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Daily Archives: August 28, 2008

Russia reaches out to China as West fumes over Georgia

by Conor Humphries*

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was to meet his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao yesterday, as Moscow looked to bolster support in a diplomatic stand-off with the West over its conflict with Georgia.
Western governments roundly condemned Russia's decision to formally recognise the independence of the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Medvedev was to fly to the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan for talks with Hu on the eve of a regional summit on Thursday that officials have said could address the Georgia crisis.
Stepping up its criticism of Moscow, France said Russia was "outside international law", with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner asserting the European Union "cannot accept these violations."
In a sombre television address on Tuesday, Medvedev announced he had signed decrees recognising the independence of the two regions at the heart of the conflict that erupted this month in Georgia.
The move was seen as cementing Russia's military gains in the Caucasus following the five-day conflict with Georgian forces.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili assailed the Russian move as an "attempt to wipe Georgia from the map" and promised to wage a "peaceful struggle" to win back the territories.
US President George W. Bush called on Russia to reconsider the "irresponsible decision."
But amid a hail of international criticism, Medvedev was unapologetic, saying: "We're not afraid of anything."
"We will do everything we can to avoid" a new Cold War, he said in an interview to French LCI television.
But he added: "If they want relations to worsen, they will get it."
In an unprecedented move for the Kremlin, Medvedev gave a string of interviews to Western media outlets to explain Russia's actions, speaking to CNN, Al Jazeera and the Financial Times among others.
"The most important thing is to defend the rights of the people who live in South Ossetia and Abkhazia," he told BBC, hours after announcing recognition of the two regions' independence.
Medvedev is to join leaders today for the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement, a regional security group dominated by Russia and China that includes four former Soviet Central Asian countries.
The group was set in 2001 as a counterweight to NATO's influence in the strategic Central Asian region.
The Kremlin decision was greeted with bursts of gunfire on the streets of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as locals danced and embraced to celebrate a move many saw as a historic liberation from Georgian influence.
But the response from the West was decidedly icy.
The European Union said it "strongly condemned" the move and a statement from the French EU presidency said the 27-nation bloc would now "examine from this point of view the consequences of Russia's decision."
Bush called on "Russia to live up to its international commitments, reconsider this irresponsible decision, and follow the approach set out in the six-point agreement" that ended the fighting earlier in the month.
Britain's Foreign Minister David Miliband yesterday was due to travel to Ukraine, which critics of Moscow fear is among the most exposed to an increasingly assertive Russian foreign policy.
In his televised address, Saakashvili shot back at Moscow and said his country would step up its campaign to join NATO.
Russia seeks to "break the Georgian state, undermine the fundamental values of Georgia and to wipe Georgia fron the map," he said.
"This is the first attempt in Europe after Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union to put a neighbouring state on its knees and to change the borders of Europe by force," he said.
In a sign of a growing chill with the West, Russia's ambassador to NATO announced Moscow was suspending cooperation with the Western alliance but that it would not pull out of an agreement to help stabilise Afghanistan.
At the heart of the stand-off is Kosovo, whose aspirations for independence from Serbia were supported militarily and diplomatically by the West, but rejected angrily by Moscow.
In "international relations, you cannot have one rule for some, and another rule for others," Medvedev wrote in a commentary in yesterday's issue of the Financial Times.
The international community had warned Russia against recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which broke from Georgia in the early 1990s with Moscow's backing after brief but bloody wars.
Tensions have mounted since Russian forces entered Georgia on August 8 to thwart a Georgian attempt to retake South Ossetia.
France brokered a ceasefire but the US and other Western nations accused Russia of breaching the accord by keeping tanks and troops in Georgia.
The world's second-largest oil producer, Russia is also a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council and plays a central role in efforts to solve global problems such as the controversy over Iran's nuclear programme.




Sudanese plane hijackers surrender in Libya

by Afaf Geblawi*

Two hijackers of a Sudanese plane surrendered to Libyan authorities at a remote desert airport yesterday after freeing all passengers on board, almost 24 hours after the drama began in Darfur.
"The hijackers surrendered without any violence and the crew are safe and sound," a Libyan official said from the airport in Kufra, an oasis in the southeast of the north African country.
The two attackers, who claimed to be from Sudan's conflict-ridden region of Darfur, hijacked the plane on Tuesday shortly after take-off from Darfur's main city of Nyala on a flight to the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
They gave themselves up several hours after negotiations led to the release of all 87 passengers from the Sun Air Boeing 737 which was forced to land in Kufra on Tuesday evening after it ran short of fuel.
But they had initially refused to release the eight-member crew, demanding that the plane be refuelled for a a flight to Paris, an official said.
Libyan state television broadcast footage from Kufra, a World War II-era military airport near the Sudanese border, showing visibly tired but relieved passengers surrounded by Libyan soldiers following their liberation.
"The night was terrifying and difficult. I thank the Libyan authorities for their efforts which allowed us to be freed," a Sudanese passenger told the station.
Another passenger said the hijackers were armed with small calibre pistols.
The passengers, who included women and children, had reportedly been given water but no food and some fainted when the air conditioning failed in the searing desert heat.
The hijackers, who had refused to talk directly with Libyan officials, said they belong to the Sudanese Liberation Army, whose exiled leader Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur lives in Paris, according to airport director Khaled Saseya.
The unnamed Libyan official who announced the surrender of the hijackers said however that the authorities could still not confirm their identities and that an investigation was being launched.
He said a 20-strong Sudanese delegation was in Kufra while a Libyan civilian airline had landed there to take the hijacked plane's passengers to their original destination of Khartoum.
Sudan foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadiq condemned the hijacking and called on the Libyan authorities to deport the "terrorists" to Khartoum.
Libya's civil aviation director Mohammed Shlibaq said that two Egyptian members of the UN-led Darfur peacekeeping force, two Ethiopians and a Ugandan were among the passengers, the official JANA news agency reported.
JANA also said several Sudanese officials had been on board, including the tribal affairs adviser at the Provisional Authority in Darfur Yaqub al-Malik Mohamed Yaqub.
No Darfur movement has publicly claimed responsibility, but Sesaya said the hijackers belong to a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army, whose exiled leader Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur lives in Paris.
The pilot said "the hijackers claim to have coordinated with him (Nur) to join him in Paris," Saseya told JANA.
Nur, whose group was one of two Darfur movements that first rose up against the Arab-dominated government in 2003, denied any involvement while SLA commander Ibrahim al-Hillo suggested the hijackers could be Nur sympathisers.
"We don't have any relation with that hijacking. Civilians, they're angry, they'll behave like that. They may agree with Abdul Wahid but in our structure we have no decision like this to hijack a civilian aeroplane," Hillo said.
The SLA has fractured into multiple groups headed by different field commanders over the more than five years of war in Sudan's western Darfur region.
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million fled their homes since war in Darfur erupted in February 2003. Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.
Ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime and state-backed Arab militias, fighting for resources and power.