South Sudan’s warring leaders to meet for talks in Ethiopia

South Sudan president Salva Kiir, left, will meet with rebel leader Riek Machar, right, in Ethiopia’s capital on June 20, their first meeting in nearly two years. (AFP)
Updated 19 June 2018
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South Sudan’s warring leaders to meet for talks in Ethiopia

  • The rendezvous in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa represents the latest international effort to end more than four years of civil war in the world’s youngest nation.
  • Kiir and Machar will meet at the invitation of Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who also chairs the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional bloc that has taken the lead in thus-far fruitless peace negotiations.

ADDIS ABABA: Nearly two years after fleeing South Sudan’s capital amid deadly fighting, rebel leader Riek Machar will meet face-to-face on Wednesday with the country’s president, Salva Kiir.
The rendezvous in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa represents the latest international effort to end more than four years of civil war in the world’s youngest nation.
Tens of thousands have been killed and millions have been driven out of their homes and into starvation.
Kiir and Machar will meet at the invitation of Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who also chairs the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional bloc that has taken the lead in thus-far fruitless peace negotiations.
Abiy “will call upon the two leaders to narrow their gap and work for the pacification of South Sudan and relieve the burden of death and uprooting of South Sudanese people,” said Meles Alem, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s foreign ministry.
Kiir’s attendance was confirmed by South Sudan’s ambassador to Ethiopia, James Pitia Morgan.
Manasseh Zindo, a senior official in Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition rebel group, said Machar would attend.
IGAD first proposed the meeting last month after the most recent unsuccessful round of peace talks.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir suggested hosting the two foes in Khartoum, an offer Machar rejected, while Kiir’s government said it would prefer to have the meeting outside the region altogether.
The two men have been central to the fate of South Sudan since its 2011 separation from the north.
The country descended into civil war in 2013 after Kiir accused Machar, his former deputy, of plotting a coup against him.
They have not met since July 2016, when heavy fighting in the capital, Juba, signalled the collapse of a 2015 peace deal forcing Machar to flee to South Africa.
The renewed violence spread across the country, spawning numerous new armed opposition groups and further complicating peace efforts.
Efforts to revitalize the 2015 agreement resulted in a cease-fire in December which lasted just hours before warring parties accused each other of breaking it.
Tens of thousands have died and nearly four million South Sudanese have been driven from their homes by the conflict which the United Nations ranks among the most serious humanitarian crises in the world.
Forty-eight percent of the population are experiencing extreme hunger and seven million will need aid this year, according to the UN.
International patience with the conflict has worn thin. Last month, the UN Security Council gave the two warring sides a month to reach a peace deal or face sanctions.
The United States has also grown increasingly frustrated with Kiir’s government.
Washington was a critical backer of South Sudan during its separation from Sudan, and remains Juba’s biggest aid donor.
A top American official earlier this month threatened parties on both sides of the conflict with sanctions after a report from US foundation The Sentry said South Sudanese elites were profiting from human rights abuses.
Despite the pressure, observers say Kiir has little incentive to make concessions to his rivals.
His soldiers are winning militarily, while the opposition is more fractured than ever before.


Arab refugees in sights of Berlin’s crime ‘clans’

Updated 18 December 2018
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Arab refugees in sights of Berlin’s crime ‘clans’

  • Berlin crime gangs of Arab origin have long earned infamy with violence and brazen robberies
  • Police warn they have targeted a new generation of refugees for recruitment

BERLIN: Berlin crime gangs of Arab origin have long earned infamy with violence and brazen robberies but now, police warn, they have targeted a new generation of refugees for recruitment.
Known in the media as Berlin’s “clans,” whose founders themselves fled war in Lebanon in the 1980s, they have long controlled much of the city’s illegal drugs trade, street prostitution and protection rackets.
While East European and Asian organized crime and homegrown biker gangs are also active, the clans have been especially visible, given many members’ love of gangster bling and muscle cars.
The dozen or so Arabic and Kurdish-origin extended families, with their patriarchal structures and codes of honor, have also been mythologized by rap artists and portrayed in the TV series “4 Blocks.”
Now police warn that the clans have sought out new members from among the over one million asylum-seekers who have arrived in Germany since mid-2015, half of them from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The clans “are trying to get others to do the dirty work” such as selling drugs or committing small burglaries, said Benjamin Jendro of the GDP police union.
Many refugees, he said, are “men who have arrived alone in Germany” and who “have not yet had to do with the justice system,” making it less likely they will go to prison if caught.
An undercover police investigator also told Die Welt newspaper that “above all, it is the young, physically strong men who are in the sights of the clans, who make them do the dirty work.”


The migrant wave that peaked three years ago sparked a xenophobic backlash in Germany, and stoked heated debate about integration efforts and crimes committed by foreigners.
This has thrown a new focus on the clans and raised questions about how Berlin’s police could let them openly flout the law for so long in a generally fairly low-crime country.
Germany’s best-known rapper, Bushido, long boasted about his close ties to one Berlin clan — until they had a falling out this year and he sought the protection of a rival group.
Bushido’s wife, Anna-Maria Ferchichi, told news weekly Stern that the couple now feared for their lives from gangsters who had formed “parallel societies right here in Germany.”
The clans’ latest show of force was the September 13 funeral of an infamous underworld figure, when 2,000 mourners congregated in the Islamic section of a Berlin cemetery, watched over by some 150 police.
In scenes Stern described as “worthy of a mafia movie,” they paid their last respects to Nidal Rabih, a 36-year-old violent repeat offender who had been shot dead in front of his family days earlier.
Rabih, a Palestinian born in Lebanon, had achieved cult status in the Berlin criminal underworld.
Boasting more than 100 offenses from robbery to attempted manslaughter, he had spent more than a decade behind bars but avoided a 2004 deportation attempt when Lebanon refused to issue him a passport.
Days after his death, Berlin municipal workers guarded by police whitewashed over a wall mural at the murder scene that depicted Rabih in the style of a martyred Islamic fighter.


Sociologists say the story of Berlin’s clans is a cautionary tale about failed integration.
Their patriarchs mostly arrived in the 1980s as refugees from then war-torn Lebanon, among them Palestinians and members of Turkey’s Arabic and Kurdish minorities.
Many had only temporary protection status and “did not have access here to education or work,” said Islamologist Mathias Rohe, arguing that this sped up the descent into delinquency.
The extended families, aside from now running large chunks of Berlin’s illegal economy, have also committed some of the city’s most headline-grabbing criminal stunts.
In 2010, masked men wielding machetes and guns robbed a poker tournament in the Berlin Grand Hyatt, making off with about 240,000 euros ($270,000).
In 2014, robbers rampaged through Berlin’s KaDeWe luxury department store, smashed glass displays and stole watches and jewelry worth 800,000 euros.
And last year, clan-linked bandits stole a 100-kilogramme (220-pound) Canadian commemorative gold coin worth over 3.75 million euros from Berlin’s Bode museum, around the corner from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s apartment.


Berlin’s police is now under fire for having long neglected the problem — something researcher Ralph Ghadban blames partially on a “fear of stigmatising and discriminating against certain minorities.”
In recent months, authorities have started to hit back by stepping up raids of shisha bars and betting shops, many in Berlin’s Neukoelln district, and confiscating expensive cars for speeding.
In August, police and prosecutors seized 77 properties worth 10 million euros, alleged to have mostly been bought with proceeds from a major 2014 bank robbery.
Some of the properties were officially owned by one convicted bank robber’s 19-year-old brother whose only declared income was state welfare.
The confiscations still have to stand up in court against challenges from the clan’s expensive lawyers, but authorities believe they have struck a first blow.
“We’re stepping on their toes,” said Berlin interior minister Andreas Geisel. “We’re spoiling their fun in Berlin.”