Another War of Jenkins' Ear

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

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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.

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.

ICJ and Jurisdictional Technicalities

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Al Jazeera English:

The International Court of Justice has said it cannot hear a complaint by Georgia that Russia committed human rights abuses in two breakaway provinces, saying it had no jurisdiction over the case.

The court in The Hague, the Netherlands, said despite the claims and counter-claims by Russia and Georgia, there was no evidence that the two parties had held negotiations to try and resolve the complaint.

[. . .]

Georgia had argued that the court had jurisdiction under an international convention on the elimination of racial discrimination. But the disputes under that convention can only be referred to the court if the countries involved have already tried and failed to negotiate a settlement.

The ICJ, which hears disputes between states, ordered both countries in October 2008 to “refrain from any acts of racial discrimination” against ethnic groups in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia both broke away from Georgian control in the early 1990s. Following the 2008 war over the regions, Russia recognised them both as independent states, but most of the international community and Georgia have continued to see them as belonging to Russia’s southern neighbour.

The court is carrying out a preliminary investigation into individuals on both sides who are suspected of committing war crimes during the brief 2008 war.

Very detailed legal analysis of the decision can be found here. The conclusion:

What the present decision makes clear is that, regrettably, human rights treaties provide a weak basis to found the jurisdiction of the Court, even when these treaties include such a compromissory clause. Using them as a vehicle to establish the jurisdiction of the Court is even more difficult when primarily claims about the unlawful use of force are presented under a specific human rights treaty, such as CERD. It is unfortunate that negotiations and other procedures expressly provided for in the compromissory clause of a human rights treaty are interpreted as presenting a bar to the seisin of the Court, even in an armed conflict situation. Putting the emphasis in procedural conditions present in a compromissory clause under such serious circumstances seems to me similar to putting the cart before the horse. Hopefully, the International Law Commission will provide some more clarity on this issue in the coming years.

For me, this goes back to the point I’ve been trying to hammer home elsewhere on this blog: that the primary effect of human rights treaties is on civilian populations, who use them as a barometer. It’s a tough uphill climb for countries to enforce such treaties on one another, even when as here there are enforcement mechanism (sort of) built into the treaty. For the United States, that means that the responsibility of enforcing the Geneva Conventions is on the population; I’m outraged over torture and lack of responsibility for those who did it, but the solution for that is to raise popular awareness and use that to pressure the population.

But that does raise the question of what to do when another country violates human rights; clearly citizens of Georgia cannot mobilize politically and change the internal dynamics of Russia. In this case, the recourse for Georgia is little – it can try to follow the instructions given. But generally, there’s still a lot of resistance to that.

But generally speaking, this is where the realists are right: reciprocal arguments regarding enforcement of, say, economic treaties are not as strong regarding human rights.It shows how important it is to prevent these sorts of international incidents; once they happen, recourses are hard to come by.

Written by John Whitehouse

April 1, 2011 at 1:51 pm

James Inhofe Supports Gbagbo in Ivory Coast: The Oil Connection

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Props to Salon’s Justin Elliot for breaking the story and to Crooks and Liars for exploring it further, but by focusing on the Family and the religious element (which does deserve attention) both miss a crucial element: the oil ties that Inhofe has to Gbagbo through Vanco Energy.

I explored the entire story here, but here is the short version, starting with Inhofe’s connection:

Two oil companies, Vanco (a Texas company) and LUKoil (a Russian company) are working with the Ivory Coast state oil company Petroci and l have extensive plans in 2011 and 2012 to drill off the Ivory Coast; there are indications here the Russians feel this project may be at stake with the Gbagbo and Ouattara dispute. Moreover, the state oil company has very close ties to Gbagbo; the CEO of Petroci was actually sanctioned by the EU.

Vanco Energy has been accused of essentially partnering with the Russian mob to complete their oil deals in the Ukraine; there’s little evidence their deals in Africa are any better, given the behavior of Inhofe here.

Leadership of Vanco energy has donated extensively to prominent Republicans. Vanco Founder Gene Van Dyke has donated to Republican Senators John Cornyn, Rand Paul, Roy Blunt, Kelly Ayotte, and . . . James Inhofe. He’s donated to House members Ted Poe, Bill Flores, Michael McCaul, Pete Olson, and John Culberson. He also donated a substantial amount to the Republican National Committee.

Of these, James Inhofe alone is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is also on the Subcommittee on African Affairs.

It seems that among other things, Inhofe is simply carrying water for his big oil contributors here.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 31, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Blood for Corporate Russian Oil in Cote D’Ivoire? UPDATE: GOP Ties

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As the crisis escalates seemingly daily in Cote D’Ivoire, I’ve been wondering why Russia and China abstained on a Security Council measure regarding Libya but have been slow to allow anything in Cote D’Ivoire. The answer, upon doing some research, appears to be oil. Conventionally, one thinks that Libya has oil and countries like Cote D’Ivoire do not. See, for instance, the comments here.

But there are many oil wells off the coast of west Africa, much like the Gulf of Mexico. The oil production in the country has dramatically risen (PDF link) the past decade by a factor of three and more wells are scheduled to be drilled. And even though MMS regulations in the Gulf of Mexico have been notoriously lax, regulations in west Africa are even weaker, if not nonexistent:

LUKoil produces almost 2 million barrels of oil per day, but faces a declining level of output from its Russian oilfields. For this reason it has been more active than other Russian oil producers in pursuing oil prospects outside Russia — in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and west Africa. The Gulf of Guinea. In the mid-Atlantic, is as rich in potential oil reserves as the Gulf of Mexico, the Russian oil company says — but with a significantly looser regulatory supervision and lower drilling and environmental safety costs.

Russia and China both have oil interest in the country, and the Russian firm (see directly above) LUKoil has an especially close relationship with the illegitimate President Laurent Gbagbo, which has made Russia unwilling to endorse any real action in the country. LUKoil has made big investments in the country and is scheduled to drill wells in Cote D’Ivoire waters with the state oil company Petroci in 2012, as part of a comprehensive LUKoil expansion. LUKoil highlights the Cote D’Ivoire projects on its website. Gbagbo still controls oil interests in the country through Petroci.

Petroci is one of the main assets Gbagbo has. EU sanctions have targeted the company:

The Gbagbo administration is being increasingly isolated. One after the other all its ambassadors in the EU and in the US were declared personae non gratae and replaced by pro-Ouattara diplomats. Since January 14, the EU sanctions apply to [. . .] the directors of the National Petroleum Operations Company of Cote d’Ivoire Petroci, Kassoum Fadika and Laurent Ottro Zirignon, [. . .] who are accused to have contributed to the “funding of Mr Gbagbo’s illegitimate administration”.

Last December, Fadika provided a significant help to Gbagbo by transferring CFA francs 20 billion (some € 30m) from Petroci’s accounts to Cote d’Ivoire’s National Treasury, which helped Gbagbo to pay the salaries of civil servants. EU sanctions also target 11 parastatals including the oil company Petroci. . . .

In other words, all transactions by European companies are banned, including loans or the payment of services either directly or through proxies. It means for instance that shipowners who come and load cocoa or other commodities in the Ivorian harbours are no longer allowed to pay the port authorities for these services. As far as Petroci is concerned, one of the immediate consequences may be the postponement of a project to build a 60,000 tons refinery with an American partner.

The Gbagbo administration is being increasingly isolated. One after the other all its ambassadors in the EU and in the US were declared personae non gratae and replaced by pro-Ouattara diplomats. Since January 14, the EU sanctions apply to high-ranking figures of the financial sector including Marcel Gossio, the director general of the Port Autonome d’Abidjan, the directors of the National Petroleum Operations Company of Cote d’Ivoire Petroci, Kassoum Fadika and Laurent Ottro Zirignon, the chairman of the Société ivoirienne de raffinage (SIR) who are accused to have contributed to the “funding of Mr Gbagbo’s illegitimate administration”.

There are American companies doing business in Cote D’Ivoire (Yam’s Petroleum is based in Wyoming and Total E&P appears to be based in France and the U.S., Vanco is out of Texas, and there are likely more.) But both France and the United States are willing to take action in the country. though that could be a result of that the legitimate President Ouattara is closer to France, as some have accused. Some say the French want control of the country to protect Total:

One of the most significant events in West Africa last year was the purchase of the Swiss oil trading company Addax by the Chinese firm Sinopec. Addax was a frequent deliverer of oil to the Ivory Coast and was a major player in the West African oil mafia. The loss of a key player to the Chinese was seen as a real threat. Since then the French oil companies have been buying up oil assets in the region using obscure shell companies. The Western oil companies seem to be using the Ivory Coast as the first battle against the Chinese moving into the oil and gas business in the region.

The Gulf of Guinea is rapidly becoming a major international oil play. Abidjan has a good refinery and will soon have another. Looking through the list of vessels delivering crude to the SIR refinery in Abidjan more than half were Addax vessels. Now they are Addax/Sinopec vessels. This has frightened the oil companies, especially Total. They do not have the money to compete with the Chinese and now Russian companies like Lukoil are entering the Gulf of Guinea market in a big way as well. The only way the French can compete is to try and maintain control of the strings of power in the Ivory Coast to find ways to delay or deter the Chinese and Russian invasion in what they thought of a their patch. The US and European countries share this ambition. Perhaps that is their reason for their blind and self-destructive policy in the country.

But on the other hand LUKoil is a key part of Gbagbo’s agenda. The relationship is such that Gbagbo scrubbed his website of evidence of meetings with the firm, but the evidence is still there on Google’s cache. Indeed, one of the main differences between Ouattara and Gbagbo is that Gbagbo rejected French (Cote D’Ivoire was a French colony) investment for nationalism and Russian investment:

Although Gbagbo’s supporters make much of his nationalist and anti-French stance, the regime signed a multimillion-dollar deepwater oil contract with Total two months before the elections. France still contributes 60% of foreign investment – including contracts for ports, oil production and telecommunications. Gbagbo’s failure to bring in alternative investors from the Middle East and Asia has weakened his negotiating position. However Russia’s Lukoil has been a lifeline to Camp Gbagbo. Along with Angola and Israel, the country has been its bedrock in terms of financial support.

That still leaves one question: Why is Russia catering to LUKoil so much? Aside from being the biggest Russian non-state oil and gas producer, LUKoil threatened to leave Russia and drill more overseas, particularly in west Africa over a dispute related to Russian tax rates:

An announcement last week by LUKoil’s number-2 executive and shareholder, Leonid Fedun . . . that the Russian oil producer expects to find more crude oil in Africa than in Russia was intended to set off alarms bells at the Ministry of Finance in Moscow. That is where Fedun is negotiating for tax concessions for his company’s newly developed oilfields in the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea and in western Siberia. Company sources admit there was nothing new about the African projects in what Fedun had to say. Whether the Finance Ministry intends to offer tax benefits to temper LUKoil’s African enthusiasm remains to be seen. And for the time being, West African spending represents a small fraction – maybe less than a tenth – of LUKoil’s global exploration budget.

. . .

LUKoil spokesman did not respond to a request for a breakdown of LUKoil’s recent and planned expenditures at prospects off the coasts of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.  . . .

In the Cote d’Ivoire project three “promising geological targets” have been mapped, according to the annual report, and prepared for drilling.

. . .

So what was Fedun’s reason for the promoting the notion that LUKoil has found more oil in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire than in western Siberia? In mid-July, the Moscow industry press reported that LUKoil had applied to the Finance Ministry for a tax holiday to cover its brand-new Korchagin oilfield in the Caspian, and for other fields being developed to production nearby. The company application was for zero export duty on the oil it plans to lift and ship from Korchagin. This would be worth at least $400 million, if granted.

And that’s the rub. LUKoil is competing against Rosneft and other Russian crude oil exporters for relief of the export duty on new fields. The others who have already benefited from zero export duty since January are producing at new fields in eastern Siberia; they are shipping eastwards to the Asian market, through a pipe and rail link to China; and through the new Pacific Ocean tanker terminal at Kozmino Bay.

LUKoil wants the benefit to apply with equality over the entire oil geography of Russia. The Finance Ministry wants to eliminate or reduce the tax benefit to the oil companies so as to cover rising budget outlays demanded by the approaching national election campaigns. LUKoil’s response is Fedun’s – make our new Russian wells more profitable, or else we’ll drill elsewhere.

This was serious enough that Putin himself was involved in the negotiations, promising partial relief. It dragged on into this year as Russia needed some of the revenue to close a budget gap. And it still has not been resolved, with the founder of LUKoil himself now talking up African locations instead of Russia.

So essentially, Russia probably wants to protect the company it gets tax revenue from (imagine that, tax revenue from an oil company), in order to prevent it from leaving altogether – very much a quid pro quo: You stay here with slightly lower profits, and we’ll protect you overseas.

Western diplomats have also connected numerous times LUKoil to Russia’s objections and also stated that Russian objections to previous resolutions were not substantive objections. One diplomat even said Russian’s objections were “90 percent about oil, ten percent about sovereignty.” When Ban Ki Moon raised concerns that Belarus may have delivered attack helicopters, Russia lept to its defense, calling it an errant report; a Brazilian diplomat in charge of the matter said later there was likely no such delivery.

For it’s part, China has previously stated that it will allow the African Union to lead:

China has said that it will respect the sovereignty of the Ivoirian government but will back efforts of the African Union to mediate. The African Union, for its part, quickly dispatched former South African president Thabo Mbeki to Abidjan to try to break the standoff. Mbeki left two days later, unsuccessful, urging that “every effort should be made to ensure that the transition to democracy succeeds.” Subsequently, the African Union went further, issuing a statement that calls for “respect for the outcome of the presidential election as proclaimed by the Independent Electoral Commission.” West African leaders, joined by Mbeki, have convened an emergency meeting of the regional grouping ECOWAS to determine a way forward. ECOWAS too has endorsed the findings of the electoral commission and called for Gbagbo to resign.

Chinese oil interests in the country seem to be more dependent on stability (PDF link) rather than a connection with Gbagbo; they are partnered with an American company (Vanco, which also partners with LUKoil) and an Indian company).

Just yesterday, France introduced a new draft resolution to the Security Council that the United States has announced its support for (State Department briefing yesterday). But it’s hard to see Russia agreeing to a resolution that allows for “all necessary means” to disarm Gbagbo’s forces, even if they are protecting civilians.

Additionally, the UN Human Rights Council announced yesterday that it is sending a commission to the country. This resolution was adopted without a vote and is essentially a fact-finding mission.

Is there a local solution? Probably not:

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the UN have taken a strong stand, unambiguously telling Gbagbo to go. Unheeded, ECOWAS and the AU then threatened using “legitimate force” – a revolutionary proposition for usually cautious organisations. So far, their actions have not matched their bold declarations.

Nigeria is not enthusiastic about intervention. It would have to pay for most of the operation and provide the logistics too. The country will hold its own elections in April. President Goodluck Jonathan is preoccupied at home with militias from the Niger Delta to the far north. Those realities might explain the mission of former president Olusegun Obasanjo to talk to Gbagbo in mid-January: few ex-leaders in the region are as blunt and forceful.

Côte d’Ivoire’s neighbours watch on closely. Ghana’s President John Atta Mills has ruled out sending troops, saying the matter should be settled through negotiations. Other states are wobbling. An intervention against an incumbent president would set an uncomfortable precedent in a year when some 18 African countries are holding elections.

Gbagbo’s camp says it is ready. One supporter showed Anansi a stash of arms in a darkened room, saying: “Eighty per cent of young Ivorians are unemployed. For us, a gun is a passport to making money.” Yet the truckloads of newly armed Gbagbo supporters patrolling Abidjan point to distrust: the cheerleaders cost money, and show a lack of confidence in the national army. “If you have to arm youths and recruit foreign mercenaries, you doubt either the capacity or loyalty of your own army of 18,000 men,” a general pointed out.

ECOWAS could still revise its position if sanctions against Gbagbo start to work. Civil servants and then, more dangerously, the army and assorted mercenaries could be left without salaries. Gbagbo’s grip on the army relies on the generals, not the ranks, many of whom voted for Ouattara. As the pressure mounts, junior officers could cut a deal with Ouattara and mount a putsch.

It’s hard to see how this doesn’t get worse before it gets better.

UPDATE: Upon recollection, I wondered if I pursued the Vanco story enough. Vanco is a partner with LUKoil and Petroci, in Cote D’Ivoirein Africa and, recently, in the Black Sea. And Vanco is based out of Texas.

Vanco, Petroci, and LUKoil have extensive plans in 2011 and 2012 to drill off the Ivory Coast – and there are indications as mentioned above that  the Russians feel this project may be at stake with the Gbagbo and Ouattara dispute.

Not surprisingly, leadership of Vanco energy have donated extensively to prominent Republicans. Founder Gene Van Dyke has donated to Republican Senators John Cornyn, Rand Paul, Roy Blunt, Kelly Ayotte, and James Inhofe. He’s donated to House members Ted Poe, Bill Flores, Michael McCaul, Pete Olson, and John Culberson. He also donated a substantial amount to the Republican National Committee.

Poe and McCaul are on the House Foreign Relations Committee. Neither are on the Subcommittee dealing with Africa and Human Rights.

James Inhofe is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is also on the Subcommittee on African Affairs.

I can find no evidence of any of these supporting Gbagbo over Ouattara in the current dispute. But the question should be posed to them.

FURTHER UPDATE: It took another week, but news broke that Inhofe, does, in fact, support Gbagbo, as predicted here. See Salon’s Justin Elliot here. This was tragically predicted.

The Strange Foreign Policy Dynamics of the Status Quo

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President Obama and President Medvedev today signed a New START treaty to reduce nuclear weapons. I think this is just clearly a good thing: less nuclear weapons plus verification measures means 1) less chance of a weapon to fall in the hands of terrorists and 2) it further reduces the chances of a nuclear holocaust. I don’t see any conceivable downside.

But this is going to play out strangely. Republicans seem hell bent, for instance, on denying Obama any significant achievement. There are concerns about missile defense, namely that Republicans will see Russian statements about it as a justification for not supporting the treaty. Ultimately, though, I think that would be a pretext. Republicans are only concerned about winning; they have zero responsibility or concern with policy at this moment (see their zero health care votes despite the bill including decidedly more than 0% Republican ideas). Read the rest of this entry »

Written by John Whitehouse

April 8, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Don’t Let the Russians Count!?

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Seriously, FOX?

01

We’ve been telling them how many we have for quite a while. Assuming that we’d get to count there’s too, isn’t the harm of letting them verify our numbers (and see our security protocol to compare) a very small price?

I mean, this would be uneasy 20 years ago just after the fall of the Soviet Union. But it’s gone now. I think we can move on.

Written by John Whitehouse

October 13, 2009 at 5:55 pm