South Sudan forms unity government

POWER POLITICS: South Sudan’s first Vice President Riek Machar, left, and President Salva Kiir, right, shake hands following the meeting of a new coalition government, in Juba, on Friday. (AP)
Updated 29 April 2016

South Sudan forms unity government

JUBA: South Sudan’s transitional unity government was sworn into office on Friday, with President Salva Kiir sharing power with ex-rebels in a key step in a long-delayed peace process.
Under terms of an August 2015 peace deal, the 30 ministerial posts are split between Kiir, former rebel chief turned first vice president Riek Machar, opposition and other parties.
“We are going to work together,” Kiir said after the ministers were sworn into office, and he shook hands with Machar. “We must learn how to forgive and we must learn how to apologize.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the naming of the ministers was an “important milestone” in the peace process, urging the parties “to cease immediately all hostilities.” The transitional government is to remain in place until October 2018.
Machar returned to the capital Juba on Tuesday and was immediately sworn into the post of vice president, a position he was sacked from five months before war broke out. Fighting erupted in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup, claims he always denied.
The conflict, which has torn open ethnic divisions, has been characterised by horrific rights abuses, including gang rapes, the wholesale burning of villages and cannibalism.
“Cooperation is important,” Machar told the new ministers, saying people were still fearful and that leaders needed to show them the peace deal would work.
“If we act as groups in the cabinet, we will fail the people of South Sudan.”
Kiir loyalists remain in key positions, with Kuol Manyang staying on as defense minister and David Deng Athorbei as finance minster with the job of rebuilding an economy left in ruins by more than two years of war.
The all-important petroleum portfolio was handed to Dak Duop Bichok.
The foreign ministry goes to Deng Alor, a post he held under a united Sudan, before South Sudan won its independence in 2011.
Alor belongs to a group of influential politicians known as the “former detainees,” who were jailed at the outbreak of fighting but later released following regional pressure.
Opposition leader and outspoken government critic Lam Akol becomes minister for agriculture and food security, a crucial job in a country where five million are in need of aid, and some areas are on the brink of famine.
Ensuring they work together in a unity government, and that the thousands of rival armed forces now in separate camps inside the capital keep their guns quiet, will be a major challenge.
Both sides remain deeply suspicious, and fighting continues with multiple militia forces unleashed who now pay no heed to either Kiir or Machar.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than two million driven from their homes in the conflict, which has reignited ethnic divisions and been characterised by gross human rights abuses.
Dozens of political prisoners remain in detention, although a former regional governor and a university professor held for months were released this week, Amnesty International said on Friday.
Both Joseph Bakosoro, former governor of Western Equatoria state, and Professor Leonzio Angole Onek from Juba University, were arrested in December by the widely-feared National Security Service (NSS).
Speaking after his release, Bakasoro said he hoped the new government would work toward peace.
“I hope those who will be in the government will do the right thing, not for themselves, but for the people of this country,” he told reporters.
“The common citizens are the ones suffering, women are suffering, children are dying.”
Amnesty said the release of the two men “represents a mere fraction of people being detained by NSS and other security forces such as the military” and called for 33 other prisoners to be charged or released.
“Some have been beaten, especially during interrogation or as a form of punishment,” Amnesty added, saying their treatment may “amount to torture.”


Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say

Updated 10 min 32 sec ago

Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say

  • Follows little-known Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army carrying out attacks

KARACHI: Investigations into a spate of recent attacks in southern Sindh province have led Pakistani officials to believe there are growing links between Sindhi separatists and militant groups from the insurgency-racked Balochistan province, officers with knowledge of the investigation have told Arab News.

However, experts warn that it may be too early to assume a “nexus” between the groups.

Late last month, gunmen attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange building in the city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, killing two guards and a policeman before security forces killed all four attackers.

Counterterrorism officials said that the attack had been claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist group from the southwestern province of Balochistan, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU.

Just weeks earlier, three consecutive explosions killed four people, including two soldiers in Sindh. A shadowy secessionist organization, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), which wants the province to break away from the Pakistani federation, claimed responsibility for the attacks. This week, SRA also claimed a grenade attack on a Karachi bakery in which a retired paramilitary Rangers official was killed. 

SRA and two other Sindhi groups were banned by the government in May this year. 

Speaking to the media after the attack on the stock exchange building,  Sindh Rangers  chief  Major General Omer Ahmed Bukhari said that the attacks proved that “hostile intelligence agencies” were working to forge a “nexus” between Sindhi and Balochi insurgent groups, adding that he believed current investigations would establish this beyond doubt. 

In a statement emailed to the media after the stock exchange attack, the BLA admitted that it had “complete support” from Sindhi groups. 

“Today both the nations (Baloch and Sindhi) are fighting for the independence of their homelands against Pakistan,” the BLA statement said. “We had the complete support of the Sindhi nation in today’s attack, and it shows a strong brotherly bond between both the nations.”

Separatists have been fighting security forces for years in Balochistan over what they see as the unfair exploitation of the province’s vast mineral wealth. Insurgents are also opposed to — and attack projects linked to — China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative in the resource-rich province. 

Pakistan has regularly blamed India for supporting Baloch separatists, a charge that Delhi denies.

Last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliament that he had no doubt India was behind the attack on the stock exchange building, which India promptly denied. Khan offered no evidence for his allegation, but he said that there had been intelligence reports warning of attacks in Pakistan and he had informed his Cabinet about the threats.

Sindhi separatists such as the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army have carried out low-intensity attacks in the past, including blowing up train tracks. Their attacks, however, have been less violent than that of neighboring Balochistan where separatists have attacked a Chinese consulate, a leading hotel chain and on many occasions killed security officials patrolling a coastal highway.

Now, officials fear that Sindhi groups might be able to enhance their capacity to carry our deadlier attacks with help from Baloch militants and other hostile groups. 

“It can be a source of lawlessness in the future if this nexus is not broken,” said a police officer involved in investigating a “possible nexus between Sindhi and Baloch insurgent groups, backed by India.” He requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media about the issue.

The police official said that Baloch groups already had “some capability” to launch damaging attacks, “but once there is a nexus, it can also be helpful for Sindhi nationalists, and that’s worrisome.”

A senior intelligence officer, who also declined to be named, said there had been a noticeable increase in the frequency of attacks by Sindhi groups, which pointed to the fact that they might have more experienced helpers.

“Increase in capability (through a nexus with Baloch groups) will only be proved if they launch more sophisticated attacks,” he said. “Law enforcement agencies are absolutely aware and alert to the dangers posed by the growth of this nexus.”

Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter-terrorism officer in Karachi, said that while teaming up with other groups might enhance the capacity of Sindhi nationalists, he did not see the nexus posing a significant threat in the near future. 

“The nexus can supplement the capacity of Sindhi sub-nationalists,” Khattab said, “but they will not be able to create any big law and order situation due to the preparedness of the law enforcement agencies.”

Sindh’s chief of Rangers has also said that Baloch and Sindh separatists were cosying up to the London faction of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Pakistani political party whose leader Altaf Hussain lives in exile in London. 

“Hostile intelligence agencies strive to make a nexus of the cells, sleeper cells and facilitators of the remnant terrorist organizations (separatists), which include the remnants of the MQM,” Bukhari said during a press conference after the stock exchange attack.

The MQM, one of Pakistan’s most prominent political parties, is mostly comprised of descendants of Muslim Urdu-speaking people who migrated to Pakistan around the time of the partition of India in 1947. 

Once able to control Sindh province with an iron grip, the party’s fortunes have waned in recent years, particularly since 2013 when the military launched a crackdown against criminal groups and militants as murder rates soared and mutilated bodies were dumped in alleyways daily. Many saw the operation, centered in Karachi, as a pretext to wrest control of the port city from the MQM, an accusation that security forces deny.

While Karachi crime rates have dropped sharply and many local businesses have welcomed the operation, allegations of brutal and illegal methods have remained. 

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has in the past referred dozens of cases of illegal abductions of MQM workers to the Pakistan government, concluding a “pattern of specific targeting” of the MQM by Rangers, which the paramilitary force denies.

Before the 2013 operation, law enforcement agencies and many Karachi residents accused the MQM of racketeering, the abduction, torture and murder of opponents and holding the city to ransom by calling mass strikes at will.

On Wednesday, the MQM’s Qasim Ali Raza denied that the party had any links to separatists or attacks in Sindh and urged the state to stop the “blind and fraudulent” process of blaming the party. 

The Karachi-based political analyst, Mazhar Abbas, said that a nexus between the MQM and separatist groups, if it existed, would not work. 

“The workers of MQM neither accepted the alliance with Sindhi nationalists (in the past),” he said, “nor will they subscribe to the current idea of a friendship.”

Other analysts said that there was as yet no “solid” evidence to claim the nexus existed. 

“Politically, there has been some closeness between Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, but speaking about a military nexus, one needs to have solid evidence at hand,” said Sohail Sangi, a Karachi-based analyst who closely observes separatist groups.

However, Anwar Sajjadi, a Quetta-based security analyst, said that he believed a growing nexus was a possibility, adding it was no coincidence that Sindhi groups had recently started voicing opposition to Chinese projects being built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) umbrella, which Baloch groups have long opposed.

“We have seen uniformity in their stances,” Sajjadi said. “Same stance on CPEC and other (rights) issues is bringing all these groups closer.”

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