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February 15 – March 14, 2003


Part I – Sudan

1. Chronology
2. Iraqi war likely to stop Sudanese peace: experts

Part II- Northern Uganda

1. Briefs

Part III- Horn of Africa

1. Briefs
2. Djibouti: storm in a teacup

Part I – Sudan

1. Chronology

February 21: Aid agencies that operate under the "Operation Lifeline Sudan" umbrella said insecurity in the Southern Blue Nile region of south Sudan had displaced 30,000 people who now reside in camps. In a report, OLS said there are high rates of insecurity, malnutrition and acute water shortages in the camps.

24: The international human rights organisation Amnesty International (AI) expressed concern over the deteriorating security situation in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where armed bandits have in the past few months intensified attacks on civilians. It urged the Sudan government to set up an independent commission of inquiry into the situation in the region.

25: Walter Kansteiner, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, said that bringing peace to Sudan was a key priority of President George Bush's administration. He said this in a new report, titled "Peace, Conflict and Mediation In Africa: An Historic Opportunity in Sudan.”

27: The international human rights organisation Amnesty International (AI) hailed a recent decree issued by Sudanese President Omar Hassan el-Bashir, ordering the appointment of a committee to bring Sudanese laws in line with international humanitarian law.

27: The Sudan government has denied the existence of a new rebel group – the Front for the Liberation of Darfur (FLD) – in the country, which was reported to have seized the town of Gulu in Jebel Marrah province, and installed its own administration.

March 2: The Sudan government and the SPLM/A are set to resume peace talks on March 4 that will focus on the three disputed areas of Abyei, Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile. This two-week session falls outside the regular talks, which are being facilitated by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

2: The Sudanese Islamist opposition newspaper Akhir Lahzah warned the Sudan government not to attack Jabal Marrah in Darfur, western Sudan. “We would like to warn the government about consequences of getting involved in Darfur and the [dangers] of the divide and rule policy,” it said.

3: Lundin Petroleum, the Swedish independent oil company, announced that it is prepared to dilute its 40 percent stake in the $200m first phase of development of exploration block 5a in southern Sudan. Ian Lundin, chairman, said that the company had received expressions of interest but was not involved in an active sales process. However, the company would not entirely exit from Sudan, which presented a "once in a lifetime opportunity".

3: Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka said that the United States supported initiatives that Kenya has made on the Sudan and Somali peace processes. Musyoka, who had just returned from a recent visit to the United States, also said that the two countries would further their cooperation to fight terrorism.

4: Southern Sudanese church leaders meeting in Pretoria, South Africa welcomed the country’s ongoing peace process but have called for urgent, internationally-supported measures to guarantee a "just and sustainable" peace agreement. They demanded an end to the fighting between the Sudan government and the SPLM/A.

4: Peace talks between the Sudan government and the SPLM/A resumed in Mbagathi, Nairobi, with the agenda tackling issues dealing with the three disputed areas of Abyei, Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile, which both sides want included within their areas of control.

4: The Netherlands government announced that it would host a conference on April 1-3 in The Hague focusing on the rebuilding of war-torn Sudan. "For the moment no peace accords have been signed yet, but we think it is good to organize a reconstruction conference in order to prepare the ground and to – in a way – put pressure on the two parties to achieve a result," said a spokeswoman for the Dutch state secretary for development.

4: Sudan's President Omar el-Bashir expressed support for the Emirati proposal for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to step down to avoid war, the United Arab Emirates news agency WAM reported. "The Sudanese president welcomed the proposal of the Emirati president and expressed the backing of Sudan for this initiative," in a telephone call with Emirates president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, it said.

5: Canadian Talisman Energy Inc said it hopes to complete the sale of its 25 percent stake in a Sudan oilfield to India's ONGC Videsh Ltd by March end. "The government of Sudan supports Talisman's sale to ONGC Videsh Ltd and we are working towards that objective. We continue to expect sale completion within March," a company spokesperson said.

6: Khalil Ibrahim, chief of the Sudanese Movement for Justice and Equality, said that he was not fighting for independence but only for a role in government. "Our movement isn't secessionist ... we only want a role in power and a share of resources," Ibrahim, who recently took control of a major town in Sudan's northwestern Darfur region, was quoted as saying.

6: Sudan’s vice-head of national security, Major-Gen Muhammad Atta, denied any direct link between the Popular National Congress [PNC], the Communist Party, the Party for Justice, and events currently taking place in Jabal Marrah, western Darfur, in western Sudan. Atta said the events in Darfur were not tribal clashes but the results of ordinary problems between farmers and pastoralists, compounded by armed raids which have been going on in Sudan for decades.

7: The International Crisis Group (ICG) has accused the Sudan government of repeatedly violating a ceasefire pact it signed last October with the SPLM/A. "Government forces and government-sponsored militia are attacking the oil fields of the Western Upper Nile in an effort to dislodge the SPLA and expand oil industry development,” the ICG said in its report.

7: The Ministerial Alliance of Midland, Texas released an "open letter to the government of Sudan” in President George Bush’s hometown of Midland in a bid to get Bush to pay more attention to beleaguered Christians in war-torn Sudan. The letter included signatures from 50 local officials, including the mayor and nearly the entire City Council of Midland, population 96,000.

8: Some 50 Arab non-governmental organisations began two days of talks in Khartoum to discuss Arab League calls for increased aid to southern Sudan to dissuade it from breaking away to form a separate state.

8: Sudan presidential advisor Badr-al-Din Sulayman went to Switzerland heading a delegation of specialists and experts to participate in two-week unofficial negotiations on Sudan's joining to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The negotiations will prepare for official talks scheduled for next July, said Sulayman.

9: Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is expected to attend the Eighth Summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which is to be held next week in Khartoum, capital of the Sudan, the local weekly Fortune reported.

9: A Sudanese armed group, the Darfur Liberation Front, (DLF) said in a statement it had shot down a military helicopter in North Darfur state carrying the local governor. The helicopter was downed near the town of Tura, 115 kilometers (72 miles) from North Darfur's main town of el-Fashir on Thursday.

9: Canada's Talisman Energy Inc. finally completed a deal to sell its controversial oil interests in Sudan for about $1.2 billion to a subsidiary of India's national oil company, ONGC Videsh Ltd. "We say welcome to the Indian company," Sudanese Energy Minister Awad al-Jaz told reporters. "This deal was done with the consent of all and everybody is happy."

11: State governor General Ibrahim Suleiman dismissed as baseless a claim by the rebel Darfur Liberation Front that its men had shot down a chopper carrying Suleiman and other officials in Jebel Marrah province in west Sudan's Darfur region last Thursday. He said the helicopter was forced down due to technical failure.

11: The Canadian envoy to the Sudanese peace process, Senator Mobina Jaffer, urged the international community to step up pressure on warring sides to reach a peace agreement. "The diplomatic community involved in the peace process should ensure that resources needed to reach peace are available," she said, explaining that Canada on its part had given a total of 11 million dollars (9.9 million euros) to peace talks and humanitarian assistance to Sudan.

12: Talisman Energy Inc. said Wednesday it has completed the sale of its oil interests in Sudan for $771 million U.S. to ONGC Videsh Ltd. of India, slightly more than the deal's original price tag. Now that it has left Sudan, Talisman will use the money to expand in its core areas, which include big natural gas operations in Canada and oil development in the North Sea.

12: Twenty-six people, including the coach of Al Merreikh Club football team, were killed in a head-on collision between two buses south of Khartoum.

14: Petronas International Corp Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Malaysia's oil company Petronas, completed the acquisition of Mobil Oil Sudan Ltd from Mobil International Petroleum Corp. Mobil Oil Sudan Ltd, a company incorporated in Sudan, is involved in the retailing and marketing of oil, motor fuels, jet and marine fuels, lubricants and other petroleum products in Sudan.

14: In a press release, the Darfur Liberation Front (DLF) announced that it recaptured Golo, 65 km south of Kabkabia in Darfur.

14: Due to ONGC Videsh Ltd.’s acquisition of a 25 per cent stake from Canada's Talisman Energy Inc., India will get three million tonnes of crude oil annually from a Sudan oil field.

2. Iraqi war likely to stop Sudanese peace: experts

By Cathy Majtenyi

As the government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) head back to the negotiating table in Nairobi, officials and observers are analysing how an U.S.-led war against Iraq could potentially stall or even stop the Sudan peace talks.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has been stepping up its efforts to win support to wage a first strike against Iraq, ostensibly to halt Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. But the alignment of powers in the West and Arab world, and the war effort itself, will spill over into the delicate negotiations for peace in Sudan as well as Somalia, analysts say.

French Ambassador to Kenya Pierre Jacquemot, whose country vehemently opposes a war against Iraq, publicly voiced these concerns February 28. He was quoted as saying: “If there is a war, everything will stop. No more negotiation between the Arab people from the north, and the Christians from the south. It’s just one example of what would happen if there was a war in Iraq, and all the good efforts made would stop.” He also wrote a similar commentary in the March 5 edition of The Nation, Kenya’s national newspaper.

Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Kalonzo Musyoka subsequently re-stated Kenya’s commitment to the Sudan and Somali peace talks, adding that both talks were going well. At a meeting of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – which is sponsoring the talks – in Nairobi March 2, he told journalists: “We don’t want to get to that now because the war has not taken place. If and when it happens, we will know what to do.”

The first implication of a war against Iraq would be that the Sudan peace talks – currently receiving a lot of attention from the U.S. due to strategic, political, and religious considerations, Africa, and the rest of the world – would take a back seat to the Iraqi war. “This peace process is very high profile now; if there’s a war, it won’t be as high profile,” said Dirdeiry Ahmed, Sudanese Deputy Ambassador to Kenya.

“Nobody is going to expect any assistance to come to the warring parties from the international community if the donor countries are already preoccupied by a major event like that,” he said, adding that the government and the SPLM/A are on the verge of finalising a deal, and need money and technical support to do so. Without that support, the talks might stall or stop altogether.

However, both the Sudan government and the SPLM/A could take advantage of this diversion of the U.S.’s and other countries’ attention away from the Sudan peace process to achieve their own goals, which could also stall or stop the negotiations.

On the side of the SPLM/A, the Iraq war could buy time for the full implementation of the Sudan Peace Act by the U.S. government, Prof. Cirino Hiteng, a lecturer of international relations and politics at the United States International University – Africa Campus in Nairobi, told The East African. Among other things, the legislation imposes sanctions against the Sudan government if it does not negotiate with the SPLM/A – a strong recipient of U.S. military aid – in good faith and come to a settlement with the south.

No longer under the microscope, Sudan government troops could – despite the presence of outside monitors – attack SPLA positions in the south, especially in the oil-rich Upper Nile area, and commit other violations of the ceasefire currently signed between the two groups, said Hiteng.

“Even the [international] monitors will have nobody listening to them” as the U.S. and others concentrate on the “body-bag factor” of the U.S.’ military action against Iraq, he said.

The Sudan government could also muster more support for its cause from Arabic countries by characterising Sudan’s civil war as being a conflict between Muslims and Christians, said Hiteng.

“[The war] will give them the leverage to mobilise the Arab world. They will now define the southern Sudanese, the fighting forces as Christians; not as Sudanese, but as proxies of allied forces.”

Both Dirdeiry and Dr. Samson Kwaje, spokesperson for the SPLM/A, denied that an Iraq war would affect relations between north and south Sudan. “Southern Sudan is not part of the U.S.,” said Kwaje. “To link the issue of southern Sudan to a possible Arab backlash against the U.S. because of this [war with Iraq] will not be fair at all.”

Kwaje said that a possible war against Iraq and the Sudan conflict are “absolutely different. That one [Iraq] is disarmament; this is a civil war and the approach is different.” He felt that the Sudan government was not involved with preparations for war against Iraq.

However, Kwaje noted that there had been a rumour going around that, as far back as the late 1990s, Sudan has been safekeeping chemical and other weapons for Iraq.

“If the Government of Sudan torpedoes the peace talks because of Iraq, then it confirms our fears that they have a link; otherwise, it [the war] should have nothing to do with the talks,” he said.

If the U.S. was to wage war against Iraq, the Sudan government could potentially be caught in the middle. On the one hand, the Sudan government is trying to maintain good relations with the U.S. for several reasons, including the Sudan Peace Act and the removal of Sudan from the U.S. government’s list of terrorist countries and the wooing of American oil firms to the Sudanese oil fields.

On the other hand, by Sudan’s membership in the Arab League, “I think the idea of asking us to support any action against Iraq is completely out of the question,” said Dirdeiry. The siding of Sudan with Iraq could potentially antagonise the U.S.

But, in fact, this seeming quandary may actually be minimal or non-existent. “There isn’t very much hostility against the government of Sudan as such,” said Dr. Moustafa Hassouna, lecturer at the University of Nairobi's Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies.

“There seems to be this feeling by many in the Bush administration that the time has come to do business with the Sudan government,” despite a powerful “missionary” lobby pressuring the U.S. government to be tough on the Sudanese government, said Hassouna, who had just returned from Washington, where he discussed Sudan and other issues with the U.S. Sub-Committee on the Middle East.

Hassouna noted that the U.S. imports US$50 million per month of gum arabica – used in colas and pharmaceuticals – from Sudan. The U.S. also wants to sell agricultural machinery to Sudan, as well as get in on the oil activity.

Also strengthening the Sudan government’s relationship to the U.S. is the way it co-operated with the U.S. government in the hunt for terrorists after the September 11 attack against the twin towers, said Hassouna.

In the meantime, the Sudan government “is happy to hide behind the umbrella” of the Arab League and African Union and repeat the group’s opinion of a war against Iraq.

Rather, those in Washington are increasingly “shifting the whole burden of change” onto the SPLM/A and will pressure the SPLM/A to “stop making funny demands, like we want a secular Khartoum,” said Hassouna. There is the increasingly feeling in Washington that SPLM/A leader John Garang “is not serious about peace.”

The Sudan government and SPLM/A came back to Nairobi March 4 for two weeks to discuss Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and the Southern Blue Nile. The three conflict areas technically fall within the boundaries of north Sudan, but the SPLM/A is pushing for the right of those areas to be able to chose whether to stay with the north or fall within the boundaries of south Sudan.

This session, headed by Kenyan mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo, is being conducted outside of the regular, IGAD-led talks. Those talks are expected to resume March 19.

Part II- Northern Uganda

1. Briefs

February 19: Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recommended that Uganda should open up to multiparty politics as opposed to the current "Movement" system.

24: The Sudanese and Ugandan governments extended the duration of a military protocol they signed in March last year, thereby allowing the Ugandan army to continue pursuing the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in southern Sudan. Sudan, however, only agreed to extend the protocol on condition that Uganda would reciprocate by ending its support for the SPLM/A.

28: Donors have responded positively with funds in response to northern Uganda's humanitarian crisis resulting from renewed attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army rebels. A senior government official said that donors had contributed up to 90 percent of the funds needed to provide northern Uganda's vulnerable population with food until the end of June.

March 3: Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony, declared a ceasefire in northern Uganda to pave the way for talks to end the LRA’s insurgency in the region, but his gesture was greeted with a mixture of hope and scepticism.

4: Rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) second commander Vincent Otti has crossed into southern Sudan with some 300 fighters and civilian abductees, reported the New Vision. John Mugume, Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) 5th division commander in northern Pader district, was quoted as saying that Otti returned to the Sudan on Feb. 24 after his boss, Joseph Kony, ordered him to get the weapons they could have hidden or newly- acquired from an unidentified source.

4: The international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Uganda government should immediately drop treason charges against two minors – boys aged 14 and 16 – who were abducted and forcibly conscripted by the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group.

5: The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group, led by Joseph Kony, broke the ceasefire it declared on Saturday by killing 10 people and abducting 50 others in Pader and Kitgum districts of northern Uganda over the weekend, according to Paddy Ankunda, a Ugandan army commander.

6: Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has dismissed the ceasefire announced recently by Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group. "There is no ceasefire. [The] Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF) cannot respect Kony's unilateral ceasefire. It is a ploy for him and his terrorists to survive through the dry season. Ceasefires must be bilateral, not like Kony's," the government controlled 'New Vision' newspaper quoted Museveni as saying on Thursday.

7: Norbert Mao, Member of Parliament in Uganda's northern Gulu district, said that Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group, has committed himself to a ceasefire. Mao said that Kony had called him by satellite phone and made the pledge. He said the two spoke for over an hour.

10: The Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF) dismissed accusations that it deliberately sabotaged efforts by the government's peace team to meet commanders from the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) last Thursday. UPDF spokesman Shaban Bantariza said the army had not yet been ordered to stop fighting the LRA.

11: Uganda President Yoweri Museveni declared a five-day cessation of hostilities in Wipolo and Koyo Lalogi, two locations in the northern Pader district, to enable the government peace team to meet commanders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

13: Rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group failed last night to attend a planned meeting with the Uganda government peace team, led by Salim Saleh, saying it was too late and that they could not identify each other in the dark.

14: Ugandan Members of Parliament passed a motion to extend the five-day ceasefire, ordered by President Yoweri Museveni on 10 March, to enable peace negotiations to continue with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.

Part III- Horn of Africa

1. Briefs

February 17: Demarcation of the contested border between Ethiopia and Eritrea is now due to start from the east, rather than from the west. The move comes after high-level talks between both sides, hosted by the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) in London on February 8 and 9.

18: Ethiopia’s controversial new draft press law could breach international standards on freedom of expression, declared a leading advocacy group. ARTICLE 19, an international media advocacy group, argued that the new law raised “key areas of concern in relation to freedom of expression.”

20: The U.S. government made an impassioned plea to boost aid for drought-stricken Ethiopians and save thousands of lives.

21: Dissident groups may be trying to “destabilise” Eritrean authorities, said the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). It said it believed rebel groups were laying new mines in the buffer zone that separates both countries. There have been six blasts over the last two weeks.

24: The Ethiopian government has identified a new camp for Sudanese refugees – to be located at Odier in western Ethiopia – in the country after over 100 Sudanese were killed in violent ethnic attacks over the last five months. The new site can accommodate 24,500 refugees.

24: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is stepping up its emergency relief effort in Ethiopia, the organisation said. In a statement launching a major food relief campaign for some 700,000 people, ICRC said it would be supplying emergency food and seeds to help farmers in the regions of Oromiya, Tigray, and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State.

26: Ethiopia faces permanent food crises unless it embraces open, accountable government and radical market reforms, the head of the US government’s aid arm said.

28: President Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea has said the electoral process is ongoing and will be "seriously implemented.” Parliamentary elections, scheduled for December 2001, were postponed because the draft electoral law had not been ratified. It was subsequently ratified by the National Assembly in January 2002 and an electoral commission, headed by Ramadan Muhammad Nur, was formed.

28: A newly formed committee – made up of the U.S., E.U., A.U., Arab League and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – set up to monitor a shaky ceasefire accord signed last October between the warring sides in Somalia, met following clashes between rival warlords in Mogadishu. They discussed the issue of imposing sanctions such as travel restrictions against sides that breach the ceasefire.

3: An arbitration committee of representatives of Somali clans has been set up to resolve ongoing disputes over seats for delegates to the Somali peace conference, said Kenyan mediator Bethuel Kiplagat. Kiplagat also said that an international monitoring commission on the shaky Somali ceasefire might start sending fact-finding missions to Somalia shortly.

4: The European Union and the U.S. have urged Eritrea and Ethiopia to keep up the momentum of the peace process, two months before demarcation of their common border is due to take place.

4: Hundreds of families have fled their homes in Mogadishu's southwestern Medina district after fierce clashes broke out in the Somali capital last week. This latest round of fighting, which has killed more than 50 people and injured 100, pits militias loyal to faction leader Muse Sudi Yalahow, and those of his former right-hand man, Umar Mahmud Muhammad Finish. Both men belong to the Da'ud subclan of the Abgal and the fighting is said to be an attempt by the two leaders to gain supremacy within the subclan.

5: Eritrea's ruling party has warned that peace with Ethiopia is "unraveling" and accused Addis Ababa of "sabotaging" implementation of an independent border ruling. A commentary, posted on the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) Shaebia website, said it had become "starkly clear" that Ethiopia had refused to accept the April 2002 border decision, issued by the independent Boundary Commission, based in The Hague.

5: The Committee on Monitoring the Cessation of Hostilities demanded that "the parties cease hostilities immediately," particularly those involved in recent fighting in Mogadishu.

5: Authorities in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland have ordered the closure of the offices of: INXA, an umbrella organisation of the Peace and Human Rights Network; the Dulmidid Centre for Human Rights; and We Are Women Activists (WAWA), he said. INXA is a Somalia-wide organisation, while the others are Puntland-based. According to Abdishakur Mire Adan, Puntland deputy information minister, the groups "have violated their mandates and engaged in political activities and actions inimical to the interests of the people of Puntland.”

6: The Somali peace talks currently underway in Kenya are in danger of collapsing unless strong leadership is provided by the mediators, the Somalis and the international community, warned the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). It said faction leaders and civil society representatives at the talks were "self-appointed,” with a real risk that the meeting would produce another "government in exile.”

10: The European Union has condemned violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed last October by factions attending the ongoing Somali peace talks in Kenya. A declaration issued by the EU's current Greek presidency said the organisation "deplores the serious violations of the commitments undertaken, which are still occurring, and calls for an immediate cessation of all acts of violence in Somalia.”

10: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended extending the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) - due to expire this month - until 15 September. In his latest progress report on the situation in the two countries, he noted there had been some problems with the peace process although he expressed confidence that it would continue to move forwards.

10: The Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC) has accused the Transitional National Government (TNG) of trying to scuttle the ongoing peace talks. In a statement, the SRRC said the TNG was behind the current confusion bedeviling the peace process by presenting itself as the legitimate government of Somalia. This was "inconsistent with the understanding of the principle of no-preconditionality agreed [to] prior to this conference.”

10: The independent boundary commission has accused Ethiopia of "appearing to undermine" the peace process with Eritrea by seeking variations to the delimited border line. In its latest report, the Hague-based Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) noted that both sides had been invited to put forward "technical" comments on the finalised border map, which was submitted to the parties in December.

11: Somalia's Transitional National Government (TNG) has reiterated that it will not take part in the peace talks underway in Kenya as long as Ethiopia is involved in the process. Muhammad Abdi Yusuf, acting leader of the TNG delegation to the talks said that Ethiopian forces had "occupied parts of Somalia over the past few days.” The TNG had also accused Ethiopia of sending military forces "with heavy armour, including tanks,” into parts of Somalia.

12: Maxwell Gaylard, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, said he is deeply concerned over the worsening humanitarian situation in the southwestern town of Baidoa, where a power struggle between two rival factions of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) has been going on since last July. He said fighting had disrupted aid activities for more than eight months and humanitarian conditions in the town had deteriorated, "in particular in the area of health.”

12: The U.N. warned that the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Eritrea could turn into a "complete catastrophe" unless more aid is forthcoming. Simon Nhongo, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Eritrea, urged donors to increase their level of response to the crisis, triggered by a devastating drought in the country.

12: Ethnic conflict is “spreading like wildfire” in Ethiopia because the government is failing to tackle the problem, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO). It urged the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to crack down on tribal clashes, particularly between the Surma and Dizzi tribes who live in southwest Ethiopia.

13: The Ethiopian government has denied accusations by the Transitional National Government (TNG) of Somalia that Ethiopian forces have invaded Somali territory. In a statement, the Ethiopian foreign ministry said "there is no Ethiopian soldier in Somalia" and described the accusation as "totally groundless and with no grain of truth". The Ethiopian statement said the TNG was making the allegations because it was unhappy with the progress of the talks in Kenya.

13: Eritrea has warned that the entire peace process with Ethiopia could be in danger following recent calls by Addis Ababa for changes to their common border that was delimited last year. Ethiopia's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Tekeda Alemu said recently the independent Boundary Commission had promised that demarcations could be refined. Tekeda also said he could not believe that "any person in his right mind" could award the disputed village of Badme - where the two countries' border conflict flared up in 1998 - to Eritrea. Both countries claim to have been awarded the now-symbolic village.

14: Eritrea's foreign minister Ali Said Abdella has warned that his country may be plunged into another war with Ethiopia if the latter is allowed to "flaunt international law" and reject last year's border ruling. He accused Ethiopia of a "litany of obstructions" to impede the border demarcation exercise, due to begin later this year.

2. Djibouti: storm in a teacup

By Cathy Majtenyi (reprinted from Africa Faith and Justice Network)

The United States’ clash with France over the question of a military first strike against Iraq is spilling over into a tiny African country on the shores of the Red Sea. Traditionally a former French colony, Djibouti is now home to an increasing number of U.S. troops, stationed there to ostensibly fight terrorism in the Horn of Africa. As events unfold, it’s becoming clearer that the U.S.-French wrangle in Djibouti is much more than just about a war with Iraq.

Towards the end of last year, approximately 400 U.S. troops joined 900 Special Forces troops already stationed at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti under the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force in the Horn of Africa region (CJTF-HOA). Commanded by Major General John Sattler, the task force’s aim is to root out terrorist cells in the area.

Meanwhile, some 2,800 French troops including the 13e Démi-Brigade de la Légion Étrangère (13e DBLE - 13th Half-Brigade of the Foreign Legion) are still present in Djibouti, protecting the interests of the former colonial master, ensuring stability in the country, and dealing with rebellions in Central African Republic, the Sahel, and other areas, among other activities. In fact, Djibouti is France’s largest foreign military base.

The U.S. is desperately seeking support to wage war against Iraq, ostensibly for possessing weapons of mass destruction, while France seems to be blocking the U.S. at every turn, arguing that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time to carry out their inspections, and that war is no answer to the crisis.

At first blush, throwing the armies of these two opposing nations together in such a small place might seem to deepen the U.S.-French rift and increase tensions within Djibouti. “The French have their own interests and the Americans have their own interests. But their interests will never be coherent – the Americans should not expect France to be of any assistance,” Prof. Cirino Hiteng, a lecturer of international relations and politics at the United States International University – Africa Campus in Nairobi, told AFJN.

But on the ground, things are more cooperative. U.S. naval vessels and aircraft use Djibouti's facilities, the two countries perform joint military exercises, and they share information on operations in Djibouti.

And there’s a certain commonality of purpose between the two counties. “Djibouti has been asked somewhat by the French to accommodate the Americans for the sake of France appearing to be on the same side with the Americans in the war against terrorism,” Dr. Moustafa Hassouna, lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, told AFJN. He notes how French President Jacques Chirac was the first Western European leader to visit Washington and New York after the September 11 terrorist attack in the U.S.

France could potentially get upset with the U.S. if it discovers that Major General Sattler’s troops are doing more than just fighting terrorism in the area.

“The CJTF-HOA mission has no direct link to potential operations in Iraq,” Major Stephen A. Cox, Public Affairs Officer, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, told AFJN. “Our mission is founded on the Global War on Terrorism, with a specific focus on the Horn of Africa region. Further, CJTF-HOA operations are not in support of, or contingent upon, operations in Iraq.”

“No forces in Djibouti are here for the purpose of staging for, or “launching” to, attack in the Persian Gulf region,” he says.

Hiteng has his doubts: “There’s no way they are going to separate their [anti-terrorism] activities away from what’s going on in Iraq,” he says, adding that Saddam Hussein himself is considered to be a terrorist. Hiteng opines that it would have made much more sense for the Joint Task Force to be based in Kenya or Ethiopia, close to foreign embassies, Western tourist destinations, and other locations vulnerable to terrorist attacks, rather than in remote Djibouti, which is less likely to be targeted by terrorists.

Indeed, there are suspicions that U.S. troops stationed in Djibouti are, or will be, involved in a first strike against Iraq. According to a November 25 Voice of America report, a U.S. army spokesman said that 450 U.S. troops plus 50 civilian defense workers have, for the previous six months, been carrying out “reception, staging, onward movement and integration [RSOI]” activities in Djibouti. This essentially means that Djibouti has become a “forward staging base” for moving troops and military equipment into Kuwait in support of an operation called “Desert Spring.”

“It is a misrepresentation to say that U.S. forces were, and are now, using Djibouti as a support base for potential operations in the Persian Gulf region – that is clearly not the case at this time,” counters Major Cox.

And, a November 16 article in The New York Times, titled “U.S. Turns Horn of Africa Into a Military Hub,” says: “The Pentagon has also begun to use Djibouti to train its forces in desert warfare — skills that could be applied in Washington's campaign against terrorist groups or on the battlefields of Iraq.”

But what may really goad France is the fact that the U.S. seems to be invading its territory in Djibouti and beyond. The Djibouti situation reflects a wider power struggle between the United States and France over legitimacy in Africa, access to Africa’s resources, etc. “Americans are interested in holding onto their political turf here in sub-Saharan Africa, but it’s now going to be geared not only on maintaining it, but also pre-empting any French diplomatic moves in the region,” says Hassouna.

For its part, the U.S. feels threatened by the “sympathy and admiration” that France is winning from Africa for its stance on Iraq. “This is something that is not going down very well in Washington right now,” says Hassouna. In turn, what motivates France is the “Gaullist policy of appearing to chart an independent path away from the United States and the Anglo-Saxon alliance in NATO in order to show that they are independent.”

France’s very vocal opposition to a war against Iraq is, in part, due to the fact that the French historically and culturally have wanted “to portray themselves as friends of the Arabs,” says Hassouna. Added to that is the fact that France is in the process of “negotiating with the Iraqi government to lay hands on probably the second-largest oilfield in Iraq to develop oil and to have oil interests.”

But, far from suffering from this American-French tug-of-war, Djibouti will come out the clear winner in all of this, says Hassouna. “This is a win-win situation for them. They don’t stand to lose anything except perhaps a little bit of their sovereignty, which has always been compromised by the French presence.” This is a “window of opportunity” for Djibouti to get help from the U.S. in the future, particularly with the Somali peace process currently underway.

Indeed, the U.S. is becoming more and more of a friend to Djibouti, and visa versa. Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh recently met with U.S. President George Bush and top U.S. officials to discuss investment and development opportunities, strengthening bilateral cooperation, the fight against terrorism, and the Somali peace process.

Radio Djibouti reported on February 19 that Djibouti’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Ali Abdi Farah, and the U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti Dondas Yamamoto signed an agreement that would allow the U.S. army to have access to, and use, Djibouti’s facilities.

Development assistance to Djibouti from the U.S. has risen from $3 million in 2000 to about $9 million currently, with much of the increase earmarked for upgrading the international airport.

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