UN to evacuate families of staff in Ethiopia as alarm grows

In this Saturday, May 8, 2021 file photo, Ethiopian government soldiers ride in the back of a truck on a road near Agula, north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. (AP)
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In this Saturday, May 8, 2021 file photo, Ethiopian government soldiers ride in the back of a truck on a road near Agula, north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. (AP)
People gather behind a placard showing PM Abiy Ahmed at a rally to show support for the Ethiopian National Defense Force in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (AP file photo)
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People gather behind a placard showing PM Abiy Ahmed at a rally to show support for the Ethiopian National Defense Force in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (AP file photo)
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Updated 24 November 2021

UN to evacuate families of staff in Ethiopia as alarm grows

In this Saturday, May 8, 2021 file photo, Ethiopian government soldiers ride in the back of a truck on a road near Agula, north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. (AP)

ADDIS ABABA: International alarm mounted on Tuesday over the escalating war in Ethiopia as Tigrayan rebels claimed to be edging closer to the capital Addis Ababa and more foreign citizens were told to leave.
US envoy Jeffrey Feltman spoke of some progress in efforts to reach a diplomatic settlement to end the brutal year-long conflict but warned it risked being jeopardized by “alarming developments” on the ground.
The United Nations said it had ordered the immediate evacuation of family members of international staff while France became the latest Western government to tell its citizens to leave Ethiopia.
The rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) claimed this week it had taken a town just 220 kilometers (135 miles) from the capital, although battlefield claims are hard to verify because of a communications blackout.
On Monday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vowed he would head to the battlefront to lead his soldiers in what the government has described as an “existential war” in Africa’s second most populous nation.
“We are now in the final stages of saving Ethiopia,” said Abiy, who only two years ago was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for securing a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea.
Thousands of people have been killed since fighting erupted in November 2020, triggering a desperate humanitarian crisis that the UN says has left hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine and displaced more than two million.
The latest developments cast doubt on hopes of an end to the conflict, which has stoked fears it could sow wider instability in the Horn of Africa region.
“While there’s some nascent progress, that is highly at risk of being outpaced by the military escalation on the two sides,” said Feltman, in Ethiopia this week along with his African Union counterpart Olusegun Obasanjo to broker a cease-fire.

A scramble to evacuate foreigners was continuing, three weeks after the government declared a state of emergency and ordered residents to prepare to defend the capital.
An internal UN security order seen by AFP said family members of international staff should be evacuated by November 25.
“Given the security situation in the country and out of an abundance of caution, the United Nations has decided to reduce its footprint in the country by temporarily relocating all eligible dependents,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, putting the number of people affected at a few hundred.
France also advised its citizens to leave “without delay,” following similar adviseries by the US and the UK.
But officials in Addis Ababa said at a briefing to diplomats that security forces were working to keep the city safe.
“The propaganda and terror talk being disseminated by the Western media fully contradicts the peaceful state of the city on the ground, so the diplomatic community shouldn’t feel any worry or fear,” said Kenea Yadeta, head of the Addis Ababa Peace and Security Bureau.
The conflict erupted when Abiy sent troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple the TPLF after months of seething tensions with the party that had dominated national politics for three decades before he took power in 2018.
Abiy said the move was in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps and promised a swift victory, but by late June the rebels had retaken most of Tigray including its capital Mekele.
Since then the TPLF has pushed into the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions and joined forces with a number of other groups including the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).
Earlier this week the TPLF claimed control of Shewa Robit, just 220 kilometers northeast of Addis Ababa by road.
The government has not responded to requests about the status of the town.
Some TPLF fighters were also believed to have reached Debre Sina, about 30 kilometers closer to Addis Ababa, diplomats briefed on the security situation said.

In Pretoria, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta added to calls for the warring parties to commit to an immediate cease-fire.
But Abiy himself has cast doubts on the prospects for a peaceful solution.
“Starting tomorrow, I will mobilize to the front to lead the defense forces,” he said in a statement on Monday.
“Those who want to be among the Ethiopian children who will be hailed by history, rise up for your country today. Let’s meet at the front.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations on Tuesday launched a major drive to deliver food aid to two towns in northern Ethiopia despite the looting of warehouses.
The UN’s World Food Programme said the operation would serve more than 450,000 people over the next two weeks in the towns of Kombolcha and Dessie which lie at a strategic crossroads on the main highway to Addis Ababa.


German court gives 101-year-old ex Nazi guard five years in jail

The accused Josef S. covers his face as he sits at the court room in Brandenburg, Germany, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP)
The accused Josef S. covers his face as he sits at the court room in Brandenburg, Germany, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP)
Updated 29 June 2022

German court gives 101-year-old ex Nazi guard five years in jail

The accused Josef S. covers his face as he sits at the court room in Brandenburg, Germany, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP)
  • The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and had not even worked at the camp

BRANDENBURG AN DER HAVEL, Germany: A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person so far to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.
Josef Schuetz was found guilty of being an accessory to murder in at least 3,500 cases while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.
He is highly unlikely to be put behind bars given his age.
The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and had not even worked at the camp.
“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial on Monday.
But presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said he was convinced Schuetz had worked at Sachsenhausen and had “supported” the atrocities committed there.

This undated file photo shows a roll call, in the early morning or late evening hours, on the roll call square in front of the camp gate of the Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg on the outskirts of Berlin, Germany. (AP)

“For three years, you watched prisoners being tortured and killed before your eyes,” Lechtermann said.
“Due to your position on the watchtower of the concentration camp, you constantly had the smoke of the crematorium in your nose,” he said.
“Anyone who tried to escape from the camp was shot. So every guard was actively involved in these murders.”
More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945.
Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labor, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

Schuetz, who was 21 when he began working at the camp, remained blank-faced as the court announced his sentence.
“I am ready,” he said when he entered the courtroom earlier in a wheelchair, dressed in a grey shirt and striped trousers.
Schuetz was not detained during the trial, which began in 2021 but was postponed several times because of his health.
His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, told AFP he would appeal — meaning the sentence will not be enforced until 2023 at the earliest.
Thomas Walther, the lawyer who represented 11 of the 16 civil parties in the trial, said the sentencing had met their expectations and “justice has been served.”
But Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, said he could “never forgive” Schuetz as “any human being facing atrocities has a duty to oppose them.”
During the trial, Schuetz had made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up.”
At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural laborer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.

After the war, Schuetz was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.
More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.
The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these justice cases.
Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.
Among those brought to late justice were Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz.
Both were convicted at the age of 94 of complicity in mass murder but died before they could be imprisoned.
However, Schuetz’s five-year sentence is the longest so far handed to a defendant in such a case.
Guillaume Mouralis, a research professor at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), told AFP the verdict was “a warning to the perpetrators of mass crimes: whatever their level of responsibility, there is still legal liability.”


American who joined Daesh gets prison term reduced

In this file photo provided by the US District Court, Alexandria, Va., Mohamad Khweis, 32, of Alexandria, Va., is seen. (AP)
In this file photo provided by the US District Court, Alexandria, Va., Mohamad Khweis, 32, of Alexandria, Va., is seen. (AP)
Updated 29 June 2022

American who joined Daesh gets prison term reduced

In this file photo provided by the US District Court, Alexandria, Va., Mohamad Khweis, 32, of Alexandria, Va., is seen. (AP)
  • Prosecutors urged Judge Liam O’Grady at Tuesday’s hearing to again sentence Khweis to 20 years

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: The first American to be convicted in a US jury trial of joining the Daesh had his prison term reduced Tuesday from 20 years to 14 years after an appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing.
Mohamad Khweis was convicted back in 2017 of providing material support to terrorists, as well as a weapons charge. He traveled to Daesh-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in December 2015, even obtaining an official IS membership card. But he left after a few months and surrendered in northern Iraq to Kurdish forces.
In 2020, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the weapons charge — many defendants had similar charges tossed out in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling — and ordered a new sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors urged Judge Liam O’Grady at Tuesday’s hearing to again sentence Khweis to 20 years. They cited the need for deterrence in a high-profile terrorism case and reminded O’Grady of the significance of Khweis’ conduct.
While there is no evidence that he fought for the Daesh, there was evidence at his trial that he volunteered to be a suicide bomber and that he cared for injured fighters at safe houses.
He also admitted at trial that he burned his laptop and multiple phones, and deleted contact info from another, before he fled the Daesh. He testified at trial that he was worried the laptop contained financial data like his credit score, which the judge said was implausible.
Khweis, 32, has been in custody in one form or another since March 2016, and on Tuesday again renounced his allegiance to the Daesh and apologized for his conduct.
“It’s still mid-boggling to me that I made this terrible decision,” said Khweis, who grew up in northern Virginia and had worked as a Metro Access bus driver for disabled passengers before departing to the Daesh.
Khweis’ attorney, Jessica Carmichael, highlighted his exemplary behavior in the Bureau of Prisons after his conviction and said he’s done all he can to show he’s matured.
“We do want to send a message” with this sentence, she told the judge. And she said the audience paying the most attention is “the people he left behind in prison. We want to encourage others to engage in this type of rehabilitation, to not wallow in self-pity.”
In a statement after Tuesday’s hearing, Carmichael said, “Mohamad worked exceptionally hard for years while incarcerated to show that he was taking this seriously ... and was more than the poor decisions he made six-and-a-half years ago. I am proud of him for that, and hope that others in custody can receive an opportunity to show the same.”
Still, while the reduction to 14 years is significant, it is far less than Khweis’ request that he be released with time served.
O’Grady said Tuesday that Khweis deserved credit for his good conduct in custody, but that he struggled with how to evaluate Khweis, given how quickly he became radicalized and how easily he lied about his actions on the witness stand at his 2017 trial.
“I don’t know what your inner thoughts are,” O’Grady said.


Johnson urges NATO allies to boost military spending

Johnson urges NATO allies to boost military spending
Updated 29 June 2022

Johnson urges NATO allies to boost military spending

Johnson urges NATO allies to boost military spending
  • After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, NATO member states pledged to spend at least 2.0 percent of their gross domestic product on defense to ensure the readiness of the alliance by 2024

MADRID: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge his NATO allies at a summit in Madrid to boost their defense spending in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, his office said Tuesday.
After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, NATO member states pledged to spend at least 2.0 percent of their gross domestic product on defense to ensure the readiness of the alliance by 2024.
Only eight of NATO’s 30 members met or surpassed this target in 2021, but a number of nations such as Germany and Italy have boosted their defense spending this year due to the war in Ukraine.
“We need allies — all allies — to dig deep to restore deterrence and ensure defense in the decade ahead,” Johnson will tell the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday, his office said in a statement.
“The two percent was always meant to be a floor, not a ceiling and allies must continue to step up in this time of crisis,” he will add.
On the flight to Madrid, the British prime minister said there needs to be “a conversation within NATO” about a new target for defense investment after 2024.
NATO “must adapt to meet new and increased threats” with “long-term investment” as well as a readiness “to surge defense spending to adapt to crises and urgent needs,” the British government said in a statement.
Johnson will also announce at the summit that Britain will boost its military presence in Estonia, a tiny nation bordering Russia, with more powerful weapons and air defense.
Britain has provided massive military support to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion worth £1.3 billion (1.5 billion euros).
Johnson, however, is criticized by the opposition and some lawmakers of his own party for reneging on his election promise to increase military spending in 2022 beyond the rate of inflation, which is expected to hit over 10 percent this year.
His Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has lobbied for the defense budget to be raised to 2.5 percent of Britain’s economic output by 2028, according to British press reports.


Fire kills 51 after apparent riot attempt at Colombia prison

Fire kills 51 after apparent riot attempt at Colombia prison
Updated 29 June 2022

Fire kills 51 after apparent riot attempt at Colombia prison

Fire kills 51 after apparent riot attempt at Colombia prison
  • President Iván Duque expressed condolences to the families of those who died and said he had ordered investigations into the cause

BOGOTA, Colombia: A fire at a prison in southwestern Colombia has killed at least 51 people and injured a dozen more, prison authorities reported Tuesday.
The director of the national prison system, Tito Castellanos, told Radio Caracol that it’s not clear if all of the dead were prisoners. He initially said 49 had died, but the Justice Ministry later raised the toll to 51.
He said the fire broke out during what appeared to be an attempted riot early Tuesday at the medium security prison in the city of Tulua.
He said inmates had set mattresses on fire without considering the consequences.
Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz added that more than 20 inmates were being treated for injuries in hospital, and said that two prison guards sustained minor injuries.
President Iván Duque expressed condolences to the families of those who died and said he had ordered investigations into the cause.


Teenager arrested on terrorism charges while trying to board flight in UK

Teenager arrested on terrorism charges while trying to board flight in UK
Updated 29 June 2022

Teenager arrested on terrorism charges while trying to board flight in UK

Teenager arrested on terrorism charges while trying to board flight in UK
  • The 16-year-old boy is accused of ‘collecting information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’ and ‘disseminating terrorist publications’

LONDON: A 16-year-old boy has been arrested in the UK on suspicion of terrorism offenses while attempting to board a flight from London Stansted Airport.

He is accused of “collecting information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism” and “disseminating terrorist publications,” according to a report by the Independent newspaper on Tuesday. Police said the alleged offenses are “linked to extreme Islamist ideology.”

The teenager was arrested on Monday by the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command under Schedule 7 of the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000, which gives officers the power to stop, question, search and detain suspects to determine any links with terrorism. A search was carried out at an address in east London in connection with the arrest, the report added.

Between April 2021 and March 2022, 15 percent of all terrorism-related arrests in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) involved people under the age of 18.

On May 17 this year, a 13-year-old boy was arrested in west London on terror-related charges. He is one of the youngest people to be charged with terrorism in the UK. Last week, a 15-year-old was detained in the north of England and charged in connection with extreme right-wing terrorism. He is due to appear at the Old Bailey on July 15.

According to official statistics, of the 233 people who were in custody in the UK at the end of March in connection with terrorism-related offenses, more than two-thirds (68 percent) were accused of holding “extreme Islamist views,” almost a quarter (24 percent) of having “extreme right-wing views,” and the remaining six percent of following other “other ideologies.”