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Tuesday:  October 27, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Azawad (1)

Tuesday
Jul312012

An African Sahel War on the Horizen? (Perspective) 

(Video: Is the Mali conflict a threat to the region? 1 month ago/AJE)

By Dr Julia Leininger

In the Sahel a war is spreading. Within three months it has overtaken the towns in an area of northern Mali larger than France. 365,000 people have taken flight within the country and across its borders into neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. But it is not the only disaster to strike northern Mali. The people are not only fleeing the violence, a reminder of the Tuareg war of 1990 to 1992: they are also trying to escape drought and famine.

Little in the way of facts and developments is leaking out to the world's public. Journalists, foreigners and most western aid organizations have left. The situation is too dangerous. At best, information is being received by telephone from the border towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. Uninhabited desert areas are isolated from modern means of communication. And yet reports on the region paint a clear picture of good and evil. Images of defiled graves in Timbuktu show how Islamist fighters and Tuareg rebels are destroying a world cultural heritage dating back centuries.

(MAP: Mali regions-Azawad consists of Gao, Kidal & Timbuktu, as well as the NE half of Mopti, claimed by & internationally recognised as part of Mali/WIKIPEDIA)The inhabitants of Timbuktu appear to have no choice but to watch helplessly as the armed and masked men go about their heartless business. In Gao, a town on Mali's border with Niger, the 'Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa' (MUJAO) is said to have taken the whole population hostage, a circle of land mines ensuring that no one escapes.

It seems to be a clear-cut case: extremist Islamists and Tuareg rebels versus the Malian state. And yet it is not quite so simple. The threatening Islamist gestures of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), MUJAO and Ansar Dine conceal a mixture of hard economic interests, disputes between old-established clans and struggles for an independent Tuareg state to be known as Azawad.

Independence from the Malian state is demanded by the Tuareg Movement for the National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which began by allying itself with Ansar Dine to increase its strength. But the groups fell out over the question of religion: while the MNLA advocates a secular state, the other three are officially seeking to establish an Islamist regime in western Africa.

The Tuareg and the Islamists

Yet the lines separating the Tuareg and the Islamists seem clearer than they really are. Ansar Dine is led by the respected Tuareg Iyad Ag Ghali. He had hopes of becoming the leader of the MNLA. When they were dashed, he set up the Islamist Ansar Dine, but retained links with his Tuareg clan. He is alleged to have the backing of AQIM. AQIM emerged from an Algerian Salafist movement, is said to be composed mostly of Algerians and Mauritanians and operates across borders in the western Sahel.

(Video: Tuareg's claim independence, 3 months ago/AJE)

Behind the religiously charged scenes, all the groups that are ready to use violence - whether Tuareg, AQIM, MUJAO or Ansar Dine – have a number of things in common.  

First, they are linked to international smuggling: only in an ungoverned area like the Sahel can the lucrative movement of drugs from Latin America to Europe flourish and other smuggled goods find their way to consumers in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Second, their violence has no support in Mali's tolerant and consensus-oriented society. Nor does the introduction of a Wahabi and Salafist form of Islam find any approval in the Sufi tradition of the Malian faithful.

Third, the groups with a propensity for violence are benefiting from the collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi regime of Libya. Innumerable Tuareg who fought in the ranks of the Libyan army have returned, some of them heavily armed, to their desert homes in Mali, Niger and Chad. Trained as soldiers, they are easily recruited for the struggle in northern Mali. Their combat strength and fire power are alarming, even though the actual numbers involved remain unknown. Finally, the fighters in northern Mali are taking advantage of the power vacuum that has prevailed in the capital of the country since a military coup in March 2012.

(Video: Islamists claim victory over Tuareg's, 1 month ago/AFP)

Beside the pictures of war and famine, the coup that ousted the democratically elected President, Amadou Toumani Touré, fades into insignificance. Yet the absence of a workable government is currently preventing effective action against famine, poverty and war in the North of the country. In this former model democracy, supporters of the old regime face sections of the military and young Malians pressing for radical political change. They recall the demands that the old political elite addressed to representatives of the authoritarian regime in the early stages of Malian democracy in 1991.

The state was to ensure the unity of the nation and put an end to the ominous Tuareg rebellion (1991-1995). The old elite also stood for an end to corrupt politics and the enrichment of individuals at the expense of the Malian people. Now the civil and military opposition are also accusing the government led by Touré, who has fled to Senegal, and the constitutional transitional government of being incapable of restoring peace in the North and ensuring sustainable development for all Malians.

Popular Military Coup

In this respect many observers are surprised to find that the military coup has proved very popular with the urban population. Nor has an agreement mediated by Burkina Faso and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) done much to improve the wrangling over the leadership of the country. ECOWAS, for example, has called on the Malian transitional government to have formed a government of national unity by July 31, 2012 (which hasn't happened) and to take action to end the conflict in the North.

(Video: Meanwhile, hunger prevails/FAO)

International support is needed if a further escalation of violence in the Sahel region is to be prevented. In Africa itself the African Union, ECOWAS and Mali’s neighbors Algeria and Chad are discussing the form that engagement might take. ECOWAS has taken Algeria's place as the main negotiating power in conflicts with the Tuareg and AQIM.

The problem with ECOWAS's new role is, however, that Algeria and Chad, being non-members, are excluded. A split in political positions was also to be seen at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa mid-July. While ECOWAS is preparing to intervene with 3,000 troops, Algeria is pressing for a political dialogue with the warring parties. Chad would take military action, but not under ECOWAS's aegis.

Sustained management of the conflict in northern Mali and of the regular catastrophic droughts in the Sahel is, however, achievable only with Algeria and Chad. The integration of these countries can succeed only if Mali, the African Union and the United Nations Security Council adopt clear positions. In the Security Council France has already declared its support for military intervention, while the USA is exercising restraint in view of the forthcoming presidential election. As the Malian military is also opposed to intervention, Mali's transitional government remains incapable of taking action for the time being.

In the meantime, they expect a government of national unity to be formed in Mali and an ECOWAS mission and the UN Secretary-General to present their reports on the situation in Mali. It is to be hoped that in this way a more accurate picture of the facts and developments in the war and the emergency in northern Mali will emerge. It is only on a sound basis of this kind that the advantages and risks associated with a military intervention can be assessed.

-- Dr Julia Leininger works at German Development Institute (DIE) Department 'Governance, Statehood, Security'. She is the regional coordinator for Sub-Sahara Africa. This analysis appeared on July 16 as OpEd in DIE. [IDN-InDepthNews]