Syrians Vote For Parliament As Diplomacy Struggles

SYRIAN VOTESyrians voted in a parliamentary election in government-held areas of the country on Wednesday in what voters called a show of support for President Bashar al-Assad, who is holding the poll in defiance of opponents seeking to oust him.

The election is going ahead independently of a U.N.-led peace process aimed at finding a political solution to the five-year-long war. The government says it is being held on time in line with the constitution. The opposition says the vote is illegitimate, while Britain and France dismissed it as “flimsy facade” and a “sham”.

“We are voting for the sake of the Syrian people and for the sake of Assad. Assad is already strong but these elections show that the people support him and bolster him,” said Hadi Jumaa, a 19-year-old student, as he cast his ballot at his university halls of residence in Damascus.

Dozens queued to vote at one polling station where a portrait of Assad hung on the wall. Outside, some danced.

With his wife Asma at his side as he went to vote in Damascus, a smiling Assad told state TV that terrorism had been able to destroy much of Syria’s infrastructure but not Syria’s “social structure, the national identity”. It was the first time he had voted in a parliamentary election.

The conflict has killed more than 250,000 and created millions of refugees, splintering Syria into a patchwork of areas controlled by the government, an array of rebels, a powerful Kurdish militia, and the Islamic State group. The government views all the groups fighting it as terrorists.

The government controls around one third of Syria, including the main cities of western Syria, home to most of the people who have not fled the country. The United Nations puts the number of refugees at 4.8 million.

With parliament elected every four years, it is the second parliamentary election held by the government in wartime. Assad was reelected head of state in a presidential election in 2014.

Voters are to elect 250 MPs to parliament, which has no real power in Syria’s presidential system. The state is rallying them around the slogan “Your vote strengthens your steadfastness”.

Armed Men Kill 12 In Central African Republic

female studentsArmed men killed 12 people in villages in Central African Republic, local officials said on Sunday, in the first violence since Faustin-Archange Touadera was confirmed as president last Tuesday after an election many hoped would help end attacks.

The attacks took place near the central town of Bambari and were likely linked to livestock rustling or an inter-ethnic dispute involving the Peuhl, or Fulani ethnic group, the officials said.

The violence did not appear directly connected to the political, communal and religious killings involving militia groups that since 2013 have left thousands dead, forced many more to flee their homes and left the northern half of the country effectively partitioned.

In the latest attack late on Saturday, six people were killed in three different villages, the authorities said.

“Three women from the same family had their throats slit six kilometers (four miles) from the town,” Amassaka Topi, a local counselor and youth leader in Bambari told Reuters by telephone.

The constitutional court confirmed former mathematics professor Touadera’s victory on Tuesday following a run-off election on Feb. 14., setting the stage for him to be sworn in later on March 25.

Touadera has pledged to make peace and disarmament his priorities.

Bambari has seen numerous attacks in the last year despite the presence of U.N. peacekeepers. The United Nations designated it a weapons-free zone last September, but the former rebel group called the Seleka and the anti-Balaka militia retain an armed presence in the town.

The country suffered the worst crisis in its history in early 2013 when the mainly Muslim Seleka fighters toppled the then president. Christian so-called anti-Balaka militias responded by attacking the Muslim minority.

Suspected Militants Kill Three In Mortar Attack On U.N. Base In Mali

Al-Shabab-in-SomaliaSuspected Islamist militants attacked a U.N. base in the northern Mali town of Kidal with mortars and machine guns on Friday, killing three peacekeepers and wounding 30, United Nations and separatist sources said.

The attack is a fresh sign of instability in the desert region that is home to Islamist groups including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who have staged increasingly bold raids in recent months and have targeted the U.N. base several times.

“At about 7 a.m. (4 a.m. ET), the MINUSMA base in Kidal was the target of a complex attack which, according to provisional figures, caused the death of three blue helmets and around 30 wounded,” Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the Mali representative of the U.N. Secretary General, said in a statement.

Eight mortar shells were fired at the base and there was also gunfire, said Olivier Salgado, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, whose acronym is MINUSMA.

The base is part of an attempt by the United Nations to end violence in Mali following a takeover of the north by Islamists in 2012. A year later a French-led intervention force pushed the militants out of key towns in the region.

The U.N. mission has not stopped the violence and Islamist militants have expanded their attacks in recent months into other parts of Mali and beyond.

These have included an attack on a hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako in November, in which 20 people died, and one on Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou in January, in which 30 were killed.

There is also a decades-long separatist struggle in northern Mali by ethnic Tuaregs.

Sweden Offers Support To Free Up French Troops Fighting Islamic State

swedenSweden said on Wednesday it would send a transport plane and logistical support to Mali and other parts of Africa to free up French forces stationed there and let them join the fight against Islamic State.

Ministers said the help could be expanded later – a significant offer for a country that has joined peacekeeping missions but not fought an actual war for more than 200 years.

The move was Stockholm’s response to a French request for help from EU member states following the November 13 attacks on Paris.

Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told reporters that France had not asked Sweden directly for air surveillance support.

“What they immediately … named was what is called ‘back fill’ – that is you add to support, mainly in Africa: the Central African Republic, Mali because it frees up soldiers and resources for them.”

France sent troops to its former colony Mali in 2013 to push back Islamist fighters and expanded its mission to hunt down militants across Africa’s Sahel region.

Wallstrom said part of the reason Sweden was not taking any direct action in Syria was because the position in international law was not clear.

“If there were a U.N. mandate that directly talks about measures in Syria then it would be clearer in terms of international law,” she told a news conference.

Sweden will review its package in the spring and again in autumn to see if it can do more.

“We have framed this as a first package now where we are going in with these measures so we can have an impact as quickly as possible,” Defense Minister, Peter Hultqvist, told reporters.

British lawmakers backed air strikes against militants in Syria Earlier in December.

Germany has also offered support including reconnaissance jets and up to 1,200 military personnel.

U.N. Support For Congo Campaign Against Rwanda Rebels Is In Doubt

UNUnited Nations support for a planned military operation against Rwandan rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo could be in doubt because Congo named a general accused of rights abuses to head the offensive, diplomats and officials said on Friday.

General Bruno Mandevu was appointed on Sunday to head a Congolese army (FARDC) operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which had been jointly planned with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO).

Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mandevu had been placed by MONUSCO on a so-called red list over accusations of 121 rights violations, including summary executions and rapes.

“If, because of the past record of units or their commanders, there are substantial grounds to believe there is a real risk that they commit grave human rights violations, support to those units will be withheld unless adequate mitigating measures can be put in place,” a senior MONUSCO official told Reuters.

“In this particular case, this process has brought to light some concerns that have been brought to the attention of the DRC government. Discussions are underway at the highest level to address them,” the official said.

During a U.N.-backed offensive against the FDLR in 2009, Congolese soldiers were accused by rights groups of massacring hundreds of civilians and committing wide-ranging abuses. The Congolese army denied the scale of the alleged abuses.

The FARDC and the Congolese government were not immediately available for comment.

A U.N. peacekeeping official in New York said that under the United Nations human rights due diligence policy, the world body has to “ensure that its support to non-U.N. security forces will not contribute to grave human rights violations.”

Gaza Crisis: Israel, Palestine Hold Indirect Talks In Cairo

A Palestinian woman walks past destroyed buildings in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza StripA Gaza truce was holding on Wednesday, as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives on an enduring end to a war that has devastated the Hamas Islamist- dominated enclave.

Egyptian intelligence officials met in Cairo with a high-level Israeli delegation late on Tuesday, a day after conferring with Palestinians who included envoys from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group, Egyptian officials said.

“The indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israelis are moving forward,” one Egyptian official said, making clear that the opposing sides were not meeting face to face. “It is still too early to talk about outcomes but we are optimistic.”

Egyptian and Palestinian sources said further discussions were expected to be held in Cairo on Wednesday, with expectations of an initial response by Israel to Palestinian demands, which it has so far shown no sign of accepting.

Israel withdrew ground forces from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning and started a 72-hour Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas as a first step towards a long-term deal.

In Gaza, where some half-million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents left UN shelters to trek back to neighbourhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fills the air.

 

Israel Boosts Forces Near Gaza As Border Heats Up

A Palestinian inspects a crater which police said was caused by an Israeli air strike in Gaza CityIsrael said on Thursday that it was beefing up its forces along its frontier with the Gaza Strip, in what it called a defensive deployment in response to persistent Palestinian cross-border rocket attacks.

Israel also faced the challenge of a further eruption of Palestinian anger in Jerusalem, where violent protests broke out on Wednesday after the body of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was discovered in a forest on the edge of the city.

Israeli police are investigating the possibility that he was the victim of a revenge killing over the deaths of three Jewish teenagers, whose abduction on June 12 Israel has been blamed on Islamist Hamas militants in the occupied West Bank.

A military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, said troops were taking up “defense positions” in Israeli communities that have been struck by the rockets from Gaza. He did not comment on the scale of the deployment.

It is the first time since the border began to heat up in mid June – in tandem with an Israeli military sweep and search for the three abducted Israeli youths in the West Bank – that Israel has announced troop movements near the Gaza Strip.

“We are moving and we have moved forces,” Lerner said in a conference call with foreign journalists. “Everything we are doing is to de-escalate the situation but on the other hand to be prepared if they don’t de-escalate.”

Israel, he said, has “no interest in deepening the conflict with Gaza – the absolute opposite is true”.

Jerusalem was quiet on Thursday but tensions remained high in anticipation of Mohammed Abu Khudair’s funeral. No time has been set for the burial, an event that will stir strong emotions among Palestinians and could trigger further confrontation.

The military said Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired 14 projectiles into Israel on Thursday and that rockets struck two homes in the southern town of Sderot, causing no casualties.

Israel launched air strikes against at least three Hamas training facilities in Gaza, residents said, adding that 15 people had been injured.

U.N. Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay, condemned both Israelis and Palestinians on Thursday for the latest flare-up of violence across the Gaza border and also Abu Khudair’s killing.

“From a Human Rights point of view, I utterly condemn these rocket attacks and more especially I condemn Israel’s excessive acts of retaliation,” Pillay told journalists in Vienna.

U.N. Expecting To Feed 6.5 Million Ethiopians This Year

The logo of the United Nations is seen on the outside of their headquarters in New YorkThe World Food Programme will help to feed nearly 6.5 million Ethiopians in 2014, the U.N. agency said on Tuesday, with the country hit by locusts, neighboring war and sparse rainfall.

“We are concerned because there is the beginning of a locust invasion in the eastern part of the country, and if it’s not properly handled it could be of concern for the pastoralist population living there,” WFP Spokeswoman, Elizabeth Byrs, told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

“And in the northern part of Ethiopia there has been less rain than average for the third or fourth consecutive year.”

Ethiopia is also dealing with growing refugee numbers due to the conflict in neighboring South Sudan, sapping WFP’s budget for feeding new arrivals in the country, which is at risk of a shortfall as soon as next month.

More than 120,000 South Sudanese have crossed over into Ethiopia in the past six months, mostly women and children who are arriving “famished, exhausted and malnourished”, WFP said in a statement.

The recent influx has brought total refugee numbers to 500,000 in Ethiopia. The U.N. also provides food for millions of needy or undernourished Ethiopians, including 670,000 school children and 375,000 in HIV/AIDS programs.

Ethiopia’s overall situation has vastly improved over recent years and the economy now ranks as one of the fastest growing in Africa. But deep problems remain.

Malnutrition has stunted the growth of 2 out of every 5 Ethiopian children and reduced the country’s workforce by 8 percent, WFP said, citing Ethiopian government data.

The International Monetary Fund expects Ethiopia’s economy to grow 7.5 percent in each of the next two fiscal years but says the government needs to encourage more private sector investment to prevent growth rates from falling thereafter.

Shabaab Finances Face Squeeze After Kenya Attack

Al Shabaab emerged as a regional threat funded by millions of dollars from activities ranging from extortion to taxing charcoal exports, but its attack on a Kenyan shopping mall is expected to provoke a counter-terrorism response aimed at crippling the Somali Islamist group’s finances.

The money is important to al Shabaab, a group whose aims include the wider imposition of Islamic law but whose ability to attract fighters in one of the poorest countries of the world is based largely on its ability to pay them.

A report by U.N. monitors in July estimated al Shabaab earned more than $25 million a year from illicit exports of charcoal to Gulf Arab states and from taxing the trucking of charcoal to the Somali ports of Kismayu and Barawe.

Other funds come from informal taxes on small businesses in areas of Somalia that al Shabaab controls, and from donations from Somalis overseas, although these transfers are thought to be declining due to a general disenchantment with the increasingly violent group in the diaspora, diplomats say.

A security source in the capital, Mogadishu, said al Shabaab was expert at extorting money from small businesses and at setting up front companies whose income was funnelled to the group. Both sorts of company also acted as informers.

“It’s the small little shops where you repair your vehicle, or charge your mobile phone,” the source said. “It’s a myriad of little businesses, who also help them in their surveillance.”

“There’s no need for heavy-handed daily enforcement because everyone knows the penalties for non-compliance are drastic,” he said, referring to the amputation of limbs or execution.

Suspected additional sources of income include militant Islamists overseas and, according to U.N. sanctions monitors, the nearby state of Eritrea.

The monitors said Eritrea was destabilising Somalia by paying political agents and financing a warlord linked to al Shabaab.

The Eritrean government, accused by its critics of seeking to use Somali territory to undermine Ethiopia, its old enemy, has long denied meddling in Somalia, saying it has no links to al Shabaab’s fight against the Somali government.

Al Shabaab has been waging an insurgency since 2007 and formally became part of al Qaeda in 2012. It remains Somalia’s most powerful non-government armed group despite being pushed out of Mogadishu by an African Union force in 2011.

PENALTIES

Al Shabaab’s economic strength is vital to its operations because it can pay its thousands of fighters a monthly salary normally varying between $100 to $300 a month.

That, more than its declared aim of imposing a strict version of Sharia or Islamic law, is the main incentive to join up, Somali researchers say.

Ironically, al Shabaab’s income may have benefited from an upturn in the Somali economy that followed the partial restoration of order in Mogadishu over the past two years and a growth in investment amid hopes of an end to years of war.

In the wake of the four-day attack by al Shabaab militants on a Nairobi shopping mall in which at least 72 people were killed, Western counter-terrorism agencies are expected to subject the group’s sources of financial support to renewed scrutiny, Somali experts say.

The success of such efforts will depend to a large extent on the choices made by Somalis, in particular the powerful Somali business community in east Africa.

According to Ken Menkhaus, a leading U.S. scholar of al Shabaab, the most formidable weapon against al Shabaab may be the Somalia expatriate business community in Kenya, which has emerged as a force in property and trade in the past 20 years.

DIASPORA FUNDING DWINDLES

Since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, more than one million Somalis have fled to or through Kenya, and many now have extensive business and real estate investments there.

Fearing a crackdown on Somali firms by a Kenyan government keen to be seen to be doing something, Somali businessmen in Nairobi might now feel compelled to take their own steps against the group, he wrote on the website www.thinkprogress.org.

“Messing with Somali business interests has never advanced the interests of any political actor in Somalia, foreign or local,” he said.

It was up to Somalis to “mobilize against Shabaab and take the movement out once and for all by drying up its financial sources, exposing its operatives, and denying the movement any safe space from which to operate.”

The alternative, he said, was action by foreign governments, but that would almost certainly impact “innocent Somalis and legitimate Somali businesses in Kenya and around the world, and that is not in anyone’s interest except Shabaab’s.”

Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian expert on the group, told Reuters that what was best known about al Shabaab finances was its system of local taxation in the areas it held, especially the taxation of transport. But verifying this information was difficult and was hampered by hearsay, he said.

In Somalia, a traditional kinship society, research was complicated by the fact that while someone might nominally be in al Shabaab, in reality people were more loyal to their clan elders, he said.

POCKETS OF SYMPATHY

Adam Matan, head of the Anti-Tribalism Movement, an advocacy group that campaigns against the political exploitation of clan identity in Somalia, said al Shabaab fighters told him on his research trips to Somalia that money was a key attraction.

“If you can get a few dollars a month to feed your family, you will take it,” said the British-based former Somali refugee, who travels frequently to Somalia, echoing findings in previous Reuters reports about Somali militancy.

Mohamed Aden Hassan, a researcher at Goldsmiths College in London who studies the Somali diaspora, said he believed diaspora funding had all but dried up for al Shabaab in recent years although there were pockets of sympathy “here and there”.

Al Shabaab remains in control of most of southern and central Somalia, a U.N. report published in July 2013 said.

According to the report, defectors from al Shabaab said the wage paid to fighters ranged from $100 to $500, “depending upon clan affiliation and seniority”.

In September 2012, al-Shabaab fled Kismayu, the main charcoal export outlet to the Gulf, and Kenyan troops in the African Union peacekeeping force took control.

The U.N. Security Council banned the export of charcoal from Somalia in February 2012 to help squeeze al Shabaab’s finances.

But shortly after the AU secured the port, Kenyan forces unilaterally lifted the ban, arguing Kismayu’s angry charcoal traders could undermine the security of their troops, the U.N. report said. The Kenyan military denied the allegation.

In the months that followed, al Shabaab got back into the trade thanks to ties to local business networks, earning revenues from about a third of the volumes exported.

The charcoal is sold largely to customers in Dubai who sell it on elsewhere in the Gulf, the U.N. report said.

The largest user of the product is Saudi Arabia, according to Farah M. Mohamed, president of the Somali Environment Protection Alliance Network.

He wrote in a June 2013 blog that Saudi Arabia used Somali charcoal primarily for shisha (hookah) pipes, cooking in upscale restaurants and homes, as camping firewood, and as an extra source of heating in the winter.

Obama Makes Case For Punishing Syria, Delay Looks Likely

President Barack Obama told Americans a military strike against Syria is in their interest following a gas attack last week and Britain said armed action would be legal, but intervention looked set to be delayed until U.N. investigators report back.

Senior Obama administration officials are expected to brief congressional leaders later on Thursday, with lawmakers complaining they have not been properly consulted about plans to respond to what Washington says was the gassing of civilians.

While U.N. chemical weapons inspectors spent a third day combing the rebel-held suburb where the attack took place, elsewhere in Damascus traffic moved normally, with some extra army presence but little indication of any high alert.

A parliamentary debate in London revealed deep misgivings stemming from the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After pressure from lawmakers, the British government – a key player in any proposed air assault on Syria – has promised parliament a decisive vote once the U.N. weapons inspectors report their findings.

The United Nations said its team of inspectors investigating the attacks, which killed hundreds of people, will leave Syria on Saturday and then report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

France and Germany urged the world body to pass its report on to the decision-making Security Council as soon as possible “so that it can fulfill its responsibility with regards to this monstrous crime”.

The United States, Britain and France say they can act with or without a U.N. Security Council resolution, which is likely to be vetoed by Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, some countries are raising qualms: Italy said it would not join any military operation without Security Council authorization.

Western diplomats say they are seeking a vote in the 15-member Council to isolate Moscow and demonstrate that other countries are behind air strikes.

“It would be unthinkable to proceed if there was overwhelming opposition in the (U.N.) Security Council,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament.

He published legal advice given to the government, under which military action would be lawful for humanitarian reasons even if a Security Council resolution were blocked.

The International Committee of the Red Cross joined a chorus of international voices urging caution.

“Further escalation will likely trigger more displacement and add to humanitarian needs, which are already immense,” said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria.

Increasing expectations that any action will be delayed ended a three-day sell off on world share markets on Thursday, although investors were still on edge over future turmoil in the Middle East.

“SHOT ACROSS THE BOW”

Obama sought to win over a war-weary American public by saying intervention in Syria, where more than 100,000 people have been killed in two and a half years of civil war, would serve U.S. national security interests.

“If we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, ‘Stop doing this,’ this can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term,” he told “PBS Newshour” in a televised interview.

While saying he had not yet made a decision on military action, Obama left little doubt the choice was not whether but when to punish Syria for the gas attacks.

“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out,” he said on Wednesday evening.

Syria denies blame for the gas attacks and says they were perpetrated by rebels. Washington and its allies say the denial is not credible.

A report from Moscow that Russia plans to send two warships to the eastern Mediterranean underscored the complications surrounding even a limited military strike, although Russia has said it will not be drawn into military conflict.

Western leaders are expected in Russia next Thursday for a meeting of the Group of 20 big economies, an event that could influence the timing of any strikes. The hosts have made clear their view that Western leaders are using human rights as a pretext to impose their will on other sovereign states.

“At this stage it is necessary to take all needed actions to avert possible negative developments … or some kind of military action regarding Syria,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told state-run Rossiya-24 television. “And that is what we … focusing our efforts on now.”

A spokesman for the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the opposition was confident Western leaders were prepared to act.

SNC leader Ahmed Jarba met French President Francois Hollande. An SNC spokesman said they discussed a two-wave intervention to first target installations used to launch chemical weapons and then hit other government bases in Syria.

“We are very happy. France and its partners are quite decided to punish the Syrian regime,” SNC envoy Monzer Makhous told Reuters after the talks. “Then there will be military aid to help the opposition to change the balance of power.”

Hollande urged Jarba to create a credible military force, highlighting Western concern that the mainstream opposition is unable to control al Qaeda-linked militias on the ground in Syria. Syrian officials say the West is playing into the hands of its al Qaeda enemies.

In Damascus, residents and opposition forces said Assad’s forces appeared to have evacuated most personnel from army and security command headquarters in the centre in preparation for Western military action.

People unable to decide whether to leave for neighboring Lebanon said the border was already jammed.

“We’re hearing people are spending hours – like 12 or 14 hours – waiting in line at the border,” said Nabil, who was considering leaving town for Beirut with his wife and young daughter, “just until the strike is over.”

Arguing for measured intervention after long resisting deeper involvement in Syria, Obama insisted that while Assad’s government must be punished, he intended to avoid repeating U.S. errors from the Iraq war.

“I have no interest in any open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable,” Obama said.

Despite opinion polls showing most Americans oppose deeper involvement in the Syrian conflict, Obama has been under pressure to enforce a “red line” against chemical weapons use, which he declared just over a year ago.

The likeliest option, U.S. officials say, would be to launch cruise missiles from U.S. ships in the Mediterranean in a campaign that would last days.

Obama cited chemical weapons dangers to U.S. Middle Eastern allies Israel, Turkey and Jordan and U.S. bases in the region, and said America’s national interests could be at risk if Syrian chemical arms fell into the wrong hands.

Although decisive action against Syria is strongly backed by many in the U.S. Congress, there have been growing calls for Obama to seek congressional authorization before ordering the use of force, something he is considered unlikely to do. Wrangling over the issue could complicate any attack timetable.

ECOWAS has Mali force troop pledge, still lacks backing

West African military chiefs have secured troop commitments from three nations for their planned Mali intervention force, despite the mission still lacking an invitation from authorities in Bamako and backing from the United Nations.

Nigeria, Niger and Senegal will provide the core of a 3,270-strong force whose mission would initially be bolstering Mali’s fragmented army and stabilising political institutions, and then tackling the rebel-held north if talks fail, officials said after military chiefs met in Ivory Coast.

Mali plunged into crisis after a March coup ousted the president. Separatist and Islamist rebels took advantage of the instability to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, creating a void that regional countries say an outside force may have to fill.

African leaders have warned of an “African Afghanistan” due to the presence of al Qaeda cells and foreign fighters but U.N. Security Council diplomats say the council is not yet ready to agree the African Union’s request to back military intervention.

Weeks after West African regional bloc ECOWAS said the standby force was ready, General Soumaila Bakayoko, head of Ivory Coast’s army, said some officers would travel to Mali to work out more detailed planning in the coming days.

“The hope is that we will be welcomed as brothers in arms,” he said late on Saturday, underscoring potential problems with Mali’s military, which wants outside help to fight rebels but has reacted angrily to ECOWAS criticism and sanctions impoased after its power grab.

Diplomats say the U.N.’s reticence to swiftly back the force is due to the lack of a clear plan to tackle the crises in both the capital and the north.

Mali’s interim president has not returned since seeking medical treatment in Paris after he was beaten up by a mob that broke into his office. After security forces failed to precent the attack, some diplomats say President Dioncounda Traore is reluctant to return until a regional force is in place.

REUTERS

Liberia responsible for U.N. Peacekeepers’ attack – Ivory Coast

It is no news now that seven United Nations peacekeepers and two civilians plus one soldier were killed by gunmen in Ivory Coast but now the Ivory Coast defence minister has pointed accusing fingers at Liberia saying the attack sprung from Liberia, that the gunmen behind the attack were from neighbouring Liberia.

The defence Minister; Paul Koffi Koffi said on Saturday that to assure of proper security to curb a further attack like Friday’s, a cross-border operations has been started by the Ivorian troops and as of the release of his statement there has not  been any reaction from Liberia.

Earlier this week, New York-based Human Rights Watch warned that Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian fighters who fought on behalf of Gbagbo in the brief civil war last year were launching attacks on Ivory Coast from Liberia.

However, the United Nations has decided to reshuffle some of the troops who are in their thousands as there is now tension building the region which had a little stability since the end of the post-election violence months ago.

According to Koffi Koffi “These people came from the other side of the border. They are militias and mercenaries, and we must go to the other side of the border to establish a security zone. We will clean up and secure the zone. This will be done, of course, with the agreement of the two countries.”

Going back to the election period in the Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara won a 2010 election but only came to power after months of violence that killed thousands after incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede.

Liberia has denied accusations it is not doing enough to prevent the attacks.

After the incident on Friday, the U.N. Security Council “expressed their deep concern at the prevailing insecurity … and continued cross-border movements of armed elements, including militias and mercenaries”.