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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Yemen, Iran, Egypt, Sudan

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  • Zafar Khan
    YEMEN Yemenis: Ousted leader undermining fight against Al-Qaeda By AHMED AL-HAJ | AP Published: Mar 15, 2012 12:44 Updated: Mar 17, 2012 15:47
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 23 3:09 PM

      Yemenis: Ousted leader undermining fight against Al-Qaeda
      By AHMED AL-HAJ | AP
      Published: Mar 15, 2012 12:44 Updated: Mar 17, 2012 15:47


      SANAA, Yemen: It was a stunning attack by Al-Qaeda in a country that is one of the world’s hottest fronts against the terror group. Militants rampaged through an army camp in southern Yemen before dawn, catching soldiers asleep and killing more than 180. Amid the turmoil, the defense minister ordered helicopters to evacuate the wounded.

      The air force commander, Mohammed Saleh Al-Ahmar, refused, according to a senior official at the main air force base in Sanaa.

      Notably, Al-Ahmar is a half brother of ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Many in the military and government say the refusal last week is one example of how Saleh is working behind the scenes to obstruct the new US-backed government as it tries to bring reform and step up the fight against Al-Qaeda militants in this impoverished Arab nation.

      Saleh was the fourth ruler to fall in the Arab Spring wave of revolts in the Mideast, stepping down in the face of protests after more than three decades in power. But while he’s no longer president, he has effectively emerged as a parallel ruler: His loyalists and relatives still pervade state bodies and military, and officials who back the new government say he uses those levers to persistently undermine them.

      The goal, they fear, is to pave the way for Saleh to return to power by showing the new government is incapable of dealing with the country’s multiple problems. Saleh has set up an office in the giant, extravagant Sanaa mosque that he built during his rule and that bears his name, just around the corner from the presidential palace. There he meets with his loyalists and powerful tribal leaders who back him.

      The result is constant friction between Saleh’s supporters and the new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

      The Americans hope Hadi can reinvigorate the fight against Al-Qaeda, which many Yemenis say Saleh’s military waged only halfheartedly. Al-Qaeda’s branch here is seen by Washington as the most dangerous arm of the terror group after repeated attempts to carry out bombings on American soil. It only grew stronger during the past year’s turmoil, when militants seized control of several towns in the south, including Zinjibar, a provincial capital.

      US officials say the Pentagon plans to assist Hadi with about $75 million for military training and equipment. After talks in Sanaa last month, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said Hadi was “committed to destroying Al-Qaeda.”

      But Brennan acknowledged Hadi could face resistance in reforming an army that is seen as hobbled by corruption and divided loyalties. He said some in the military “have tried to take advantage of their positions for personal gain.”

      Restructuring the military, he told reporters, “threatens their personal interests.”

      One of Hadi’s first acts after being sworn in Feb. 25 was to order the removal of the top military commander in the south, Gen. Mahdi Maqoula, a Saleh loyalist. Officers complained that Maqoula was hindering supplies to forces fighting militants.

      But Maqoula remained in his position for another week, several military officials in the south said. During that week, ammunition and weapons from a military storehouse in the south disappeared, apparently smuggled out and sold, the officials said. A supply of sophisticated sniper scopes vanished, they said, blaming Maqoula and his fellow officers for the theft. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

      Maqoula finally left his post on March 4. Hours before he stepped down, a force of Al-Qaeda fighters carried out the surprise, pre-dawn attack on the army camp. The fighters sprayed tents where soldiers were sleeping with gunfire and killed at least 185. They dumped their bodies in the desert, some beheaded, and paraded dozens of captured soldiers through a nearby town.

      The massacre fueled accusations that Saleh loyalists in the military have been unwilling to fight militants — or even have colluded with them.

      The replacement of Maqoula does appear to have brought progress in the fight. A series of airstrikes hit militant positions since Friday. Yemeni military officials say the strikes were carried out by the United States and say they reflect improved communication and intelligence under the new commander, Maj. Gen. Salem Katton. American officials have not confirmed any US role in the strikes.

      But security and military officials say Saleh supporters in the Interior Ministry still impede the flow of security information to higher-ups in Hadi’s government, including information on Al-Qaeda militants. They like other officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

      After nearly a year of protests against his authoritarian rule, Saleh handed over his powers in November to Hadi, his vice president, under a US-backed agreement. Saleh left the country for medical treatment in the US, raising opponents’ hopes he would live in exile. The prime minister appointed by Hadi, Mohammed Basindwa, pleaded with Brennan to ensure Saleh stayed out, warning his return “means another war.”

      But days after Hadi was elevated to president in February elections, Saleh returned and vowed to remain involved in politics as an “opposition leader.”

      Now authority is divided.

      Members of Saleh’s National Congress Party remain in ministerial posts in the unity government. Saleh’s son, Ahmed, heads both the powerful Republican Guard and special counterterrorism forces. One of Saleh’s nephews, Yahia, heads the Central Security forces, and another nephew, Ammar, is the intelligence chief. Saleh supporters control the government Al-Thawra newspaper and others have resisted efforts to restructure state television, giving the ex-president a powerful platform.

      “Our people will remain present in every institution,” Saleh proclaimed Saturday in a speech from his mosque. “Two months have passed since this creation of this weak government, which doesn’t know the ABCs of politics. It won’t be able to build a thing or put one brick on top of another.”

      Basindwa has complained to Hadi that Saleh loyalists in ministries block orders from his government, an official in Basindwa’s office said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal workings.

      On Monday, tribal fighters tried to storm the Finance Ministry, angered because the ministry cut off funds that Saleh had been funneling to the tribe’s leader, according to a ministry official.

      The next day, traffic police barricaded their headquarters to prevent a new chief of Sanaa’s traffic police from entering his office. The chief had been named to replace a Saleh loyalist.

      Political expert Abdel-Bari Taher says Saleh wants to show Yemenis and the United States that without him, the government will fail and security will spiral out of control.

      “This is his attempt to tell the opposition that he is still present and send a message to the United States that they lost an ally who could secure the country,” said Taher, who works at a government think tank.

      UN warns of humanitarian crisis in Yemen
      Half a million children at risk from malnutrition, while al-Qaeda poses major challenge, envoy tells Security Council.
      Last Modified: 08 Mar 2012 09:52


      The UN envoy to Yemen has warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in the country and also condemned recent al-Qaeda attacks in the country.

      Jamal Benomar said on Wednesday that about three million people were in need of immediate assistance and urged international donors to help the Arab world's poorest country.

      Up to 6.8 million Yemenis have been left without enough food during months of political turmoil that has allowed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to gain ground, he said.

      "There is a growing humanitarian crisis in the country," Benomar told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council.

      The UN humanitarian appeal for $446m for Yemen is only 15 per cent funded, he said.

      Benomar said Yemen had the second-highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in the world and said that 500,000 children were likely to die from malnutrition or suffer life-long consequences this year if adequate support was not provided.

      Al-Qaeda threat

      Benomar's comments came as al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a weekend assault on a military base in southern Yemen, which officials say left almost 200 soldiers dead.

      The attack was the deadliest the army has suffered in a nearly year-long campaign against the movement in the south.

      The Security Council late on Wednesday issued a statement strongly condemning recent attacks.

      "They expressed their deep sympathy and sincere condolences to the victims of these heinous acts and to their families, and to the people and Government of the Republic of Yemen,” the statement said.

      Benomar said that Yemen's political crisis had "caused state authority to collapse in a number of areas around the country, benefiting al-Qaeda, of course, and this is going to be a major challenge in this new phase".

      Yemen is currently undergoing a political transition under the new government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which took power last month after a year of protests against the long-time rule of Hadi's predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

      Benomar said the first phase of the transition from Saleh to Hadi was complete, and that the process was now moving into the second phase in which a national dialogue conference must be organised and the constitution and electoral system reformed.

      General elections must be organised before the end of the transition period in two years.

      Saleh formally steps down; may seek refuge in Ethiopia
      Published: Feb 27, 2012 21:26 Updated: Feb 29, 2012 22:42


      SANAA: Aides to Ali Abdullah Saleh said that the ousted Yemeni president plans to go into exile in Ethiopia, as pressures mounted on him to depart the country for fear of sparking a new cycle of violence. Saleh stepped down yesterday after 33 years at the helm.

      Saleh’s presence in Yemen is a major source of discontent, and undermines confidence that his departure from office will lead to lasting political change. Thousands marched against him in the capital Sanaa yesterday. Many Yemenis will not be satisfied until he actually leaves the country, if then. Saleh has frequently indicated over the past year that he is about to take a step away from power, then backed down at the last moment.

      In the latest report, the aides said that the former president will leave Yemen within two days along with some of his family members. A diplomat in Sanaa confirmed that arrangements had been made for Saleh’s departure for Ethiopia.

      On Saturday, newly inaugurated President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was sworn in as president as part of a power-transfer deal that gave Saleh immunity from prosecution in exchange for stepping down. The deal aims to end a year of turmoil that left hundreds of protesters dead.

      Saleh’s erratic behavior has been a major source of uncertainty throughout Yemen’s last year of turmoil. Even now, with a president in place, his opponents fear that if he remains in the country he will be able to exert control through his powerful network of well-placed family members and allies. Saleh left Yemen in June after being injured in a rocket attack on his palace. He received medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for three months. The United States, which has pushed for stability in Yemen for fear that Al-Qaeda will extend its influence there, had hoped he would remain in the Gulf. But the Yemeni leader returned home and violence worsened anew.

      Three weeks ago Saleh went to the United States for more medical treatment, and again it was hoped that he would remain abroad. But he returned Saturday for Hadi’s inauguration. Saleh’s aides said that he was waiting for an answer from Oman on whether he can live there but the sultanate has not responded to his request.

      Saleh stayed in Muscat in January for some days before he left to the US for treatment, and Yemeni officials raised the possibility at the time that he would eventually seek exile in Oman, which borders Yemen to the east. The aides said that Saleh came under heavy pressures from Western and Arab countries to leave the country. They said that unnamed members of the UN Security Council threatened to freeze his and his family’s assets if he did not leave.

      “After days of maneuvering, he accepted,” one said. Earlier on Monday, standing before a crowd of parliamentarians, tribal leaders and foreign dignitaries at the presidential palace in Sanaa, Saleh formally ceded power to his deputy Hadi, pledging to support his efforts to “rebuild” a country still reeling from months of violence.

      Dozens dead in Yemen car bombing
      At least 25 people killed in suicide attack on southern presidential palace, hours after new president was sworn in.
      Last Modified: 25 Feb 2012 16:52


      New Yemen President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi takes oath


      Yemen election ends Saleh's 33-year rule
      Vice-president to take power after an uncontested election marked by brisk voting and deadly violence in the south.
      Last Modified: 21 Feb 2012 21:40


      Yemenis vote to elect Saleh successor
      Presidential poll with vice-president as lone candidate marks the end of Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule.
      Last Modified: 21 Feb 2012 17:50



      Hamas rules out military support for Iran in any war with Israel
      Senior figures say Gaza-based Islamic militants would not launch rockets into Israel at request of Tehran, a key sponsor
      Harriet Sherwood in Gaza City
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 6 March 2012 13.46 GMT


      Hamas will not do Iran's bidding in any war with Israel, according to senior figures within the militant Islamic group.

      "If there is a war between two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war," Salah Bardawil, a member of the organisation's political bureau in Gaza City, told the Guardian.

      He denied the group would launch rockets into Israel at Tehran's request in response to a strike on its nuclear sites. "Hamas is not part of military alliances in the region," said Bardawil. "Our strategy is to defend our rights"

      The stance underscores Hamas's rift with its key financial sponsor and its realignment with the Muslim Brotherhood and popular protest movements in the Arab world.

      Bardawil's words were echoed by a second senior Hamas figure, who declined to be named. Hamas, he said, "would not get involved" in any war between Iran and Israel.

      Speculation in Israel about the repercussions of a military strike on Iran has encompassed the likelihood of the Jewish state coming under sustained rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Both organisations are routinely described by Israeli officials as "proxies" for the Iranian regime.

      However, Hamas has never given "complete loyalty" to Tehran, said Bardawil, pointing out that Iran's population is overwhelmingly Shia, whereas Gaza is Sunni. "The relationship was based on common interests."

      Tehran has withdrawn its patronage of Hamas over the Palestinian group's refusal to support the Syrian regime against a year-long uprising. According to a Gazan academic who specialises in Islamic movements, this has included the termination of financial support worth $23m (£14.5m) a month.

      "Iran is very unhappy about Hamas and Syria, so it is punishing Hamas," said Adnan Abu Amer of Ummah university. "They have stopped funding. Hamas has other sources – the Gulf states, Islamic movements, charities – but all of these together are not comparable to $23m a month."

      Bardawil denied this sum, saying "the money that comes from Iran is very limited. In the early days of the [Israeli] blockade [of Gaza], the money was very good, but it was reduced two years ago." The cut in funding "is not because of the Syrian revolution," he added.

      Abu Amer, who had links to both Hamas and the Syrian government during three years in Damascus studying for a PhD, likens the rupture between the two sides to a divorce. "Syria has become the past for Hamas. It's not a complete divorce, but the love will not return. Both sides understand this."

      Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, was the second most important person in the country after President Bashar al-Assad, said Abu Amer. "The hotline between them was unique." Hamas leaders in Syria were treated like members of state, he said. "The regime even allowed Hamas people to hold weapons. It was like a military base for Hamas."

      But the uprising against the regime put Hamas in a critical position. "For 10 months, Hamas kept silent in public about the Syrian revolution, neither for it nor against it. But inside Hamas, there was another revolution – arguments within the leadership over the killing of Syrian people," said Abu Amer.

      "The exiled leadership was frozen, because they had no other place to go. But others, in Gaza and elsewhere, wanted to speak out against the killings, especially the clerics. This was a burden on the leadership."

      In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood in the region was openly critical of the Syrian regime and urged Hamas to break with Assad. In particular, the influential Islamic cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi put personal pressure on Meshaal, said Abu Amer.

      Bardawil confirmed the dilemma for the exiled Hamas leadership. "When the bloodshed increased, it was hard ethically not to express sadness. Hamas always stands with the people, not the regimes, but that does not mean holding a weapon to take part in military action against the regime."

      The Muslim Brotherhood exerted an influence, he said. "Hamas has been part of the Muslim Brotherhood from the beginning. The leadership has a very tight relationship with the Brotherhood leadership." The connection between the two organisations was based on ideology, he said, whereas the relationship between Hamas and Syria was strategic.

      Hamas has been careful not to completely cut its ties with Syria despite the relocation of the leadership to other countries. "There are still a few Hamas members in Damascus," said Abu Amer. "And those who left have not made public statements against the regime. Both sides need back-up."

      According to Bardawil, the Hamas office in Damascus "is still open and functioning, but is empty. We still haven't found another country to move our office to." The external leadership is now scattered across Jordan, Qatar and Egypt, with one politburo member, Imad al-Alami, returning to Gaza after a 20-year absence.

      Some observers say the fragmentation of the external leadership of Hamas has inevitably strengthened the hand of the internal Gaza-based leadership headed by the de facto Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar. Frictions between the two sets of leaders have grown in recent months, particularly over the issue of political reconciliation between Hamas and its rival, Fatah. Meshaal has pushed hard for a rapprochement; Haniyeh and Zahar are resistant.

      In an unexpected and forceful show of solidarity in a speech in Cairo last month, Haniyeh saluted "the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform". The move explicitly underlined Hamas's rift with the regime.

      According to Abu Amer, the external leadership was uncomfortable with Haniyeh's public stance. But more statements could be expected in the future, he said. "It will gradually become more public. But the clearer, stronger statements will come from Hamas in Gaza."

      Hamas, he said, wants to be part of the Arab Spring. "The revolutions in the Arab world and the rise of Islamic movements affected Hamas. Hamas read it very well." The organisation was realigning itself with ascendant Islamist movements which are more oriented towards elections and reaching out to the West than armed resistance. "Hamas cannot be asked to erase the history of 25 years in one day. But it's coming."

      Indicative of that was unofficial back-channel contacts between western officials and representatives of Hamas. Bardawil said that he and Zahar met a delegation of Europeans and Americans in Cairo last May, and there had been subsequent meetings with different Hamas representatives. He declined to give details but said: "We are asking to have those channels and connections to western countries. We want to tell our story."

      Iran elections: Ahmadinejad rivals set to gain control of parliament
      President's sister Parvin Ahmadinejad defeated by a conservative rival in their hometown of Garmsar
      David Batty and Saeed Kamali Dehghan
      guardian.co.uk, Saturday 3 March 2012 17.03 GMT


      Conservative rivals of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appear on course to gain firm control of the Iranian parliament, according to early election results.

      In a huge embarrassment to the president, his younger sister Parvin Ahmadinejad was defeated by a conservative rival in their hometown of Garmsar.

      Of 197 winners declared by midday Saturday, at least 102 were conservatives who turned against Ahmadinejad after he openly challenged the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

      Among the prominent anti-Ahmadinejad victors were Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, whose daughter is married to Khamenei's son, and parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Iran's former nuclear negotiator.

      Six independent candidates opposed to the president have also been elected so far.

      The remaining seats were split between Ahmadinejad supporters and centrists. At least 15 races will have to be decided in runoffs.

      The results indicate Ahmadinejad may face a more hostile parliament in his final 18 months in office and give the ruling clerics a clear path to ensure his successor is a Khamenei loyalist.

      The conservatives' lead was expected as the elections boiled down to a contest between conservatives supporting and opposing Ahmadinejad.

      Reformists were virtually absent from the ballot, showing the crushing force of crackdowns on the opposition. Instead, Friday's elections became a referendum on Ahmadinejad's political stature after he tried to challenge the near-total authority of Khamenei to decide critical government policies such as intelligence and foreign affairs.

      The apparent setbacks for Ahmadinejad's backers, according to early results, could signal a decisive blow in the internal political conflicts and give hard-liners an even stronger say over Iran's nuclear programme.

      "It appears that the era of 'Ahmadinejadism' in Iran's political history is gradually coming to an end," said Davoud Hermidas Bavand, a Tehran-based political analyst.

      Khamenei said on Friday that Iran was moving into a "sensitive period" in the confrontation over Tehran's nuclear programme, which Iran claims is peaceful but the US and its allies fear could lead to atomic weapons.

      The US president, Barack Obama, is scheduled to hold talks on Monday at the White House with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is seeking US backing for a possible military action against Iran, but has signalled that Israel is ready to go alone.

      In advance of the meeting, Obama stepped up his warnings that it was "unacceptable" for Iran to become a nuclear-armed state.

      Yet even before all the final election result, which is expected at the earliest on Sunday, some Iranian officials were calling for a tougher response to the growing international pressure on the Islamic regime.

      "Under the present cold war we are in, this election will increase our national security. It will make the US and the west change its tone toward us," said Muhammad Reza Bahanor, a hardliner seeking re-election.

      He predicted that 80% of the new parliament will belong to a group known as the ultraconservative Motahed, or United Front, which is the main anti-Ahmadinejad group.

      Iran's opposition, crushed in recent years and banned from running in the elections, largely called for a countrywide boycott of the vote. The opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were placed under house arrest in February 2011.

      Despite the boycott, reports from Iran suggested many people, especially those in small and conservative cities, participated in the vote.

      More than 48m Iranians are eligible to vote in the Majlis elections.


      Woman taxi driver breaks barriers in Egypt
      Published: Mar 7, 2012 20:40 Updated: Mar 7, 2012 22:04


      CAIRO: It has all the trappings of an Egyptian taxi. The radio is usually tuned to the legendary singer Umm Kulthoum, whose robust voice is a favorite among cabbies. On the dashboard is a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. But startlingly, so are a stick of black eyeliner and lip gloss.

      Nadia Abdel-Gaber frequently gets double-takes from customers who hail her cab.

      “First thing anyone ever says to me always is ‘How strange a woman is driving a taxi,’” said Nadia Abdel-Gaber, who is one of just a handful of female taxi drivers in Egypt.

      Driving a cab is considered a man’s work in conservative Egypt. The genders mix relatively freely here, compared to many other Muslim nations, but the idea of driving the streets and picking up strangers is seen by most as inappropriate for women. Even Abdel-Gaber’s family do not support her work — especially her sister, who lives in Saudi Arabia where women are prohibited from driving at all.

      But Abdel-Gaber says there’s no shame in standing on her own two feet. A single mother of three teenagers — her husband abandoned them, she says — she needs the work. She owns the cab and previously she rented it out to other drivers. But when they racked up too many maintenance costs, she took the wheel herself.

      “Instead of relying on others, I can work and spend on my children’s tutoring and food and outings with their friends,” said Abdel-Gaber, who is in her 40s. She has a masters in agricultural engineering but could never find a job in the field that paid enough.

      She selects her customers, passing on young males who may harass her; she never goes to the outskirts of Cairo; and she rarely works at night. But being a woman has perks: She has a roster of female customers who call on her, more comfortable being stuck in traffic with a woman behind the wheel than a man who may sneak leering peeks back at his passenger. And she’s carved out a place for herself in a man’s world. She said she unwinds at night by joining male taxi drivers at a traditional cafe, sipping coffee and playing backgammon.

      “Look, job opportunities are hard, so as women we need to see what we can do and just go down and do it,” said Abdel-Gaber, a smile rarely leaving her face. “Stop being afraid.”


      Humanitarian disaster unfolds in South Sudan
      The governments in South Sudan and Sudan continue to be mired in disputes while a humanitarian crisis looms.
      David Elkins Last Modified: 17 Mar 2012 15:23


      Washington, DC - Less than a year since South Sudan's independence, thousands of people in the region continue to face the stark realities of secession.

      As an impending famine and daily violence grow in severity, the governments in Juba and Khartoum remain mired in disputes over borders and oil revenues.

      Among the areas most affected by the latest violence and food shortages are states on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Thousands of civilians stranded in the Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan, a Sudanese province with a population close to 1.1 million, now face starvation - largely a result of the Sudanese government's move to restrict international humanitarian relief agencies from accessing the most troubled areas.

      The recent fighting has destroyed large tracks of farmland and crops essential for isolated populations in Sudan's Blue Nile State and Southern Kordofan. According to US officials, 250,000 people in the region are threatened by starvation.

      'Near-famine conditions'

      "A vast humanitarian catastrophe is already underway, and there is no clear plan for either securing humanitarian corridors to these distressed populations in northern Sudan or for an appropriate pre-positioning of the food and non-food items that are critical," said Dr Eric Reeves, an expert on Sudan.

      "Months ago, the Famine Early Warning System Network warned that, without humanitarian assistance, these populations would be facing 'near-famine conditions' in March 2012. Khartoum continues to block international humanitarian assistance, and we are in mid-March. The implications of allowing this to continue are unspeakable, and yet the Obama administration seems paralysed," Reeves added.

      "Action must be taken very quickly," Princeton Lyman, US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, said during a Senate hearing on Wednesday. "We have a very narrow window before the rain comes and makes the roads impassible."

      Last weekend, more than 200 people in South Sudan's state of Jonglei were killed in tribal clashes that have accompanied months of sustained violence, including attacks by Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) on civilian refugee camps in South Sudan and in neighbouring Ethiopia.

      Close to 140,000 people have been displaced in the conflict, according to UN estimates.

      Government officials in Khartoum have denied allegations of war crimes by claiming that the attacks were attributable to South Sudanese rebels and ethnic rivalries.

      UN officials estimate that the near decade of conflict, including the mass atrocities committed in Darfur, has left nearly 300,000 dead, and more than two million people displaced.

      Earlier this year, South Sudan signed an agreement with Ethiopia and Djibouti that will encourage partnerships focusing on economic and infrastructure development.

      War on the horizon

      US officials have strongly condemned the most recent spate of violence, but some critics of the administration's policy argue that little progress has been made on the fundamental disagreements between the two nations.

      "Going back to March 2009, when President Obama appointed retired Air Force General Scott Gration as special envoy to Sudan, US Sudan policy has been a shambles and deeply destructive of the chances for peace," said Dr Reeves.

      "To be sure, the Bush administration had let implementation of the (2005) Comprehensive Peace Agreement slide off its agenda. But the Obama people - including Gration, Clinton, Senator John Kerry, and presently Princeton Lyman - have compounded error with error, misjudgment with misjudgment.

      "The ways are myriad, but they have consistently entailed a failure to understand the nature and ambitions of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum. The US will bear heavy responsibility for the outbreak of all-out war that seems increasingly inevitable," Reeves added.

      The US has reinstated trade sanctions on Sudan, but one component of the administration's budget request for fiscal year 2013 is 250 million dollars in Sudanese debt forgiveness.

      Senior US officials continue to review the sanctions - a scenario made possible after the Obama administration decided to "de-couple" international justice and reconciliation efforts in response to the genocide in Darfur from negotiations over disputed territory.

      New legislation

      Ambassador Lyman and Nancy Lindborg, an assistant administrator at USAID, emphasised in congressional testimony on Wednesday that humanitarian workers were prepared for immediate relief operations if access were to be granted, and that diplomatic negotiations over a political settlement were continuing in earnest.

      "If the government has opened up the area to international access, what we're hoping is, that will lead not only to a quieting of the hostilities, but hopefully the atmosphere that political talks can start. That will change the atmosphere," Lyman said Wednesday.

      "There is a growing realisation in Khartoum that there isn't a military solution to a problem and that simply going on with the fighting and facing the opprobrium of a humanitarian disaster is not in their interest ... I hope that we will get better news in the days ahead," Lyman added.

      Congressman Frank Wolf, having recently visited a refugee camp in South Sudan, introduced legislation last week that will focus on the humanitarian crisis there. A similar resolution was introduced in the Senate on March 7.

      "We need to provide the Obama administration with all the tools and all the authority it needs to seek a comprehensive peace in Sudan, end human rights violations, and bring those guilty of crimes against humanity to justice," said Congressman Jim McGovern, a co-sponsor of the bill.

      Both congressmen stated the bill would be a fitting dedication to the life of Congressman Donald Payne, a fierce advocate for human rights and genocide prevention in the region, who died on March 6.

      US officials announced this week that a planned conference focusing on international investment opportunities in Sudan has been postponed because of President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir's continued intransigence over humanitarian relief and ongoing violence.

      While the African Union (AU) announced on March 7 that the governments of Sudan and South Sudan had agreed to a "framework" for settling disputes over citizenship, the most divisive issues remain unresolved.

      President al-Bashir, an alleged war criminal, is scheduled to travel to South Sudan for the first time since its independence for additional negotiations over disputed borders and oil fees.

      As negotiations carry on, Lyman noted that Khartoum's resistance to a settlement was indicative of the atmosphere of mistrust between Sudan, South Sudan and the international community.

      "There's a deep suspicion of the motives of the international community and they see this as 'we're not going to go down that path again, we're going to keep our country together, even if we have to do it militarily'. So it's taken a lot of time and effort to say look, you're looking at it wrong way, and you're looking at it in a way that will hurt your own interests," Lyman said.

      A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

      Thousands flee South Kordofan fighting
      Displaced villagers say Sudanese army has launched deliberate campaign to bomb and starve civilians in disputed region.
      Last Modified: 18 Mar 2012 04:02


      Thousands of people have fled villages in Sudan's South Kordofan region amid an assault by Sudanese forces.

      They say the army has launched a deliberate campaign to bomb and starve civilians in the disputed region where it is fighting rebels aligned with South Sudan. Almost every day, villages are hit by bombs, rockets and artillery.

      Many are sheltering in caves, and food is running scarce. The UN estimates about 300,000 people in the Nuba Mountains might starve if they do not get help.

      Al Jazeera's Peter Greste travelled to the remote region for this exclusive report.


      Dozens dead in string of Iraq blasts
      At least 50 people killed and scores hurt as bombings hit several cities days before Baghdad hosts Arab League summit.
      Last Modified: 20 Mar 2012 19:29


      A wave of car bombings and roadside blasts across several cities in Iraq have killed at least 50 people and wounded about 250 people, police and hospital sources say.

      The attacks on Tuesday came just days before Baghdad is due to host an Arab League summit, the first meeting of the 22-nation body to be held in the Iraqi capital since Saddam Hussain's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

      One of the deadliest attacks targeted the city of Karbala, where at least 13 people were killed, including five Iranian pilgrims, according to Hussein Shadhan al-Aboudi, a local provincial council member.

      In the northern city of Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded near a police headquarters, killing 13 and wounding 30.

      "We have also received parts of bodies, but we do not know who they belong to," said Mohammed Abdullah, a doctor at Kirkuk hospital.

      "We lost everything," said Mohammed Sobheh, a policeman wounded in the Kirkuk attack. "Not one of my colleagues is alive; they were all killed. I will never forget their screams as long as I live."

      In Baghdad, a suicide car bombing opposite the foreign ministry building in central Baghdad killed three people and wounded nine others. A group affiliated to al-Qaeda said it had targeted the office that will oversee security when the Iraqi capital hosts the Arab League summit next week.

      "Death is approaching you, when you least expect it," the Islamic State of Iraq said in a statement.

      Blasts also occurred in Baiji, Samarra, Tuz Khurmato, Daquq and Dhuluiya, all north of Baghdad, and Hilla and Latifiya in the south.

      Bombs defused

      Police in the northeastern city of Baquba said they had found and defused eight bombs

      Another car bomb in Ramadi, capital of western Anbar province, killed two people and wounded 11, according to local police and medical officials.

      A separate gun and bomb attack took place in the Salaheddin province, killing two people.

      Security forces in Iraq have been placed on high alert ahead of the Arab League summit.

      Officials insist Iraq's forces are capable of maintaining security for the summit, but have admitted they may need to effectively shut down Baghdad to do so.

      Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemned the "brutal criminal" attacks, and said they were part of efforts by al-Qaeda to "derail the Arab summit, and keep Iraq feeling the effects of violence and destruction."

      Tuesday's violence was Iraq's deadliest day since January 14, when 53 people were killed in a suicide bombing outside the southern port of Basra.
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