Ceasefire deal reached in northern Mali

Just four days of UN-backed talks in Algeria between the Malian government and ethnically-motivated separatists resulted in an immediate ceasefire in northern Mali.

Islamist rebels, however, did not participate in talks or agree to the deal:

The six groups that signed the ceasefire were mostly Tuareg but also included Arab organisations. Signatories included the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA). They did not include groups linked to Al-Qaeda which had fought alongside the MNLA to occupy northern Mali for more than nine months before being ousted in 2013 by French and Malian troops.

 
This ceasefire is the latest stage in winding down — or at least once again pausing — the ongoing, simmering conflict that brought down the Malian government in the south in 2012, led to the proclamation of an (unrecognized) independent state in the north, and brought a French military intervention force into the country in early 2013.

It’s the just the latest step in the seemingly unresolvable north-south resource division conflict that has raged for a century, but which had escalated sharply with the fall of the Qaddafi regime in nearby Libya. The latter had been providing mercenary employment to many jobless, impoverished young men from northern Mali and the Arab Spring ended that arrangement. Additional concerns, such as global warming’s contributions to desertification and drought conditions, also caused a spike in discontent.

The Qaeda-aligned groups who, unsurprisingly, did not participate in the ceasefire deal include a mix of foreign and local fighters. They are likely to continue making trouble in the area for some time to come, unless they head to other pastures, such as the emerging Libyan Civil War and the ISIS satellite provinces rising there.

It’s also unclear how long a ceasefire or peace can endure in northern Mali before breaking down once more, without a wider solution to poverty and resource concerns for the arid, poor region.

As I argued during the 2013 French intervention, the West should seriously consider making a significant anti-poverty investment in northern Mali and other parts of the Sahel, in the tradition of the Marshall Plan, instead of relying on militarized governments and the occasional European or American fighter jet squadron to “fix” these crises briefly.

January 21, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 114

AFD-logo-470

Topics: Republican State Attorneys General, the NYPD mutiny, US-Russian relations. People: Bill, Nate, Sasha. Produced: January 19th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– How are Republican Attorneys General helping corporations fight common sense regulation?
– Is the NYPD beyond the control of the people of New York City and Mayor De Blasio?
– The end of nuclear partnership: When should the US view Russian actions as threatening versus posturing?

Episode 114 (52 min)
AFD 114

Related links
Segment 1

AFD, by Sasha: State Attorneys General are ruining the Earth. Literally.
NYT: Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General

Segment 2

AFD: NYC: Overwhelming opposition to the NYPD mutiny
The Globalist, by Bill: New York: De Blasio Vs. a Renegade Police Department
AFD: The NYPD: America’s Secret Police
AFD, by De Ana: #BlackLivesMatter means just that, not that police lives don’t
Reuters: Off duty, black cops in New York feel threat from fellow police

Segment 3

Boston Globe: Russia ends US nuclear security alliance
The Globalist: Kaliningrad: Achilles’ Heel for the West

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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Why Brunei? How a tiny, anti-gay monarchy became a U.S. ally.

brunei-map-ciaSecretary of State John Kerry and the Obama Administration are now (justifiably, I’d say, at this point) taking huge heat for trying to cement a major alliance with the podunk Southeast Asian absolute monarchy of Brunei.

President Obama himself had been scheduled to travel to Brunei last fall during the trip to Indonesia, which the government shutdown canceled. Last year, he called the Sultan “a key leader in the Southeast Asia region and also widely respected around the world.”

Outrage has been stirred up with the long-planned launch in April by the government of a phased rollout for an elaborate new penal code with extreme religious conservatism based in hardline Sharia Law interpretations. In particular, U.S. LGBT activists in California are furious over the draconian anti-gay provisions and have been organizing boycotts against local Brunei state investments.

But the anti-gay problem is just the tip of the horrible, no good, very bad legal iceberg for the monarchy with fewer residents than Boston. At least a fifth of the country’s population is non-Muslim, which is now punishable with death by flogging. Interfaith marriages are now adultery, punishable with death by stoning. Breaking the laws of Brunei while outside the country (i.e. in neighboring Malaysia, also located on the island of Borneo) is also to be punishable under Brunei rules.

So why has the U.S. State Department been trying so enthusiastically to secure a partnership with the Sultanate of Brunei and its ironically named Abode of Peace?

Because it’s got a ton of natural gas and oil relative to its size (35th biggest oil exporter and 26th biggest gas exporter in the world), it’s an original member of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, it’s strategically located on the South China Sea coast, it’s been a counterterrorism partner since 2001 … and I guess they weren’t expecting it to go way off the deep end suddenly like this.

But really, I think the warning signs should have been there. Generous oil-funded social welfare policies aside, Brunei has not been cool people for quite some time now. Their human rights abuses, near total lack of civil rights, and obvious authoritarianism were pretty well known before now. The former British protectorate and past regional sea empire has been ruled by one dynasty with a pretty ironclad fist for six centuries.

Some of the pretend constitution’s provisions have been ignored for so long by the monarchy that the country hadn’t even gained independence (1984) at the time they were suspended formally, in the 1960s. The safe money would have been on further regression, not a dramatic improvement, for all the signs the world has been picking up from Brunei in the past decade.

One of those signs? According to the Boston Globe, it should have been the 2013 global human rights report from… drumroll please… the U.S. State Department:

…the State Department’s 2013 global human rights report criticized Brunei for its restrictions on religious freedom; exploitation of foreign workers; and limitations of the freedom of the press, assembly, and association as “the most prevalent human rights problems.”

It went on to mention the adoption of the new legal code based on religious Sharia law but noted that “the effect of the law will not be clear until it is implemented, which was scheduled to begin in phases starting in April 2014.”

 
Nobody could have predicted…

But it seems that finishing a free trade deal with such a pivotal player was too much to pass up. It’s interesting that nearly 600 years after Brunei rose to power by controlling water trade and coastal ports in the dense commercial shipping zone not far from the Spice Islands, it’s leveraging the exact same strategic economic power to do whatever it wants. I guess it’s true what they say!

US diplomacy runs into foreign politics

Here’s a good read. ForeignPolicy.com: “Will India’s Next Leader Be Banned From America?”

My Summary: In 2005, the US State Department banned a state-level Indian politician, Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, from coming to the United States due to his alleged role in genocidal activities against Muslims (though investigations in India have never officially tied him to them) during the February 2002 riots in Gujarat. State figured it would be a symbolic denunciation with few likely consequences down the road.

Fast forward to present and now he is a national leader of the main opposition party (the Hindu nationalist BJP) and is widely anticipated to cruise into the office of prime minister next year. Now, the State Department is on the fence about what to do, particularly since he hasn’t been elected yet. Lifting the ban now would be seen as an endorsement or interference. Lifting it after he wins (if indeed he does) would be embarrassing and make the State Department look like it was bending the rules.

AFD 65 – Iran, Central Africa, DOMA

Latest Episode:
“AFD 65 – Iran, Central Africa, DOMA”
Posted: Tues, 26 November 2013

Guest co-host Greg joins Bill to assess the Iranian nuclear deal, the chaos in Central African Republic, and recent developments on LGBT rights in America.

Relevant links:
Iran deal…
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/25/world/middleeast/with-iran-accord-obama-opens-mideast-door.html

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/11/25/iran_nuclear_deal_will_saudi_arabia_now_seek_a_nuclear_program_of_its_own.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24823846

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_reckoning/2013/11/24/israeli_stock_market_reaches_record_high_share_prices_love_iranian_nuclear.html

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/11/24/israel_salls_iran_nuclear_deal_a_historic_failure.html

Central African Republic…
http://thinkprogress.org/security/2013/11/19/2940251/central-african-republic-chaos/

http://thinkprogress.org/security/2013/11/21/2981151/car-coup-tiring/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24986275

LGBT Rights in America…
http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2013/11/19/2970531/oklahoma-national-guard/

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/11/24/scott-walker-same-sex-marriage-ban-is-part-of-a-healthy-balance-of-lgbt-rights/

http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/local/gov-jay-nixon-says-he-supports-legalizing-gay-marriage/article_6c271bde-4d72-11e3-92c7-001a4bcf6878.html

AFD 58 – Yet Another Shutdown Showdown

Latest Episode:
“AFD 58 – Yet Another Shutdown Showdown”
Posted: Tues, 23 September 2013

Bill and guest host Sarah discuss health insurance exchanges, government shutdown, default, John Boehner, and Ted Cruz. Then we look at New Mexico’s legal battles over marriage equality. Finally, Bill argues in favor of diplomacy with Iran.

AFD 56 – Internationalism and Localism

Latest Episode:
“AFD 56 – Internationalism and Localism”
Posted: Tues, 10 September 2013

Bill and Persephone discuss Russia’s assertion that the UK is irrelevant to world affairs, then we examine the most successful global treaty of all time (and efforts to improve it), and we conclude by asking how individual cities and towns are possibly able to pass abortion bans on their own because that is crazy.

Additional links referenced:

http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/EED8A9F289E19D3F85257966005DBF51