World roundup: February 6 2024
Stories from Thailand, Senegal, Colombia, and elsewhere
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TODAY IN HISTORY
February 6, 1840: British and Māori representatives sign the Treaty of Waitangi, officially making New Zealand a British colony. The Māori were looking for British protection from France and for recognition of their own property and individual rights. Under the terms of the treaty those rights were supposed to be protected, though it only took British colonial authorities a couple of decades to thoroughly breach that part of the arrangement.
February 6, 1981: Uganda’s National Resistance Army rebels against the government of Milton Obote following a disputed election in December. This marked the start of the most important phase of the Ugandan civil war, or Ugandan Bush War, though the conflict had begun in October 1980 with an uprising in the West Nile region. The NRA captured Kampala in January 1986, overthrowing the military government that had ousted Obote in a coup the year before. The rebels then set up a new government under their leader, Yoweri Museveni, who has been president of Uganda ever since.
Hamas has, finally, delivered its response to the latest proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza. Reading between the lines a bit, it does not sound terribly promising. While Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani did tell reporters in Doha that “in general it is positive,” he also noted that the response “includes some comments.” So clearly the answer wasn’t “yes.” US President Joe Biden, in a somewhat disjointed appearance at the White House, characterized the response as “a little over the top” which, uh, doesn’t seem good. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Doha with the Qatari PM, but said the other parties to the talks “are studying [the response] intensively” and insisted that ceasefire talks are “continuing.” I can’t tell if he was trying to convince the reporters or himself that everything’s fine. Maybe both.
Without knowing what the “comments” were it’s hard to know how close this train is to complete derailment, but Hamas has consistently maintained that it wants an outline of a full ceasefire and the release of a very large number of prisoners by the Israeli government, including sensitive cases like Palestine Liberation Organization figure Marwan Barghouti. It’s reasonable to assume those are the sticking points. What isn’t known is whether Hamas leaders are all on the same page in terms of their approach to these talks. The extended delay while they deliberated internally suggests some difference of opinion and that fits with reporting over the past few years that has speculated that the group’s leadership in Gaza and its political leadership in exile don’t always see eye to eye. Interestingly, and I think contrary to how it looks from the outside, The Wall Street Journal has reported that Hamas’s Gaza leadership has been pushing for compromise in the name of getting a ceasefire while the leaders in exile are insisting that they hold out for their maximal demands. If that’s true, it’s certainly easy for them to stick to their principles when they’re not the ones starving.
In other items:
Israeli officials say they’ve confirmed the deaths of 31 of the 136 hostages who are still in Gaza, a shocking figure that could increase public pressure on Israeli leaders to work out a ceasefire deal regardless of Hamas’s demands. They’re reportedly investigating the possible deaths of another 20 hostages. The causes of their deaths are unknown. According to The New York Times an Israeli assessment holds that some were killed on October 7 and their bodies were taken to Gaza anyway, while others died of injuries suffered in the attacks of that day. Some number may have been killed in subsequent Israeli airstrikes although I doubt there will ever be any official acknowledgement of that.
Argentine President Javier Millei visited Israel on Tuesday and promised to move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So at least we’ve got that to look forward to, right?
The UK’s Channel 4 News outlet has reviewed the Israeli government’s five page intelligence dossier outlining its case that United Nations Relief and Works Agency employees participated in the October 7 attacks and that dozens more UNRWA workers are linked somehow to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The network has concluded that the document offers “no evidence to its explosive new claim.” I suspect that will be of small comfort to the Gazan civilians who wind up suffering because the US and other Western states cut off funding to the agency over what may well have been a falsehood or at least a greatly exaggerated accusation.
An apparent Israeli missile strike killed at least five people on Tuesday in a residential neighborhood outside of the Syrian city of Homs. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights three of the five were civilians while the identities of the others were still unknown at time of writing. This strike was part of a larger barrage that Reuters says targeted an airbase and other military facilities in the greater vicinity of Homs.
A pair of attackers killed one person outside Istanbul’s Justice Palace courthouse on Tuesday before being gunned down themselves by police. Authorities are claiming that the attackers are affiliated with the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP/C), which has been designated as a terrorist group by Turkey and a number of other states, including the US. The DHKP/C has been mostly dormant for a few years now but it has attacked this same courthouse in the past.
The Houthis attacked two more commercial vessels in the Red Sea on Tuesday, apparently damaging both. Neither attack caused any casualties and the damage seems to have been relatively minor in both cases.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev wasted no time replacing the prime minister he fired on Monday, appointing Olzhas Bektenov as his new PM on Tuesday. Bektenov was serving as Tokayev’s chief of staff until Tuesday’s promotion so he’s not an especially well known quantity with respect to his political inclinations. He spent a bit over a year running Kazakhstan’s Anti-Corruption Agency but it’s unclear whether Tokayev is appointing him for that reason. What is clear is that the president’s looking for better economic performance from his new cabinet, which is mostly the same as his old cabinet with the exception of the new PM and changes at the top of a few economy-related ministries.
The Bangladeshi government summoned Myanmar’s ambassador in Dhaka on Tuesday to lodge a complaint over recent fighting that’s spilled across the border. A stray mortar shell fired during clashes between Myanmar security forces and the rebel Arakan Army killed at least two people in Bangladesh on Monday and at least 264 Myanmar border guards (eight of them seriously injured) have fled into Bangladesh in recent days to escape the fighting.
The Thai government and the rebel Barisan Revolusi Nasional group began a new round of peace talks in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, just about one year after the previous round collapsed. The BRN is a Malay nationalist group that has become the dominant force in the longstanding southern Thailand separatist insurgency. That conflict has remained at a fairly low level of intensity over the past 20 years but has still killed more than 7300 people. Initial talks are focused on a ceasefire, possibly for the upcoming Islamic month of Ramadan though Thai officials seem to be interested in a longer term cessation of hostilities.
The Economic Community of West African States on Tuesday asked the Senegalese government to reconsider its decision to postpone this month’s presidential election until at least December. The postponement was the latest in a string of controversies surrounding this vote, going back to the protests last year that forced President Macky Sall to disavow any plan to run for an unconstitutional third term and continued through the Senegalese Constitutional Council’s disqualification of two prominent opposition candidates last month. There’s every reason to believe that Sall is trying to engineer either an extension of his own presidency—which he’s already done, at least through the end of the year—or the election of his chosen successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba. This looks like a self-coup, though ECOWAS at this point doesn’t appear to be preparing any of its usual post-coup sanctions.
Another incident of inter-communal violence has left at least 26 people dead in South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal state. Again the perpetrators appear to have been armed bandits from Warrap state, who attacked a town in Western Bahr el Ghazal on Monday over some sort of land dispute and killed at least eight soldiers and ten civilians in the process. At least eight people from Warrap were also killed. Violent mobs from Warrap have been implicated in attacks against civilians in South Sudan’s Lakes state and in the disputed Abyei region on the Sudanese border in recent days.
At least four explosions reportedly ripped through a busy market in Mogadishu on Tuesday, killing at least ten people and wounding 20 more. This was presumably an al-Shabab terrorist attack, though at time of writing the exact causes of the explosions remained unknown and there had been no claim of responsibility.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Allied Democratic Forces fighters are believed to have been responsible for attacks on several villages in the eastern DRC’s Ituri province on Monday evening that left at least 11 people dead in total. That figure may rise—there’s at least one local report that 13 people were killed and it often takes authorities time to fully assess the results of one of these rampages.
The Ukrainian military has, for reasons surpassing my comprehension, decided to send special forces personnel to Sudan to assist the Sudanese government in its conflict against the Rapid Support Forces group. The RSF has in the past received support from the Wagner Group, or whatever passes for Wagner these days, and apparently it still is, because The Kyiv Post has published video showing Ukrainian operatives in Sudan interrogating a Russian prisoner they’d captured. Said video is the clearest indication of Ukrainian involvement in the Sudanese conflict, though there have been a handful of other indications prior to this.
Whatever Wagner (or its successor) is or isn’t doing in Sudan is somewhat beside the point. The Ukrainian military is by several accounts suffering from an acute manpower shortage. Why, then, is it sending special forces to Sudan to do gotcha videos with Russian prisoners? Your guess is as good as mine. There’s some public relations benefit to showing Russian forces acting in malign ways around the world, I suppose, but PR isn’t going to change the facts on the ground in Ukraine. Speaking of which hose facts now include reports that the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka is once again under heavy pressure and may be on the verge of falling into Russian hands. Maybe those special forces soldiers could be better used there.
Dutch xenophobe Geert Wilders’ dream of becoming prime minister took a bit of a blow on Tuesday when one of the parties he’s trying to bring into a governing coalition, the center-right New Social Contract party, walked away from the negotiations. NSC won 20 seats in November’s election and losing it probably forecloses on Wilders’ chances of building a stable majority government. NSC leader Pieter Omtzigt did, however, leave open the possibility of supporting a minority government involving the three remaining parties in the coalition talks, so Wilders does still have a path to forming a cabinet.
The Colombian government and National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels agreed on Tuesday to extend their current ceasefire for at least six more months. As part of the deal, ELN leaders agreed to halt their practice of kidnapping for ransom while the ceasefire is in effect. Both parties also agreed not to recruit children younger than 15, which will presumably affect ELN’s operations a bit more than the government’s, and to establish a fund to support the peace process. Details regarding how it would be funded and exactly what it would be supporting are still unclear. Also unclear is the status of the 38 or more captives ELN is currently believed to be holding.
The AP has video of the protests taking place across Haiti calling for Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation:
The US Senate on Tuesday confirmed Kurt Campbell as the Biden administration’s new deputy secretary of state, the number two official in the State Department. Campbell replaces Wendy Sherman, who left in July. Campbell’s previous job was Indo-Pacific Affairs coordinator for the National Security Council, so his nomination has been seen as a sign of the administration’s focus on China as the top US foreign policy challenge.
Finally, the official story regarding the drone strike that killed three US soldiers in Jordan last month and has already prompted one wave of US retaliation with more to come is that US personnel confused the attack drone with a returning reconnaissance drone and failed to activate their base’s defense systems. But according to The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein, the base didn’t actually have any effective defense systems in the first place and the official story is a coverup:
The lethal attack followed a spate of one-way drone attacks on U.S. bases in neighboring Syria and Iraq in recent weeks, an escalation by anti-American militants since the outbreak of Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip. No one was reported killed in the previous attacks, including one on Al-Tanf in Syria, a base just 12 miles away from Tower 22.
Despite the repeated attacks and a well-funded Pentagon’s investment in counter-drone technology, the U.S. military failed to stop the Tower 22 drone attack.
“The air defenses were minimal, if any,” an Air Force airman, who served at Tower 22 last year, told The Intercept. “We relied heavily on aircraft from MSAB” — Muwaffaq Salti Air Base, a nearby Jordanian base that houses a U.S. military presence — “to stop any targets. We had a radar system called TPS-75 that was broken 80 percent of the time I was there.”
A preliminary military investigation reported in the Washington Post on Tuesday concluded that the drone was never detected, likely by flying too low for the base’s antiquated radar system. Just a week before the attack, the military announced an $84 million contract to work on a replacement to the TPS-75, a mobile, ground-based radar array from the 1960s.
If the US military, with its $800 billion-plus budget, is going to deploy soldiers to vulnerable outposts in high-risk parts of the world, you’d think the least it could do would be to provide them with adequate defenses. Apparently you’d be wrong.
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