South Sudan rebels reject president’s peace compromise

South Sudan trainee soldiers for a new unified army raise their wooden rifles above their heads while attending a reconciliation program on January 31, 2020, meant at ending bloodshed in the country. (AFP)
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Updated 16 February 2020

South Sudan rebels reject president’s peace compromise

  • The rejection by rebel chief Riek Machar dashes hopes of breaking a deadlock and ending a six-year conflict
  • When it gained independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan had 10 states

JUBA: South Sudan rebels rejected on Sunday a peace offer by President Salva Kiir to return to a system of 10 states, paving the way for a unity government.
The rejection by rebel chief Riek Machar dashes hopes of breaking a deadlock and ending a six-year conflict that has left at least 380,000 people dead and millions in dire poverty.
Kiir and Machar — who lives in exile — are under increasing international pressure to resolve their differences by a February 22 deadline.
Kiir on Saturday said the country would now be divided among the original 10 states — a key opposition demand — plus three “administrative areas” of Pibor, Ruweng and Abyei.
But rebel leader Riek Machar said Sunday he objected to the three administrative areas.
It “cannot be referred to as reverting to 10 states (and) as such cannot be accepted,” Machar wrote in a statement.
“We therefore call upon President Kiir to reconsider this idea of creating administrative areas,” he added.
Machar warned the three areas risked causing further problems, calling the issue a “Pandora’s box.”
The number of states is contentious because the borders will determine the divisions of power in the country.
When it gained independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan had 10 states, as set out in its constitution.
Kiir increased that in 2015 to 28, then 32 — and has now reduced them back to 10, plus the three areas.
He issued an order late Saturday relieving all governors of the 32 states of their posts.
He has said the final matter of states would be debated once the unity government forms.
Of the three areas, the most contentious is thought to be oil-rich Ruweng, in the north.
Oil provides almost all of the government’s revenue in South Sudan, making it one of the world’s most oil dependent nations.
Ruweng has been one of the most heavily fought over areas in the civil war and is claimed by both the Dinka people of Kiir and the Nuer of Machar.


Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

Updated 15 August 2020

Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

  • Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio is still endemic
  • Since Jan., Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health officials on Saturday launched a seven-day vaccination campaign against polio as part of efforts aimed at eliminating the crippling disease amid a steady decline in fatalities and infections from the coronavirus, which had recently overwhelmed the country’s fragile health system.
The anti-polio campaign, which began amid tight security, aims to vaccinate as many as 34 million children across Pakistan, including former Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan, a government statement said.
Medical workers participating in the drive against polio were seen adhering to social distancing regulations as they wore face masks and gloves while going house-to-house to avoid a spike in coronavirus cases.
“I am hopeful that parents will continue to realize the importance of vaccinating their children during this campaign,” said Faisal Sultan, an adviser to the prime minister on health issues.
According to Rana Safdar, who heads the government’s polio program, similar campaigns against polio will be launched in October, November and December.
Earlier Saturday, Pakistan’s military said Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist, praised Islamabad’s success in the fight against coronavirus in a telephone call to the country’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. It said Gates also discussed the resumption of the drive against polio.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio — a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus — is still endemic. The nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped Pakistan and other places worldwide fight the disease.
Pakistan had hoped to eliminate the disease by 2018, when only 12 cases were reported. But there was a surge in new cases the following year. Since January, Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country, including the northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban and other militants regularly stage attacks on polio teams and security forces escorting them because they claim the anti-polio drive is part of an alleged Western conspiracy to sterilize children or collect intelligence. Attacks on polio teams increased after it was revealed that a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign was used as a ruse by the CIA in the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in 2011 in Pakistan.
Pakistan halted the drive against polio in March and resumed it last month amid a decline in infections and fatalities from COVID-19.
On Saturday, Pakistan reported only 9 new deaths from the new virus in the past 24 hours, increasing the country’s total of COVID-19 deaths to 6,162. So far, Pakistan has reported 288,047 cases and officials say about 93% of the patients recovered since February, when the country reported its first confirmed case.