Top US diplomat calls for speedy negotiations over Ethiopia

Top US diplomat calls for speedy negotiations over Ethiopia
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Updated 27 November 2021

Top US diplomat calls for speedy negotiations over Ethiopia

Top US diplomat calls for speedy negotiations over Ethiopia

NAIROBI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greatly concerned about Ethiopia’s military escalation and called for urgent negotiations over the crisis, a US State Department spokesperson said.
The comments came hours after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared on the frontline with the national army.
“Secretary Blinken expressed grave concern about worrying signs of military escalation in Ethiopia and emphasised the need to urgently move to negotiations,” Ned Price said in a statement late on Friday.
Price released the statement after a phone call between Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Blinken.
On Friday, Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting reported that Abiy was on the frontline with the army fighting rebellious Tigrayan forces in the northeastern Afar region. Abiy posted the same video on his Twitter account.
Abiy’s government has been fighting Tigrayan forces for more than a year, in a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions in Africa’s second-most populous nation.
Ethiopia has announced new restrictions on the sharing of information about the war in the north of the country which stipulate that battlefront updates can only come from the government.
“Disseminating information on military maneuvers, war front updates and results via any medium is forbidden,” except for information provided by a joint civilian-military command set up to oversee a state of emergency, the government’s communication service said late on Thursday.
The statement did not specify the implications of the new rules for journalists or media outlets covering the war, which broke out last November between the government and rebellious forces from the northern region of Tigray.
It did not, for instance, address the consequence of publishing information provided by unauthorized sources. Ethiopia’s media regulator did not return calls from Reuters seeking clarification on the matter.
The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, told Reuters on Friday, “The state of emergency prohibits unauthorized entities from disseminating activities from the front via various channels including media.” She did not elaborate.
Ethiopia’s parliament designated the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the party that controls most of Tigray, a terrorist group earlier this year. In its statement, the government’s communication service instructed “those using freedom of speech as a pretext ... to support the terrorist group” to refrain from doing so.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed oversaw sweeping reforms when he took office in 2018, including the unbanning of more than 250 media outlets, the release of dozens of journalists and the repeal of some widely criticized media laws.
However, some rights groups say press freedom has eroded since then as the government has faced outbreaks of deadly violence, including the conflict in Tigray and neighbouring regions.
At least 38 journalists and media workers have been detained since early 2020, most of them since the conflict began, according to a Reuters tally.
Asked about the arrests in May, Ethiopia’s media regulator said “freedom of expression and the protection of the press are sacred values that are enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution.”


China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report
Updated 28 January 2022

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report
  • Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang

BEIJING: China has agreed to let the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visit Xinjiang in the first half of 2022 after the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to a report in the South China Morning Post which cited unnamed sources.
Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang, including mass detention, torture and forced labor. The United States has accused China of genocide.
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims and has described its policies as necessary to combat religious extremism.
UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet has been pursuing negotiations with China on a visit since September 2018.
China’s foreign ministry, China’s mission to the United Nations in New York, and the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The South China Morning Post report on Thursday cited sources saying that the approval for a visit after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Games, which run Feb. 4-20, was granted on the condition the trip should be “friendly” and not framed as an investigation.
As in 2008, the Olympics have again cast a spotlight on China’s human rights record, which critics say has worsened since then, leading Washington to call Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims genocide and prompting a diplomatic boycott from the United States and other countries.
“No one, especially the world’s leading human rights diplomat, should be fooled by the Chinese government’s efforts to distract attention away from its crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities,” Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters in an emailed statement on Friday. 


3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial
Updated 28 January 2022

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial
  • The two men are among the nearly 300,000 service members who have sued 3M, alleging its earplugs products were defective

FLORIDA, US: A federal jury on Thursday awarded $110 million to two US Army veterans who said combat earplugs sold by 3M Co. to the military caused them to suffer hearing damage, the largest verdict yet to result from hundreds of thousands of lawsuits over the product.
Jurors in Pensacola, Florida, sided with US Army veterans Ronald Sloan and William Wayman, who alleged that 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2’s design was defective, lawyers for the plaintiffs’ said.
The two men are among the nearly 300,000 service members and others who have sued 3M claiming they suffered hearing damage as a result of using the earplugs in what has become the largest federal mass tort litigation in US history.
Sloan and Wayman were each awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $40 million in punitive damages, the lawyers said. Each won more than the previously largest verdict in the litigation of $22.5 million.
“Juries continue to find that 3M’s earplugs were defective and that they are responsible for causing irreparable hearing damage to those who served our country,” plaintiffs’ lawyers Bryan Aylstock, Shelley Hutson and Christopher Seeger said in a joint statement.
3M in a statement said it was disappointed and would appeal. It noted it won the last two trials involving the earplugs and said its conduct was consistent with its “long-time commitment to keeping our US military safe.”
Aearo Technologies, which 3M bought in 2008, developed the product. Plaintiffs allege the company hid design flaws, fudged test results and failed to provide instructions for the proper use of the earplugs.
The trial was the 11th so far to reach a verdict. Plaintiffs in six trials, including Thursday’s, have won more than $160 million combined. Juries sided with 3M in the five others.
Five more trials are scheduled this year. 


Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order

Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order
Updated 28 January 2022

Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order

Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order
  • Mutinous soldiers ousted democratically elected President Kabore on Monday
  • Kabore's government was chided for failing to stem jihadist violence

OUAGADOUGOU: Burkina Faso’s new military leader said he was going to bring security and order back to the conflict-ridden nation and unite the country, but warned that betrayal wouldn’t be tolerated by the new regime.
Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, leader of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, spoke Thursday evening in his first public address to the nation since seizing power from President Roch Marc Christian Kabore earlier this week.
“I warn all those who will be guided only by their selfish interests that I will be uncompromising with the acts of betrayal of the aspirations of our people,” he said in an address aired on Burkina Faso’s state broadcaster.
Speaking from the presidential palace, Damiba said the country was facing an unprecedented crisis and the junta’s priority would be to restore security by renewing the will to fight among its soldiers and by listening to people to form a path forward.
“In its history, our country has rarely been confronted with adversity. But more than six years now our people have been living under the yoke of an enemy that succeeded,” said Damiba. “The task before us is immense. Fortunately, it is not only mine, it is all of ours. It will require great individual and collective efforts and certainly sacrifices on our part.”
Mutinous soldiers ousted democratically elected President Kabore on Monday after months of growing frustration at his government’s inability to stem jihadist violence that has spread across the country, killing thousands including security forces. Kabore has not been heard from since he was detained by the military and resigned, though the junta has said he is in a safe place.
Since taking over, the junta has spent the last few days trying to shore up support from religious and community leaders, security forces and unions. On Thursday it met with the labor union in the presidential palace and explained its motives for the coup, saying it would correct the previous regime’s flaws, said Moussa Diallo, the secretary general for the union who was at the meeting.
While Damiba said he had no problem with the unions, he also issued a veiled threat, ordering citizens not to speak out against the regime, said Diallo.
The international community has condemned the coup, despite widespread local support.
The US State Department in a statement expressed deep concern about the dissolution of the government, suspension of the constitution and the detention of government leaders. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on coup leaders to lay down their arms. He reiterated the UN’s “full commitment to the preservation of the constitutional order” in Burkina Faso and support for the people in their efforts “to find solutions to the multifaceted challenges facing the country,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The West African regional economic bloc, known as ECOWAS, has also condemned the coup and will be holding a summit Friday to discuss the mutiny.
Damiba on Thursday also called on the international community not to turn its back on Burkina Faso.
“In these particularly difficult times for our country, Burkina Faso needs its partners more than ever. This is why I call on the international community to support our country so that it can emerge from this crisis as quickly as possible and resume its march toward development,” he said.


Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review
Updated 28 January 2022

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Thursday asking for the creation of a plan on civilian harm “mitigation and response” in the coming months

WASHINGTON: A study by the RAND Corporation think-tank released on Thursday faulted the US military for “considerable weaknesses” and inconsistencies in its review of allegations of civilian casualties, and the Pentagon announced a broad review.
The US military is under intense scrutiny over its procedures to guard against civilian casualties following a high-profile, mistaken drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.
Not only did the US military botch the targeting but, in the strike’s initial aftermath, the Pentagon’s assessment concluded that it killed Daesh militants preparing a bombing attack against US troops.
The independent RAND study, which was required by congressional legislation, concluded systemic weaknesses at the Department of Defense (DoD) were causing it to fall short of its duties on civilian casualties.
“DoD is not adequately organized, trained, or equipped to fulfill its current responsibilities for addressing civilian harm,” the report concluded.
In conflicts, the US military often has limited access to targeted areas before or after strikes, relying on intelligence gathered remotely from sources like drone surveillance and satellite imagery.
RAND found the US military sometimes compounds this problem by failing to adequately talk to people from outside the US government or armed forces who might have access to information on the ground.
However, a 2018 Joint Staff review found that 58 percent of civilian casualties identified between 2015 and 2017 came from external sources, RAND said.
“We found that DoD’s current approach to assessing, investigating, and responding to civilian harm has considerable weaknesses in key areas and is inconsistent across theaters,” the report found.
The report also noted that investigating civilian casualties often falls to junior personnel “who do not receive formal training.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Thursday asking for the creation of a plan on civilian harm “mitigation and response” in the coming months and the creation of civilian protection center of excellence later this year.
A senior US defense official, briefing reporters on Austin’s decision, said incorporating information from sources outside the US government and US military would be key to the reforms.
“We tend to rely heavily on what is in our own data findings, and I think we need to build a system and also an expectation that other sources of information ... are built into this and have credibility,” the official said.
“That’s not something that we do consistently well, and that’s something that we intend to change.”


US must urge wary banks to help save Afghan lives: aid group

US must urge wary banks to help save Afghan lives: aid group
Updated 28 January 2022

US must urge wary banks to help save Afghan lives: aid group

US must urge wary banks to help save Afghan lives: aid group
  • The United Nations and aid groups are struggling to get enough money into Afghanistan to fund operations in a country where millions are suffering extreme hunger and the economy

UNITED NATIONS: The United States needs to give written encouragement to banks to transfer money to Afghanistan for the United Nations and aid groups as they race to save millions of lives, the head of a top international aid group told Reuters on Thursday.
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland, who was UN aid chief from 2003-06, was blunt in his assessment: “It is now, paradoxically, the Western sanctions that is our main problem in saving lives in Afghanistan.”
The Taliban, which has long been blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist group, seized power from Afghanistan’s internationally-backed government in August. Billions of dollars in Afghan central bank reserves and international development aid were frozen to prevent it from falling into Taliban hands.
The United Nations and aid groups are struggling to get enough money into Afghanistan to fund operations in a country where millions are suffering extreme hunger and the economy, education and social services are on the brink of collapse.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Afghanistan was “hanging by a thread” and that a lack of liquidity in the country was limiting capacity to reach people in need.
Washington issued sanctions exemptions — known as general licenses — last month related to humanitarian work. But Egeland said that was not enough to convince international banks they could avoid the “wrath” of Washington if they transferred funds to Afghanistan for aid groups, and he urged the Treasury to issue something specific in writing.
“The US Treasury needs to be proactive here,” said Egeland, who was part of a meeting of aid groups with US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo last week.
Egeland urged the Treasury to give banks “a comfort letter saying that you are hereby encouraged... to help save lives in Afghanistan by providing whatever services are needed for the aid organizations.”
Guterres on Wednesday also called for “general licenses covering transactions necessary to all humanitarian activities.”
The US Treasury said in a statement after last week’s meeting with aid groups that Adeyemo acknowledged the wariness of the banks and said the Treasury would “continue to provide clarity on the scope of US sanctions” to banks and financial institutions.
He also “offered to increase communication with financial institutions engaging in or interested in doing business in Afghanistan to help get resources into the country as quickly as possible,” it said.
Egeland also appealed for billions of dollars to be released to help Afghan civilians.
Since August, some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank reserves has been frozen abroad and $1.2 billion in development aid — administered by the World Bank — put on hold as donors seek to use it as leverage over the Taliban on issues including human rights.
“Grown men need to speak to each other because, really, I’m frustrated,” Egeland said. “The World Bank refers to the (World Bank) board and the donors — like the US — and the donors — like the US — refer to the World Bank. Can they please proactively fix it?“
“We’re losing in the race against death, and winter, and starvation,” he said.
Some former US officials and experts have suggested the administration of President Joe Biden could face backlash in Congress if it allows large amounts of money to be transferred to Afghanistan, amid fears it could fall into the hands of the Taliban.