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Egypt military chief reshuffles commanders

18 March 2014, 19:41

Cairo - Egypt's military chief ordered a limited reshuffle in military officers Monday, the state news agency reported, replacing the commander in charge of troops in northern Sinai and parts of the Nile Delta where he has been at the forefront of fight against a spreading insurgency by Islamic militants.

The reshuffle by military chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi also included the replacement of the commander of the southern region, which includes several provinces down to the border with Sudan.

Major General  Ahmed Wasfi was moved from his post as commander of troops in northern Sinai, two provinces along the Suez Canal and three provinces in the Nile Delta, the state news agency MENA said. The area is known as the 2nd Field Army.

Wasfi was appointed head of training for the armed forces, MENA said. He was replaced in his post by his chief of staff, Major General Mohammed el-Shahat. A replacement for el-Shahat in the chief of staff post was also named.

The reshuffle comes amid expectations that the military chief, al-Sisi, is expected to announce his candidacy for president. No date for the vote has been announced yet, but is expected by April. Al-Sisi is widely expected to win if he runs.

Wasfi was the most prominent figure moved in the reshuffle. Often called the "Lion of Sinai" by his supporters, he has been cited in the media in recent months as a possible candidate to join the higher echelons of the military's leadership council.

Dramatic bombings

Appointed head of the 2nd Field Army in the summer of 2012, his forces have been battling Islamic militants who found a haven in northern Sinai amid Egypt's turmoil since 2011. He took the post just before an August 2012 attack in which militants killed 16 soldiers near the border with Gaza and Israel.

The insurgency has escalated since the military's 3 July ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and subsequent crackdown on his supporters. Militant attacks have spread from Sinai, with dramatic bombings in several Nile Delta cities and Egypt's capital, Cairo, largely targeting military and police. Authorities accuse Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood of helping militants find new ground in the northern Sinai peninsula, a claim Morsi and the group deny.

Two military officials familiar with the moves said it is part of a regular reshuffle to include introduce new blood in combat zones. The reshuffle detailed by MENA also included replacing the head of officers affairs, who was appointed as an aide to the defence minister. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the reshuffle.

Also Monday, prosecutors referred the youngest son of Morsi to trial on charges of drug use and possession, an accusation his family dismissed as an attempt to tarnish their image.

Moumin Salman, a prosecutor in the Nile Delta city of Benha, ordered that 20-year-old Abdullah Morsi, a university freshman, and his friend be tried before a criminal court. A date has not yet been set for the trial.

According to police accounts, Morsi's son was arrested with his friend on 1 March after a local patrol became suspicious of a parked car on the side of the road on the east edge of Cairo. After a search, the officers told prosecutors, the police found two rolled hashish cigarettes in their car.

The family said the charges are fabricated and aim to defame Morsi's family. Abdullah's older brother, Osama, told The Associated Press at the time that he had received warnings from officials that members of the family will now be targeted for prosecution.

Escalating violence

The ousted president has been detained since the military overthrew him in July following mass protests against him. He has since been put on trial on several charges, including conspiring with foreign groups, inciting his supporters to murder protesters, and organizing a campaign of violence in Egypt. Thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group to which Morsi belongs, have also been arrested and many are facing trials. But his family has largely been spared the crackdown.

Before he was ousted, Morsi supporters set up two protest camps in the capital— one outside east Cairo's Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque and a smaller one outside Cairo University in the west — where they gathered for nearly two months calling for his reinstatement. Hundreds were killed when security forces moved to break up the encampments in August.

A government-appointed body assigned to investigate the violence during the dispersal said on Monday it presented a final report of its probe into the Rabaah dispersal to the country's interim president, prime minister, top prosecutor and other officials. It demanded an official investigation.

The National Council for Human Rights had blamed Morsi supporters for shooting at police, escalating violence that ultimately led to the death of 624 civilians and eight police officers in the area outside the mosque. But the group also held the security responsible for using excessive firepower and for failing to protect a safe corridor through which it intended the protesters to evacuate.

An activist group has compiled a list of 897 civilians killed at Rabaah, although Morsi supporters insist the toll is much higher. A Muslim Brotherhood-led coalition said the National Council's findings were "a failed attempt" by authorities to get away with the killings.

- AP


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