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Tony Baldry MP – a correction

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One of the more amusing libel threats I’ve had since starting this blog came in 2010, on behalf of Tony Baldry MP, who at the time was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Banbury (he is now Sir Tony Baldry, the Member for North Oxfordshire).

Mr Baldry had taken exception to a blog post I had written about his dealings with a notoriously-corrupt Nigerian politician, James Ibori. So concerned was the Honorable Member that he deployed the services of the media law firm Olswang to make his concerns known. Here’s the “Strictly Private and Confidential” letter they sent to WordPress, cc-ing me.

Since then, James Ibori has been convicted by the UK courts of money-laundering on an epic scale.

Following a Freedom of Information request to the UK Foreign Office, I recently obtained a copy of the letter that Tony Baldry had sent in 2009 to the then Foreign Secretary, in which he raised concerns about the “draconian” freezing of James Ibori’s assets by the UK courts.

Due to a failure of file-format savvy at my end, and a lamentable over-reliance on MS Paint, I had initially thought, wrongly, that the Foreign Office had only sent me the first page of the letter – and wrote a somewhat tetchy blogpost.

In fact, they had sent me the entire thing, barring a couple of redactions.

The letter paints an intriguing picture of Tony Baldry’s work on behalf of James Ibori. Sir Tony has been at pains to point out that he wrote it in his capacity as a barrister, not as an MP. He also insists that he was not “lobbying” on Ibori’s behalf, and that he acted entirely appropriately.

I’m publishing the letter in full here (PDF converted from TIF), so Mr Baldry’s constituents can decide for themselves what they think of their MP’s second-job activities.

Private Eye also have a copy of the letter, and have published their take on it in this week’s edition.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm

VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS OF THE GATUMBA MASSACRE OF BANYAMULENGE REFUGEES IN BURUNDI STILL CRY FOR JUSTICE

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From the peacebuilding group Ubuntu:

VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS OF THE GATUMBA MASSACRE OF BANYAMULENGE REFUGEES IN BURUNDI STILL CRY FOR JUSTICE

Eight years have passed since 164 Congolese citizens were savagely killed, some burned alive, on 13 August 2004. The victims were slayed while under the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi. Hundreds of others were injured. The overwhelming majority of victims – many of them women and children – belonged to the Banyamulenge community. They had sought refuge in Burundi to escape from political oppression in South Kivu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A report dated 18 October 2004 jointly produced by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that the attack was clearly directed against the Banyamulenge refugees and apparently, ethnically and politically motivated. Various sources, including the above UN report as well as a report by Human Rights Watch, compiled credible evidence leaving little doubts over the responsibilities in the massacre. The evidence clearly indicated that the Burundian Forces Nationales de Libération (PALIPEHUTU-FNL), the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), the Congolese army (FARDC) and Mayi Mayi militia were directly involved in the Gatumba massacre.

The UN report asserted that many of these foreign armed groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi border region harbour resentments against the targeted group and others such as FARDC and Mayi Mayi militia may have political motives for preventing the refugees from returning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. PALIPEHUTU-FNL, then a rebel movement led by Agathon Rwasa, openly confessed its responsibility in this massacre. The ideology underlying the commission of the genocide in Rwanda one decade earlier was evident in the perpetration of the Gatumba massacre in August 2004. The UN report documented the fact that the attackers chanted such slogans as “we will exterminate all the Tutsis in Central Africa”; “kill these dogs, these Tutsis”; “today, you Tutsis, whether you are Rwandese, Congolese or Burundian, you will be killed”.

The massacre was widely condemned by several countries from around the globe as well as by supranational institutions such as the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations. Many of them pledged to support endeavours aimed at bringing the perpetrators to justice. The United Nations urged countries in the sub-region to cooperate in investigating the massacre and bringing perpetrators to justice. Eight years after the event, no single step has been taken to deliver justice for the slain and surviving victims of the Gatumba massacre. The uproar that accompanied the commission of the crime has faded and victims face the sad prospect of never seeing justice done. The peculiar circumstances of a crime committed against Congolese citizens, on Burundian territory, by Congolese national army and armed groups reportedly originating from three different or neighbouring countries of the region complicate, if not annihilate any prospects of domestic prosecutions against perpetrators of the crime. Victims are nonetheless still crying for justice. The inaction of Burundian, Congolese and other sub-regional authorities imposes a duty on the international community to get actively involved in delivering on the promise of justice made to them in the aftermath of the crime.

This eighth remembrance of the victims of the Gatumba massacre occurs at a time of revived tensions in eastern Kivu, the homeland of the slayed victims. Sources of the continued tensions include the unresolved socio-political and legal issues including elusive promises of justice and redress. Crimes committed in the DRC over the last decades have claimed numerous victims from the various communities living in the country. All victims deserve justice. Owing to the particular circumstances of the massacre and to the involvement of numerous actors, domestic and international initiatives aimed at delivering justice to the victims generally ignore the victims of the Gatumba massacre. This is evidenced by the non-coverage of the Gatumba massacre in the 2010 UN Mapping Report.

On this eighth remembrance of victims of the Gatumba massacre, UBUNTU notes that since the crime was committed, no active steps have been taken to bring perpetrators to justice. UBUNTU therefore urges:

• The international community to deliver on the promise of justice made to survivors of the Gatumba atrocities in the immediate aftermath of the crime.
• The United Nations to use all appropriate means to bring Agathon Rwasa and other perpetrators of the massacre to justice.
• The Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other sub-regional countries to cooperate in rehabilitating the victims.

For Ubuntu: Dr Felix Ndahinda and Alex Mvuka Ntung

UBUNTU is an organisation created by individuals from eastern DRC for purposes of contributing to initiatives aimed at preventing violence and working towards sustainable peace and conflict resolution in their native land and the wider Great Lakes Region of Africa. UBUNTU membership includes individuals who survived the Gatumba massacre. UBUNTU is one of only few actors who have constantly tried to remind the international community of the unfulfilled promise of justice for victims of the Gatumba massacre. It is an international peace-building and non-profit organization based in Brussels.

UBUNTU – Initiative for Peace and Development
Rue Creuse 60, B-1030 Brussels, Belgium, Enterprise no: 891.545.509, Approved by the
Belgium Royal Decree of 26th.07.2007.

Written by Richard Wilson

August 13, 2012 at 11:22 am

Tory “yoof engagement” gimmicks through history: The National Record of Achievement

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Today’s school gimmick is tomorrow’s grunge album

Reading about the Cameron government’s big post-riot plans got me thinking about one of the crowning youth empowerment programmes of the last Conservative government…

Back in the early 1990s, everyone in my school year got handed a red leather (or possibly sham leather) folder with the words “National Record of Achievement” proudly embossed in the cover.

We were told that this was an incredibly important object that would serve us throughout our future careers as a repository for our many and varied “achievements”, and that the government had decided that every single pupil in the country should get one.

I think I may even have kept my GCSE certificates in it, at least for a while – but amazingly, the state-endorsed predictions about its future utility in my working life turned out not to be correct.

A brief straw poll on Twitter suggests that I may not have been alone in this, eg:

Gaipajama

Gaipajama Found mine in parents’ loft clearout t’other day, funnily enough. The plastic wallets inside had gone all manky.
Naomi Mc
NaomiMcPresume, like most people, my Mum has mine. But I did ghost-write a HILARIOUS intro to it which my form tutor signed.
Jen
JennNiffUrgh, I just remember they smelled really bad. Mine certainly didn’t have a lot of achievement in.. I guess I failed at life.
Rhian Drinkwater
rhian82 Aaaah, we were told they were so important. Everything had to be typed by school, not us, and they filled mine with mistakes.
A.E.D

___insomniac___

I think i still have mine collecting dust somewhere.
Julia
morphosaurusYes, both my husband and I still have ours! A mildly less useful means of storing certificates than an A4 envelope.
Will Why
Skeptobot Still got it. Had to cross country to get it when I had to prove I had a GCSE in maths (despite having a PHD in Astrophysics)
Jim Smith
thejimsmith I refused to bother with mine, much to my teachers’ annoyance. I still have the empty folder.
Joe
RespectMyCrest we were told in yr9 and yr11 they were really important. No one in the real world ever asked to see it
alixmortimer
alixmortimer Lavishly tooled in red plasticky fake leather. Think that was when the “prizes for all” thing really started, not Labour.
Joe
RespectMyCrest chucked mine out a few years ago

Looking at the latest Tory government’s hastily-unveiled plans for fixing “broken Britain” it’s difficult not to wonder how many of today’s initiatives (not least the flagship voluntary, non-military nearly-but-not-quite National Service) will fare any better…

Written by Richard Wilson

August 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm

A bad week for quality control at the Guardian…

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From The Propagandist

This past week, the Guardian published two articles in support of two of the more notorious tyrants in Africa. On December 27, Simon Tisdall argued that human rights groups were unfairly demonizing Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir during the run-up to the South’s January 9th independence referendum, with little consideration of the effect this could have on the new country’s already-tenuous future.Tisdall’s partly right: a country with minimal infrastructure, low literacy, few urban centers, an oil-based economy and a government comprised of former warlords could be a source of instability if major regional actors aren’t on the same page. That includes Bashir, who is currently under an International Criminal Court indictment for genocide, but has accepted a compromise over the oil-rich border region of Abyei and even laid out his vision of a smaller, more centralized North. For Sudan watchers, the fact that Bashir hasn’t taken things nuclear yet is encouraging, but it doesn’t erase a 20-year history of erratic and even genocidal behavior. For Tisdall it does…

Read more

Written by Richard Wilson

January 8, 2011 at 12:27 am

Amnesty International urges the release of Jean-Claude Kavumbagu

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From Amnesty International

BURUNDI: DEMAND RELEASE OF ONLINE EDITOR

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, the editor of a Burundian online news agency, Netpress, has been detained since July after suggesting that the Burundian security forces could not defend the country. He has not been tried and was denied a bail request on appeal in November.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu published an article on 12 July 2010, one day after suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, criticizing the capacity of Burundian security forces to protect the country from a terrorist attack. Somali Islamist armed group, al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the bombings in Uganda. They also threatened to attack Burundi in retaliation for Burundi’s participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s article said that “the anxiety has been palpable in Bujumbura and all those who have heard about [the bombings] yesterday in Kampala were convinced that if the al-Shabaab militants wanted to try ‘something’ in our country, they would succeed with disconcerting ease, [as] our defense and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and kill their compatriots rather than defend our country.” He was arrested on 17 July, questioned without a lawyer, charged with treason, and transferred to Mpimba Central Prison, Bujumbura.

Treason is a crime punishable by life imprisonment and is only applicable under Burundian law in time of war. Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has also been charged with defamation and violating Burundi’s press law. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. His detention may detrimentally impact on the exercise of free expression in Burundi. It could increase self-censorship by other journalists to protect themselves from arbitrary arrest and detention.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s bail request was rejected on 6 September. At the appeal on 9 November, his defence claimed that violating the press law and defamation do not justify preventative detention and that treason is not a valid charge. However, the Appeal Court of Bujumbura confirmed his pre-trial detention on 11 November. As of 6 December, his lawyers had not received a copy of the ruling and were waiting for the trial date to be announced.

Mpimba Central Prison is overcrowded and insanitary and conditions fall well below international standards.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in French, English, Kirundi or your own language:

expressing grave concern that journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been detained on charges of treason and defamation for criticizing the Burundian security services;

urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;

reminding the authorities that, as a state party to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 17 JANUARY 2011 TO:

President

Pierre Nkurunziza, Président de la République, Présidence de la République, Boulevard de l’Uprona, Rohero I, BP 1870, Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 24 89 08

Salutation: Monsieur le Président/ Your Excellency

Minister of Justice and Keeper of Seals

Madame Ancilla Ntakaburimvo

Ministre de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux, Ministère de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux, BP 1880Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 21 86 10

Salutation: Madame la Ministre

And copies to:

The Prosecutor of the Republic

Monsieur Elyse Ndaye

Procureur Générale de la République

Parquet Général

BP 105

Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 27 30 53

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

URGENT ACTION

BURUNDI: DEMAND RELEASE OF ONLINE EDITOR
ADditional Information

Burundi has a vibrant media and journalists continue to criticize the government despite attempts to silence them. The Burundian government has used prolonged pre-trial detention, harassment by judicial authorities and substantive and procedural violations of Burundian law to unduly restrict freedom of speech. Burundi is a state party to both the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression.

The Burundian government is particularly sensitive to criticism of their security forces. Al-Shabaab, a Somali Islamist armed group, has threatened to attack Burundi, as well as Uganda, in retaliation for their contributions to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). AMISOM is a peace support operation mandated to protect the institutions of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. The 11 July bombings in Kampala, Uganda, for which al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, killed 74 people who had come together to watch the World Cup Final, and injured another 70.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested on 17 July by Colonel David Nikiza, the Commander of the Western Region, who presented him with a mandat d’amener (an order calling him before the prosecutor). He was charged with treason defined under Article 570 of the Burundian criminal code as: “any Burundian who, in times of war… knowingly participates in an attempt to demoralize the Army or the Nation, with the object of weakening national defense.” Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has also been charged with defamation (imputations dommageables), under Article 251 of the penal code, and violating Article 50 of the 2003 press law (loi No 1 025 du Novembre 2003 regissant la presse du Burundi).

On 30 July, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was brought before the High Court in Bujumbura (Tribunal de Grande Instance de la Mairie de Bujumbura). His lawyer requested bail, arguing that his pre-trial detention was not prescribed by Burundian law. The court did not rule on the case because one judge had been transferred to another court two days earlier – a move attracting criticism from 10 civil society organizations in a joint communiqué because the judge waited until the trial date to notify the court. The court was forced to wait until September, after the August judicial holidays, to reconvene.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s bail request was finally heard on 1 September. The court ruled on 6 September that Jean-Claude Kavumbagu would be remanded in custody to ensure his availability for the investigation. At the appeal on 9 November, the defence called for provisional liberty claiming that two charges – violating the press law and defamation – did not, under Burundian law, justify preventative detention. The defence stated that if Jean-Claude Kavumbagu were to be charged with treason, the Prosecution would need to declare that Burundi was at war on 12 July. The representative for the Public Prosecutor stated that Burundi had not been at war on 12 July, but that it was for the court to decide. The Appeal Court of Bujumbura confirmed his pre-trial detention on 11 November.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been a prisoner of conscience several times, most recently in 2008 when he was charged with defamation. He alleged that the cost of President Nkurunziza’s trip to see the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics had caused some civil servants’ salaries to be paid late. He was held in pre-trial detention for seven months before being acquitted in March 2009. The Prosecutor appealed the acquittal and the case remains open.

UA: 248/10 Index: AFR 16/004/2010 Issue Date: 06 December 2010

Written by Richard Wilson

December 12, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Biased BBC?

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The Guardian reports that the Culture minister Jeremy Hunt has accused BBC staff of having a left-wing bias, suggesting that  “it was clear to most people that more BBC employees would vote Labour or Lib Dem than Conservative”.

But given that the Tories mustered just 36% of the popular vote at the last election – while the combined Lib Dem and Labour popular vote was 52% – should this really be seen as a surprise, or indeed a serious problem?

If we factor in the detail that just 65% of those eligible to vote (ie. adult UK citizens, themselves a subset of the British/NI population) actually did so, the figures look even worse. In total, just 10.7 million UK residents voted Conservative – little more than a sixth of the total population. By any measure, voting Tory is a niche interest.

To put it another way if the majority of BBC staff were Conservative rather than Labour/Lib Dem voters, this would make the BBC even less representative of the UK at large than it currently is.

If voting Conservative is a niche interest, then so too, in fairness, is voting Labour (8.6 million votes at the last election, or 14% of the UK population) and voting Liberal Democrat (6.8 million votes – 11%). At the last election, the combined vote for all three of the main political parties was 26.15 million –  barely 42% of the population.

There is, perhaps, a case for regarding the BBC as relatively left-wing compared to the bulk of the British press – but then again most UK voters are significantly to the left of the bulk of the British press. At the last election, while just 36% of voters (17% of the total UK population) supported the Conservative party, 7 of out of 11 daily national newspapers backed the Tories .  The Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, Daily Telegraph, Sun, Times and Financial Times all came out for the Conservatives, with just the Morning Star, Independent, Guardian and Mirror supporting Labour, the Lib Dems, or another party.

A more interesting question, it seems to me, is who actually gets given a platform by the BBC, and on what basis, and how much prime air time their views are allotted within political coverage. The ubiquitous Nick Robinson, the BBC’s chief political editor, started his adult life as President of the Oxford University Conservative Association and shows little sign of having changed his allegiances since then. Andrew “don’t mention the denialists” Neil, presenter of the BBC’s “Daily Politics Show”, is the former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times and has a longstanding relationship with the Spectator magazine. The hard-right commentators Fraser Nelson, Andrew Green, James Delingpole and Melanie Phillips appear so often on the BBC’s flagship political panel shows that one wonders if the beeb is operating some sort of quota system…

If anyone knows of any analysis of how such pundits are selected by the BBC, and the overall political weighting of the views represented on Question Time, Any Questions, the Daily Politics, Newsnight, the Moral Maze, the Today Programme etc., I’d be interested to see it.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 12, 2010 at 11:10 am

Posted in Democracy

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Burundi’s FNL Hutu militia mobilising for new “holy war”

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Earlier this week I wrote about my plans for marking the 10th anniversary of the December 2000 massacre in which my sister Charlotte was killed. Today I was sent a UN report suggesting that the group responsible, Burundi’s hardline Hutu FNL militia, are mobilising in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a new “holy war”.

From the Final report of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (page 32), 29th November 2010:

113. During its mandate, the Group has followed closely the remobilization of the Burundian rebel group, FNL. Led by Agathon Rwasa, FNL combatants were either integrated into the Burundian security services or were demobilized in mid-2009. Rwasa was to have been one of the main candidates in the 2010 presidential elections in Burundi, but withdrew from the contest citing concerns over fraud, after FNL and other opposition parties were heavily defeated by the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie party of Pierre Nkurunziza, in local elections held on 24 May. In early July, Rwasa disappeared from Bujumbura.

114. According to multiple credible sources in Uvira, Rwasa crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo north of Kavimvira with the support of Colonel Baudoin Nakabaka (deputy commander of the 10th military region of FARDC) (see S/2009/603, paras. 25-27, 29-31, 33, 39, 70, 73, 80, 150, 159 and annexes 14, 50and 51). According to Congolese intelligence and several local sources, Rwasa was subsequently transported to Bukavu by Nakabaka and stayed with the commander of the 10th military region of FARDC, General Patrick Masunzu (see S/2009/603, paras. 25, 29, 48, 53, 158 and 159). The Group met eyewitnesses who confirmed Rwasa’s subsequent presence in Mwenga, where, according to Congolese intelligence services, he met FDLR representatives to form an alliance. According to diplomatic sources in the region, FDLR and Nakabaka have promised to provide financial backing for FNL.

115. Since Rwasa’s departure from Burundi, FNL has reportedly mobilized an estimated 700 of its most experienced combatants within the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone. According to diplomatic sources and former members of FNL, as at September 2010 there were more than 400 combatants based in the high plateaux of Minembwe, more than 200 in Kiliba, north of the Burundi border, another 100 north of Sange in the Ruzizi plain and an unknown number in Fizi territory. According to the same sources, those forces are led by Antoine “Shuti” Baranyanka, the former chief military commander of FNL. Instead of being integrated into the Burundian army with the rank of lieutenant general, Baranyanka opted to be demobilized in what analysts considered a “reserve option” for Rwasa in case of an adverse result in the Burundian elections (see annex 12).

116. In addition to its alliance with FDLR, FNL has also reportedly joined forces with the Mai Mai Yakutumba of the Bembe community in Fizi territory. According to MONUSCO and diplomatic sources, FNL has benefited from FDLR and Mai Mai Yakutumba’s strategic access to ports commonly used for smuggling across Lake Tanganyika. The Group has learned that, as a result, Rwasa himself has been able to make frequent trips between the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kigoma and Dar es Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania. The Group also obtained documents of ongoing investigations concerning the disappearance of weapons within the FARDC Zone 4 headquarters, commanded by Colonel Bernard Byamungu (see S/2009/603, annex 124). According to FARDC sources, those weapons could have been supplied to FNL.

117. Eyewitnesses to FNL recruitment activities along the Burundi/Democratic Republic of the Congo border informed the Group that FNL was offering 80,000 Burundian francs to new recruits but selecting only those with previous combat experience. This is likely to include sympathizers who have deserted the ranks of the Burundian security services; the Group has confirmed 20 such cases through interviews with FNL defectors. Burundian authorities have attempted to arrest potential candidates crossing into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The highest-ranking officer from the Burundian army to join FNL in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was Major Nzabampema who, according to Burundian intelligence services, survived an ambush en route to joining “Shuti” at Kiliba.

118. In addition, according to sources in the Burundian police and intelligence services, FNL has benefited from the support of Burundian businessmen. Former members of FNL informed the Group that some of the businessmen had provided “Shuti” with over $30,000 in order to begin his recruitment. According to those same sources, when the FNL leadership was negotiating with representatives of the Burundian Government in the United Republic of Tanzania in 2008, one of those businessmen proposed to Rwasa that FNL attack Bujumbura, during which operation he promised to deliver support from soldiers in the Burundian army.

119. In his public statements, Rwasa has explicitly denied that he was involved in a new armed rebellion. However, numerous credible sources informed the Group that Rwasa had made statements to his supporters that this new war would be a “holy war” and would transcend ethnicity. Meanwhile, members of other opposition political parties have also joined the ranks of FNL, including some members of MSD, which commands a strong following among the country’s urban Tutsi youth. While not significant in numbers, FNL does receive some support from its fellow opposition party, the Union for Peace and Development (UPD), led by Hussein Rajabu, who is imprisoned. According to Burundian authorities, a UPD leader by the name of Jean-Petit has joined Rwasa’s new rebellion. According to former FNL sources, Rwasa is exploring ways to finance his movement through involvement in the gold trade.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 2, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Democracy

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