Brothers wanted in UK truck disaster probe

A handout photo made available by Essex Police in London on October 29, 2019, shows Christopher Hughes (L) and his brother Ronan Hughes, who are being sought in connection with the discovery of the 39 Vietnamese bodies found in a truck in Grays on October 23. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

Brothers wanted in UK truck disaster probe

  • DNA has been collected from relatives as officials in Vietnam and Britain attempt to identify the victims

LONDON: British police probing the deaths of 39 people in a truck said Tuesday they wanted to question two Northern Irish brothers on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking.
Essex Police, which is investigating last week’s grim discovery, said they wanted to speak to Ronan Hughes, 40, and his 34-year-old brother Christopher, who are both from Armagh.
Eight women and 31 men were found Wednesday in a refrigeration truck trailer that entered Britain on a ferry from Belgium. Several Vietnamese families fear their relatives are among the dead.
“Finding and speaking to the Hughes brothers is crucial to our investigation,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Hooper.
“We believe they are in Northern Ireland but they also have links to the Irish Republic.
“Thirty-nine men and women have tragically died and support from the community is going to be vital to help bring those responsible to justice.”
Ambulance crews called to the scene in Grays, just over an hour after the trailer arrived at the nearby port of Purfleet, said all those inside were already dead.
The truck driver, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson from Northern Ireland, has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, and money laundering.
He appeared in an Essex court via video-link on Monday and was remanded in custody to appear next at the Old Bailey in London, England’s central criminal court, on November 25.
Three other people arrested in connection with the investigation — a 38-year-old man, a 38 year-old-woman, and a 46-year-old man — have all been released on bail until November.
The bodies of all of the victims have been moved to a hospital for post-mortem examinations.
It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer or the exact route it traveled.
AFP has spoken to several families of missing Vietnamese nationals — ranging from 15 to 37 years old — feared to be among the dead.
DNA has been collected from relatives as officials in Vietnam and Britain attempt to identify the victims.
 


Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

Updated 18 January 2020

Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

  • Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence
  • The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year

KABUL: The Taliban are aiming to reach a withdrawal agreement with the US by the end of January and are prepared to “scale down” military operations ahead of signing the deal, according to their chief spokesman.
The statement by Suhail Shaheen to Pakistani daily Dawn comes as the group and the US held discussions in Doha this week, after insurgent sources told AFP they had offered to initiate a brief cease-fire.
“We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States,” Shaheen told Dawn in a report published Saturday.
He added that the Taliban were “optimistic” a deal with Washington could be signed before the end of the month and that the reduction in fighting across the country would also include the targeting of Afghan forces.
“It’s now a matter of days,” said the spokesman.
Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.
The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead,” citing Taliban violence.
Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar, but were paused again following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, which is run by the US.
Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to militants — and would ultimately have to be given final approval by Trump.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion more than 18 years ago.
A deal would hopefully pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.
Many observers agree that the war can no longer be won militarily, and that the only route to a lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an agreement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans.

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