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Explosions in the Horn

Beth Dickinson agrees that the U.S. push to deploy (underarmed) UN peacekeepers to Somalia prematurely -- while at the same time advising that much-detested Ethiopian troops remain in the country and taking the provocative step of naming Eritrea a state sponsor of terror -- is, well, not a very well thought-out policy.
Finally, you can expect this to ratchet up tensions in the region. Eritrea is indeed rumored to supply the Somali Islamists with weapons. But Ethiopia and Eritrea have an ongoing border dispute that has left both sides exceedingly militarized. Acceding to Ethiopian wishes by putting Eritrea on the terror list is like playing Russia roulette. With all live rounds.
Another live wire connected to this powder keg, I might add, is that the Ethiopia-Eritrea border is not only "exceedingly militarized," but, thanks to the illegitimate manipulations of both sides, also utterly empty of the UN peacekeepers that once monitored the accord between the two countries. So what we have here is this: the total abandonment of peacekeepers in a situation that, had the host governments not overtly interfered with their presence, actually fulfilled the conditions prerequisite to a peacekeeping mission (i.e., a peace to keep), juxtaposed with desperate calls for blue helmets to deploy where no one wants to go and where peacekeepers are bound to (all too literally) be thrown under the bus.The only question, it seems, is where the explosion will hit first.(image from flickr user veo_ under a Creative Commons license)
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Zimbabwe Cholera Death Toll Nears 1,000

From the UN News Center
The death toll from Zimbabwe's worst-ever cholera outbreak is approaching 1,000, the United Nations reported today, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the country's leadership is not doing enough to address the dire situation in the Southern African nation."We continue to witness a failure of the leadership in Zimbabwe to address the political, economic, human rights and humanitarian crisis that is confronting the country and to do what is best for the people of Zimbabwe," Mr. Ban told a closed-door session of the Security Council.The UN said today the number of suspected cholera cases has risen to 18, 413 with 978 deaths. The outbreak is now affecting nine out of ten provinces in the country and spilling across borders into South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique.About half of all cases in Zimbabwe are in one suburb of the capital, Harare, and another 26 per cent in a town on the border with South Africa.
UK Foreign minister David Miliband addressed reporters outside the council yesterday and called the situation in Zimbabwe unbearable. "The disease that has the headlines is cholera," he said. "But the disease at the heart of misrule and corruption." Watch.
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UN Diplomats Missing in Niger

From the UN News Centre:
A United Nations envoy dealing with Niger, Canadian Robert Fowler, has gone missing while driving near the West African country's capital Niamey, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today. "We are doing all our best efforts about his whereabouts," he told reporters when asked about it at a news conference. "We are now mobilizing all necessary information networks on this." Earlier a spokesman said the UN had no indication Mr. Fowler, whose car was found on Sunday evening without its three passengers, had been taken hostage. Spokesman Farhan Haq added that the Niger authorities were looking into the matter. "We appreciate their efforts and are working with them," he said.
The BBC reports that (at least some) Tuareg rebels have claimed that they have in fact abducted Mr. Fowler, who is also a former Canadian ambassador to the UN. The disappearance occurred far from the rebels' usual base of operations, though, and UN and Niger officials do not even agree whether Mr. Fowler was in the country in his official capacity or on private business.We'll keep you updated.(For more on the Tuareg rebels, check out yesterday's interesting NYT article by Lydia Polgreen. And you can check out their "slick Web site" here.)UPDATE: It appears that Fowler -- "no stranger to conflict zones" -- was kidnapped when returning from a major Nigerien gold mine that is largely owned by a Canadian corporation. I've heard speculation from the ground that, as the mine is widely believed to rely on a shady system of bribing both government officials and rebels, it was no accident that Canadians were targeted. Another possible explanation is that the kidnapping was meant to embarrass Niger's regime just days before national holiday celebrations.
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Driving in Cyprus

Deborah Ann Dilley at Global Voices points to this article in the terrifically named and Hellenic-focused Homeboy Media News, on an attempt by the Cyprus government to ban GPS devices that use the Turkish, rather than the Greek, words for places on the Turkish-controlled part of the island.
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The devices come loaded with a basemap which employs Turkish names for towns, villages and streets in the Turkish occupied and military controlled north area of the Republic of Cyprus. For example, Kyrenia appears as "Girne" and Morphou as "Güzelyurt".
While this incident may seem trivial -- the point of a GPS is to provide directions, not a platform for arguing over place names, right? -- it speaks to the tremendous nationalistic, linguistic, and cultural power tied to the naming of places. And in a country with as long-running a political, military, and cultural stand-off as in Cyprus, the issue is rather sensitive.That, and it is probably easier for a Greek-speaking Cypriot to know where s/he is going if the names of streets and towns are in Greek.(image from flickr user khowaga1 under a Creative Commons license)
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A Solution for Congo?

The conflict in eastern Congo can be largely be considered a proxy war between the Congolese and Rwandan governments, fought over access to minerals and other precious resources found in eastern DRC. Former assistant secretary of state for Africa Herman Cohen has an idea on how the United States might bring peace to the region.
After his inauguration, Barack Obama should appoint a special negotiator who would propose a framework for an economic common market encompassing Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This agreement would allow the free movement of people and trade. It would give Rwandan businesses continued access to Congolese minerals and forests. The products made from those raw materials would continue to be exported through Rwanda. The big change would be the payment of royalties and taxes to the Congolese government. For most Rwandan businesses, those payments would be offset by increased revenues.In addition, the free movement of people would empty the refugee camps and would allow the densely populated countries of Rwanda and Burundi to supply needed labor to Congo and Tanzania.If such a common market could be negotiated, Rwanda and Congo would no longer need to finance and arm militias to wage war over the natural resources in Congo's eastern provinces. Without government backing, the fighting groups would either dissolve on their own or be integrated into legitimate armed forces.
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Which is Deadlier: The Terminator or a Lack of Political Will?

Writing at The Wonk Room, the Enough Project's Maggie Fick cites a recent massacre in the eastern Congolese town of Kiwanja as a particularly stark example of UN peacekeepers failing to protect endangered civilians in the region. Maggie's colleagues, Rebecca Feeley and Colin Thomas-Jensen, describe with horrifying accuracy in Enough's latest report just what happened at Kiwanja:
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On November 4 and 5, as people all over the world witnessed the historic victory of President-elect Barack Obama, Congolese civilians in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu, were running for their lives...What happened next is a chilling example of what war means for civilians in eastern Congo. the CNDP [rebels] ordered the town's population of roughly 30,000 to leave. However, as the population fled, many men were stopped at CNDP roadblocks and told to return to Kiwanja. Then on November 5, in what is perceived as retaliation for its losses, the CNDP allegedly sought out and killed civilians, particularly young men, it accused of being members of or providing support to the [pro-government] Mai Mai militias. It remains unclear as to how many civilians were executed by the CNDP or caught in the cross-fire, and the CNDP officially denies deliberate attacks against civilians. When confronted by the Enough Project, one CNDP major stated, "Killing civilians is not in our vision." At least 50 civilians were killed on November 4 and 5, and perhaps scores more.
Worse, the rebel leader -- and indicted war criminal -- known as "The Terminator" has been spotted on the scene.What happened in Kiwanja, unfortunately, was not an aberration, and the exacerbation of violence in the region can be traced largely back to the inconsistent and painfully ad hoc ways in which the international community has engaged (or failed to engage) with the problem over the past year. Maggie rightly diagnoses MONUC's struggles as pre-eminently symptoms of flagging international interest and political will, and Feeley and Thomas-Jensen's report provides a welcome critique of the "untenable" situation into which MONUC -- starved of resources, unsupported by serious political initiatives, and expected to perform an expanding role in ever worsening conditions -- has awkwardly been thrust.A "special negotiator" for the region would certainly help, but MONUC will need a lot more support than that to prevent more Kiwanjas.(image of child from Kiwanja camp, from flickr user Julien Harneis under a Creative Commons license)
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Anti-LRA Offensive Underway

In a rather spectacular joint military offensive, Ugandan, Congolese and Southern Sudanese armed forces raided a Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) base in Congo's Garamba National Forest last night. The BBC, Voice of America, and AFP have more.The LRA is a despicable rebel movement responsible for terrorizing the civilian population of northern Uganda for close to two decades. Mutilation and the use of child soldiers were its two signature characteristics. (Read this post about a person trying to make things right in Northern Uganda). In recent years, fighting largely subsided as the LRA became militarily weakened. A peace process, though, has been stymied multiple times as the LRA's brutal leader, Joseph Kony, refused to enter negotiations in good faith. In fact, the LRA has stepped up its offensive against children over the past few months, this time in neighboring Southern Sudan and DR Congo.This is one of those instances where intransigence can and should be met with military force. John Prendergast of the Enough Campaign agrees. In an emailed statement he says
"The extensive efforts to encourage Joseph Kony to sign a peace deal were unsuccessful.A military strike was actually long overdue, to build leverage for peace or even to apprehend Kony and execute the arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court. This operation is the first step in a more realistic strategy to end the LRA threat.
There is no word yet on the fate of Joseph Kony. I am hoping they nabbed him. He deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars.(image of Joseph Kony from flickr user Joram Jojo under a Creative Commons license)
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Why Defending Bad Guys in Court is a Good Thing

Kevin Jon Heller of Opinio Juris outs himself as a legal adviser to indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic.There is a lot of mutual admiration between the writers of UN Dispatch and Opinio Juris, a blog about international law written by scholars/practitioners. Kevin Jon Heller is the anchor of Opinio Juris and over the years, Kevin has provided the invaluable service of translating complicated issues of international law into digestible blog posts for laymen like myself.So, with all that in mind, let me say that I unequivocally support Kevin's decision to defend Karadzic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Every person, no matter how odious (and Karadzic is as bad as they get) deserves the best available legal representation. This is a fundamental human right. Period.Personally, I am glad that someone as sharp as Kevin is defending Karadzic. In 2003, I was an intern for the team of prosecutors prosecuting Slobodan Milosevic for his alleged war crimes in Bosnia. I saw, first hand, how Milosevic's lack of a coherent defense undermined the whole process of his trial.Karadzic, who is accused of genocide, is apparently accepting legal representation. This is a good thing.We want the case decided on the facts. I think the facts will show that Karadzic bears responsibility for war crimes in Bosnia, and that these crimes amounted to genocide. With someone like Kevin Jon Heller on his side, we can be assured that Karadzic mounted a serious defense. In the end this helps uphold the legitimacy of the tribunal, and in so doing serves the cause of international justice.I don't want to wish Kevin good luck, but I am glad that he has taken the case.UPDATE:Kevin responds in the comment section. "I deeply appreciate Mark's thoughts. I just want to clarify that Dr. Karadzic is representing himself, as is his right -- for now -- under the rules of the tribunal. My colleague Peter Robinson is his formally-designated legal associate, and I am serving as his legal adviser."
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New Push for Peacekeepers in Somalia?

A high-level meeting at the United Nations tomorrow with Secretary of State Rice and her foreign minister counterparts in the Security Council will focus on piracy off the coast of Somalia. Column Lynch reports that the Bush administration will use this forum to push for a new U.N. peacekeeping mission for Somalia.The Enough Project explains why this is a bad idea.
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This is a bad idea on a number of fronts, and there is zero indication that the administration or the U.N. is serious about putting in place a genuinely credible force. There is no thirst among member states to contribute troops in Somalia at the current moment, and whatever U.N. forces could be scraped together would surely become the main target of insurgent attacks. In short, the Administration is pushing the United Nations to authorize a force that is designed to fail. This policy is the worst of both worlds: U.N. forces would be unlikely to create political or military stability in Somalia while giving shabaab militias a new foreign occupying force to attack.
The bottom line is that simply passing the buck to U.N. peacekeeping may be a politically convenient thing to do, but unless member states are willing to contribute money, troops, and invest serious political capital in a credible peace process such a mission has little chance of success.