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from MacroScope:

Iran and Japan in focus at Davos

Lots of action in Switzerland today with the annual get-together of the great and good at Davos getting underway and Syrian peace talks commencing in Montreux.

On the latter, few are predicting anything other than failure, a gloom that Monday’s chaotic choreography did nothing to dispel.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon Ban first offered Iran a seat at the table, prompting a threat to pull out by Syrian opposition groups which led to Washington demanding the invitation to Tehran be withdrawn. In the end, Ban did just that.

The release of thousands of photographs apparently showing prisoners tortured and killed by the government reinforced opposition demands that Bashar al-Assad must quit and face a war crimes trial. The president insists he can win re-election and wants to talk about fighting "terrorism."

Davos often yields more heat (even in that cold) than light but there are some eye-catching guests to follow over the next four days with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani topping the list.

from India Insight:

Why is Kashmir upset over choice of new interlocutors?

Shadows of policemen are seen on a road as they signal an approaching car to stop at a security barricade during curfew in Srinagar October 12, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files

Last week, New Delhi appointed three new mediators to find a solution to the decades-old dispute over Kashmir where popular protests against Indian rule have mounted in recent months.

The appointment of the three-member non-political team of interlocutors -- journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and government official M. M. Ansari -- is also aimed at defusing simmering anger in the disputed region.

from FaithWorld:

Korans burnt in West Bank mosque attack blamed on Jewish settlers

beit fajjar 1 (Photos: Burned carpet in mosque above, burned Koran below, 4 Oct 2010/Ammar Awad)

Jewish settlers opposed to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians were accused of setting fire to a mosque in the West Bank on Monday, burning the Koran and scrawling threats in Hebrew on its walls. "Mosques, we burn," said a warning scribbled at the door of the smoke-smudged mosque of Beit Fajjar south of Bethlehem on the day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for cool heads to avert the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks.

The green-carpeted floor of the mosque was burned to a black crust in a dozen places where it was doused with kerosene and set alight at around three in the morning. A dozen copies of the Koran were scorched by the fire.  Palestinians said settlers were behind the attack. "The settlers' message is: terrorize the Palestinian people," said Mohammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who came to inspect the damage and talk to the locals.

from FaithWorld:

Jewish settlers claim biblical birthright to occupied West Bank land

settlers (Photo: Avraham Binyamin builds a sukkah, a ritual booth for the holiday of Sukkot, on the West Bank Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus, September 20, 2010/Ronen Zvulun)

Jewish settler Avraham Binyamin says any Israeli withdrawal from occupied land would be like severing a limb from his body. As one of some 300,000 Israelis living in enclaves built on West Bank land that Palestinians seek for a state, Binyamin expresses a view held by many that the area is a Jewish biblical birthright and must never be relinquished, not even for peace.

"The national being of any people, particularly the Jewish people, is like a body, you cannot give up parts of your body," said Binyamin, 25, a teacher from Yitzhar, a settlement known for its tense relations with neighboring Palestinian villages. The question of settlements has come to the fore at the peace negotiations as a partial freeze on Jewish building in the West Bank ended on Sunday.

from India Insight:

Is Kashmir’s protest leader gaining popularity?

Separatist militancy has waned over the years in Kashmir, but now a radicalised young generation which has grown up in over two decades of violence and strife is driving the massive anti-India demonstrations across the disputed region.

Senior communist leader Sitaram Yechury (R) prepares to shake hands with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the hardline faction of Kashmir's Hurriyat Conference, during their meeting at Geelani's residence in Srinagar September 20, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailWho is leading months of freedom demonstrations in Kashmir, a fresh unarmed uprising that is proving a huge political challenge for the Indian government?

from India Insight:

India offers fresh peace talks to Kashmir

Kashmiri protesters throw stones towards police during an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 4, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailNew Delhi has expressed its willingness to hold talks with "any group" from Kashmir where protests against Indian rule have mounted in recent weeks and government forces have killed at least 65 people, mostly stone-throwing protesters.

The civilian deaths have fuelled anger in the disputed Himalayan region where anti-India sentiments run deep though militant violence has gone down.

from India Insight:

Is New Delhi working on Kashmir solution?

At least 64 people have been killed across Kashmir during anti-India demonstrations, one of the worst outbreaks of unrest since a separatist revolt against New Delhi broke out in 1989.

A Kashmiri protester throws a stone towards police during an anti-India protest in Srinagar August 30, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailFrequent curfews, security lockdown and separatist strikes have kept the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley on the boil, shutting down much of the region for the past two and a half months.

from Tales from the Trail:

Of diplomacy and baseball…

Timing is everything in diplomacy and baseball.

After months of prickly talks aimed at coaxing Israelis and Palestinians into direct peace talks, U.S. envoy George Mitchell finally had news to share.
MIDEAST/
But when the U.S. mediator par excellence took the stage for questions Friday at the State Department, reporters tossed him one out of left field.

"As tempted as I am to ask you about Roger Clemens...," his first questioner began, to chortles from reporters and State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

from Africa News blog:

Darfur – when peace talks cause conflict

It's a well-established fact that peace talks can spark fighting. I remember before every round of doomed peace talks on Darfur since 2003, either the govenment or the rebels would start a tactical military campaign to gain ground ahead of any potential settlement determining what areas their forces controlled. But the violence in the past week in Darfur's camps for 2 million Darfuris displaced by conflict is different. It would be easy to blame the mediation who convinced more than 400 members of civil society to join a Qatari-based peace process which the two main rebel groups are not present at. Some Darfuris after seven years festering in miserable camps decided the rebel leaders were unable to represent the interests of their people and went to make sure their voices were heard. It was their return to the rebel-dominated Kalma Camp in South Darfur housing 100,000 people and the camps surrounding Zalingei in West Darfur sparking the fighting which claimed at least eight lives, injured dozens and drove thousands to flee the camps they had sought refuge in years ago. But to only blame the mediation would ignore the problems they inherited which almost amount to a mission impossible. Rebel commanders have been splitting to form dozens of factions for years disillusioned with their leaders, most of whom were young and inexperienced before being propelled into the international limelight as Darfur's conflict went global. Those factions are drowning in a sea of personal conflicts and individuals' desire for power while the people they went to war to protect are arguably worse off than before the revolt and Darfur has descended into a chaotic, anarchic, violent mess neither Khartoum nor the rebel leaders are able to clean up. International intervention has also worsened divisions. Diplomats say U.S. envoy Scott Gration wanted to find a way to break Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur's hold over the IDP camps. He began to help smaller factions hoping to cut of the head of Nur's support, the diplomats said. The camp violence is just one manifestation of that policy. Nur's stronghold Jabel Marra descending into intra-rebel fighting killing dozens and forcing tens of thousands more to flee this year was another. Talks in Qatar are now solely focused on a new rebel coalition of tiny factions with few forces on the ground albeit with an impressive ex-U.N. Economic Commission for Africa staffer Al-Tijani Sese brought in to lead them this year. Sese, from a leading Fur tribe family, has garnered some positive reaction in the camps, sowing the seeds of dissent against Nur which manifested itself into the violent confrontations in Kalma and Zalingei in July. While the mediation's idea that Sese would help bring the camps on side was based on good faith, the reality alienated the two main Darfur rebel groups and divided the camps. Further impacting the mediation's efforts is the government's continued military action which prompted JEM rebels to walk out of the talks and Khartoum's clear disregard for the only rebel leader who did sign a 2006 peace deal in Abuja, Minni Arcua Minnawi, who has yet to be reappointed to his post as presidential assistant since elections in April. Darfur's peace process has disintegrated into a bewildering mess of conflicting personalities and interests which appears to have sight of the goal of achieving a sustainable peace so those in the camps can go home. Sudanese have a trait often confusing to outsiders. They can be sworn enemies, fighting to the death one minute. But the next day they will breakfast together, cracking jokes over foul (beans). It's all about interaction. But right now Khartoum, the rebels and the Darfuri victims could not be further apart. After seven years of negotiation yielded little progress, maybe the mediation should forget protocol and pomp and allow the Sudanese to approach the talks as only Sudanese can.

darfuridpIt's well-known that peace talks can cause fighting. I remember before every round of doomed negotiations on Darfur since 2003, either the govenment or the rebels would start a military campaign to gain ground ahead of any potential settlement.

But the violence in the past week in the camps that are home for two million Darfuris displaced by conflict is different.

from India Insight:

Of Kashmir’s “staged” killings and south Asian peace process

When the prime ministers of India and Pakistan held talks on April 29 and signalled an unexpected thaw in their frigid relations, troops in Indian Kashmir reportedly lured three civilians to work as porters.

A Kashmiri village girl cries during the funerals of three villagers killed in an alleged fake gun battle by security forces in Nadihal, about 70 km (44 miles) north of Srinagar May 29, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailThe next day, security forces allegedly gunned down three on the Line of Control (LoC) and passed them off as infiltrating militants from the Pakistan side.

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