Thursday, July 7, 2011

Questions for Sudan amidst South succession

UNITED NATIONS - The news reports concerning Africa's newest nation, South Sudan, seem to change with the wind. But one thing is for sure, South Sudan gains its official independence July 9 and eyes will be on the capital Juba that day, particularly to see if Northern Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir shows up.

President Al-Bashir has a warrant against him from the International Criminal Court, issued in 2009 on charges of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for alleged atrocities in the Western region of Darfur. He has categorically denied the charges, saying the ICC is a tool of neo-colonialism. Some are saying the ICC charges were a bargaining chip, used as leverage by Western nations to marginalize President Al-Bashir and to weaken his opposition to secession by the South.

President Al-Bashir Photo: MGN Online
A referendum vote on secession was a big part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended two decades of civil war that began in 1983, between Northern Sudan and Southern Sudan.

The Sudan Tribune reported June 28 that an official invite had been extended to President Al-Bashir despite threats from Western leaders such as President Barack Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron that they would not participate in Juba if President Al-Bashir was present.

On June 29, the Associated Press reported officials in South Sudan want the U.S. to remove economic sanctions against the North in place since 1997, when then-President Bill Clinton said Sudan supported terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden.

AP revealed the vice president of South Sudan spent three weeks in the U.S. recently in discussions with the Obama administration and ambassadors representing the United Nations Security Council, attempting to get them to realize U.S. sanctions against the Northern regime in Khartoum serve no real purpose today. Since the peace agreement, North and South have shared oil revenues equally, with the lion's-share of the 500,000 barrels a day coming from the South, according to the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan, a group of organizations who say they want to ensure equitable distribution of Sudan's oil wealth.

But, according to the finance minister in Khartoum, the result of the South's secession will be a 36.5 percent drop in revenue. A recent press briefing by a senior U.S. State Department official alluded to the need for agreement between North and South. “They are so intertwined economically that they can hurt each other and hurt themselves very badly, whether it's oil, new currencies, trade or border issues,” said the State Dept.

The official then poured salt on the wound, saying the only path for Khartoum was to find peace in Darfur to get back into the good graces of the international community because the North has “major economical adjustments to make.”

Observers say Washington has opposed Northern Sudan receiving support from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as a state sponsor of terrorism. News sources in Washington say the administration is preparing to remove Sudan from its blacklist of nation's sponsoring terrorism, but that is contingent on the Al-Bashir government pulling of its army from the contested border region Abyei.

On June 20, the North and South signed an interim agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the African Union is headquartered, to demilitarize Abyei.

The UN Security Council June 27 passed a unanimous resolution that establishes a 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeeping force known as UNISFA (United Nations Interim Force for Abyei). The peacekeeping force would monitor redeployment of the Sudan Armed Forces and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army from the Abyei region, roughly the size of Connecticut.

The resolution charges the interim force with facilitating delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of relief workers. UNISFA troops would also provide security for the region's oil infrastructure.

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said her government “welcomed the agreement,” but said nothing about lifting sanctions against Khartoum.

Swedish journalists face 'terrorism' accusation in Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA, July 6, 2011 (AFP) - Two Swedish journalists detained in Ethiopia will be tried for "terrorist activities" after they were arrested last week in the country's restive Ogaden region, an official said Wednesday.

Freelance journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were arrested on July 1 by Ethiopian police in the eastern city of Jijiga where they had gone on an assignment.

The journalists entered the region through Somalia with members of the rebel faction Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), opposed to the Ethiopian government.

"They will be tried according to the national law ... for the terrorist activities they were planning to undertake," Dina Mufti, a foreign affairs ministry spokesman, told AFP.

The exact charges have not been announced and the pair have not yet appeared in court.

Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal said the two were travelling with ONLF rebels when fighting broke out with Ethiopian troops in which 15 rebels were killed and six people injured including the journalists.

He explained that under Ethiopian anti-terrorism law, they may be held for up to four months with no charges laid. Under regular law, detainees must be charged within 72 hours of arrest.

Sweden's ambassador to Ethiopia visited the journalists on Monday and a group of Swedish diplomats will travel to Jijiga this week to "work with the authorities to find out what the charges are and, if taken to court, make sure they have legal representation," said Cecilia Julin, head of communications atSweden's foreign ministry.

The ONLF has been fighting for the independence of the remote southeastern Ogaden since its formation in 1984, claiming the region has been marginalised by the Addis Ababa regime.

The barren Ogaden region has long been extremely poor, but the discovery of gas and oil has brought new hopes of wealth as well as new causes of conflict.