The Prince of Hyperbole

Qatar's Emir Hamid al-Thani interviewed in Spiegel:
Al-Bashir Arrest Warrant: Qatari Emir Warns of 'Chaos' in Sudan: "The emir of Qatar has warned that the international warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir could destablize the entire region. 'If anything happened to Omar al-Bashir and Sudan ended up in chaos, the whole of Africa will sink into chaos,' Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said in an interview with SPIEGEL to be published on Monday."
Incidentally the emir also says he wouldn't let the US attack Iran from the base on his territory, and that the global financial crisis is an "opportunity that will not be repeated for the next 20 years." It certainly is if you're full of gas, ya brince. Happy shopping spree.
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ABC: Three Israeli attacks on Sudan, not just one

Exclusive: Three Israeli Airstrikes Against Sudan - Political Radar:
"ABC News' Luis Martinez reports: Israel has conducted three military strikes against targets in Sudan since January in an effort to prevent what were believed to be Iranian weapons shipments from reaching Hamas in the Gaza Strip, ABC News has learned. Earlier this week, was the first to report that Israel had conducted an airstrike in January against a convoy carrying weapons north into Egypt to be smuggled into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. But actually, since January, Israel has conducted a total of three military strikes against smugglers transporting what were believed to be Iranian weapons shipments  destined  for Gaza, a U.S. official told ABC News.  The information matches recent reports from Sudanese officials of two airstrikes in the desert of eastern Sudan and the sinking of a ship in the Red Sea carrying weapons."
Questions that come to mind: Saudi and Egyptian radars on the Red Sea must have seen planes, how long have they known? What kind of collaboration is there on this? What logistical support from the US?
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WSJ: Egypt addressed arms smuggling issue with Bashir

U.S., Egypt Push Sudan About Arms -
"Both the U.S. and Egyptian governments have in recent weeks raised with Sudan's government their concerns that the African country has become a major facilitator for Gaza-bound weapons being smuggled into Egypt, according to officials briefed on the diplomatic exchanges. Washington sent a formal complaint to Khartoum demanding Sudan's government 'cease smuggling arms into Egypt,' according to a U.S. official. The official wouldn't provide an exact date. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak raised a similar complaint with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during the African strongman's visit to Cairo this week, according to a diplomat briefed on the meeting. The Egyptians are particularly concerned that Sudan is becoming an arms partner of Iran and aiding Tehran in moving weapons to the militant group Hamas, which is based in the Gaza Strip."
So that means Egypt acknowledges arms traffic through its territory from Sudan?
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State Dept. non-answers on Sudan strike

From the State Dept.Daily Press Briefing - March 26:
"QUESTION: On Sudan. If you could just please comment on reports about an alleged weapons convoy that was destroyed in Sudan, with weapons supposedly headed for Gaza. I believe the attack happened in January. Was the U.S. aware of this attack? Reports are saying that it was either carried out by the U.S., others are saying that it may have been carried out by Israel. MR. DUGUID: I’ve seen no reports that suggested U.S. involvement in this particular case. I’m aware of the media reports. I don’t have any information on that for you. It would be a defense issue, in any event. But I am unaware that there is any suggestion of U.S. involvement. QUESTION: Sudan’s – I believe it was the transport minister – has acknowledged that his country in the past has sent weapons to Hamas but says that is no longer the case. Is there a U.S. concern that Sudan is still providing weapons assistance to – through Gaza or to Hamas? MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any information for you on that. We are concerned that weapons are being sent to Hamas, that smuggling has been a problem in the Gaza Strip, and that is one of the things that everyone is working to resolve, particularly the Egyptians are working to resolve, in order to help bring peace back to the Gaza. QUESTION: Can I just clarify something? MR. DUGUID: Yes. QUESTION: Your remarks were a little unclear. Are you saying the U.S. did not have any involvement in that at all, just flat out? MR. DUGUID: I am unaware of any suggestion that the U.S. did. QUESTION: But there is a suggestion. There’s a Sudanese report saying that. MR. DUGUID: I am unaware of the report. I haven’t seen it and I don’t have any information on that. QUESTION: But Kirit isn’t asking whether you’re aware of any suggestions. He’s asking whether there was any involvement, to your knowledge. MR. DUGUID: But I am – and what I am telling you is that because I was unaware that there was any suggestion, I have not been informed that there was any sort of U.S. involvement. I will be happy to refer you to the Pentagon if this is something that would involve military action, but nothing I have seen indicates any U.S. involvement in this incident at all. QUESTION: And just on the same point then, do you have any indication of Israeli involvement? MR. DUGUID: I would refer you to the Israelis about their involvement in any particular military action."
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Things to remember about the Sudan air strike

One big question about the Sudan air strike story is what exactly happened: we have an attack on a convoy of trucks, but no clear explanation of what was on those trucks, what kind of aircraft carried the attack, the nature of the victims/smugglers or even certainty on who carried out the attack, although it seems more likely that it was Israel rather than the US (or perhaps Israel with US logistical support.) These are the basics, which are still hazy. But if we accept that an attack took place, and that it was conducted by Israel, we still need to think carefully about the implications of this story prima facie. One important thing is that the story appears to validate accounts by the like of Elliott Abrams that Hamas is arming through the Rafah tunnels with weapons smuggled in from the Horn of Africa, through Sudan, and through Egypt where the trucks would presumably go along the Red Sea coast and enter Sinai. Remember that the idea of smuggling through Sudan and Egypt was first advanced last February by Abrams, as Jim Lobe noted. Love argued in a follow-up:
The more one looks into it, the more Elliott Abrams’ rendition of how Iran allegedly smuggles weapons to Hamas in Gaza via Somalia and Eritrea just gets weirder and weirder. Remember: he was Bush’s top Middle East adviser from December, 2002, until January 20 and, as such, had access to the most sensitive information available to the U.S. intelligence community. Yet he seems to be lending himself to an extraordinarily crude Israeli disinformation campaign in which Somalia, which is some 1500 miles from Gaza, is depicted as a key trans-shipment point for the alleged supply of weapons from Iran to Hamas.
Yet among some this is fast becoming gospel. The Cable reports:
"A Washington think tank expert on the Middle East said, ‘The Israelis have been complaining about this supply route for a long time. This gives credence to Israeli reports that Iran is trans-shipping weapons through Sudan and Egypt to Hamas. It would be impolitic for the Israelis to do this in Egypt. This is something the Egyptians have worried about: what happens if there is some sort of attack on Israel from Egyptian soil: what kind of action would Israel take?’ He speculated that the Israeli warplanes took off from the southern Israeli air base at Ovda, flew through the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba, down the Red Sea in between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and across and over into Sudanese air space. They reportedly struck the targeted convoy northwest of the city of Port Sudan, killing some 39 members of the 17-vehicle convoy. Responding to the media reports Thursday, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn’t try to dispel the impression that Israel had carried out the operation. ‘We operate everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure -- in close places, in places further away, everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure, we hit them and we hit them in a way that increases deterrence,' Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz cited him."
Following this Somalia-Sudan-Egypt route, they would encounter multiple checkpoints and be going through governorates controlled directly by the Egyptian military. Needless to say, the idea that Iran is supplying Hamas long-range rockets and other sophisticated equipment through Egypt (which has bad relations with Iran and Hamas) suggests that either: 1. These trucks, like other types of human or drug traffic coming from Sudan, are not being caught and there is a severe security hole in Egypt's traffic-control policies; 2. The trucks are getting through by corruption and bribery of officials they encounter, or benefit from the protection of someone up high, although these people may think the trucks contain something else entirely, like drugs; 3. The Egyptian regime, or some officials within it, are somehow complicit with the trafficking and arming of Hamas. All of these, and especially the latter, are pretty hard to swallow. Which takes us back to a key issue: what was really on those trucks? There is plenty of weapons smuggling taking place in Sudan, for sure, but can a major operation like this have taken place overland going through Egypt, which is obviously concerned about both arms-dealing on its territory and arming Hamas (after all recently they've stopped millions of dollars, and hundred of sheep, from being smuggled!) Does this appear more logical than, say, smuggling by sea as has been recently alleged over the Cyprus ship? What if the trucks that were destroyed are not in fact destined for Gaza, and the attack itself is part of a disinformation campaign aimed at sending a message to Iran? Or that at least the importance of the trucks and their content has been exaggerated? Too much of this story has not been verified. It may very well all turn out to make sense, but right now I would treat it with great caution until we have more information.
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Reuters confirms Sudan air strike

Reuters is now independently confirming the Sudan air strike story:
Aircraft destroyed suspected Sudan arms convoy - officials | Reuters: "KHARTOUM, March 26 (Reuters) - Unidentified aircraft attacked a convoy of suspected arms smugglers as it drove through Sudan toward Egypt in January, killing almost everyone in the convoy, two senior Sudanese politicians said on Thursday. The politicians, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Reuters the strike took place in a remote area in east Sudan but did not say who carried it out. Media reports in Egypt and the United States have suggested U.S. or Israeli aircraft may have carried out the strike. Sudan's foreign minister Deng Alor told reporters in Cairo on Wednesday he had no information on any attack. Any public confirmation of a foreign attack would have a major impact in Sudan, where relations with the West are already tense following the International Criminal Court's decision this month to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of Darfur war crimes. Egyptian independent newspaper Al-Shorouk quoted 'knowledgeable Sudanese sources' this week as saying aircraft from the United States were involved in the strike, which it said killed 39 people. The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum on Thursday declined to comment. Sudan remains on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, but the State Department has said that Sudan is cooperating with efforts against militant groups. U.S.-based CBS News, however, reported on its website on Wednesday that its security correspondent had been briefed that Israeli aircraft had carried out an attack in eastern Sudan, targeting an arms delivery to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza. A senior Israeli defence official on Thursday described the report as nonsense. "
Previously discussed here and here. Update: Haaretz provides analysis, taking as assumption that it was an Israeli strike. Watch out for this issue being raised in a few hours at the State Dept. Daily Press Briefing - although I suspect we'll hear more about this from off-the-record sources in the next few days.
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CBS says Israel, not US, behind Sudan strike

More on that alleged air strike in Sudan targeting weapons shipments to Gaza: - The Sudan Tribune said yesterday it was the US, but today that it's Israel based on a report by the American TV network CBS. - Haaretz carries the CBS story and says it's part of the MOU on arms smuggling inked between the US and Israel at the end of Operation Cast Lead. The Haaretz article adds:
Meanwhile, in May, an international conference is scheduled to take place in Ottawa, the third of its kind since the end of Operation Cast Lead, which will discuss how to prevent arms smuggling from Iran to the Gaza Strip. In addition to host Canada, Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Denmark, the U.S. and Israel will also take part. Immediately after the conference a "war game" is scheduled to take place in Washington, with the participation of security officials and diplomats from the countries involved. The "war game" will practice a scenario of foiling arms smuggling from Iran to the Gaza Strip. The most recent conference took place in London a week ago and the countries cooperating in blocking the arms smuggling from Iran formulated a joint plan of operations. The plan includes the signing of a series of bilateral agreements with countries situated along the path of the smugglers, as well as countries whose commercial fleets carry cargo from Iran elsewhere.
One interesting thing in the Sudan Tribune article is that it said something about the planes coming from Djibouti. That would put the French on the suspect list too! At least it now appears that an air strike did happen (although casualty reports are around 40, not 300) - and confirms the reports from intelligence circles that the smuggling route for Hamas' weapons is indeed from or through Sudan, through Egypt (a whole other story: how do they keep under the radar, especially in Sinai?), possibly originating from the horn of Africa.
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al-Shorouk's story on secret Sudan raids

The relatively new Egyptian newspaper al-Shorouk has been making some news yesterday, reporting that the US air force had been engaged in a series of attacks against convoys of trucks carrying arms in Eastern Sudan. The destination of the trucks, apparently, was Gaza via Sinai. Needless to say this is a huge story, not only because it would appear to confirm allegations that Hamas is obtaining Iranian-purchased arms via Sudan (and probably originally Djibouti) and that they are being smuggled through Sinai and the Rafah tunnels. It followed up on the story today alleging that US Air Force raids had claimed 300 lives. The reason we've never heard about any of this, apparently, is that the US is not advertising the operations, the al-Bashir regime in Khartoum has declared a media blackout, and Egypt is respecting the blackout but keeping a close eye since this involves major arms traffic (it's an old route, once used by the French poet Rimbaud) going through its territory. Today al-Shorouk said that an Egyptian intelligence agent visited the area to verify the issue. I've been talking about this with a few people who closely follow the news yesterday and we're all rather skeptical at this point. Some of the Egyptian press (not necessarily al-Shorouk though, as far as I know) has a bad reputation for pulling things out of thin air or basing them on unreliable disinformation websites like Debka. This would be a huge, world scoop if it turns out to be true, involving so many of the region's hottest issues: arms trade, illegal US operations, Hamas' supply line, Iran, Sudan and its recently indicted president. The story also assumes that a convoy of trucks carrying weapons (presumably the Grad rockets Hamas is launching against Israel) are able to make their way through Egypt, which seems impossible without the cooperation of the government or serious wasta up high. (That being said, drugs use the same route, and small arms did come from Sudan during the Islamist insurrection of the 1980s and 1990s.) So basically, either al-Shorouk got it wrong, or it has revealed the first secret military actions of the Obama administration to control the arms smuggling to Gaza issue - as the Bush administration had promised Israel in the MOU it signed in mid-January. I'm a skeptic, but I'll be watching how this develops.
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The teddy bear scandal

Needless to say, this is complete bull and an obvious and pathetic attempt by the barbaric Sudanese government to get another negotiating card as it heads into yet another round of talks on Darfur and the South. Memo to the Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh al-Azhar and the Muslim Brotherhood: now's the time to speak up against this kind of politicization of Islam that embarrasses us all.

Despite her colleagues insisting it was an innocent mistake, Sudan's deputy justice minister confirmed yesterday that a charge had been laid. "The investigation has been completed and the Briton Gillian was charged under article 125 of the penal code," said Abdel Daim Zamrawi, speaking to the official Sudan news agency in Khartoum. "The punishment for this is jail, a fine and lashes. It is up to the judge to determine the sentence."
Some analysts saw ulterior motives. There are tensions between Britain and Sudan over the conflict in Darfur. In a Guardian interview this month, President Omar al-Bashir expressed anger at the threat of UK sanctions against Sudan if peace talks failed.
Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a prominent peace activist in Khartoum, said: "This was an opportunity for the government to distract people from the main issues in Sudan: the problems between the authorities in the north and south of the country, the conflict in Darfur and the question of letting in United Nations peacekeepers."
There were reports yesterday of pamphlets being circulated in Khartoum calling on people to protest against the teacher after Friday prayers. But many people seemed to take her side. Muhammad Kamal Aldeen Muhammad, a 20-year-old student, said it was clear that she had not intended to insult the prophet. "All she was doing was trying to help her students. The government is looking at this purely from an Islamic perspective."
[From British teacher charged with insulting Islam over teddy bear's name | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited]
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Candlelight vigil to mark Sudanese refugees massacre

Activists are holding a candle light vigil, Friday 29 December, 6pm, in front of the UNHCR office in Mohandessin, to mark the first the anniversary of the massacre of Sudanese refugees on the hands of the Egyptian Interior Ministry's Central Security Forces.
وق�ة بالشموع �ي ذكري مذب�ة اللاجئين السودانيين
Blogger Nora Younis witnessed the atrocity last year, and wrote her testimony here...
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Good and bad media news from Sudan

The recent beheading of a newspaper editor in Sudan is horrible news -- but really what do you expect from a regime that has perpetuated one of Africa's longest and bloodiest civil war and continues to engage in ethnic cleansing in Darfur?
Masked gunmen bundled Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed, editor-in-chief of the private daily Al-Wifaq, into a car outside his home in east Khartoum late Tuesday. Police found his severed head next to his body today in the south of the capital. His hands and feet were bound, according to a CPJ source and news reports. Mohammed Taha had previously angered Islamists by running an article about the Prophet Muhammad. He had also written critically about the political opposition and armed groups in Sudan’s western Darfur region, according to press reports. No group has claimed responsibility for the killing, Reuters reported. Mohammed Taha, 50, was an Islamist and former member of the National Islamic Front. But in May last year, he was detained for several days, his paper was closed for three months, and fined 8 million Sudanese pounds (US$3,200), after he offended the country’s powerful Islamists by republishing an article from the Internet that questioned the ancestry of the Prophet Muhammad. Demonstrators outside the courthouse demanded he be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Sudan is religiously conservative and penalizes blasphemy and insulting Islam with the death penalty.
A crackdown on the press seems to have intensified over the past year, although Sudan had until then a lively and diverse press (even if it was mostly not free.) On the bright side, Chicago Tribune correspondent Paul Salopek, who had been charged with espionage, has been released thanks to the efforts of New Mexico's governor:
EL FASHER, Sudan, Sept. 8 -- Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek said from a Sudanese prison Friday night that the government would soon release him and two Chadian colleagues after a 34-day confinement on charges of espionage and producing "false news." President Omar Hassan al-Bashir agreed to release Salopek after meeting with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. The three men are expected to be freed Saturday, Richardson's office said in a statement. Salopek, a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, was arrested Aug. 6 while working on a story for National Geographic magazine about the Sahel region that runs along the southern edge of the Sahara.
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Sudan charges Paul Salopek with espionage

Just after those Fox News journalists were released in Gaza, I heard that twice Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Salopek has been charged with espionage in Sudan. I had the opportunity to meet Paul once, around the time Iraq was invaded. He was an extremely humble and smart journalist (a rare combination in this profession) and we had a long talk about sub-Saharan Africa, where he reported from for years, and our common love for Ryszard Kapucinski's books. At the time he was coming back from a sabbatical running his family's cattle farm in Mexico. I realize that this isn't exactly the worse thing happening in Sudan -- hopefully this will be one area where US policy will be a force for good in the region -- but let's hope he and the people arrested with him (two Chadians, who are going to have a tough time considering the current tension between Chad and Sudan) will make it out of this mess. AP story after the jump.
Chicago Tribune Reporter Charged With Espionage in Sudanese Court Associated Press August 26, 2006 5:15 p.m. CHICAGO -- A Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune was charged in a Sudanese court Saturday with espionage and two other criminal counts, the paper said. The 40-minute court hearing involving Paul Salopek, 44, took place three weeks after he and two Chadian nationals were arrested by pro-government forces in the war-torn region of Darfur, the Tribune reported Saturday on its Web site. He was working on a freelance assignment for National Geographic magazine when he was arrested. "He is not a spy," Chicago Tribune Editor and Senior Vice President Ann Marie Lipinski said in a statement. "Our fervent hope is that the authorities in Sudan will recognize his innocence and quickly allow Paul to return home to his wife, Linda, and to his colleagues." Chris Johns, National Geographic's editor in chief, said Mr. Salopek was in Sudan writing an article on a sub-Saharan African region known as the Sahel. "He had no agenda other than to fairly and accurately report on the region," Mr. Johns said. Mr. Salopek has been in telephone contact with National Geographic and Tribune editors, who have "worked through political and diplomatic channels in the U.S. and overseas to secure their release," the paper said. "We are deeply worried about Paul and his well-being, and appeal to the government of Sudan to return him safely home," said Ms. Lipinski, who called Mr. Salopek "one of the most accomplished and admired journalists of our time." Mr. Salopek was arrested with his interpreter and driver on Aug. 6, the Tribune said. All three were charged Saturday with espionage, passing information illegally and writing "false news." Mr. Salopek was on a scheduled leave of absence from the Tribune when he was detained. A judge in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state in western Sudan, granted a defense motion for a continuance, delaying the start of the trial until Sept. 10. In 2001, Mr. Salopek won a Pulitzer for international reporting for his work covering Africa. In 1998, he won a Pulitzer for explanatory reporting for his coverage of the Human Genome Diversity Project. Copyright © 2006 Associated Press
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The cost of wanting to be white

A crave for skin-lightening cosmetics in Sudan is causing a rise of women with skin problems:
Millions of women throughout Africa use creams and soaps containing chemicals, like hydroquinone, to lighten the color of their skin. But the creams can cause long-term damage. Dermatologists say prolonged use of hydroquinone and mercury-based products, also found in some creams, destroys the skin's protective outer layer. Eventually the skin starts to burn, itch or blister, becomes extremely sensitive to sunlight and then turns even blacker than before. Prolonged use can damage the nerves or even lead to kidney failure or skin cancer and so prove fatal. "It's a very bad problem here. It sometimes kills the patient ... It's bad, bad news," said a doctor at a Khartoum hospital. He said the number of women coming to the dermatology department with problems caused by skin-whitening treatments had grown to at least one in four of all dermatology patients.
This attitude about skin color is common everywhere from Morocco to India, as far as I can tell. Probably beyond.
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Slideshow: Sudanese refugees in Cairo

Sudanese refugess may not be having the best times of their lives in Cairo, encountering state and society's racism on occasions, still some activities are organized to help relief work. Here is another slideshow by Nasser of a Sudanese refugees' summer school in Ramsis, Cairo, pix taken on 29/06/2006
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Somalia's new leader

The NYT profiles Hassan Dahir Aweys, the new head of Somalia's Islamic Courts movement. Aweys comes across as a more hardline leader than the Islamic Courts' previous spokesman, Sharif Ahmed, and is on US terrorist lists. One of the emerging stories about Somalia's new leaders -- other than the risk of "Talibanizing" a country that, like Afghanistan, is already is dire straits -- is that it could cause further instability in in Ethiopia and Eritrea, notably over illegal arms trade:
In fact, some analysts said that the appointment of Mr. Aweys might prove a good thing by bringing his hard-line views into the open. Sharif Ahmed, the movement's former leader, considered more of a moderate in his views toward secular government, remains head of a newly formed executive committee that will handle day-to-day affairs, officials said. "Engagement is still the answer," said Mr. Raffaelli, who has urged his government and others following developments in Somalia not to respond precipitously to the elevation of Mr. Aweys. "To say a so-called bad guy is in charge will only serve to reinforce the extremists. This movement continues to have moderate voices." Mr. Aweys's backers are known to be well armed, and his ascendance is seen as connected to a regional struggle in the Horn of Africa. A May 2006 report by a United Nations panel of experts studying violations to the arms embargo in Somalia said Mr. Aweys's militant group still had operations in the country and had received numerous arms shipments from Eritrea, which analysts say is trying to destabilize its avowed enemy, Ethiopia. Mr. Aweys has clashed in the past with Ethiopia. His militia was soundly defeated by the Ethiopian Army in the early 1990's. Ethiopian officials have made it clear in recent months that they do not intend to allow any government that threatens stability in their country to emerge in Somalia.
It'd be interesting to see where the arms come from -- I would guess Egypt or Israel. Also, PINR discusses the Arab League's role in the ceasefire recently signed between the Islamic Courts and the warlords:
The fluid and unstable situation was transformed by a bold diplomatic initiative of the Arab League (A.L.) led by Sudan, which succeeded in bringing the I.C.U. and the T.F.G. together in talks in Khartoum that resulted in a cease-fire agreement on June 22 in which the two sides granted recognition to one another and promised to meet again on July 17 to begin work on a power-sharing deal. Much to its displeasure, the A.L. had been sidelined in early external efforts to adapt to the I.C.U.'s ascent. In particular, the Washington-led Contact Group (C.G.), composed of European states and Tanzania, had not even granted the A.L. the observer status that it had given to the United Nations and the African Union (A.U.). Arranging an agreement between the I.C.U. and T.F.G. represented a diplomatic coup for the A.L. and for Khartoum, which assumed the role of honest brokers, crowding out the other external players, particularly Washington and Addis Ababa. The June 22 agreement does not portend an immediate stabilization of Somalia's chaotic politics. On June 25, the I.C.U. reorganized itself into a more institutionalized governing structure -- the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) -- and named as its leader hard-line cleric Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys who had previously repeatedly rejected the legitimacy of the T.F.G. and announced his aim of making Somalia an Islamic state governed by Shari'a law. The I.C.C. declared its intention of honoring the June 22 agreement, but the victory of Aweys' fundamentalist faction over the moderates within the I.C.U. threw into doubt the possibility of successful negotiations. At the present moment, the essential feature of Somalia's political situation is fluidity. The cease-fire deal is a problematic attempt to dam up the political tides and canalize them into regularized flows, but its success is far from certain; the players are not yet positioned in a stable power configuration because they have yet to test themselves against each other and, more importantly, because they have not yet figured out how to put their interests into action through operative policies that forge firm alliances. The players are not sure what they want in terms of what they believe they actually can get, so a general climate of mutual uncertainty, often laced with severe distrust, makes it impossible for them to determine what the others will do, creating a tentativeness punctuated by bold initiatives -- the prescription for fluidity.
The article goes on to describe the central role of Sudan, which currently has the presidency of the Arab League, to sealing the deal. Two things stand out about this: that the League and the Sudanese government can actually contribute positively to anything at all, and that it was all done in the name of countering foreign influence. As PINR argues, this "Khartoum process" is now the only game in town for a diplomatic resolution to the Somali crisis. Who would have thought...
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Report on killing of Sudanese protesters released

The Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Center at the AUC has released its report on what happened during three-month sit-in of Sudanese refugees in Cairo's Mohandiseen district, which ended bloodily in late December. The Egyptian government is condemned for the violence, and the irresponsibility of some of the protest leaders (who nurtured unrealistic expectations of resettlement among protesters) is revealed, but UNHCR's handling of the situation really looks bad. Excerpts follow. Although everyone (deservedly) gets a share of the blame for how the sit-in ended, I think UNHCR comes out the worse in this:
UNHCR’s mandate is the protection of refugees and asylum seekers. From the beginning of the sit-in, however, the agency adopted a hostile and confrontational attitude toward the protesting asylum seekers, refugees, and closed files. It issued statements that accused the protesters of everything from rumor-mongering to outright deception. It suggested that the demonstrators were not of concern to UNHCR, given that they included closed files and persons the agency claimed were economic migrants. UNHCR also implied that the protesters were responsible for keeping other, non-Sudanese asylum seekers away from its offices although the decision to “close” the office was made by UNHCR itself. The agency’s claims drove a wedge between the various communities of concern and exacerbated the lack of communication between UNHCR and asylum seekers and refugees. Its attitude served to confirm the protesters’ grievances and frustrations. Throughout the sit-in, UNHCR exercised tight control over its public posture vis-à-vis the protest. It refused to allow its staff to go the Moustafa Mahmoud Park and interact with the refugees directly until December 17. The agency leadership insisted on meeting and negotiating only with the leaders of the demonstration, even as it was denouncing them as “self-appointed” and accusing them of creating false expectations to lure people to the park. In early statements, UNHCR placed itself squarely on the side of the government of Egypt, citing mutual concerns and interests. It repeatedly asked authorities to remove the protesters, albeit “peacefully,” without demanding any substantive assurances that the intervention would indeed be peaceful. UNHCR staff members were present as bystanders during the evening of December 29, but no one from the agency was officially sent to intervene, despite requests by protesters and increasing evidence over many hours that the protest could end violently. It is unclear what UNHCR could have done at that late stage. The die was cast, and all the agency could do was watch. UNHCR took a number of grave risks concerning the safety of the population in the park. It must accept accountability for a number of failures and miscalculations that, at least indirectly, led to the tragic results.
Although of course the Egyptian government deserves condemnation for the brutal way in which it dispersed protesters, the report also underlines how the government was pushed to act by UNHCR:
The government showed remarkable restraint over the three months of the sit?in, but came under increasing pressure from UNHCR, the local media, and residents to remove the protesters. Under the Egyptian Emergency Law, the gathering was manifestly illegal, and it is to the government’s credit that such a long period of time was given for the peaceful resolution of the issues between the demonstrators and UNHCR. Given the failure of negotiations, however, it was inevitable that the Egyptian authorities eventually intervene. During the removal, Egyptian security forces did not offer protesters the choice to disperse peacefully, which might have averted the violence that occurred. Instead, a decision was apparently made at the highest levels to remove the demonstrators to unidentified detention centers. The authorities gave no clear or consistent information to protesters about the “camps” they were being transported to and refused to grant any requests for guarantees. In fact, misinformation about where the demonstrators would be moved meant that negotiations were compromised from the start: no guarantees concerning the “camps” could be offered because they were actually detention centers. This was very di fficult for the protesters to accept, and consequently, neither they nor security officials had an avenue by which to avoid the confrontation. Egyptian security used excessive and disproportionate force in removing the protesters, leaving no alternatives or avenues for escape. No allowances were made for the safety of the park’s occupants, especially vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and the sick. Security forces entered the park from all directions at once, leaving nowhere for people to flee. They used indiscriminate violence, and there was no immediate medical attention available to injured protesters. Inadequate training in crowd control methods does not adequately explain the high number of casualties and injuries that resulted. This is clearly a matter for Egyptian and international human rights organizations to pursue.
It's hardly surprising that the Egyptian police is brutal -- you just need to see the way it handles Egyptians, let alone sub-Saharan Africans. But UNHCR should have handled this way, way better.
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Strategic victimhood in Sudan

A very unusual op-ed in the NYT slams Darfur activists and the media for not giving a better picture of the real situation in Darfur and Sudan conflict in general. This is not a topic I know much about -- although I've known for a while, from very-well informed diplomatic sources, that the situation is a lot more complicated than it appears -- but the arguments presented are thought-provoking, not only about Sudan but about the media's role in presenting conflicts:
Darfur was never the simplistic morality tale purveyed by the news media and humanitarian organizations. The region's blacks, painted as long-suffering victims, actually were the oppressors less than two decades ago — denying Arab nomads access to grazing areas essential to their survival. Violence was initiated not by Arab militias but by the black rebels who in 2003 attacked police and military installations. The most extreme Islamists are not in the government but in a faction of the rebels sponsored by former Deputy Prime Minister Hassan al-Turabi, after he was expelled from the regime. Cease-fires often have been violated first by the rebels, not the government, which has pledged repeatedly to admit international peacekeepers if the rebels halt their attacks. This reality has been obscured by Sudan's criminally irresponsible reaction to the rebellion: arming militias to carry out a scorched-earth counterinsurgency. These Arab forces, who already resented the black tribes over past land disputes and recent attacks, were only too happy to rape and pillage any village suspected of supporting the rebels. In light of janjaweed atrocities, it is natural to romanticize the other side as freedom fighters. But Darfur's rebels do not deserve that title. They took up arms not to stop genocide — which erupted only after they rebelled — but to gain tribal domination.
You really have to read the whole (short) thing to get the point, especially as all of this has been very much under-reported.
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Enemy at the Gates

I've been following this for a while, but had gone to sleep while the rebels poured out of Darfur and made it all the way across Chad to the capital N'Djamena. This is huge:
Heavy fighting has subsided in Chad's capital after breaking out at dawn, between government troops and rebels trying to overthrow the president. A BBC correspondent in N'Djamena said gunfire and shelling began at dawn and lasted for some two hours. Speaking on the radio, President Idriss Deby said government forces had destroyed a small rebel column that attempted to enter the capital. He said that government troops were in "complete control" of N'Djamena. Only sporadic gunfire could be heard around the capital following his announcement.
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