- Fearing stark future, Syrian Alawites meet in Cairo
- Congolese warlord arrives at war crimes court jail
- Congolese warlord Ntaganda arrives at ICC's Hague detention centre
Posted: 22 Mar 2013 06:20 PM PDT
AMMAN (Reuters) - Opposition campaigners from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect will meet this weekend to support a democratic alternative to his rule and try to distance the community from wholesale association with the government's attempts to crush a two-year uprising.
The two-day meeting in Cairo, the first by Alawites supportive of the revolt, will draft a declaration committing to a united Syria and inviting the mainstream opposition to cooperate on preventing sectarian bloodletting if Assad falls and agree on a transitional justice framework, organisers said.
As the war takes on an increasingly sectarian bent, severing the Alawite fate from that of Assad could be crucial for the survival of the community, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that comprises about 10 percent of Syria's population.
"The meeting is happening almost two years late, but it will help disassociate the sect from Assad. Every effort is needed now to prevent a wide-scale sectarian bloodbath when Assad eventually goes, in which the Alawites would be the main losers," a Western diplomat said.
At least 70,000 people have been killed since a peaceful protest movement led by Syria's Sunni Muslim majority broke out against four decades of family rule by Assad and his father, members of the Alawite sect.
The demonstrations were met by bullets, eventually sparking a Sunni backlash and a mostly Islamist armed insurgency that is leading some Alawites to fear they have no future without Assad.
Assad has said he is fighting a foreign-backed conspiracy to divide Syria and that the rebel forces are Islamist "terrorists."
A statement by the organising committee of the Alawite conference said: "The regime, which is becoming more isolated and weak, is working on turning sectarian zealotry into bloodshed. There are anti-regime forces also pushing toward sectarian warfare."
"Depriving the regime of the sectarian card is crucial for its ouster and for negotiating a Syrian national covenant on the basis of a modern statehood and equal citizenship and justice," the statement said.
About 150 Alawite figures, including activists and religious leaders, who were mostly forced to flee Syria for supporting the revolt, will attend the conference in Cairo, which will start on Saturday.
Alawites were prominent in a leftist Syrian political movement that was crushed by Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, in the 1970s and 1980s, along with Islamist opposition.
Among prominent Alawites currently in jail is free-speech advocate Mazen Darwish, who worked on documenting the victims of the crackdown against the revolt, and Abdelaziz al-Khayyer, a centrist politician who advocated peaceful transition to democratic rule.
Issam Ibrahim, a lawyer who is helping organise the conference, said the uprising had given the Alawites a chance to show the sect was not monolithic, and that it aspired like the rest of the population to live under a multi-party democracy, while fearing the rise of Islamist extremism.
Ibrahim recalled taking part in a pro-democracy demonstration at the beginning of the uprising in the Sunni district of al-Khalidiya in the central city of Homs when the protesters came under attack by a pro-Assad militia.
"A group of us took refuge in a house, and the house owner, who did not know I was Alawite, began cursing Alawites. When my comrades told him I was one, he came to me and gave me the keys to his house."
"We are in a sectarian crisis and the political forces of the opposition are falling into a serious error by not discussing it," Ibrahim, whose father was jailed for years under the rule of the elder Assad, told Reuters.
He said the document that would emerge from the conference "will affirm Alawite commitment to national unity and inter-communal existence and civic peace," mirroring a stance the sect's leaders took during French colonial rule in the 1920s in opposition to proposals for partition of the country.
"There is an Islamist current that is expanding at the expense of the democratic civic current, which needs to unite," Ibrahim said. "We as Alawites are Syrians first. We are trying to be part of a real change."
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 22 Mar 2013 04:49 PM PDT
KIGALI (Reuters) - A Congolese warlord known as "the Terminator" who is accused of murder, rape and other atrocities arrived at the International Criminal Court's jail in the Netherlands early on Saturday, the court said.
Bosco Ntaganda, who walked off the street and gave himself up at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali in a surprise move on Monday, was flown in a private jet from the Rwandan capital to The Hague after being handed over to the court's custody.
After a 15-year career that spanned a series of Rwandan-backed rebellions in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he will appear in court on Tuesday for the first hearing in a process that could lead to him being put on trial for war crimes.
Ntaganda was most recently a commander in the M23 rebel movement, but his position weakened after the group split in two.
His removal from the conflict creates an opportunity to secure a peace agreement to end the year-old rebellion in a region dogged by conflicts.
Ntaganda's surrender was the first time an ICC suspect had voluntarily handed themselves over to be in the court's custody.
He asked stunned U.S. officials at the embassy to be transferred to the court, where he will face charges of recruiting child soldiers, murder, ethnic persecution, sexual slavery and rape during the 2002-3 conflict in northeastern Congo's gold mining Ituri district.
His whereabouts had been unknown after hundreds of his fighters fled into Rwanda or surrendered to U.N. peacekeepers last weekend following their defeat by a rival faction of M23 rebels in the mineral-rich eastern Congo.
"Bosco thought his choice was the ICC or probable death," said Jason Stearns of the Rift Valley Institute.
VICTORY FOR VICTIMS
Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Ntaganda flew out of Kigali in the custody of ICC officials following cooperation between the Rwandan, U.S. and Dutch governments.
A Reuters witness had seen a blacked-out U.S. Embassy vehicle under police escort drive along the perimeter of Kigali international airport. Shortly after, a private jet took off.
His first courtroom appearance, to confirm his identity, will be on Tuesday morning, the court said in a statement.
With an arrest warrant hanging over him, Ntaganda and his backers were seen as an obstacle to peace between the M23 and the Congolese government that the rival faction had shown signs of warming to.
"Bosco's arrest won't bring peace to the eastern Congo, but Bosco's arrest does spell a victory in the battle against impunity and the dismantling of one of the barriers to a peace process in the country," Stearns said.
The trial of Rwandan-born Ntaganda could prove an embarrassment to the Rwandan government, which has denied charges by a United Nations panel that it backs the M23 rebels.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda might seek to add additional charges related to rebellions that followed the alleged Ituri crimes, analysts said.
Wars in Congo have killed about five million people in the past decade and a half, and many eastern areas are still afflicted by violence from a number of rebel groups despite a decade-long U.N. peacekeeping mission.
"Bosco Ntaganda's arrival in The Hague will be a major victory for victims of atrocities in eastern Congo," said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi and Thomas Escritt and Sara Webb in Amsterdam; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Rosalind Russell and Jon Hemming)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 22 Mar 2013 04:26 PM PDT
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Congolese war crimes suspect Bosco Ntaganda has arrived at the International Criminal Court's detention centre in The Hague, the court said on Saturday.
Ntaganda was flown to the Netherlands from Kigali on Friday after turning himself in at the U.S. embassy in the Rwandan capital earlier in the week.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Jon Hemming)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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