's army spokesman said that Rwarakabije would undergo the same procedures as other returning combatants from the DRC, including participation in a two-month reintegration programme, after which combatants choose to either remain in the army or to be demobilised.

Analysts told IRIN that Rwarakabije would most likely join the army.
Uganda's cabinet last week recommended that officials, including the President's brother, stand trial for corruption in connection with a bogus helicopterr deal (check this).

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Egypt bans foreign belly daners

Egypt's foreign belly dancers have been given their marching orders.

The government says it wants to protect homegrown practitioners of the seductive Middle Eastern dance form and is no longer granting new work permits to foreign dancers or renewing existing ones.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Pan-African parliament

Yesterday, Senegal became the 24th country to ratify a protocol with a really long name ... creating a pan-African Parliament which will come into being in 30 days.
Modelled on the European Union parliament, the AU assembly would have consultative and advisory powers only in its first five years. It was not immediately clear how many seats it would have, or whether it would be more powerful than national governments.
The African Union has 53 member states.

Zimbabwe: armed rebellion?

On Thursday, UK-based human rights activist Peter Tatchell announced that there's now an armed opposition group in Zim.

He said the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement (ZFM) numbers in the "low thousands" and is threatening armed rebellion unless Mugabe steps down.

He also said that ZFM consisted primarily of serving members of the Zimbabwean armed forces, police and intelligence service.

Tatchell said the ZFM had no links with the Movement for Democratic Change, the main political opposition group.

Neither the MDC nor ZANU-PF (Mugabe's party) seem to believe that this is a real group. However, Chris Mullen, the British Foreign Office minister responsible for Africa, did confirm that somebody from the ZFM had been in touch with the British high commission in Harare, and had been sent away.

As for Tatchell, he has twice tried to perform a citizen's arrest on Mr Mugabe.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Liberia: no amnesty for post- Oct 8 atrocities

Liberia's warring factions have been told that there would be no amnesty for war crimes committed after October 8.

Why that date ... Liberia ratified the convention on the International Criminal Court on October 8.

Other dates ... the interim government, led by Gyude Bryank, took over in Liberia on October 14 ... Taylor left on August 11.

Nigeria: US Senate considers sanctions re: Taylor

There's a proposal in the US Senate that would cut foreign aid to Nigeria if it does not hand Charles Taylor over to the war crimes court in Sierra Leone. The proposal is in the Senate version of the foreign operations appropriations bill ... no word if it might be included in the House's version.

Last week, Congress allocated $2 million as "rewards for an indictee of the Special Court for Sierra Leone", undestood to mean a reward for the capture of Taylor. This was a one-line clause in the bill that authorized $87.5 billion for reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nigeria has not been pleased. They've beefed up Taylor's security and the presidential spokesperson, Femi Fane Kayode, called the move tantamount to "state-sponsored terrorism" because it might encourage people to go and capture Taylor.

Kayode is not off to think that people will see the money as a bounty on Taylor's head. Northbridge Services Group, a UK-based private military company, is under investigation for offering to arrest Liberia's Taylor and turn him over to the war crimes court in Sierra Leone. Here is the post on the story from back in August.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Bush administration had been aware that Congress was considering providing the money ... but he said the admin hadn't decided how to use the money.
... [He] noted that in most cases such rewards are provided for information about the whereabouts of a suspect, which in this case is readily available.
The UN special representative in Liberia, Jacques Klein, welcomes the offer of money, if it means Taylor stands trial. And I'm sure there are tons of Liberians/Africans who would welcome Taylor standing trial. However, the fear is that any effort to put Taylor on trial would cause Taylor loyalists to begin fighting again. The National Post has this quote:
"It's an incitement to terrorism, because any bloke in Nigeria who is money-hungry could take up that offer. Imagine the bloodshed," one of Mr. Taylor's few remaining loyalists told a local reporter. "We're prepared for the worst."
Now, about Nigeria's position. This Financial Post article has these pithy paragraphs.
Nigeria contributed the first two battalions of a west African peacekeeping force that has helped stabilise Monrovia, Liberia's capital, over the past few months. The action eased international pressure for a substantial US troop deployment and enabled Mr Taylor's departure into exile in August. Mr Bush wrote to Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's president, in the same month to thank him for his work on the crisis.

"If you take [Mr Taylor] out in any way, harass him or remove him from here, you jeopardise the peace process," said Femi Fani-Kayode, an adviser to Mr Obasanjo. "This is the light in which we would like the international community to view this situation."
Unless somebody comes up with some other idea soon, it looks like Taylor has gotten away with it all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Turkey: Kurdish rebel group dissolves

The Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan (formerly the Kurdistan Workers Party) announced today that it was dissolving itself and forming a new group to pursue Kurdish rights through negotiations.

The most interesting detail is in the middle of the story.
Turkey and the United States have agreed to a joint plan to combat the group and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Monday that KADEK fighters clashed with Iraqi Kurdish and U.S. forces Sunday in northern Iraq. One Iraqi Kurdish border guard was killed in the clash, officials said.

"Turkey ... wants to eliminate us by pitting the United States against us in Iraq," the Germany-based Kurdish news agency Mezopotamya quoted senior rebel commander Cemil Bayik as saying. "Clearly, we have to organize an effective political struggle against those dangerous policies that could lead to a war. We have to succeed in this."

Monday, November 10, 2003

Burundi: rebels kill 5 in attack on capital

The National Liberation Front launched a rocket attack on the capital killing five people ... and according to the report, the attack destroyed part of the Chinese Embassy and struck the home of the US military attache.

A few weeks ago, the other Hutu rebel group, Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), signed a peace deal with the government.

National Liberation Front is smaller than the FDD and government forces have been engaging them in recent weeks.

Morocco: twin girls sentenced for terrorism

Click here for the full article.
Imane and Sanae al-Ghariss, 14-year-old twins, told a religious leader that they wanted to blow up the liquor aisle of a supermarket. The leader turned them in and the girls were sentenced to five years in prison.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Uganda: his brother's keeper

Here is a fascinating profile of Lieutenant General Salim Saleh, President Museveni's younger brother.
Unofficially, Saleh is known as the unseen guest in every Ugandan boardroom. His business empire stretches from aviation to pharmaceuticals and private security. Fourteen years after he was first removed as their commander, his following among the troops remains huge. His name in the headlines sells newspapers. Both friends and critics attribute his survival in the face of countless controversies to his charm, humility and cunning. In the same breath they cite the influence he wields over Uganda's genial and autocratic president.

Behind this is no ordinary story of brotherly love. When he was still a teenager, Museveni pulled the young Saleh out of school to join a regional revolt against Idi Amin ...

... Museveni's guilt at having cut short the education of a brother whose intelligence few doubted may explain some of the presidential forgiveness.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Mozambique: landmine detecting rats

Here's an idea! Use rats to sniff out landmines. The rats will be "deployed" in Mozambique next week.
Scientists involved in the project said that rats were in many ways better mine-hunters than dogs: "They learn quicker and do not get so personally attached to the owner, so they're easier to transfer to another trainer," said Mr Cox.

Researchers also said rats, being lightweight, were easier to transport and less likely to set off mines accidentally. "Their noses are closer to the ground, so they can operate in an area of high mine density where a dog may be confused," said Bartes Weetjens, who thought of the idea eight years ago after recalling that the rodents he bred as a childhood hobby had an acute sense of smell.

Ethiopia/Eritrea: UN envoy says things are okay ... despite shooting

A few days back, Eritrea reported that two of its soldiers exchanged fire with uniformed gunmen, presumably Ethiopian. One of the Eritrean soldiers was killed, the UN confirmed that there had indeed been a fight, and Ethiopia denied that its soldiers were involvled.

UN envoy Legwaila Joseph Legwaila insists that things are not deteriorating between the two countries.

The story linked above did have an interesting, unrelated, detail. "On Thursday Unmee officials confirmed that Mr Legwaila's personal pilot had been expelled from Eritrea on charges of spying." (I'm not implying anything here ... I just find the detail interesting.)

The process to demarcate the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea was supposed to have started ... last month. No word on when it's going to start.

Here is an IPS story that does a decent job of summarizing the border issue.

Israel-Palestine: Red Cross halts food aid to WB residents

The desicsion by the International Committee for the Red Cross to halt food aid to residents of the West Bank affects about 50,000 families. This leaves them with enough food till the end of the year.
The ICRC started its voucher scheme more than a year ago following Israel's reinvasion of the west Bank, stressing then it was only a short-term, emergency measure. It now says that Israel, as the occupying power, should ensure the whole population has access to food and water, medical assistance, employment and education.

...Israel's Major General Yosef Mishlav, co-ordinator of government activities in the territories, last month expressed concern at the ending of the ICRC programme, according to the Ma'ariv newspaper. He said other organisations would have to pay for humanitarian aid while ways were found to relieve Israeli pressure on the Palestinians.
Is this playing politics with aid?

UK: flu kills five kids ... could kill more?

Weeks before SARS became a huge story, I saw a story about how in this one province in China, sales of antibiotics, both modern and traditional, had gone way up. I thought it was strange but didn't think much more of it. Well, I'm not going to ignore stories like it any more.

Check this out. Five kids in the UK, aged between 18 months and 11, have died and it's only the start of the flu season.
Britain's leading flu expert, Professor John Oxford, believes Britain may be in line for an epidemic. He said it was "most unusual" for so many children to die at the start of the flu season.

UN: private armies for peacekeeping?

Earlier this week, a 16-member review panel was convened to explore how the UN could be more responsive. And it seems that one of the things they'll be looking at is the the feasibility of using "private security forces" in peackekeeping missions to countries with "low intensity" conflicts.

A company has already come forward with some ideas on how this would work ...
The company would establish a database of up to 5,000 former soldiers willing to work for UN daily rates, from which 200 or so could be drawn at short notice to deal with "brush fire" disputes before they get out of hand. "Two hundred armed men deployed early on can make a big difference," Mr Martin said [he's a partner with Global Security Partnership Project]. He said he was confident there would be no shortage of people who would make themselves available on a voluntary basis, in the same way that mountain rescue teams and Britain's lifeboat crews were volunteer forces.

... There is a precedent for private sector intervention in peacekeeping by non-profit groups. The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Swiss foundation funded mostly by European governments, brokered a ceasefire agreement in December 2002 between the Indonesian government and rebels in the province of Aceh.

The centre also ran the agreement's international monitoring operation, using about 50 out-of-uniform troops seconded mainly from the Thai and Philippine armed forces. The monitors were withdrawn in May as the agreement collapsed.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

corruption adversely affects conservation efforts

I know this point seems obvious but we all like empirical evidence ... and the Nature magazine story here has some ... and the nugget of the piece ....
Rhinos, elephants and trees are disappearing most quickly in countries with the worst governance scores, such as Sudan and Ethiopia, the team found. Higher-ranked nations, such as South Africa and Botswana, have healthier wildlife populations. For the animals, corruption explained the trends better than any other factor.
And some question the efficacy of conservation efforts like the ban on the sale of ivory ...
Prohibiting legal sales [of ivory and rhino horn] may simply drive up prices and create opportunities for criminals. "It [prohibition] just becomes a means by which elites can gain access to resources," says development researcher Kate Brown of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.

... Corruption undermines conservation when it pays better, notes Dick Rice, chief economist with Conservation International, based in Washington DC.

Wildlife workers are often badly remunerated, making bribes more attractive.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Guinea: tense election & flouting the arms embargo

A coalition of Guinean opposition parties has said it will boycott December's presidential election. The EU is not giving money or sending election observers because of doubts that the election will be fair.
He [opposition leader Mamadou Ba] also warned that Guinea could descend into civil war like some of its neighbours if free and fair elections were not held.

"It will end up like Sierra Leone, Liberia or Ivory Coast because if we cannot discuss with the man in power, we will fight him the way he wants," said the leader of the Revival Front for Democratic Change (Frad).
Speaking of Liberia ... report says that Guinea flouted the arms embargo on Liberia by supplying arms to rebels. For example ...
Human Rights Watch found that the mortar rounds fired on central Monrovia [in late July] by the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy were Iranian munitions procured by the Guinean Ministry of Defense this year and sent to the rebels. ...Human Rights Watch called for a suspension of American military aid to Guinea.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

US: CBS cancels Regan mini-series

I honestly thought CBS brass would heavily edit the mini-series ... I never thought they would actually cancel airing the Regan bio-pic. (Drudge broke the cancellation story.)

The Nov. 10 issue of Newsweek has this story about the fights inside CBS about the mini-series. It appears that booting the movie to Showtime was an option CBS kept on the burner even as they (the brass) kept editing the movie.

I don't know if the film is accurate or not ... and at this stage, it really doesn't matter. You don't get scared off a project you've already approved and produced because a few hundred (or thousand) people start making noise. If you back off a project just because people are making noise ....

Monday, November 03, 2003

South Africa: HIV vaccine being tested

HIV vaccine trials start in SA ... 55 volunteers participating.

This is part of a larger trial project in which 12,000 volunteers from around the world are participating. It is the only one [trial] that contains genetic material from the HIV strain most prevalent in South Africa, researchers said Monday.

As always with this disease, it's best not to get too excited about "advances" ... In February, VaxGen Inc reported that the world's most advanced human vaccine experiment - involving 5,000 volunteers - had failed.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Somaliland: Dec. deadline for illegal immigrants to leave

Remember the two British and one Italian aid workers who were killed in the self-declared state of Somaliland (see earlier post) ...

... in response to the killings, Somaliland authorities have declared that all 70,000 "illegal immigrants" -- most of them Somali -- have until December to leave the territory. The authorities have maintained that outsiders are responsible for the murders.
"Asked how Somaliland would identify who has a right to remain in the country, the president said simply that local people knew each other well, and could distinguish foreigners."

Burundi: govt signs deal with rebels

The government has signed a deal with the largest rebel group, the FDD ... rebels expected to join the government in three weeks. The FNL, a smaller rebel group, still refuses to play with the govt.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Turkey: 18 kids in 10 years

Woman about to give birth to triplets - for sixth time. Woman is 28 now ... had her first set at 18.