Fashaqa flashpoint: Sudanese dream of reclaiming fertile land

A boy stands next to a donkey loaded with jerry cans by the Atbarah river near the village of Dukouli in the Fashaqa al-Sughra agricultural region of Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on March 16, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
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A boy stands next to a donkey loaded with jerry cans by the Atbarah river near the village of Dukouli in the Fashaqa al-Sughra agricultural region of Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on March 16, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
A farmer works in the village of Dukouli in the Fashaqa al-Sughra agricultural region of Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on March 16, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
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A farmer works in the village of Dukouli in the Fashaqa al-Sughra agricultural region of Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on March 16, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
Children stand outside a local youth center in the village of Dukouli in the Fashaqa al-Sughra agricultural region of Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on March 16, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
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Children stand outside a local youth center in the village of Dukouli in the Fashaqa al-Sughra agricultural region of Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on March 16, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
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Updated 19 March 2021

Fashaqa flashpoint: Sudanese dream of reclaiming fertile land

Fashaqa flashpoint: Sudanese dream of reclaiming fertile land
  • The border dispute feeds into wider tensions in the region, including over Ethiopia’s controversial Blue Nile dam

WAD KAWLI, Sudan: Under a thatched roof, Sudanese dream of returning to farmland at the heart of a decades-old dispute with Ethiopia that has turned violent and threatened to ignite a wider conflict.
From the town of Wad Kawli, west of the Atbara river, the farmers used to cross the narrow stream with wooden plows to cultivate fertile fields in Fashaqa, a region claimed by Sudan and Ethiopia.
By the mid-1990s, they were no longer able to tend their fields after Ethiopia pushed into the contested borderlands, allowing thousands of its own farmers to take over.
“Our last proper harvest of sesame crops from these fields was in 1996,” Mohamed Omar, a community leader in Wad Kawli, told AFP.
Farmers and traders long ignored the dividing map lines of colonial-era treaties.
But now the local dispute over fields of sesame and sorghum grown by smallholder farmers has put their thatch-hut villages on the front lines between two of Africa’s most powerful nations, Sudan, third largest in terms of territory, and Ethiopia, the second biggest in terms of population.
The border dispute feeds into wider tensions in the region, including over Ethiopia’s controversial Blue Nile dam.
Ethiopia’s push into Fashaqa came as its relations with Sudan soured following the attempted assassination of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 1995 while he was visiting Addis Ababa.
At the time, Addis Ababa accused Khartoum of being behind the plot, leading to tensions that saw Sudanese forces under now-ousted president Omar Al-Bashir withdraw from the region.
“We were simply told that it was no longer safe for us to go to east Atbara,” recalled farmer Abdelreheem Mirghani.

Stolen land
More than two decades after their withdrawal, the Sudanese army returned to Fashaqa last year to recapture what it considered stolen land.
The move, which came two years after Bashir’s ouster, angered Ethiopia and triggered deadly clashes.
Now, villages have become military restricted areas, and Sudanese farmers have yet to re-enter.
Sudanese farmers from Fashaqa have over the years been caught up in the conflict between Khartoum and Addis Ababa.
The two sides held border talks over the decades, but they have yet to mark out clear boundaries.
Sudan regularly invokes colonial-era treaties from 1902 and 1907, which say the Fashaqa lies within its boundaries, a claim Ethiopia refutes.
The exact size of the contested land is unclear, but Fashaqa covers some 12,000 square kilometers (4,630 square miles) and the flashpoint border zone measures around 250 square kilometers.
Amid all the uncertainty, farmers left Wad Kawli, bringing its population down to barely 4,000 from 12,000 in the early 1990s, according to Omar.
One farmer, Mohamed Gomaa, said he fought for years to have access to even a small part of the east Atbara area.
“The Ethiopians forced us out by threatening to burn the harvest,” he said.
“We now cultivate small plots on the western side of the river, but the soil quality in the east is simply unrivalled anywhere in Sudan.”

Abused by militias
Over the years, villagers were forced to adapt, cultivating land west of the river and welcoming Ethiopian traders.
Some even learnt Ethiopia’s Amharic and Tigrinya languages, and others married into Ethiopian families.
But they still face attacks by Ethiopian militias.
“My father was kidnapped for a week in 2013 and we paid a hefty ransom equivalent to 700,000 Sudanese pounds ($1,850) to bring him back,” said Zakaria Yehia, a nurse from Wad Kawli.
Other villagers showed scars they said were from bullets or violent encounters with Ethiopians.
“We got used to waking up to find our cattle were stolen,” said Fatma Khalil, the wife of community leader Omar.
She said Sudanese forces began arriving into the border zone, including Wad Kawli, last year.
“Nowadays, there is a greater sense of security,” Khalil said. “Now we can have some undisturbed sleep during the night.”

Sudanese troop deployment
The Sudanese troop deployment coincided with the outbreak of conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which borders Fashaqa.
The fighting has forced around 60,000 refugees to flee to Sudan.
Ethiopia had warned Sudan against the troop deployment, but tensions soared after the alleged killing of four Sudanese soldiers in a December ambush by Ethiopian forces and militias.
Sudan responded by sending reinforcements to the border, in an operation it said was “to recapture the stolen lands and take up positions on the international lines.”
Ethiopia denounced the move as an “invasion.”
A string of clashes followed, with both sides began trading accusations of violence and territorial violations.
Sudan says it has regained control over large swathes of Fashaqa, and Ethiopia has warned of military action unless Sudanese forces stop their advance.
On Wednesday, Sudan’s head of state Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said there will be “no negotiations” unless Ethiopia acknowledges Fashaqa is “Sudanese land.”
And Wad Kawli villagers support his call.
“This is our land, we have always cultivated it,” said the nurse Yehia. “And now we want it fully back.”


Queen accepts medical advice to rest, cancels N Ireland trip

Queen accepts medical advice to rest, cancels N Ireland trip
Updated 11 sec ago

Queen accepts medical advice to rest, cancels N Ireland trip

Queen accepts medical advice to rest, cancels N Ireland trip
LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II has reluctantly accepted medical advice to rest for a few days and has canceled a trip to Northern Ireland, Buckingham Palace said Wednesday.
The palace didn’t offer specifics on the decision, but says the 95-year-old monarch is “in good spirits,” and disappointed that she will no longer be able to visit Northern Ireland for engagements Wednesday and Thursday.
“The Queen sends her warmest good wishes to the people of Northern Ireland, and looks forward to visiting in the future,” the palace said.
She is resting at Windsor Castle, where she has stayed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The decision to cancel the trip was understood to not be COVID related.
The decision comes just days after Elizabeth was seen using a walking stick at a major public event when attending a Westminster Abbey service marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion, an armed forces charity.
She had previously been photographed using a cane in 2003, but that was after she underwent knee surgery.
Britain’s longest-lived and longest-reigning monarch, Elizabeth is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year.
The queen, who was widowed this year when Prince Philip died at age 99 in April, still keeps a busy schedule of royal duties. On Tuesday, she held audiences with diplomats and hosted a reception at Windsor Castle for global business leaders.
Despite her great age, the monarch has politely declined the honor of being named “Oldie of the Year” by a British magazine. The Oldie magazine on Tuesday published the queen’s response to its suggestion that she follow in the footsteps of former recipients, such as actor Olivia de Havilland and artist David Hockney.
“Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept, and hopes you will find a more worthy recipient,” said a letter from her assistant private secretary, Tom Laing-Baker. He ended the letter “with Her Majesty’s warmest best wishes.”

Longer sentences imposed for Brits who travel to war zones or plot terror attacks

Longer sentences imposed for Brits who travel to war zones or plot terror attacks
Updated 40 min 7 sec ago

Longer sentences imposed for Brits who travel to war zones or plot terror attacks

Longer sentences imposed for Brits who travel to war zones or plot terror attacks
  • Terrorists could face 14 years behind bars and even more on license under strict new guidelines
  • The new sentences were first mulled when a man committed a deadly attack just weeks after being released early from jail

LONDON: New sentencing guidelines have been proposed by the British Justice Secretary that would see those who plot attacks with multiple victims or travel abroad to fight for terror groups hit with lengthier jail terms of 14 years.

Dominic Raab, who is new to the post, said the updated powers would deter “those who kill and maim in the name of warped and fanatical ideologies.”

The Sentencing Council will set out its proposed guidance to judges on how they should apply the new mandatory minimum jail term — which became law earlier this year — on Wednesday.

Those who are found guilty under the new category will face a minimum of 14 years behind bars unless there are “exceptional circumstances.”

They will also face a further seven to 25 years on license after their custodial sentence ends, which will see severe restrictions and monitoring of their daily lives.

The new sentencing will apply in cases where there is “a significant risk” to the public of “serious harm occasioned by the commission by the offender of further serious terrorism offenses.”

It should also cover cases where the offense “was very likely to result in or contribute to (whether directly or indirectly) the deaths of at least two people” — the so-called “risk of multiple deaths condition.”

A consultation on the new guidance will run until Jan. 11, 2022.

Raab said: “These proposed guidelines will support judges to pass consistent and appropriate sentences in terrorism cases. Those who kill and maim in the name of warped and fanatical ideologies will spend longer behind bars, because public protection is our top priority.”

The Guidance Council’s lead member for terrorism offenses, Justice Maura McGowan, said: “Terrorism offenses are serious criminal acts that are constantly evolving, and the law is regularly updated in line with the changing nature of the offenses, requiring a new approach to sentencing.

“The council is proposing revisions to existing sentencing guidelines to reflect the new legislation and ensure that the courts have comprehensive and up-to-date guidance for dealing with these extremely serious cases.”

The new sentencing guidelines were first proposed in 2019, when a man killed two people in central London after being released early from prison on license after being jailed for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange.

Hundreds of Britons have also previously traveled to Syria to join Daesh before the group collapsed, and the country has been struggling to manage their return.

According to a report by The Independent earlier this year, only one in 10 people who returned from fighting for Daesh in Syria were prosecuted, and not all of those prosecutions were related to terror offenses. Even fewer people were convicted directly for Daesh membership.

Officials struggled to prove that offences took place in Syria due to flimsy evidence from the battlefield, severely limiting prosecution capabilities. 

The new legislation is designed to remedy that struggle by criminalizing the act of traveling to terrorism “designated areas” abroad, such as Daesh’s short-lived territories in Iraq and Syria.


Pakistani-American ‘raped, beheaded’ former ambassador’s daughter

Pakistani-American ‘raped, beheaded’ former ambassador’s daughter
Updated 37 min 26 sec ago

Pakistani-American ‘raped, beheaded’ former ambassador’s daughter

Pakistani-American ‘raped, beheaded’ former ambassador’s daughter
  • The brutal murder of Noor Mukadam, 27, sparked protests across the country and calls for reform to Pakistan’s gender violence laws
  • The 27-year-old was attacked after refusing a marriage proposal

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani-American man accused of raping and beheading his girlfriend, the daughter of a former ambassador, went on trial Wednesday in the capital Islamabad.
The brutal murder of Noor Mukadam, 27, sparked protests across the country and calls for reform to Pakistan’s gender violence laws.
Zahir Jaffer, 30, from a wealthy industrialist family, has denied killing Mukadam.
“The trial has formally started. Our first witness was examined today and we will produce five more witnesses at the next hearing,” Shah Khawar, a prosecution lawyer told AFP outside the court in Islamabad.
The 27-year-old was attacked after refusing a marriage proposal, attempting repeatedly to escape Jaffer’s sprawling mansion in an upscale neighborhood in Islamabad but blocked each time by his staff, a police report said.
Jaffer raped and tortured her with a knuckle duster before beheading her with a “sharp-edged weapon,” it added.
“Her life could have been saved had the accomplices acted otherwise,” the report said, which was presented to the court in a previous hearing.
Eleven others have also been charged in connection to the murder, including some of Jaffer’s household staff, his parents, and others who were allegedly asked to conceal evidence.
Mukadam’s murder received nationwide attention due to a growing, youth-driven women’s rights movement in the country where victims of violence are often discouraged from speaking out and blamed for abuse.
According to a government survey conducted between 2017-18, 28 percent of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence in Pakistan. However, experts believe the figure is expected to be higher because of underreporting.
The murder of Mukadam, whose father served as Pakistan’s ambassador to South Korea and Kazakhstan, is one of the most high-profile cases of violence against women since the government introduced new legislation designed to speed up justice for rape victims.
It is typical for court cases to drag on for years in Pakistan, but prosecutor Khawar said he expected the trial to be concluded within eight weeks.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has pledged that the accused would not escape justice for being part of the Pakistani elite and a dual national.


Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro
Updated 20 October 2021

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro
  • Diversity of Arab population means opinions about far-right president vary widely
  • While his views on Palestine anger many, some still support his domestic policies

With his approval rating at only 33 percent, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been facing street protests, organized by the opposition, in several cities across the country in recent months.

Demonstrators demanding his impeachment accuse him of mismanaging the pandemic; more than 600,000 people in the country have died of conditions related to COVID-19.

They are also unhappy that he has failed to lead the nation out of a persistent economic crisis that has resulted in rising inflation and an increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty, which has risen to 27.4 million.

The various Arab communities in Brazil have been viewing the protests in different ways. Historically one of the most relevant immigrant populations in the country, Arabs immigrants and their descendants account for 12 million, or almost 6 percent, of the 210 million people in Brazil, according to a 2020 study.

While Palestinian advocacy groups have been active in mobilizing the protests against Bolsonaro, more-conservative segments of the Arab community continue to support him. Even among these, however, criticism is growing.

“We have a rather diverse community, which is the result of different waves of immigration,” said pharmacology professor Soraya Smaili, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Brazil in the 1950s, and one of the founders of the Institute of Arab Culture, known as Icarabe.

“There was a first influx of Syrians and Lebanese at the end of the 19th century. Other large groups arrived after the Second World War and over the following decades.”

That first wave of Arabs from Syria and Lebanon moved to Brazil during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, and most of them were Christian. The Arabs who have arrived since the 1940s have more diverse origins, and some are Muslim.

Each of these distinct groups have specific relationships with the issues concerning Middle Eastern countries, Smaili said.

“In general, the Arab Brazilians who are distant in time from the Middle Eastern reality tend to feel less insulted by Bolsonaro’s actions concerning the Palestinian issue, for instance,” she explained.

The Brazilian president’s much-publicized strong ties with Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, have a huge influence on how some Arab Brazilians see him.

During the 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro pledged to transfer the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Although this has yet to happen, his announcement was taken by many Arabs as an insult.

Also in 2018 he said that he would close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia, on the grounds that “Palestine is not a country.”

“Especially among geographically concentrated Palestinian communities, like the ones that exist in cities such as Santana do Livramento and Foz do Iguacu, those facts generated great opposition to him,” said Yasser Fayad, a physician and member of the leftist Palestinian liberation movement, Ghassan Kanafani.

The grandson of Lebanese immigrants who came to Brazil in the 1940s from a region on the border with Palestine, Fayad is Muslim and feels deeply connected with the plight of the Palestinians. This fuels his disapproval of the Bolsonaro administration.

“The Brazilian far right emulates its European and North American counterparts, and thus is anti-Muslim,” he said.

That does not mean, however, that all Muslims in Brazil’s Arab community totally repudiate Bolsonaro, he added.

“Some of them are critical of his stance on Palestine but not of his domestic policies,” Fayad explained.

Reginaldo Nasser, a foreign relations professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, told Arab News that refugees from Syria and other nations who are part of the working class in Brazil comprise one of the most consistently anti-Bolsonaro groups of Arabs.

“They have a political identification with the excluded and the poor,” he said. “Besides, they feel the impact of Bolsonaro’s policies on a daily basis; he makes it hard for them to get into Brazil, to integrate into the society and to get a job.”

Nasser, whose grandparents came from Lebanon, does not believe that Arabs in Brazil really form a single community, given that there is a vast plurality of political ideas and economic interests among them.

“But we certainly can affirm that many in the younger generations are more conscious about the Middle Eastern reality than their parents and grandparents, and that reflects on their political views,” he added.

These political differences between Arab Brazilians created great divides during the most recent presidential campaign. The intense polarization, especially in 2018 and 2019, even caused conflicts with families.

“Most of my extended family supported Bolsonaro’s election,” said Nabil Bonduki, an architecture professor at the University of Sao Paulo. “Some of the ones who opposed him decided to leave the family’s WhatsApp group back then.”

Now, with Bolsonaro’s popularity in decline, many of his supporters simply do not talk about politics any more, according to Bonduki, who has served two terms as a city council member in Sao Paulo for the leftist Workers’ Party.

He said that Arab Brazilians have traditionally had a strong presence in the country’s politics, serving as congressmen, state governors and even president, in the case of Michel Temer, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who was in office from August 2016 until December 2018.

“Although some of them are progressive, the majority has always been more conservative,” Bonduki said.

Bolsonaro’s final opponent in the 2018 election was former Sao Paulo Mayer Fernando Haddad, a member of the Workers’ Party and the son of a Lebanese immigrant.

There have been no studies of how Arab Brazilians tend to vote. However Brazilians living in Israel mostly voted for Bolsonaro, while the ballots cast in Palestine were mostly in favor of Haddad.

In the opinion of Sheikh Jihad Hammadeh, vice president of the National Union of Islamic Institutions, Arab Brazilians, especially Muslims, are affected by the political atmosphere in the country just like all other social groups.

He said there were fierce political debates in his communities’ WhatsApp groups during and after the presidential election, and that he had to intervene at times to prevent further conflicts.

“We always tell people that they need to be respectful,” said Hammadeh. “Each one of us can have a distinct political opinion. As Muslims, we must respect each other’s views.”


Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans
Updated 20 October 2021

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans
  • The premier urged the EU Commission to present “clear action plans, adequately funded, and addressed with equal priority to all routes of the Mediterranean,”

ROME:  Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has called for the EU to draw up “clear and adequately financed” plans for the handling of Mediterranean migration routes.

Speaking to the Italian Senate, he said it was essential that the issue was addressed at the European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The premier urged the EU Commission to present “clear action plans, adequately funded, and addressed with equal priority to all routes of the Mediterranean,” starting with the one between Italy and the shores of North Africa.

He said the EU should, “pay attention to the specificity of maritime borders and the effective political stability of Libya and Tunisia.”

A diplomatic adviser to the prime minister’s office told Arab News: “Without a proper stabilization of those two countries, no action can be effective. This is why PM Draghi at the upcoming European Council meeting will call on the EU to play a primary role.”

Draghi pointed out that during the summer, Italy had continued to meet its international rescue obligations in protecting migrants at sea. “We did it with humanity and in order to defend European values of solidarity and hospitality.”

Since 2014, nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe, according to the UN’s migration agency.

More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year, said the country’s Ministry of Interior, almost double the number arriving over the same period last year.

Referring to the refugees, particularly those coming from Afghanistan, Draghi said that “Europe should do more. It should follow the model of the so-called humanitarian corridors.”

Addressing the Italian senators, Draghi added: “I intend to propose that the commission must update the heads of state and government in each European Council on the degree of implementation and advancement of commitments undertaken.

“Only in this way will we be able to answer to our parliaments, and above all our citizens, on the progress made at European level, and of what still remains to be done.”