Deux terroristes arrêtés en Algérie avouent "l'imminence" d'autres enlèvements au Sahel
Publisher: AP, The Associated Press
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: Français

ALGER (AP) – D'autres enlèvements seraient "imminents" au Sahel, selon les aveux de deux terroristes de nationalité algérienne, arrêtés il y a une semaine par les services de sécurité algériens dans le cadre de leur enquête sur l'enlèvement des trois humanitaires européens (deux Espagnols et une Italienne) le 23 octobre dans le camp de réfugiés sahraouis Rabouni à Tindouf.

Le quotidien arabophone Al Khabar, citant les services de sécurités algériens, rapporte mardi cette information.

Les services de sécurité ont réussi à démanteler le groupe, composé de 11 membres, dont les deux auteurs des aveux, ayant fourni aide et renseignement aux auteurs de l'enlèvement des trois humanitaires européens, précise cette même source.

Toujours selon les aveux des deux hommes arrêtés, la multiplication des enlèvements d'étrangers au Sahel ces derniers temps est due à "la concurrence féroce entre les trois cellules d'enlèvements" mises en place par l'émir sanguinaire Abou Zeid, à la tête d'une brigade d'AQMI au sud algérien.

C'est la première de ces cellules, composée d'Algériens et dont le chef s'appelle Djaber Mohamed, qui est derrière les trois derniers enlèvements au Sahel, alors que la deuxième cellule, dirigée par des Mauritaniens, se préparerait, elle, à commettre d'autres prises d'otages, ajoute "Al Khabar", toujours en citant les services algériens.

Selon le quotidien, cette deuxième cellule "mauritanienne", dirigée par un certain Gharbi Abou Hadjir, ingénieur de formation et polyglotte, serait responsable des enlèvements au Sahel et au nord du Mali.

La troisième cellule est composée notamment d'éléments non liés directement à Al Qaïda, et ses activité sont coordonnées par l'émir du sud algérien Mokhtar Ben Mokhtar. C'est elle qui avait enlevé l'envoyé spécial du secrétaire général de l'ONU au Niger Robert Fowler, otage d'AQMI pendant plusieurs mois avant sa libération en avril 2009.
 

Biden in Iraq as U.S. withdrawal gathers pace
Publisher: the Washington Post, USA
Author: By Liz Sly,
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: English

BAGHDAD — Vice President Biden flew into Baghdad on Tuesday to mark the end of the Iraq war and the start of a new chapter in the relationship between Baghdad and Washington, as U.S. troops stream out of Iraq to meet the year-end deadline for their departure.

A key focus of Biden's talks with Iraqi leaders will be the thorny question of future military cooperation and how much assistance it will be possible for the United States to continue to provide to the Iraqi security forces given the breakdown of negotiations to keep some U.S. forces here longer, U.S. officials say.

The visit comes as the U.S. military accelerates efforts to meet the Dec. 31 withdrawal date stipulated by the security agreement signed during the George W. Bush administration. The main highway leading south to Kuwait has been clogged for weeks by convoys, and the skies over Baghdad echo nightly with the roar of aircraft flying soldiers home.

With only 13,000 troops now left in Iraq, down from a peak of around 170,000, both Iraqi and U.S. officials say it is unlikely any new agreement will emerge to reverse the ir governments' mutual decision to adhere to the deadline.

"For the moment, the priority for us is to carry out the security agreement of 2008 and to finalize the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq," U.S. Ambassador James F. Jeffrey told reporters.

But Biden will be looking for ways in which the U.S. military can sustain the close relationship it has forged with the Iraqi security forces over the past eight-and-a-half years under the terms of the Strategic Framework Agreement, an accord signed at the same time as the security pact and laying out the terms for cooperation in a variety of fields.

Alongside Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Biden will co-chair a meeting of the Higher Coordination Committee, the body set up to implement the agreement, according to a White House official who briefed reporters on the visit.

The visit heralds "a new phase in our relationship — a long-term strategic partnership across a range of sectors," the official said.

Among the many possibilities being discussed are an expanded role for NATO trainers, joint military exercises both inside and outside Iraq and some form of air cooperation that would address concerns on both sides that Iraq is unable to defend its airspace, Jeffrey said.

"These are all ideas. There is nothing concrete. But the Iraqis are talking to us about them and as time goes on in the weeks ahead we may come to some further decisions," he said.

"There could be various kind of air cooperation, and it gets around the immunity thing as long as people aren't deployed on the ground," he added.

Negotiations on a continued U.S. military presence collapsed last month after Iraq refused to grant immunity from prosecution to U.S. troops who kill Iraqis, something the United States said was essential if American soldiers who stayed here were to be able to defend themselves.

But Iraqi military officials and U.S. commanders say there are still huge gaps in the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces that will not easily be filled. Foremost among those is the lack of an Iraqi air force capable both of defending Iraq's airspace against external threats and of launching the kind of airstrikes that have taken out al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders in recent years.

The Iraqi army has placed more than $8 billion worth of orders for U.S. military hardware, including M1-A1 Abrams tanks and howitzers, in addition to 18 F-16s that won't be delivered until 2015. All require sophisticated training, U.S. officials say.

About 200 members of the U.S. military will remain behind as part of the Office of Security Cooperation Iraq, under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, but it is expected that the bulk of the training will be carried out by civilian contractors provided by the companies supplying the equipment.
 

Les forces syriennes ont tué plus de 250 enfants
Publisher: Le Figaro, France
Author: Delphine Minoui
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: English

Détention arbitraire, torture, viols et même meurtres d'enfants: dans un rapport, les enquêteurs des Nations unies ont recueilli plus de 200 témoignages sur les «violations des droits de l'homme» perpétrées par le régime.

Correspondante au Moyen-Orient.

Interdite d'accès à la Syrie, qui persiste à poursuivre son massacre à huis clos depuis neuf mois, la commission d'enquête internationale de l'ONU s'est appliquée à récolter plus de 200 témoignages de victimes de la répression. Il en résulte un rapport accablant contre Damas, remis ce lundi au Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations Unies et qui risque d'isoler encore plus le régime syrien. Tortures, viols, détentions arbitraires, pressions sur les familles... Les récits qui émaillent ce document de 39 pages sont autant de preuves de pratiques qui relèvent, selon ses auteurs, de «crimes contre l'humanité».

Ainsi des confidences faites par plusieurs soldats déserteurs, torturés dans des conditions abominables incluant d'insoutenables chocs électriques. Ou encore de ces enfants -et c'est là une «spécificité» syrienne- victimes des exactions les plus barbares, au même titre que les adultes. Exemple à l'appui: des adolescents ont été violés devant leurs parents et battus à mort. «Des sources fiables indiquent que 256 enfants ont été tués par les forces gouvernementales au 9 novembre», précise Paulo Pinheiro, qui préside la commission. «Il y a quelques jours, j'ai reçu un message de Syrie me disant qu'on a retrouvé le corps d'un enfant dans un égout à ciel ouvert. Cet enfant avait 8 ans, il a été torturé. Et ses parents se sont vus interdire de faire des funérailles. Il faut imaginer ce que ça veut dire, un enfant de 8 ans, de 10 ans, de 13 ans qui est torturé», raconte, pour sa part, François Zimeray, Ambassadeur pour les droits de l'Homme.

Sanctions financières
Selon l'ONU, la répression du mouvement de contestation par le régime de Bachar el-Assad a fait plus de 3.500 morts depuis la mi-mars. De leur côté, les opposants estiment à au moins 30.000 le nombre de personnes arrêtées en neuf mois. Les autorités syriennes, elles, continuent à imputer les violences à des «groupes terroristes armés» soutenus par l'étranger. Mais dans leur rapport, les enquêteurs n'hésitent à pointer du doigt le noyau dur du pouvoir syrien. «La commission pense que les ordres d'utiliser des armes à feu et de recourir à des mauvais traitements contre les civils entrent dans le cadre de politiques et de directives émanant des plus hauts niveaux des forces armées et du gouvernement», observent-ils.

De fait, la commission appelle la Syrie à mettre un terme aux «violations de masse des droits de l'homme», à ouvrir des enquêtes «indépendantes et impartiales» et à faire passer les bourreaux devant la justice. Elle exhorte également Damas à libérer les prisonniers politiques, à ouvrir son territoire à la presse, aux travailleurs humanitaires et aux observateurs des droits de l'homme. Alors que la Ligue arabe et l'Union européenne œuvrent pour un renforcement des sanctions financières contre la Syrie, les enquêteurs de l'ONU demandent, eux, l'instauration d'un embargo international sur les ventes d'armes à la Syrie.
 

Pressure mounts on Syria's Assad at home and abroad
Publisher: Reuters News Agency
Author: By Erika Solomon
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: English

BEIRUT, Nov 30 (Reuters) – Pressure is mounting on President Bashar al-Assad, with growing foreign condemnation of his repression of the Syrian uprising and attacks by armed rebels that his forces appear unable to stamp out.

European and Arab diplomats told Reuters the top United Nations human rights forum would announce on Wednesday a special Friday session that was expected to condemn Syria for crimes against humanity.

The move is partly designed to put pressure on China and Russia to take a stronger stand against Assad's government.

The 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council's third session on Syria in eight months is being convened days after a U.N. commission of inquiry said Syrian government forces had committed murder, torture and rape in their crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

"This is very much being led by the Arab group. Some Arab ambassadors are at least as concerned as the European Union and United States and possibly more," Britain's ambassador Peter Gooderham told Reuters.

"There is no question that the resolution will be very hard-hitting at the Council's session on Friday," he said. "It is all intended to build up the maximum pressure that the Human Rights Council can apply."

REBEL AMBUSH

Syrian rebel forces ambushed an army vehicle in northern Syria on Tuesday, killing three soldiers and capturing two others, human rights observers said.

"The security forces vehicle was targeted while driving in the city of Saraqeb in Idlib province by a group of suspected army defectors," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.

Government forces later killed a civilian and wounded three others in raids in Saraqeb, it said. In a district of Homs city, an 8-year-old girl was shot dead at a checkpoint.

Two civilians died of their wounds in the area of Rinkous outside Damascus on Tuesday and a 33-year-old man was killed by sniper fire as he tried to escape arrest, the Observatory said.

It said families in the area had been unable to bury seven people killed there since Sunday.

The United Nations report on Monday accused Syria of crimes against humanity in the 8-month-old repression of a revolt in which the U.N. says at least 3,500 have been killed.

Syria's northern neighbour Turkey said on Tuesday it feared there could be an exodus of Syrians if the violence got worse, and that border states might have to create a buffer zone. Russia in contrast warned major powers against interference.

Turkey said it must prepare for "any scenario".

"If tens, hundreds of thousands of people start advancing towards the Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey borders, not only Turkey but the international community may be required to take some steps such as a buffer zone," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview.

Turkey has an 800-km (500-mile) border with Syria. It has said it will selectively impose sanctions announced by the Arab League to avoid harming the Syrian people.

France has raised the idea of a secured humanitarian corridor, a step which would appear to imply some use of armed forces for security and logistics, if camps were set up on Syria's border to accommodate masses of refugees.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said other states should "stop issuing ultimatums" to Assad and drop talk of an arms embargo which he said would favour the rebels.

"We know how that worked in Libya when the arms embargo only applied to the Libyan army, the opposition received weapons, and countries like France and Qatar publicly spoke about it without shame," Lavrov said.

"For the most part, armed groups are provoking the authorities. To expect the authorities to close their eyes to this is not right," said Moscow's veteran top diplomat.

Syria is a major weapons client of Moscow as well as a long-time strategic ally dating back to Soviet times. It also has close ties with Iran.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Andrew Roche)
 

Syrian regime reaches point of no return
Publisher: By Roula Khalaf, Middle East Editor
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: English

Why exert pressure on Syria, bemoaned Walid Muallem, the foreign minister, in one of his recent meandering interventions. The country's crisis, he confidently predicted, was reaching "the beginning of the end".

Many of Mr Muallem's neighbours would agree with part of his statement: this is the beginning of the end – not of the popular revolt now in its ninth month, however, but of the regime itself.

Beyond the toughening rhetoric and the sanctions imposed against Syria by the Arab League at the weekend lies the unspoken assumption in many Arab capitals that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has reached a point of no return.

The objective of the Arab League sanctions announced on Sunday – including travel and airline restrictions, asset freezes on officials and a ban on dealing with the central bank – is to dry up the regime's access to financing.

Most important, however, is the political message sent to insiders and some of the regime's remaining pillars of support, including the merchant classes that have helped keep the main cities of Damascus and Aleppo on the sidelines of the uprising, that it is time to switch sides.

"We've moved to political shock tactics to try and collapse the regime," says Salman Shaikh, analyst at the Brookings Doha Center. "It's an attempt to send clear signals to insiders in the regime that the time is up."

Senior Arab officials insist that the Syrian regime still has a way out if it agrees to end the killings of protesters and to a gradual transition outlined in an Arab League peace plan. Yet few hold out hope for a change of course because an end to the crackdown is likely to provoke even wider protests and lead to the regime's demise in any case.

The Arab League is expected to ask the UN Security Council to adopt the sanctions it has issued, although Russia is likely to block such a measure. There are discussions in the region about creating a contact group with Turkey and European states to co-ordinate Syria policy.

"The Arabs are now preparing for regime change," says Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Middle East centre in Beirut. "A coup is one scenario but the spreading of the unrest is another."

Arab officials warn that the conflict could drag on for many months. "The level of violence will go up," says a senior official. "The Arab moves have emboldened the opposition but there will be more brutality by the regime because it is fighting for survival."

For the Arab world as much as for the Syrian opposition, the best outcome of the pressure would be to trigger cracks within the regime, with senior officers from the Alawite minority from which the regime is drawn turning against the Assad family, which controls the key security agencies. Although the regime has proved remarkably resilient, close observers of Syria say concern over loyalty is leading to the movement of heads of battalions around the country every few weeks.

But part of the dilemma for senior members of the regime is a lack of confidence in the opposition, which has yet to impose itself as a credible alternative, and is dominated by the Sunni majority.

"The Syrian street so far has also not reassured the Alawites and this is another major deterrent for officers to defect," says a Damascus-based analyst, who asks to remain anonymous.

An International Crisis Group report argues that one of Mr Assad's achievements has been to link the fate of the Alawite community to its own by inflaming sectarian sentiment in mixed cities like Homs, where violence has escalated in recent weeks.

The regime distributed weapons and bags of sand to communities long before any threat to them was apparent, leading more Syrians to blame the community for their predicament and provoking "a state of panic" among the Alawites, says the report.

As long as the regime remains united, it will face a rising torrent of international and regional pressure and the conflict will head towards more militarisation and a greater risk of some form of outside intervention.

The Free Syrian Army, a Turkish-based group of defectors, has raised its profile in recent weeks with attacks on regime targets and Colonel Riad al-Asaad, its leader, has called for the establishment of a buffer zone on the border with Turkey.

Ankara has shown no appetite for such intervention but the option of buffer zones, whether on the border with Turkey or Jordan, has already been raised among Arab states.

France, meanwhile, is discussing with European partners the prospect of establishing humanitarian corridors, acknowledging that this would involve armed escorts.

Within the region and beyond, the risk of some form of international intervention appears to be nearing. As Mr Sheikh argues, despite Russia's blocking of UN action, Syria is emerging as a "slow motion version" of Libya, with the various elements of potential intervention gradually coming into place, one step at a time.
 

"Territoire perdu" : les Sahraouis sous la chappe de l'oubli
Publisher: Le Monde, France
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: Français

Il y a trente-cinq ans, lorsque l'Espagne, désormais démocratique, a abandonné ses colonies africaines, le Maroc et la Mauritanie ont tenté de se partager le Sahara occidental. Les populations ont été déplacées par les armes, le mouvement nationaliste qui avait entamé la lutte contre les Espagnols, le Front Polisario, a affronté l'armée marocaine.

Cette histoire est devenue une épopée dans les camps de réfugiés établis en Algérie. On en entend des épisodes, en voix off, au long de ce beau film méditatif. Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd a tourné en noir et blanc et fait parler des acteurs sahraouis du conflit.

C'est très simple : des histoires de mort et de bombardement, au début du conflit ; la misère et l'attente ensuite. A l'image, on voit le désert, les camps, le mur interminable construit par le Maroc pour prévenir les incursions sahraouies.

Et malgré la brièveté du film, on prend conscience de la lenteur avec laquelle s'écoulent ces années interminables. Un temps portés par les derniers ressacs de la vague de libération tiers-mondiste, les Sahraouis n'intéressent plus grand monde en dehors de leur région, à part peut-être les Espagnols.

Plutôt qu'une tentative de briser cet oubli, le film de Pierre Vandeweerd, avec sa forme très définie, presque hiératique, met en scène la vie sous cette chappe d'indifférence.

Film documentaire belge de Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd. (1 h 15.)
 

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