Another War of Jenkins' Ear

Resist The Pointless

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Ivory Coast / Cote D’Ivoire Thread (4/4) Morning/Early Afternoon

with 6 comments

10:00 EDT: Live blog now up. If you missed it, I had two posts on Cote D’Ivoire already today. The first on the continuing shame of James Inhofe supporting Laurent Gbagbo, and the second on why both sides are attacking the UN and why intervention will not work.

This is going to fill up quickly – I have about 25 open tabs each with an important story. So keep coming back.

Picture to the right from here, used under a Creative Commons License from the Department for International Development.

10:05 EDT: I mentioned this in the second post from above, the Ouattara’s ambassador to France attacked the UN for not stopping the massacre in Duekoue. He also denied responsibility of any of Ouattara’s forces. The former was impossible to do, the latter is an outright lie. Everytime an Ouattara spokesman says soemthing encouraging like there will be no impunity for anyone, it’s immediately covered up by something like this.

10:15 EDT: Oxfam has new podcasts up from the field in Cote D’Ivoire. Give them both a listen.

10:20 EDT: Al Jazeera is reporting that Gbagbo has been arming men and getting them ready for this fight for years. Others he’s using as human shields. Meanwhile, Ouattara’s force, the FRCI has 9,000 men ready to fight in Abidjan.

–Penelope Chester expands on her comparison of Cote D’Ivoire to Liberia from yesterday:

Laurent Gbagbo’s desperate hold on power is profoundly reminiscent of Charles Taylor’s in Liberia. Like Taylor, Gbagbo has his most loyal men controlling key areas, while he continues to sit in the presidential palace. Monrovia’s unique geography played into the hands of advancing rebel forces, who were able to isolate Taylor in the center of Monrovia by taking over bridges leading into the city. In Abidjan, the layout is different, but, similarly to Monrovia, there are islands and bridges, which are strategically important in urban warfare – whoever gains control of access routes has the advantage.  The airport, which is currently controlled by UN and French forces, is on an island. The presidential palace sits on a peninsula.

I don’t know how long this siege will last. Gbagbo will not step down, and will not leave easily. The best case scenario is that he’s currently negotiating exile conditions in a third country and will get airlifted with his family. Worst case scenario is that the presidential palace where he sits is stormed by rebels and he is killed. At this stage, I’d say both of these possibilities are equally as realistic.

It’s our responsibility to bear witness to what is happening in Cote d’Ivoire now. Unspeakable crimes have already been committed by both sides of the conflict, and will continue to happen. Media and public attention are not silver bullets, but along with the real threat of prosecution, may help attenuate the levels of violence. At least, that is my hope.

If Gbagbo was willing to leave in exile, I think he would have done so by now. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, I’m just being overly pessimistic.

10:40 EDT: Elizabeth Dickinson at Foreign Policy sees the same worst case scenario that I do, and notes that it won’t be over even when Gbagbo leaves:

How did we end up here? After months of warnings that this country was on the brink of civil war, it has now been allowed to fall from the precipace. And it looks as if the world is fresh out of ideas about what to do from here. Economic sanctions failed to squeeze Gbagbo into retirement; so did enticements and final offers for amnesty. Everyone — Washington, Brussels, Paris, the U.N. — is calling for the protection of civilians. Clearly that’s not enough. Paul Collier had an interesting idea a while back to force defections within the army around Gbagbo, but that seems a bit late now.

So here’s what’s probably going to happen: Ouattara’s forces, which are arguably the legitimate army in this country, will likely be allowed to fight on until Gbagbo is eventually ousted. Everyone will yell and scream that civilians should be protected in the meantime. But everyone knows that this crisis doesn’t end until Gbagbo goes, and again, we’re fresh out of other options.

I’m not convinced that it even ends then — after Gbagbo is forced out one way or another. Remember, this election was contested on a relatively close vote, and Gbagbo does retain support from much of the population. As much as Ouattara has talked about being the president for all Ivorians, the story on the ground is looking more complicated to piece together. This is about more than two men’s egos at this point. It’s about a country, back in civil war. And if we’d like to prevent a protracted armed conflict, maybe it’s time to start plotting out options if it comes to that.

This is going to get a lot worse.

10:45 EDT: Gbagbo’s government is attempting to block internet access to critical websites:

The Côte d’Ivoire Telecommunications Agency (ATCI) announced in a directive dated 24 March that it intends to block access to several independent and anti-Gbagbo websites. Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of the directive and is distributing it.

“Internet operators and service providers are prohibiting access from within Côte d’Ivoire to the following websites: http://www.abidjan.net, http://www.lavoixdugolf.net, http://www.connectionivoirienne.net, http://www.primaturecotedivoire.net, http://www.koaci.com, http://www.lebanco.net and http://www.informateur.net,” says the directive signed by ATCI director-general Sylvanus Kla.

“This list is not exhaustive,” the directive continues. “This decision is adopted in the strict framework of National Defence and Public Security and takes effect from the date it is signed [24 March].”

“The websites targeted by this act of censorship continue to be accessible although six days have elapsed since the ATCI directive,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Does this entity really intend to censor them or is it a warning or act of intimidation towards those who operate them?

Not surprising that they’d try this. It’s a little surprising that they haven’t actually gone through with it. Does Gbagbo not control that any more?

10:50 EDT: No idea what the source for this or if the person is reliable, but Twitter user @JeannetteMallet writes: “URGENT: According to a witness,#Gbagbo plans to bomb the Cathedral of St. Paul in Plateau & implicated the FRCI.” (FRCI being, again, Ouattara’s force).

She says this is what she has been told directly. Wit honly one source, and reported on Twitter, I would not put a lot of stock into it.

11:00 EDT: Russian oil company LUKoil have suspended operations in Cote D’Ivoire, per a Russian news agency (second hand twitter account link). It’s unclear if this will change Russia’s position on Cote D’Ivoire, but it’s already too late for the UN to do much of anything, as noted above). More on LUKoil here and here.

11:05 EDT: France is organizing French citizens in Abidjan in preparation of an evacuation that has not yet happened.

11:15 EDT: Information out of Abidjan is scarce, but there are some reports massive food inflation is starting to occur as supplies run low.

–In case you wanted a more recent link for the socialists supporting Gbagbo’s thugs, see here. I’m comfortable being on the other side of them and Le Pen, thank you very much.

11:25 EDT: Breaking News; Ouattara’s FRCI has started its offensive in Abidjan just recently. More as it happens. As they say, Developing…

–Enduring America has some background on the conflict, making one important point: while religion is important to some outside observers (think: Le Pen and James Inhofe) it’s not as important to those internally, and both the north and south are mixed between Christian and Muslim. The nativism of Gbagbo is more ethnic and less religious.

–Andrew Harding blogs about his experience reporting in Duekoue:

A group of Ivorian soldiers are sitting in the shade at nearby roadblock. We must have driven through 30 just like it to reach the town. The men are supporters of the man recognised as the winner of last year’e elections, Alassane Ouattara. They, and militias linked to them, swept through the region early last week, seizing huge chunks of territory from forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power. This was one of the few places – leaving aside the main city, Abidjan – where they seem to have encountered serious resistance.

“Us? We didn’t kill any of them,” says a young soldier insistently. “I was injured myself. It was the militia groups – they were fighting each other.” The UN soldier comes over and wags a finger: “You mustn’t kill them,” he says. “If you have prisoners, bring them to the authorities. No more killing.” They nod. But the UN man tells me that they’ve rescued several prisoners from cars in recent days. They suspect they were being driven out of town to be killed discreetly.

We run into Anne-Marie Altherr, deputy country director for the International Commitee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who is organising the collection of bodies. “It’s really difficult,” she says. “There’s been a lot of dead people. It’s definitely tough work – especially for the volunteers because they’re from here so it’s their community.”

But significantly, she says she won’t discuss numbers. The death toll has become a hotly disputed, highly sensitive issue. Last week, the ICRC said 800 were killed. Then another aid agency, Caritas suggested 1,000. But the UN has quietly disputed, and scaled down, those figures, and so – furiously – have officials from Mr Ouattara’s government.

Horrible.

11:30 EDT: In case you were wondering, the UN issued a new call to protect civilians in Abidjan that will likely be ignored.

–Justin Elliot flags a piece on the connections between Gbagbo and James Inhofe, this time Inhofe trying to get Gbagbo a job in America:

Inhofe sometimes has framed his interest in Africa in religious terms, once calling it “a Jesus thing,” and he told The Oklahoman two years ago that he first went to the continent at the urging of Doug Coe, the longtime organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

Gbagbo and his wife are evangelical Christians. Ouattara is Muslim.

Inhofe knows Gbagbo and his wife, which is why Yamamoto reached out to him. Inhofe said Yamamoto told him that there would be a teaching position for Gbagbo at Boston University and a job for his wife.

Boston University hosts the African Presidential Archive and Research Center, which, according to its website, “provides residential opportunities for democratically elected former African heads of state.” The center is headed by Charles Stith, the former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania.

Responding to an inquiry from The Oklahoman, Stith said Friday that the residency program at the center is for African heads of state and government that leave office as a result of the democratic process.

“Had Gbagbo left office after the election (even under protest regarding the process and outcome) he could have been considered a prospective candidate for our program,” Stith said. “Given that he is likely to be carried out of office on a rail or spit, the issue of a residency opportunity at Boston University or anywhere is moot, at this point.”

I was not aware that evangelical Christians are permitted to use human shields to protect themselves when they lose elections.

11:40 EDT: France now has 1,650 military personnel in Cote D’Ivoire, and they are actively protecting about 1,800 foreign nationals at the military camp of Port-Bouet. About half of the foreign nationals are French.

11:45 EDT: When I hear someone like Glenn Beck accusing Ouattara of murdering babies, the first thing I think of are the internal dynamics of the FRCI, which are not easy for outsiders (even well informed ones) to understand. This is Reuters giving it a go:

But sources in and around the Ouattara camp say the hesitation is also at least in part to do with divisions among top military brass jostling for influence in a post-Gbagbo government.  Fighters following Ibrahim “IB” Coulibaly — a key figure in the so-called “invisible commandos” whose guerrilla tactics have foxed Gbagbo forces across Abidjan in recent weeks — say their allegiance is to IB, not Ouattara.  “IB wants to be president. He is an idiot,” Wattao told Reuters dismissively at the weekend.

An equally plausible explanation is that he and other commanders are simply biding their time for the right moment militarily — but the question is how long they can wait.  A source inside Ouattara’s camp denied that there were divisions within the ranks, adding that the final assault was taking a little longer than expected because they wanted to secure gains first.

At their camp, some of Wattao’s men noted that Sunday’s ration of bread came without the usual tin of sardines.  But the overall mood at the camp remained calm, almost jokey.  To much laughter, one man dressed in police uniform handed out pink parking tickets to drivers of pick-up trucks loaded with machine-guns that were parked in a row in the middle of the empty motorway.

This is one reason I’ve been saying that investigations and prosecutions are more important than laying blame at the Presidential level – because we don’t know what happened, and we don’t know the dynamics of power. This is where the international community can help (if and) when things calm down – by ensuring there are such investigations and prosecutions.

11:50 EDT: South Africa joined in the condemnation of violence in Cote D’Ivoire. They also explained how Gbagbo’s army chief Phillippe Mangou left the South African embassy yesterday to rejoin Gbagbo:

Asked why Gbagbo’s army chief, General Phillippe Mangou, who had sought asylum with his family in the South African embassy in Abidjan, had left on Sunday, the minister said: “I’m not in the Ivory Coast but I know he sought refuge in our embassy and there are conditions in asking for such refuge.

She confirmed that Mangou had chosen to leave.

“We don’t know why as conditions were as they would be internationally.”

So basically, they’re saying Mangou just left his family there in the embassy to go back out and likely martyr himself?

11:55 EDT: Oxfam is tweeting pictures of the work they are doing in the region, here supplying water to refugees.

–Along with Mangou, another Gbagbo supporter mysteriously reappeared with no explanation:

Charles Ble Goude, who also was invisible from the start of the offensive of the Republican forces in Abidjan, made his reappearance on the RTI. Like all patriotic leaders of the galaxy that had preceded it, the emblematic leader of the Young Patriots called for the mobilization of all supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, including asking them to assist the army in its search operations.

Taking good care not to cross certain red lines, Charles Ble Goude reiterated the arguments already developed by the whole entourage of Laurent Gbagbo: Côte d’Ivoire is engaged in a war against the rest of the soldiers and pro-Ouattara operating with the complicity of UNOCI and France.

12:00 EDT: Looking for an inspirational story amidst all this? How about an American with Ivory Coast connections anonymously going back to the country to basically be the tech support for Ouattara. Why anonymous? Because he has family in Abidjan who would probably die immediately if his name got out. This is a wow story:

So the American, who owns a high-tech communications company in the U.S. that does business in Africa, got the call. Would he come back to Ivory Coast to help Ouattara fight an information war he was losing?

The American insists on anonymity for fear of violence against his family, some of whom are in Abidjan, which has seen its narrow dirt alleys become a killing field.

“They’re actually trying to find out who is helping” Ouattara, says the American, 45, who left Ivory Coast 30 years ago and is a friend of the president-elect.

Before the American came on board, Ouattara had no presence on TV, while Gbagbo’s state-owned television station accused rebels of massacres and claimed the United Nations was guilty of a genocidal conspiracy with France to kill Ivorians and install a foreigner to rule the country. Ouattara’s fighters briefly got hold of the station Thursday but Gbagbo’s fighters took it back and have used it to call on young militias to fight to the death for Gbagbo.

[. . .]

With Ouattara and his government trapped by Gbagbo forces in Abidjan’s Golf Hotel since December, the American took over a restaurant in the hotel and turned it into a pro-Ouattara television station.

The American also set up an FM radio studio and created a satellite link, more difficult for Gbagbo to scramble than the terrestrial channel.

It’s a daily battle of wits, as Gbagbo’s experts try to scramble Ouattara’s signals by broadcasting on the same frequency. “I try to anticipate their next move,” he says.

Stop what you’re doing and read this. Would you do what this person did? I’d like to think I would, but who knows.

And by the way, if we’re talking about American exceptionalism, this is the peak of it for me. This is the best of what Americans can do and what America means.

And now, back to the depressing side of the news.

12:10 EDT: Ian Birrell highlights what a big problem it is that certain leaders in Africa refuse to leave power:

The events have also served to highlight one of the biggest issues facing Africa: the reluctance of Big Men such as Gbagbo to leave office. We have just seen this in Uganda, where Yoweri Museveni used state patronage to cling on to power after 25 years despite once admitting Africa’s problems were caused by “leaders who overstay”.

There are 19 elections due in Africa over the next 18 months, including a critical poll this week in Nigeria. There needs to be a far tougher line against despots who refuse to be dislodged. The African Union must show leadership while the west should stop showering them in aid and selling them weapons. Just as in the countries north of the Sahara, new generations need leaders who represent them, not repress them.

This is indeed a good point; all the benefits a democracy brings are only effective if leaders abide by the results of free and fair elections. When that does not happen, nothing at all works. We’ve seen that across the globe.

12:15 EDT: Action Against Hunger has posted 6 pictures of refugees on facebook. I’ve posted one here under a Creative Commons license.

Texas in Africa thought of a great way citizens elsewhere can help those in Cote D’Ivoire: by getting free SMS messaging if possible:

This is a fantastic idea, and one where ordinary people around the world can get involved. Many Ivoirians, especially those in Abidjan, have been afraid to leave their homes for a few days now, and most shops in the city are closed, meaning that people can’t buy top up cards for their mobile phones. Also, many Ivoirians haven’t been able to work for several days, meaning that even if they could find top up cards, they wouldn’t be able to afford them. Orange, MTN, and Moov could provide a huge public service (and get lots of positive publicity) by opening up their networks to allow free SMSing during this crisis. I would gladly donate to a fund to help cover the costs of doing so – and I bet I’m not the only one.

Here’s information on how to contact the corporate offices of Orange, MTN, and Moov. I’m using corporate offices at the highest level because it may be hard to reach the offices in Cote d’Ivoire right now. If you have any other suggestions, please note them in the comments below.

  • Orange is part of France Telecom. Contact their Corporate Social Responsibility office by filling out the form here.
  • MTN Group is based in South Africa and only provides phone numbers and physical addresses. This is why Skype exists; spend the 20 cents and call them on +27 11 912 3000 or +27 11 912 4123.
  • Moov is based in the UAE and its operations are under the Etisalat trade name. Fill out their online feedback form here.

[. . .]

UPDATE: A couple of commenters point out that SMS services have been turned off in Cote d’Ivoire for several weeks per Gbagbo’s orders. I don’t see any reason that the phone companies could not override that order, but perhaps I’m wrong. At any rate, asking for free airtime and for the companies to do all they can to get the SMS networks running is also worth our while.

Any reason this can’t happen?

12:20 EDT: A list of some doctors available in Cote D’Ivoire.

12:25 EDT: The United Nations threatens helicopter attacks? Umm, OK.

Choi Young-jin, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Ivory Coast, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme: “We are fast approaching a tipping point.  “We are planning action, we can no longer condone their [Mr Gbagbo’s forces] reckless and mindless attack on civilians and the United Nations blue helmets with heavy weapons.”  “We are now in a way under siege, so we cannot go out freely, [they’re] targeting us with snipers, it’s a deliberate shoot at United Nations.

“For the last few days we have 11 [peacekeepers] wounded by their gunshots. They are targeting the headquarters, they cut off the water… and we are now in the bunker.”  The special representative said the 9,000 troops who are part of the UN mission in Ivory Coast (Unoci) did not have a mandate to dislodge Mr Gbagbo, but they did have the powers to respond to heavy weapons attacks against the UN or civilians.  “We will be using our air assets,” he said. “We will be taking action soon,” he added.

The UN in Ivory Coast has a Ukrainian aviation unit with three Mi-24 attack helicopters, as well as lightly armed Mi-8 and Mi-17 utility helicopters.  It says 20 of its peacekeepers have been injured in total since the recent crisis began in the West African country.

I’m sure they can do some good this way, but this is just going to make the UN even more of a target and entrench Gbagbo even more, since his whole rationale is that the world is trying to dislodge him, the good Ivorian. It’s nonense, of course. But in the close urban combat of Abidjan, what can helicopters really do if they can’t actively support Ouattara’s forces because they have no mandate to get rid of Gbagbo? At the most, they could protect the road to the airport to get civilians out. Beyond that I’m highly skeptical of this UN force being effective in the least.

12:30 EDT: Proving that the bond market, does, in fact, control everything, Cote D’Ivoire’s bond fell as traders became less optimistic of a quick resolution in the country:

In Ivory Coast, the $2.3 billion 2032 bond suffered a setback as fighting continued between rival presidential claimants. The bond XS0496488395=R which rose last week, on hopes incumbent Laurent Gbagbo would soon be forced out, fell 1.7 points to 47.6 and the yield rose 0.4 percent.

“(Abidjan) has not fallen as quickly as some people anticipated, so there could be a certain amount of profit-taking,” said Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at Exotix brokerage.

12:35 EDT: More details are emerging on the Ouattara offensive in Abidjan:

A convoy of several dozen vehicles containing heavily armed pro-Ouattara troops and outfitted with mounted machineguns entered Ivory Coast’s main city at midday, the first elements of a large force that had massed on the northern outskirts for what they called a “final assault”, according to a Reuters eyewitness.

Heavy machinegun fire and a few explosions could be heard minutes after they entered the city limits.

The commanding officer of the forces, Issiaka “Wattao” Ouattara, told Reuters he had 4,000 men with him plus another 5,000 already in the city. Asked how long he would need to take Abidjan, Wattao said: “We know when it starts, but could take 48 hours to properly clean (the city).”

[. . .]

Speaking on Sunday on the pro-Ouattara TCI television channel, Ouattara’s prime minister Guillaume Soro said their strategy had been to encircle the city, harass Gbagbo’s troops and gather intelligence on their arsenal.

12:45 EDT: In case you were wondering, here is the report of witnesses saying Ouattara’s forces massacred people in Duekoue.

–Al Jazeera launched a Cote D’Ivoire “spotlight” page, which basically looks a lot shinier than this.

1:00 EDT: Reports are emerging that the UN headquarters in Abidjan are under siege. They are not confirmed, yet, and I’m not really sure how they could be unless the UN itself says so. (So far, it’s just from a “UN man”). For what it’s worth, I believe it, though we don’t know which side is doing the sieging. Gbagbo’s side (either the Republican Guard or Young Patriots) would be my guess but there’s no way to know for sure.

1:10 EDT: John Irish on France’s position in Cote D’Ivoire:

Unlike in Libya, Paris has extensive political and economic interests in Ivory Coast and 12,000 citizens, including 8,000 dual nationals, on the ground there.

The precedent guiding Sarkozy is his anxiousness to avoid scenes in 2004, when militiamen hunted down French people in Ivory Coast, prompting the French army to evacuate them from rooftops, in retaliation for France’s support of the north in a 2002-03 civil war that split the country in two

[. . .]

“France must stay within its U.N. mandate to protect civilians which is what it’s doing by increasing troops,” said Bouquet said.

“This is already a lot because it means they will have to move around town with armoured vehicles and nobody doubts that the Gbgabo camp will accuse France of interfering.”

France (and the UN for that matter) has basically two options here: protect it’s citizens and hold the airport, or get foreign nationals out and let happen whatever may happen. For all I know they’re complicit in getting it to this point. But now it doesn’t matter how many meetings Sarkozy has, unless he can convince Gbagbo to leave this is not going to end well.

1:30 EDT: A UN helicopter did, in fact, fire on a Gbagbo military camp in Abidjan. A sulfur smell is reported nearby.

1:40 EDT: Humanitarian assistance is rushing to refugees and the displaced:

Humanitarian agencies are rushing to help thousands of displaced people in Ivory Coast who are in urgent need of assistance. Tens of thousands, for example, have crowded around a Catholic mission in the western town of Duekoue. Too many for what little food and water are available.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said, “Currently, IOM has deployed in Duekoue, alongside Caritas, colleagues from UNHCR and the World Food Program, and what we’re doing at the moment is carrying out the very first registration of the displaced. Obviously, the needs are enormous. Access to potable water remains very difficult and also to latrines. Obviously, action will be taken to and prevent the spread of diarrheal diseases.”

There’s also a short audio clip.

That wraps up this thread. I’m moving the live blog to a clean thread here.

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Sunday (4/3) Cote D’Ivoire / Ivory Coast Thread

with 5 comments

Circumstances have created a gap in my coverage, but let’s catch up. Photo from here, used under a Creative Commons license.

11:45 EDT: The United Nations evacuated 200 staff members from Cote D’Ivoire after 4 members were seriously injured yesterday while attempting a humanitarian mission. This leaves only UN military personnel on the ground, which are largely French.

–The Young Patriots of Gbagbo called for people to form a human shield around Gbagbo’s Presidential residence (BBC video). Gbagbo continues to call for all his supporters to essentially martyr themselves. With that kind of fervor and nationalism, there’s not much that can be done by anyone. Hopefully the sanctions cut off Gbagbo’s funds, but that’s a long game, not a quick solution.

I would describe the Young Patriots as essentially an ethnic gang that Gbagbo controls directly. I don’t even know how much money plays into it. If money is a small part, then things really are going to get even worse in the capital.

–CNN has a good background primer on the conflict if you haven’t been following it yet. I would like the part about international intervention rephrased if I had my druthers — France and the US are pushing to do marginally more, but short of close, urban, bloody conflict there’s not much to be done — but that’s quibbling. And by the way, no one has the stomach for that kind of interference in Libya either. A nofly zone (or no fly zone plus) for Cote D’Ivoire makes no sense, as French forces are in control of the airport, and the fighting in Abidjan is too close for air support to do that much.

I’d like more UN support regarding refugees, but that’s a different matter altogether (and I could say the same thing regarding about 50 places on the planet).

–France took over the Abidjan airport late yesterday to evacuate foreigners they had been protecting in a camp (although I’ve seen reports previously that the UN was in control of the airport, and UN forces are French forces. So I’ll have to clarify that). France also now has 1,500 troops in the country.

–The story in Duekoue continues to get worse. This story says that Gbagbo forces were burning people alive who were not native to the region. Then the Ouattara forces (FRCI) came along and then made matters worse with massive amounts of revenge killing:

On the outskirts of Duekoue to Niambi, the streets are deserted. The city was almost entirely burned, according to an AFP reporter who saw many charred bodies in the rubble of houses. 150 people sleep in classrooms.

“Here the militia and Liberian mercenaries in Colombo killed 20 people before the arrival of FRCI,” Gao said Kouadio Hubert capita Niambi. “They burned our houses, looted our property and even raped our women,” he says, adding: “So, when FRCI arrived, we had avenged it, they burnt their houses and they killed those that could also kill. ”

He was unable, or unwilling, to say the number of people killed in these acts of vengeance.

The spiral of violence has hit a dozen towns and villages around Duekoue, according to testimony gathered by the AFP.

Diahouin, a small town located 11 km from Duékoué and hence is from one of the commander of pro-Gbagbo militia calling itself the “Rambo”, was no exception.

Kouadio Kouanté, Diahouin resident, said: “before the arrival of FRCI, there were killings on killing. Militiamen and Liberian mercenaries (pro-Gbagbo) attacked the quarters of allogeneic They chased us and we went bush. There have been dead at least 40 “.

Horrifying.

12:15 EDT: Andrew Harding from the BBC is on the ground in Cote D’Voire and is tweeting @hardingbbc. His most recent is from Duekoue: “Bodies everywhere here. 100 more found in past two days. UN soldier cries and holds up four fingers. One for each dead child he has seen.”

12:20 EDT: Sarkozy held meetings today regarding Cote D’Ivoire, but it’s not clear what can be done. Laurent Gbagbo has made the UN and France part of the enemy as far as his supporters are concerned (translated):

Ivorian state television controlled by Gbagbo diffuse violent messages against France. “The Rwandan genocide is being prepared in Côte d’Ivoire by the men of Sarkozy. Ivorian Ivorians go out en masse and occupy the streets, “said a ticker. “The French army occupied the airport Felix Houphouet-Boigny (Abidjan), we are in danger,” said another banner. A government statement said already Saturday that Ouattara “is from a mobile because of the clan that hackers are trying to resurrect Gbagbo RTI to continue their propaganda to destroy Ivory Coast.”

Ban Ki-Moon also called for action against the perpetrators of the massacre in Duekoue.

12:25 EDT: Sec. Clinton and FM Hague made strong statements on Cote D’Ivoire:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded Sunday that Gbagbo step aside immediately.

“Gbagbo is pushing Cote d’Ivoire into lawlessness,” she said, using the French name for the country. “He must leave now so the conflict may end.”

She also called “on the forces of President Ouattara to respect the rules of war and stop attacks on civilians.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague Sunday said Britain “renew(ed) our call for Gbagbo to get out, which would stop this violence,” and raised the possibility of International Criminal Court prosecutions stemming from the conflict.

It’s good that they made these statements, but I’m not sure it matters within the country. Perhaps the specter of ICC prosecution will make the FRCI more likely to listen to Ouattara. That’s the best case scenario.

12:30 EDT: A horrifying tweet from BBC Cameraman Christian Parkinson:  “We are in the west of Ivory Coast – bodies everywhere, smell intolerable. Report on tonights late BBC News.”

This Al Jazeera article is a nice summary of the recent events of the past day.

A short report in French about the foreigners that France evacuated. Nationalities were predominantly French but included others, including Lebanese. 167 foreigners were flown to Dakar, Senegal.

12:45 EDT: UNOCI is so far staying with the estimate of 330 killed in Duekoue, but that really is starting to seem unrealistic as more reports come in.

More on Gbagbo inciting violence against UN forces.

12:50 EDT: There was a lull in fighting Sunday in Abidjan, and many residents went looking for food, water, and supplies that may or may not even be there to get:

Residents of Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan braved sporadic shooting and ventured out on Sunday to pray, get water and buy food after being trapped in their homes during three days of intense fighting.  Forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and those of his rival, presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara, have battled in Abidjan neighborhoods but local people took advantage of a relative lull on Sunday.  “Many people went to church to pray to God to stop the war in the country,” said Sylvie Monnet, a resident of Yopougon, a neighbourhood north of central Abidjan.  Some residents had little choice but to venture out. “We have nothing more to eat at home. I have just a single fresh fish at home and after that, I do not know what to do. It is really difficult,” Pamela Somda, a student told Reuters TV.

12:55 EDT: The AP reports that Ouattara forces are gathering in northern Abidjan, and may number in the thousands. (French language liveblog link)

1:05 EDT: An Ouattara minister tells the BBC that only 162 were killed in Duekoue. That seems way too low.

1:15 EDT: Sarkozy’s meeting was attended by Henry Raincourt, Minister of Cooperation, Gerard Longuet, the Defense Minister, Edouard Guillaud, Chief of Defence Staff, chiefs of staff François Fillon and Alain Juppe. It has now adjourned. No announcements are expected.

1:20 EDT: The International Crisis Group called for a ceasefire from both sides. They additionally call for:

  • The UN mission (ONUCI) must deploy all its available formed police units (FPUs) within Abidjan, as well as military troops, and reinforce its presence in the west of the country, particularly in and around Duékoué, Guiglo, Blolequin, Toulepleu and Daloa. Troop contributing countries should also accelerate deployment of soldiers up to their maximum mandated capacity of 11,000 (as opposed to 9,000 on the ground now).
  • The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union should mobilise all international partners, including the EU and the US, to bolster ONUCI’s efforts.
  • Ouattara, the Forces républicaines and its commanders, including Prime Minister Guillaume Soro and their regional sponsors, should take all measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. They should understand that international support for Ouattara’s election victory, and his legitimacy, will quickly evaporate if their military campaign becomes responsible for mass atrocity crimes.

There’s no stomach in the international community, as far as I can tell, for that sort of massive ground action. Moreover, given Gbagbo’s rank nativism, those forces would just turn into targets almost immediately.

1:30 EDT: The ambassador from Cote D’Ivoire (Ouattara) to France said that more French intervention in the country would be “normal and natural” but did not give indications of what he would request or what the French are thinking of.

2:05 EDT: 50 fighters from the Young Patriots (Gbagbo group) tried to take the Abidjan airport but the French Foreign Legion repelled the attack. Sarkozy also spoke three times on the phone with Ouattara today. (French link)

2:15 EDT: Sarkozy made an announcement that I’m having some difficulty translating so far, but it seems to be that he wants all French citizens evacuated. But I’m going to keep checking on this.

Fighting is underway in the Oscars district between the SDS and invisible commandos.

–Al Jazeera has published an article about France seizing the airport.

2:25 EDTConcise background on the difference between the UN operation (UNOCI) and the French operation (Unicorn):

In 2002, when civil war broke out in the former French colony, French troops deployed to prevent northern-based rebels marching on President Laurent Gbagbo’s government. A contingent from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) followed soon after.

After a first ceasefire between the government and rebels in 2003, France pushed for a United Nations peacekeeping force to be sent. The United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) deployed in 2004, taking over from ECOWAS, but France’s Operation Unicorn remained on.

Unicorn’s mandate is now principally to support UNOCI, but it can ‘if need be, ensure the security of French and foreign nationals’ in Ivory Coast, according to the French Defence Ministry.

3:15 EDT: The BBC posted 3 compelling personal stories from people in Abidjan, I’d recommend reading it. France is also voluntarily evacuating people to Togo, though it seems possible that could be a general evacuation shortly of foreign nationals.

3:30 EDT: Ouattara’s government claims that state TV could be run from a mobile van anywhere in Abidjan. This seems odd, given that 1) it would likely have to still broadcast to the station where it’s going out (bypassing the station entirely seems unrealistic) and two, Ouattara’s government makes no claim to actually be in control of the station to begin with. This communique just seems very odd.

4:30 EDT: Gbagbo’s camp rejected the accusation that mercenaries paid by him slaughtered 100 people in the west of the country.

5:45 EDT: We’ve heard about the amassing forces north of Abidjan, and Senam Behaton (@SenamBehaton on Twitter) says that the battle could last days – and if it fails, the city could be the new Beirut.

–The French have no plans to expand their forces beyond the airport, but Gbagbo’s camp nonetheless called them an occupying army without a mandate.

6:00 EDT: It truly feels like the calm before a great storm today:

Only about 20 miles separates the thousands of pro-Ouattara foot soldiers readying for battle from the lagoonside district where the presidential palace and mansion are located.

A resident of the Cocody neighborhood where the mansion is located said around 700 Gbagbo supporters had gathered at the gates of the compound Sunday, after state television, still controlled by the entrenched ruler, called on the population to form a human shield to protect the presidential palace. The resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said the supporters had been armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

Toussaint Alain, Gbagbo’s representative in Europe, told reporters in Paris that Gbagbo is not giving up.

“President Gbagbo, I have said, is at the residence of the head of state, his usual workplace, and he is managing the crisis with teams that have been put into place to deal with this aggression coming from the outside,” Alain said. “It’s not up to America or France to decide who must lead the Ivory Coast.”

The Malian Embassy is overrun:

At the Malian Embassy, more than 2,000 Malian nationals have taken refuge after Gbagbo’s forces began attacking citizens of neighboring African nations. Mali, like most countries in Africa, has followed the United Nations position, calling on Gbagbo to step down and angering his supporters, who have carried out revenge killings.

“People are sleeping in the basement and in the halls. There’s no more room,” said Nouhou Diallo, a Malian community leader huddled inside. “The water was cut off yesterday. We’re scared to go out but we were so thirsty today that some of us ran across the road to get water from the lagoon.”

And even though the French took the airport, the roads to the airport are far too dangerous for anyone to travel on:

Even if the airport is now secure, however, it was close to impossible to reach.

Troops loyal to the defiant Gbagbo opened fire with automatic weapons on a three-car convoy that attempted to drive through Abidjan on Sunday morning, blasting out the windows and wounding one of the passengers, said driver Ahmed Yoda.

A United Nations armored personnel carrier was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade a day earlier, seriously injuring four peacekeepers.

Given what has happened and what seems about to happen in the coming days or even weeks, this feels more like the eye of the storm.

6:05 EDT: The full statement of Sec. Clinton:

“We are deeply concerned by the dangerous and deteriorating situation in Côte d’Ivoire, including recent reports of gross human rights abuses and potential massacres in the west. The United States calls on former President Laurent Gbagbo to step down immediately. His continuing refusal to cede power to the rightful winner of the November 2010 elections, Alassane Ouattara, has led to open violence in the streets, chaos in Abidjan and throughout the country, and serious human rights violations. Gbagbo is pushing Côte d’Ivoire into lawlessness. The path forward is clear. He must leave now so the conflict may end. Both parties bear responsibility to respect the rights and ensure the safety of the citizens of Côte d’Ivoire.

“We also call on the forces of President Ouattara to respect the rules of war and stop attacks on civilians. President Ouattara’s troops must live up to the ideals and vision articulated by their elected leader. At the same time, we call on the UN peacekeeping mission to aggressively enforce its mandate to protect civilians.

“As President Ouattara takes the reins of government, he must prevent his troops from carrying out reprisals and revenge attacks against their former foes. The people of Côte d’Ivoire await and deserve the peace, security, and prosperity he has promised, and that they have for so long been denied.”

I’m not sure what else the US could say, and I’m not sure what they could do that would actually make the situation better. As I mentioned above, I don’t find the “have western powers solve it now” position very tenable.

6:10 EDT: Gbagbo’s men seem ready to martyr themselves:

“There has been no fighting here. We are awaiting the resumption of hostilities at any time and we are prepared to defend ourselves and maintain control of Abidjan by all means,” a pro-Gbagbo officer at the presidential palace told Reuters.

“Taking Abidjan will be tough, no one should think that we will easily abandon our positions. We are determined to go through to the end,” he said.

A Western diplomat said an attack had been planned on Saturday on the presidential residence by forces backing Ouattara, but it didn’t happen, possibly because of the human shield of Gbagbo’s youth supporters around it.

I still don’t see how this situation gets any better. (I also don’t see how the west could change then; all the west could do is try to negotiate a solution, but that would just incentivize the next person in power from leaving even when election results are clear).

From the same article, France is still talking about evacuating its 12,000 citizens in the country, but I have no idea how – the roads to the airport are deadly; and any other way out (land or sea) is probably even more so.

6:15 EDT: Things I would love to know: what the U.S. Defense Attaché Office for Cote D’Ivoire thinks of the conflict.

6:30 EDT: If you’re looking for good background on the previous French intervention and coup, I’d start here. What it lacks in style it makes up for in content.

–The hospital of Man, 88 km to the north of Duekoue, has received 46 people with bullet injuries in the past week, and is still receiving injured people even though fighting is over withm indicating violence may be ongoing.

The director of the hospital in Man, the largest in western Côte d’Ivoire plagued by political and ethnic violence, said Sunday at the AFP he welcomed in his establishment “46 wounded by gunfire “Since Monday, March 28.

“Since the beginning of hostilities on Monday until today, we received 46 people injured by bullets,” he told AFP William Kouassi, director of the regional hospital (CHR) of Man to a reporter from the AFP’s questions on an influx of wounded in his establishment raised by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“As fighting between armed forces on the main western cities have ceased March 31, new wounded continue to arrive at Danane, Man and Bangolo,” MSF said in a statement released Sunday. “The number of new casualties is extremely disturbing and indicates that violence continues in this area,” says the NGO.

“I’m surprised to be told that the hospital of Man is overwhelmed because of the war,” assured Mr. Kouassi. “For cons when hostilities began, the wounded were pouring in Bangolo. I went there, serious cases were referred at the CHR of Man is among them we counted 46 injuries severe Monday until today, “he added.

Developing…

6:40 EDT: One thing the west can do is speed up humanitarian aid as quickly as possible. The situation is dire:

The provision of basic social services has been suspended in many parts of the country. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, over 500,000 people have fled Abidjan in the past few days. In Duékoué and other western towns, people have fled for safety to the surrounding forests, or have sought shelter in sites or with host families already affected by the ongoing crisis.

More than 30,000 people are living in two IDP sites in Duékoué. Numerous corpses are strewn throughout the city’s streets. An estimated 250 displaced children are living in the forests, and soldiers from the peacekeeping mission are trying to reach them. Some 10,000 people who fled the town of Péhé and its surroundings have lost everything they own.

The affected people, mainly women and children, are in dire need of food, non-food items, shelter, health and sanitation services, among other things, which aid agencies have started distributing, while the identification of new sites for displaced people is underway.

“We are facing a serious humanitarian crisis with daunting protection challenges. We are ready to assist–but we cannot do so amidst flying bullets and in the absence of law and order. We call on the parties to observe a cease fire to preserve human lives and allow us to start assisting the civilian population,” Mr. Ngokwey said today in Abidjan.

7:00 EDT: In a sign that the battle is not at an end but rather in the middle somewhere, the chief General for Gbagbo’s army left asylum at the South African embassy and is back in charge of the army:

Ivory Coast army chief General Philippe Mangou has left the residence of the South African ambassador in Abidjan and rejoined forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, a military source told Reuters on Sunday.

Mangou had sought refuge with his family at the residence Wednesday night as forces backing presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara seized large swathes of the country in their push to unseat Gbagbo who has refused to cede power.

“General Mangou come back to take up his duties at the head of the army today,” the source close to Gbagbo’s forces told Reuters.

It’s still unclear how Gbagbo can pay his side or how long their supplies will hold out for.

7:15 EDT: This Al Jazeera video gets at how dangerous it is, including for the press.

7:25 EDT: I’ve mentioned Man, but Doctors without Borders says freshly injured are still arriving in hospitals in Danane and Bangolo. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that given the gravity of the situation, we still know very little about the extent of harm done.

7:50 EDT: A compelling summary of the challenges presented by Penelope Chester at UN Dispatch:

A key battle for Abidjan has begun, and it’s very difficult to predict how exactly this will end. If history is any guide, we can look at how the second Liberian civil war came to an end in 2003: a protracted siege of Monrovia by rebel forces, ongoing peace negotiations in Ghana and support (both military and political, by the end) of the U.S. and the physical removal of Charles Taylor were responsible for ending the conflict.

The siege of Abidjan, the country’s seat of power (even though Abidjan is not the official capital of Côte d’Ivoire, it is the political and economic heart of the nation) by pro-Ouattara forces moves this crisis from conflict to civil war. The longer the siege lasts, the more the population will suffer and the worst the humanitarian consequences. As we noted here recently, the human rights situation in Abidjan is perilous.

What is happening now in Côte d’Ivoire is the result of unsuccessful diplomacy efforts and negotiations led by regional organizations ECOWAS and the African Union, which, after the other, failed to find solutions. It’s also a failure of the broader international community. The United Nations Security Council, France, the U.S, the European Union have all been “condemning” the violence, and repeatedly asked Ggabgo to step down. International organizations – including the West African Central Bank – cut funding. In spite of all these efforts, the conflict has escalated out of control. Tens of thousands of lives are at risk, and we really have no idea just how bad this conflict will get before it gets better.

This keeps coming down to the fact that Gbagbo is willing to do more to stay in power (like using the Young Patriots as human shields) that no one else yet is willing to top. (And this is putting aside the atrocities almost certainly committed by forces loyal to Ouattara). When a despot is willing to use children/young adults as human shields and because of the nativism that he spouts those people are willing to do so, that should be called for the tyranny it is.

8:00 EDT: Senam Beheton points out that Mangou’s move to leave asylum is suicidal for his family.

8:20 EDT: Why the far right in America and France loves Gbagbo: he’s a pioneer of their version of Christianity, nativism, and economic conservatism. Hell, there’s even their version of birtherism. This translation from French is rough, but telling:

It’s been over ten years that criminals in the Ivory Coast prepare a genocide against the peoples of North and against “foreigners”. The origins of this crisis, a concept that crystallized the hatred of some of the Ivorian political class against an individual which is to be prevented at all costs by all political and legal means, to power politics. According to proponents of the concept of it Would there Ivorian strain of centuries, the true Ivorian blood pure, preferably Christian faith and the Ivorian fact, come to enjoy the economic boom of Côte d’Ivoire. In addition, they arrogate to themselves the rights to political hegemony with the claim to govern the nation Ivory Coast. The concept of “ivoirité was thus lethal weapon to disqualify Alassane Ouattara from any claim to the nomination a few elections whatsoever in Côte d’Ivoire.

In 1995 he was thus prevented from running for the presidency. In July 2000, a Constitution was adopted to measure him against an article which stipulates that any presidential candidate must be Ivorian by birth and born of Ivorian-born parents. This article was explicitly candidacy of Alassane Ouattara, then presented as Burkina Faso.

The concept of Ivoirite was gradually extended to all those who wear Yankee-sounding names: Ouattara, Bamba, Coulibaly, Soro, Konate. Etc.. A real witch hunt was organized against these “foreigners” to hegemonic pretensions. The harassment, humiliation, or even systematic physical violence were the daily lot of these “foreigners”. At military checkpoints or police, people are rackettées northerners, their identity cards torn and tattered. Denied their Ivorian identity.

[. . .]

In this position, [Gbagbo] presents himself as a victim of the global capitalist and imperialist forces arrayed against a president who claims a desire for independence. It is hoped the alliance and patriotic groups and progressive Africa. Moreover, riding the trend of the moment, he can expect the support of evangelical Christians-cons Alassane Ouattara, presented as a dangerous Islamist, as an outgrowth tropicalized Al Qaeda.

Inhofe and Le Pen are somewhere nodding their heads off. The rest of the article isn’t as interesting, as it tries to test Gbagbo’s faith.

8:45 EDT: Graphic video is emerging of the massacre in Duekoue. This is from the BBC (reporter and cameraman I mentioned above). Warning, it’s graphic.

9:05 EDT: Rare good news from Cote D’Ivoire. Caritas, the charity that reported that 1,000 had been massacred, had a priest abducted two days ago. That priest now has been released:

The director of Caritas in Abidjan, Father Richard Kissi, has been released unharmed in the Ivory Coast after being kidnapped by an armed group two days earlier, said a statement on the Caritas Internationalis website.

“Fr Richard Kissi was released today. He is doing well and has already reached the parish of Notre-Dame de Treichville where he is based,” said Jean Djoman, Director of Human Development at Caritas Côte d’Ivoire.

Fr Richard Kissi had been kidnapped on March 29 while he was heading to Anyama, a suburb of Abidjan, to evacuate seminarians at the “Grand Séminaire” after violent clashes had taken place in the area.

“We do not have any further elements on the circumstances and the motives for his kidnapping yet,” said Mr. Djoman.

That is good news.

9:15 EDT: Ouattara’s PM today reiterated the call for prosecutions of anyone who committed war crimes:

Investigations of reported massacres in western Côte d’Ivoire will be conducted and those responsible will be punished, said Sunday evening Guillaume Soro, Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo recognized by the international community.

“The Ivorian government’s position is clear: there is no impunity. We will investigate and those who are responsible – because we want a rule of law – will be punished,” he said in an interview broadcast by the international francophone television channel TV5MONDE.

In the heat of a civil war, I don’t look for Ouattara or allies to throw himself or his entire army under the bus. That’s unrealistic. But promising serious investigations and prosecutions is good, it’s necessary, and he should follow through on it. And the international community should absolutely threaten ICC involvement if he does not.

9:30 EDT: Nigeria has played a key role in discussions at the Security Council regarding Cote D’Ivoire. ECOWAS is a regional group, but essentially is dominated by Nigeria.

10:00 EDT: The BBC has put up pictures from Cote D’Ivoire.

10:30 EDT: Is the real problem in Cote D’Ivoire France?

Laurent Gbagbo started life as a youth activist who openly challenged the venerable Old Fox of Yamoussoukro before it was fashionable to do so. He and his wife Simone Ehivet Gbagbo, both of them university academics, were often in and out of prison. Gbagbo’s credentials in democratic struggle are unassailable. However, having been in power since 2000, he has outlived his relevance. He has disappointed his followers by preserving France’s monopolistic privileges over such public utilities as water, electricity, telecoms, roads and oil. His record in economic management has been, quite frankly, weak.

As for Ouattara, a large section of Ivoirien youth view him as the candidate of the French, Burkinabes, Malians and Senegalese; and of the World Bank and IMF, where he once served in the exalted position of Deputy Managing Director.

He is no doubt a competent technocrat. His problem is his backers; comprising a ragtag of mercenaries that make up the ‘forces nouvelles’ and shadowy reptilian types from places as wide apart as Ukraine, Lebanon and Iran. Ivoiriens will not forget in a hurry that it is these people that unleashed a civil war on their country.

At the root of this tragedy is the economic divide between the north and the south. There is also the brooding figure of Blaise Compaore across the border. Over 2 million Burkinabe migrant workers have provided the labour in the cocoa and coffee plantations which have sustained the Ivoirien economy. He could not be expected to ignore their fate. Félix Houphouët-Boigny failed to bequeath a legacy on which an orderly constitutional order could be established.

There is also the stranglehold of France-Afrique which has made nonsense of Ivoirien sovereignty for all these years. Some 85 per cent of the cash flow of the country goes through the BCEAO, the regional central bank of the French-backed West African Economic Community, to the French Treasury which has veto powers over how the Francophone countries can spend their own money. The French have arrogated to themselves the right of first refusal for public works contracts and the most lucrative raw materials concessions.

If Ouattara manages to actuate his internationally acquired prize, he would still have to address these realties, including the nitty-gritty of governing his own people. Ahead is not the bliss of summer, but a night of icy darkness and toil, to echo Max Weber.

I don’t have the ability to verify all the claims in there, so I’ll just pass it along with that warning. But while I’ve been focusing on the short run, the long run for Cote D’Ivoire is hardly roses; these are real problems only made harder by serious internal discord.

12:00 EDT: Last update today. Ouattara’s PM Guillaume Soro said the situation was ripe for a quick attack in Abidjan. We’ll see, I guess. The sooner this is over, the better, but the only path I see to a quick end involves either lots of blood or a sudden change of heart by someone involved.

You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me

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“You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”

This is to raise a serious question: what is the policy of the United States towards Burma?

A special envoy to Burma is about to be nominated by the Obama administration, and is widely praised across the political spectrum, from Bush’s nominee for the position to a director from Human Rights Watch. That just leaves the policy:

But Malinowski also said that the substance of the administration’s Burma policy is more important than the identity of the person implementing it. He feels Burma has fallen through the cracks in terms of the administration’s focus and attention.

[. . .]

The administration’s idea was to feel out Burmese leaders in order to make incremental progress leading up to the November 2010 elections. But those elections were marred by the sort of vote rigging, intimidation, and outright violence that the Burmese junta is known for. The elections were condemned by the international community, including the United States.

The failure of the junta to make any real effort to answer the United States’ call for cooperation and dialogue poses a problem for the Obama administration’s policy of engagement. “I would say the administration has been realistic about the nature of the so-called ‘election,'” said Green. “They recognize that the junta is actually consolidating power in many areas, privatizing state assets to fill their own pockets, and marginalizing the handful of ‘Third Wave’ candidates that were supposed to be independent voices in the parliament.”

An administration official told The Cable that the U.S. government is clear eyed on the junta’s behavior but will continue to try to find ways to move forward the policy.

“The U.S. government acknowledged that this was a fundamentally flawed election based on a corrupt constitution, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t ready to reengage in dialogue,” the official said. “But we will be very clear what our expectations are and we will be extremely tough on both non-proliferation and human rights.”

Are there any further levers for the US to pull? Obviously, military action is out of the question. The Security Council hasn’t done much on Myanmar/Burma, but I can’t imagine China is eager to let any such discussion go too far. Indeed, in 2007 Russia and China both vetoed a resolution, and China is seen as being generous in even allowing Security Council meetings on the matter they consider an internal issue only.

Events in 2010 posed major challenges regarding Burma and the region:

The election has been criticised by the Secretary-General as “insufficiently inclusive, participatory, and transparent”. The UN Special Rapporteur on  the situation of human rights in Myanmar,  Tomás Ojea Quintana, has dubbed the election as “deeply flawed”, as certain opposition parties were excluded from the process.

Council members have expressed differing views on the validity of the election. US President Barack Obama criticised the election in Myanmar, saying it had been neither free nor fair, and the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, deemed the election as “the return to power of a brutal regime”. China’s ministry of foreign affairs characterised the election as “peaceful and successful” and a positive step in the transition to an elected government. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations welcomed the election “as a significant step forward “in the implementation of the seven-point Roadmap for Democracy”.

Following the election, on 8 November, violent clashes broke out between ethnic Karen rebels and Myanmar troops, reportedly causing some 15,000 people to flee into northern Thailand. On 12 November the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that most had returned to Myanmar.

On 13 November, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released, after spending most of the last two decades under house arrest. The Secretary-General urged Myanmar to release the remaining 2,200 or so political prisoners.

On 22 October, cyclone Giri struck Myanmar, claiming the lives of at least 45 people and causing the destruction of at least 20,380 homes and thousands of acres of crops and fish breeding ponds. Currently, 100,000 people remain homeless as relief efforts by government authorities, UN agencies and NGOs are under way.

I cite all this because it’s unclear that there is even a potential solution. There’s no leverage to pull left (sanctions are due to be renewed by the US and EU and most feel that will be done, from what I can gather), unless there are some unilateral sanctions possible I am not aware of (this indicates that is possible, but it does not seem like much). Beyond that, I don’t see what can possibly be done: the hope seems to be that a special envoy can simply talk the Burmese into reforms. As unlikely as that is, I don’t see any other way forward that wouldn’t make things immediately worse.

When Your House is On Fire, Call a Family Meeting: The Unbearable Frivolity of Andrew Sullivan

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I agree with DougJ about the the least convincing pro-intervention argument is from Richard Cohen regarding Libya. But this gem is the dumbest Libya argument against intervention yet. Andrew Sullivan:

The Libya case is an interesting one because of the need for dispatch, as events on the ground made a Congressional debate moot. But to my mind, that kind of emergency decision is precisely the moment when deliberation is necessary. Deciding war in a rush and in secret is normally not a good idea. And Obama did not have to act urgently to save American lives or vital interests. He had to act urgently for purely humanitarian reasons.

And so we now have an executive branch claiming powers far, far beyond what the Founders or any prudent constitution would allow. The presidency becomes Angelina Jolie with an air force.

So let me get this straight: the circumstances under which Obama had to make a decision made any further consultation with Congress moot – in Sullivan’s own words. But he would still argue that one is necessary. And not just necessary, but necessary in fancy italics.

Moreover, it takes special writing abilities to contradict your entire argument that thoroughly. The first sentence shows that there’s absolutely no time for discussion, the decision needs to be made immediately. The rest of the paragraph completely ignores that reality.

Needless to say, intervening after Benghazi had fallen would be the worst of both worlds: people would say the US does not caer about human suffering, only taking out dictators who interrupt oil flow. It’d be a pointless exercise. Sullivan has to know that – he admitted it to start the excerpt!

Additionally, Sullivan refuses to grapple with refugees anywhere on his blog. Reading him (and mind you this is someone who obsessively chronicles events) you would have virtually no idea about refugee crises on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders, or the EU commissioner warning of a refugee nightmare. Why? I can only guess that he still is obsessed with a Napoleonic conception of war as aggression and responding to it; and human suffering never involves people fleeing from nightmare scenarios, but people taking suffering with a stiff upper lip, because hey, it’s the British way. It’s a fundamental lack of empathy that clouds Sullivan’s reasoning. And all of that might be false. But Sullivan sure as hell isn’t answering it, that’s for sure (in the one in a million shot he responds to this post, it’s one and a million he takes this question seriously).

But it’s not just a lack of empathy, it’s an emotional commitment to reacting immediately that he does not even look at all the facts and grapple with them. And I’m not exaggerating. His blog has mentioned refugees a grand total of once since the resolution was passed, and that was just in reprinting the Security Council Resolution. So as far as I can tell, Sullivan himself has no idea what regional destabilization actually means. His lone reference to the crisis this month was – literally – on March 9 when he saidlet Egypt and Tunisia deal with it.” Really, Andrew? They have the resources and wherewithal to deal with that right now? Nothing else is going on there? There’s not going to be any regional effects from them having to deal with it? What a crock of shit. That’s not grappling with a problem, that’s Sullivan sticking his head in the sand. No responsible administration would or should think this way. Not even George W. Bush would think that way. Not even Neville Chamberlain would think this way – at least Chamberlain was willing to take the time to hitch a flight to Munich.

And then he has the gall to talk about prudence. Prudent men and women before him have realized that the boundary between the war powers and the commander in chief powers are at least somewhat a grey area. Truman was prone to overreacting (Steel Seizure case) but also did send troops to Korea without authorization. I’ve blogged about the notes from the 1945 Congress which are not authoritative by any means, but certainly fall within any reasonable definition of prudent.

This is not even to mention the shock value he’s going for with the Angelina Jolie comparison. I expect that sort of thing from an Andrew Breitbart intern, not Sullivan. (Not to mention that he has use Jolie, because “a massacre in Benghazi sounds completely awful if you use any non-celebrity framing. Seriously, try to find a better way to frame what Gaddafi pledging “no mercy” on a city of 700,000 would mean.)

This post is NOT to say this was the right intervention or that the mission is being executed in the correct way. Not at all. It’s just to say that Sullivan, in his apparent haste to make up for his grave Iraq war mistakes, is turning into the the far left caricature he once loathed. There is no subtlety. There is no hard cases. There’s only actions that apparently no one can consider prudent, despite extensive evidence that some people might actually think that. It’s insulting to what’s left of his legacy. I’m surprised he hasn’t demanded that Obama instead change the color of the White House website.

Congratulations, Andrew, you’re tarnishing your worthy legacy with shitty punditry just like David Broder before you. Good luck dealing with this shit, Tina Brown.

Libya is not Iraq

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Adam Serwer, now:

Both of the above statements could not be farther from [Obama] who, in 2002, said that war in Iraq Saddam Hussein “poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.” Whatever we’re doing in Libya, it can’t really be described as an attempt to eliminate an imminent and direct threat to the United States.

As Daniel Larison points out, all of what Obama said about Hussein can be said about Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. But the Libya intervention seems to have revealed a genuine ideological transition from the Barack Obama of 2002, from a kind of neo-realist to a full fledged liberal internationalist. Both approaches would have justified intervening on moral grounds, but the character of Obama’s intervention is differentiated by its reliance on international institutions.

That’s demonstrably not true. As I just posted, Voice of America reported the EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner is warning of a massive influx of refugees to Europe. Sure, this does not threaten the United States of America, but it sure does threaten Libya’s neighbors in the region – look at reports from the Tunisian border. There’s no indication those sorts of things are going to get better if Gaddafi levels Benghazi. But the regional effects is both the legal justification for action AND the one difference from Yemen, Bahrain (spilling outward is not the same as spilling inward), the Ivory Coast, etc. And by contrast, there was no real exodus I am aware from prior to the Iraq war (if anything, the war caused one). I don’t think being aware of how humanitarian crises spill over into international relations makes one doomed to be as bad as George W. Bush. Rather, it makes Obama conscious of actual international destabilizing actions, not just illusory ones.

(Moreover, any road to a new policy on Israel and Palestine has to include the issue of refugees. Recognition of that elsewhere can only help).

PS: This DOES NOT mean that Obama will not make some of the same mistakes in Libya that Bush made in Iraq or that it means whatever is done in Libya is just a great idea. Just that there’s more legal and political justification for the actions taken than in Iraq.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm