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Wednesday: April 2, 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 International Crisis Group (4)

Thursday
Apr192012

Preventing Full-Scale War between Sudan and South Sudan (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video AlJazeera)

Brussels - Sudan and South Sudan are teetering on the brink of all-out war from which neither would benefit. Increasingly angry rhetoric, support for each other's rebels, poor command and control, and brinkmanship, risk escalating limited and contained conflict into a full-scale confrontation between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA).

Diplomatic pressure to cease hostilities and return to negotiations must be exerted on both governments by the region and the United Nations (UN) Security Council, as well as such partners as the US, China and key Gulf states. The immediate priority needs to be a ceasefire and security deal between North and South, as well as in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. But equally important, for the longer-term, are solutions to unresolved post-referendum issues, unimplemented provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (that ended the civil war in 2005), and domestic reforms in both countries.

(PHOTO: Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir/Wikipedia) The most recent fighting between the SAF and SPLA arose amid a murky mix of armed actors and interests in the contested borderlands, including a variety of northern opposition forces and proxy militias. The exact cause is vigorously disputed, but the flare-up is the predictable outcome of negative trends: conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile; lack of agreement on transitional economic and financial arrangements between the two countries; Khartoum's seizure of Southern oil; South Sudan's decision to stop oil production; and sporadic cross-border attacks and bombings.

It occurs amid mutual recriminations: of Khartoum arming Southern rebels and the SPLA providing material support to its former brothers-in-arms now fighting for the Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as political support to members of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) seeking to topple President Bashir.

In part to prevent the resupply of the SPLM-N, the SAF has also bombed refugee camps and towns in South Sudan and recently attacked Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. Complicating matters are divergent views within the capitals and hardliners seemingly working to undermine negotiated settlements, as demonstrated by the scuttling of the much anticipated North-South presidential summit on 3 April.

The end result is that, following renewed clashes, the SPLA has taken control of the disputed Heglig oil fields and stopped about half of Sudan's 115,000 barrels-per-day oil output. This has dealt a further blow to Khartoum's economy, already reeling from separation and the additional fall in revenue that resulted from Juba's decision in January to stop exporting oil through Sudan's pipelines. The beleaguered Khartoum regime, which is under pressure on political, economic, and multiple military fronts and increasingly concerned about the prospects of an Arab Spring uprising, cannot afford to sustain such losses.

RISKY STRATEGIES 

A game of "chicken" appears to be underway, in which both sides embark on risky strategies in the hope that the other will blink first. If neither does, the outcome will be disastrous for both.

(PHOTO: South Sudan President Salva Kiir/Wikipedia)Some suspect that President Kiir's tactics are intended to provoke a popular uprising in the North -- that he is gambling the attack on Heglig may be the proverbial straw that breaks the back of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). However, little thought seems to have been given to the consequences if President Bashir is removed from power. Unlike Egypt, Sudan lacks a single, legitimate institution that could manage a peaceful transfer of power.

Bashir, who became president following a 1989 military coup, and his close associates have fragmented the security services and rely on personal loyalty and increasingly expensive patronage to retain control. He and security hardliners continue to pursue divide and rule tactics to prevent the emergence of a unified counterweight to NCP dominance of the centre. Bashir's fall could trigger a wild scramble by multiple armed actors for control of Khartoum and other parts of the country that would be hard, if not impossible, to restrain.

Kiir and the SPLM are also dangerously exposed. With South Sudan's decision to stop oil production, 98 per cent of its governmental revenue has disappeared. Reserves and other stop-gap measures can only tide Juba over for some months, after which the SPLM would have to impose draconian budget cuts, including on the SPLA, which is a fractious force that includes many former foes. Khartoum has a long history of supporting its enemy's enemies. At relatively little cost it could continue to support Juba's opponents and compound domestic instability for a government already plagued by weak institutions, limited reach and increasingly untenable financial circumstances.

Khartoum and Juba need to exercise restraint and consider carefully the consequences of their actions. The decision to abandon negotiations and resort to increasingly bellicose posturing can only hurt both. Each government, with its own domestic challenges, may reap short-term political benefit from externalizing its problems, but there is no military solution, and both sides would suffer from all-out war. The destruction of oil infrastructure would have long-term economic consequences. Stability is necessary in both the North and the South for either to develop and prosper and, in turn, enjoy long-term stability.

(PHOTO: South Sudanese refugees at a camp in Unity State/UNHCR)DECADES OF MISTRUST

Decades of mutual distrust prevent either side from making good-will gestures and pursuing win-win negotiations. In such a febrile environment, the UN Security Council must reassert itself to preserve international peace and security. It should mobilize all possible leverage to bring the parties back to negotiations and agreement on the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), as well as encourage implementation of the border monitoring tasks outlined for the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) in Resolution 2024 (2011), particularly near Heglig and Jau.

The parties and UNISFA must operationalize the JBVMM to investigate and verify claims either side is undermining peace or violating existing and future agreements, including for the necessary withdrawal of SPLA forces from the Heglig area and cessation of SAF bombing of South Sudanese territory. The monitoring mechanism needs to be flexible with high mobility. Lessons should be drawn from previous monitoring missions in Sudan, during which building confidence among Sudanese parties and supporting mutually-agreed arrangements were at least as important as verifying and reporting on legal obligations.

UNIMPLEMENTED CPA PROVISIONS, POST REFERENDUM ISSUES

Fundamentally, the current conflict is rooted in the CPA's unimplemented provisions, such as the status of Abyei, the cancelled popular consultations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and disputed borders, as well as unresolved issues stemming from separation. While they have acknowledged their interdependence, the two countries must still reach detailed agreements on many divisive issues, such as the joint exploitation of oil, transitional financial arrangements, citizenship, security and trade. The time for posturing and brinkmanship is past; they must return to the table promptly and sustain the focus and commitment necessary to hammer out and implement deals. Otherwise, if these critical issues are allowed to fester, they will undermine any ceasefire or limited peace deal.

Absent the democratic transformation long overdue in Khartoum, Sudan remains unstable as power, resources and development continue to be overly concentrated in the centre. A "new South" has emerged in Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile that - along with Darfur, the East and other marginal areas - chafes under NCP domination. Because of historic ties, and despite South Sudan's separation, the North's centre-periphery wars continue to draw in Juba.

The call by the North's opposition parties for a national dialogue in the context of a wider constitutional review conference suggests a way forward. Such a conference should be seen as a more extensive national consultative process, to accommodate the stymied popular consultations in the transitional areas and the Darfur people-to-people dialogue.

Those latter two processes, if run separately, will not lead to political stability and lasting peace in the whole country.

A NEW UNIFIED INTERNATIONAL STRATEGY

With developments increasingly appearing to be spiraling out of control, a new strategy is needed to avert an even bigger crisis. As Crisis Group noted in its September 26, 2011 Conflict Alert, any solution must be comprehensive. The international community must focus not only on North-South issues or the situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, but also require the NCP to agree to an immediate, inclusive, national reform process. The first priority needs to be for a security deal that stops both the fighting between the North and the South, as well as Khartoum and the SRF, but for this to hold it must also be clearly linked to binding commitments to discuss and implement political reforms.

(PHOTO: Taken March 28, 2012 shows destruction in Sudan's southern oil centre of Heglig after South Sudanese troops & government forces clashed along the border, sparking international alarm/AFP)The UN - the Security Council - should exert pressure on the two presidents to meet and negotiate an immediate ceasefire. This should be based on the June 29, 2011 Agreement on Border Security and the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, as well as the February 10, 2012 Memorandum of Understanding on Non-Aggression and Cooperation. They also need to reach common ground on a security deal for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile based on the June 24, 2011 Framework Agreement, to be monitored by an enhanced JBVMM.

To encourage reforms in Khartoum, a united international community, particularly the African Union (AU), Arab League and UN, should put pressure on the NCP to accept a free and unhindered national dialogue aimed at creating a national stabilization program that includes defined principles for establishing an inclusive constitutional arrangement accepted by all. A national reform agenda should include a program that accommodates all the people of Sudan and supports inclusive governance.

The NCP must make genuine efforts to end impunity in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access, as well as support the efforts of the AU-UN Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and UNISFA to protect civilians.

If the NCP commits seriously to such a national reform agenda, regional actors and the wider international community should offer assistance.

Major players like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the Arab League, China, the US, EU and AU must recognize that reform is necessary for stability and requires their support. If the NCP accepts an inclusive reform process, for example, the U.S. should provide incentives under its normalization package to bolster that process. These could include easing debts, lifting economic sanctions and removing Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Meanwhile, North-South relations may also be improved by greater domestic stability in South Sudan.  Building institutions, extending service delivery, bolstering economic growth, and calming inter-communal tensions are among the priorities, and will be served in part by advancing promised political reforms. This includes an opening of political space inside and outside the SPLM, and an inclusive constitution-making process, that should be supported by partners and donors.

--- Editorial originally published by the International Crisis Group, HERE.

Monday
Feb132012

Update on Northern Kosovo Barricades (COMMENTARY)

By Marko Prelec

The “barricade”, on the main Pristina-Belgrade highway at Dudin Krs. The footprints over the barricade are animal tracks.

My Crisis Group colleagues and I drove up to Serb-held northern Kosovo on Thursday, and crossed into Serbia (briefly). In short, everything has changed, though no one has announced any change at all. The worst winter in living memory, which many hoped would drive the locals to use the official border posts, is in full sway and the border posts are open as are the roads leading to them, but not a single vehicle passes. However understandable Kosovo’s interest in controlling its borders, there are important lessons here about trying to use issues like freedom of movement to pressure a reluctant people to accept a sovereignty they view as foreign.

Few barricades remain in the snowbound northern region of Kosovo, and fewer still are manned. The main Pristina-Belgrade highway is still blocked at the hamlet of Dudin Krš by what appears to be a pile of gravel (impossible to tell under all that snow) and some barbed wire stolen from NATO during one of last fall’s countless confrontations. A little way further up the road, the once-massive Rudare roadblock is completely open, though a few men are visible nearby, presumably ready to close it if need be.

Snow drift in no mans land between the Kosovo border post at Jarinje and the 1389 barricade in Serbia. The road here is under a meter or more of snow.

Two of Mitrovica’s three bridges between the Serb-held north and the Kosovo-controlled south are still open, and the snow has provided a way around one of the barricades that used to block traffic just past the easternmost bridge: the roadway has migrated up over the kerb onto the snow-covered sidewalk, past the pile of gravel, and back onto the road. From here, the road is clear, and well ploughed, all the way up to the Serbian border near the village of Jarinje.

German KFOR troops man a checkpoint just before the border post; they stop cars and bark “karta!” (ID card), check the driver’s ID, and wave you through. A few hundred meters further down the (now unploughed) road you come to the actual border post, which looks like an Alaska ghost town. The first sign of life is a charming Alaskan husky, thrilled to have new people to play with. Then a Bulgarian EULEX official emerges from his hut and asks us why we have no license plates (our car is registered in Kosovo, and driving through the Serb-held North with Kosovo plates is dangerous – but half the North drives without plates of any kind). He then asks where we are going, something I am coming to wonder myself since the road ahead is not only totally unploughed, but also blocked by EULEX tank traps. We say we want to drive to Serbia. He tells us, OK, but there is a problem with the road; there is a roadblock further ahead on Serbian territory and “everyone who tries to get through turns back”. He then leans closer and says, “there is another road you can take, I am telling you this as advice” – he, the EULEX border policeman, is directing us to the illegal alternative route (that is clearly marked with a turnoff just short of the KFOR checkpoint, one of many such routes opened and maintained by locals). Since we are investigating the actual, formal crossing point and not trying to get to Serbia, we agree to leave the car at the border and walk through on foot.

The road is tranquil and lovely and we make rapid progress through the deepening snow, using footprints left by previous trekkers. After a few hundred meters the road – with drifts of a meter or more, totally impassable, roadblock or no – is barred by rocks fallen from the hillside. After about a kilometre and a half, we come to the first barrier, where someone has taken the guardrail and bent it across the road. The next hundred meters or so are full of felled saplings and branches, nothing a few strong men couldn’t remove in an hour. Finally, we come to the barricade itself, which is really just a green army tent erected in the middle of the road, festooned with Greek, Russian and Serbian flags.

This, too, seems deserted apart from another dog, this one a tiny brown mutt who is clearly terrified of us but also hopeful we might provide food, or at least human affection; he takes shelter behind a pile of logs chopped for heating and eyes us warily. I walk past, to where the road has again been ploughed. It turns out buses from Serbia come this far and stop, discharging passengers who walk up to and then over the hill around the border post, back down to the road where another bus awaits them. I snap a few photos and get ready to turn back when the guardian of the barricade emerges. He is the first we have seen and is located on Serbian, not Kosovo, territory.

Trees blocking the road just before the 1389 barricade, just visible in background (it is really just a tent on the road).

The barricade watcher is in his early twenties and turns out to be a volunteer from Montenegro, here to defend his Serb brothers from the Albanians. He is a member of an extremist group SNP 1389, which has clashed violently with police in Serbia and Kosovo, but is courteous and polite and assures us he is unarmed as he invites us into his tent. Inside, the walls are decorated with a banner reading “Next year in Prizren” [a town in south-western Kosovo], posters supporting accused war criminals Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić and Montenegro’s flag from before its separation from Serbia; there are two cots, a wood-burning stove, and a table with some preserved food. We chat amiably for about half an hour; he’s opposed to the EU but upset that it refused to accept Montenegro as a candidate member. Our host discusses the relative merits of the KFOR troops he’s fought with (“the Hungarians, we beat the living shit out of them and still they wouldn’t shoot, but the Germans! You move too fast and they open fire.”) and bemoaned the international and Serbian perfidy that was leaving Kosovo Serbs at the mercy of Pristina. The only hope, he thought, was for Serbian president Boris Tadić’s party to lose the upcoming elections – or for Kosovo to be partitioned.

He (we never got his name) also told us a bus routinely stopped by his tent, discharging passengers from Serbia who would then walk toward the border, but break off just before and hike up over the adjacent KFOR base and back down to the highway inside Kosovo, where another bus waited to pick them up. (Buses that use the alternative routes recommended by EULEX have been doing the same, but in their case because the vehicles cannot make it over the steepest terrain in the snow, so they make their passengers climb over it on foot.)

Looking back at the 1389 barricade from the Serbian side.

We said goodbye to the 1389 man and his (now exuberantly friendly) puppy and trudged back to the border. On our return, it was clear the EULEX guards had been conferring, and worrying, about what to do with us. Absurdly, since we had just come from Kosovo and left our car parked at their post, they insisted on processing my companions (who had Serbian ID) and issuing the “entry-exit documents” adopted in the technical dialogue mediated by the EU. Though they had assured us they issued these as a matter of course, it still took half an hour and much whispering and conferring before the papers appeared. In the meantime, they told us that pedestrians routinely used the crossing point when the snow was too deep to climb, which was hard for the ones with a lot of luggage.

What does all this mean? The EU pressured Serbia intensely in November and December, demanding that it force the northern Kosovo Serbs to remove their barricades in the name of “freedom of movement”. KFOR fought several actions against barricades, inflicting – and taking – casualties. The barricades inside Kosovo are gone. Yet there is no free movement, because the road into Serbia is blocked – by EULEX itself, and by our lone Montenegrin on Serbia’s own territory. But no one raises a peep. It’s easy to guess why. The one remaining roadblock is flimsy and could be cleared by Serbia in half an hour – but the Kosovo Serbs would respond by putting up their own barricades again. Then EULEX and KFOR would have to troop back outside into the freezing cold and confront them, fruitlessly, as they did last fall. Much better to go with a gentleman’s agreement: the official border posts are nominally open, but the real crossing points remain the alternative routes.

The situation shows with crystal clarity the folly of the “freedom of movement” campaign, which cost tens of millions of Euros (flying Kosovo officials to, and from, the border day after day runs into serious money), dozens of injuries, made travel more difficult for real people and achieved nothing. All this started because of the basic disputes between Kosovo and Serbia, over Kosovo’s independence and territorial integrity. Trying to use issues like freedom of movement – or the rule of law – as tools to change locals’ minds about sovereignty issues, rather than as ends in themselves, just damages the tool. The dispute isn’t a technicality and cannot be resolved as though it were.

Marko Prelec is Director of Crisis Group's Balkans Project, covering Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia

Originally published in The Balkan Regatta - a blog section of the International Crisis Group 

Monday
Mar142011

North Kosovo: Dual Sovereignty in Practice (Report) 

(HN, March 14, 2011) -- The dispute between Kosovo and Serbia is most acute in Kosovo’s northern municipalities. The North has not been under effective control from Pristina for two decades; its sparse and predominantly rural Serb population uniformly rejects integration into Kosovo. Though small and largely peaceful, it is the main obstacle to reconciliation and both countries’ European Union (EU) aspirations. A Kosovo-Serbia dialogue mediated by the EU began on 8-9 March 2011 and is likely over the coming months to look at some of the consequences of the dispute for regional cooperation, communications, freedom of movement and the rule of law. For now, however, Belgrade, Pristina and Brussels have decided that tackling the North’s governance or status is too difficult before more efforts are made to secure cooperation on improving the region’s socio-economic development, security and public order.

For some time, the North will remain in effect under dual sovereignty: Kosovo’s and Serbia’s. Kosovo seeks to rid the region of Serbian institutions, integrate it and gain control of the border with Serbia. It is willing to provide substantial self rule and additional competencies as suggested under the Ahtisaari plan, developed in 2007 by the then UN Special Envoy to regulate Kosovo’s supervised independence. But local Serbs see the North as their last stand and Mitrovica town as their centre of intellectual and urban life. Belgrade will continue to use its influence in the North to reach its primary goal, regaining the region as a limited victory to compensate for losing the rest of its former province.

Serbia and Kosovo institutions intersect and overlap in the North without formal boundaries or rules. The majority Serb and minority Albanian communities there live within separate social, political and security structures. They have developed pragmatic ways of navigating between these parallel systems where cooperation is unavoidable. Yet, in a few areas – notably criminal justice – cooperation is non-existent, and the only barrier to crime is community pressure.

Northern Serbs across the political spectrum overwhelmingly cleave to Serbia. However, Belgrade and the Northern political elites belong to different parties and are bitter rivals. Apart from the technical work of managing the North, they share only one common interest: keeping Pristina out and blocking any international initiative that could strengthen common Kosovo institutions, notably police and courts. Two other groups, former local leaders who retain strong influence behind the scenes and an organised crime underworld focused on smuggling, share this one overriding goal. Belgrade prosecutes criminals and rivals selectively, allowing others room to operate; their presence in the North provides plausible deniability for many of its actions.

Observers in Pristina and friendly capitals see Serbia’s massive payments to the North as a major obstacle to the region’s integration into Kosovo. As long as Serbian money sustains their way of life, Northerners have little incentive to compromise. Yet, Kosovo’s own constitution expressly permits Serbian funding for education, medical care and municipal services, provided it is coordinated with Pristina, which currently it is not. Only the small amounts that support Serbian police and court systems directly undermine Kosovo’s integrity.

Virtually all Northern Serbs reject integration into Kosovo and believe their institutions and services are far better than what is offered south of the Ibar River, especially in education and health care. Recent scandals in Pristina, such as alleged massive corruption in the governing PDK party and a December 2010 Council of Europe report claiming implication of top Kosovo officials in organ trafficking, reinforce this view. Serbs distrust Pristina, believing that rights and protection promised now would be quickly subverted after integration. They are willing to cooperate with Pristina individually but not to accept its sovereignty. The North is subject to none of the pressures that brought a measure of integration to Kosovo’s southern Serb enclaves, and its views show no sign of softening.

Like Kosovo as a whole, the North suffers from a reputation for anarchy and domination by gangsters and corrupt politicians. And as in the rest of Kosovo, the reputation is largely false. Crime rates are similar and within the European mainstream; urban Mitrovica has more than its share of offences, the rural municipalities much less. Neighbouring Albanian-populated districts fall between these two Serb-held areas in rates for violent and property crimes. The real problems are contraband and intimidation directed at political and business rivals and anyone associated with Pristina.

Well-established Albanian-Serb networks, nevertheless, smuggle goods, free of duty and tax – especially diesel fuel – from Serbia via the North to southern Kosovo. The trade supports a criminal elite that, while small in the regional context, is still large enough to dominate Northern Kosovo. Curtailing this smuggling would benefit all and is achievable with the tacit support of Belgrade and most Northern Serbs. Some goods remain in the North, however, and residents feel no sympathy for policies that would enforce their separation from Serbia.

Nowhere is the North’s dual sovereignty as problematic as in law enforcement. Rival Kosovo and Serbian systems each have only partial access to the witnesses and official and community support they need. The Kosovo police lack the community’s trust and have a poor reputation. Serbia’s police are barred by a UN Security Council resolution and operate covertly. Serbian court judgments and orders are enforceable only in Serbia itself and are limited in practice to civil matters and economic crimes. Kosovo’s Mitrovica district court technically has jurisdiction north and south of the Ibar but is paralysed and can hear only a handful of cases, judged by internationals from EULEX, the EU’s rule of law mission. The insistence of Kosovo and international community representatives that the Mitrovica court can only fully function after Serbs accept its authority in the North adversely affects Kosovo Albanians in the south and undermines the sense that rule of law is the priority.

The North suffers from a near-total absence of productive employment and depends on state subsidies for its survival; rule of law is weak. These problems are real but insignificant compared to the North’s effect on Kosovo and Serbia. Neither can join the EU while the North’s status is in dispute. Addressing local problems by improving on pragmatic solutions already in place and finding a framework for criminal justice acceptable to the local population would likely perpetuate its uncertain status, by keeping it distinct from the rest of Kosovo. Belgrade and Pristina should use the EU-facilitated talks to consider autonomy for the North in exchange for Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo statehood, as Crisis Group recommended in August 2010. If the political will for this comprehensive compromise is lacking, the parties should not allow the dispute to block progress in other areas. They should instead seek flexible, interim solutions to improve law enforcement, customs collection, and allocation of financial aid in the North.

- Report by the International Crisis Group - Pristina/Mitrovica/Brussels

*The views expressed in this report are solely those of the International Crisis Group and not HUMNews.

Saturday
Feb122011

Could The Spirit of Tahrir Square Infect Cameroon, West Africa? (Report)

(HN, February 12, 2011) - Cameroonian Presidential candidate and women's rights activist Kah Walla has warned incumbent President Paul Biya that the wave of passion for democratic change that has swept through Tunisia and Egypt could travel as far as West Africa - especially Cameroon, where presidential elections are due in October.

Cameroonian presidential candidate Kah Walla

In a letter to Biya sent to HUMNEWS, Kah Walla writes: "Mr. President, I am certain you are observing with great interest along with the rest of us Cameroonians, the wind of change that is gaining incredible momentum throughout Africa and in the Middle East. It is an incredible season for people who have been oppressed for decades and who have decided to take their destiny into their own hands. They are not only winning battles, but are actually coming out victorious in the struggles for independence, freedom and human dignity which they have been waging against their leaders.

"It is a very bad season for presidents who have been in power for over 20 years, maintaining their power through dubious, ritualistic elections, which have credibility neither with their own people nor with the global community."

In Cameroon the president is elected by plurality vote to serve a seven-year term. However opposition leaders say the election commission has "colossal weaknesses" and lacks the credibility to manage free and fair elections in Cameroon."

Biya came to power in the oil-producing nation in 1982. Like Nigeria, Cameroon's prospects for development were initially promising, with oil and pipeline projects generating revenue. But Biya changed the constitution in 2008, allowing him to run for president for a third time this year. Protests erupted and the opposition termed the change "a constitutional coup".

The parallels between Egypt and Cameroon are striking: both have had a president in power for about three decades, enjoy significant oil wealth, have huge populations of young people, suffer from massive unemployment and widespread corruption. Like the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Biya is in is close to 80-years-old (he turns 78 tomorrow). It therefore comes as little surprise that Kah Walla is putting Biya on notice in the sternly-worded letter.

She says it is impossible for Cameroonians not to take notice of the popular stand against rigged elections in Egypt.

"Cameroonians are not only sitting on the edges of their seats observing this, but we are communing with these people in mind and spirit. We understand them in our very core, we admire the steps they have taken to control their own destinies, we are humbled by the courage they are showing in daring to invent their own futures, we are collecting information, analyzing it and drawing lessons from their victories."

Citing the tumultuous events in Tunisia, Kah Walla said: "We have learned from the Tunisians, that unlike us in 1992, it is necessary to maintain the pressure until the ultimate goal is attained. We have learned from the Tunisians, that unlike us in 1992, it is necessary to maintain the pressure until the ultimate goal is attained."

There are more than 15 elections across Africa this year. Many of these countries share similar traits with other countries in North Africa that have witnessed unrest - a high percentage of under 30-year-olds, high joblessness, sky-rocketing food prices and rampant corruption. In April, Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, will see Presidential elections that have already been tainted by a troublesome voter registration process.

Richard Moncrieff, West Africa Project Director for International Crisis Group, has said Cameroon's future is blighted by the threat of conflict. "The threat really comes from the frustration of the population, both for economic reasons – high unemployment, widespread poverty – and also for political reasons."

He added: "The very poor governance, the widespread corruption, the politicization of the justice system, the politicization of the electoral system is in fact a danger for the country and could eventually lead to conflict."

In her letter, Kah Walla, emboldened by what she has seen in North Africa, appeared to be issuing an ultimatum: "A world is collapsing, the world of dictators. The wind of change which is blowing, will only gather steam and momentum as the months go by and as we hurtle towards September/October 2011. Cameroonians are determined in this year to take their destiny into their own hands...We will willingly do this through a structured transition, through an election...on condition. On condition that the minimum requirements for a free and fair election are met. On condition that the political will for a democratic transition is unambiguously demonstrated. On condition that no one, absolutely no one, stops us in any way shape or form, impedes us from exercising our free will and our voters’ rights as Cameroonian citizens."

At 45, Kah Walla is an internationally management consultant and entrepreneur. She was recognized in 2008 by the World Bank as one of seven women entrepreneurs in Africa. In 2009 she spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative summit in New York.

- HUMNEWS staff