OSCE may send advisers to Kyrgyzstan

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has announced the deployment of a small team of police advisers to Kyrgyzstan, in response to the widespread reports from ethnically Uzbek Kyrgyzstani civilians of police and military abuse by Kyrgyz Kyrgyzstanis over the past few months in southern Kyrgyzstan. From the OSCE press release:

The agreement [with Kyrgyzstan’s government] said the group would comprise 52 [unarmed] police officers with the possibility to send an additional 50 officers at a later stage. The group would be in Kyrgyzstan for four months, with a possibility to extend as needed and agreed.

“The tasks of this mission is first of all advising the Kyrgyz police. The Police Advisory Group will have contact with all parts of the population in southern Kyrgyzstan,” Salber said. “They will be assisting and also monitoring the Kyrgyz police. They will accompany them in their work with the communities there with the objective of strengthening the confidence in this area, in particular between the police and the population.”

These monitors would, best case scenario, serve to deter further abuses or acts of genocide against the Uzbek population while they are present. Sadly, it likely won’t be enough… After all, one of the worst atrocities during the Bosnian War happened in front of 400 United Nations peacekeepers inside sanctuary zones, but the rules of engagement, lack of supplies, and ratio of combatants to peacekeepers prevented intervention. But I guess this is better than nothing.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Guinea heads to a runoff

According to Radio France Internationale, Guinea will head to a July 18 runoff between the top two presidential candidates, after a relatively successful first-round election on June 27:

Turnout was 77 per cent, according to the Independent National Election Commission, with 3.3 million people voting.

Twenty out of 24 candidates failed to get over five per cent, with late-president Lansana Conté’s party, the Unity and Progress Party (PUP), failing badly.

Despite relief at the vote not being marred by violence, the majority of candidates have claimed there was widespread fraud.

As I blogged about previously, this election was a monumental point for Guinea’s post-independence history, as it marked their first democratic election ever, and international monitors had confirmed the transitional/caretaker government was staying out of the process, while the military pledged not to interfere either. The fraud allegations, although disappointing, are to be expected at some level. All things considered, the first-round ought to be taken as a success, in my opinion.

RFI has brief summaries of the two candidates…

Two candidates will face each other on 18 July in the second and final round of Guinea’s presidential election.

Cellou Dalein Diallo, 58, was prime minister several times under General Lansana Conté, who ruled for 24 years after coming to power in a military coup in 1984; he is a member of the Fulani ethnic group; his strongholds are middle-Guinea and the capital, Conakry.

Alpha Condé, 73, is a third-time candidate who has opposed all three heads of state since independence, spending two and a half years in jail under Conté and sentenced to death in absentia by first president Ahmed Sekou Touré in 1970; he is a member of the Malinké ethnic group; his stronghold is Upper Guinea.

If the next round is a success, that’s only the beginning of the hard work, as I wrote before. This is a promising moment for Guinea — and even for much of the developing world — but it is also a perilous time, as reality of democracy in the third world sets in:

Even if there is no widespread violence or military intervention in the first-round or the runoff in this election, there is still the possibility of future instability, whether by popular discontent with the slow grind of democracy or by some overzealous or power-hungry military officer.

I’m still hoping for much better than that. They have a rare opportunity here, and if they avoid squandering it, they will pave the way for other countries to transition from autocracy to democracy successfully.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Looking backward while going forward

In the United States, the Obama Administration in 2009 claimed it would not pursue torture investigations because that would be looking backward and distract the country from moving forward. Many on the left, including me and Nate at this blog, basically thought this was a rather absurd claim and a damaging decision. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron, elected in May and heading a coalition Conservative/Liberal Democrat cabinet, is taking the opposite approach:

Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Tuesday that Britain’s new coalition government would appoint an independent inquiry into allegations that its security services, MI5 and MI6, colluded with the Central Intelligence Agency and other foreign organizations in the rendition and torture of terrorism suspects held in foreign prisons after the 9/11 attacks.

Mr. Cameron had called for the inquiry before the spring election campaign against the former Labour government, which had endured years of criticism at home for being too cozy with the Bush administration in the reaction to terrorism.
“While there is no evidence that any British officer was directly engaged in torture in the aftermath of 9/11, there are questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done,” Mr. Cameron said. He said this had “led to accusations that Britain may have been complicit in the mistreatment of detainees.”

Under the Labour government, MI5, responsible for Britain’s internal security, and MI6, responsible for external security, issued strong denials that their agents were complicit in mistreatment. The agencies received vigorous backing from the government, at least until court disclosures began to show that the detainees’ allegations against them might have had some validity.

Certainly there will be complaints because this won’t be a particularly transparent investigation for security and international intelligence reasons, but it’s way better than the total lack of investigations we got in the United States. That was mainly a nakedly political decision, anyway. Cameron is also certainly taking politics into account, but he’s decided that in any case this will be a better and faster route to ending the speculation and criticisms dogging the British intelligence services. That’s the practical side. The moral side happens to be in the same general direction, unlike the Obama calculus.

Of course, Cameron has little to lose by this, and potentially much to gain. Obama faced an insane, pro-torture right-wing faction and pro-torture media in America, which explains some of his reticence. But he also somehow believed (or his advisers did) that he could get Republican support for some of his agenda by not investigating their Bush era buddies over torture. That didn’t happen. So Obama didn’t gain much practically speaking either.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Kyrgyz gov’t rounding up Uzbek community leaders

Ethnic persecution of Uzbek communities in Kyrgyzstan continues, according to the Times:

Dozens of Uzbek community, religious and political leaders have been arrested recently by the local police and accused of inciting ethnic violence, rights groups say.

They were detained as part of an investigation into the unrest that raged through ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods here last month in which thousands of people, most of them Uzbeks, were thought to have died. The investigation itself, which was authorized by the government of Kyrgyzstan’s interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, has been turned into a campaign of persecution against ethnic Uzbek political and religious leaders, human rights groups say.
The arrests are based on a section of the Kyrgyz criminal code that bans inciting ethnic hatred, after the ethnic Uzbek leaders accused the police and army of instigating and in some cases participating in the original violence. “We are concerned that most of the arrests seem to be targeted against the Uzbek communities,” said Ole Solvang, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who documented what he called unjustified detentions of Uzbeks, in a telephone interview. “The government has to investigate, detain and prosecute all violators, and not just members of one ethnic group.”
Valentina A. Gritsenko, director of a local human rights group, Justice, confirmed in a telephone interview that several of the Uzbek leaders who made public allegations of police or military complicity in the ethnic violence had been arrested.

Azimzhan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek and the director of a human rights group in the town of Bazar-Kurgan, was arrested on this charge, according to his lawyer, Nurbek Toktokunov, who said Mr. Askarov had bruises on his back suggesting he had been tortured in custody.

This week, Front Line, a Dublin-based group monitoring mistreatment of human rights workers, said two activists in southern Kyrgyzstan documenting the causes of the violence were interrogated by the police and later approached on a street in Osh by unidentified men and threatened.

Various people interviewed agreed with suggestions (that I’ve mentioned previously) that they won’t feel secure as long as they’re at the mercy of the domestic Kyrgyz police and military and would prefer an international security force.

The Kyrgyzstani military and police are dominated by ethnically Kyrgyz members and were involved in the violent attacks against Uzbek civilians in southern Kyrgyzstan — near the border with Uzbekistan — several weeks ago. It’s also unclear how much control they’ve taken over the interim government, but it seems the civilian authorities aren’t in charge to the degree they claim.

An unconvincing counterargument

Killing a newspaper editor is not a compelling rebuttal to that editor’s allegation of assassinations, in my humble opinion. And the circumstances point clearly to his death being a government-sponsored assassination, too:

A Rwandan journalist who accused the Rwandan government of trying to assassinate a dissident in South Africa was himself killed Thursday night in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

Jean-Leonard Rugambage, 34, an editor and reporter for a suspended private tabloid, was shot twice and killed late Thursday night near his home, police officials said. Violent crime is exceedingly rare in Kigali, which is known as one of the safest and most orderly capitals in Africa.

Mr. Gasasira said that he and Mr. Rugambage had published an article on Thursday linking Rwandan government military and intelligence officers to the recent shooting of Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former high-ranking Rwandan general who recently defected to South Africa. Mr. Nyamwasa was shot and wounded by a lone gunman, who did not steal anything, on the streets of Johannesburg last Saturday.

Umuvugizi’s article claimed that a senior intelligence officer close to President Paul Kagame had telephoned orders to kill Mr. Nyamwasa, and that a former presidential guard was among the four suspects arrested in the past week in connection with the shooting.

Gen. Nyamwasa was considered a state enemy, like most people who oppose the current government of Rwanda.

This has been another chapter in my ongoing series of posts on Rwanda’s ruling party’s abuses in the post-Genocide period.

This article originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Promise and Peril in Guinea

Cautiously optimistic scenes in the West African nation of Guinea as the population prepares for its first free elections in its history, tomorrow. There are 24 presidential candidates, and so far election observers from around the world say everything looks like it’s in order.

After independence from France two military dictators ruled consecutively from 1958-2008, after which the country faced instability and violence (including a large massacre of civilians) under a new military regime, until Gen. Sekouba Konaté – then Vice President of the new junta – took control of a transitional government, in an agreement sponsored by nearby Burkina Faso this past January. He quickly scheduled democratic elections for the Republic of Guinea, pledging to stay out of them himself, and the army has stood down and plans to remain in its barracks during the election tomorrow.

Bands of supporters in their candidates’ T-shirts marched through the rutted streets, motorcades of partisans coursed down the avenues on beaten-up motorbikes and thousands of people crowded highway overpasses to greet presidential candidates noisily as they returned from final campaign trips for Sunday’s vote.
The candidates, all 24 of them, have been free to hold packed rallies without interference, and the faces of presidential hopefuls now beam from giant billboards all over town. Soldiers, omnipresent in Conakry in the past year, have barely been in evidence in recent days. They have been ordered to stay in their barracks during the voting, a military spokesman said.

“The army is neutral,” the spokesman, Lt. Col. Lancei Condé, said. “We don’t have a candidate.”

Election observers confirm that the transitional government has taken pains not to influence voters. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the leader of the European Union’s electoral observation mission here, said, “There’s a serious determination at the political and administrative level to make this election happen and be a success.”

Simply thrilling. I do love a good election, especially in Africa.

So that’s the promise. The peril is, of course, the unfortunate possible outcome after the election. Even if there is no widespread violence or military intervention in the first-round or the runoff in this election, there is still the possibility of future instability, whether by popular discontent with the slow grind of democracy or by some overzealous or power-hungry military officer. Statistically speaking, from what I have read, the failure rate for developing country democracies in their first couple decades remains extremely high. So the odds are against Guinea.

But, in the things-could-be-worse perspective, Guinea can always look at its neighbor Guinea-Bissau (the former Portuguese colony), which was being labeled less stable than Somalia by the drug-traffickers last summer, and faced a military coup earlier this year that went virtually unnoticed by the rest of the world. As long as Guinea’s doing anywhere near as well as it is now, it’s way ahead of Guinea-Bissau.

So, let’s hope for the best, and keep the 10 million people of Guinea in our minds tomorrow. If they pull this off successfully and continue without instability, they could become a seriously strong role model for democratization around the third-world, since the story of the Republic of Guinea is one seen time and again all across Africa and the developing world.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Kyrgyz troops attack Uzbek civilians

This morning, acting this time under the official pretext of clearing barricades and restoring government order and control, ethnically Kyrgyz troops from the government of Kyrgyzstan beat two dozen ethnically Uzbek civilians in southern Kyrgyzstan, killing two. NY Times:

Over the weekend, Kyrgyz troops removed the barricades, which residents had built during four days of ethnic violence that started June 10. At dawn on Monday, security forces began a house-to-house sweep of the area, the Uzbek village of Nariman, demanding information about a Kyrgyz police official who was killed there earlier this month.

Witnesses said the troops kicked men and severely beat them with rifle butts during interrogations. One died of a gunshot wound, another died later of his injuries, and 25 were hospitalized, said Telman A. Badalov, a supervising doctor in the local hospital.

Regional officials at first denied that there were any casualties, but at a news conference later in the day, they acknowledged that two residents had been killed and 23 wounded, saying that troops had opened fire because they faced armed resistance and that their actions were justified. A law enforcement official told the Interfax news service that seven men were arrested on suspicion of being “hired snipers.”

But the list of confiscated weapons released by the Osh regional superintendent’s office — two grenades, 40 rifle cartridges and two Molotov cocktails — included no firearms.

The attacks today, which many eyewitnesses said were unprovoked and unwarranted, confirmed the fears expressed this weekend that there was a heightened risk for Uzbek civilians and that they could not trust either the government or the military. In the initial wave of violence and killings, eyewitnesses saw and recorded troops assisting rioters and attacking civilians, and so the remaining Uzbek civilians in several cities, towns, and villages tried to barricade their neighborhoods against these incursions, which led to the raid this morning.
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