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February 21, 2017

Daily News Brief

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South Sudan Declares World's First Famine Since 2012

The South Sudanese government and the United Nations declared a famine affecting a hundred thousand people (Sudan Tribune) in Unity state, saying that an additional one million South Sudanese are on the brink of famine. It is the first famine (BBC) to be declared anywhere in the world since 2012, when six West African nations saw severe food shortages following a drought in the Sahel region (WSJ). The World Food Program chief in South Sudan, Joyce Luma, called the famine "man-made" (WaPo) and blamed it on a civil war that has followed a 2013 political dispute. The UN also warned that severe malnutrition could claim the lives of 1.4 million children (Al Jazeera) this year in Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia. 


"South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011 with strong support from the U.S. government and the international community, descended into conflict in December 2013, when President Salva Kiir fired his vice president, Riek Machar. The ensuing war took on ethnic overtones, with Kiir’s Dinka group battling members of Machar’s Nuer group. Tens of thousands of people have died, and more than 1.5 million have fled the country. The U.N. officials said that war had disrupted agriculture, the main occupation in many parts of the country, crippling the economy and leaving people unable to feed themselves," Rael Ombuor writes for the Washington Post.

"The meltdown of the world’s newest state poses a fundamental challenge to the international state system, to African and Western models of state-building, and to UN peacekeeping. Since 2005, the United States alone has devoted more than $11 billion in humanitarian, peacekeeping/ security sector, and transition and reconstruction assistance to help the South Sudanese secure self-determination, with no end in sight. UN peacekeeping in the two Sudans since 2004 has cost approximately $20 billion, the costliest peace interventions in the last decade, to which the United States has contributed more than a quarter of the funding," Katherine Almquist Knopf writes in a CFR special report.

"If you look at the public expenditure per capita of South Sudan at independence, it was eight or nine times higher than that in Ethiopia. It was five times than in Uganda. This was a middle-income country with a lot of money. Whatever you may think of the Ethiopian government—and their human rights record leaves a lot to be desired—if you go to Ethiopia, you see that that money is being used for public good—a lot of infrastructure, a lot of health services—a huge physical material transformation of the country and economic development. In South Sudan, it was just either stolen by elites or spent on the military," Alex de Waal said in a CFR interview. 


Malaysia, North Korea Spar Over Assassination

Malaysia recalled its ambassador to North Korea after Pyongyang's envoy in Kuala Lumpur said his country "cannot trust" (Reuters) a Malaysian investigation into the murder of Kim Jong-un's half brother. South Korea has accused the Kim regime (WaPo) of orchestrating the assassination, which took place in the Kuala Lumpur airport last week.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick and Scott A. Snyder explain why the assassination should not have been surprising.

PHILIPPINES: Members of the ten-nation ASEAN bloc are "unanimous" in their concern (Reuters) over China's "militarization" of the South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said. The Philippines will continue bilateral talks with China (PhilStar), Yasay said, even as an international ruling favored the Philippines in a maritime territorial dispute.


India Tops List of Arm Importers

Global arms sales reached their highest levels since the end of the Cold War (Bloomberg), with India accounting for 13 percent of imports between 2012 and 2016, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The United States and Russia (Guardian) accounted for more than half of all arms exports.

SRI LANKA: Five military intelligence officers have been arrested for the 2009 assassination of prominent journalist (AFP) and government critic Lasantha Wickrematunge.


Migrants’ Bodies Wash Ashore in Libya

Some seventy-four bodies of people believed to have been African asylum seekers (Guardian) were found in the western Libyan city of Zawiya, according to the Red Crescent. Some 4,500 migrants died (Al Jazeera) on the sea crossing from Libya to Italy last year. 

SYRIA: Four Russian military personnel were killed (NYT) and two others wounded by a roadside bomb outside Homs last week, Russian media reported. It is the largest loss of life for Russia since it entered the Syrian war.


Gambia’s Barrow Frees Prisoners Held Without Trial

President Adama Barrow ordered all inmates who have been held without trial (Al Jazeera) freed, releasing 171 people who had been jailed during the two-decade tenure of Yahya Jammeh. Barrow has vowed to reverse his predecessor's course by rejoining the International Criminal Court and freeing political prisoners.


Russia’s UN Envoy Dies at Sixty-Four

Vitaly Churkin, a veteran diplomat (RFE/RL) who served as Russia’s envoy to the United Nations since 1996, died in New York. Churkin was a prominent face of Russian foreign policy, defending the country’s support for the Syrian government and annexation of Crimea. No reason for his death was given.

CFR's President Richard N. Haass discusses how the Trump administration should approach Russia in Time.

FRANCE: Police searched the offices of presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen as part of an investigation into whether her far-right National Front used European Parliament funding (France 24) to pay for employees who served the party in non-parliamentary functions.

This CFR Backgrounder lays out what's at stake in the upcoming French presidential election.


Ecuador Election May Go to Runoff

Leftist candidate Lenin Moreno appeared to lead after a Sunday election to succeed President Rafael Correa (Reuters), but it was not clear if he had garnered enough votes to avoid an April 2 runoff with banker Guillermo Lesso. Moreno had 39 percent of the vote (LAHT) with nearly 90 percent counted, and needs 40 percent, with a ten-point margin, to win.

COLOMBIA: Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said that the most likely culprit behind a bombing near a bullfight (LAHT) in Bogota on Sunday was the National Liberation Army (ELN), a rebel group with which the government is holding peace talks in Ecuador. Two passersby and twenty-four police officers (Colombia Reports) were injured in the explosions.