- Renewed fighting, refugees in south of Sudan
- Strauss-Kahn arrives at New York's Kennedy airport
- New Orleans braces for Tropical Storm Lee
Posted: 03 Sep 2011 09:03 PM PDT
JUBA (Reuters) - Seventeen people were killed in fighting between Sudan's army and rebels aligned to South Sudan in a Sudanese state on the border with the newly independent south, the official news agency SUNA said on Saturday.
Up to 3,000 people fled armed clashes in the region, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reported, calling for an immediate halt to fighting to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
Analysts say Sudan's government in Khartoum is trying to strike against the rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states before they become a serious political and military threat. The fighting risks drawing South Sudan into a proxy war.
The Sudanese government has accused the south's dominant Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) of being behind the violence in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The SPLM-North, the movement's branch in Sudan, has blamed Khartoum.
Ali Abdel-Latif, an SPLM-North official, told Reuters that Khartoum security officials informed the group the government was banning its activities in Sudan. "They asked us not to practice any political work in the name of the SPLM," he said.
He said security forces had also taken control of SPLM-North's main offices in Khartoum.
There was no immediate official comment from Khartoum.
SUNA said 17 people were killed and 14 wounded in the fighting in South Kordofan, but gave no further details.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan -- at the time Africa's largest country -- six years after a ceasefire that ended decades of civil war between north and south. South Sudan denies Khartoum's accusations that it is supporting the rebels.
SPLM-North battled alongside the South in the civil war but its areas of influence remained north of the border after separation in July. The oil-producing south voted to split from the north in a January referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
"Both the ruling National Congress Party and the SPLM-North are signatories (to the peace deal) so we don't expect them to turn to armed hostilities," South Sudan's information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, told Reuters.
"We urge them to go back to the CPA and the popular consultations for resolving the issue."
Sudan's information minister, Kamal Mohamed Obeid, said South Sudan was involved in the violence.
During the popular consultations people from Blue Nile overwhelmingly asked for autonomy from Khartoum. The consultations were never held in Southern Kordofan.
Qamar Dalman, an official with the South Kordofan branch of the SPLM, told Reuters that about 14 government soldiers were killed during the clashes in South Kordofan.
"All the civilians had fled the area and the ones who were killed were from the government, not civilians," Dalman told Reuters by telephone.
In Blue Nile, clashes and Sudanese air strikes on Friday forced many people to flee, UNHCR spokesman Peter de Clerq said.
"Between 2,500 and 3,000 people crossed into Ethiopia yesterday morning but the number will have gone up since then," he said.
"In (the town of) al-Damazin there was serious fighting yesterday but we're not sure how many people have left. We understand that significant numbers of people are trying to leave al-Damazin."
UNHCR chief António Guterres appealed for an immediate halt to the hostilities amid reports of escalating displacement.
"We need, at all costs, to stop yet one more refugee crisis in a region of the world that has been witnessing in recent months so much suffering," said Guterres in a statement after visiting conflict and famine-ridden Somalia.
Yasir Arman, secretary-general of the SPLM's northern branch, said eight people had been killed in al-Damazin including two women, a child and four SPLM-N members.
"Many SPLM-North were arrested in al-Damazin and we're not sure of their fate. We're worried because all those who were arrested in South Kordofan were slaughtered by security agents," he said.
Last week international rights groups said witnesses saw Sudanese government soldiers and militia shoot people in the streets and carry out both house-to-house searches and stops at checkpoints using lists of names of SPLM supporters in the South Kordofan state capital Kadugli and other areas.
Some analysts believe the SPLM-North is now politically isolated and needs partners in order to sustain its rebellion.
"(The SPLM-North) are now a rebel group. The only way for them to survive is through insurgency and rebellion until they can negotiate a political settlement," Fouad Hikmat of the International Crisis Group told Reuters.
"They need to sustain this rebellion and therefore need partners in the neighbourhood -- South Sudan and Ethiopia."
The Sudan government declared a state of emergency in Blue Nile state on Friday and said it was replacing elected governor Malik Agar, who is a member of SPLM-North, with a military ruler, SUNA said.
(Additional reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum; Writing by Amena Bakr and Edmund Blair in Cairo; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 03 Sep 2011 09:03 PM PDT
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn prepared to leave the United States on Saturday for the first time since his May 14 arrest on charges, since dropped, that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid in New York.
Strauss-Kahn was seen leaving his luxury rental apartment in lower Manhattan on Saturday afternoon with his wife Anne Sinclair and arriving by car at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Last month, prosecutors took the rare step of requesting dismissal of the charges after they discovered contradictions in the account of the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea.
A New York judge dropped all criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn on Aug. 23, leaving him free to return to France -- where he was once seen as a leading candidate for the French presidency -- and rebuild his shattered career.
The decision ended a case that brought three months of sordid headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.
Strauss-Kahn strongly denied sexual assault from the start. His lawyer Benjamin Brafman told Reuters in an interview after charges were dropped: "This encounter was quick, it was consensual and she was a willing participant."
Strauss-Kahn, who led the International Monetary Fund through the 2007-09 global financial meltdown, resigned from the IMF on May 18.
The charismatic diplomat was pulled from an Air France first-class seat by police 10 minutes before it was to take off for Paris and thrown into New York City's Rikers Island jail on charges of attempted rape.
But the case began to fall apart after prosecutors said Diallo had lied repeatedly.
Strauss-Kahn still faces a civil case brought by Diallo and an accusation of attempted rape by a woman 30 years his junior in France.
He has promised to offer the French an explanation when he returns.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 03 Sep 2011 09:03 PM PDT
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina six years ago, faced a new threat on Saturday from Tropical Storm Lee, which was set to challenge the city's flood defenses with an onslaught of heavy rain.
The storm was expected to bring up to 20 inches (51 cm) of rain to southeast Louisiana over the next few days, including to low-lying New Orleans, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Lee's tidal surge could spur coastal flooding in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama before drenching a large swath of the Southeast and Appalachian regions next week.
The slow-moving storm has bedeviled forecasters. Lee's winds weakened on Saturday night as it meandered northward toward the marshy Louisiana coast at 4 miles (6 kph), after stalling for several hours in the afternoon.
The center of Lee was 50 miles (75 km) west-southwest of Morgan City, with maximum winds of 50 mph (85 kph), the hurricane center said. Lee's winds were expected to stay well below the 74-mph (119-kph) threshold of hurricane strength as the storm crawls ashore on Saturday evening.
New Orleans' extensive levee system has pumped away about 8 inches (20 cm) of rain so far, with isolated reports of flooding in roads and homes. The system can process about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of rainfall per hour, but the storm's slow-moving nature remained a worry, officials said.
"We are not out of the woods," Mayor Mitch Landrieu told a news briefing, noting that hurricane-force gusts had been logged at City Hall. "This storm is moving painfully slow."
The prospect of flooding in low-lying New Orleans evoked memories of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of the city, killed 1,500 people and caused more than $80 billion in damage in 2005. Half the city lies below sea level and is protected by a system of levees and flood gates.
Slivers of sunshine in the afternoon brought some tourists out and drew grumbles from some local businesses that advance reports on Lee may have been overdone.
But Landrieu said stormy conditions could continue for the next 36 hours, warning, "Don't go to sleep on this storm."
No injuries or deaths were reported in Louisiana, but rough waters off Galveston Island in Texas led to the drowning death of a 34-year-old man, an island official said.
The storm could also bring heavy rains and flooding to Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle as it creeps eastward over the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend.
Low-lying parishes around New Orleans saw rising waters, which covered some roadways in Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, but no homes or businesses were threatened. Some residents in Jefferson Parish were ordered to evacuate.
Periodic breaks in the rainfall allowed the city's giant pumps to catch up with the water flow and clear standing water, said Jefferson Parish President John Young.
"Everything looks good," Young told local television. "The pumps are keeping up with the water. We are getting some street flooding."
About 14,000 houses were without electrical power due to the storm, according to utility Entergy Corp.
Over 60 percent of U.S. offshore oil production, all based in the Gulf of Mexico, and nearly 55 percent of offshore gas production were shut as of Friday, according to the U.S. government. Most of that output should quickly return once the storm passes.
Major offshore producers like Royal Dutch Shell
Shell and Anadarko Petroleum Corp
Low-lying refineries in Louisiana that collectively account for 12 percent of U.S. refining capacity were watching the storm closely, but reported no disruptions.
In the open Atlantic, Hurricane Katia weakened to a tropical storm on Saturday and was forecast to wobble back and forth between hurricane and tropical storm strength far from land, the hurricane center said.
(Additional reporting by Erwin Seba and Deborah Quinn Henselin Houston and Jane Sutton in Miami;Writing by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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