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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Failed Attack by Sudan-Backed FUC Rebels (April 2006)

Chad's president has claimed a victory over attacking rebels, after intense fighting that authorities say has left 350 people dead. But who are the insurgents, and what do they want? Joe Bavier looks into the question.

In the capital, N'Djamena, around 150 men were paraded before journalists in a public square Friday. Chad's government says they are rebel fighters, who were captured during Thursday's fighting in the capital. Chadian officials said the men were mercenaries, allegedly hired by the country's eastern neighbor, Sudan. Chad's president, Idriss Deby, has repeatedly accused Khartoum of backing the rebels.

And on Friday, Chad announced it was severing diplomatic ties with Sudan. Sudan denies giving any support to the rebel group, United Front for Change, known by the French acronym FUC.

Experts say the group's origins are far from clear, but it is believed to include many former members of Chad's army. Rebels began launching attacks late last year along the Sudanese border. In December, a movement, known as the Rally for Democracy and Liberty, attacked the town of Adre in open fighting with the Chad army. Soon after that, the Rally for Democracy and Liberty announced the formation of the FUC, a grouping of nine armed movements with a shared goal: the overthrow of President Deby. Chad has been wracked by civil war, coup attempts and insurgencies for more than three decades. Mr. Deby, himself, came to power in a 1990 coup.

Many of those involved in the FUC have close ethnic ties with Mr. Deby, with some coming from his own ethnic group, the Zaghawa. But Chad expert Richard Barltrop says the motivators in the latest violence are more complex than ethnic rivalries.

"The explanation probably lies more on political and economic factors than tribal and clan," he said. "Certainly, it's true that the Zaghawa aren't monolithic, and, therefore, you should not expect uniform loyalty among the Zaghawa."

President Deby recently pushed through changes to the constitution that allow him to run for a third term in office. The move was criticized by opposition leaders, who have vowed to boycott the polls, scheduled for early May.

And, the FUC has vowed to topple Mr. Deby before the election. Analyst Barltrop says it could be that the president has simply collected too many enemies during his long stint in power.

"Given that Deby has been in power for coming on 16 years now, he will have generated quite enough opponents for political and economic reasons [that have] to do with the share of power and economic positions," he added.

Chad recently became an oil exporting nation, a fact some experts say has raised the economics and political stakes.

Finally, Barltrop says, President Deby's claims that Sudan is backing the rebels should be taken seriously. The president, himself a former rebel leader, toppled his predecessor, Hissene Habre, in 1990, launching a rebellion from Sudan's western Darfur province that most analysts agree was likely supported by Khartoum.

"What's happening now has happened before in Chad," he explained. "It is quite similar to political reversals in the 1980's. The similarity to 1990 is uncanny."

Beginning Sunday, the rebels led an advance, traveling from strongholds in the east, to arrive to within striking distance of N'Djamena late Wednesday. Fighting in the Chadian capital began before dawn Thursday, and lasted several hours, before President Deby claimed a victory for government forces.

The Rest @ VOA

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Darul Hijra Mosque in Rotterdam

Dutch, Young Imams Draw Muslims to Rotterdam Mosque

Dutch, Young Imams Draw Muslims to Rotterdam Mosque
By Nasreddine Djebbi, IOL Correspondent

ROTTERDAM, May 17, 2006 ( - The use of the Dutch language
and young home-grown imams are magnetizing Muslims from diverse ethnic
backgrounds to the Darul Hijra Mosque in Rotterdam.

"Delivering religious sermons in Dutch is the best way to reach out all
worshipers," Abdul-Naser Youssef, the mosque's caretaker, told on Wednesday, May 17.

Hailed the "Dutch Mosque", it has been appealing to the ethnic mosaic of
Turkish, Arab, Asian, Indian, African and Balkan Muslims in the city.
"This mosque in abandoning the usual practice of using national languages in
mosques linked to specific ethnic communities," one worshiper told IOL
inside the pioneering mosque.
Rotterdam has a Muslim population of 80,000 people, almost one eighth of its
population, according to official estimates.
There are also 30 mosques, five Islamic schools and two Islamic universities
in the city.

Home-grown Imams

The mosque, which was established in the early 1990s, is also favored by the
majority of Rotterdam Muslims because of its home-grown imams.
"I came to the mosque one Friday and was delighted to find the imam
delivering his sermon in Dutch," said a Dutch worshiper.

"I never missed a chance to listen to him ever since," he added proudly.
The home-grown imams, well acquainted with Dutch values, have been praised
for their ability to address the concerns of Dutch Muslims.

They have also been credited for attracting young Muslims thanks to their
ability to communicate with them and identify with their problems.

Late 2005, the Dutch government signed a declaration of intent with a local
university to train imams in what the government said was an effort to stem
the need for foreign imams by 2008.

The issue of imams training has recently taken central stage in several
European countries.

Major Swiss Christian groups have put forward a proposal to establish a
government-supervised institute to educate imams on the "liberal" lifestyle
in western societies.

German integration minister Marieluise Beck has also released a 20-point
strategy recommending that imams coming to Germany should have knowledge of
the language and society.
Multiple Services

The Darul Hijra Mosque is championing a series of activities to promote
integration and educate Dutch Muslims about their faith.

"Daily and weekly lessons are organized to teach Dutch Muslims the Arabic
language," Youssef said.

It plans to organize trips for Muslim reverts to visit a number of Muslims
countries to have a hands-on experience of Muslim culture and traditions.

The mosque has also taken part in a series of know-Islam seminars with
non-Muslim Dutch bodies.

It has further organized a three-day workshop for non-Muslim religious
teachers to acquaint them with Islam.

The Darul Hijra Mosque has launched a website to serve the Muslim minority
as well as familiarize non-Muslims with Islam.

"Young Muslims have decided to launch the website to promote communication
with non-Muslims," Jacob Van Der Blom, a Muslim activist helping with the
website, told IOL.

Muslims make up one million of the Netherlands's 16 million population.
There are more than 300 mosques, 1000 Islamic cultural centers, two Islamic
universities and 42 preparatory schools in the country.

The Rest @