Afghanistan, Pakistan agree on cease-fire after border clashes

In this file photo, a soldier stands guard along the border fence outside the Kitton outpost on the border with Afghanistan in North Waziristan, Pakistan Oct. 18, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 April 2018
0

Afghanistan, Pakistan agree on cease-fire after border clashes

  • Bodies of deceased Pakistani soldiers handed over
  • Fencing of Pakistan-Afghanistan border angers Afghan locals

KABUL: Afghan and Pakistani forces observed a cease-fire on Monday after clashes that killed several people on the Durand Line, the disputed border between the neighbors.
Sunday’s clashes erupted after Pakistani troops began building installations in remote mountainous areas close to Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, Afghan government officials said.
The move by Pakistan sparked armed resistance from locals in Khost who were later joined by security forces, resulting in an exchange of artillery and heavy fire that killed at least three Pakistani soldiers and two Afghan civilians, the officials added. 
“There was sporadic artillery fire last night but it’s calm now,” Kamal Nasir Osoli, a lawmaker from Khost, told Arab News on Monday. “Based on an agreement between the two countries, there’s a cease-fire for now.” 
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Radmanesh confirmed news of the truce, saying: “Pakistan had vowed that there will be no repeat of clashes again in the region.”
The bodies of the deceased Pakistani soldiers were “honorably handed over,” he said, adding that the clashes happened in three areas.
Afghan and Pakistani forces in recent years have clashed on many occasions in various parts of the Durand Line drawn by Britain, which ruled the region in the 19th century, leading to the separation of hundreds of thousands of people from their relatives and tribes. 
Unlike Islamabad, successive Afghan governments have not recognized the line as an international border. The fencing of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has angered Afghan locals and Kabul.
Afghanistan has repeatedly accused Pakistan of shelling and firing rockets at eastern regions, including Khost. Islamabad says it targets those involved in cross-border terrorist activities.
The latest clashes in Khost came less than two weeks after the visit by Pakistan’s prime minister to Kabul, at the invitation of the Afghan government, to start a new chapter in their relations.


Doubts over Rohingya repatriation as none wants to return

Updated 11 min 32 sec ago
0

Doubts over Rohingya repatriation as none wants to return

  • ‘None of the 50 families interviewed expressed their willingness to go back under the present circumstances’
  • ‘We cannot force them to go back against their will’
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: Doubts over plans to begin repatriating the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled Myanmar last year escalated Thursday as Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner said none wanted to return and that they would not be forced to go.
Terrified refugees, who arrived in Bangladesh with testimony of murder, rape and arson after they escaped a military crackdown last year, went into hiding as authorities insisted they would proceed despite UN warnings.
But Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner cast doubt on whether the plan to send the first batch of 150, from a preliminary 2,260 slated for return, could go ahead as scheduled Thursday.
“According to the UNHCR voluntariness assessment, none of the 50 families interviewed expressed their willingness to go back under the present circumstances. None feels safe to go back now,” Mohammad Abul Kalam said.
Kalam would not say if the planned repatriations for Thursday were canceled.
But he said: “We cannot force them to go back against their will.”
More than 720,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya sought refuge from a Myanmar military crackdown launched from August last year that UN investigators say amounted to ethnic cleansing, joining some 300,000 already in Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugees currently reside in vast camps in southeastern Bangladesh, including a massive settlement in the border district of Cox’s Bazar, where community leaders said most of those marked for repatriation had headed to the hills.
“Ninety-eight percent of the families (on the list) have fled,” community leader Nur Islam said Thursday.
He and other community leaders said that an increase in the number of Bangladeshi soldiers at the camps in recent days had stoked anxiety.
“Everyone is tense, the situation is very bad,” Abdur Rahim, another leader, said in Cox’s Bazar. “There are a lot of army and police inside the camps. They are checking the ID cards of Rohingya.”
A local police chief, Abul Khaer, played down reports of additional security, saying nothing in terms of personnel had changed in recent months.
The UN refugee agency has publicly cautioned against the repatriation going ahead and, in an internal briefing paper seen by AFP, laid out stringent conditions under which it would offer humanitarian assistance to anyone who ends up returning.
In the confidential document dated November 2018, UNHCR said it would only provide aid if returnees were allowed back to the villages they had left or to other locations chosen by them.
Bangladesh authorities have insisted only those who volunteer will be returned but UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday that many refugees are panicking at the prospect of being sent back against their will.
“With an almost complete lack of accountability – indeed with ongoing violations – returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades,” Bachelet said.
She said that the violations against the Rohingya “amount to the worst atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide.”
Amnesty International on Wednesday called on Bangladesh and Myanmar authorities to “immediately halt” their plans, saying it was a “reckless move which puts lives at risk.”
“These women, men and children would be sent back into the Myanmar military’s grasp with no protection guarantees, to live alongside those who torched their homes and whose bullets they fled,” said Amnesty’s Nicholas Bequelin.
Human Rights Watch echoed the concern on Thursday, asking Bangladesh to “immediately halt” the planned repatriation.
“The Bangladesh government will be stunned to see how quickly international opinion turns against it if it starts sending unwilling Rohingya refugees back into harm’s way in Myanmar,” said Bill Frelick, HRW refugee rights director.
US Vice President Mike Pence told Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday that the violence against the Rohingya was “without excuse,” adding pressure to Myanmar’s civilian leader.