Pakistan agrees Afghan Taleban release

Updated 15 November 2012
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Pakistan agrees Afghan Taleban release

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has agreed to free some Afghan Taleban prisoners who could be useful in reconciliation efforts, officials from both countries said yesterday.
Afghan officials, hopeful that direct contacts with top Taleban commanders could give them leverage in any peace talks, have long urged Pakistan for access to prisoners.
The task of energizing the Afghan peace process is gaining urgency as NATO combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014.
Some Afghans fear the country could face civil war or another Taleban takeover if insurgents are not lured into a serious peace process before then.
“Pakistan has sent us a very strong message and Pakistan has agreed in principle to start releasing prisoners from today,” Abdul Hamid Mubarez, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is visiting Islamabad, told Reuters.
He did not say how many prisoners would be released but predicted the action would help advance the peace process.
Pakistan, with its historical ties to Afghan militant groups, is seen as critical to US efforts to pacify Afghanistan, perhaps President Barack Obama’s biggest foreign policy challenge as he starts a second term.
It is not clear why Pakistan made the gesture at this time but it has come under mounting pressure to support US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan as the endgame nears.
A senior Pakistani army official said it had not yet been decided if the former Afghan Taleban second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, would be released.
Afghan officials have identified him as a figure who may still command enough respect to persuade the Taleban to pursue peace.
The Pakistani army official declined to give any information about who was going to be released saying details had yet to be worked out.
The decision to release the prisoners was a major achievement for the Afghan High Peace Council, which has been struggling to ease mistrust between the Taleban and the Kabul government.
Afghan officials have suspected that Pakistan has been holding Afghan Taleban members in jail to retain some control over peace efforts and have a say in any settlement.
Those in detention include former Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Toorabi and Mullah Jahangirwal, former secretary of Taleban leader Mullah Omar and Allahdat Tayab, an ex-deputy minister, Afghan High Peace Council officials say.
“We have asked Pakistan to release them because they were the policy makers of the Taleban and close aides to Mullah Omar,” Habibullah Fawzi, a senior member of the Afghan peace team, told Reuters.
Their release could encourage a number of Taleban commanders and fighters to join peace efforts, he said. Afghan embassy officials in Islamabad said the names of about 10 Afghan Taleban militants had been floated.
Afghanistan’s government has failed to secure direct talks with the Taleban and no significant progress is expected before 2014, when most NATO combat troops withdraw, a senior Afghan official closely involved with reconciliation efforts told Reuters last week.
There has also been little progress on other fronts. The Taleban said in March they were suspending nascent peace talks with the United States held in Qatar, blaming “erratic and vague” US statements.


Six dead in fire at Rohingya camp in Myanmar

Updated 19 October 2018
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Six dead in fire at Rohingya camp in Myanmar

  • The UN Human Rights Council has accused top Myanmar generals of genocide over the bloody campaign, allegations the country strongly denies.
  • Myanmar has vowed to close nearly 20 of the camps around Sittwe in the coming months.

YANGON, Myanmar: Six Rohingya were killed early Friday after a blaze tore through an overcrowded camp for the persecuted minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the local fire service said.
Global attention has focused on the 720,000 Rohingya Muslims forced from the state’s north into Bangladesh last year by a brutal military crackdown.
The UN Human Rights Council has accused top Myanmar generals of genocide over the bloody campaign, allegations the country strongly denies.
But less visible are the 129,000 Rohingya confined to squalid camps further south near the capital Sittwe following an earlier bout of violence in 2012.
Hundreds were killed that year in riots between Rakhine Buddhists and the stateless minority, who were corralled into destitute camps away from their former neighbors.
The conflagration in Ohndaw Chay camp, which houses some 4,000 Rohingya and lies 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Sittwe, started just before midnight and lasted several hours, fire department official Han Soe told AFP.
“Six people, one man and five women were killed,” he said, adding that 15 communal longhouses were also destroyed in the blaze thought to have been started in a kitchen accident.
“We were able to bring the fire under control about 1:10 am this morning and had put it out completely by around 3 am,” he said.
A total of 822 people were left without shelter, local media reported.
Conditions in the camps are dire and Rohingya trapped there have virtually no access to health care, education and work, relying on food handouts from aid agencies to survive.
Access into the camps is also tightly controlled, effectively cutting their inhabitants off from the outside world and leaving their plight largely forgotten.
Fires in the camps are common because of “severe” overcrowding, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Many camp residents have built makeshift extensions to their shelters to create more space for their families. So when a fire breaks out, it is more likely to spread quickly,” said OCHA spokesman Pierre Peron.
Hla Win, a Rohingya man from a nearby camp, told AFP that fire trucks were slow to arrive along the dilapidated roads from Sittwe and the lack of water also hampered efforts to extinguish the blaze.
“We have no ponds near the camps,” he said. “That’s why the fire destroyed so much.”
Myanmar has vowed to close nearly 20 of the camps around Sittwe in the coming months.
Rights groups say the move will achieve little without ending movement restrictions or granting Rohingya a pathway to citizenship.