Archive for December 24, 2011

Oil Interests Push China into Sudanese-South Sudanese mire

Posted: December 24, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Economy

(Trevor Snapp/ Bloomberg ) – Workers for the China Petroleum Engineering & Construction Corp. (CPECC), construct new oil facilities near Melut, in the Upper Nile, Sudan, on Nov. 29, 2010.
By , Saturday, December 24, 2011.
JUBA, South Sudan— At a restaurant along the River Nile offering crocodile and ostrich meat, officials of the world’s newest and desperately destitute nation hosted a lunch this month for Liu Guijin, China’s visiting envoy for African affairs.Liu’s visit to Juba, the dirt-track capital of South Sudan, which split from Sudan in July, came at a tense time: Sudan had just bombed a refugee camp, armed militias were mining roads, and troops were clashing in disputed border areas.

The Chinese envoy, however, came here mainly to talk about oil.The Chinese “are very worried,” said Stephen Dhieu Dau, South Sudan’s minister of petroleum and mining, who attended the lunch with Liu. “Their wish is to see the continuation of production and the flow of the crude. This is their concern.”

China, which gets nearly a third of its imported oil from Africa, has invested billions of dollars in the past 15 years to pump crude from this war-scarred land. But the division of what until five months ago was a united country has pushed Beijing into a political minefield in defense of its assets, straining China’s “just business” insistence that it doesn’t get involved in the internal affairs of foreign lands.

China’s involvement revolves largely around the interests of a single company, the China National Petroleum Corp., or CNPC, a state-owned giant that, in its quest to match the global reach of Western oil majors and to feed China’s appetite for fuel, has dragged usually risk-averse Chinese diplomats into one of Africa’s most poisonous feuds.

Across Africa, China is getting tugged into local affairs. In Zambia, China’s involvement in mining — and its close ties to the incumbent president — dominated a September presidential election. China’s man lost. A multibillion-dollar, energy-linked Chinese loan to Ghana caused political ructions there. Leaders in Chad, meanwhile, have been struggling in recent weeks to tamp down public anger over a sudden boost in the price of gasoline produced by a new CNPC refinery near the Chadian capital.

China’s entanglement in foreign nations’ quarrels, however, is perhaps deepest in the desert and bush that flank the Nile. Here, CNPC straddles both sides of a murderously volatile fault line: between Muslim Arabs in the north and black, often Christian Africans who inhabit the south.

Most of the oil lies in the landlocked south, but the only way to get it to market is through Chinese-built pipelines that pass through the north to a Chinese-built terminal on the Red Sea.

When CNPC first took a stake in oil fields here in 1996, China placed all its chips on a brutal regime in Khartoum, selling arms and providing diplomatic cover as President Omar Hassan al-Bashir battled to crush southern rebels. With these same rebels now running ministries in Juba, China is rushing to hedge its bets, offering Khartoum’s foes in the south a package of development aid and low-interest credit that hasn’t been announced but that officials here say could be worth as much as $10 billion

“During the struggle of the people of South Sudan, China took the side of the government in Khartoum,” said Pagan Amum, the secretary-general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM, a rebel outfit during the civil war that is now South Sudan’s ruling party. “But that is history, a troubled history, and we will not allow ourselves to be hostages of the past.”Amum, who got invited to China last month, said that he raised this “difficult past” during a banquet in Beijing at the corporate headquarters of CNPC and that he was assured that the company wants to “sort things out, to heal” and work closely with Juba.

Pursuit of energyIn the vanguard of China’s pursuit of energy and profit overseas, CNPC began looking abroad nearly two decades ago, just as Chinese industry’s appetite for oil started to overtake domestic production. Since then the company has invested in ventures from Peru and Venezuela to Iraq and Kazakhstan.

But nowhere has CNPC poured in so much money and caused itself — and the Chinese government — so many headaches as in Sudan.

China imported more than half the oil it consumed last year, with Africa its biggest source after the Middle East. The country’s largest African supplier by far was Angola, but most of that oil was simply purchased, not produced, by Chinese companies. In the Sudan region, by contrast, CNPC — the dominant partner in foreign consortiums operating there — actually pumped the oil from the ground.

Chinese customs figures show that China imported 92 million barrels of crude from Sudan last year — or 70 percent of Sudan’s total oil exports as reported by the then united country’s Central Bank.

CNPC, thanks in part to its expansion overseas, now ranks as one of the world’s biggest energy companies. Its listed subsidiary, PetroChina, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, has a market capitalization just behind that of ExxonMobil, America’s biggest oil company.

Though largely motivated by profit, CNPC won strong state support for its push into Sudan by presenting this and other investments abroad as a boost to China’s energy security: They reduce China’s dependence on Western oil majors that dominate production in Angola, Nigeria and elsewhere. But they’ve also left Beijing struggling to juggle often-irreconcilable interests.

“They want to be close to us and close to Khartoum. But Jesus said you cannot serve two masters,” said Dau, South Sudan’s petroleum minister. “They have to make a choice. They have to be honest and say who is right. That is what the Bible says.”

China has tried to stay neutral but gets sniped at by both sides. “It’s a dilemma for China,” said Cui Shoujun, director of the International Energy Research Center at Renmin University in Beijing. China “tries to balance the south and the north but hasn’t come up with an effective way to do this.”

Amid escalating tension across a new international border, Amum, the head of South Sudan’s ruling party, traveled to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, last month for talks with officials from Khartoum on pipeline tariffs and other issues. The African Union mediated the negotiations, but China played an active role behind the scenes trying to calm tempers.

When discussions broke down and Sudan threatened to disrupt pipeline deliveries, Amum got a call on his cellphone from China’s ambassador in Juba. The ambassador, Amum said, “is very powerful” and wanted to ensure that oil keeps flowing.

“We talked about threats to our national interest and their national interests,” Amum said.

The Chinese Embassy declined to comment. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing then issued a stern public warning that “China thinks it is crucially important . . . to keep normal oil production.”

Sudan, though a close friend of Beijing for years, still held up China-destined oil shipments for several days. Liu, China’s Africa envoy, rushed to Juba and then Khartoum, warning that oil has to keep flowing “because the consequences of stopping . . . will be disastrous to everyone.” Oil tankers are now being loaded normally again, but the underlying dispute is far from solved.

As the talks with Khartoum collapsed, South Sudan’s Petroleum Ministry summoned CNPC and its partners from Malaysia and India to a shabby hotel conference room in Juba to confront another nettlesome issue: the rewriting of oil contracts.

The ministry says it doesn’t want the companies to suffer financially but does want them to pay attention to matters that the old, Khartoum-drafted contracts largely ignored: protection of the environment, respect for human rights and social responsibility. CNPC officials in Juba, citing the sensitivity of the talks, declined to comment.

Western firms retreat

The deals South Sudan wants reworked date to when CNPC first plunged into Sudan, taking over fields originally developed by the U.S. company Chevron, which, alarmed by mounting violence, had pulled out. Shortly after this, Washington in 1997 imposed economic sanctions on Sudan, which it declared as a “sponsor of terrorism and a relentless oppressor of its minority Christian population.”

As Western companies retreated, CNPC advanced, boosting production and investing in a pipeline to the Red Sea that, in 1999, allowed the first oil exports from Sudan.

Stories spread of atrocities linked to CNPC’s oil wells, including accounts of Chinese-supplied helicopters gunning down villagers as the Sudanese military moved in to clear and secure oil-producing areas. Not all of the accounts were true, but CNPC, steeped in the secretive ways of China’s ruling Communist Party, which appoints the company’s boss, mostly ignored pleas from outsiders for information and access.

By the time Sudan and southern rebels signed a peace accord in 2005 to end Africa’s longest civil war, “China was the devil in the minds of many people here,” said Alfred Sebit Lokuji, an expert in local development at Juba University.

China also came under withering fire from Western human rights activists, who accused it of complicity in Khartoum’s depredations in the western Darfur region and in the south. They called on investors to boycott PetroChina, CNPC’s listed subsidiary, and dubbed the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing “the genocide games.”

When the International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted Bashir on war-crimes charges in Darfur in 2009, Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee and a former CNPC boss who had led the company’s 1990s expansion into Sudan, visited Khartoum to attend the opening of a Chinese-built refinery. He declared himself an “old friend of the Sudanese president.”

Amum, the SPLM secretary-general, said he was assured by CNPC’s boss, Jiang Jiemin, during his trip to Beijing that “if anything bad happened, it was not from them but from the government of Sudan. They said they were not involved in human rights violations.” CNPC in Beijing declined to comment.

China shifts gears

As independence for South Sudan became increasingly likely, China shifted gears, opening a diplomatic mission in Juba and reaching out to the SPLM. CNPC also set about mending fences, funding a computer center at Juba University. When Sudan split in July, the oil company began moving staff members from Khartoum to Juba, setting up offices, a dormitory and a canteen in a cluster of prefabricated huts at a Chinese-run hotel. China’s embassy is in the same compound.

Newly relocated CNPC staff members are shocked by Juba’s primitive conditions. A poster on their office wall warns of “Five Major Hazards” — a list of diseases endemic in South Sudan. But, one staffer noted, at “least they sell beer,” unlike in Khartoum, where alcohol is banned.

South Sudan, which gets 98 percent of its revenue from oil pumped by CNPC-led foreign operators, has tried to woo Chevron, Halliburton and other U.S. oil companies but found no takers, leaving China as its only real economic partner.

“Reality makes us work with people who are not our friends,” said Lual Deng, a southerner who served in Khartoum as petroleum minister before the country split. “We would prefer Western companies, but they are not coming.”

China’s money hasn’t opened all doors. Nihal Bor, the chief editor of the Citizen, a local newspaper, recalled how a Chinese diplomat stopped by ahead of an August visit to Juba by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and offered to pay for the publication of “an interview” with Yang trumpeting Beijing’s friendship. But there was a snag: The paper would not get to see the minister, only to publish an embassy-scripted “interview” in return for cash. “We are not that desperate,” said the editor, who declined the offer.

Amum, the ruling party’s head, though, thinks China’s deep pockets offer the best hope for development in a country bigger than France but with only a few dozen miles of paved roads. China, he says, can help not just the oil industry, but also mining, agriculture and infrastructure. “There are no hard feelings,” Amum said. He has learned how to use chopsticks.

The U.S. Is Committed To South Sudan

Posted: December 24, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan

USA: New efforts are under way to help establish a viable government and lay the groundwork for economic growth.

Photo: AP: Southern Sudanese line up to vote at dawn in the southern capital of Juba, Jan. 9, 2011. (AP)

“A great deal needs to be done to translate the promise of independence into concrete improvements.” — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

South Sudan became the world’s newest independent nation this summer, six years after an historic peace agreement helped end decades of civil war. The United States has been involved in the region over much of that time, first in providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the fighting, then as a negotiator in the peace talks, and as a supporter of the referendum that set the stage for nationhood.

But our commitment to South Sudan didn’t end there, and new efforts are under way to help establish a viable government and lay the groundwork for economic growth. At a recent conference on engagement in South Sudan held in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated our nation’s sustained involvement there.

“A great deal needs to be done to translate the promise of independence into concrete improvements…. We must continue our work together to maintain peace and security, which are preconditions for successful development anywhere.”

At the conference, South Sudanese leaders presented their vision for long-term growth to U.S. and other government officials, along with representatives from non-governmental organizations and the private sector. They made key policy statements regarding plans for government accountability, particularly in managing oil revenue for the South Sudanese and addressing their human capital deficits. They also spoke of how they will create an environment hospitable for private investment.

The United States is helping this transition with a plan developed and approved by South Sudanese leaders as they take the lead role in creating a stable and transparent and accountable government that provides essential services for its people. The U.S. role will include helping the government promote peace building, agricultural-based economic growth and providing services such as public education and primary health care. We will also coordinate closely with others in the international community, including the new United Nations mission working there to preserve peace, safeguard human rights and protect civilians.

Kevin Mullalley directs the U.S. Agency for International Development’s mission for South Sudan in the capital, Juba.

“As the country takes the leadership in its development, we are committed to supporting them in trying to achieve their vision.”

http://www.voanews.com/policy/editorials/africa/The-US-Is-Committed-To-South-Sudan–136163103.html

Related Articles

After Independence, South Sudan Faces Serious Challenges Ahead

Posted: December 24, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan

Refugees wait for food aid to be distributed near the volatile border with the north, in Yida refugee camp in South Sudan, November 16, 2011.

Photo: AFP: Refugees wait for food aid to be distributed near the volatile border with the north, in Yida refugee camp in South Sudan, November 16, 2011.
Gabe Joselow | Nairobi

As the euphoria from a hard-won independence subsides, South Sudan now must turn to face enormous development challenges. Meanwhile, the threat of a return to war and outstanding political and economic tensions with the north remain the darkest clouds hovering over the world’s newest nation.

When South Sudan declared its independence on July 9 of this year, it entered into sovereignty as one of the world’s poorest nations lacking basic infrastructure, industry and health care.

One startling statistic that was frequently quoted by the United Nations and the international media around the time of independence is that a 15-year-old girl in South Sudan has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than of completing school.

South Sudan’s first president, Salva Kiir, presented this sobering reminder of the challenges for the country during his inauguration address.

President of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit (file photo)

AFP: President of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit (file photo)

“All the indexes of human welfare put us at the bottom of all humanity,” said Kiir.  “All citizens of this nation must, therefore, fully dedicate their energies and resources to the construction of a vibrant economy.”

To pull itself out of poverty, the country is calling for greater investment from its international partners.

Kiir recently attended a conference in Washington encouraging businesses and governments to invest in South Sudan.  He said in particular, the country could use more investment in technology, banking and agriculture.

As of now, 98 percent of South Sudan’s revenues are derived from oil exports.  And the country, at its creation, inherited three-quarters of the known oil reserves in the former united Sudan.

Drilling tubing is piled next to the drilling site number 102 in the Unity oil field in South Sudan (2010 file photo).

AFP: Drilling tubing is piled next to the drilling site number 102 in the Unity oil field in South Sudan (2010 file photo).

Speaking at the investment conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned the country’s oil wealth is either a blessing or a curse.

“We know that it will either help your country finance its own path out of poverty, or you will fall prey to the natural resource curse, which will enrich a small elite, outside interests, corporations and countries and leave your people hardly better off than when you started,” said Clinton.

While South Sudan may control oil production, all of the refineries and export capacity are still controlled by Sudan in the north.

The two nations are now in negotiations about the cost of a transit fee that South Sudan will pay to the north for the use of two cross-border pipelines.

Jennifer Christian of the Enough Project says while a transit fee is common practice, the north may be trying to exploit the south.

“The government of Sudan very much would like to see a transit fee imposed on South Sudan and has requested some very, very high numbers, as high as $32 a barrel which is, if you look at quote on quote industry standards throughout the world, this is a very high fee,” said Christian.

The oil dispute spills into other conflicts remaining between the newly divorced countries, including the status of the oil-rich Abyei region.

The northern army overran the region in May of this year, displacing the entire population.

Fighting has also continued between northern and southern forces in other areas including the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile states.  The north as also been accused this year of bombing refugee camps in the south.

Underscoring the threat of a return to war, the chief of staff of the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), General James Hoth Mai, recently told graduates from a military officer’s college in Lakes State that the country is still in a “confrontation stage” with its northern neighbor.  He said the young officers should be prepared if “worst comes to worst.”

But one of the more hopeful developments this year for South Sudan has been the re-engagement of its massive diaspora community.  Many of the young South Sudanese who fled war and found education in other parts of the world, say they want to be involved in building their country.

Lual Dau is the chairperson of the South Sudanese Students Association of Kenya.

“Actually we don’t encourage people to wait because the more you wait the more there is nobody to do it,” said Dau.  “As there is nothing at home I always encourage people, what do you feel as an individual that you will contribute to that empty land. Take your chair that you’re going to sit on, it will be a development. Go and build your tukul [hut] that you’ll be sleeping in, that will be a development. So that is why we encourage everybody to come back home. There is no development without people.”

It was a historic year for South Sudan.  Independence brought pledges of goodwill and good intentions from across the international community.  But now that the celebrations have started to die down, we may finally be able to see if the country can stand on its own feet.

http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/north/After-Independence-South-Sudan-Faces-Serious-Challenges-Ahead-136184563.html

After Independence, South Sudan Faces Serious Challenges Ahead
Voice of America
December 24, 2011 After Independence, South Sudan Faces Serious Challenges Ahead Gabe Joselow | Nairobi As the euphoria from a hard-won independence subsides, South Sudan now must turn to face enormous development challenges. Meanwhile, the threat of a 

Oil interests push China into Sudanese mire
Washington Post
JUBA, South Sudan — At a restaurant along the River Nile offering crocodile and ostrich meat, officials of the world’s newest and desperately destitute nation hosted a lunch this month for Liu Guijin, China’s visiting envoy for African affairs. 

The U.S. Is Committed To South Sudan
Voice of America
12-24-2011 The US Is Committed To South Sudan New efforts are under way to help establish a viable government and lay the groundwork for economic growth. “A great deal needs to be done to translate the promise of independence into concrete improvements 

South Sudan: THE DEMISE OF ATHOR IS A SUBSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE!
Borglobe
Renegade Athor was said to have been intercepted by the SPLA intelligent servicemen on the borders between DR-Congo and the Republic of South Sudan before an SPLA border patrol unit attack him that led to his demise, said Riack Machar. 

Unto Us A Child Is Born
Fox News
By Cholene Espinoza I had planned to spend my Christmas vacation with St. George’s School of Medicine in South Sudan, but instead, South Sudan came to me. I am assisting Fox News Contributor Ellen Ratner with a young blind boy named Ker Deng. 

South Sudan: Africa’s next farming frontier
East African
By CATHERINE RIUNGU (email the author) In yet another development that bringsSouth Sudan closer to the East African Community, the country has become the newest state to join the regional agricultural research network. The world’s newest country was 

South Sudan: Jonglei Governor Tells Communities to Embrace Peace During Christmas
AllAfrica.com
Juba — The Governor of Jonglei State Kuol Manyang Juuk yesterday called upon the Communities of Jonglei State to embrace peace as their pillar during Christmas and beyond. Juuk who was speaking at the National Parliament said that he visited Juba to 

South Sudan seeks food and farmland investments
Business Recorder (blog)
South Sudan hopes to attract investors from Gulf Arab states, Israel, China and fellow African countries to boost production of basic food items, a government official said on Thursday. Created in July after a 2005 peace agreement with Khartoum, 

South Sudan: Public Service Ministry Announces Christmas Holiday
AllAfrica.com
Those who exceed the official date for Christmas designed by the ministry are doing it against civil service regulations and should be answerable. Achiro urged people of South Sudan to use the Christmas holiday to create reconciliation, unity and love 

South Sudan: Wau Court Drops Case Against MP
AllAfrica.com
He pointed that he had defeated those critics during April South Sudanese multi-party elections. “These critics oriented this gentleman against me simply they thought that court was a simple institution that can easily be manipulated on political 

Kenyan passport found on slain South Sudan rebel
Daily Nation
By WALTER MENYA wmenya@ke.nationmedia.com The slain South Sudan rebel leader, George Athor Deng, was masquerading as a Kenyan citizen, military sources in Juba have reported. Athor had been travelling on a forged Kenyan passport (number A1760009) under 

South Sudan: Africa’s next farming frontier

Posted: December 24, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Economy

Cattle herders in Terekeka; Country’s expansive arable land offers great potential. Picture: File

Cattle herders in Terekeka; Country’s expansive arable land offers great potential. Picture: File

By CATHERINE RIUNGU  (email the author)

In yet another development that brings South Sudan closer to the East African Community, the country has become the newest state to join the regional agricultural research network.

The world’s newest country was unanimously accepted to become the 11th member of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (Asareca) during its first general assembly that was held in Entebbe, Uganda, a week ago.

According to Harvard professor, Calistous Juma, who gave the keynote address, South Sudan will play a key role in developing agriculture in the region by providing opportunities to apply the latest technologies on untested ground.

“South Sudan is lucky because it will get started with the latest and best agricultural technologies as it embarks on developing its economic base,” he said adding that since agriculture is the most viable industry the country can tap into and reap substantially because of being endowed with unfarmed soils and plenty of irrigation water from the Nile, it has potential to feed the region and generate more for selling into a food deficit world.

By an interesting coincidence, a young Sudanese researcher who is studying in Kenya at the Kenyatta University’s department of biotechnology Rashar Omer has made history by developing the first drought-resistant maize gene that was unveiled at the conference and named Asareca gene.

Slated for commercialisation in 2018, the gene is being touted by scientists who are excited by the breakthrough as having the potential to finally lead Africa to an agrarian revolution that has evaded the continent for decades.

The gene and the entry of South Sudan were not the only good news coming out of the Asareca assembly. The continent, known for shameful scenes of hunger, malnutrition and starvation is slowly emerging out of the jinx and headed towards becoming the world’s bread basket.

Experts say African scientists are coming up with continent specific research products while the political leadership that has for long shunned agriculture is beginning to lead from the front.

According to Asareca director general Seyfu Katema, 60 per cent of the world’s arable land is in Africa but the continent has failed to mine this potential due to low uptake of technology and poor leadership condemning it to perpetual food shortages.

In the middle of this darkness is emerging a flicker of light. Professor Juma, who is booking a place for himself among world leaders by crusading for a hunger-free Africa says four of the continent’s Heads of State are showing that with the right approach and a growing passion, it can be done.

“I am following and working very closely with presidents who are leading the way with incredible results, and it is their passion that is going to change Africa’s agriculture,” he says citing Guinea’s Lansana Conte, Malawi’s Mbingu wa Mutharika, Ghana’s John Atta Mills and closer home, Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete. “Never in the history of Africa have presidents taken agriculture so seriously as it is in these four countries with amazing results,” he added.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame directly supervises the Ministry of Agriculture.

http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/South+Sudan++Africa+next+farming+frontier/-/2558/1294942/-/lcnmgaz/-/

Thousands visit Bethlehem on Christmas Eve

Posted: December 24, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Socio-Cultural

By DALIA NAMARI | AP – 1 hr 48 mins ago

  • A Christian pilgrim lines up to go inside the Grotto, at the Church of Nativity, believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)A Christian pilgrim lines up to go inside the Grotto, at the Church of Nativity, …
  • A Christian pilgrim prays inside the Church of Nativity, believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)A Christian pilgrim prays inside the Church of Nativity, believed by many to be the …

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Thousands of pilgrims, tourists and local Christians gathered in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem on Saturday to begin Christmas Eve celebrations in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Visitors gathered near the 50-foot (15-meter) Christmas tree at Manger Square Saturday morning taking pictures and enjoying the sunshine.

The main event will be Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, built over the location where Jesus is believed to have been born.

Israel’s Tourism Ministry said it expects 90,000 tourists to visit the holy land for the holiday. Ministry spokeswoman Lydia Weitzman said that number is the same as last year’s record-breaking tally, but was surprisingly high considering the turmoil in the Arab world and the U.S. and European economic downturns.

Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh said he hopes this year’s celebrations will bring Palestinians closer to their dream of statehood. With peace talks stalled with Israel, Palestinians this year made a unilateral bid for recognition at the United Nations and were accepted as a member by UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency.

“We are celebrating this Christmas hoping that in the near future we’ll get our right to self-determination our right to establish our own democratic, secular Palestinian state on the Palestinian land. That is why this Christmas is unique,” Batarseh told The Associated Press.

Bethlehem is today surrounded on three sides by a barrier Israel built to stop Palestinian militants from attacking during a wave of assaults in the last decade. Palestinians say the barrier damaged their economy.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the Roman Catholic Church’s head clergyman in the Holy Land, crossed through a massive metal gate in the barrier, in a traditional midday procession from Jerusalem on Saturday.

“We ask the child of Bethlehem to give us the peace we are in desperate need for, peace in the Middle East, peace in the holy land, peace in the heart and in our families,” Twal said.

The number of Christians in the West Bank is on the decline. While some leave for economic reasons, others talk of discrimination and harassment by the Muslim majority.

Christians have even lost their majority in Bethlehem, where more than two-thirds of the some 50,000 Palestinian residents are now Muslim.

The biblical town was bustling on Saturday, however, with Christian tourists and pilgrims.

“This is my first time in Bethlehem and it’s an electrifying feeling to be here at the birthplace of Jesus during Christmas,” said 49-year-old Abraham Rai from Karla, India.

http://news.yahoo.com/thousands-visit-bethlehem-christmas-eve-083937402.html

North Korea Warns South to Show ‘Respect’ for Kim Jong-il

Posted: December 24, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in World

By

SEOUL, South KoreaNorth Korea urged South Korea on Friday to “show proper respect” over the death of its leader, Kim Jong-il, calling the South’s decision to express sympathy for the North Korean people but not to send a government delegation to Mr. Kim’s funeral next week “an unbearable insult and mockery of our dignity.”

The statement, carried on the official Web site of the North, Uriminzokkiri.com, was the new leadership’s first comment on a South Korean policy since it announced on Monday that Mr. Kim had died of a heart attack last Saturday.

Mr. Kim’s death and the inexperience of his son and heir, Kim Jong-un, have raised anxieties in the region over where North Korea is headed and how neighbors should deal with it. The death of the man regarded by many North Koreans as a patriarch but by the rest of the world as a ruthless dictator is also creating delicate questions of protocol.

“The South’s authorities must think about the grave impact its actions will have on North-South relations,” the North Korean statement said. “Depending on what it does, the relations can thaw or completely derail.”

It said North Korea would open its air and land border with the South to accept all condolence delegations from South Korea. The North would guarantee their safety, the statement said, and it warned the South against blocking such trips.

The statement was another sign that the new leadership in the North, whomever its central members might be, was sufficiently in control to strike a typically strident posture toward South Korea. On Friday, the North Korean media’s zeal to rally support behind the young leader reached new levels, saying North Koreans “will become human rifles and bombs to defend our respected comrade Kim Jong-un with our lives.”

“Under the dying wishes of Comrade Kim Jong-il, we will follow our peerless leader and respected comrade Kim Jong-un to the ends of earth and heaven,” said Rodong Sinmun, the Workers’ Party newspaper.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that coal production had radically increased because miners “rose up heroically, turning their grief into strength and courage.”

In Seoul, Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik, the top policy maker on North Korea, said the South did not plan to revise its decision not to send an official delegation.

A day after Mr. Kim’s death was announced, officials in Seoul and Washington issued coordinated statements. They were careful to direct their “sympathy” or “prayers” to the “North Korean people,” not to the government, in contrast to Beijing and Moscow, which sent official condolences to the authorities in Pyongyang, the capital.

Though Seoul will not send a delegation to Mr. Kim’s funeral on Dec. 28, it authorized visits to the North by the widows of former President Kim Dae-jung, who held a landmark summit meeting with Mr. Kim in 2000, and a former Hyundai chairman, Chung Mong-hun, who had business ties with North Korea.

South Korean officials also said that they would permit condolences to be mailed or faxed by individuals and private organizations, including a foundation named after former President Roh Moo-hyun, who held a summit meeting with Mr. Kim in 2007.

Explaining these decisions, South Korean officials said that while they were careful to avoid any hints of approval for Mr. Kim’s legacy, they wanted to relay hopes for a more productive relationship with the North.

Critics of the South’s approach were not limited to North Korea. Reunification activists said the government should do more. And opponents of reconciliation sent giant balloons to the North that carried messages like “Why send condolences to evil?”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/24/world/asia/north-korea-warns-south-to-show-respect-for-kim-jong-il.html?ref=world

South Sudan: Wau Court Drops Case Against MP
AllAfrica.com
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Fewer to Celebrate Christmas in Sudan After South’s Split

Posted: December 24, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Socio-Cultural

By ISMA’IL KUSHKUSH

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Hanging from the wall of Bishop Ezekiel Kondo’s living room — a few blocks from a silver-coated dome marking the tomb of Sudan’s 19th-century Muslim leader, the Mahdi — are a cross, pictures of fellow clergy members and a photo of him with the former archbishop of Canterbury above a small plastic Christmas tree.

Much has changed for Bishop Kondo, and for the nation, since the holidays last year. Though he presides over one of Sudan’s largest churches, he is more in the minority than ever. South Sudan, with its large Christian population, became an independent nation over the summer, making for a Christmas of mixed emotions.

“This Christmas, since Southern Sudanese have gone, we don’t know what the attendance will be, but I would say people will celebrate with mixed feeling of joy and fear,” said Bishop Kondo, who is the bishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and the former chairman of the Sudanese Council of Churches.

South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in a referendum early this year to separate from Sudan, the culmination of a peace accord to end decades of war and hostilities with the largely Muslim north. But while South Sudanese Christians constituted the majority of what was the Sudanese Christian community, they are not all of them.

“There is an idea that Southern Sudanese have gone, therefore, the church has gone. That is not true,” Bishop Kondo said. “Sometimes, I am asked, ‘When will you go to South Sudan?’ ‘But I’m not from the south,’ I reply!” he said.

Bishop Kondo is from South Kordofan, a state dominated by ethnic Nuba, who are divided between Islam, Christianity and African traditional religions. Fighting erupted there last May between government forces and rebels allied with the party that now governs South Sudan. Thousands fled, including Archdeacon Hassan Sudan.

“I called friends in South Kordofan, and they say they’ve prepared for Christmas but found some difficulties because of security concerns; there were some harassments,” the archdeacon said.

Christian leaders in Sudan have long complained about devastating bureaucracy, discrimination in jobs, restrictions on outreach and the difficulty of constructing churches. Nabil Bolis, 41, a teacher at the Episcopal Savior’s Church in Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city across the Nile, said the annual March for Jesus this year faced challenges.

“We first started the march in greater Khartoum back in 1997, but this year there are more bureaucratic restrictions,” said Mr. Bolis, a nephew of the late Christian Nuba leader Phillip Ghabboush.

More pressing, however, is the expected drop in overseas donations for churches in Sudan now that the larger group of worshipers, administrators and teachers has moved to South Sudan.

“We definitely think this is going to happen,” said Pastor Milla Longa, 49, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Khartoum.

While concerns weigh heavily on the minds of many Sudanese Christian leaders, Bishop Kondo pointed out that Sudanese government officials had expressed a keenness to work with them.

“The Ministry of Religious Guidance and Endowments have approached us to know what the timetable of services and celebrations are this Christmas, to come and congratulate, but to also make sure people celebrate peacefully,” he said. “I think this is a good gesture.”

Safwat Fanous , a University of Khartoum political science professor and a member of the Coptic Church, agrees that the government is still reaching out to Christians to some extent. But he said it was no longer recognizing Christmas as a general holiday, but as a holiday solely for members of Western churches.

“It is important to see government officials continue to participate in Christian celebrations as a sign of religious coexistence,” Mr. Fanous said. “Dec. 25 used to be a public holiday for all; now it will be a holiday only for members of Western churches.”

Tayeb Zein al-Abidin, a professor at the University of Khartoum and a former chairman of the Sudanese Inter-Religious Council, does not think that the Sudanese government will take aim at Sudanese Christians for religious purposes. But it may not “give them the same political considerations” it did when the south was part of Sudan, he said.

“It is a now a matter of numbers, not religion,” he said.

But numbers are also debatable. The Sudanese government puts the new percentage of Christians in Sudan at just 3 percent, a figure Bishop Kondo contests.

“We don’t know how this number was arrived to, but as churches, we are working on this,” he said. “We believe it is closer to 10 to 15 percent now.”

Among the Nuba of South Kordofan, it is not uncommon to find members of the same family who belong to different religions, something that Mr. Bolis believes makes Christmas in Sudan special.

Despite the concerns, a Khartoum Christmas will go on this year.

“We won’t have turkey for dinner, but lamb, groundnuts, dates and baobab juice to drink,” Mr. Bolis said with a smile.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/24/world/africa/fewer-christians-to-celebrate-christmas-in-sudan-after-souths-split.html?_r=1

Fewer to Celebrate Christmas in Sudan After South’s Split
New York Times
Though he presides over one of Sudan’s largest churches, he is more in the minority than ever. South Sudan, with its large Christian population, became an independent nation over the summer, making for a Christmas of mixed emotions.

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