Cyclists killed in Tajikistan described ‘dream’ trip

A wounded cyclist is attended to after a car and knife attack that killed four tourists in Tajikistan. (AP Photo)
Updated 31 July 2018

Cyclists killed in Tajikistan described ‘dream’ trip

  • The riders were attacked by a gang armed with knives and guns in a highly unusual incident for Tajikistan
  • The slain Americans explained on their blog that they had decided to quit their jobs to bike around the world

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan: Cyclists from Europe and the US who were killed in an attack claimed by the Daesh group in Tajikistan had described their trip as a “dream come true.”
The victims were Jay Austin and Lauren Munoz from the US, Rene Wokke from the Netherlands and Markus Hummel from Switzerland, according to Tajik authorities.
Each of the travelers had a blog to document journeys that took them to the Pamir Highway, a Soviet-era road stretching across 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) which runs near the border with Afghanistan and has spectacular views.
The Americans explained on their blog SimplyCycling that they had “decided to quit our jobs and bike around the world.”
The pair had traveled through Africa and Europe before flying to Kazakhstan in May.
The posts on the site and on their Instagram account broke off as they ventured into mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet states.
“Tajikistan is a tough place to cycle. It is cold and windy and mountainous and, most of all, very, very high,” Austin wrote a week ago.
“Really glad I did it. No need to ever do it again,” he said of crossing a Tajik mountain pass at a height of 4,655 meters with thin air and intermittent snow.
Austin had been featured in the Washington Post in 2015 as one of those following a “tiny house” trend and downsizing his daily life to essentials.
On Sunday, a car mowed into the group of seven cyclists, two of whom were injured while another was left unscathed.
The riders were attacked by a gang armed with knives and guns in a highly unusual incident that Tajikistan has said was organized by a member of an opposition party.
Dutch victim Wokke, a 56-year-old psychologist, was cycling with his partner Kim Postma, a 58-year-old hospital administrator, who was injured in the incident.
The website of Dutch newspaper NRC said the couple were traveling from Bangkok to Tehran and chose to go through Tajikistan to avoid the dangers of Afghanistan.
Wokke was a very experienced traveler and had visited more than 130 countries, according to his brother, Erik.
The pair, from Amsterdam, had left Thailand in February and planned to arrive in Tehran in September before flying back to the Netherlands.
Wokke and Postma described the Pamir Highway on their blog as “the ultimate challenge of this trip.”
Victim Markus Hummel also kept an online record of the journey with Swiss national Marie-Claire Diemand who was injured in the attack.
In a blog entry entitled “A dream comes true,” they explained that they were traveling along the Silk Road from Xi’an in China to Kyrgyzstan.
“Since we are already on the road, we definitely don’t want to miss the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan,” the pair said.
Their last entry was on July 25 when the whole group was staying in the Tajik town of Khorugh, after adventures including their tent filling with drifts of sand.
They said that, on the highway, “we enjoy the silence, the dreamlike landscape and look at the Pamir River and the Afghan side of the valley all day long.”
Friends and well-wishers posted messages of condolences on the American victims’ SimplyCyling Instagram page.
One, Robert Renner, wrote: “My condolences to the family and friends of Jay and Lauren.”
Another, Angela Wuerth, wrote: “I’m so sad that something so tragic could happen to such beautiful, kind people.”

Sudan peace talks stall as rebel group halts talks over attack

Updated 20 min 9 sec ago

Sudan peace talks stall as rebel group halts talks over attack

JUBA: Sudan peace talks stalled before they began in Juba on Wednesday as a key rebel grouping said it refused to negotiate with Khartoum, claiming government forces were still bombarding its territory.

Juba is hosting talks between the government of new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and representatives from two umbrella groups of rebels that fought forces of now ousted President Omar Bashir in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

The talks were launched on Monday in the presence of heads of state from Ethiopia, Egypt, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan.

The first face-to-face meeting between the adversaries was to take place in the South Sudan capital on Wednesday.

But Amar Amoua, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), told journalists his group would not continue unless the government withdrew from the area of the fighting, in the Nuba Mountains.

“Our coming back to negotiate ... is bound by government decisions to clear all these things,” Amoua, who is representing three different rebel movements, told journalists.

He said that for the past 10 days government forces had continued to attack their territory despite an unofficial cease-fire.

A chief was killed in the Nuba Mountains and several businessmen had gone missing, he charged.

“The government should withdraw its forces and stop ... occupying new areas, we will not allow that,” he said.

Dhieu Mathok, a member of the South Sudan mediation team, told AFP they were investigating the SPLM-N’s complaints.

“We are still investigating it whether there are really attacks in those areas or not, but this will not stop the peace process. Usually in a negotiation these things happen but we are here to resolve the problems.”

Mohammed Hassan, a spokesman for the Sudan delegation, attributed the fighting to an attack by herders on local merchants.

“The government regrets and condemns in the strongest terms these unfortunate events that keep happening in the area and in other parts of the country,” he said.

“We also regret that these events took place at a time when people are entering peace negotiations, and the country and the whole of the region is united for the cause of peace in Sudan.”

The new peace initiative comes after Bashir was toppled by the military in April.

Hamdok has been tasked with leading Sudan back to civilian rule, but he has said he also wants to end Khartoum’s conflicts with the rebels.

The years-long bloodshed has left hundreds of thousands of dead and forced millions to flee their homes.

The movement led by Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu says it will not resume talks unless the government releases the detainees, withdraws from the area where they were seized, and declares a documented cease-fire. 

The SPLM-N is a rebel group in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which had ceased all hostilities as a “goodwill gesture” after the overthrow of President Bashir. Al-Hilu’s movement controls significant chunks of territory in the region.