UN chief visits C. Africa tomorrow amid tense security situation

A passenger atop a truck on the stretch of road from Bouar to Bangui, in this Oct. 16 photo. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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UN chief visits C. Africa tomorrow amid tense security situation

BAGUI: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to arrive in the Central African Republic on Tuesday, as violence between Muslim and Christian militias has intensified in the past few months.
“This is a gesture of solidarity with the peacekeepers working in one of the most dangerous environments,” Guterres said in an interview with AFP and Radio France Internationale (RFI).
His trip to one of the world’s poorest countries will be his first as part of a peacekeeping mission since taking office on Jan. 1 — but he regularly visited the country as former head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
The secretary general’s visit comes at a time when the UN faces a precarious financial situation, as the US pushes for cost-cutting measures in peacekeeping.
The international body has maintained some 12,500 troops and police on the ground in the Central African Republic since September 2014 to help protect civilians and support the government of Faustin-Archange Touadera, who was elected last year.
Its mandate expires on Nov. 15, 2017 but is expected to be renewed.
For Guterres — whose visit coincides with “United Nations Day” marking the entry into force of the UN charter — “the level of suffering of the people but also the trauma suffered by aid workers and peacekeepers are deserving of our solidarity and heightened attention.”
One of the world’s poorest nations, the Central African Republic has been struggling to recover from a three-year civil war between the Muslim and Christian militias that started after the 2013 overthrow of leader Francois Bozize.
Between 2013 and 2016, acting under a UN mandate, France intervened militarily to push out the Muslim Seleka rebels and the UN launched its MINUSCA peacekeeping mission in 2014 — but the country remains plagued by violence.
Since May, renewed clashes in the southeast have pitted armed groups against each other as they compete for control of natural resources and areas of influence, while claiming to protect communities.
MINUSCA said Friday that at least 26 people were killed during clashes in the town of Pombolo, while another 11 were wounded.
Since the beginning of the year, 12 aid workers and 12 peacekeepers have also been killed — six peacekeepers alone in Bangassou where Guterres is expected to make a stop.
“He wants to go honor the fallen,” a UN source in Bangui said.
Touadera visited Bangassou earlier this week as well in a bid to reassert authority in the southeastern region — where much of the growing unrest has been concentrated.
Guterres’s trip, just weeks before the likely reappointment of MINUSCA, would also send a strong political message amid criticism of the UN mission.
Accused of “passivity” by critics and sometimes even “collusion” with armed groups, UN troops are also facing an avalanche of sexual abuse and rape allegations.
MINUSCA has been hit with the highest number of rape charges of all UN missions, prompting Guterres earlier this year to agree to the withdrawal of a 600-troop contingent from Congo Republic, which had faced several accusations.
About 120 Congolese peacekeepers were dismissed for similar reasons last year.
Guterres will meet with some of the victims and their families as part of his effort to address the damaging allegations, accompanied by Jane Connors, the first UN advocate for victims’ rights.
The conflict has driven more than 600,000 people from their homes internally while an additional 500,000 have crossed borders to become refugees, according to UN figures.
Half of the population, or 2.4 million Central Africans, depend on humanitarian aid.


Philippine police: Gunmen kill 9 people who occupied farm

Updated 1 sec ago
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Philippine police: Gunmen kill 9 people who occupied farm

  • At least two of the victims may have fired back at the attackers because spent pistol and shotgun casings were found in the area
  • The National Federation of Sugar Workers condemned the killings of its members

BACOLOD, Philippines: Gunmen killed nine members of a farmers’ group who occupied part of a privately owned sugarcane plantation in a central Philippine province, police said Sunday.
The victims were resting in a hut Saturday night when about 10 gunmen opened fire, police said. At least four farmers survived the attack at the plantation in Sagay city in Negros Occidental province, which has a history of bloody land feuds.
“There are groups fighting over that land,” Sagay police Chief Inspector Roberto Mansueto said.
At least two of the victims may have fired back at the attackers because spent pistol and shotgun casings were found in the area, Mansueto said.
“Witnesses say they heard only a few initial shots. Apparently the victims were just being threatened,” Mansueto told reporters. “But later there seemed to have been an exchange of fire.”
The National Federation of Sugar Workers condemned the killings of its members, who included four women and two minors. The group said the victims were forced to plant vegetables and root crops to feed their families on idle land that’s covered by the government’s land reform program but remained undistributed to poor farmers.
Two other peasant leaders belonging to the federation were killed in Sagay city last December and in February this year by suspected pro-government forces, the group said. It said that about 45 farmers asserting their land rights have been killed on Negros island under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
Instead of offering an effective land reform program, Duterte’s government “red baits those who assert their rights to the land,” the group said, referring to pronouncements by civilian and military officials linking protesting farmers to communist guerrillas.
There was no immediate government reaction. Regional police chief Superintendent John Bulalacao condemned Saturday’s attack and said everything was being done to ensure the rapid arrest of the killers.
In September 1985, government forces opened fire on protesters, many of them farmers, in Negros Occidental province as they were commemorating the 1972 declaration of martial law by then-President Ferdinand Marcos. Several died in an event that left-wing activists still mark each year.