Russia Today bemusedly reports something on which “Russia and Georgia have found themselves in rare agreement” — a UN report on the security status in the disputed region of Abkhazia. The report recommends such outlandish steps as securing a ceasefire zone and calling for the UN’s 129 unarmed military observers to monitor peace and stability.
My somewhat insouciant conclusion: if both Russia and Georgia think a UN report on something as contentious as Abkhazia is biased, well, then it pretty much must be fair.
Reports are emerging that Ethiopian troops have incurred (again) on Ethiopian territory. If the rumors are true — and I don’t doubt that it’s hard to
know for certain in this ambiguous border area — then it goes without saying that an(other) Ethiopian invasion of Somalia would be even worse for the country’s prospects than a premature UN peacekeeping mission (which, fortunately, still does not seem popular in the Security Council; even the countries that are now willing to actually provide some troops are urging restraint).
I see a number of possibilities here. Ethiopian troops might not actually be in Somalia — or, more likely, at least not invading. Ethiopia, naturally, denies the reports. Under this scenario, either Somali observers would have to have been over-eager to spot Ethiopian soldiers (possible, but a stretch), or the Somali state media has some interest in raising the possibility of Ethiopian invasion. This would be curious, because while practically any Somali political group could attempt to stoke its popularity by calling out the much-disliked Ethiopian military, this kind of scaremongering tactic seems to befit the al-Shabab militants more than it does the Somali government. Not even the presence of foreign peacekeepers would galvanize the extremist al-Shabab cause than a renewed war with Ethiopia.
More probably, however, some Ethiopian troops have flitted across the border into Somalia. Remember — the peace deal under which the Ethiopians withdrew from their two-year occupation stipulated that they could return if they perceived a relevant threat. With al-Shabab forces recently advancing further in Somalia, the point at which Ethiopia deems it necessary to launch another full-scale invasion might be nearing (even an African Union official said he “would not be overly surprised” if this were to happen).
This reading — that Ethiopian movement is in response to a growing al-Shabab threat — probably makes the most sense, but we shouldn’t forget another player in the region: Eritrea. If Eritrea is indeed funneling arms to al-Shabab, Ethiopia could be acting out of agitation with its neighbor’s continued interference. And in this light, the Somali state media attention could be a not-so-subtle message to Eritrea: quit it, or a bigger fish might get involved.
That, or it’s just big news. Check out this Al-Jazeera video for more good questions, interesting analysis, and heated debate from all sides.
I don’t want to be seen as reflexively comparing everything to Rwanda, but Sri Lanka’s situation bears some similarities as well: an extremist (and terrorist) group of violent separatists, squashed by an aggressive military offensive, creating a dangerous glut of displaced persons and the need to deftly manage potentially volatile post-conflict ethnic politics. And now, Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, seems to be taking a page from Paul Kagame’s book in simply declaring that there is no such thing as ethnicity in Sri Lanka. And his seemingly sincere words of reconciliation — spoken, not insignificantly, in the Tamil language — notwithstanding, my legitimate concerns of ethnicity-based reprisals were not exactly assuaged by this comment by Rajapaksa:
“There are no minority communities in this country. There are only two communities, one that loves this country and another that does not,” he said.
I don’t think that kind of confrontational rhetoric is exactly the way to win the hearts and minds of moderate Tamils still interested in some sort of autonomy. The dangerous ambiguity and Manichean articulation of patriotism in this statement should give pause to anyone worried about the fragile state of post-LTTE society in Sri Lanka.
(image from flickr user indi.ca under a Creative Commons license)
The Pakistani military operation in the Taliban stronghold of the mountainous Swat Valley is creating massive displacement that is destabilizing and immensely confusing, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The situation also has the potential to balloon into the gravest refugee crisis since one of the most destabilizing events of the past 15 years.
Almost 1.5 million people have registered for assistance since fighting erupted three weeks ago, the UNHCR said, bringing the total number of war displaced in North West Frontier province to more than 2 million, not including 300,000 the provincial government believes have not registered. “It’s been a long time since there has been a displacement this big,” the UNHCR’s spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva, trying to recall the last time so many people had been uprooted so quickly. “It could go back to Rwanda.” [emphasis mine]
This is a staggering number of people being displaced in a chaotic, dangerous part of the world. The only reason that the crisis has not reached disaster level is because Pakistani families in the area, impressively united in their opposition to the Taliban, have taken over 80% of the refugees in to their homes. But even the most hospitable of families can only host 85 people in their home for so long…
(image from UNHCR)
The Sri Lankan government announced that the 25 year civil war there is effectively over and that Velupillai Prabhakaran, the founder and leader of the LTTE is dead. This final victory was the inevitable consequence of a military operation that began in earnest in January and has claimed the lives of approximately 7,000 civilians. Al Jazeera English captures some dramatic footage of the final moments of the fighting.
The immediate concern for the international community has to be with the plight of Tamil civilians now interned at detention facilities run by the Sri Lankan military. From all available accounts, the conditions inside these facilities is deplorable. International humanitarian organizations are barred from entry, and civilians are prevented from leaving. The EU is calling for an inquiry into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. The United States and the rest of the world should join the cause.
I learned about the apparent end of the Sri Lankan military’s long-running war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in this Reuters report. I also learned that, coinciding with the military victory, the Sri Lankan stock market had lept to a seven-month high. This is interesting information, to be sure, and has been part of an odd trend that I have noticed, in which reports of the Sri Lankan military campaign also consistently detail the ascent of the country’s stock market. But what this particular Reuters article did not tell me was that, despite the “end” of the war, there are still hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians languishing in camps, displaced by fighting, abused by LTTE civilian-shield tactics, and now at the crux of the problems facing the new, allegedly post-LTTE Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan government likes to portray its offensives as “rescuing” these civilians. No doubt many did not feel safe in an area full of LTTE guerillas willing to sacrifice the very lives they purported to protect. But, in addition to the “normal” privations of displaced persons that these civilians are now facing, a couple disturbing factors make their plight all the more dangerous.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.