Top stories of the week (28 May-1 June)

Monday

Mali Tuaregs, Islamist rebels agree to merge, create new state (Reuters)

Mali’s Tuareg rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar Dine Islamist militants have agreed to merge and create an independent Islamic state in the north of the country, a rebel spokesman said on Saturday.

The deal between MNLA, which has said it wants an independent secular state in the north, and the al Qaeda-linked Salafist Ansar Dine, which had wanted to impose Sharia across Mali, may complicate international efforts to stabilise Mali after a March coup that plunged the country into chaos.

“The agreement reached this evening will see the merging of the two movements – the MNLA and Ansar Dine – to create an independent Islamic state,” MNLA spokesman Mohamed Ag Attaher told Reuters by phone from Gao, in the north of Mali where the deal was signed.

UPDATE – Mali rebels split over sharia in new state

An agreement between northern Mali’s MNLA Tuareg rebels and the al Qaeda-linked Islamist group Ansar Dine to create an Islamic state in the Azawad desert has hit trouble over how strictly to impose sharia, Islamic law, MNLA sources said on Tuesday.

The separatist MNLA wants a moderate form of sharia, while Ansar Dine would like to impose a more hardline version, using punishments such as the amputation of hands and heads for certain crimes, the sources said. (…)

“We want sharia similar to that in Mauritania or even Egypt. This point must be clarified,” Ibrahim Ag Assaleh, an MNLA official in the northern city of Gao, told Reuters by telephone. (…)

A second MNLA source confirmed that a disagreement had emerged, centred on what form of sharia to impose. “The strict application of sharia, for example by cutting off hands, we don’t agree with,” the second source said.

An Ansar Dine official was not available, but the group has said it wants to impose a strict version of sharia in Mali and would be willing to cut off hands and heads if the Koran required it.

Tuesday

Photo: AFP

Ruling party wins Lesotho vote but has to share (Mail & Guardian)

The Democratic Congress of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili took 41 of 80 directly elected constituencies in the 120-seat Parliament but now has to woe opposition parties to form a government.

The remaining 40 parliamentary seats are awarded proportionally to parties according to the number of votes they won nationally in the tiny mountain kingdom surrounded entirely by South Africa.

A party needs 61 or more seats to govern alone but the DC is unlikely to muster 20 more.

The main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) took 26 constituencies while the former ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) took 12 and the Popular Front for Democracy managed only one.

Mosisili formed the DC in February after leaving the LCD, which brought him to power in the 1998 elections violently disputed by the opposition.

The ABC performed strongly in the cities, reflecting dissatisfaction amongst urban voters with the LCD and DC, but Mosisili regained his dominance through strong rural support, which made up two-thirds of his party’s constituencies.

But an analyst said the results showed the DC had failed in the most contested election in the constitutional monarchy in 14 years.

“This win means very little for the DC as they have basically lost,” said professor Kopano Makoa of the National University of Lesotho

Wednesday

Photo: AP

Charles Taylor sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes (The Guardian)

Judges at an international war crimes court have sentenced Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison for war crimes during the long-running civil war in Sierra Leone.

Taylor was found guilty last month of 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity by supporting rebels between 1996 and 2002 in return for conflict diamonds. He was convicted of offences including murder, rape, sexual slavery, recruiting child soldiers, enforced amputations and pillage.

Delivering the sentence on Wednesday, Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor’s crimes were of the “utmost gravity in terms of scale and brutality”.

“The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions,” Lussick said.

Taylor showed no emotion as Lussick handed down what will effectively be a life sentence.

Thursday

Turkey hosts meeting on Somalia
(Al Jazeera)

Commentary from Abdirashid Hashi, from the International Crisis Group,
Somalia at crossroads, should not squander great opportunity

Somalia stands at a new crossroad. The term of the current Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) ends in less than two months. Everyone is wondering what will come next. Elections are not possible, so Somali politicians and their UN-led international backers have agreed that traditional tribal elders will lead the next phase. But questions remain over who exactly represents Somali clans; any mistake in naming them has the potential to unravel the significant political and security progress that has been made so far.

The elders are tasked with selecting an 825-member Constituent Assembly, which in turn, will debate and adopt the new constitution and appoint incoming parliamentarians. Parliament, in turn, will elect Somalia’s next president. But there is a caveat; these leaders must be uncontested and recognized elders. The selection process could usher in a new dawn or send Somalia sliding back into chaos. The problem is if politicians with personal agendas corrupt the process and empower phony clan elders, these impostors could sell seats in parliament to the highest bidder.

The whole enterprise of ending Somalia’s dysfunctional transition and ushering in a more progressive political era would then be futile. Any resulting institution would lack legitimacy, and the strife-torn country could enter a new era of uncertainty, if not full scale disorder.

Friday

Rwanda accuses UN of fomenting regional tensions (Reuters)

Rwanda accused the United Nations of stirring tensions in the Great Lakes region on Thursday after the world body said that men recruited in Rwanda had been tricked into fighting for a rebel group in neighbouring Congo.

Rwanda has in the past backed rebels in Congo, citing a need to stamp out fighters who operate there and who are linked to its 1994 genocide. The two neighbours have enjoyed warmer ties since 2009 when the Rwandan-backed CNDP rebel group signed a peace deal and integrated into the Congolese armed forces.

However the eastern Congolese provinces of North and South Kivu have experienced new fighting in recent weeks after former CNDP elements launched a fresh rebellion, rallying behind the renegade Congolese general, Bosco Ntaganda.

Speculation of Rwandan involvement in the mineral-rich zone grew as the U.N. mission said this week 11 rebel fighters had given themselves up in Congo, saying they had been recruited in Rwanda and tricked into crossing the border to fight for the rebels.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikwabo rejected the assertions as untrue.

Picture of the week

Kazungula, a border post between Zambia and Botswana, is a chokepoint for trade, with lorries taken across the Zambezi one by one. (Photo: The Guardian)

Picture gallery here.
Fulle story: “Zambia and Zimbabwe’s single-stop solution to boosting intra-African trade

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