The World Today for August 12, 2016


Bashir’s Bargain

Once upon a time, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was an international pariah – accused of genocide and crimes against humanity for the killing of 300,000 people and the displacement of 2.5 million more in Darfur.

Despite an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009 and exhortations from actor George Clooney and various media outlets to “Remember Darfur,” however, he has never been made to answer for his alleged attempt to wipe out three non-Arab ethnic groups from the region or any other crime.

Instead, he has thumbed his nose at the ICC with the apparent support of regional leaders like Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who once called the war crimes court “a new form of colonialism, slavery and imperialism,” notes Foreign Affairs.

And as various conflicts across Africa and the Middle East have created a torrent of refugees, Bashir may now be poised for almost complete rehabilitation, according to Foreign Policy.

Even before the ICC called for his arrest, Bashir, who provided a base of operations for Osama bin Laden between 1992 and 1996, was a global outcast.

Sudan has faced debilitating economic sanctions since as far back as 1997, when the U.S. issued a comprehensive trade embargo against the country and blocked the assets of its government for its continued support of terrorism and various other violations.

Those penalties were expanded in 2006 and 2007 as a response to the conflict in Darfur and later amended to exclude South Sudan after it won its independence in 2011. Similar restrictions exist in the EU.

Since then, there have been exhortations to “remember” something that has never really stopped. In fact, as recently as 2014, there was a dramatic escalation of violence in western Sudan, displacing another 450,000 people over and above the half a million or so that fled their homes the year before, according to Human Rights Watch. Those numbers have continued to climb, with at least 130,000 people fleeing fighting in the central Jebel Marra area of Darfur since mid-January this year, prior to a tentative peace agreement signed by the major opposition groups fighting the government on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Now, however, Bashir’s government is set to receive $110 million of the EU’s $2 billion “Emergency Trust Fund for Africa,” which is meant to prevent migrants from ever leaving home by promoting development and strengthening border security.

Call it Bashir’s bargain.

Located next to Libya and Egypt, with only weak control over its borders due to the ongoing fighting, Sudan has mostly turned a blind eye to legions of migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Syria passing through in an effort to reach Europe. But with the offer of the new EU funds and the possibility of normalized relations, Sudanese officials who once welcomed bribes from refugees have suddenly turned vigilant, and the country’s keystone cops have gotten organized.

In May, for instance, around 1,000 migrants from Eritrea were rounded up and either imprisoned or forcibly sent home, while in June Sudan nabbed the notorious smuggler believed to be responsible for the 2013 drowning deaths of some 400 migrants off Lampedusa and extradited him to Italy.

The new efficiency is not accidental. Despite its lofty words about alleviating poverty and the like to discourage migration, the EU reportedly earmarked funds for training and equipping Sudanese border police and building two “reception centers” on the country’s borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea, according to the New Statesman.

The funds are meant to be routed through nonprofit groups and aid organizations, but there’s every risk that the money will land in the pockets of outfits like the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) — which was formed from the remnants of the Janjaweed militias responsible for the Darfur genocide and stands accused of extrajudicial killings, torture, and mass rape, Foreign Policy warns.

Perhaps worst of all, very soon it may not be only countries like Rwanda and Uganda who welcome Bashir with open arms.


A Tight Race

Zambia is awaiting the first results of what analysts say is a close election contest between incumbent President Edgar Lungu and his opponent Hakainde Hichilema.

Lungu barely defeated Hichilema in a presidential vote nearly 20 months ago following the death of then-President Michael Sata. If Lungu does not win an outright majority this time, a second-round rerun could be held, writes Reuters.

The election comes at a time when the Zambian economy has been struggling with weak commodity prices – Zambia is Africa’s second-largest copper producer – which have taken a toll on its exports.

The country’s economic woes contributed to a violent campaign that saw frequent outbursts of violence between supporters of Lungu’s governing Patriotic Front and those of Hichilema’s United Party for National Development, although no violence was reported on the day of the election.

Throughout the campaign, Hichilema has accused Lungu of mismanaging the economy and said that he is more qualified to lead Zambia out of an economic slump thanks to his training as an economist. Lungu for his part says he needs more time to diversify the Zambian economy away from copper.

Explosive Holiday

At least four people were killed and dozens injured as at least 11 coordinated explosions went off at some of Thailand’s most popular resort cities and beach towns, including tourist destinations like Phuket and Hua Hin, on Thursday and Friday.

Police say it is still unclear who is behind the attacks, although they have ruled out a connection with international terrorism. The timing of the attacks – shortly after the country opted for a military-backed constitution in a national referendum – suggest they were carried out by opponents of Thailand’s ruling junta, say observers.

All of the explosions occurred south of Bangkok, with several appearing to specifically target the tourism industry – a rare bright spot for the Thai economy, which has been struggling since the military seized power in a 2014 coup.

The most devastating blasts took place in the resort city of Hua Hin, where explosions went off on a busy street with restaurants and bars, killing one Thai woman and injuring 20 people, half of them foreigners. Another bomb exploded early Friday morning in Hua Hin, killing one person and wounding four.

Turning Up the Heat?

Russia and Ukraine began increasing security on the border between the Crimean Peninsula and mainland Ukraine Thursday – only one day after Moscow accused Kiev of plotting terror attacks on the contested peninsula.

The increase in tensions began last weekend, when Russia’s security service, the FSB, said they detained a Ukrainian terror cell in possession of 20 homemade explosives and repelled fire coming from the other side of the border in a separate incident.

Russian President Vladimir Putin then accused Ukraine of supporting terrorism, and in a meeting of his security council Thursday “anti-terrorist security measures” at Crimea’s borders were discussed, writes the Guardian.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dismissed Putin’s accusations as a pretext for more military threats against Ukraine and put troops in eastern Ukraine and on the Crimean border on full alert.

Tensions over Crimea have been high since Moscow seized the peninsula in 2014 following the Maidan revolution, which ousted then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The annexation of the peninsula was heavily criticized by Western powers and led to sanctions against Russia.


Going South Down the Pacific Coast

How did the first humans arrive in the Americas?

For decades, the story went that humans first migrated from Siberia to Alaska over the Bering land bridge. These humans – also known as the Clovis people – were then stuck in Alaska until a corridor opened up between the ice sheets covering Canada, enabling them to travel south across the continent.

Later evidence suggested, however, that other people were living in the Americas long before the Clovis people appeared.

Now, in a new study published in the journal Nature, archeologists say that the Clovis people didn’t even reach the Americas via that melted corridor. They couldn’t have, as the Clovis people were living south of those ice sheets some 13,500 years ago, while that ice-free corridor only opened up 12,600 years ago.

So how did people manage to get so far south? The new dominant theory is that humans managed to go around the ice sheets, either down the Pacific coast by boat or through a coastal walkway created by retreating ice sheets.

And because that ice-free corridor wouldn’t have been biologically rich enough to support human migration at first, it’s likely that the Clovis people descended from earlier migrants, instead of arriving in a separate, later migration, say archaeologists.

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