Category Archives: United Nations

War in Sudan? Not Where the Oil Wealth Flows

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Oct. 20 — To understand Sudan’s defiance toward the world, especially the Western world, check out the Ozone Café.

Here young, rich Sudanese, wearing ripped jeans and fancy gym shoes, sit outside licking scoops of ice cream as an outdoor air-conditioning system sprays a cooling veil of mist. Around the corner is a new BMW dealership unloading $165,000 cars.

“I tell people you only live this life once,” said Nada Gerais, a saleswoman.

While one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises continues some 600 miles away in Darfur, across Khartoum bridges are being built, office towers are popping up, supermarkets are opening and flatbed trucks hauling plasma TV’s fight their way through thickening traffic.

Despite the image of Sudan as a land of cracked earth and starving people, the economy is booming, with little help from the West. Oil has turned it into one of the fastest growing economies in Africa — if not the world — emboldening the nation’s already belligerent government and giving it the wherewithal to resist Western demands to end the conflict in Darfur.

American sanctions have kept many companies from Europe and the United States out of Sudan, but firms from China, Malaysia, India, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are racing in. Direct foreign investment has shot up to $2.3 billion this year, from $128 million in 2000, all while the American government has tried to tighten the screws.

“Khartoum is hot — in all ways,” said Hashim Wahir, chairman of Petronas Sudan, a branch of the Malaysian national oil company.

It was 115 degrees outside, but Mr. Wahir was also talking about business.

As long as Asian countries are eager to trade with Sudan, despite its human rights record, the American embargo seems to have minimal effect. The country’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, keeps demonstrating his disdain for the West by refusing to allow United Nations peacekeepers into Darfur, despite continued bloodshed and pressure from the United States to let the peacekeepers in.

“The government knows it doesn’t need America,” said Abda Yahia el-Mahdi, a former finance minister, now in private consulting. “The only people who are being hurt by the sanctions are the Americans, who are missing out on this huge boom.”

The wealth is hardly evenly shared, and much of Sudan, like Darfur, remains desperately poor. Indeed, the nation’s per capita income was only $640 in 2005, at market exchange rates, according to the World Bank.

But the country’s G.D.P. grew 8 percent in 2005, according to the International Monetary Fund, and is predicted to increase by 12 percent this year. Cotton and other agricultural products have traditionally been the engines of the economy here, but the new growth comes largely because Sudan has substantially increased its crude oil production to 512,000 barrels a day — a drop compared with Saudi Arabia’s or Iran’s, but enough to bring billions of dollars to a country that until recently was one of the poorest on earth.

“Oil and real estate investment, primarily in urban areas, is really what’s driving the economy,” said Michael Kevane, an associate professor of economics at Santa Clara University. “There’s no doubt about that.”

The boom is also strengthening the government’s hand at home. Over the past few years, Mr. Bashir has been on an infrastructure binge, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into roads, bridges, power plants, hospitals and schools, projects that tend to boost any government’s popularity. Mr. Bashir seems to desperately need it, with many people across the country, not just in Darfur, openly rebelling against his rule.

Mr. Bashir, an army general, seized power in 1989 through a military coup, and among the biggest beneficiaries of these boom times have been his troops. Ms. Mahdi said more than 70 percent of the government’s share of oil profits is spent on defense. A government priority is to manufacture guns and ammunition domestically, in case external supplies are cut off.

Despite all the new materialism, Sudan still marches to a martial tune. Army officers enjoy special status, foreign visitors must register with the police and schoolchildren are required to wear camouflage uniforms to class. But the boom is changing much about society, from the careers people pursue, to the music they listen to, even what they eat.

The traditional meal of ful, a bean stew eaten for breakfast and lunch, is giving way to kebabs, yogurt, hamburgers and hot dogs.

“We even have Pringles,” said Mohammed Abdelwahab Salih, a 26-year-old entrepreneur who recently started a business in Khartoum designing Web sites.

Mr. Salih remembers the days, not so long ago, when he used to have to wait in line for hours for a single loaf of bread.

“And it wasn’t even good bread,” he said. “When we got home, we had to pick out the flies.”

For years, the Sudanese economy was a disaster, with triple-digit inflation, moribund industries and war. Ever since Sudan’s independence in 1956, Christian and animist tribes in the south have rebelled against Muslim rulers in the north.

Oil had been discovered here by Chevron in the 1970’s, but the oil fields straddled the north-south divide and were essentially unworkable while the fighting was going on.

The American government imposed a trade embargo in 1997, freezing Sudanese government assets in the United States and cutting off its exports to and imports from Sudan, with a few exceptions. The reason: human rights abuses connected to the north-south war and Sudan’s links to terrorists. Osama bin Laden lived in Khartoum in the 1990’s.

But by 1999, when the first trickle of oil began to flow out of Port Sudan, on the Red Sea, Sudan’s economy was turning around. A small cadre of Western-educated technocrats had followed the I.M.F.’s reform programs to the letter — cutting spending, privatizing state-owned businesses, lowering inflation and pushing infrastructure.

“It was classic, conservative economic policies,” said Safwat Fanous, chairman of the political science department at the University of Khartoum. “And it worked.”

Even World Bank economists have been impressed.

“These are very good people managing the economy and would rate among the best anywhere in Africa,” said Asif Faiz, country manager for the World Bank in Sudan.

But, he added, they need to do more to spread the wealth to rural areas and focus on the poor.

Sudanese living abroad began to drift back, drawn by new opportunities — and other realities.

“If you want to open a bank account in America these days, it’s not difficult, it’s impossible,” said Ahmed Amin Abdellatif, a 33-year-old Cambridge-educated businessman who drives a Porsche SUV through the dusty streets of Khartoum and runs an empire of electronics shops. He argued that antiterrorism laws in the West had made it very difficult for him as a Sudanese citizen to do business. “Why go through the headache?” he added. “Why not put your money somewhere where it’s welcome?”

In 2002, Sudanese investors opened a new Coca-Cola factory, with Coke syrup legally exported to Sudan under an exemption for food and medicine. The $140-million plant churns out 100,000 bottles of Coke, Sprite and Fanta per hour, and factory owners have even adopted liberal employment policies, giving jobs to deaf women along the assembly line.

All this new investment is literally redrawing Khartoum’s skyline. Four years ago, the Libyan government began building a 24-story, five-star hotel on the banks of the Nile. The hotel is nearly finished and boasts a level of luxury unknown in Sudan until now — it has an indoor pool, squash courts, an espresso bar and spa.

In 2004, the first proper mall arrived in Khartoum, brought by a Turkish company, complete with a Wal-Mart-size megastore called the Hypermarket. It is place where men in white robes and women covered in black head to toe pluck toilet paper, dates and Pepsi from the shelves as Sudanese elevator music plays in the background.

In 2005, many people here hoped the American sanctions would be lifted and the economy would hit warp speed after Sudan’s leaders, coaxed by American mediators, made peace with southern rebels. But by that point the conflict in Darfur was raging, and relations with the United States only turned frostier.

“We felt like the Americans betrayed us,” said the Sudanese foreign minister, Lam Akol.

Still, Sudan had already learned to rely on the East, and because of oil exports, the economy had gained a stable momentum of its own. Inflation is now 6 percent; investment and development are reaching beyond downtown Khartoum to Sudan’s central agricultural belt and to Juba, the main city in the south.

But Sudan is a huge country, Africa’s largest, at nearly a million square miles. Enormous swaths of territory are still neglected, and growing class differences could sow the seeds of further unrest. Rebel groups in Darfur and other areas, eager for their share of oil profits and power, pose another problem.

Business leaders say the biggest danger would be if the United States succeeded in persuading Sudan’s Asian and Middle Eastern trading partners to join the boycott.

“The Americans are not a threat, but if the international community lines up against us, ahh, that is a different issue,” said Osama Daoud Abdellatif, chairman of the DAL Group, a conglomerate that owns the Coke factory, the Ozone Café and a number of other businesses. “Everything has been going so well, but Darfur could spoil the party.”

Link to this story

Israel Comfirms Use of Banned Weapons

Israel confirms use of phosphorous bombs

October 22, 2006

JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli army dropped phosphorous bombs on Hezbollah guerrilla targets during their war in Lebanon this summer, an Israeli Cabinet minister said Sunday, confirming Lebanese allegations for the first time. Until now, Israel had said it only used the weapons – which cause severe chemical burns – to mark targets or territory, according to Israeli media reports.

But Cabinet Minister Yaakov Edri said Israel used the weapons before an Aug. 14 cease-fire went into effect, ending its 34-day war against Hezbollah. Edri said he was speaking on behalf of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, according to his spokeswoman, Orly Yehezkel.

“The Israeli army holds phosphorous munitions in different forms,” Edri said. “The Israeli army made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hezbollah in attacks against military targets in open ground.”

The Lebanese government accused Israel of dropping phosphorous bombs during the war. Edri did not specify where or against what types of targets the bombs were used.

White phosphorous is a translucent wax-like substance with a pungent smell that, once ignited, creates intense heat and smoke. The Geneva Conventions ban using white phosphorous against civilians or civilian areas.

The United States acknowledged last year that U.S. troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah in November 2004, but said it had never been used against civilian targets.

Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. The Israeli military said in July its use of weapons “conforms with international law” and it investigates claims of violations based on the information provided.

Overall, more than 1,200 civilians were killed on both sides during the conflict, which started with Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in July.

Both Israel and Hezbollah have been accused by the United Nations and human rights groups of violating humanitarian law during the conflict.

Israel has been accused of firing as many as 4 million cluster bombs into Lebanon during the war, especially in the last hours before the cease-fire. U.N. demining experts say up to 1 million cluster bombs failed to explode immediately and continue to threaten civilians.

On Sunday, a cluster bomb exploded in a southern Lebanese village, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding his younger brother, security officials said. At least 21 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded by cluster bombs since the end of the war, the U.N. Mine Action Center said.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, has been criticized for failing to distinguish between Israeli civilian and military targets. Human Rights Watch also said the militant group fired cluster bombs into civilian areas of northern Israel during the fighting.

As merciful as Katrina: Israeli warnings do little to protect civilian lives

Israel once again dropped leaflets today warning residents of south Beirut to evacuate before air-strikes resumed. The assumption is that anyone who does not leave is a member or ally of Hezbollah. As the botched Hurricane Katrina evacuation demonstrated, not everyone who wants to can leave.

The US is the richest country in the world, has an advanced transportation network of trains, airports, sea ports, highways, and advanced communication systems to aid any evacuation attempts. With all these advantages, tens of thousands of people were unable to leave New Orleans, and hundreds died because of it.

Lebanon is a poor country with an equally poor transportation system. Few Lebanese, especially those in the impoverished southern part of the country, have access to cars, and public transportation is practically non-existent. Under perfect conditions, many would be unable to leave their homes for safe areas. Couple this with Israel’s bombing of nearly all bridges and transportation routes out of southern Lebanon, and it is surprising that the civilian death toll is not higher. Now take into account that any large vehicles such as trucks and buses are targeted by Israeli air strikes because of their ability to carry rocket launchers in addition to fleeing civilians, and it becomes clear that Israel is at the very least not living up to its commitment to protect the lives of civilians. Israel is a signatory of the Geneva Conventions, which mandates certain protects for civilians including

No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed,” and “collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Even after warning civilians to leave, Israel is unable to verify whether they have left.

IDF sources said the warning pamphlets the IAF disseminated to residents, calling on them to leave the area, were dropped several days before the strike, and not over the weekend.

The IAF does not have a way to verify whether villages have been vacated, or whether civilians remain hidden in bomb-shelters in locations otherwise believed to have been vacated, the sources said.

Paratroopers who fought in Bint Jbail last week said they noticed civilians hiding in the rubble while the fierce battle with Hezbollah militants was taking place.

It is possible for Israel to conduct a campaign of self defense against Hezbollah in accordance with International Law. In fact, doing so will result in a safer Israel and fewer civilians deaths on both sides. Despite weeks of air-strikes, Hezbollah has maintained its ability to attack Israel. Judging by the number of rockets and how far they have been fired into Israel, if anything, Hezbollah has gotten stronger. It is difficult for a conventional army to defeat a guerrilla army from the ground, but it is impossible from air. Israel has yet to report any Hezbollah deaths that are a result air-strikes, but has reported some modest successes from their ground campaign.

If Israel wants to achieve its stated goal of protecting its northern border and creating a buffer zone, it should have never engaged in its misguided air campaign. A focused ground campaign will disrupt Hezbollah’s attacks on northern Israel, and will go a long way to halt international criticism. Most importantly, civilians on both sides will be protected.

Hezbollah is committing war crimes, but Israel is committing war crimes in response. Protecting civilians is a just end, but the end does not justify the means.

UN Observers Killed in Southern Lebanon

I find it hard to believe that Israel is taking great care not to harm non-combatants when UN observers are in danger, regardless of whether this was of “collateral damage” or a deliberate strike. I also find it hard to believe that the families of those killed feel any less grief when their loved ones are killed accidentally instead of intentionally.

U.N.: Israeli airstrike hits U.N. observer post
Sources: Condoleezza Rice floats plan to end conflict

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) — An Israeli airstrike hit a United Nations post in the southern Lebanon late Tuesday, killing four of the agency’s observers, according to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.

UNIFIL sent a rescue-and-medical team to the city of Khiyam, and the team was trying to clear rubble early Wednesday. UNIFIL said there were at least 14 incidents of firing close to the post since Tuesday afternoon.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was looking into the report, which came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proposed an ambitious plan in which international military forces would help the Lebanese government stabilize southern Lebanon, Lebanese political sources said.

Rice pitched the plan Tuesday to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem, then traveled to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice’s diplomatic moves came on the 14th day of the conflict sparked by Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers.

Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes continued to pound Lebanese cities, while Hezbollah rockets rained down on northern Israel. (Watch cockpit view of bombing in Lebanon — :45)

The Israel Defense Forces also said it killed senior Hezbollah commander Abu Jaafar, who Israel says was in charge of the central area of Lebanon’s border with Israel. CNN was not able to confirm the report and there has been no confirmation from Hezbollah.

Since July 12, at least 392 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and as many as 1,383 wounded in Lebanon, Lebanese security officials said Tuesday.

At least 41 Israelis have died, including 19 civilians, and at least 388 have been wounded, Israeli officials said.

The plan proposed by Rice initially would involve putting an international force of up to 10,000 Turkish and Egyptian troops under a NATO or U.N. commander into southern Lebanon following a cease-fire, the Lebanese political sources said.

Another international force of up to 30,000 troops then would help the Lebanese government regain control over the region, the sources said. (Full story)

Rice presented the plan Monday to Lebanese officials, the sources said, and will show it to European foreign ministers Wednesday in Rome, Italy.

U.S. and diplomatic sources said Lebanese officials are leaking details of the proposal because they are opposed to many of them.

The sources describe the plan as an outline or working proposal and said no one has agreed to it. They also said there are many hurdles to overcome before it could be implemented.
No letup in the fighting

An overnight Israeli airstrike hit a house in the village of Nabatiye, killing seven people, Lebanese security sources said.

The IDF said its military operations have hit dozens of militants during ongoing fighting in Bint Jbeil, a town it dubbed Hezbollah’s “terror capital.”

Israel gained complete control of Bint Jbeil, according to IDF Gen. Gal Hirsch. The IDF said it had killed between 20 and 30 Hezbollah fighters in the area in the past 24 hours.

The IDF hopes to create a “security zone” in southern Lebanon until an international force arrives, said Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

“If there is not a multinational force that will get in to control the fences, we will continue to control with our fire towards anyone that gets close to the defined security zone and they will know that they can be hurt,” he said.

In Israel, a Katyusha rocket killed a 15-year-old girl Tuesday in the village of Meghar, Israeli, police and medical service officials said.

At least 18 people were injured in the port city of Haifa and one man died of a heart attack after a rocket struck near his home, officials said.

About 100 Hezbollah rockets were fired into Israel on Tuesday, striking the cities of Haifa, Carmiel, Kyrat Shmona and Nahiriya, according to the IDF.

Huge explosions reverberated Tuesday afternoon through the southern suburbs of Beirut — a Hezbollah stronghold — sending smoke billowing through high-rise buildings. (Watch airstrikes pound Beirut — 2:53)

Several Israeli strikes hit the Lebanese coastal city of Tyre. There was no official word yet on casualties.
Israel opens aid corridors

Israeli officials agreed during talks with Rice to make it easier to get humanitarian aid into Lebanon, a U.S. State Department official said.

Lebanese officials have pleaded with the United States to pressure Israel for an immediate cease-fire, but U.S. officials said conditions are not yet ripe for such a move, and they expect Israeli military operations to continue for another week or even longer.

U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman delivered $30 million in humanitarian aid to Lebanon, which will meet the basic medical needs of 20,000 people, according to an embassy statement. The shipment was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on Tuesday afternoon.

The U.S. announcement followed a U.N. appeal for nearly $150 million in humanitarian aid earlier this week. (Full story)

CNN’s John King, Karl Penhaul, John Roberts, Brent Sadler and Fionnuala Sweeney contributed to this report.

The Middle East Cheat Sheet

Are you confused about the Middle East Conflict? If you have been paying attention, you should be. While I may not agree with everything here, and would tend to place more relationships in the “It’s complicated” category, this should at least keep your head from spinning for a few minutes.

Last Week in the Rest of the World

Last weeks news that you may have missed…

Sunday

As Tensions Rise, U.S. and Moscow Falter on Trade

STRELNA, Russia, Sunday, July 16 — President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin announced that they had failed to come to an agreement on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, and aides said the deal, which had been expected as early as this weekend, was not likely for months.

Monday

Indonesia quake toll passes 100
JAKARTA, Indonesia — A major earthquake off the coast of Java and a tsunami that followed has killed at least 155 people, according to Red Cross officials.

Tuesday

U.N.: Heavy fighting in Colombia forces thousands of civilians to flee

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Intense fighting between the army and leftist guerrillas in western Colombia has forced thousands of civilians from their homes and trapped several Indian communities who are unable to reach safety, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Wednesday

Europeans Agree on Plan to Send Money to Palestinians

GAZA, July 19 — The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, pledged Wednesday to start international donor funds flowing to cash-starved Palestinian hospitals as early as Aug. 1, part of a broader relief package that will provide the Palestinian Authority with about $130 million over three months.

Thursday

Ethiopian Troops Enter Somali Government Base

MOGADISHU, Somalia, July 20 (Reuters) — Ethiopian soldiers entered the Somali town of Baidoa on Thursday, witnesses said, a day after an Islamist militia advanced within 22 miles of the government’s temporary base there.

Friday

Charles Taylor appears in court

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Former Liberian President Charles Taylor appeared in a Hague courtroom Friday for a hearing aimed at paving the way for his war crimes trial.

Saturday

Mexico’s Losing Leftist Defiantly Awaits Election Ruling

MEXICO CITY, July 22 — As he fights his loss in court, the leftist candidate in Mexico’s July 2 election says he has been the victim of a broad conspiracy among the incumbent, election officials, other party leaders and business tycoons to rob him of the presidency.

Did you see an international news story that should be listed above? Have you seen one this week that should be listed in next weeks edition of “Last Week in the Rest of the World”? E-mail or comment below!

Archived Audio from NPR’s Talk of the Nation Special on the Situation in the Middle East

This was an excellent overview of the current situation, the motivations of the major players, and where we are all headed.

Talk of the Nation, July 17, 2006 · Attacks and counter attacks between Israel and Hezbollah raise fears of a broader regional conflict in the Middle East. Guests cover the latest developments there and dimming prospects for peace.

Guests:

Loren Jenkins, NPR senior foreign editor

Raghida Dergham, senior diplomatic correspondent for Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab, Arabic language newspaper

Michael Herzog, visiting military fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and brigadier general in the Israeli Defense Forces

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the 2005 book The Opportunity: America’s Moment to Alter History’s Course

Sen. George Mitchell, former Democratic lawmaker from Maine and chairman of the Sharm el-Sheikh International Fact-Finding Committee