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Ban seeks to placate Kagame over UN report

Ban seeks to placate Kagame over UN report. China warns Japan over fishing boat incident. ‘Nigerian Taliban’ raid jail, freeing prisoners. Bombing rocks Russian market. Clinton describes Mexico drugs crime as “like an insurgency.” All this and more in today’s briefing.
Josephine Whitaker
9 September 2010

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon yesterday attempted to persuade Rwandan president Paul Kagame not to pull Rwandan peacekeepers out of Sudan, after a condemnatory report accusing the Rwandan army of war crimes was leaked last week.

The report details over 600 crimes committed by various forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed, both Rwandan and Congolese citizens.

The Kigali government has denounced the UN report as “insane,” and Rwandan foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo described its release as “incredibly irresponsible.” Rwanda has threatened to withdraw troops from peacekeeping missions in response to the allegations, including from Sudan where it leads the peacekeeping mission. According to Mushikiwabo, “Attempts to take action in this report – either through its release or leaks to the media – will force us to withdraw from Rwanda’s various commitments to the UN, especially in the area of peacekeeping.”

Ban told a press conference after his meeting with Kagame that “both the president and I are disappointed that the draft report has been leaked.” He also commended Rwanda’s contribution to UN peacekeeping throughout Africa. The United States has also urged Rwanda to keep its peacekeepers in Sudan, with Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, saying that the US “hopes very much taht the government of Rwanda will find its way to maintaining its troop commitment in Sudan.”

The openSecurity verdict: The report at the heart of this furore was completed last month by the UN high commissioner for human rights (UNOCHR), and was due to be released early this month. However, ostensibly in response to pressure from Rwanda, its publication was delayed until 1 October to allow for the inclusion of comments from countries named in report – Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, Uganda and Angola.

It is important to realise that allegations of war crimes, many committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (now the national army), are not new. There have long been concerns that the RPF, which under Kagame’s leadership brought an end to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, went on to commit atrocities against Hutu civilians fleeing into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Suspected atrocities have previously been documented by human rights organisations and journalists.

Human rights groups have welcomed the UN’s report, calling for it to be used as the basis of a legal investigation into war crimes committed by Rwanda and allies in Congo. However, the Rwandan government, and likely a large section of the populace, sees the allegations as politically motivated, part of a wider campaign to diminish the genocide, led by lawyers for Hutu extremists accused of involvement in the genocide who are currently on trial in an international tribunal. In addition to calling the UNOCHR report “insane,” “malicious,” and “ridiculous,” Rwandan foreign minister Louise Musikiwabo also accused the UN of using “the lowest evidentiary standards” to support its allegations.

Regardless of whether Kagame’s government believes there is any truth to the allegations, Rwanda cannot be allowed to hold its ongoing humanitarian obligations to ransom, in exchange for UN silence on significant and quite likely systematic human rights abuses. According to the report, the “attacks described... reveal a number of damning elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide.” The term ‘genocide’ may not turn out to be an accurate one, and it is clearly not a sensible one to use in relation to Rwanda without extreme caution. Perhaps it would be better excluded unless the evidence in question is absolutely indisputable (which is unlikely, needless to say). However, this does not detract from the very real abuses perpetrated by the Rwandan army at the time.

Kagame needs to realise that being the man who saved Rwanda from genocide and who has since been hailed for the stability and economic growth he has overseen does not exempt him from political criticism, both at home and within the international community. Kagame is rightly praised for bringing stability after the genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered. Similarly, he has earned acclaim for the fact that GDP per capita has trebled since he came to power in 1994, tax revenues have increased and Rwanda is now ranked as the least corrupt nation in sub-Saharan Africa.

But it is not an entirely rosy picture. Allegations of repression of domestic political debate have mounted in recent months, especially prior to presidential elections which Kagame won with 93% of the vote. The president has had to fend off national and international allegations of a clamp down on press freedom and repression of those who criticised the government. Kagame’s consistent refrain has been that open political debate may allow genocide deniers to destabilise the country once again. However, he appears blind to the possibility that repressing political debate – especially criticism of himself – may produce the same result.

A good example of this is a recent report published by four former Kagame allies, which warns that his repressive tactics may lead to fresh turmoil in Rwanda. The report describes "Rwanda (as) a one-party authoritarian state, controlled by President Kagame through a small clique of Tutsi military officers and civilian cadres of the (ruling party)," and urges the international community to apply more pressure to Kigali.

China warns Japan over fishing boat incident

China has today issued a stern warning to its neighbour and long-time rival Japan over a fishing dispute, saying that the incident could disrupt relations between Asia’s largest economies. Fears of a diplomatic dispute, and of knock-on effects for the perennially tense Sino-Japanese relationship, were aroused when the captain of a Chinese fishing boat was arrested near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, a disputed island chain in the East China Sea, after he allegedly rammed two Japanese coast guard boats.

A spokesperson from China’s Foreign Ministry warned at a press conference that “The Diaoyu islands are China's inseparable territory and the Japanese side applying domestic law to Chinese fishing boats operating in this area is absurd, illegal and invalid, and China will never accept that”.

The incident has escalated as Japan has taken steps to try the ship’s captain on charges of obstructing public duties. China has twice summoned Japan’s ambassador to demand that the captain, now held by Japanese authorities in Okinawa, is released.

Relations between the two economic powers have been weighed down by the Japanese occupation of China, most recently during the Second World War. China maintains that the Diaoyu islands and waters are part of its sovereign territory, and has urged Japan not to patrol there. Japan, which calls them Senkaku, argues that it is an “undeniable fact” that the islands belong to Japan. Both Chinese and Japanese governments are responsive to public expectations that they maintain a strong line. Diplomatic skirmishes in 2005 and 2006 provoked massive public protests on both sides. Chinese press is already warning of a public backlash if Beijing shows signs of compromising over this incident. However, analysts remain confident that the importance of trade ties between the two states will prevent this incident escalating further.

Bombing rocks Russian market

A suspected car bombing rocked the city of Vladikavkaz, capital of North Ossetia, earlier today.

Russian news agencies are reporting at least five people were killed, although reports on casualties are conflicting. The Guardian is reporting that fifteen people were killed and eighty injured, while the Russian Interfax news agency reports that at least six people died in the blast, which occurred at the entrance to a market.

Despite recent years of violence in neighbouring Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan due to a growing Islamist insurgency, North Ossetia has largely been spared. Local officials on the scene have said that there is so far no clear information regarding who perpetrated the bombing.

‘Nigerian Taliban’ raid jail, freeing prisoners

An estimated 759 prisoners have escaped from a prison in the central Nigerian city of Bauchi after heavily armed Islamists launched an attack to free 123 of their comrades.

The attack occurred on Tuesday night, and is believed to have been the work of Boko Haram, meaning “Western education is taboo”, an Islamist group that wants to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. Five people, including two civilians and two security force personnel, were killed in the attack, which left only 30 inmates in a jail that previously held almost 800.

Bauchi State Governor Isa Yuguda warned the group to leave the state or be flushed out. The state police commissioner, Alhaji Danlami Yar’Adua, announced at a press conference that the government had commenced investigations into the jail break. Thirteen people have so far been arrested in connection with the prison break. Prison guard Salisu Mohammed described how over fifty militants armed with automatic weapons forced their way into the jail and “moved from cell to cell, breaking in and freeing the inmates.”

Boko Haram has been dubbed the Nigerian Taliban, owing to the group’s extreme and intolerant views. In the last year, Boko Haram has attacked a number of police posts in northern Nigeria. In 2009, the group went on a violent rampage across north-eastern Nigeria. Efforts to put down the uprising left over 800 people dead.

Local analysts have been quick to criticise the government for failing to deal with those arrested in association with last year’s violence swiftly – a step that may have deterred Tuesday’s attack. The raid has demonstrated that Boko Haram remains a strong presence in the area, renewing fears of violence and instability in northern Nigeria.

Clinton describes Mexico drugs crime as “like an insurgency”

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has likened ongoing drug-related violence in Mexico to an insurgency, in a statement that looks set to spark a diplomatic row with the US’s southern neighbour. In comments made after a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington-based think tank, Clinton remarked that Mexico is “looking more and more like Colombia looked twenty years ago.” According to Clinton, the use of car bombs is one of the many “indices” of a nascent insurgency in Mexico.

Mexican officials have been quick to bat away the parallel. One government spokesman, Alejandro Poire, said that the only similarity between violence in Mexico and Colombia is their common cause – the demand for illegal drugs in the United States. Poire also emphasised that “all the efforts of the Mexican states were going into fighting criminals.”

More than 28,000 people have died in drugs-related violence since President Felipe Calderon deployed the Mexican army in the country’s war against drugs in 2006.

The US has long been a backer of this campaign, giving Calderon’s government financial and military support. Some commentators believe Clinton’s remarks were intended to prepare the ground for a new phase of US-Mexican cooperation, potentially modelled on a controversial joint operation in Colombia, Plan Colombia.

Clinton remarks come as seven gunmen were arrested in connection with the killing of 72 migrants from Central and South America last month. The massacre, allegedly committed by the Zetas cartel, is believed to be the largest killing in connection with a drugs cartel to date. Two bodies, believed to be those of officials investigating the massacre who disappeared shortly after uncovering the site, were also uncovered yesterday in San Fernando.

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