30 Taliban killed ‘making bombs’ inside northern Afghan mosque — officials

Balkh was among one of the relatively secure parts of Afghanistan until recent years, but the Taliban have extended their reach there from their traditional power base in the south and southeast of the country. (AFP/File Photo)
Balkh was among one of the relatively secure parts of Afghanistan until recent years, but the Taliban have extended their reach there from their traditional power base in the south and southeast of the country. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 13 February 2021

30 Taliban killed ‘making bombs’ inside northern Afghan mosque — officials

Balkh was among one of the relatively secure parts of Afghanistan until recent years, but the Taliban have extended their reach there from their traditional power base in the south and southeast of the country. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Insurgent group confirms attack but denies loss of lives

KABUL: Thirty Taliban insurgents, six of them foreign militants, were killed by an explosion inside a mosque where they had gathered for a “bomb-making training” session in northern Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said.

“As a result of the explosion of a mine in a mosque, 30 terrorist Taliban, including six foreign nationals who were professional mine-makers, were killed,” a Defense Ministry statement said.

“This incident happened as a number of Taliban . . . had gathered for mine-making training . . . ” it added.

The incident took place at 9.15 a.m. in the Qitla village of the Dawlat Abad district of Balkh province, which lies some 450 km to the north of the capital city Kabul and shares its border with Uzbekistan, ministry officials said.

Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the ministry, said: “There were no survivors from the blast,” calling it the “deadliest of its kind” for the insurgents.

“In the past, the enemies would have suffered like six, eight or 10 people while either planting a bomb or making a mine, but this is the first time they suffered such heavy losses,” he told Arab News.

The Taliban confirmed the blast but denied reports of any loss of lives.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that the explosion had occurred last night in a room used for storing ammunition and “not today as reported by government officials.”

“But we strongly reject the report of deaths, there was no single casualty,” Mujahid told Arab News by phone.

“And in the morning time, the enemy’s planes came for bombarding the room. A mosque nearby was also partially damaged,” he said.

Munir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for Balkh’s governor, told Arab News that the Taliban have had a “heavy presence in Dawlat Abad for years,” but had not heard about the Defense Ministry’s report related to the incident.

Balkh was among one of the relatively secure parts of Afghanistan until recent years, but the Taliban have extended their reach there from their traditional power base in the south and southeast of the country since the reduction of US-led troops in the past few years and due to infighting among government leaders.

“An independent investigation is needed to determine what has happened in Dawlat Abad, where and how it occurred,” Taj Mohammad, an analyst, told Arab News. “Was it an airstrike or accident or bomb-making training as the government claims?” 


Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal

Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal
Updated 9 min 24 sec ago

Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal

Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal
  • Earlier in the day, 5,000 opposition protesters waving Armenian flags and calling for Pashinyan’s resignation gathered for the third day running outside the parliament in Yerevan

YEREVAN: Armenian President Armen Sarkisian said on Saturday he had refused to sign a prime ministerial order to dismiss the army’s chief of staff, deepening a national political crisis.
The ex-Soviet nation has faced turmoil since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Moscow-brokered peace accord in November, sealing a humiliating defeat to Azerbaijan after six weeks of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Divisions widened Thursday when Pashinyan defied a call by the military to resign, accused the army of an attempted coup, and ordered the chief of the general staff Onik Gasparyan to be fired.
On Saturday, Armenian President Sarkisian said in a statement that he would not back the sacking.
“The president of the republic, within the framework of his constitutional powers, returned the draft decree with objections,” the presidency said.
It added that the political crisis “cannot be resolved through frequent personnel changes.”
Earlier in the day, 5,000 opposition protesters waving Armenian flags and calling for Pashinyan’s resignation gathered for the third day running outside the parliament in Yerevan.

BACKGROUND

Armenia has faced turmoil since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Moscow-brokered peace accord in November.

Some protesters have now set up camp there.
“Today Pashinyan has no support. I call on the security services and the police to join the army, to support the army,” said former premier Vazgen Manukyan, who has been named by the opposition to replace Pashinyan.
“I am sure that the situation will be resolved within two to three days,” he told the crowd.
Pashinyan has faced fierce criticism since he signed a peace deal over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian region that broke from Azerbaijan’s control during a war in the early 1990s.
The agreement was seen as a national humiliation for many in Armenia, but Pashinyan has said he had no choice but to agree or see his country’s forces suffer even bigger losses.


India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea
Updated 27 February 2021

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea
  • Abide by international laws to deal with refugees rescued near Andaman Islands, Human Rights Watch says
  • New Delhi-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (RHRI) demanded that the Indian government “grant a status of refugees to the stranded people”

NEW DELHI: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday called on India to abide by international laws in protecting refugees a day after New Delhi said it had rescued 81 Rohingya stranded in Indian waters.
“India should abide by its international obligations to offer all protection and access to the UN refugee agency,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Arab News.
On Feb. 11, nearly 90 Rohingya from the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in Bangladesh boarded a small boat for Malaysia, Anurag Srivastava, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement.
Four days later, on Feb. 15, “the boat’s engine broke down, and the boat drifted toward the southern Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar.”
Eight people lost their lives, and one drowned.
Two days later, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed to “all governments to deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress.”
On Friday, New Delhi announced that it had rescued the stranded refugees.
“When we learned of the boat in distress, we immediately dispatched two coast guard ships to provide food, water and medical assistance to the occupants of the boat. Seven of them were administered IV fluids,” the statement said.
It added that since most of “the occupants of the boat have ID cards issued to them by the UNHCR office in Bangladesh,” New Delhi was in talks with Dhaka “to ensure their safe and secure repatriation.”
The HRW, however, said that India needed to do more to abide by its “international obligations” and should not “pass the buck.”
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which mandates refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them. Nor does it have any domestic law to protect the more than 200,000 refugees it currently hosts, including some Rohingya from Myanmar.
“Whether it is India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh or other countries in the region, governments need to protect the Rohingya refugees instead of trying to pass the buck,” Ganguly told Arab News.
She added that the “primary responsibility” for the plight of the Rohingya lay with Myanmar and that “these governments should join the international community to ensure that the Rohingya can return to their homes voluntarily, with safety and dignity.”
Meanwhile, the New Delhi-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (RHRI) demanded that the Indian government “grant a status of refugees to the stranded people.”
“Rohingya stranded in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are not Bangladeshi; they are hapless refugees. India, being a big country, should shelter these stranded people till the situation normalizes in Myanmar,” RHRI founder Sabber Kyaw Min said.
Min was referring in part to a coup d’etat by the Myanmar military on Feb. 1, which has led to the declaration of a state of emergency by the ruling regime and widespread, nationwide protests.
He called on the Indian government to disclose the refugees’ whereabouts.
“I was in touch with some of the refugees and their relatives till Wednesday, but since then their phones have been off. Rohingya are suffering. New Delhi should demonstrate large-heartedness in accommodating the refugees in the same way Bangladesh has demonstrated,” Min added.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a federally administered archipelago lying between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Both Myanmar and Thailand have coastlines along the eastern edge of the sea.
In 2012, some Rohingya refugees were rescued from near the islands and provided medical care and attention, before being sent back to Myanmar.
However, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led regime assumed office in New Delhi, India has taken a harder line over providing admission and shelter to any Rohingya refugees.
Denis Giles of the Andaman Chronicle, an English newspaper based in Andaman’s capital Port Blair, was the first to break the story about the stranded refugees and alert the world about the crisis.
Giles, who covered the Rohingya rescue operations in 2012, said that this time “there is a big difference.”
“They were properly treated, and the administration used to ask social organizations to help them out, but now no one wants to talk about that. There is a hush now,” Giles told Arab News.
“Earlier, we would know where they are being kept, which hospitals they are being treated at but this time, we are completely in the dark.”
Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya who fled from persecution at the Myanmar military’s hands in the Buddhist-majority country.
The Rohingya endured decades of abuse in Myanmar, beginning in the 1970s when hundreds of thousands sought refuge in Bangladesh.
Between 1989 and 1991, an additional 250,000 fled when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal under which thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine.
The Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh resumed in August 2017 following a military crackdown on the ethnic minority group.
According to the UN, by the end of 2020, 866,457 Rohingya refugees had been registered at 34 camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh due to a joint initiative by Dhaka and the UNHCR.


Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies
Updated 27 February 2021

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies
  • Move part of efforts to speed up inoculation, achieve herd immunity

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Friday said it would allow private companies to run coronavirus vaccination programs for workers and families alongside a nationwide drive to expedite efforts in achieving herd immunity.

The country is aiming to inoculate 181.5 million people out of the total 270 million population by year-end.

“The companies will provide the vaccines for free for workers,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, health ministry spokesperson for the vaccination program, said during a press conference.

Tarmizi added that the ministry’s revised regulation, which serves as the main reference for the vaccination program, was issued on Wednesday to include articles regulating the private sector’s involvement in the vaccination drive.

“The number of vaccines distributed in the private-run program will match the number that the companies requested, and the inoculations will be conducted at private healthcare facilities or the companies’ own facilities,” Tarmizi said.

Additionally, the vaccines used in the program will be different from the free CoronaVac, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer vaccines that the government has distributed since mid-January.

While initial population targets included health workers, senior citizens, frontline public workers, teachers and lecturers, athletes, journalists, and lawmakers, the general population or those in their productive age will receive their first vaccine jab in April.

The private scheme, which the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) proposed, will require companies to purchase the vaccine from Bio Farma, a state-owned vaccine manufacturer appointed as the sole importer for all jabs that Indonesia procures.

Bio Farma spokesperson Bambang Heriyanto said the company is in discussions with Moderna and Sinopharm to procure vaccines for the private scheme, which has been dubbed “Gotong Royong,” an Indonesian term for mutual cooperation.

“In accordance with its name, this is a mutual cooperation initiative. The government will provide a space for any members of society that will want to assist the government in the vaccination program,” Arya Sinulingga, a spokesperson for the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, said on Friday.

He added that the private drive will run in parallel with the government’s program and will not alter the existing schedule or priority groups being targeted.

Kadin said that about 7,000 companies had already registered for the vaccination drive as of Saturday.

“The enthusiasm is really high to take part in this program because it is quite costly for the companies to swab test regularly. It is better for the companies to allocate the cost to vaccinate their workers,” Shinta Kamdani Widjaja, Kadin deputy chairwoman, said at a press conference earlier this week.

She dismissed concerns that the program will commercialize vaccines, saying the government would closely monitor the program to avoid any violations of terms and conditions.

“There are also companies that are willing to vaccinate not only their workers, but also their families. It would be difficult for the economy to recover if we don’t achieve the herd immunity target. The business community is ready to support the government in the vaccination drive and economic recovery program,” Widjaja said.

However, opponents of the scheme said the private vaccination drive will “only enable queue jumpers who don’t really need the vaccine compared with the more vulnerable groups, and disregard the principle of equity for all citizens in a vaccination program.”

Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist, said in an online discussion: “There is also no guarantee that we will achieve herd immunity by inoculating 181.5 million people. This could be misleading the public and making them have the wrong expectation.

“This is also prone to make the government, the companies, and the public relax its compliance to the health protocols, testing, tracing and treatment,” Budiman added.

He said that achieving herd immunity is a long-term goal and that the vaccination drive could not stand alone in battling the pandemic without a comprehensive public health approach.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, agreed and said that the private vaccination program focused mainly on economic recovery targets instead of controlling the pandemic.

“It is clear from the start that the government does not view the vaccine as one of the ways to handle the pandemic, but it has been more about economic recovery,” Riono said.


UK risks creating ‘new Guantanamo in Syria’

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 27 February 2021

UK risks creating ‘new Guantanamo in Syria’

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Charity slams govt’s ‘abdication of responsibility’ over ‘Daesh bride’ Shamima Begum

LONDON: The UK risks creating a “new Guantanamo” in Syria through the practice of revoking the citizenships of Daesh accomplices, the director of a human rights charity has warned.

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday.

The director of human rights charity Reprieve, Maya Foa, who was involved in Begum’s case, said the ruling has left the 21-year-old in a “legal limbo,” where she cannot return to the UK or mount a legal challenge remotely.

“The court has said she can appeal against the decision, but they do not say how it can be done. It leaves her in the hands of the British government, which is unwilling to assist,” Foa added.

“That is less of a policy and more of an abdication of responsibility — unless the policy is to create a new Guantanamo in Syria.”

Supporters of Begum claim that she regrets her decision to leave the UK to join Daesh, and is remorseful about her actions.

Critics of the government decision say Begum was a minor and a victim of trafficking, who was unable to leave Syria until she was detained in the wake of Daesh’s defeat.

About 24 adults and 35 children who left the UK to join Daesh are still detained in Syrian camps, where conditions are said to be dismal. Many have been stripped of their UK citizenship.

The ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on Friday means that Begum is forbidden from entering the UK to fight her case.

She left London aged 15 with two friends to join Daesh in Syria six years ago. Despite being born in the UK, her citizenship was stripped in 2019 by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid after she was discovered living in a prison camp by a UK journalist.

British law permits the removal of a person’s citizenship if it is deemed “conducive to the public good.” However, it is illegal to remove a person’s citizenship if doing so would leave them stateless.

But Javid said Begum was eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, where her parents were born and had citizenship.

Intelligence agencies say about 900 Britons traveled to Syria or Iraq to join Daesh. About 20 percent of them were killed and 40 percent returned home.


Academics back UK professor accused of anti-Semitism

Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.” (AFP/Getty/File Photo)
Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.” (AFP/Getty/File Photo)
Updated 27 February 2021

Academics back UK professor accused of anti-Semitism

Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.” (AFP/Getty/File Photo)
  • Letter says David Miller ‘responded honestly’ to Israel-Palestine query

LONDON: Academics at the University of Bristol have urged it to abide by academic freedom and resist firing one of its lecturers, David Miller, who has been accused of anti-Semitism.

A professor of political sociology, Miller said Israel wants to “impose its will all over the world,” and it is “fundamental to Zionism to encourage Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.”

He claimed that members of the British university’s Jewish Society who had submitted complaints regarding his comments are being used as “political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing.”

A letter of support for Miller has been signed by several academics who said he was “approached to provide a statement on Israel and Palestine” and “simply responded honestly to the query.”

They warned that “well-orchestrated efforts” have been made to misrepresent his response as proof of anti-Semitism, and that sacking him would “crush academic freedom.” The letter was sent to Prof. Hugh Brady, president and vice chancellor of the university.

Miller has said his aim is to end “settler colonialism in Palestine” and “end Zionism as a functioning ideology of the world.”

Jewish Society President Edward Isaacs said the university is giving Miller’s views “legitimacy and power” by refusing to take action.“Jewish students have been actively seeking to ensure they are not taught by David Miller, and when they are, they are fearful of him finding out they are Jewish or associated with the Jewish Society,” Isaacs said.

“These are dangerous conspiracy theories about dual loyalty, dishonesty and Jewish students being operatives of a foreign state.”

Miller told The Times newspaper that he takes student safety “very seriously,” and that universities are governed by laws protecting the right to espouse research “that some may find discomfiting.”

Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.”

The university said it is speaking to student organizations, including the Jewish Society, and the UCU, an academic union, “about how we can address student concerns swiftly, ensuring that we also protect the rights of our staff.”