Project: Mass Graves Found In Sudan Area

KADUGLI, Sudan, Aug. 24 (UPI) — Evidence of mass graves in a Sudanese territory was found Wednesday after the country’s leader called for a unilateral cease-fire in the state, officials said.

The Satellite Sentinel Project, a U.S. operation, said it found evidence of eight mass graves in southern Kordofan territory since June, including two new ones recently in and around Kadugli, the territory’s capital, CNN reported Wednesday.

South Sudan became an independent nation in July. Southern Kordofan is a territory of the Sudanese government that borders South Sudan.

“This report presents more visual evidence and new information by eyewitnesses … of the collection and burial of human remains wrapped in tarps and/or body bags by the Sudanese Red Crescent Society,” Satellite Sentinel Project said in a statement.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir rejected the findings as western-backed propaganda, CNN reported.

Bashir Tuesday called for a two-week, unilateral cease-fire, saying the government would reassess the situation after that.

The report comes after human rights groups raised allegations that Sudanese forces conducted widespread killings in the region this summer. The project has said its evidence was consistent with allegations Sudanese troops and militias “have engaged in a campaign of killing civilians.”

The Satellite Sentinel Project, partially funded by actor George Clooney, is based on the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s analysis of satellite imagery and witness reports, CNN said.

Kurds Lament Assaults On PKK, PJAK

ERBIL, Iraq, Aug. 24 (UPI) — It’s unfortunate that neighbors of the Kurdish region of Iraq are ignoring its interests in favor of military attacks on rebels, the region’s president said.

Iran has thousands of troops deployed along the border with Iraq ostensibly to take on fighters with the Free Life Party of Kurdistan, or PJAK. Turkey is busy fighting the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, along its border.

Both sides have crossed into Iraq during attacks and, in some instances, killed Kurdish civilians during the raids.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, in a message to the Kurdish people, said the presence of rebel forces gave his neighbors “an excuse” to launch attacks inside Iraq.

He said the continued use of violence in the Kurdish provinces will lead to further unrest in the area and won’t allay regional aspirations.

“It is unfortunate that no consideration is given to the interests and welfare of the people of the Kurdistan region,” he added.

Washington said that while Ankara has the right to defend itself, it should keep Iraqi sovereignty in mind. The U.S. military in Iraq has shared intelligence about PKK activity in the country.

“The sooner this fighting ends the better,” the Kurdish president said.

U.S. Institute Of Peace Targeted For Funding Cuts

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 (UPI) — The U.S. Institute of Peace has been a target for elimination from all federal funding by some in Congress but institute officials say the organization saves the government money.

The institute is a small organization created by Congress during the Reagan administration. Paul Hughes, director of USIP special initiatives, calls it an independent, bipartisan conflict management center.

However, critics say it’s an expense the country can’t afford in tight budget times and, if needed, should be handled by the private sector.

The institute works with different government agencies such as the U.S. State Department and U.S. Defense Department to train, write doctrine and suggest policy in dealing with conflict. The focus is to decrease the need — and the cost — for sending troops to wage war or resolve a conflict.

“We reduce the cost to the U.S. government,” Hughes said. “These low-cost approaches save the U.S. government gobs of money.”

But critics say these are skills the agencies should be developing already.

U.S. Rep. Jason Cheffetz, R-Utah, one of the leading opponents, wrote an opinion article for the Feb. 16 edition of The Wall Street Journal with former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., calling on Congress to defund the institute, saying it has cost $720 million since it was created in 1985.

“It has demonstrated an ability to attract dollars from the private sector,” Cheffetz said in an interview. “I would argue that every department and agency should be working on peace. It seems to be a redundancy to have the State Department and the Department of Defense working on the same things.”

But Hughes said the institute isn’t well-known enough on Capitol Hill.

“That’s because we’re small,” he said. “I’m not sure some understand what we do with peace in our title — we’re really about conflict resolutions–– our biggest supporters really are those in the Department of Defense. Those men and women know they’re the ones who pay the cost of keeping peace.”

The Army War College’s Peace Keeping and Stability Operations Institute in Carlisle, Pa., wrote the first strategic doctrine for civilians engaged in peace-building missions in cooperation with the institute. It is meant to provide a road map for helping countries transition from conflict to peace.

“We know how to analyze conflict,” Hughes said.

He cited as an example a situation in Iraq in 2007 that the U.S. Army, the Iraqi military the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development couldn’t fix. A mayor in a district of Baghdad wanted to move goods in to rebuild his district’s economy but he is Shiite and all the farmers were Sunni and they refused to work with this guy, he said.

“We figured out a way to bring them together,” Hughes said. “We were able to do that because the State Department and the Department of Defense lacked the skill sets to make this happen.”

And at a cheap cost, he said.

“We’re budget dust when it comes to the federal government,” Hughes said. “We cost $30 million per year and it costs $40 million for one 40-man platoon in to be in Afghanistan for a year.”

But Cheffetz said there should be competition for this type of work and that during this economic climate, tough decisions about the budget have to be made.

“I think they’ve done some good and decent work,” he said. “I just happen to believe this should be done by the private sector. If the Department of Defense wants to partner with an agency to do this work, they should offer a contract and similar institutions and think tanks should competitively bid.”

The institute is slotted to receive a little less than $25 million in the current appropriations bill, which is in a House appropriations subcommittee. It still needs full House and Senate approval before the institute will know what the 2012 budget will look like.

Iran: Mossad Had Role In Assassination

TEHRAN, Aug. 24 (UPI) — A suspect in the 2010 killing of an Iranian nuclear physicist told a court in Tehran he received support from Israeli intelligence, state media claims.

Massoud Ali Mohammadi, an Iranian physics professor at Tehran University, was killed when a bomb denoted in front of his home as he left for work in January 2010. Tehran one year later said it found evidence that Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, was operating a spy ring in the country.

Ali Jamali Fashi, on trial in Tehran for his alleged role in the assassination, told the court he received around $120,000 from the Israelis for his role in the Mohammadi assassination.

He told court authorities that he made several visits to Turkey to coordinate the assassination with Israelis.

“I met one of the Israeli intelligence agents for the first time in the Turkish city of Antalya,” he was quoted by Iran’s state-funded news agency Press TV as saying. “A high-ranking Mossad official had also met with me two times in Azerbaijan and briefed me on the stages of my trip to Israel.”

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry in January added that it uncovered “very important and sensitive” information about Mossad activity in Europe that was connected to work in the Islamic republic.

EU Has Strong Words For Ukraine

BRUSSELS, Aug. 24 (UPI) — With Ukraine marking an anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union, Europe is reminding that justice and politics must be separated, an official said.

On Wednesday, Ukraine marked the 20th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, in a statement, said he was reminded of Ukraine’s refusal to get dragged back toward totalitarianism. Seven years ago, he added, the country reaffirmed its independence through the Orange Revolution, lead by Viktor Yuschenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Buzek said, however, that democracy is “fragile,” adding recent developments in Kiev suggest more work is needed to reinforce the country’s achievements.

“Recent events, unfortunately, also remind us of the importance of an independent judicial system free of any political influence,” he said.

Tymoshenko is under investigation for alleged corruption stemming from a 2009 natural gas deal with Russia that helped return deliveries to normal. Western allies, as well as her legal team, claim the charges are politically motivated.

Buzek noted that Brussels was committed to its relations with Ukraine.

“However, we will not have a true and strong cooperation between the European Union and Ukraine without a Ukrainian commitment to respect the rule of law and democracy,” he said.

Syrian Rebels Form National Council

HOMS, Syria, Aug. 24 (UPI) — Pro-democracy Syrian rebels formed a national council as state-run media reported 14 Syrians were killed at “the hands of terrorists” in Homs.

At the United Nations, meanwhile, the European Union — with U.S. backing — introduced a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council that would impose a complete arms embargo on Syria and freeze assets of top Syrian officials, including President Bashar Assad, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Opposition members meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, said Tuesday they formed a national council to lead the opposition to Assad’s regime, CNN reported.

“I want the Syrian regime to take note of what happened in Libya,” where rebel forces say they now control the majority of Tripoli, the country’s capital, in their efforts to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi, Syrian National Council member Louay Safi said.

“Those dictators who think that they are above people and above history, [think] they can maintain repression without being called to account. That time is over now,” Safi said. “All nations have the right to live under the rule of law and to experience democracy and free speech and freedom.”

The Assad regime is accused of attacking protesters to crush a pro-democracy movement that arose in the aftermath of similar protests across North Africa and the Middle East in the “Arab spring” of 2011.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday Sheik Omar Mostapha from Idleb province in Syria died from sniper wounds suffered Monday, and Syrian security forces raided communities in Idleb and Hama provinces.

The draft U.N. resolution, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, condemns continued state violence against protesters and alleges government officials may have committed crimes against humanity. The draft also calls for an international embargo on Syrian imports and exports of all weapons and bans training, technical assistance and financing for military purposes.

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said he didn’t think his country would support sanctions. Russia is a key arms supplier to Syria and its exporters would be hurt by an arms embargo.

Syrian-sponsored news agency SANA said 14 citizens died in Homs, reporting they had been kidnapped, tortured and killed by armed terrorist groups.

“My father left home for Homs … but after a long absence, we went to the National Hospital and heard that our father was martyred … at the hands of terrorists,” SANA reported the man’s son as saying.

SANA said footage shown on state-run television showed “the extent of brutality” exhibited by the armed terrorist groups.

Assad has promised to have a dialogue on reforms, but said his forces were protecting Syrians from armed thugs and terrorist groups.

Two wounded military officials said they were attacked Tuesday as they were escorting a U.N. delegation in Homs, SANA said.

“A number of gunmen in a silver Kia Rio car started shooting at us in front of the governorate building,” police officer Ahmad Yehiya Ahmad said.

Georgia Accused Of Preparing Invasion

MOSCOW, Aug. 24 (UPI) — Russia has accused Georgia of preparing an invasion into the breakaway province of South Ossetia under the guise of a Friday peace march.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said more than 3,000 people, mostly displaced Georgians from South Ossetia, have been asked to march into the region to mark the third anniversary of Russia’s decision to recognize the region as independent, The Moscow Times reported Wednesday.

A similar march in 1989, inspired by Tbilisi, ignited a standoff that eventually culminated in an 18-month war and ended with the region claiming independence.

Between 20,000 and 40,000 Georgians took part in the initial rally, the Times said.

Trouble between Russia and Georgia was evident in the Moscow Arbitration Court where a landlord filed suit to evict a group of Georgian diplomats

The Ostozhenka Business Center accused the Georgian diplomatic section of occupying downtown offices without signing a lease or paying for utilities.

Chilean Protester Threatened Via Twitter

SANTIAGO, Chile, Aug. 24 (UPI) — The Chilean Supreme Court ordered the protection of a student protester who received death threats through a social networking Web site, officials said.

The president of University of Chile’s student federation, Camila Vallejo, was placed under police protection after receiving threats through Twitter from a high-ranking culture ministry official, La Tercera reported Wednesday.

The court ordered authorities to protect Vallejo, who used social media to mobilize huge marches for education reform.

Reinaldo Vallejo, father of the student protester, said the courts decision means his family can be in peace until things get back to normal.

The court is taking measures to prosecute the official who sent the message, authorities said.

Thousands of Chilean students and teachers started demonstrations in April for education reform against privatization and for more government investment in public education.

Serbia And Germany At Odds Over Kosovo

BELGRADE, Serbia, Aug. 24 (UPI) — Serbia’s foreign minister said his country has failed to reach common ground with Germany regarding Kosovo.

Vuk Jeremic made the comment following German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Belgrade, Serbia’s B92 reported Wednesday.

Merkel told Serbia it must renew negotiations with Pristina, allow the European Union mission to operate in the entire territory of Kosovo, and abolish parallel institutions in the north.

Serbian Ambassador to Germany Ivo Viskovic said he has reminded Berlin officials they are asking Serbia to establish relations with Kosovo in just two years when it took 20 years for East and West Germany to recognize each other.

Political science Professor Predrag Simic said Merkel apparently delivered the EU’s unofficial stance on Kosovo.

“Merkel’s statements are a clear sign that Europe expects [U.N. Envoy Martti] Ahtisaari’s plan to be implemented in Kosovo and that Serbia is now facing a dilemma — to continue the policy of not recognizing Kosovo or chance the policy if we want to join the European Union,” Simic said.

Nancy Reagan Uninjured After Fall

SIMI VALLEY, Calif., Aug. 24 (UPI) — Former first lady Nancy Reagan was not hurt after she tripped and fell during an event at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., a spokeswoman said.

Reagan was being escorted to her seat and appeared to have lost her balance and fell, KNBC-TV, Los Angeles, reported Tuesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and others helped Reagan, 90, regain her balance and took her to her seat, witnesses said.

Reagan Library spokeswoman Melissa Giller told KNBC Reagan stayed at the event and wasn’t injured. She said the former first lady apparently tripped on a post used for crowd control.