Peace accord brings hope to the Horn of Africa

July 21, 2018

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Poor economic prospects, repression and military conscription made Eritrea one of Africa’s biggest sources of refugees bound for Europe.

David Pilling, noted author and FT columnist reports a ‘diplomatic turnround’ which has taken place with far-reaching consequences for the region and beyond, commenting, “Yet no one outside the continent has paid much attention”. Abiy Ahmed, the recently elected young Ethiopian prime minister has transformed the atmosphere in a country that had been beset by years of civil strife.

The two men later met and signed a peace agreement that brings to an end a 20-year stand-off since the bloody conflict of 1998-2000. Pilling adds that the accord was made possible largely due to the forward thinking of Mr Abiy, at 41 Africa’s youngest leader, who offered to cede land in accordance with a peace deal that was never implemented.

The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed the accord and later marked the diplomatic thaw between their once-warring nations with hugs and warm words in front of an ecstatic crowd at a concert celebrating the end of one of Africa’s longest conflicts.

Jane Flanagan (the Times) describes a visibly moved Isaias Afwerki addressing thousands of jubilant well-wishers in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on his first visit to the country in 22 years. As he was welcomed by flag-waving Ethiopians chanting his name, he said: “Hate, discrimination and conspiracy is now over. No one can steal the love we have regained now. Now is the time to make up for the lost times.”

Mr Isaias’s visit followed one made to his capital by Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, when the leaders signed a historic five-point declaration to end a border war that has claimed 100,000 lives. They used their second summit to commit to restoring trade and transport links and reopening embassies.

“The reconciliation we are forging now is an example to people across Africa and beyond,” Mr Abiy said.

In a speech at the weekend to welcome Mr Isaias, Mr Abiy said: “We have finally found our sister nation after many years of hiding.” The summit culminated in a celebration of music and dance last night at the Millennium Hall, attended by 25,000 ticket holders.

David Pilling noted some of the real and immediate practical implications of the deal:

  • Daily flights between the two capitals, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, will start next week.
  • The unblocking of telephone lines between the neighbouring states led to emotional reunions between families and friends who had been separated for decades, events compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Eritrea’s economic outlook should improve.
  • Landlocked Ethiopia will get access to two Eritrean ports, giving it an alternative to shipping goods in and out of Djibouti.

Alongside developments in African countries including Zimbabwe and Angola, it will be another sign of potential political rejuvenation on the continent and if the peace deal holds, the international community should stand ready to engage.

Pilling adds that observers say if the peace deal holds it could help to stabilise neighbouring Somalia. The benefits could reach far north, because an end to conflict and repression in Eritrea could reduce the number of its citizens migrating to Europe.

 

 

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The Myanmar peace process

June 20, 2018

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Welcoming our first reader from Burma/Myanmar in May, prompted an attempt to find out more about the search for peace in that country.

This picture of a stilt village in Myanmar is the only reference made on this site to several descriptions of social and environmental diversity found online.

Having only received news of the plight of the Rohingya refugees and the condemnation of Aung Suu Kyi’s lack of support for this minority, the writer’s search unveiled a far more complex situation than ongoing news bulletins have indicated.

The Panglong conference of 1947 between the Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minority leaders and Aung San, head of the interim Burmese government led to an agreement to join in a union government that would give equal status to all citizens and press for independence.

The term ‘federalism’ was construed by many in Burma as being anti-national, anti-unity and pro-disintegration.

When the non-Burman ethnic groups pressed for autonomy or federalism, as incorporated in the 1947 Constitution, at a time when there was a weak civilian government, the military leadership staged a coup d’état in 1962, moving towards democracy gradually in the 90s.

Following the democratic election of the Thein Sein government in 2010, the government embarked on a series of reforms to direct the country towards liberal democracy, a mixed economy, and reconciliation, includes the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission, the granting of general amnesties for more than 200 political prisoners, new labour laws that permit labour unions and strikes, a relaxation of press censorship, and the regulation of currency practices.

By 2011, the government accepted the concept of federalism, one of the core principles of the ongoing peace process with the country’s ethnic armed groups.

            Map of Myanmar and its divisions, including Shan State, Kachin State, Rakhine State and Karen State.

The government allowed the use and discussion of federalism and the drafting of a Constitution by individual states and regions and international approval included:

• ASEAN’s approval of Myanmar’s bid for the position of ASEAN chair in 2014;
• a visit by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2011 – the first in more than fifty years,
• and the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the 2012 by-elections.

However, there were ongoing conflicts in Myanmar:

• The Kachin conflict between the Pro-Christian Kachin Independence Army and the government;
• a civil war between the Rohingya Muslims, and the government and non-government groups in Rakhine State;
• Armed conflict between ethnic Chinese rebels and the Myanmar Armed Forces have resulted in the Kokang offensive in February 2015. The conflict had forced 40,000 to 50,000 civilians to flee their homes and seek shelter on the Chinese side of the border
• a conflict between the Shan, Lahu, and Karen minority groups, and the government in the eastern half of the country.
• A widely publicised Burmese conflict was the 2012 Rakhine State riots, a series of conflicts that primarily involved the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist people and the Rohingya Muslim people in the northern Rakhine State—an estimated 90,000 people were displaced as a result of the riots.

The recent violence in Kachin State, where thousands have been forced from their homes because of renewed fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) that was reached under former president and retired army General Thein Sein. And despite this agreement, even groups that signed the deal are regularly having to fend off incursions by government soldiers into their areas.

Armed conflict between ethnic Chinese rebels and the Myanmar Armed Forces led to the Kokang offensive in February 2015. The conflict forced 40,000 to 50,000 civilians to flee their homes and seek shelter on the Chinese side of the border.

The army has stepped up its campaign while global attention focuses on the Rohingya crisis, which has seen some 700,000 people flee to Bangladesh.

General elections in November 2015 gave the National League for Democracy (NLD) an absolute majority in both chambers of the national parliament and Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed that peace with the ethnic minority groups would be her top priority. However, she has not continued with the talks initiated under the previous administration and it is reported that some negotiators who had championed her cause have been sidelined. Ethnic groups now say that the government team charged with finding peace rarely travels to their part of the country to see or hear at first-hand what the issues are.

The Myanmar Government does not include the Rohingya as a Burmese minority group

They are classified as stateless Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982—on the government’s list of more than 130 ethnic races and, therefore, the government states, they have no claim to Myanmar citizenship.

Wayne Hay reports that in 2012, there was a series of Rakhine State riots, conflicts that involved the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist people and the Rohingya Muslim people in the northern Rakhine State, displacing an estimated 90,000 people.
The Myanmar government’s Nationwide Ceasefire now has eight ethnic armed groups as signatories which could participate in the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference. The third meeting of the conference in the second week of July will discuss fundamental principles on federalism in Myanmar.

The Diplomat reports that the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) continues to insist that there should be a single army under the new federal arrangement. The ethnic armed groups, however, prefer having a federal army, which could allow them to keep their respective armed forces:

“Essentially, the Tatmadaw deems that the ethnic armed groups will be a threat to territorial integrity if they are to retain their weapons and personnel. It is also concerned that the union government would have little authority or control over the regional governments if there is a federal army.

“On the other hand, the ethnic armed groups argue that their forces have to be retained to serve either as a deterring factor or as a counter in the event of unexpected or unprovoked attacks from the Tatmadaw. Any conflict settlement arising from the process will not be sustainable if there is an element of mistrust between the negotiating parties.

“Trust cannot be built if attacks by the Tatmadaw continue alongside the civilian government’s efforts to conduct the peace process. Early this year, the Tatmadaw launched attacks on the Kachin and northern Shan States, triggering renewed clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The Tatmadaw’s actions also strengthen the case for retaining the ethnic armed forces”.

Serving in the Kachin Independence Army

However, preservation of the union has been a longstanding belief of the Tatmadaw and its uncompromising stance could trigger the ethnic armed groups to maintain arms and continue the fight, providing justification for maintaining military operations against these armed groups.

Eugene Mark, a Senior Analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, ends:
“Immense challenges lie ahead for the peace process in Myanmar. However, if the peace process is to have any chance of succeeding, one should look at building trust between the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed groups as the starting point. Perhaps the best solution is for the two sides to listen to each other’s concerns and be ready to compromise in the larger interest of the country.

“Conflicts that are political in nature require political consensus”.

Those who want to read more about Burma’s complex and eventful history during these years, with one ference to CIA/USA intervention, can do on these sites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panglong_Agreement
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panglong_Conference 47-62
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1962_Burmese_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat 
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-43933332
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-06/20/c_137267461.htm
https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/myanmars-challenging-path-to-peace/
https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2018/05/struggles-myanmar-peace-process-180502064233955.html

 

 

 

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Is Donald Trump’s letter being undervalued by the media?

May 24, 2018

The Financial Times reports that Donald Trump has cancelled the meeting with Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, which was to have taken place in Singapore on June 12.

It provided a copy of the cancellation letter from the White House released hours after North Korea said it had destroyed its nuclear test site in a move that was designed to show its sincerity about pledges to denuclearise.

 

 

 

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The two Korean leaders have declared there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula

April 27, 2018

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A tentative hope was fostered after reading – on December 17th – about South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s meeting with China’s Xi Jinping. The trip — Mr Moon’s first state visit to Beijing — was used to mend bilateral ties, which disintegrated this year after China launched an economic boycott of South Korean companies and goods. In Beijing, Mr Moon urged Xi Jinping, China’s president, to step up efforts to solve the nuclear crisis with North Korea.

The earlier hope has been strengthened by the news in the Korea Times today

Read [FULL TEXT] Panmunjeon Declaration

President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have now signed the “Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula,” in which they made it clear there would be no more war on the peninsula and that a new era of peace has begun.

President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have announced that South and North Korea will seek to hold tripartite talks with the United States, or talks including China, with the goal of declaring an end to the Korean War (1950-53) this year and establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, Friday.

Kim Jae-chun, a professor at Sogang university, said: “South Korea believes there is a role to be played by China . . . China could become an arbiter between the US and North Korea. The Moon government will be turning to China to say you guys have to calm things down with North Korea. But China will also ask South Korea to try convince the US to lower its rhetoric.”

Kim Rahn (Korea Times) reports that, in a joint declaration they announced after the summit at the truce village of Panmunjeom, the two leaders reaffirmed the joint goal of making the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free through complete denuclearization. To attain this goal and for further discussions on the North Korea nuclear issue, Moon will visit Pyongyang this autumn. Points made in the declaration were summarised:

(1)  Two Koreas agree to declare the end of the Korean War that has been suspended since an armistice agreement in 1953.

(2)  Two Koreas agree to set denuclearization as a common goal and work together to make the Korean Peninsula nuclear free.

(3)  South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit Pyongyang in autumn.

(4)  Two Koreas agree to stop a range of hostile acts on the ground, in the air and on the ocean.

(5)  Starting May 1, the two Koreas will stop broadcasting propaganda on the inter-Korean border.

(6)  Two Koreas will set up a jointly operated liaison office in Gaeseong, North Korea.

(7)  On Aug 15, the two Koreas will host reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

(8)  Two Koreas agreed to reconnect an inter-Korean railroad on the East Coast.

(9)  Two Koreas will jointly participate in the 2018 Asian Games.

Moon said, “North Korea’s pre-emptive nuclear freeze will be a valuable beginning for complete denuclearization of the peninsula.” Kim said, “I’m making efforts so that the agreement we made today will not turn out like before, but produce a good outcome  . . . If the people of the two Koreas can pass on the road I passed today, if Panmunjeom becomes a symbol of peace, the people of the two Koreas will enjoy joint prosperity.”

Moon added: “Today I and Kim set a milestone, which will not be shaken, toward co-prosperity and unification”.

 

 

 

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The late John Roberts and Jeremy Corbyn: pragmatic idealists?

April 13, 2018

The late John Roberts would have welcomed the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Having recently revisited his work – ‘ahead of its time’ – the opening words in one essay come to mind:

“Since 7th August 1945 I have believed – and felt – that only by abolishing war would the sort of world that I wanted be possible. I have devoted more or less the whole of my life to pursuing ways that seemed to offer the possibility and hope of that being achieved or, at the least, of preventing a third world war”.

Greatly though I valued John Roberts as a person, at the time I thought his advocacy of World Citizenship, which will be published in due course on this site, was unrealistic, utopian. But it was visionary, in the positive sense of that word.

Now damage to the living, their infrastructure and above all, their environment, have deteriorated so much – and I see no other acceptable option offered by the great and the good.

Sienna Rodgers quotes Jeremy Corbyn:

“More bombing, more killing, more war will not save life, it will take lives and spawn the war elsewhere”.

He points out that even US defence secretary James Mattis – nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ – has warned further military action could “escalate out of control”.

Sienna comments, “There appears to be an unspoken agreement, driven by a laddish culture, that those urging caution are being ‘soft’. But the Labour leader’s stance reflects the view held by the British public, 43% of which oppose missile strikes in Syria according to the latest YouGov research, though the majority of Britons (61%) believe that the Syrian government or their allies probably did carry out a chemical attack”.

 

Corbyn’s statement concludes: “The need to restart genuine negotiations for peace and an inclusive political settlement of the Syrian conflict, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces, could not be more urgent. We must do everything we can, no matter how challenging, to bring that about.”

 

 

 

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Pope Francis’ Easter message – summary and link to full text

April 3, 2018

On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis implored the world to seek out solutions to its geopolitical conflicts.

Excerpts from Ana Campoy’s summary:

He first addressed the “beloved and long-suffering land of Syria” in his traditional Urbi et Orbi (“to the City and the World”) address. “May the light of the risen Christ illumine the consciences of all political and military leaders, so that a swift end may be brought to the carnage in course”.

Then he asked that the warring parties respect humanitarian laws and open access to the country so aid could be delivered to the millions of Syrians whose lives have been ravaged by civil war.

The Pope cast a blessing on the rest of the Middle East, too, “so that dialogue and mutual respect may prevail over division and violence.”

In addition, he addressed conflict in South Sudan, pleading that the world “not forget the victims of that conflict, especially the children!”, and Venezuela, where he hoped for “a just, peaceful and humane way to surmount quickly the political and humanitarian crises that grip it.”

Francis also offered a blessing for those trying to ratchet down tensions in the Korean Peninsula. South and North Korea’s current leaders are set to meet at the end of April for the first time; US president Donald Trump has said he will sit down with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un by May, saying:

“May those who are directly responsible act with wisdom and discernment.”

We invoke on this day fruits of hope for those who yearn for a more dignified life, above all in those areas of the African continent deeply affected by hunger, endemic conflicts and terrorism. May the peace of the risen Lord heal wounds in South Sudan and open hearts to dialogue and mutual understanding. Let us not forget the victims of that conflict, especially the children! May there be no lack of solidarity with all those forced to abandon leave their native lands and lacking the bare essentials for living.

We implore fruits of dialogue for the Korean peninsula, that the discussions under way may advance harmony and peace within the region. May those who are directly responsible act with wisdom and discernment to promote the good of the Korean people and to build relationships of trust within the international community.

We pray for the fruits of new life for those children, who as a result of wars and hunger, grow up without hope, lacking education and health care; and to those elderly persons who are cast off by a selfish culture that ostracizes those who are not “productive”.

We also implore fruits of wisdom for those who have political responsibilities in our world, that they may always respect human dignity, devote themselves actively to the pursuit of the common good, and ensure the development and security of their own citizens.

The love of God “dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord and brings down the mighty” (Easter Proclamation).

Happy Easter to all!

 

 

The full text of the pope’s 2018 Sunday Easter address: https://qz.com/1242396/on-easter-sunday-pope-francis-doled-out-blessings-to-syria-and-other-geopolitical-hotspots/

 

 

 

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Ministry for Peace initiative – recruiting

January 28, 2018

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“We must wage peace with sophistication and commitment just as we now wage war.” Marianne Williamson, US Department of Peace Initiative

In 2003 a bill was presented to Parliament to pave the way for the formation of a Ministry for Peace. Introducing his bill, Labour MP John McDonnell called for a new Government Department whose sole purpose would be to focus the resources of government on the promotion of peace and the eventual abolition of war. Diana Basterfield was active in organising meetings and a support network

In 2011 he set up and chaired the all-party group on conflict prevention and conflict resolution whose secretariat was provided by Engi. The group went into ‘abeyance’ seeking another way forward in 2016.

Jeremy Corbyn has revealed that he will appoint a minister for peace and disarmament if he becomes Prime Minister. The Labour leader outlined his plan in an hour-long documentary, directed by award-winning filmmaker Ken Loach, detailing his interactions with party supporters. A brief video on the subject may be seen here.

In November, Conscience met the Shadow Minister for Peace & Disarmament, Mr Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North East at a meeting where many gathered to hear what a Minister for Peace & Disarmament would really do, what their role would consist of, and suggest their own thoughts on what the Minister’s remit should be.

A member of Scientists for Global Responsibility has forwarded information from Conscience, which campaigns for a progressive increase in the amount of UK tax spent on peacebuilding, and a corresponding decrease in the amount spent on war and preparation for war.

Conscience: Taxes for Peace not War is looking for someone to write an evidence-based academic paper on the pros and cons of having a Minister for Peace/Ministry for Peace in the UK based on experiences elsewhere and anticipated benefits here. The post will be fully funded by Conscience.

Details are here:

http://www.conscienceonline.org.uk/2018/01/conscience-is-hiring/

 

 

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