Ghana’s public says farewell to Kofi Annan

Members of the public and family sit and pay their respects as the coffin of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan lies in state at the Accra International Conference Center. (AP Photo)
Updated 11 September 2018
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Ghana’s public says farewell to Kofi Annan

  • Nobel peace laureate Annan, who was the world body’s first leader from sub-Saharan Africa, died aged 80 on August 18 after a short illness
  • Most of those who queued to pay their respects wore black and red mourning clothes and passed under large posters of Annan to the sound of pulsating drums

ACCRA: A steady stream of mourners on Tuesday paid their respects to the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, as his body lay in state in the capital of his native Ghana.
The diplomat’s body was flown back from his home in Switzerland on Monday ahead of a state funeral and private burial in Accra on Thursday.
Nobel peace laureate Annan, who was the world body’s first leader from sub-Saharan Africa, died aged 80 on August 18 after a short illness.
His coffin, draped in Ghana’s red, green and gold flag, was guarded by senior military officers in ceremonial uniform at the Accra International Conference Center.
A choir sang hymns and traditional dances were performed as the public got their chance to say farewell to one of the country’s most famous sons.
Fritz Kitcher, who spent his career working for the United Nations in Geneva in human rights, said he saw Annan rise through the ranks.
Now retired and back living in Ghana, he said Annan taught him “the benefit of humility, the benefit of honesty, the benefit of decisiveness, and diplomacy from the grassroots.”
His role at the UN’s first black African leader was “an honor for Ghana,” he said.
“It was marvellous in our eyes, it was one of these things that we can only dream... he lifted Africa and showed that we are also able to do great things,” Kitcher told AFP.
Most of those who queued to pay their respects wore black and red mourning clothes and passed under large posters of Annan to the sound of pulsating drums.
Cleaner Akwo Kwame Johnson, from neighboring Ivory Coast said he wanted to pay his last respects to “our great father.”
Whenever he saw Annan in the news, Johnson said he felt like he was watching a family member.
“He was a president to all the world,” he added
Pensioner Joyce Atiase said she was mourning the loss of a “great man.” “We all loved him. He played a major role for our country, he did his best,” she said.
Scores of world leaders past and present, as well as royalty, are expected in Accra for Annan’s funeral on Thursday.
A private burial service will then be held in the city’s military cemetery.


Doubts over Rohingya repatriation as none wants to return

Updated 6 min 16 sec ago
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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.