Ethiopia accuses aid groups of ‘arming’ Tigray fighters

Ethiopia accuses aid groups of ‘arming’ Tigray fighters
Children wait next to sacks of wheat at a food distribution point near the village of Baker, 50 km southeast of Humera, in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. (File/AFP)
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Updated 16 July 2021

Ethiopia accuses aid groups of ‘arming’ Tigray fighters

Ethiopia accuses aid groups of ‘arming’ Tigray fighters
  • The Tigray forces regained control of much of the region last month including the regional capital, Mekele, while Ethiopian forces retreated and the government declared a unilateral ceasefire

NAIROBI: Ethiopia’s government has accused humanitarian aid groups working in its war-hit Tigray region of “arming” Tigray fighters and threatened to halt some groups’ operations there.

The accusations reflect the latest frictions between Ethiopia’s government and aid groups that for months have sought unrestricted access to the largely cut-off Tigray region where hundreds of thousands of people face famine conditions and scores have starved to death.

The spokesman for the Tigray emergency task force, Redwan Hussein, alleged on Wednesday that aid groups are “playing a destructive role” in the eight-month conflict.

“Instead of coordinating aid, (they) are widely engaged in coordinating, from a distance, campaigns of propaganda to harass and defame the Ethiopian government,” he said.

Redwan also said Ethiopia’s government may “reconsider its agreement to work with some of them” if humanitarian workers do not “confine their activities to aid and humanitarian issues.”

He didn’t name names. But the World Food Programme on Thursday responded to a broadcast by the pro-government ESAT news station that alleged the UN agency was supportive of the Tigray fighters that have been battling forces from Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea.

“WFP in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the world strictly adheres to the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and operational independence,” the agency said, adding that “WFP’s No. 1 priority is to deliver emergency food assistance to vulnerable and hungry communities.”

The Tigray forces regained control of much of the region last month including the regional capital, Mekele, while Ethiopian forces retreated and the government declared a unilateral ceasefire.

Though Ethiopia’s government has said the ceasefire is on humanitarian grounds, aid groups have said access remains severely restricted and both the US and EU have compared the situation to a “siege.”

Phone links, internet and electricity have been cut off across most of the region.

Convoys of aid trucks were unable to enter the region for 10 days. WFP said 50 trucks carrying 900 metric of food and other aid reached the Tigray capital on Monday but warned that “we need 100 trucks to be moving on any given day for half the time if we are to reverse the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the region.”

Ethiopia’s government has denied allegations it is blocking aid to Tigray and says humanitarian flights have been granted permission to fly to Mekele and the town of Shire, subject to cargo checks. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has claimed there is “no hunger” in Tigray.

Abiy on Wednesday appeared to indicate an end to the cease-fire on Wednesday when he urged Ethiopians to “repel” attacks against “internal and external enemies.”

His spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, did not comment.

This week saw renewed fighting in the south and west of Tigray between the Tigray fighters and forces from the neighboring Amhara region who claim those lands are rightfully theirs.

Amhara politicians have called on young people to join the fight.

The Tigray fighters have dismissed the cease-fire as a “joke” and released their own demands for a pause in the fighting, including the resumption of basic services to the region.


Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US
Updated 24 sec ago

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US
WASHINGTON: The possibility of a 9/11-type attack has diminished over the last 20 years, but the Taliban victory in Afghanistan could embolden US-based extremists.
At the same time that the FBI is confronting increasing threats from individuals motivated by racial and political grievances, top national security officials warned Tuesday.
Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the terrorism threat to the country is less “acute” than it was two decades ago, and that the danger posed in Afghanistan by groups like Al-Qaeda and the Daesh is at the moment primarily a regional threat. And FBI Director Christopher Wray said that though extremist groups have never stopped plotting attacks against the US, the FBI is better positioned to stop them.
Even so, the officials said, the collapse of the Afghanistan government and the potential ascendancy of foreign terror groups there could inspire Westerners to commit acts of violence. That’s on top of a domestic terrorism caseload that Wray said has “exploded” since the spring of 2020 from about 1,000 investigations to around 2,700.
“We are concerned that, with developments in Afghanistan — among other things — that there will be more inspiration to the first bucket,” Wray said of the international terrorism threat. “So I think we anticipate, unfortunately, growth in both categories as we look ahead over the next couple of years.”
US officials say they’re monitoring the situation in Afghanistan following the speedy Taliban blitz, particularly with an eye on how Al-Qaeda or IS could rebuild to the point of being able to conduct an attack targeting the US
“I think it is fair to assess that the development of those groups’ external operations capability, we’ve got to monitor and assess whether that’s going to happen faster than we had predicted otherwise,” Abizaid said. “Afghanistan is a very dynamic environment right now.”
Officials also defended the vetting process they have in place to screen the backgrounds of Afghanistan refugees seeking entry into the US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the number of refugees denied entry has been minimal because “we have not found many people with derogatory information relative to those who qualify for admission to the United States by reason of their status.”
“The (screening) architecture that has been built over 20 years since 9/11 remains in place and has only strengthened,” he said. “We have a screening and vetting architecture. We have greater cooperation among the federal agencies in the counterterrorism, intelligence and law enforcement communities. We remain ever vigilant in that regard.”

UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach

UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach
Updated 53 min 12 sec ago

UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach

UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach
  • British media reports said the people whose email addresses were distributed included some individuals who are in hiding from the Taliban
  • “On behalf of the Ministry of Defense, I apologize," Defense Minister Ben Wallace told Parliament

LONDON: Britain’s defense minister apologized and his ministry suspended an official Tuesday after a “significant” data breach involving the email addresses of dozens of Afghan interpreters hoping to settle in the UK
A Defense Ministry email to more than 250 Afghans who are eligible for relocation and still remain in Afghanistan was mistakenly copied to all applicants Monday instead of blind copied. British media reports said the people whose email addresses were distributed included some individuals who are in hiding from the Taliban.
“It is an unacceptable level of service that has let down the thousands of members of the armed forces and veterans. On behalf of the Ministry of Defense, I apologize,” Defense Minister Ben Wallace told Parliament.
Investigations are taking place, and officials will help provide security advice to those affected, Wallace added. He told lawmakers that authorities believe there are 900 “credible cases” of Afghan resettlement currently being processed.
The opposition Labour Party welcomed Wallace’s apology but said actions matter more than words.
“These Afghan interpreters worked alongside our British forces and the Government rightly pledged to protect them,” lawmaker John Healey said. “Ministers must make good on those promises now.”
Defense Committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood, who like Wallace is a member of the governing Conservative Party, said: “The Taliban haven’t changed, they seek to exact revenge on anybody that worked for NATO. We must get these interpreters out or they’ll be hunted and killed.”
Britain’s government dispatched over 1,000 soldiers, diplomats and officials to Afghanistan in August to evacuate some 15,000 British nationals and Afghan allies after the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul.


Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island

Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island
Updated 21 September 2021

Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island

Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island
  • Several small earthquakes shook the island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa on Tuesday
  • Authorities said the new fissure demonstrated that the area was unstable and unsafe, and kept people at least 2 kilometers away

EL PASO, Canary Islands: As a new volcanic vent blew open and unstoppable rivers of molten rock flowed toward the sea, authorities on a Spanish island warned Tuesday.
Also more dangers lie ahead for residents, including earthquakes, lava flows, toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.
Several small earthquakes shook the island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa on Tuesday, keeping nerves on edge after a volcanic eruption on Sunday. The island, with a population of 85,000, is part of the Canary Islands archipelago, a key tourist destination for Europeans.
Authorities said the new fissure demonstrated that the area was unstable and unsafe, and kept people at least 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) away.
The rivers of lava, up to six meters (nearly 20 feet) high, rolled down hillsides, burning and crushing everything in their path, as they gradually closed in on the island’s more densely populated coast. One was bearing down on Todoque, where more than 1,000 people live, and where emergency services were preparing evacuations.
So far, the eruption has destroyed around 190 houses and forced the evacuation of 6,000 people.
“The truth is that it’s a tragedy to see people losing their properties,” said municipal worker Fernando Díaz in the town of El Paso.
The lava’s advance has slowed to about 120 meters (400 feet) an hour, according to the head of the Canary Island Volcanic Emergency Plan, Miguel Ángel Morcuende, and wasn’t expected to reach the Atlantic Ocean before Wednesday.
Canary Islands government chief Ángel Víctor Torres said “when (the lava) reaches the sea, it will be a critical moment.”
The meeting of the lava, whose temperature exceeds 1,000 degrees Celsius (more than 1,800 F), with a body of water could cause explosions and produce clouds of toxic gas. Torres asked locals to remember the island’s last eruption in 1971, when one person died after inhaling the gas emitted as lava met the water.
A change in the wind direction blew the ashes from the volcano across a vast area on the western side of the island, with the black particles blanketing everything. Volcanic ash is an irritant for the eyes and lungs.
The volcano has also been spewing out between 8,000 and 10,500 tons of sulfur dioxide — which also affects the lungs — every day, the Volcanology Institute said.
Adding to the dangers, the emergence of new cracks in the earth spewing lava cannot be ruled out, said Nemesio Pérez, head of the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute, who noted there is “important superficial seismic activity in the area.”
The new fissure that appeared Monday night is 900 meters (3,000 feet) north of the Cumbre Vieja ridge, where the volcano first erupted Sunday after a week of thousands of small earthquakes. That earthquake swarm warned authorities that an eruption was likely and allowed many people to be evacuated, avoiding casualties.
The new fissure opened after what the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute said was a 3.8-magnitude quake.
Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months.
Torres described the lava-hit region as a “catastrophe zone” and said he would request money to rebuild roads, water pipes and create temporary accommodations for families who have lost their homes as well as their farmland.
Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are to visit the area on Thursday.


UK must save female Afghan judges, lawyers: Campaign

UK must save female Afghan judges, lawyers: Campaign
Updated 21 September 2021

UK must save female Afghan judges, lawyers: Campaign

UK must save female Afghan judges, lawyers: Campaign
  • #EvacuateHer appeal says women in hiding could face Taliban revenge attacks
  • Ex-judge: ‘Afghanistan is burning and all the women are on fire’

LONDON: A new appeal to provide support to female Afghan judges, lawyers and human rights activists has been launched by UK House of Lords member Helena Kennedy QC.

The #EvacuateHer campaign demands that the UK government provide urgent sanctuary to those groups and their families.

The UK’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy no longer includes judges in eligibility measures. 

The lobbying group includes several high-profile Afghan women who fled their country and are now based in the UK.

Over the past two decades, about 270 women have sat as judges in Afghanistan, and in their positions have presided over cases that human rights groups warn place them in immediate danger of Taliban “revenge” efforts.

Female Afghan judges have played a key role in changing legal norms in the war-torn country by freeing women from forced or abusive marriages, and protecting the right of girls and women to pursue education and jobs. 

Some have also been involved in the prosecution and imprisonment of Taliban and Daesh members. 

“It was not easy to become a female judge in Afghanistan. But now the Taliban have taken everything from us – our job, our family and our security,” one anonymous judge told The Guardian newspaper.

“I cannot sleep because I am not sure if I will be alive tomorrow. The Taliban can enter my house and kill me at any time.

“They believe it is against Islam for a woman to be a judge. I want the UK government to help us today. Tomorrow may be too late for us.”

Judge Anisa Dhanji, representing the International Association of Women Judges, said: “Our efforts are focused … on the judges who remain in Afghanistan and in trying to help to evacuate them, especially those who, because of their ethnicity, type of work or their individual profiles, are at exceptional risk.

“A group from the IAWJ board and other members have been working in shifts on these efforts for more than a month now. It has been extremely difficult, and often heartbreaking, when after days of intense efforts, hopes are dashed at the last minute, because of one obstacle or another.

“As women judges, they are at particular risk because they have had the temerity to sit in judgments on men. Judges have sent us specific details of the threats they have received, some to the effect that ‘now you have no power, and we will find you’.”

One woman taking part in the lobbying effort, 42-year-old Runna Alizoy, fled Afghanistan to the UK 19 years ago, but her older sister is a senior judge in Afghanistan and is now in hiding.

“It’s hard to put into words my grief for my sister,” she said. “The lives of female judges have been stolen. They say that the Taliban have changed — they have changed. Twenty years ago they whipped women in the street and sent them home. Now they shoot them and send them to their graves.”

Another member of the appeal, UK-based Marzia Babakarkhail — a former judge in Afghanistan who was threatened twice by the Taliban — said: “Afghanistan is burning and all the women are on fire.”


After Afghans fell from plane, families live with horror

After Afghans fell from plane, families live with horror
Updated 21 September 2021

After Afghans fell from plane, families live with horror

After Afghans fell from plane, families live with horror
  • Much remains unclear about what happened in that tragic takeoff on Aug. 16, a day after the Taliban swept into Kabul
  • One victim on Aug. 16 was 17-year-old Zaki Anwari, a rising star on Afghanistan’s national soccer team

KABUL, Afghanistan: It’s a scene that has come to symbolize the chaotic end to America’s 20 years of war in Afghanistan.
A lumbering US Air Force cargo plane takes off from Kabul airport, chased by hundreds of desperate Afghan men scrambling to get on the aircraft.
As the C-17 transporter gains altitude, shaky mobile phone video captures two tiny dots dropping from the plane. Footage from another angle shows many in the crowd on the tarmac stopping in their tracks and pointing.
The full extent of the horror becomes apparent only later. The dots, it turns out, were desperate Afghans hidden in the wheel well. As the wheels folded into the body of the plane, the stowaways faced the choice of being crushed to death or letting go and plunging to the ground.
More than a month later, much remains unclear about what happened in that tragic takeoff on Aug. 16, a day after the Taliban swept into Kabul, prompting a flood of Afghans trying to escape the country.
Even how many were killed remains unknown. Videos show two dots falling from the airborne plane, several seconds apart. But two bodies landed on the same rooftop at the same time, suggesting they fell together, so the other figure seen falling in the videos could be at least one other person. Also, the US military has said it found human remains still in the wheel well of the C-17 when it landed in Qatar but did not specify how many people. At least one person, a young soccer player, died on the tarmac, crushed under the C-17’s wheels.
The US military says it has not completed its investigation into the day. It said the C-17 was bringing in supplies for the evacuation effort at the airport but was mobbed by Afghans on the tarmac as it landed. Fearing the plane would be overwhelmed, the crew decided to take off again without unloading the cargo. Videos taken by Afghans on the tarmac show hundreds running alongside it, and perhaps a dozen people sitting on top of the wheel well, though it is not known how many jumped off before the plane lifted off.
One of those tucked into the wheel well was Fida Mohammad, a 24-year-old dentist.
He had once been full of hope, his family said. He had married last year in an extravagant ceremony that cost his family $13,000. His dream of opening a dental clinic in Kabul had become a reality.
Then the Taliban seized Kabul, and all the possibilities for his future seemed to disappear, his father Painda Mohammed told The Associated Press.
The older man still struggles to understand what his son was thinking when he climbed into the wheel well. He’s wracked with guilt, fearing that Fida took such an enormous risk because he wanted to help repay the large loan his father took out for the wedding.
Burying his head in his hands, Painda says he spends hours imagining his son’s final minutes, the fear he must have felt as the earth below him began to disappear and the wheels swung in, knowing he had no choice but to let go.
On the ground, Abdullah Waiz was asleep in his home at the time and was awakened by a powerful noise. His first thought was an explosion. He rushed outside. His neighbors gestured toward his roof and told him of the bodies tumbling from the sky.
Two bodies hit in the same corner of his roof, Waiz said, pointing at the spot, where the concrete was still stained with blood. Waiz believes they were holding hands since they fell in the same location. He collected the remains on a cloth and carried it to a nearby mosque, he said.
“For 48 hours after that, I couldn’t sleep or eat,” he said.
They identified one body as Fida, as he had stuffed his father’s name and number in his pocket. Local media said the second body was identified as a young man named Safiullah Hotak.
For two weeks at the end of August as the United States and its allies wrapped up their presence in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghans surged toward the Kabul airport, frantic to escape a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. A 2-year-old child died in the stampede. A Daesh group suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of the crowd, killing 169 Afghans and 13 US military personnel. Yet even after the explosion, thousands returned to the airport, hoping to make it inside.
The scenes were so traumatic that the US Air Force offered psychological counseling to the air force personnel who worked at Kabul airport, as well as the crew of the ill-fated C-17 flight after it landed at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Another victim on Aug. 16 was 17-year-old Zaki Anwari, a rising star on Afghanistan’s national soccer team. He would spend hours watching his hero Lionel Messi play. “He couldn’t get enough. It was all he talked about, all he did,” said his 20-year-old brother Zakir Anwari.
Zaki was too young to have known the Taliban’s harsh rule of the late 1990s. But as the militant force swept through the provinces, Zaki’s social media were flooded by rumors and horror stories purporting to tell of life under the Taliban.
Last time they ruled, the Taliban banned most sports, including soccer, and routinely rounded up young men at prayer times to force them to the mosque. Zaki was certain his dream of competing internationally on the Afghan team was over.
Zaki went to the airport with an elder brother and a cousin on Aug. 16. He was meant to just watch the car while the cousin, who had worked for an American company, tried to get into the airport. Instead, while they were gone, he climbed over the airport boundary wall.
A breathless Zaki then called his other brother Zakir. He said he was inside the airport and was soon getting onto a plane. Zakir said he pleaded with his brother to not go, reminding him he didn’t have his passport or even his ID card with him and asking him, “What will you do in America?’”
But his younger brother hung up, then called his mother. “Pray for me. I am going to America,” Zaki said. She begged him, “Come home.”
Zaki was no longer listening. He raced alongside the aircraft as it picked up speed until suddenly he was knocked from the side and fell under the wheel and died, witnesses told the family later.
Painda Mohammad, the young dentist’s father, watches over and over videos on his phone showing his son dancing at his wedding.
Through his tears, he said, “He was a gift from God and now God has taken him back.”