Syrian government marks start of Ramadan with bloody crackdown

Syrian government marks start of Ramadan with bloody crackdown. Eritrean government backed planned to bomb AU summit, according to UN report. Fresh violence in Papua leaves 21 dead. Chinese government announces crackdown on Uighur “terrorists” after a weekend of violence. Arrested kingpin admits to ordering 1500 murders. Geelani slams Indian government intransigence in Kashmir as Indo-Pak peace talks resume. All this and more in today's briefing...
Josephine Whitaker
1 August 2011

Syrian government marks start of Ramadan with bloody crackdown

At least 142 people were killed across Syria yesterday as the besieged government of Bashar al-Assad cracked down on anti-government protestors, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In one of the “deadliest days” since protests began in March, over one hundred people were killed in the city of Hama, which has become a centre of the anti-government movement. Yesterday’s crackdown was thought to have been sparked by a 500 000-strong rally in Hama on Friday.

Today, the government continued its assault on Hama and launched attacks on several other key cities. A witness on Deir ez-Zour, Syria’s main gas and oil-production hub in the east, told Al Jazeera that the government began fresh attacks on the town early this morning. Local reports indicate a deteriorating situation, with food and medical supplies running low.

The EU has extended sanctions against Assad’s government, including asset freezes and travel bans, after accusing Syria of an indiscriminate massacre of civilians in Hama over the weekend. The UN Security Council planned to hold an emergency session on Syria later on Monday, although  Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa are expected to oppose further sanctions against Syria.

Turkey, formerly one of Assad’s key allies until his government began to crack down on protestors, condemned the weekend’s events. The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, described the massacre as “horrifying.”

Assad’s government, meanwhile, has been trying to pin blame for the unrest on a foreign-backed plot to stoke sectarian tensions in Syria.


Eritrea planned to bomb AU summit, says UN report

The Eritrean government was behind a plan to attack an African Union summit in Addis Ababa in January, according to a new UN report obtained by Reuters. Asmara has also been providing financial assistance to the tune of GBP50 000 per month to Somali rebels linked to al-Qaeda through its embassy in Kenya, says the report.

The report, published by the United Nations’ Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, warns that Eritrea is a significant and increasing security threat in east Africa. In addition to a plan to blow up AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, the attackers also planned to target Africa’s largest market in order to “kill many people”, the report claims. Foiled by Ethiopian security forces in January and blamed on Ethiopian rebels, the plan was reportedly “conceived, planned, supported and directed by the external operations directorate of the Government of Ethiopia.”

The plot represents a qualitative shift in Eritrean tactics, the report argues. While previous support for rebel groups in Somalia and Ethiopia should be seen in the context of an ongoing border dispute with Ethiopia, the plan to target the AU summit represents a changing approach which presents a broader security threat to the region.  

The Eritrean government last month denied all involvement in the bomb plot, and has repeatedly denied allegations that it is supporting al-Shabaab. The Eritrean ambassador to the UN has called the report “a fiction” and a “fabricated drama” which is “outrageous and ridiculous.” The government slammed the UN for its bias against Eritrea.


 Fresh violence in Papua leaves 21 dead

Clashes over the last few days in Indonesia’s eastern province, Papua, have left at least 21 people dead in the latest bout of fighting in a simmering conflict. Unidentified gunmen this morning fired on a crowded minibus just outside the provincial capital Jayapura, leaving four dead, according to police. This attack comes just hours after clashes between supporters of rival political leaders over the weekend left seventeen people dead in Puncak district. Local police chief Alex Korwa has described the situation in Puncak as “tense but under control.”

These latest clashes come on the eve of large scale pro-independence protests planned for Tuesday, which will call for independence from Indonesia.

Papua, a province rich in minerals including copper and gold, is home to a simmering separatist insurgency led by the Free Papua Movement (OPM). Although a Morning Star flag, the illict symbol of the Papuan independence movement, was found at the scene of this morning’s attack, local authorities have reported that it is too early to say whether it was the work of the OPM.

Papuan activists, however, claim that security services have encouraged unrest in order to undermine tomorrow’s planned pro-independence demonstrations. The conflict in Papua has its origins in a controversial UN-backed vote, which saw the western end of New Guinea come under Indonesian rule in the 1960s. Allegations of security force meddling have long been common, although difficult to prove as access to the region is carefully controlled by the Jakarta government. Many Papuans resent central control of the province, which remains largely impoverished despite its natural wealth.


Chinese government announces crackdown on Uighur “terrorists”

The Chinese government has announced a crackdown on “illegal religious activities” in the western Xinjiang region, after blaming a weekend of violence in the restive province on Muslim activists trained in Pakistan. The move, announced today by the autonomous regional government in Xinjiang comes at the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Over the weekend, up to eighteen people were killed in attacks in Kashgar, a city in western Xinjiang with a majority Uighur population. The violence is the second episode in the region in less than a month. On 18 July, a number of police officials and civilians were killed in an attack on a police station in Hotan.

A government statement claims that “an initial police investigation found that the leaders of the group behind the attack had learned about explosives and firearms in Pakistan at a camp of the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement.” The state government’s website adds that captured suspects have confessed that their leaders were trained in the use of firearms and explosives in Pakistan.The ETIM is a separatist group based in Pakistan, whose stated goal is the independence of East Turkestan and the conversion of all Chinese people to Islam.

Xinjiang’s most senior CP official, Zhang Chunxian, vowed that “[we will] resolutely attack religious extremist forces and effectively curb illegal religious activities.” The Pakistani government has responded to these allegations by condemning terrorism and pledging to continue its cooperation with the Chinese government against the ETIM.

Tension between Uighurs, an ethnic Turkic Muslim minority with strong ties to central Asia, and China’s dominant Han ethnic group have led to sporadic bouts of violence over the last few years. The Uighur minority is unhappy with decades of political and religious repression, and increasing state-sponsored migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang. 200 people were killed in 2009 when Uighur militants attacked Han Chinese in the regional capital Urumqi, which led to violent reprisals in the subsequent days.


Arrested drug kingpin admits to ordering 1500 murders

A suspected cartel chief arrested in Ciudad Juárez on Friday has admitted to ordering over 1500 murders in northern Chihuahua state, according to Mexican police.

Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, also known as El Diego, is believed to be a key figure in the Juárez cartel. Ciudad Juárez is among the world’s most dangerous cities, and saw over 3000 murders last year. Acosta Hernandez, a former state police officer, is thought to be the leader of a gang of hired killers, known as La Linea, who act as enforcers for the Juárez cartel. He is accused of involvement in the killing of a US consulate worker Lesley Enriquez and her husband last year, as well as orchestrating the first car bomb attack to hit Mexico’s ongoing drugs war.

Mexican president Felipe Calderón tweeted that Acosta Hernandez’s capture was “the biggest blow” to organised crime in the city since he sent 5000 police to try to quell spiralling violence in April 2010. The Mexican government had offered 15m Mexican pesos (GBP778 000) for information leading to his arrest.


Geelani slams Indian government role in Kashmir

Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has slammed the Indian government for “halting peace in Kashmir,” just days after Indian and Pakistani officials met to revive peace talks between the two countries. Geelani was again put under house arrest last week, after returning from New Delhi where he met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. This meeting, which came ahead of talks between Khar and her Indian counterparts, is said by Indian sources to have soured the national-level talks.

Speaking at a seminar on the peace process in Srinagar, the provincial capital, Geelani said “one millions troops are sitting and blocking the path to peace.”

International human rights organisations have repeatedly criticised the Indian government’s human rights record in Kashmir. An Amnesty International report in March alleged that hundreds of people were held each year in detention centres without trial or charge. However, the Jammu and Kashmir state government recently announced plans to amend the Public Safety Act, which allows the detention of people as young as 16 for up to two years without trial, and has provoked outrage, both in Kashmir and internationally.

Meanwhile, a report by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, a Kashmiri organisation which campaigns on the estimated 8000 forced disappearances in Kashmir since 1989, recently published a report drawing attention to the plight of the women left behind by these human rights abuses.

Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, has been the source of two of three wars between these nuclear neighbours since 1947. An armed revolt in Indian administered Kashmir, which began in 1989, has seen tens of thousands killed.

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