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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 2, 2014
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: South Sudan Fighting Continues as Talks Begin in Ethiopia

Heavy fighting continued Wednesday in South Sudan's Unity and Jonglei states, prompting President Salva Kiir to declare a state of emergency there as government and rebel negotiators traveled to Addis Ababa, where East African leaders are seeking to broker a cease-fire (WSJ). The strategic town of Bor, Jonglei's capital, fell to rebel forces on Tuesday; it is said to be a gateway to the national capital, Juba. Relief groups said 75,000 South Sudanese have converged on the town of Awerial, outside Bor, where food, shelter, and clean water are scarce (Guardian). They are among the 200,000 that UN officials have said have been displaced in just over two weeks of conflict (al-Jazeera).


"In 2012, when Kiir promised to 'name and shame' corrupt army commanders, those commanders forced him to retract. Unlike many other nations, South Sudan's army is not an institution that builds a national ethos and common identity but is instead a civil war in waiting. ... The government and rebels must cease hostilities, stop ethnic-military mobilization, and start talking—as African mediators demand. Then, the South Sudanese leadership and people, and their foreign friends, must begin the slow and delicate work of dismantling the warlordism that thrives under the flag of the SPLA," write Alex de Waal and Abdul Mohammed in Foreign Affairs.

"The White Army has stuck around, in part because some Nuer fear they will not be treated fairly by the Dinka, who are more numerous and who hold the country's presidency. Today, rebels took up arms in the apparent belief that Kiir's government was turning against the Nuer, and perhaps also because they saw Kiir going after Machar, who does not lead the White Army but has long been associated with it," writes Max Fisher writes for the Washington Post.

"In the public space, ethnic categories are not used to differentiate friends and enemies. Rather, by accusing the respective antagonists of inciting or committing ethnic violence, ethnicity informs current strategies of violence in a much more subtle manner. Through the construction of an existential threat identified in the antagonists malevolent 'tribalism', both factions aim not only to mobilize for conflict within their own constituencies, but to legitimize the use of force vis-a-vis an international audience, increasingly worried about the possible consequences of ethnic conflict in South Sudan," write Andreas Hirblinger and Sara de Simone in African Arguments.


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Passengers Rescued From Antarctic Ice

Passengers from the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy stranded for nine days in Antarctic ice were rescued on Thursday by Chinese helicopter (Sydney Morning Herald).

CHINA: The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday criticized the U.S. decision to release the last of twenty-two Uighur detainees at Guantánamo Bay to Slovakia (AP). The United States did not repatriate them to China, as Beijing sought, because of long-standing concerns about government mistreatment of the Muslim ethnic minority.

CFR's Matthew Waxman discusses challenges of closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay that will likely be passed on to President Obama's successor.



Afghanistan Plans Mass Prisoner Release Despite U.S. Objections

The Afghan government plans to release at least eighty-five prisoners, many of whom have attacked U.S. forces, American and Afghan officials said (NYT). Officials from both sides who support a security deal with the United States worry that a mass release of militants could bring about a complete Western withdrawal.

PAKISTAN: Former president Pervez Musharraf, while en route to a court where he was set to appear on treason charges, was redirected to a hospital after complaining of heart trouble. The trial, the first of a former army chief, resumed in his absence, and he was ordered to appear before the tribunal Thursday (Dawn).



As Kerry Arrives in Israel, Settlement Announcement Delayed

Israel will postpone an announcement that was expected Thursday of bids for new settlement construction, in deference to U.S. secretary of state John Kerry's arrival to the region, an Israeli official said (NYT).

EGYPT: Prosecutors on Tuesday renewed the detention of three journalists working for the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English for fifteen days on terrorism charges. Mohamed Fahmy, the broadcaster's Cairo bureau chief, was moved to a hospital facility amid health concerns (Guardian).



Somali Islamists Claim Mogadishu Hotel Bombing

Militant group al-Shabab claimed credit on Thursday for the triple car bombing in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu that killed at least eleven people on Wednesday (Reuters). The group said it was targeting intelligence officials meeting at the upmarket Jazeera hotel.

This Backgrounder explains al-Shabab's history.



Putin Visits Volgograd

President Vladimir Putin visited survivors of the Volgograd bombings on Wednesday and broke his two days of silence on the incident, condemning the acts and vowing terrorists' "complete destruction" (NYT). Five thousand interior troops surged into the city on Tuesday.

Carnegie Moscow Center director Dmitri Trenin explains the root causes of the North Caucasus insurgency.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Palestinian ambassador Jamal al-Jamal was killed on Wednesday in a blast after opening a safe in his home that contained explosives. Ruling out an attack, Czech police deemed the explosion an accident (Guardian).



Stadium Deaths Bring Scrutiny to Brazil's World Cup Preparations

The deaths of two Brazilian stadium construction workers in late November and two more in mid-December has prompted investigations of the construction industry ahead of the 2014 games, including corruption allegations and health and safety labor code violations (LAT). Public frustration over what many see as misguided government priorities had already been strong.

CUBA: President Raul Castro, in a speech marking the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, celebrated the country's resilience against what he called U.S.-backed subversion while acknowledging Havana had made mistakes along the way (BBC).



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