The World Today for July 19, 2023

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Moving On


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claims that he is remaining neutral in the civil war now raging in neighboring Sudan, according to Deutsche Welle. Ahmed has said that, even though Sudan occupied the Al-Fashaga border region between the two countries when Ethiopia’s central government was waging a war against Tigrayan rebels in the country’s north, he would not meddle in Sudan’s affairs.

Ahmed’s position might reflect savvy diplomacy rather than magnanimity. He is still seeking to influence the war, reported Agence France-Presse. To that end, he recently hosted peace talks between Sudan’s warring factions in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. While the representatives of the Sudanese government didn’t attend, the rebel forces sent delegates. Attendees discussed whether an international peacekeeping force should be deployed to the area – an idea that Sudan rejected, Al Jazeera noted.

Those efforts are likely earnest, but they also have plenty of bearing on how other countries view Ethiopia as Ahmed seeks to rebuild his nation, with most of the fighting related to the Ethiopian civil war that erupted in 2020 having now subsided, as the Council on Foreign Relations explained. The two sides signed a peace deal in November but scattered violence continues.

Ahmed worked hard, for instance, to successfully convince US President Joe Biden that Ethiopia was no longer committing “gross violations of human rights” in the war, wrote the Africa Report. That reassessment was likely a major hurdle to the International Monetary Fund granting Ethiopia a $2 billion loan to help fill an estimated $6 billion budget hole that the country is facing through 2026, according to the Reporter, a local English-language newspaper.

In the meantime, analysts are exhorting the international community not to let Ahmed and Ethiopia off the hook for the human rights violations that government forces committed during the war, Foreign Policy magazine wrote. In the Economist, a headline writer summed up that sentiment with the headline, “War crimes in Tigray may be covered up or forgotten.”

Satellite images, for instance, suggest that Eritrean troops allied with Ethiopia’s central government killed 300 people and burned 60 buildings in two small villages in the Tigray region, the Washington Post reported. Hunger is also a major problem in the region now due to the destruction wrought during the war and an unfortunate drought, Reuters added.

Ahmed, of course, just wants to move on.


Making War


The International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected an appeal by the Philippines to prevent the court’s prosecutors from investigating former President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs,” CNN reported Tuesday.

The court’s ruling came months after the ICC announced it would revive its investigation into possible “crimes against humanity” during Duterte’s term between 2016 and 2022.

The court suspended the probe in 2021 after the Philippine government said it was conducting its own investigation.

During his tenure, Duterte ordered a crackdown on drug trafficking in the Southeast Asian nation that resulted in the deaths of more than 6,000 people, according to police data.

However, independent monitors believe the death toll is higher, adding that many of the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug offenders took place in the country’s poorest areas.

The ICC initially announced an investigation into the anti-narcotics operations in 2018, which prompted Duterte to withdraw the Philippines’ membership from the court soon after.

But the Netherlands-based court’s withdrawal mechanism keeps jurisdiction over crimes committed during the membership period of a state – in this case, between 2016 and 2019, when the Philippines’ pullout became official.

Following Tuesday’s verdict, the court said the Philippines has exhausted all its options to appeal.

Human rights groups and victims’ relatives hope the ruling “will be a turn in the tide against impunity in the Philippines.”

Even so, Duterte’s successor, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has said Manila will “disengage” from any contact with the ICC and that it does not recognize its jurisdiction.

Friends With Benefits


Israel officially recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara this week, a move that further solidifies ties between the two nations nearly three years after they agreed to normalize relations, Al Jazeera reported.

Moroccan officials announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had expressed his country’s position on the matter in a letter addressed to King Mohammed VI.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen later said the move “will strengthen relations between the countries” and advance regional stability.

Until the mid-1970s, Western Sahara was under Spanish colonial rule. Following a ceasefire agreement in 1991, Rabat asserted control over nearly 80 percent of Western Sahara, while the remaining portion was held by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, Al-Monitor noted.

But Morocco’s control has received little international recognition, while the Polisario Front has demanded an independent state be established in the territory.

In 2020, then-US President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s sovereignty in exchange for restoring ties with Israel. Morocco became the fourth country – after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan – to normalize ties with the country following a US-brokered deal that year.

Meanwhile, Moroccan officials said momentum is building in Morocco’s favor after the US and European countries have expressed support for Rabat’s autonomy plan for the territory.

They added, however, that Israel’s move will not affect Morocco’s stance in defending a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Uninvited Guest


North Korea detained a US soldier who crossed into the country from South Korea on Tuesday, an incident that comes amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear program, NBC News reported Tuesday.

The US-led United Nations Command said the American national, who was being sent back to the US, tagged along on an orientation tour of the joint security area, part of the demilitarized zone between the two countries.

The UN said the soldier “crossed, without authorization” the demarcation line in the demilitarized zone, adding that military officials from both sides are working to “resolve this incident.”

Since the 1960s, private companies have been organizing tours of the area, while the United Nations has conducted its own tours for its staff.

This area, situated just 30 miles north of the South Korean capital, is the location where the armistice to end the Korean War was signed in 1953.

The development comes as the United States’ USS Kentucky, a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived in South Korean waters on Tuesday, marking the first such deployment in four decades, according to the Associated Press.

Observers said the submarine’s arrival is part of a series of agreements made between the US and South Korea in response to concerns over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.


Anchoring the Self

Scientists recently discovered that “a sausage-looking piece of the brain” is responsible for people experiencing out-of-body experiences, NPR reported.

Neurologist Josef Parvizi had come across an epilepsy patient whose seizures were causing him some very strange symptoms, such as feeling as if “floating in space.”

Initially, Parvizi and his team presumed that this was caused by seizures in the posteromedial cortex, an area toward the back of the brain. This region has a brain network involved in the narrative self, which helps individuals define themselves.

For their study, they conducted a series of experiments on the patient and eight other volunteers who also experienced severe epilepsy.

The researchers placed electrodes on the participants’ brains and waited for a seizure to occur. Because these electrodes could also deliver pulses of electricity, they also stimulated different areas of the brain to see whether they affected a person’s sense of self.

It turned out that it wasn’t the posteromedial cortex, but the anterior precuneus.

The team explained that this area – found between the brain’s two hemispheres – appears important to a person’s sense of inhabiting their own body, or bodily self.

Whenever this region was stimulated, the volunteers felt detached from their own thoughts and no longer anchored in their own bodies.

This is particularly surprising because the anterior precuneus is not connected to the brain’s system for maintaining a narrative self and is more focused on the sense that something is “happening to me,” not another person, Parvizi said.

Other researchers noted that the findings could help in developing forms of anesthesia that use electrical stimulation instead of drugs. It could also help explain the antidepressant effects of mind-altering drugs like ketamine.

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