Weekly Education Update: News from the Summer

 Welcome back, upSTANDers! It has been quite the summer on many fronts, and the new Education Team is excited to present our first News Brief! Have news tips? Email us at education@standnow.org or tweet at @standnow.

SYRIA

According to Al Jazeera, "Violence in Syria has escalated into what the Red Cross calls a civil war. Activists say at least 18,000 people have died since the uprising began in March last year. The government of Bashar al-Assad, increasingly losing territory to rebel fighters, blames "terrorists" and "armed gangs" for the unrest, while the opposition and other nations have accused Assad's forces of crimes against humanity."

In recent months, several high-profile figures in President al-Assad's government have defected, including Syria's prime minister. However, the opposition to al-Assad's government are not united. Though they call themselves the Free Syrian Army (FSA), they operate independently and based on geographic area. Interaction between the groups is relatively rare. Some groups are secular and others hope for an Islamic state in Syria. What happens if the Syrian regime falls? No one can say for sure, but the shaky alliance between very ideologically different groups makes the future look less than secure.

In addition to the political issues, the refugee situation along Syria's border is also escalating, with a dramatic increase expected as violence escalates on both sides. Al Jazeera says the number in Turkey could reach 200,000 and many others may flee to Jordan. Compared to previous weeks where the influx included 400-500 people per day, the UNHCR is now seeing peaks of up to 5,000 per day. Notably, the government has begun using air strikes, and representatives of the Free Syrian Army in Washington, DC are calling for a no fly zone. This would mean include using foreign military assets to attack Syrian air defenses and perhaps even engage Syrian aircraft directly. Turkey and France are both supporting a no fly zone, and Turkey is moving toward establishing safe zones along the border inside Syria. For another perspective, see this report from Russia Today.

On August 2nd, Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, resigned as the UN and Arab League joint special envoy to Syria because of "increasing militarization on the ground" and "the clear lack of unity" at the UN Security Council. On August 17, he was replaced by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who is committed to finding a political solution to the conflict. As an Arab League envoy, Brahimi helped negotiate the end of Lebanon's civil war.

Al-Assad responded on state television on August 28th: "The truth is that Syria doesn't need a green light when dealing with its internal affairs, neither from our allies or our enemies. And if we look back we will see that the army is the main reason this country is still standing on its feet," as well as "The operation that's going on now is the cleansing of our nation."

What do you think about the situation in Syria? Do you think it warrants a no fly zone, or do you think a political solution can be maneuvered? Email your thoughts to education@standnow.org.

You can view Al Jazeera's Syria Live Blog on Syria here.

SUDAN AND SOUTH SUDAN

In spite of Sudan and South Sudan’s successful oil-revenue mediation in early August, bilateral negotiations on unresolved border, citizenship, and territorial administration issues remain at an impasse. Early last week, the Sudanese government in Khartoum accused their South Sudanese counterparts of unilaterally appointing a governing administration in Abyei, a prerequisite for the disputed border area’s much-delayed vote on its territorial future. U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman called on both parties to find common ground in the African Union’s interim “buffer zone” proposal concerning Sudan and South Sudan’s border security disagreements. Top Chinese diplomats, similarly, reiterated their support for a negotiated settlement between the neighboring countries, highlighting prospects for economic, commercial, and cross-cultural cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan.

In the disputed border state of South Kordofan, clashes re-emerged between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement--North (SPLM-N), which has waged a low-intensity insurgency since last June. Meanwhile, the SPLM-N reiterated its call for the implementation of humanitarian corridors between Ethiopia, South Sudan, and South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which have suffered severe food insecurity as a result of continued conflict and Khartoum’s restrictions on humanitarian access.

In South Sudan, the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) struggled to consolidate its hold over Jonglei, an eastern state which has encountered waves of inter-communal violence and nascent insurgency in recent months. Early last week, in Jonglei’s Pibor County, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces engaged in successive clashes with rebels loyal to David Yau Yau, a former SPLA general; at least 40 SPLA soldiers died in combat, according to Western press reporting. Pibor has been a central focus of South Sudan’s state-wide civilian disarmament campaign, which the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have criticized for resulting in extrajudicial killings, torture, and mass rape against civilian populations.

BURMA

As Burma slowly reforms their corrupt military regime, the US government has decided to lift certain investment sanctions on the country. Reform however, has been dotted with episodes of terror against the Kachin and the Rohingya--behavior characteristic of the regime.

Within the past week, President Thein Sein has changed members of his Cabinet, including the Information Minister, widely seen as an opponent of reforms. This minister was replaced by Aung Kyi, a previous liaison between Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's former military junta. As Thein Sein said in May, "conservatives who do not have a reformist mindset will be left behind." He seems to be backing this up with the removal of notable hardliners Khin Maung Myint and Zaw Min, ministers of construction and electric power. Political opponents are more skeptical. Clashes in Arakan state and against the Kachin continue.

On Monday, a third round of peace talks will be taking place between the Karen National Union and the Burmese government. Violence has continued despite a peacefire agreement in January. For more on the marginalized Kachin and Rohingya populations, check out our summer blog post on Burma here.

Thein Sein plans to cut down the budget allocated to the military from 23.5% to 14.5%. A commendable aim, scholars are worried about the members of the military who must be cut in order to reduce the budget. As many may not be fit for civil service, they will have to be absorbed into the private sector--a sector still slowly growing in Burma.

Say you heard them first! Burmese indie rock bands Side Effect and Bloodsugar Politik are gaining popularity abroad-check them out and support the arts in Burma!

DRC

This summer, the news coming out of eastern Congo concerned Rwanda’s involvement in aiding members of an armed group called M23. Rwanda in not new to proxy wars in Congo. The M23 group is responsible for forcing 270,000 people from their homes in recent months, according to Reuters. Rwanda strongly denies involvement in the M23, although they have been linked to aiding Thomas Lubanga, who was indicted in March by the International Criminal Court, and his co-accused Bosco Ntaganda, who remains at-large in eastern DRC, and who is the orchestrator of the M23. For more information on the UN group of experts report and Rwanda’s rebuttal, see Jason Stearns’ excellent analysis here.

For President Paul Kagame's response, see his interview with Al Jazeera.

In response, and shocking to many Rwanda scholars in the US, the United States has withdrawn all military aid from Rwanda. Germany, the Netherlands, and Britain have taken similar steps.

There have also been recent reports concerning an ebola outbreak in northeastern DR Congo. At least 10 people have died during the outbreak, which was reported on August 17. According to the World Health Organization, "Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals." Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the virus. The fatality rate of this particular strain of ebola is estimated at 40%. As Congo struggles for security and justice in the far east, this ebola outbreak could cause another type of crisis in the north.

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