News & Current Affairs

November 12, 2008

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

Congolese government soldiers pass displaced people as they return from the front near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

Congolese troops have faced fresh allegations of abuses

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made a fresh plea for 3,000 more peacekeepers to be sent to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In New York, Mr Ban also called for a ceasefire so aid workers could urgently help “at least 100,000 refugees” cut off in rebel-held areas near Goma.

A 17,000-strong UN force in Congo has been unable to stop the fighting or halt the rebel advance.

The UN Security Council is considering the call for reinforcements.

The UN head of UN peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy, said there were currently only 10 UN soldiers for every 10,000 inhabitants in eastern DR Congo.

Rebel administration

He said this was not enough to protect the population from violence perpetrated by rebel groups and the Congolese army.

A displaced woman next to a UN armoured vehicle near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

The UN presence in DR Congo is its largest mission in the world

Recent fighting between government and rebel troops has displaced a quarter of a million people in the strife-torn region around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

Earlier, the rebel Congolese general, Laurent Nkunda, said he had formed an alternative administration in the area of eastern Congo that he controls.

In what observers say is his latest direct challenge to the central government, 12 ministers will take responsibility for a range of functions including police and security.

The move appears to be pure propaganda.

‘Looting and raping’

Our correspondent says it may annoy the government but is likely to be insignificant unless the rebels follow it up with further military action.

Displaced people tap into a supply of water aid nearby the Nyiragongo volcano in Kibati

Meanwhile government troops have faced fresh accusations that they have been ransacking villages and raping civilians.

UN spokesman Lt-Col Jean Paul Dietrich said looting began around Kanyabayonga, 100 km (60 miles) north of Goma, on Monday afternoon and continued through the night.

He said UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army had been trying to intervene.

Rebel leader Gen Nkunda claims to be fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels, who fled to DR Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

On Monday, he threatened to take over the whole country if President Joseph Kabila’s government continued in its refusal to negotiate with him.

FORCES AROUND GOMA
CNDP: Gen Nkunda’s Tutsi rebels – 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus – 6,000-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia – 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers – 1,000 in Goma, 6,000 in North Kivu (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army – 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts

But a Congolese official said the government was still unwilling to talk to the rebel leader and accused him of war crimes.

The UN has accused both sides of war crimes during the latest violence.

Mr Kabila was elected president in 2006 in polls that were backed by the UN, and which international observers generally declared to be fair.

As in the four-year war that began in DR Congo in 1998, the recent fighting has threatened to draw in neighbouring countries.

Map of eastern DR Congo


What is your reaction to the situation in Congo? Can this region ever find peace? Tell us your thoughts

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September 7, 2008

Protests greet Turkish president’s ‘football diplomacy’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:30 am

Protests greet Turkish president’s ‘football diplomacy’

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Thousands of Armenians lined the streets of the capital Yerevan Saturday, protesting the Turkish president who drove past in the first ever visit by a Turkish leader. Many held placards demanding justice for massacres that took place nearly 100 years ago.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul boards a plane at Ankara before departing on an historic visit to Armenia.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul boards a plane at Ankara before departing on an historic visit to Armenia.

Abdullah Gul arrived in Armenia to watch a Turkey vs. Armenia football World Cup qualifier game with President Serge Sarkisian that many hope will help the two countries overcome decades of antagonism rooted in Ottoman-era massacres of Armenians.

Gul is the first Turkish leader to set foot in Armenia since the ex-Soviet nation declared independence in 1991. The two neighbors have no diplomatic ties and their border has been closed since 1993.

Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Ties have also suffered from Turkey’s opposition to Armenia‘s occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally.

As Gul left the airport, the presidential motorcade drove along streets lined with thousands of people holding up placards, mostly in English and Armenian, that read: “We want justice,” “Turk admit your guilt,” and “1915 never again.”

Others held up names of places in Turkey from which their ancestors were forced to leave as the Ottoman Empire uprooted Armenian communities between 1915 and 1922.

Little progress is expected on the genocide issue or on Nagorno-Karabakh when Gul meets Sarkisian for talks just before the game — which Turkey is favored to win.

Still, the visit is a sign of a diplomatic thaw.

“I hope that (the visit) will help lift the obstacles that stand in the way of rapprochement between the two peoples and contribute to regional friendship and peace,” Gul said before his departure.

Gul’s decision to accept Armenia’s invitation to the match is linked to Turkey’s desire to carve out a regional peacemaker role amid tensions sparked by Russia’s invasion of neighboring Georgia.

Turkey, a NATO member, has cause for alarm about how Russia’s recognition of the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia might inspire its own separatist Kurds, or provoke Armenia to boost support for separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the wake of the Georgia conflict, Turkey proposed a regional grouping for stability in the Caucasus that would include Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

“About a month ago, we all saw how conflicts that have remained unresolved threatened regional stability and peace in the Caucasus,” Gul said in reference to the Georgia crisis.

Armenia is the last of Turkey‘s neighbors with whom Ankara has failed to mend ties since the end of the Cold War. Turkey has gradually improved relations with old foes such as Greece, Bulgaria and Syria.

Improved ties with Armenia are likely to help lift strains on Turkey’s relations with other countries that have or plan to formally recognize the massacres as genocide.

In October, a measure that would have declared the Armenian deaths as genocide in the U.S. Congress was stopped after President George W. Bush’s administration warned relations with strategic ally Turkey would be damaged.

On the plane, Gul paid tribute to the Armenian president.

“President Sarkisian was brave in taking the opportunity of inviting me to this game,” he said.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 during a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a Muslim ally of Ankara, in order to pressure Yerevan into ending the conflict. he move has hurt the economy of tiny, landlocked Armenia.

Armenia’s bitter ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey have resulted in the tiny country being excluded from strategic energy pipelines that connect Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia.

Armenians, supported by numerous scholars, claim an organized genocide was carried out in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and are pushing for the killings to be recognized as among history’s worst atrocities.

Turkey contends the 1.5 million death toll is wildly inflated. It also says the Armenians were killed or displaced in civil unrest during the chaos that surrounded the empire’s collapse.

Turkey has called for the establishment of a committee of scholars to study the WWI events in a bid to improve ties, but Armenia has declined to consider this until relations are forged.

August 21, 2008

Uncovering truth about Georgia conflict

Uncovering truth about Georgia conflict

Courtesy BBC NEWS

By Stephanie Holmes
BBC News

As accusations of indiscriminate violence, murder and genocide are hurled between Russia and Georgia over the South Ossetia conflict, human rights investigators are painstakingly trying to establish the facts on the ground.

A Georgian woman stands near a damaged apartment block in Gori, Georgia

Residential buildings were hit during the conflict

Researchers suggest both sides may have violated the codes of war – using violence that was either disproportionate or indiscriminate, or both – claims that the International Criminal Court is currently investigating.

Russian prosecutors have announced they are opening criminal cases into the deaths of 133 civilians who they say were killed by Georgian forces.

Initially, however, Russia suggested more than 1,500 people had died in the conflict.

Last week, Georgia filed a lawsuit against Russia at the International Court of Justice, based at The Hague, alleging the country had attempted to ethnically cleanse Georgians from the breakaway regions.

Uncovering the facts – even of very recent history – becomes a battle in itself when people are displaced and desperate.

“Gathering comprehensive data about the dead from civilians is a time-consuming task,” Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, told BBC News.

“We have to cross-check data and check that people are not misidentified or miscounted.”

Shifting status

Neighbors who take up arms during a conflict, for example, shift status, becoming combatants rather than civilians, which can confuse calculations of civilian death tolls.

Russian tanks in South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

Russian forces have been accused of using cluster bombs

“We have to make sure there is no double-counting – if a body is moved, we have to be careful not to count it twice – maybe it is counted once in the village itself and then it could be counted again in the city morgue,” Ms Denber said.

“To get really accurate figures you would really have to go to every single village.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – which has just gained access to South Ossetia – says it hopes to uncover the truth by remaining neutral and only revealing what its told – by survivors, eyewitnesses and relatives – to relevant authorities.

“The work of the ICRC is totally confidential,” spokeswoman Jessica Barry explained from the Georgian capital, Tblisi.

“We do take allegations of arrests, of people missing or reported dead. We can also offer our services to the authorities for the transfer of mortal remains.

“All the work we do is gathering confidential information which we share with the authorities with the aim of finding out the location of loved ones for the civilian population.”

War of words

The ferocity of the conflict on the ground was echoed in the way both Russian and Georgian officials conducted a media war, making ever graver accusations against each other, competing for television airtime and giving spiralling civilian death tolls.

A woman walks past propaganda poster depicting Russian aggression

The war has been played out both in the media and on the ground

All of which muddies the waters when trying to establish if human rights and international laws have been violated.

“There has been a lot of controversy about the Russian figures,” says HRW’s Rachel Denber.

“When that figure came out – of 1,500 dead – it wasn’t very helpful, it didn’t provide any sourcing or methodology, there were no details about how the figure was calculated. We certainly can’t confirm it.”

“The problem here is that when Russia puts out a figure like that it does two things – it distracts attention from where there are violations and from the real scale of what is happening.”

The organization puts the civilian death toll in the dozens, rather than the hundreds.

Responsibility to protect

As well as multiple rocket launchers mounted on four-wheel drives, known as Grads, campaigners say cluster munitions – which can contain hundreds of smaller bomblets – were used during the conflict. Both these weapons are intrinsically indiscriminate, they say.

Disproportionate attacks are prohibited […] if there is likely to be civilian damage excessive in relation to the expected military gain, you don’t fire
Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch

“If you have a military objective then the Grad rocket is not a targeted weapon, civilians are going to get hit and that is exactly what happened, and happened on a significant scale. The proximity was such that it was indiscriminate,” Ms Denber said.

She cited a reported case in which Russian forces dropped bombs on a convoy of passenger cars fleeing Georgia’s Gori district, and another in which Georgian soldiers pursued armed South Ossetian militias using tanks, driving and firing through a residential neighborhood.

“The rule is that disproportionate attacks are prohibited. In other words, if you have your eye on a military target, and there is likely to be civilian damage excessive in relation to the expected military gain, you don’t fire,” Ms Denber said.

Although the fighting has now stopped, violations continue, she says, with Russian forces failing to protect civilians in areas of Georgia and South Ossetia that they control – a key part of the international law governing behavior during war.

“We have numerous stories of Ossetian forces roving around ethnic Georgian villages – running around, looting homes, torching them,” she said.

“We are looking into other accounts of violence, of people being robbed at gunpoint. These are areas that Russian forces have control over – it is their responsibility to protect them.”

August 13, 2008

Georgia and Russia agree on truce

Georgia and Russia agree on truce

Russian military convoy in Abkhazia, 12/08

Russian troops have pulled back through Abkhazia

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed an outline plan with Russia and Georgia to try to resolve their crisis.

A key element calls for all forces to return to the areas where they were before fighting broke out last week.

EU foreign ministers in Brussels are discussing the plan at an emergency meeting on the crisis.

Some 100,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by the conflict, which has created huge tensions in international relations.

Fighting in the South Ossetia region does now seem to have ended.

On Tuesday, Russia announced its military activity in the area was completed and witnesses saw troops pulling out.

However on Wednesday, journalists and eyewitnesses reported seeing Russian tanks patrolling the streets of Gori, the nearest major Georgian town to the South Ossetian border.

Russia has held all the cards in this conflict and looks set to end up with both a diplomatic and a military victory.

It has shown its power within the region and the weakness of the West, which has been unable and unwilling to come to Georgia’s aid with anything other than words of support, our correspondent adds.

Fiery rhetoric

Despite the diplomacy and apparent withdrawal, rhetoric on both sides remained fiery and analysts were predicting a long road to peace.

On Wednesday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of violating the ceasefire with troop movements around the country, while asserting that the ceasefire on the Georgian side was always in force.

FIVE-POINT PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops return to pre-conflict positions

“They went through our towns and they are rampaging and they are also shooting,” he said at a news conference in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

He also said he had been getting reports of large-scale violations of human rights by Russian forces: “What we are seeing is classic Balkan-type and WWII-type ethnic cleansing and purification campaigns,” he said, speaking of a Russian “rampage” through Georgian-controlled villages in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia.

A BBC correspondent in Tbilisi says there have been reports of extensive looting and kidnappings by gunmen around the town of Gori.

Shortly after the Georgian president spoke, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the actions of the Georgian leadership in South Ossetia.

“Georgia – of course, not Georgia, but the Georgian leadership – gave an order which led to an act of genocide, which resulted in war crimes, ethnic cleansing. And this, of course, cannot go unanswered.”

Russian troop reinforcements would be withdrawn from South Ossetia, depending on the extent to which Georgian troops did the same, he added. Mr Lavrov also said that Russian peacekeepers would remain in South Ossetia.

Aid agencies on the ground say they have not come across any evidence of human rights violations.

“It is clear that both sides are exaggerating, and that figures are inflated,” Giorgi Gogia of Human Rights Watch told the BBC News website from Tbilisi.

EU meeting

France – which currently holds the EU presidency – wants Wednesday’s meeting to endorse its peace initiative before it is submitted to the UN Security Council.

The ministers are to consider sending peacekeepers to secure a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia, and protect humanitarian supplies.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said Russian troops in Georgia should withdraw to pre-7 August positions and criticised the country’s “19th-Century way” of doing politics.

Mr Sarkozy, in his current role as EU president, held talks with President Medvedev in Moscow for most of Tuesday before flying to Tbilisi, where his arrival was greeted by emotional displays.

He held news conferences with both Mr Medvedev and Mr Saakashvili – with all three leaders saying they had agreed in principle to a five-point plan.

A sixth point in the plan, about holding international discussions on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, had been deleted with the agreement of Mr Medvedev, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Saakashvili said.

“The territorial integrity and belonging of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgia can never be put under doubt,” the Georgian leader said.

On Wednesday, the Russian army said 74 of its soldiers were killed, 171 were wounded and 19 were missing, the AFP news agency reports.

In Abkhazia, Georgia said its troops had withdrawn from the only area of the breakaway province they still occupied following a Russian offensive there, the Kodori Gorge.

The self-styled president of Abkhazia said it was in control of the disputed upper reaches of the gorge and that its forces had pushed Georgian troops out of the area a day earlier.

National mourning

The US has meanwhile said it is cancelling an annual joint naval exercise with Russia, scheduled for the end of this week in the Sea of Japan.

A US official told news agencies there was no way Washington could “proceed with this joint exercise at this time”.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned that Russia was “frankly… doing great damage” to its prospects for integrating into international organisations.

In a reference to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, she said Moscow’s behaviour belonged to “another time”.

“We are not in 1968 and the message has been very clear to Russia that it cannot operate that way,” she told the US channel ABC News.

Making Wednesday a day of national mourning in Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev accused Georgia of mounting a “genocide of the South Ossetian people”.

In his decree on national mourning, Mr Medvedev, who on Tuesday called Georgian troops “thugs” [Russian: otmorozki], did not give figures for civilian casualties in South Ossetia, but said they were “numerous”.

Russia moved in forcefully, sending troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway province. Georgian towns away from the two regions were also bombed.

Fighting flared last Thursday night when Georgia sent its army to regain control of South Ossetia – a region nominally part of Georgia, but with de facto independence and where a majority of people hold Russian passports.

Map of region


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July 30, 2008

Radovan Karadzic extradited to The Hague

Radovan Karadzic extradited to The Hague

BELGRADE, Serbia – Authorities extradited ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to the Netherlands to face genocide charges before the U.N. war crimes tribunal on Wednesday, hours after a violence-tinged protest by thousands of his supporters in downtown Belgrade .

U.N. spokesman Liam McDowall confirmed Karadzic was transferred to the U.N. detention center near The Hague, where he will stand trial.

A jet with Serbian government markings landed at the Rotterdam airport Wednesday morning, AP Television News footage showed. The plane with Serbian government markings taxied into a hangar, out of view of reporters and television cameras before anyone disembarked.

Less than an hour later, a helicopter landed behind the high wall of the detention center while another helicopter hovered overhead. Two black minivans drove through the prison gates moments earlier.

The Serbian government said in a statement issued early Wednesday that its justice ministry had issued a decree that allowed his handover to the U.N. court, despite a violence-tinged protest hours before by thousands of his supporters.

Karadzic is accused by the tribunal of masterminding the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II. He is also charged with spearheading the three-year siege of Sarajevo that left 10,000 people dead.

Karadzic spent nearly 13 years on the run before being arrested last week in Belgrade, where he lived under the assumed identity of a health guru — sporting a long white beard and hair, and large glasses.

He is expected to be summoned before a judge within a day or two and will be asked to plea to each of the 11 charges he faces, including genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide. He may postpone his plea for up to 30 days.

Karadzic’s lawyer, Svetozar Vujacic, said his client will not enter a plea but will instead ask for the full 30-day period.

Vujacic also acknowledged Wednesday that he has never filed an appeal against Karadzic’s extradition. Vujacic had claimed he sent the appeal by registered mail from Bosnia before a midnight Friday deadline.

The days-long uncertainty over the appeal helped stall Karadzic’s handover, Vujacic said.

Despite the war crimes allegations, Karadjic is still revered by many as a wartime hero for helping to create the Bosnian Serb mini-state.

Hours earlier, a demonstration against Karadzic’s extradition turned violent on its fringes as stone-throwing extremists clashed with police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

While most of the 15,000 demonstrators sang nationalist songs and waved posters of their “Serb Hero,” a few hundred hard-liners broke away from the gathering and threw rocks and burning flares at police in downtown Belgrade.

Later, police fired tear gas at large groups of protesters while pushing them from the square after the rally. Police blocked off several neighborhoods, stopping traffic and the passage of the demonstrators.

Belgrade’s emergency clinic reported 46 people injured, including 25 policemen and 21 civilians. Most were lightly injured, doctors said, adding that only one civilian and one policeman were hospitalized.

Streets looked like battlefields, with smashed shop windows and overturned garbage cans. Ambulance sirens blared through downtown. Police Chief Milorad Veljovic said the area was “under control” by midnight.

Riot police had taken up positions across the capital and heavily armed anti-terrorist troops guarded the U.S. Embassy as busloads of ultranationalists arrived from all over Serbia and Bosnia for the anti-government rally dubbed “Freedom for Serbia.”

Many protesters carried banners and wore badges with Karadzic’s name and picture. Some chanted slogans against President Boris Tadic and called for his death.

“Thank you for showing that Serbia is not dead, although it is being killed by Boris Tadic,” said Aleksandar Vucic, leader of the Serbian Radical Party, which organized the rally. “Thieves and bandits are ruling Serbia.”

“We will fight for Serbia and Serbia will be free,” he added, setting off thunderous applause and chants of “Uprising! Uprising!”

Still, police estimated the turnout at only 15,000 people — far fewer than expected. The last major nationalist rally, in February after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, drew 150,000 people and led to an attack on the U.S. Embassy amid a violent looting spree.

Tuesday’s protest was seen a test for Tadic’s government, which is much more pro-Western than its predecessor. The president warned the right-wing extremists to remain peaceful.

“Everyone has the right to demonstrate, but they should know that law and order will be respected,” Tadic said.

The U.S. Embassy had predicted that up to 100,000 protesters could show up and advised Americans to avoid downtown Belgrade. The embassy was heavily guarded during the rally by special troops armed with machine guns wearing masks.

After February’s mass rally, the U.S. Embassy was partly burned and protesters went on a looting spree, smashing shops and McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s was targeted again Tuesday night, and three people were arrested for smashing windows at one of its hamburger shops, police said.

Serbia’s new, pro-Western government hopes Karadzic’s arrest will strengthen the country’s bid for membership in the European Union. Serbia had been accused of not searching for war crimes fugitives sought by the U.N. tribunal.

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