African Union brings Sudan, rebels together for peace talks
The African Union on Wednesday brought together for the first time for peace talks Sudan and insurgents fighting government troops in two states bordering South Sudan, in a conflict that has affected almost a million people.
The project to define the partially disputed border was launched in 2008 and has put down 763 markers, leaving 72 to go by the June deadline, the state-run daily said.
“The project aims to create a shared border of peace, friendship and sustainable development and will also enhance the special relationship, solidarity and comprehensive cooperation between Laos and Vietnam,” it said.
Laos and Vietnam have been close allies since the Indochina War, which pitted the United States military against the two countries’ communist forces.
Peace tartan, inspired by the Dalai Lama, set to appear on the New York catwalk
The World Peace Tartan has been used by the Edinburgh designer Judy R Clark to create a couture outfit, for the Tartan Week showcase, From Scotland With Love.
The tartan will also be worn as a kilt in a catwalk appearance by spiritual leader and political campaigner Arun Gandhi – grandson of Mahatma Gandhi – at next week’s event.
The design is the creation of Victor Spence, co-ordinator of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Scotland last year.
He said: “The Tibetan tradition is to greet someone by placing a white silk scarf, or khata, around their neck. I had the idea that I wanted to welcome the Dalai Lama to Scotland by putting a tartan scarf around his neck.”
Mr Spence, who designed the pale blue tartan himself, will be licensing it for use by others and using the profits for a charity to help Scottish children living in poverty.
Designer Clark, who has worked with Alexander McQueen and designed outfits for chart-topping Scottish singer Emeli Sandé, said she had been inspired to create an outfit with the new tartan.
She said: “I was drawn to the name of the tartan and its striking design. I approached Victor Spence and asked if he would like to collaborate on a piece for the New York show.”
As well as representing the Dalai Lama, Mr Spence has co-ordinated several of Arun Gandhi’s visits to Scotland – which is how the India leader came to be involved.
Mr Gandhi said: “The World Peace Tartan is beautiful.
“Wearing this tartan will be a daily reminder to commit ourselves to working for peace in the world.”
Manila, Muslim rebels begin drafting law that may end conflict
Government representatives and the Philippines’ largest Muslim separatist group began drafting legislation on Wednesday to end 40 years of conflict and set up an autonomous structure to run the poor, but resource-rich, south.
The 15-member Transition Commission has until next year to devise a framework for Bangsamoro, the Muslim-dominated region made up of five provinces and gripped for decades by guerrilla violence.
But its real work can only begin once parallel talks by “peace panels”, due to start in Malaysia next week, are over.
Those talks will put the finishing touches on four annexes to a peace deal - including disarmament issues - signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in October.
Thailand authorities, Muslim rebels launch peace talks
Thai authorities and Muslim separatist leaders on Thursday started peace talks aimed at ending almost a decade of unrest in the country’s far south, as a fresh attack by suspected militants killed three Thai soldiers.
Thailand’s National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanathabutr (above, center) said the first meeting with the rebels led by the National Revolution Front, also known by its acronym BRN, will focus on “developing relationship and trust.” The talks are being held in Malaysia.
PICTURED ABOVE: Sudanese Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein (L) talks to his South Sudan counterpart John Kong Nyuon (R), with former South African President Thabo Mbeki (C) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, March 8, 2013.
Sudan, South Sudan to withdraw forces from buffer zone
Sudan and South Sudan agreed on Friday to order their forces out of a demilitarized border zone within a week, a mediator said, possibly opening the way to the resumption of oil exports from the south.
South Sudan seceded from the north in 2011 after decades of war but border disputes and disagreements over oil pipeline fees have dragged on, delaying much-needed economic development.
The landlocked South shut down its oil production of 350,000 barrels per day more than a year ago during a row over how much it should pay the north to pipe its crude to a coastal terminal for export.
With oil the lifeline of both economies, the move has strained their state budgets, weakened currencies, stoked inflation and worsened economic hardship.
Defense ministers from both sides met on Friday for a new round of talks in Addis Ababa to set up a buffer zone along their frontier.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who chairs an African Union mediation panel, said the two had agreed to order their forces out of the demilitarized zone by March 14.
“D-day is March 10. The agreement calls for immediate orders(for withdrawal) to be issued within d-day plus four days,” he told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital.
The two countries will finish withdrawing their troops from the demilitarized zone by April 5, according to a timetable agreed by both sides seen by Reuters.
The former civil war foes have made a number of agreements about border security in the past, but have failed to implement them.
After teetering on the brink of full-scale conflict in April with the worst border clashes since their split, the two countries agreed in September to set up a buffer zone, which could defuse tensions enough for the South to resume oil output.
But neither side had pulled its army back from the almost 2,000-km (1,200-mile) border due to the mistrust left over from one of Africa’s longest civil wars.
Friday’s talks were the first in nearly two months. Two meetings between Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and South Sudan’s Salva Kiir in Addis Ababa in January failed to break the stalemate.
Animosity runs high between Bashir’s government in Khartoum and his former foes up the Nile in Juba.
Nearly 2 million people died in the north-south civil war, which left South Sudan economically devastated and awash with guns.
Khartoum accuses Juba of backing rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, two Sudan states bordering the South.
The SPLM-North, made up of fighters who sided with the South during the civil war, controls part of the Sudan side of the border, which complicates setting up the buffer zone.
South Sudan has denied supporting the rebels.
Yemeni president in rare meeting with southern separatists
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi met southern separatists for the first time in Aden on Sunday ahead of a conference aimed at drafting a new constitution before elections in 2014, the state news agency said.
Hadi, elected in 2012 after a year of turmoil that drove the U.S.-allied country to the brink of civil war, promised the separatists a fair solution to their grievances ahead of the so-called conference of national dialogue which aims to put the country on the course to full democratic elections next year.
“We have an historic opportunity to resolve all our problems including the most persistent ones via comprehensive national dialogue,” news agency Saba quoted Hadi as telling leaders of the southern separatist movement known as al-Herak al-Janoubi .
Hadi urged them to support the so-called national dialogue conference, scheduled to start on March 18, Saba said. Al-Herak al-Janoubi is a coalition of groups formed in 2007 aiming to restore the southern state that merged with North Yemen in 1990.
Stabilising Yemen, a U.S. ally grappling with al Qaeda militants, southern separatists and northern rebels, is an international priority due to fears of disorder in a land that flanks top oil producer Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes.
A spokesman for the separatists said Hadi gave instructions for 17 southern activists killed during clashes with security forces last month to be considered as martyrs and for their families to be paid 5 million Yemeni riyals ($15,500) each.
“The meeting was positive and all issues were discussed,” said Ali al-Darb, from one al-Herak al-Janoubi faction.
“The president pledged international guarantees and equal representation at the conference,” he added.
But Hussein Zeid bin Yahya, from another faction of al-Herak led by the last president of the Socialist southern state, Ali Salem al-Beidh, said: “The dialogue we want is between two sides, north and south, on the basis of separation.”
Organizers of the conference have already agreed to allocate half of its 565 seats to southern Yemeni parties and groups to persuade them to attend.
The central government has also taken steps to improve conditions in southern Yemen, including restoring property confiscated from locals and rehiring fired state employees.
Many southerners complain northerners based in the capital Sanaa discriminate against them and have usurped their resources. Most of Yemen’s fast-declining oil reserves are in the south, which once was an independent state.
Hadi was elected in an unchallenged vote last year after a power transfer deal that saw former President Ali Abdulah Saleh step down after 33 years in office.
He has promised to restructure the impoverished Arab country’s military, which includes factions loyal to Saleh, but has struggled to contain attacks from al Qaeda and other insurgents which increased during the political chaos.
African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated deal on Sunday aimed at ending two decades of conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and paving the way for the deployment of a new military brigade to take on rebel groups.
Congo’s army is fighting the M23 rebels, who have hived off a fiefdom in North Kivu province in a conflict that has dragged Congo’s eastern region back into war and displaced more than half a million people.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who witnessed the signing in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said he hoped the accord would bring “an era of peace and stability” for Congo and Africa’s Great Lakes, and added that he would soon name a special envoy for the region.
The Great Lakes area, where colonial era borders cut through ethnic groups has in the last 20 years been a crucible of conflict that has launched multiple uprisings and invasions.
“It is only the beginning of a comprehensive approach that will require sustained engagement,” Ban said of the accord, which did not include any representatives of rebel groups.
The agreement was signed by leaders and envoys of 11 African countries, including Rwanda and Uganda, which have been accused by U.N. experts of stoking the rebellion. They deny the accusation.
Speaking after the signing, Ugandan Vice President Edward Ssekandi said the deal could speed up the deployment of a new, U.N.-flagged intervention force to take on the rebels.
“We should be able to fast-track the ongoing consultation so that the force with a robust mandate and capability is put in place,” he said.
African leaders failed to sign the deal last month after a disagreement over who would command the force.
A fresh rebellion launched in May 2012 by the M23 group has brought more fighting and displacement to eastern Congo. In November the rebels seized the provincial capital Goma, but left the city to open the way for peace talks, which are being held in neighboring Uganda.
Those separate talks between Congo’s government and the rebels are aimed at reaching an agreement on a range of economic, political and security issues, including amnesty for “war and insurgency acts”, the release of political prisoners and reparation of damages due to the war.
But the rebels have broadened their goals to include the removal of Kabila and “liberation” of the entire Congo.
Bertrand Bisimwa, M23’s spokesman said he had not read the full details of the Addis Ababa deal, but hoped it would not reignite fighting between them and government troops.
“What I can say is that if they are choosing the way of peace we are fine with that, but if they are choosing to continue the war then we’re against,” he told Reuters.
Uganda’s Ssekandi said the talks in Kampala were now focused on security and that their discussions were so far positive.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila said the talks with rebels would continue, but there was little time left before a March 15 deadline to complete them.
“What we have done in Addis is just a diplomatic measure. The discussions in Kampala will continue but we need to pay attention to the fact that we do not have a lot of time,” Kabila told a news conference in after signing the deal.
Successive cross-border conflicts have killed and uprooted millions in the Congo basin since the colonial era, driven by political and ethnic divisions and competition for vast mineral resources like gold, tin, tungsten and coltan - a precious metal used to make mobile phones.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said Sunday’s deal should not be taken as an end in itself, but as part of continuing peace process.
“At the heart of our efforts, we have to keep in mind the rights, interests and aspirations of the afflicted populations, caught up in the recurring waves of violence,” he said.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, welcomed the agreement and called on the Congo government to build on the deal to restore authority in the east.
In an apparent reference to the role of Rwanda and Uganda, Rice said: “It is equally imperative that the DRC’s neighbors respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity by preventing external support to armed groups, which is a violation of international obligations.”
Theodore Trefon, a regional analyst and author of the book Congo Masquerade, said he believed the Addis agreement and the stalled peace talks in Kampala had failed to look for long-term solutions or tackle underlying grievances which had stoked violence in the region.
“You’re not going to be able to impose peace from above or the outside on people who don’t want peace. Lots of local actors have hidden agendas,” he told Reuters from Brussels.
France is still ready to start pulling its forces out of Mali next month despite a rebel attack on the key northern town of Gao, the French head of the armed force said on Friday.
Admiral Edouard Guillaud (pictured above), chief of the defense staff, told reporters after a speech in Ottawa that he was not surprised by Thursday’s attack in Gao, when 15 Islamists were killed by French and Malian troops.
France’s defense minister had earlier said Paris could start pulling out troops in early March.
Asked whether this was still the plan, Guillaud replied: “This is obviously conditions-based, that’s obvious. But yet, I don’t see any reason not to begin some drawdown.”
France sent troops last month to fight Islamist rebels who had captured the northern half of Mali. There are now around 4,500 French soldiers stationed in the country.
Guillaud, in initial comments to Reuters, blamed Thursday’s attack on the MUJWA group that had held Gao until French forces liberated it late last month. MUJWA is a splinter faction of al Qaeda’s North African wing AQIM.
“It’s simply the continuation of attacks by MUJWA which will probably want to try more attacks in the coming days. It was sadly predictable and the next attacks will fail just like they did yesterday,” he said.
Separately on Friday, five people were killed in two car bomb attacks by Islamists on pro-autonomy MNLA Tuareg rebels in a remote Malian town bordering Algeria, an MNLA spokesman said.
Violence in the north reinforces the risk of French and African forces becoming entangled in a guerrilla war as they try to help Mali’s weak army counter al Qaeda-linked rebels.
Pressed on whether he was worried the attacks meant France would be staying in Mali longer than anticipated, Guillaud replied “No.”
Canada has provided a transport plane to help the mission but says it will not send troops, citing the risk of Mali turning into a prolonged counterinsurgency like the ones seen in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Guillaud said the French operation was going as planned.
“The first phase is nearly finished and that was reconquering Mali on behalf of the Malian government and the international community. The second phase is handing over to the African forces and this is being done,” he said.
The U.N.-backed African military force (AFISMA) has about 3,800 troops on the ground in Mali.
A delayed U.N.-mediated peace deal aimed at ending two decades of conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is due to be signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on February 24, the United Nations said on Saturday.
African leaders failed to sign the deal last month due to the concerns of some countries over who would command a new regional force that would deploy in eastern Congo and take on armed groups operating in the conflict-torn region.
The so-called intervention brigade would be contained within the existing U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, known as MONUSCO.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent out invitations on Friday for the February 24 signing ceremony and intended to travel to Ethiopia for the event, his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said. “All the invited presidents have committed to either be there or delegate power to sign,” Nesirky said.
Rwandan Deputy U.N. Ambassador Olivier Nduhungirehe posted on Twitter that the “African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, Southern African Development Community Chairs, as well as 10 Heads of States of the region will attend the signing ceremony.”
Envoys have said that one of the main reasons the deal was not signed in January was that three countries in the 15-member Southern African Development Community regional bloc - South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique - felt they did not have enough information on the enforcement brigade.
The creation of an enforcement brigade within a U.N. peacekeeping mission is new for the United Nations, according to officials in the world body. Peace enforcement missions allow the use of lethal force in serious combat situations, while peacekeeping operations are intended to support and monitor an already existing ceasefire, diplomats and U.N. officials say.
A new Security Council resolution would be needed to approve the intervention unit and is likely to be supported by the 15-member council, envoys have said.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has made clear that the brigade would fight under the banner of MONUSCO, which means it would be under the same command as regular MONUSCO troops, who conduct patrols and support the Congolese security forces.
But diplomats had said South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique, which are the most likely candidates to supply the several thousand troops of the brigade, believed it should have its own command.
The countries take the view that MONUSCO has not performed well under its current command, such as when it allowed M23 rebels to occupy the eastern city of Goma last year for 11 days before they withdrew.
PICTURED ABOVE: Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir attends a meeting with leaders from South Sudan at the National Palace in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa January 5, 2013.
Sudan, Darfur rebels sign ceasefire in Qatar
The Sudanese government signed a Qatar-sponsored ceasefire with a splinter Darfur rebel group, Sudanese and Qatari state media said, in an attempt to revive a stalled peace process to end a decade-long conflict.
The deal was signed by a group that calls itself the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) but which is a tiny off-shoot of the main rebel group of that name.
News of Sunday’s agreement follows a recent upsurge in fighting in Darfur, a region the size of Spain where rights groups and the United Nations say 300,000 people may have died since the conflict began in 2003.
The government says the death toll is about 10,000.
Qatar brokered a 2011 peace deal between Sudan and the small Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), and hopes the latest accord will inject new life into peace efforts.
The 2011 deal promises development aid from donors including Qatar, which will host an April 7-8 donor conference, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Mahmoud told the official Qatar News Agency.
Qatar hopes the forum will persuade more rebels to join the peace process and choke off support for groups who refuse to lay down their weapons.
A surge in fighting between rebels and government soldiers, as well as between the region’s various tribes, has displaced more than 130,000 civilians since late December, according to the United Nations.
More than 1.4 million people already live in camps across Darfur, according to the U.N.
Diplomats say Western donors will only contribute funds in Doha if security improves in Darfur and if Sudan fulfils its part of the 2011 deal such as co-funding an authority to run the region and disarming pro-government militias.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and other senior Sudanese officials on charges of war crimes and genocide in Darfur - accusations the Sudan dismiss as politically motivated.
Conflict also stalks Sudan’s border with South Sudan, the territory that seceded from the north under a 2011 peace deal that ended decades of civil war in the giant African state.
The two neighbors came close to a return to full-scale war over territory and oil payments when border fighting escalated in April, but they agreed to defuse tensions in September.
On Monday, Sudan released five South Sudanese soldiers it captured last year along their disputed border, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said. Both sides have accused the other of holding an unspecified number of prisoners.
Philippine President travels to rebel stronghold for peace talks
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Monday a final peace agreement with Muslim rebels may be signed next month.
“I think we’re very, very close to agreements on all points,” he said at a Muslim rebel stronghold in the country’s south, where he traveled to launch projects jointly with the guerrillas aimed at improving life in the area and bolstering the prospects of a peace deal.
Aquino said he did not want to give deadlines to the peace process but that he believes a comprehensive agreement can be signed “earlier than the end of March.”
Hundreds of soldiers, police and Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters guarded the ceremony in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao province, where there have been recent battles between troops and insurgents, who were at times suspected to have been aided by al-Qaida-linked extremists.
Under the new projects, Aquino’s government is pledging to provide health insurance, assistance in finding jobs and funding for schools for rebel families.
The 11,000-strong Moro rebel group had been waging a rebellion for self-rule in the south. It signed a preliminary peace agreement with the government on Oct. 15 in a major breakthrough toward ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies.
The accord grants minority Muslims broad autonomy in the south in exchange for ending more than 40 years of violence that has killed tens of thousands of people and held back progress in the resource-rich but poverty-wracked region. It also created a roadmap for a final peace settlement.
The two sides have continued to negotiate over the extent of power, revenues and wealth to be granted to the new autonomous region, to be called Bangsamoro. The rebels have also agreed to dismantle their armed guerrilla forces, possibly with the help of international experts, under an arrangement still being discussed.
Serbia and Kosovo presidents hold rare talks
The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo have met for the first time in talks mediated by the European Union in Brussels to mend their strained ties.
Wednesday’s meeting was characterised as “open and constructive”, by Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, after separate meetings with Tomislav Nikolic, the Serbian president, and his Kosovo counterpart Atifete Jahjaga.
Both “assured me of their continued support and commitment” to EU-sponsored talks aimed at normalising ties since Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
“I reaffirmed the European perspective for both Serbia and Kosovo and encouraged both sides to continue with the efforts needed for further progress towards the European Union,” Ashton said in a statement.
Though no concrete announcements were made, this first top-level meeting marked a significant step in two years of EU efforts to ease tension in the Western Balkans.
The EU is pressing both sides to mend ties, before the bloc moves ahead with Serbia’s bid to join.
“The handshake will be highly symbolic, very important,” said an EU diplomat who asked not to be named.
The meeting comes nearly 14 years after the end of the 1998-1999 conflict between Belgrade and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian separatist guerrillas.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after NATO launched air strikes against Serbian military and police forces accused of trying to purge Kosovo of ethnic Albanians to put down the uprising.
Easing border controls
Belgrade refuses to recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty, which is backed by over 90 countries including the United States and most EU members.
President Nikolic said there was no question of Belgrade “recognising an independent Kosovo”, and that he favoured “a wide institutional autonomy” for ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo.
“If Pristina’s position stays firm, that they are an independent state, then we will hardly reach an agreement,” he told reporters.
The Kosovo leader, a former police commander elected to office in 2011, said that the talks were “the expression of our interest for good neighbourly relations. Our countries benefited, but the whole region as well”.
The prime ministers of the two countries, who hold executive powers, have already met four times in Brussels since October, with Ashton as mediator.
Their next talks are slated for February 22.
The EU-brokered dialogue between the former foes has focused on easing difficulties for people on both sides by easing border and customs’ controls or mutually recognising each others’ university diplomas.
But at stake for Serbia in the longterm are hopes of joining the EU.
Shortly both sides will post so-called “liaison officers” in their respective capitals to boost communication, a key development.
The most sensitive and complex issue is Belgrade’s hope for some autonomy for the Serbs of northern Kosovo, as well as for 80,000 others in enclaves scattered throughout Kosovo.
Eye-catching rickshaws promote peace in Pakistan
Pakistani youth leader Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi has a plan to counter the relentless message of violence spewed forth by radical Islamic groups in his country - and he is stealing a gimmick from the hard-liners’ own playbook to do it.
His weapon: the three-wheeled motorized rickshaws that buzz along Pakistan’s streets carrying paying customers.
Radical Islamists have long used the rickshaws as a canvas to market slogans in support of religious warfare in neighboring India and Afghanistan and to foster hatred against the United States.
Zaidi is turning that strategy on its head with a fleet of rickshaws emblazoned with peace slogans and decorated with colorful designs similar to those found on many trucks and buses in the country.
“We need to take back this romanticized art form and use it for peace sloganeering and conflict resolution,” said Zaidi, head of the Pakistan Youth Alliance.
Pakistan could certainly do with more peace. Domestic Taliban militants and their allies have waged a bloody insurgency across the country in recent years that has killed thousands of people. The nation is also home to many militants who have focused their fight on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and have battled India for control of the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Zaidi chose to begin his “peace rickshaw” project in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, a swirling cauldron of 18 million people wracked by ethnic, political and sectarian violence. Over 2,000 people were murdered last year in the city, located on Pakistan’s southern coast.
The Pakistan Youth Alliance held workshops with over 200 students in some of Karachi’s most conflict-prone areas to come up with designs and slogans for the rickshaws.
Some take common Urdu street expressions, such as “Hey dude, don’t tease,” and give them a peaceful twist: “Hey dude, don’t fight.”
Others cite snippets of Sufi poems, phrases from Islam’s holy book, the Quran, or messages of interfaith harmony: “Respecting other religions brings respect for your religion.”
One of the most direct is: “I’m driving a rickshaw, not a bullet.”
To produce eye-catching designs for the rickshaws, Zaidi’s organization enlisted the help of a truck artist in Karachi, Nusrat Iqbal, a celebrity in his field because he once decorated a bus in London and a tram in Sydney.
With initial funding of nearly $25,000 from a donor who did not wish to be credited, the group has decorated five rickshaws so far and has plans for 50 more in Karachi. It hopes to spread the fleet to Pakistan’s other major cities as it gets more funding.
“I agreed to work on the program because everyone needs to do their part to spread peace and love in the country,” said Iqbal, standing outside his small shop in the middle of a truck yard in Karachi’s dusty and poor Sohrab Goth area.
Hard-line Islamic groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa have long used rickshaws to promote their message, minus the colorful decorations. The group is believed to be a front for a militant organization that carried out attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people.
Many rickshaws in the eastern city of Lahore, where Jamaat-ud-Dawa is based, carry anti-India messages sponsored by the group, such as “War against India will continue until the liberation of Kashmir.”
Jamaat-ud-Dawa pays the drivers about $5 each to carry their slogans, said Zaidi.
The Pakistan Youth Alliance pays about $100 to decorate each rickshaw and is appealing to drivers to participate in the campaign by telling them they will attract more customers.
While buses and trucks across Pakistan are often festooned with flowers, tigers, peacocks and other images made with colorful paint, stickers and metalwork, many rickshaws are relatively unadorned. Iqbal, the rickshaw artist, used similarly eye-catching decorations with a pro-peace twist.
One was covered with white and orange peace symbols, with the words “Peace Not Pieces” painted on the front in English. Another has images of local newspaper articles discussing violence in the country that are overlaid with colorful flowers and slogans preaching peace.
Some have signs that light up at night that say “Aman Sawary,” or “Peace Rickshaw,” along with a steel heart with wings that says “Love, Peace, Tolerance.”
Mohammed Salahuddin, a driver of one of the peace rickshaws, says the campaign has been good for his business.
“People like the design and choose my rickshaw over others when they have a choice,” he said.
Ironically, Salahuddin and another peace rickshaw driver interviewed by The Associated Press couldn’t read the slogans painted on their vehicles because they are illiterate - a common problem in a country where the literacy rate hovers near 50 percent.
Mohammed Younis, a bus driver sipping a cup of tea in the Sohrab Goth truck yard, said he thought the message of peace sent by the rickshaws was vital.
“If people understood the culture of peace, they wouldn’t be killing 50 people every day,” said Younis.
Zaidi said he is also in discussions with Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Sherry Rehman, about possibly putting a peace rickshaw in front of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.
“We know that the rickshaws are not going to solve the problem of violence in Karachi, but hopefully they will play their part in building a culture of peace,” said Zaidi. “On the tree of peace building, we hope they will be a leaf.”
Burma reaches deal with rebels to ease tensions
Ethnic Kachin rebels have reached an agreement with the government of Burma, also known as Myanmar, to ease tensions that have led to bitter combat between them for the past month.
Copies of the statement released by both sides Monday after seven hours of talks in southern China said the Kachin Independence Organization and the government’s Central Peace Committee agreed to de-escalate military tensions, open lines of communication and invite observers to attend their next meeting to be held before end of February.
Like Burma’s other ethnic minorities, the Kachin have long sought greater autonomy from the central government. They are the only major ethnic rebel group that has not reached a truce with President Thein Sein’s elected government, which came to power in 2011 after almost five decades of military rule.