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Niamey has been working to bolster its security strategy – Mali’s 2012 crisis put its neighbours on the alert

Posted by African Press International on September 15, 2013

Mali’s 2012 crisis put its neighbours on the alert

NIAMEY, – The takeover of northern Mali by Islamist rebels after a 2012 coup, and the subsequent French-led intervention, have widened fears of a spill-over of insurgency in the region. Niger, which has socio-political problems comparable to those of Mali, is battling to secure its territory from militants still operating in Sahel’s remote wilderness.

Insecurity is an ever-present threat. The country suffered twin attacks on 23 May, when assailants struck a military base and a French-run uranium mine in the north, killing dozens.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a prominent and long-time Sahel jihadist who had claimed responsibility for the Algerian gas plant attack in January, said his fighters were behind the strikes. The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which had operated in northern Mali before being dislodged by the French military, also claimed responsibility.

Bolstering security

Niamey has been working to bolster its security strategy.

In October 2012, it launched a five-year US$2.5 billion plan to secure and develop its northern region, whose residents, especially the Tuareg, say they have been marginalized. As in neighbouring Mali, the Tuareg in northern Niger have carried out a series of rebellions demanding autonomy, social and political inclusion, and the development of their homeland.

The country has also introduced legal reforms, enacting anti-terrorism legislation, setting up a special team of lawyers and security officers to work with the government on terrorism matters, upgrading military hardware, and cooperating with France and the US on security. US drones began operating in Niger in December 2012. Nigerien troops are also being trained by their American and French counterparts.

“Niger has shown not only political commitment, but a certain level of coherence in dealing with the threat of terrorism,” David Zounmenou, senior researcher on West Africa at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told IRIN.

Niger, an impoverished Sahel nation prone to droughts and food scarcity, also faces additional threats from Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria to the south and from militias in the north suspected to be operating in southern Libya, analysts say.

Politically, Niger has worked to improve the inclusion of its Tuareg population to end the cycles of insurgency.

Failed unity coalition

During Niger’s 3 August independence day celebration, President Issoufou Mahamadou called for the formation of a national unity government, part of a political cohesion plan he sees as crucial to dealing with the country’s security threats. However, a subsequent cabinet shake-up has cost his ruling coalition the support of its main ally, who quit in protest of the seats it was allocated in the new government set-up.

“In terms of security plans, it certainly weakens the national consensus that has prevailed thus far in Niger. Institutional consensus has been the backbone of the response mechanism to offset the spill-over of the insurgency in Mali and to manage successive attacks,” said Zounmenou.

But West Africa political analyst Kamissa Camara says the political disagreements have little bearing on Niger’s security worries.

“The risk is that [expenditure] on social assistance programmes could increasingly be adjusted depending on security concerns, and it is doubtful that this will be to the benefit of the Nigerien population as a whole.”

“The political fall-out is more indicative of the superficial political arrangements made before the second round of the 2011 presidential elections and the ensuing struggle for influence between two complementary but oxymoronic political figures,” Camara said, referring to the president and Hama Amadou, the leader of his coalition’s main ally.

Other threats

In addition to its security worries, Mahamdou’s government, which came to power in 2011 after a brief period of instability, is struggling to better the lives of citizens, the bulk of whom are living in extreme poverty. The country sits at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index.

Although the government is making improvements in sectors such as health, education and agriculture, some 85 percent of Nigeriens survive on less than US$2 a day. Around 2.9 million people currently face food shortages.

Natural disasters and recurrent food shortages are greater threats to many Nigeriens than security fears, say analysts. The country recently appealed for help following devastation by floods that have killed two dozen people and left some 75,000 others homeless.

Niger has the world’s largest uranium reserves, but receipts from uranium mining have made little impact on the lives of many Nigeriens. And while the country began pumping its first oil in early 2011, it was later was forced to cut back its budget due to poor revenue. The shortfalls could impact Niger’s security budget.

“An intense focus on security could affect Niger’s budget spending on other strategic sectors. The defence budget more than doubled in 2012, although it’s still behind the health and education expenditure,” said Jean-Hervé Jezequel, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

“The risk is that [expenditure] on social assistance programmes could increasingly be adjusted depending on security concerns, and it is doubtful that this will be to the benefit of the Nigerien population as a whole,” Jezequel told IRIN.

Counterproductive?

When Islamist rebels began advancing on Mali’s capital in January this year, Niger supported the French intervention. It has also sent some 900 soldiers as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. However, there are concerns that its stance in the Mali crisis and its security cooperation with Western countries could stoke extremist militia threats.

“As Islam is dominant in our country, it is easy for these forces of evil to infiltrate Nigerien youths,” noted Zarami Abba Kiari, the ruling party’s deputy spokesman, who argued that the national unity government could forestall such risks.

Insurgent groups have used Niger for their cross-border activities in Mali, Nigeria and Libya, and with light government presence in certain regions of Niger, the country risks becoming a safe haven and rear base for militant groups targeting other countries, like Chad and Algeria, that have largely expelled these groups from their territories, ISS reckons.

“The structural complexities of Niger, illustrated by its vast desert, its arid territory, and the borders it shares with Algeria, Libya and Chad, are certainly contributing factors to these [security] threats,” Camara told IRIN.

Weak governance, underdevelopment and poverty have created a breeding ground for militancy in West Africa and the Sahel, academics argue.

“There is need for concrete response to [Niger’s] socio-economic problems. Young people are looking for jobs, effective health care, education… If they are not satisfied, this can provide them with a reason to join jihadist movements,” said ISS’s Zounmenou.

bb/ob/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Small-scale traders face constant harassment from security forces and corrupt government officials

Posted by African Press International on August 14, 2013

Goma, the capital of the Congolese eastern province of North Kivu, continues to face serious challenges

GOMA, – Three years ago when Jean*, 41, applied for a license to open a hardware shop in Goma, capital of North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he had to pay a fee of US$1,500 to the General Tax Directorate, and the whole process took a year.

“Every time I went to the [tax] office, they denied I ever paid the money, yet I had an official receipt from the General Tax Directorate. I had to pay a bribe to get the license,” he told IRIN.

Since opening, Jean has had to contend with different people claiming to be government officials coming regularly to his shop asking him to pay additional taxes.

“Here nothing works because all the time, people come to you saying they are from the General Tax Directorate but they have no identification at all. You just have to pay them. The tax they ask for is never uniform and depends on the mood of the person who comes to collect it,” he added.

Jean’s experience highlights the incapacity, or virtual absence, of state institutions and endemic corruption in this part of DRC.

Another example: The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that two thirds of children in North and South Kivu provinces do not have a birth certificate, though you have to have one (in theory at least) to be enrolled in school in the DRC.

But it is not just the lack of an effective state bureaucracy that worries some observers – many health and education services in eastern DRC are funded or controlled by aid agencies.

A March 2013 paper by Koen Vlassenroot and Karen Büscher of the Conflict Research Group argues that in Goma and elsewhere in eastern DRC, power, authority and state sovereignty have been transferred to aid organizations.

“Due to a lack of means, capacity, motivation, vision, corruption and mismanagement, state services have been constantly hollowed out and have increasingly been replaced by new coalitions of local and international development actors.”

One effect “of the humanitarian sector’s presence and interventions is the encouragement of state withdrawal from public services and a transfer of power and legitimacy to the advantage of international actors. This sector has largely taken over education and health care, and even the rehabilitation of road infrastructure,” they said.

For instance, in the provinces of North and South Kivu, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs 40 health centres, nine health posts, and four referral clinics and supports 11 government-owned health clinics.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) appealed for nearly US$6 million to fund educational activities in North and South Kivu in 2012; and $9 million for education and 2.8 million for nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene services for the whole of DRC in 2013.

According to Büscher and Vlassenroot, international aid agencies have replaced the state in key sectors. They say development “is understood locally as a responsibility of the humanitarian sector” – meaning that citizens see development, or the lack of it, as the effort or failure of aid organizations operating in the area.

“Governance by substitution”

Marc-Andre Lagrange, Central Africa senior analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN: “The Congolese administration based in Kinshasa has chosen governance by substitution in managing the affairs of the country’s eastern region” in which the government appears to have handed over the responsibility of providing services to aid organizations.

Small-scale traders face constant harassment from security forces and corrupt government officials

This, Lagrange argues, is not “something new in DRC as it was the Mobutu regime that introduced that practice of weakening the state apparatus and handing over social services to humanitarian and charitable organizations. Education and health care have long since been taken over by the Catholic Church in most of the country. Organizations such as MSF were present in DRC long before 1994 [and have provided health care since].”

Problems are many

Pacifique Borauzima Buluhukiro, a programme officer in Goma with International Alert, told IRIN: “The roads are in disrepair; electricity is irregular in town and absent in rural areas. Schools and health facilities are in poor condition and are in inaccessible areas [even] for humanitarian organizations.”

Armed groups continue to control large swathes of the region. A result of these conflicts has been the internal displacement of an estimated 2.7 million people, the third largest internal displacement in the world.

“The government doesn’t provide anything”

Those who live in camps around Goma, uprooted from their homes by armed rebel groups, say they do not receive any assistance from the government.

Nadia, a 27-year-old mother of three from Ruthshuru, told IRIN from Mugunga 3, a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Goma: “We have no food, water or even [security] and the government doesn’t even visit to see how we live. Only NGOs at times come here to help.”

Lack of access to clean water has made cholera and waterborne diseases endemic. The absence of government investment in the health sector has meant the few clinics, operated mostly by aid agencies, are overstretched and unable to cope.

“At times people come and we just look at them because we don’t have any way of helping them. We have no drugs. At times some organizations offer to help but it is too little and it runs out quickly. The government doesn’t provide anything,” a nurse at a government-owned health facility, told IRIN.

Corruption

A Congolese human rights activist who preferred anonymity told IRIN that even though taxes are levied through the General Tax Directorate, the revenue ends up in the pockets of government officials.

“Corruption in DRC is endemic. The country has an undemocratic, authoritarian and untransparent governance system that supports patronage networks based on the exchange of favours and murky resource transfers”

“Corruption in DRC is endemic. The country has an undemocratic, authoritarian and untransparent governance system that supports patronage networks based on the exchange of favours and murky resource transfers,” Marta Martinelli, a programme officer at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), said in a recent report.

A senior civil servant in the North Kivu governor’s office told IRIN political leaders are focused more on retaining political power than providing services.

“The resources available are used to extend political patronage. In the eastern part, the conflict is a good excuse for government officials to say `when there is peace, we will come to help’,” he said.

Francois Rumuzi, a 24-year-old trader in Goma, told IRIN that seeing the poorly paid local police, who do little to protect residents from criminals, is the closest he gets to feeling the government’s presence.

“When you listen to the radio, you hear government officials talk about this or that, but the government doesn’t help people here. Even the police here say they can’t protect us because the government doesn’t pay them,” he said.

Fidel Bafilemaba, a Goma-based researcher with the Enough Project, said the absence of an effective state presence has made eastern DRC the “nerve centre” of what he called DRC’s “non-state status”. He said conflict had exposed “the government’s failure in security, health and education sector reforms”. He said the situation had led many to declare the DRC “a failed state”.

Traditional chiefs

Analysts have accused the government of leaving governance and development to traditional leaders in rural areas, something they say has failed because local chiefs have no constitutionally defined roles.

In a July 2013 analysis entitled Understanding Conflict in Eastern Congo (I): The Ruzizi Plain, ICG said; “The government remains ineffective in rural areas, leaving customary chiefs, whose role is recognised by the constitution but not fully defined, virtually in charge. They use their key position between the state and communities to benefit from any state and international investments and to protect their own interests. This fuels conflict, with intercommunal rivalries playing out in state institutions and among local and national politicians.”

To solve this problem, ICG said the Congolese authorities should “disseminate the laws on customary powers to the population and customary authorities, and train customary chiefs so they can assume their functions in accordance with the law.”

In its 2012 report Ending the Deadlock: Towards a new vision of peace in eastern DRC International Alert argues that for the state to have more legitimacy there needs to be better access to, and management of, land in rural areas; a more rational division and management of political power; better management of returning refugees and IDPs; and recognition of the importance of security.

According to OSISA’s Martinelli, DRC has serious flaws in its democratic system, a weak justice sector, deeply entrenched corruption and a “neglected or non-existent infrastructure, which prevents the effective delivery of public services”.

*not a real name

ko/am/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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The Congolese army continue to commit atrocities, including against civilians

Posted by African Press International on August 12, 2013

Analysts have called for ambitious reforms to instill discipline within the Congolese army

KAMPALA,  – Stamping out human rights abuses by the army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) entails more than classroom training sessions, according to analysts, who recommend a wide range of ambitious reforms.

These include better discipline, an efficient payroll system, the development of security policies, the prosecution of offenders, and better education and training to reform and professionalize the army, also known as FARDC.

Soldiers, including those of 391 Commando Battalion, which was trained by the US army, have been accused of many abuses, most recently the desecration of corpses of M23 rebels, mistreatment of M23 detainees, mass rape, the killing of civilians, sexual violence, torture and the burning of villages, according to the UN and rights groups.

The causes of the violations are many, Timo Mueller, Goma-based field researcher for the Enough Project, told IRIN.

“Throughout the years, tens of thousands of former rebels from a wide range of ethnic groups have been reintegrated into the army without any vetting or human rights training… In eastern Congo, elements of the armed forces often engage in abuses similar to those of militias, exposing the population to grave risks. The frequency, nature and scale of the human rights violations are worrisome and mandate renewed attention and structural reform initiatives…

“With little to no payment, often frustrated by a lack of adequate equipment, housing and general ill-management, and in an environment where the threshold for violence has dropped dramatically, soldiers often use their own weapon to make ends meet,” he said, adding that the absence of any real military justice, civilian oversight or accountability, meant that abuses often went unpunished.

“You can train troops as much as you can with the most efficient team. In the end, if you don’t pay them on a regular basis and provide them with social benefits, it will be very hard to keep a solid discipline among your ranks,” Marc-Andre Lagrange, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN.

“Despite the introduction of banking system payment, FARDC soldiers still do not get all of their salaries and do not benefit from any social benefits,” he added.

“Moreover, lack of command and control have been noticed many times on the field during conflicts, leaving the troops with little discipline and very little cohesion.”

UN report details atrocities

In a May report the UN Joint Human Rights Office accused members of 391 Commando Battalion (which in 2010 received US Africa Command training on respect for human rights, the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, and the relationship between civilian and military authorities in a democratic society) of engaging in atrocities, including the mass rape of women and young girls in November 2012 in Minova, eastern DRC, as they fled Goma for M23-held areas.

The Congolese army continue to commit atrocities, including against civilians

The abuses by the soldiers were committed “in a systematic manner and with extreme violence”, according to the report. At least 102 women and 33 girls, reportedly as young as six, were victims of rape or other acts of sexual violence perpetrated by government soldiers.

The soldiers were also responsible for the arbitrary execution of at least two people and the widespread looting of villages. The report contained details of victims, and eyewitness accounts of mass rape, killings, arbitrary executions and other gross violations of human rights.

The US State Department said it suspended logistical support and contact with the 391 Commando Battalion from 8 March, following UN reports about the Minova abuses.

Will Stevens, a spokesperson of the Bureau of African Affairs in the US Department of State, told IRIN via email that the USA condemned these crimes and called for a “full and credible investigation”. He said the USA could not provide security assistance to military units “credibly accused of human rights violations until the allegations are resolved”.

He said the suspension of 12 senior FARDC army officers was a positive step towards ensuring that those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable.

“Holding perpetrators to account is essential to ending the cycle of impunity and we urge President Kabila and all Congolese authorities to actively and robustly enforce his zero tolerance policy for human rights violations by the DRC armed forces.”

The US military is to continue providing training to its DRC counterparts.

“The events executed and planned so far this year include training in medical readiness, military justice, logistics, civil-military operations, rule-of-law, ethics, and others,” Maj. Fred Harrel, a press officer with US Africa Command told IRIN.

“This training, requested by the host nation, is designed to be sustainable and build the professionalism of the Armed Forces of the DRC,” he added.

Reforms needed

“Security sector reform is a long and daunting challenge but one that must be taken to address a root cause of the prevailing insecurity,” Enough Project’s Mueller, told IRIN.

“Units of the army have undergone numerous but patchy and uncoordinated human rights trainings. An army-wide, gender mainstreamed education campaign on human rights, humanitarian law and military justice must be embedded into a wider security sector reform,” he said.

He said that ensuring discipline within FARDC required “a multidimensional and holistic institutional overhaul, spanning the military, police and judiciary as well as other agencies”.

Meanwhile, donors should harmonize their efforts and mobilize greater resources, he said.

“Over the years, the government and international donors have initiated several reform packages but they have largely failed because of lack of political will, donor coordination and funds,” said Mueller.

so/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

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Thai teachers insecurity

Posted by African Press International on July 31, 2013

Thai soldier on guard at an elementary school

BANGKOK, – Stronger security is needed for teachers in government schools in Thailand’s deep south, where an ongoing insurgency by Muslim separatist groups has left more than 150 teachers dead since 2004, say officials.

“The best thing we need to do for teachers and workers in the education field is to strengthen security measures,” Thai Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang told IRIN.

His comments come less than a week after a roadside bomb exploded in Chanae District in southern Narathiwat Province, killing two female teachers and seriously wounding one other, in what was described by local media as “the worst day for teachers for months”.

The 24 July attack – for which no party has claimed responsibility – highlights the fragmented nature of the conflict in Thailand’s southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat along the border with Malaysia.

According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), since 2004 more than 5,000 people, mostly civilians, have lost their lives in the violence which successive governments, beginning with that of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (2001-2006), have been unable to control.

Barisan Revolusi Nasional
Labelled by the government as one of the southern conflict’s main insurgency groups, analysts have characterized Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) as a “central command of autonomous cells” and a “hybrid clandestine organization” whose members are mostly of Malay ethnicity, as opposed to Thai, Chinese-Thai and other local non-Muslims.Based on an interview with a former insurgent leader, International Crisis Group reported that most insurgents do not identify with BRN but, rather, refer to themselves as fighters engaged in a national liberation war for an independent Islamic state.

Despite recent peace talks between the government and separatists (described by ICG as “a formless movement comprised of autonomous cells operating within a central command”) held in Malaysia aimed at reducing violence during Ramadan, insurgent attacks have increased, according to local media.

Since the peace talks began on 28 February between Thai officials and members of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) militant group, reported to be one of the main insurgency groups, nearly 50 people have been killed and close to 80 injured.

“It’s difficult [for the children] to catch up with all the lost time due to school closures,” said Boonsom Thongsriprai, chairman of the Confederation of Teachers of the Three Southern Border Provinces.

Since January 2004, ethnic Malay Muslim separatist insurgents have been implicated in the deaths of close to 160 teachers and education personnel from government-run schools, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 2012 report, with teachers and schools (along with soldiers) routinely singled out for attack as representatives of the Thai state.

On 11 December 2012 ethnic Malay Muslim insurgents entered a school in Pattani Province at lunch hour and summarily executed two ethnic Thai Buddhist teachers.

Some 1,200 government-run schools serving more than 200,000 schoolchildren in four provinces were closed for two days.

On 23 January 2013, Chan Tree, a Muslim third grade teacher, had just begun mid-day prayers in the canteen at the Ban Tanyong school in Narathiwat Province with a room of elementary students when two armed men walked in and shot him. One of the students yelled out: “They’re going to shoot you, teacher Chan Tree”, before the men opened fire.

“Some of the teachers quit and some of them transferred. About five or six teachers have transferred to other schools,” Yai Nong Tohleh, another instructor, said afterwards.
Dozens of primary and secondary schools in Narathiwat and Pattani provinces closed down in the weeks that followed the January attack.

High teacher turnover 

One result of the attacks has been teachers leaving their jobs, giving administrators the added difficulty of attracting qualified teachers to replace them, authorities say.

Education has taken a hit in Thailand’s southern conflict

Starting salaries for teachers are about US$400 per month, with additional “danger pay” of roughly $80 per month. The average pay nationwide in this upper middle-income country is nearly $700; salaries lag in the deep south.

“They fear that if they withdraw or transfer themselves out of the south there won’t be sufficient teachers to provide quality education to children,” Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for HRW in Thailand, explained.

“That is the incentive for both the Buddhist Thai and Malay Muslim teachers to continue working. That shows the commitment of those teachers who want to provide education to the children even though some of them have been at schools that have been attacked so many times before,” he added.

Meanwhile, many positions continue to be filled locally – with those recruited on temporary contracts and receiving less pay and benefits.

“Right now many of the staff aren’t officially appointed or registered because they aren’t fully qualified for the position but the government is working on a plan to register many of the new replacements so that they can [receive] better payment,” said Boonsom Thongsriprai.

The informal ceasefire agreed originally by the Thai government and the BRN to coincide with Ramadan ends after 8 August.

ss/ds/pt source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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North Kivu sees fresh clashes: What’s happening with the Kampala talks?

Posted by African Press International on July 21, 2013

Talks have stalled as fighting continues (file photo)

KAMPALA/GOMA,  – Fresh fighting between the rebel M23 and the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the eastern province of North Kivu could spell the end of efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict, analysts say.

In what have been described as some of the deadliest clashes since the rebellion began in April 2012, FARDC (the DRC army) and M23 have been fighting since 14 July in areas around Mutaho, Kanyarucinya, Kibati and in the mountains near Ndosho, a few kilometres from Goma, the provincial capital.

An estimated 900,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, more than half of them by the M23 rebellion; tens of thousands more have fled across the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Humanitarians continue to flag the issue of civilian protection in and around Goma, where fighting over the past year has displaced more than 100,000.

IRIN has put together a briefing on recent developments in the talks and the conflict.

What’s happening with the Kampala talks?

A new round of peace talks between the two sides in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, has stalled, with Raymond Tshibanda, the DRC foreign minister and head of the government delegation, and Apollinaire Malu Malu, his deputy, absent from the venue.

The talks, which kicked off in December 2012 under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), first broke down in April: M23 representatives walked out following a decision by the UN to deploy an intervention brigade to neutralize armed groups in eastern DRC.

“The two sides are still extremely far apart in their negotiating positions and a compromise is difficult to envision without hefty intervention by diplomats. So fighting is almost inevitable, even if only to improve negotiating positions,” Jason Stearns, director of the Rift Valley Institute‘s (RVI),Usalama Project, which conducts research on armed groups in eastern DRC.

“The Kampala talks are moribund. I can’t envision a deal acceptable to the M23 that foreign diplomats and the Congolese government could sign off on; the M23 would have to disband and reintegrate into the national army, which its leaders will find difficult to stomach, as they don’t trust the government.”

Each side accuses the other of not being sufficiently committed to reaching a diplomatic settlement to the conflict.

“It depends on whether M23 is ready to accept on what has been decided in Addis Ababa and [with] UN for them to disarm. If they accept, we are ready to finalize the Kampala process,” DRC government spokesperson Lambert Mende Omalanga told IRIN by phone.

On 24 February, 11 African countries signed a Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region, aimed at, among other things, improving security and consolidating the state’s authority in eastern DRC.

What are the accusations being traded?

But Omalanga accused Rwanda of continued influence over M23, a charge both the Rwandan government and M23 strenuously deny.

“Kinshasa is not interested in the talks, but a military option. We have been here seeking for a bilateral ceasefire. But government has since refused and prepared for the ongoing war,” Rene Abandi, the head of M23’s delegation, told IRIN. “It’s playing double standards… trying both methods – peace talks and military solution.”

“It may sound like a paradox but, for peace negotiations to start, the balance of power on the ground must be changed. The two parties [M23 and the DRC army] will only negotiate if they lose on the battlefield.”

Abandi added that until the head of the government delegation or his deputy arrived, M23 would not negotiate, and called on the ICGLR, the African Union and the UN to put pressure on Kinshasa to actively participate in the talks.

“Long before the resumption of fighting, the Kampala peace talks have had a bleak future. Over the course of the last seven months, the warring parties have employed deliberate delaying tactics, militaristic bluster and traded fierce accusations of foul play as a means of furthering narrow political agendas,” Timo Mueller, Goma-based field researcher for the Enough Project, which fights genocide and crimes against humanity, told IRIN.

“As the fighting rekindled on Sunday [14 July], some analysts see a direct relationship between the deadlock in Kampala and the renewed fighting. But while the fighting is a near-death experience for the talks, both parties have an interest in keeping the talks alive so as to be seen as willing to seek political peace, albeit crippled they may be.”

He added: “The rhetoric and actions of the Congolese army reflect a consistent strategy to pursue only military confrontation with M23 on the battlefield and forego any existing political efforts. But while military actions undermine and contradict the talks, Congo has no interest in unilaterally withdrawing from an initiative strongly favoured by the international community.

“M23, will desperately hold onto the talks to present itself as a grievance-driven group eager to discuss political reforms with Kinshasa and because it is too weak militarily to advance its interests outside political avenues. The talks offer the only existing avenue for M23 to deliver agreement on amnesty for senior leadership and military reintegration into FARDC, something that the UN PSCF [the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework] or any other international process would be unlikely to yield. Both parties will remain at loggerheads for the foreseeable future, leaving scant hope for a genuine peace agreement.”

Could fighting spur talks?

According to Thierry Vircoulon, an analyst with the think tank International Crisis Group, “It may sound like a paradox but, for peace negotiations to start, the balance of power on the ground must be changed. The two parties will only negotiate if they lose on the battlefield. Kinshasa accepted to come to the Kampala talks only because it lost Goma last year and was dominated on the ground.”

But Usalama’s Stearns says neither side is keen to escalate the ongoing conflict. “The M23 is limited by its troop numbers, which are probably still under 2,000, with a large area to cover. For the Congolese army, they would probably want to wait until the UN Intervention Brigade is fully operational, which could take another month.”

3,000-strong intervention brigade mandated to “neutralize… and disarm” armed groups in eastern DRC is due to be fully operational at the end of July. The UN Stabilization Mission in DRC, MONUSCO, also intends to have unarmed surveillance drones in eastern DRC to monitor developments.

How much support is there for talks?

The problem in eastern DRC is primarily political, and “no amount of military power can solve it,” Lt-Col Paddy Ankunda, Uganda army spokesman and spokesman for the talks, told IRIN.

“The causes of the M23 rebellion and the wider conflict are a mesh of political, socioeconomic and security factors. A political, non-military solution is needed, including, amongst others, security sector reform, democratization, decentralization, human development, reform of the minerals sector and regional economic integration,” said the Enough Project’s Mueller. “The Kampala peace talks should best be subsumed by the UN PSCF. It will also be critical to get Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda together to start negotiations to deal with economic and security issues that have been driving the war.”

Fighting between FARDC and M23 has already displaced half a million people (file photo)

“[UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes] Mary Robinson must also ensure that the Congolese reform process and national Congolese dialogue are mediated by an impartial facilitator and have civil society directly at the table. If the process is not neutral and inclusive, the reforms will fail,” he added. “Another behind-the-door deal among elites will be just another recipe for failure, likely brewing new dissent and stoking a wholesale resurgence of violence.”

In eastern DRC, however, not everyone is keen on a peaceful solution to the crisis. Kabila has repeatedly done deals with rebels as a way of ending national and local conflicts, and has been criticized for this by oppositionists, civil society and national media. “Give war a chance” has been a popular refrain with many fierce critics of the regime.

Is there any unanimity on the ground?

“We think the government should crush the M23 rebellion,” Thomas d’Aquin Muiti, president of The Civil Society of North Kivu (an association of NGOs working for better governance in the province), told IRIN, although privately, some of his colleagues deplored his statements.

Kabila’s recent pursuit of the military option against the M23 certainly appears to have the support of many ordinary people in Goma. There were jubilant scenes on 15 July when it was learned that FARDC had retaken a hill overlooking Goma from which the rebels had threatened to target the airport. Crowds of men waving leafy branches did victory runs on the outskirts of the town, and rumours that MONUSCO was trying to block a further advance by the army prompted angry demonstrations outside a UN base.

A group of women who had been displaced by the fighting voiced strong support for FARDC when asked by IRIN what they thought of its offensive. “We will be very happy to see our village liberated and we hope the army will do it,” said 44-year-old Fouraha Kanamu to a loud chorus of approval from the other women.

But condemnation of M23 is not unanimous in Goma. Thousands gathered and cheered the rebels after they briefly occupied the city in November 2012 and organized a rally in a stadium. Many of these people were government employees who were hoping the M23 would pay them, but even before the rebel takeover some citizens were quietly expressing support for the movement.

“They can’t be any worse than those in power now,” was the kind of comment heard from some people, who would claim that the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) rebels – a Rwandan-backed movement that occupied eastern Congo during DRC’s second civil war (1998-2003) – had at least provided better policing and road maintenance in Goma.

The M23 makes much of the DRC government’s notorious corruption and incompetence, but has never held any elections, and judging by the electoral record of its predecessor movement, the CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People, which won just one seat in the 2011 national elections) would be unlikely to win many votes.

However, M23’s behaviour during the 10 days that it controlled Goma alienated many erstwhile sympathizers. “They plundered government offices, officials’ houses and even a hospital, so we saw they weren’t really interested in better governance,” said one civilian.

so/nl/kr/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Norway: Jan Egeland new Secretary General of Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)

Posted by African Press International on June 7, 2013

Jan Egeland has been appointed new Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the largest humanitarian organization in Norway. Egeland was UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (2003-06), and currently holds the position as Europe Director of Human Rights Watch.

“As Secretary General of NRC, Egeland will be a courageous spokesperson for the displaced people in the world. Through his career, Egeland has built experience and expertise that make him uniquely qualified to lead the organization towards its vision of ’Rights Respected and People Protected’. Together with the dedicated staff of NRC, Egeland will continue to build NRC as a leading international humanitarian organisation”, says Idar Kreutzer, Chairman of the Board of NRC.

When Egeland was UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (2003-06) he initiated a wide-reaching reform of the international humanitarian system, strengthened the partnership between UN agencies and NGOs and lead the international humanitarian response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami and emergencies from Darfur and Central Africa to Lebanon and the Horn of Africa. Since then, he has been Executive Director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and is currently Europe Director of Human Rights Watch. Earlier, Egeland has been Secretary General for the Norwegian Red Cross, UN Special Advisor for the peace negotiations in Colombia and Norwegian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1990 to 1997. Egeland has served on the board of the International Crisis Group and held several positions with Amnesty International. In 2006 he was named by Time Magazine as “one of 100 people who  shape our world.”

In a statement, Mr Egeland says: “In wars and disasters around the world I have often witnessed how NRC is able, against all odds, to provide lifesaving relief to those in greatest need. The acronym ‘NRC’ has become synonymous with effective relief for displaced people and stand-by experts for humanitarian operations world-wide. It is with great pride that I look forward to take up the position as Secretary General. The humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria will be an immediate priority in our work, but NRC will remain a leading force for the civilian population in the worst displacement crisis world-wide. We will be there when the needs are greatest – from Central Africa to  Afghanistan and from Sudan to Colombia.”

NRC is a leading Norwegian humanitarian organization, assisting more than 3 million beneficiaries in 2012 throughout 20 conflict regions. In addition, NRC seconded hundreds of stand-by experts to humanitarian operations in over 50 countries during 2012. NRC was founded in 1946 and currently has 3,500 staff. Egeland will take over from Elisabeth Rasmusson, who in April 2013 became Assistant Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

End

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Palestinians seek safety in Israeli citizenship

Posted by African Press International on June 6, 2013

East Jerusalem

JERUSALEM,  – Braving social stigma, many Palestinians in East Jerusalem have in recent years applied for Israeli citizenship to escape insecurity and the endangered status of their residency under Israeli occupation. But citizenship alone does not always save them from inequality and uncertainty.

“Look around you, this city will remain under Israeli control as long as I live,” said 40-year-old Anwar*, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who acquired Israeli citizenship. “As Palestinians in Jerusalem, we are facing discrimination in all fields. Israeli citizenship is the only chance available.”

According to data the International Crisis Group (ICG) obtained from the Israeli Ministry of Interior, some 7,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem applied for Israeli citizenship between 2001 and 2010, two-thirds of them between 2008 and 2010 alone.

According to a December 2012 ICG report, a total of 13,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem have Israeli citizenship, although this number likely includes residents who came into town from other parts of Israel.

The major reasons behind the citizenship applications are fears of losing residency or access to Jerusalem, the wish to travel more easily and the desire to grant a better future for one’s children, according to Palestinians interviewed, a community activist and the ICG report.

“Most Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, regardless of whether they approve or disapprove of the trend, believe that the numbers applying for citizenship are likely to grow,” ICG writes, noting that other researchers have reported much higher numbers from the Ministry of the Interior. (For instance, journalist Danny Rubinstein was told that 12,000 Jerusalemites had applied for citizenship in 2008-2009 alone, ICG said.)

An Israeli foreign ministry spokeswoman, Ilana Stein, said that everyone who meets the criteria – being a documented permanent resident of Jerusalem with no criminal record – can apply for citizenship, but that “security concerns can arise on individual cases”. According to the ICG report, about one-third of applicants were rejected.

Insecure status

Palestinians’ permanent residency status in Israel is conditional on proving their “center of life” lies within the Israeli-defined municipal boundary of Jerusalem, a precarious status that can be revoked under many circumstances, including living outside the municipal boundary for extended periods of time. Between 1995 and 2000, Israel revoked the residency status of some 3,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians in what the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs called “quiet deportation”. It revoked another 7,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites’ IDs between 2006 and 2011, which contributed to the subsequent upsurge in applications for citizenship.

In addition, some 50,000 Palestinians live inside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem but are cut off from the city by the separation barrier. Becoming an Israeli citizen often calms their fears that they may lose access to the city altogether should Israel decide to redraw the municipal boundaries along the route of the barrier.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat expressed sympathy for such a plan in 2011, suggesting that parts of municipal Jerusalem that lie on the Palestinian side of the security barrier should fall under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction rather than that of the municipality.

A young man carrying a new born child and his wife climb around the barrier in East Jerusalem (file photo)

A 2011 survey by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion found that nearly half of East Jerusalemites would prefer to become citizens of Israel rather than a new Palestinian state, “casting fresh doubts on the official Palestinian claim to the city”. “Even more remarkably”, the survey found, 42 percent said they would actually move to a different neighborhood if necessary to remain under Israeli rather than Palestinian authority. However, observers say such data should be treated with caution, given that Palestinian applicants may fear losing their residency if they do not show support for Israel, and given the overall low, if increasing, number of applicants.

Anwar’s choice remains a taboo for most Palestinians.

“When I applied some 10 years ago, some of my relatives cut all relations with me,” he said, lowering his voice whenever speaking directly about his application during an interview in a restaurant in East Jerusalem. “My uncle got angry and asked, ‘Did you forget to love your city and your country?’”

“Some people believe that in order to stay in their city, it is safer to get Israeli citizenship,” said Xavier Abo Eid, a spokesman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the West Bank’s capital Ramallah, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). “But Israel aims at turning occupation into effective annexation, and that includes the people living in it,” he protested. “And Israel is doing everything possible to push Palestinians outside Jerusalem. They have suffered from Israeli policies of ID revocations, home demolitions, evictions and settlement construction.”

“If things don’t change soon, going abroad will be the only option left”

Israel officially considers Jerusalem its “united capital” and regularly denies the discriminatory impact of its policies concerning the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem mayor Barkat said in 2010, a year after the wave of ID revocations: “Never was Jerusalem as open for people to practice their religion freely as it is today.”

The PLO has produced an internal policy paper on the citizenship applications, but has not released it publically.

No silver bullet

Anwar said he used to face time-consuming visa procedures every time he wanted to visit family abroad using his Israeli travel permit. Before he was granted citizenship, he had to submit employment records and official invitations before every trip. “Now, I just get on the plane.”

But becoming an Israeli citizen has not protected him from discrimination. The Israeli passport may make it easier to travel, Anwar said, but “I am still treated as a potential terrorist, while Jewish citizens just pass.”

Despite the citizenship, he still has not succeeded in getting a permit to build new rooms in his home. Rights groups say those Palestinians living in in East Jerusalem struggle to get building permits, while Jewish settlements on the perimeter of the city are growing, cutting Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank. One such settlement is Giv’at HaMatos; its build-up would cut off Arab neighbourhoods in southern Jerusalem, like Beit Safafa and Sharafat, rendering them “Palestinian enclaves”, the ICG said, surrounded by settlements that, according to an international fact-finding mission commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, adversely affect Palestinians’ freedom of movement, natural resources and safety.

Inequalities between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel span many fields of public life, and are enshrined in parts of the legal system and government practices. Some 30 Israeli laws specifically privilege Jewish over Arab Israeli citizens in immigration rights, naturalization, and access to land and employment, among other things.

The inequality has even driven some Palestinians in Israel – including some with Israeli citizenship – to leave for Ramallah, often in search of an Arab-speaking, culturally Palestinian environment.

“If things don’t change soon, going abroad will be the only option left,” Anwar said.

*not a real name

ah/ha/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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The humanitarian legacy – Iraq

Posted by African Press International on April 23, 2013

BAGHDAD/DUBAI,  – Ten years after US forces took over Iraq, opinions on the progress made are as polarized as ever.

On one side, the Iraqi and American governments argue, the gains have been significant.

“Despite all the problems of the past decade, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis agree that we are better off today than under Saddam’s brutal dictatorship,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki wrote in a 9 April opinion piece in the Washington Post, marking 10 years after the fall of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Paul Wolfowitz, who served as the US Deputy Secretary of Defence between 2001 and 2005, wrote the same day in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that given the hardships under Hussein, “it is remarkable that Iraq has done as well as it has thus far.”

Others are more circumspect in evaluating these gains, looking to the 1980s – under Hussein’s rule – as a time when Iraqi society was much further ahead.

“By all measures and standards, there has been a deterioration in the quality of life of Iraqis as compared to 25 years ago,” said Khalid Khalid, who tracks Iraq’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the UN Development Programme (UNDP). “The invasion comes on top of sanctions that came before it and the Iran-Iraq war. It’s one continuous chain of events that led to the situation Iraqis are facing now.”

Mixed blessings

In the early 1980s, Iraq was regarded by many as the most developed state in the Arab world. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the Gulf War of 1991 and subsequent years of sanctions took a heavy toll on developmental indicators, yet Iraq continued to have strong state institutions, even if they were used repressively to maintain Hussein’s power. For example, even after 10 years of an international embargo, the system of food ration distribution operated effectively.

The US invasion and subsequent civil conflict changed this, said Maria Fantappie, Iraq analyst at the International Crisis Group, as violence and de-Baathification drove away the human resources needed to run effective institutions. In many ways, the country has yet to recover.

“In 2003, that heritage of an efficient Iraqi state was completely lost,” Fantappie said. “We have the consequences of this until today… We are not yet at the level of state institutions that can deliver services equally to all citizens.”

Iraq is the only country in the Middle East where living standards have not improved compared to 25 years ago, the World Bank says. In areas such as secondary school enrolment and child immunization, Iraq now ranks lower than some of the poorest countries in the world.

“The war is just such a series of mixed blessings,” said Ned Parker, a former fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and long-time Iraq correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. “For every positive development, there’s a negative development that counters it.”

Looking at the data

IRIN has taken a look development and humanitarian indicators for Iraq, which show a decade of fits and starts, with progress in one area met by stagnation in another.

Of course, statistics in Iraq are often “wrong, simply not available or politically misused,” as one researcher put it. While a wealth of information and data exists, it comes from a multitude of sources using different methodologies, and much of it is based on relatively small sample sizes. The UN’s Information and Analysis Unit said in a 2008 report: “As is typical in volatile working environments, data reliability in some instances is questionable, contradictory figures exist, and geographic coverage of the indicators is often compromised for either security or political reasons.”

There are also huge discrepancies when national statistics are broken down by region, with the capital Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region in the north often the only governorates ranking above national average in measures of development. As Médecins sans Frontières wrote in a recent article in the Lancet journal, “Much more attention needs to be given to remote areas, where the reality for Iraqis has not substantially improved over the past 10 years.”

What is more, much of the progress is seen in indicators tracking inputs, like how many children enrol in school, rather than outcomes, such as how much they actually learn, said Sudipto Mukerjee, deputy head of UNDP in Iraq.

But even with these caveats, the best available data offer a complex portrait of a country that has seen improvement over the last decade, but is still largely struggling. For example, a recent overview of Iraq’s headway towards the Millennium Development Goals found great strides in the eradication of poverty over 1990 levels, but slower progress on primary education enrolment, which still lags behind 1990 levels.

A million Iraqis remain refugees, and over a million are internally displaced; sectarianism holds sway over political institutions; and healthcare is undermined by a lack of medical personnel, unreliable utilities and fragile national security. Women and girls, who once enjoyed more rights than other women in the region, now regularly find themselves excluded from school and work opportunities, though great progress has been made towards gender equality in recent years. While living conditions, clean water access, poverty rates and education levels are all disappointing compared to historical highs in the 1980s, they are greatly improved from the years Iraq spent under sanctions. And increased decentralization of power has offered some hope for the future.

No easy narrative can be accurately applied to the country’s experiences over the past 10 years, and in many ways, the direction the country has taken may only become clear over the decade to come.

Every day this week, we will bring you our findings on each of the following indicators. Check back regularly!

Water and Sanitation
Electricity
Displacement
Education
Poverty/Economic Growth
Health
Food Security/Malnutrition
Governance/Human Security
Gender
Aid work

In the process of our research, we’ve come across some interesting bits and pieces. For more, check out:

A recent Op-Ed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, where he makes the case that Iraq has progressed

The case for why the US intervention was necessary and successful – by Paul Wolfowitz

An entire issue of the Middle East Research and Information Project dedicated to the 10-year mark of Hussein’s toppling

The Guardian newspaper also has a special section on its website dedicated to articles on Iraq 10 years on from the invasion

A pioneering project to track the costs of American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Costs of War

The National Democratic Institute has done a series of public opinion polls in Iraq since 2010. Here is the latest.

The UN’s Joint Analysis and Policy Unit for Iraq is a wealth of detailed, statistical information, including the Iraq Knowledge Network survey the UN helped conduct in 2011.

Over the years, a number of other household surveys have been conducted by the government in collaboration with various UN agencies, including the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), supported by UNICEF; the Iraq Household Socio-Economic Survey (IHSES), supported by the World Bank; the Iraq Living Conditions Survey, supported by UNDP; and the Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis, supported by WFP.

The government Central Statistics Organization has assembled statistics on human development indicators from various sources, from 1990 onwards, which you can find here.

The World Bank also allows you to download full sets of comparative statistics and the World Health Organization keeps year-by-year statistics since 1999 on each of the health-related Millennium Development Goals.

If you want to crunch numbers, check out the UN Human Development Reports over the years.

The UN recently took stock of Iraq’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, with less than 1,000 days to go before the deadline.

IRIN has coverage many of these issues over the years. Our Iraq archives are here.

An interesting debate in Foreign Affairs magazine about whether Iraq is on track.

The US auditor on Iraq reconstruction’s latest and final report that says $60 billion invested in Iraq’s reconstruction had “limited positive effects”

And on that theme, check out this cynical, almost satirical, book (and subsequent blog) by Peter Van Buren: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

af/ha/rz

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Security and aid work in militia-controlled areas

Posted by African Press International on April 8, 2013

KUNDUZ, – Hamidullah, the headmaster of Haji Mir Alam girls’ school in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz Province, was sitting at his desk in the summer of 2011 when members of a local militia entered the school. 

“I said to myself, ‘You’re a teacher; what will they do?’” he told IRIN.

The armed men escorted Hamidullah outside the school gate where their commander, Qadirak, was waiting. Then they beat him unconscious with their rifles.

“I still don’t know the reason they beat me. If people beat me, it’s like beating all the villagers. To show their power, they beat the father of education.”

Such abuses are a regular part of life, especially in the north and northeast, particularly in the provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Faryab and Balkh, where militias are commonplace.

These groups complicate the delivery of aid and create insecurity for ordinary people, who are frequently confused by the assortment of armed ethnic gangs, village protection forces and semi-official militia, according to half a dozen aid organizations in Kunduz interviewed by IRIN.

“There are irresponsible groups in the area. When they come to an area, they cause problems and hinder some work,” said Hayatullah Amiri, director of the Human Rights Commission, which works in Kunduz.

Militia power

These groups include village militias known as ‘arbaki’, which typically lack uniforms and training, and the Afghan Local Police (ALP), locally based militia groups that have received some training from US Special Forces and which are officially under the control of the Ministry of Interior.

The war in Afghanistan is often seen as a fight between Taliban insurgent groups and government and international forces, but in reality, local armed groups frequently operate between and among these sides in a kind of grey area. Militias, often tied to local strongmen, provide security against Taliban insurgents in areas without a government presence, and many have, at different times, been in partnership with government and international forces. Individual members have often switched sides and allegiance between the different groups involved in the conflict.

After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, international troops began hiring some of the militias – which had helped drive out the Taliban – as temporary security forces.

The government initiated a disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation (DDR) programme in early 2003,
to disband militia groups and help members reintegrate into society, but progress was slow, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

As the security situation deteriorated, the international forces began to sponsor many of these militias to extend their reach. Such semi-unofficial forces played an important role in providing security for the 2009 elections.

Things took a more formal turn in 2010 when the ALP was officially recognized as the primary local defence force to help keep remote communities free from Taliban insurgents.

Abuses

The UN Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) 2012 report highlighted an increasing number of abuses blamed on the various independent militia groups.

For ordinary people, the official Afghan National Police force is just one of a large number of armed groups

Ordinary Afghans also report acts of intimidation by militia members.

“We have to pay the local government, the ALP and other commanders. Sometimes they ask for motorbikes for their fighters. Other times they ask for money, food and medicine,” said Haji Mir Jan, a trader from Khanabad District.

“I have to keep all sides happy, including the Taliban. This is the only way for me and many other locals. A commander often comes and says, ‘Please cook for 30 of our guests’, or, ‘We have fighters who need to be fed.’”

Though some communities and aid workers told IRIN that they have seen security gains in areas with an ALP presence, Human Rights Watch has reported rights abuses by ALP forces.

Some militia groups were previously hired by international forces but have since been disbanded – though not disarmed. These groups operate at a more informal level, but many hope to be incorporated into the ALP.

“My 224 men at 21 posts around Qaliazal District haven’t been paid for the last six months. I want the government to either disarm my men and take charge of security, or start giving us money,” Nibikichi, the commander of the officially disbanded CIP Qaliazal militia, told IRIN.

His group had previously been hired and paid by US Special Forces.

“If we hand over weapons now, the Taliban will come and kill us all, and the area will be insecure again very quickly. For now, locals here pay for food to feed my men. You can ask them. We don’t force anyone to feed us.”

But critical local residents say Nibikichi’s militia has a reputation for frequently using torture, unlawful imprisonment and imposing illegal taxes.

People told IRIN they felt they had no choice but to obey for fear of reprisals.

Uncertainty for aid workers

The presence of such armed groups increases uncertainty for aid workers, as well.

“In areas where there are Afghan Local Police and national police, work is getting done. Of course NGOs have to take security into consideration, and when they do projects they have to contact these officials. But where other [armed] groups operate and exist, there are problems,” said Amiri of the Human Right Commission.

But “many Afghan civilians as well as aid actors had difficulty distinguishing between militia, criminal groups, Taliban and ostensibly government-controlled security forces,” said Ashley Jackson and Antonio Giustozzi, authors of a recent working paper on aid work in the country.

“While some aid workers felt that arbaki enhanced their security, others complained that militias or local strongmen attempted to interfere with their programming,” Jackson and Giustozzi wrote.

Still, most NGOs in Kunduz told IRIN that humanitarian work was still possible in areas with a strong militia presence.

“We have been here for 30 years, so we know what works,” said Zabihullah Aziz, director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. “We hire people from the area where the project is being implemented, so they know the sensitivities of the community, but we also provide further training.

“The impunity is growing; the cycle of violence is perpetuating”

“We provide services that meet the community’s needs. This helps build trust. If you don’t assess the community’s needs first or train people on [how to deal with] militia or Taliban, you will face trouble.”

Razmal Sardar, who worked on a UN World Food Programme (WFP) project, says using local staff is key: “We are locals from Kunduz, so people know us and our families. Because of this we can work in areas with militia. They often looked after our security.”

Echoing Aziz, Sardar says community support is essential. “If they agreed on the project, then we would start. If the people did not want the project or weren’t sure, we did not go ahead. If locals agree and are involved in development then militia won’t bother with you.”

But Zalmai Alokzai, manager of a new project, Stability In Key Areas, which helps programmes identify sources of instability before implementing projects, anticipates challenges ahead: “Because of the nature of our work, I am sure we will face problems.”

District officials are outnumbered and lack power to arrest or detain militia when they commit abuses, and officials say they are beyond government control.

“The impunity is growing; the cycle of violence is perpetuating,” said a UN human rights official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Thomas Ruttig of Afghanistan Analysts Network says the most basic problem with these militias is the economy: “There is not enough money to employ these people. There is a surplus in the gun business, so the gun industry is more lucrative than, say, agriculture.

“If growing sugar beets were more profitable, then the militia would grow sugar beets. The whole intervention post-2001 has still not changed this. We need to look at the intervention and question its effectiveness.”

bm/jj/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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