At least 108 civilians killed this month in Tigray airstrikes: UN

Villagers walk past burned vehicles in an air strike as they return to Yechila town in south central Tigray on July 10, 2021. (REUTERS/Giulia Paravicini/File)
Villagers walk past burned vehicles in an air strike as they return to Yechila town in south central Tigray on July 10, 2021. (REUTERS/Giulia Paravicini/File)
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Updated 15 January 2022

At least 108 civilians killed this month in Tigray airstrikes: UN

At least 108 civilians killed this month in Tigray airstrikes: UN
  • Warns of looming humanitarian disaster with food distribution operations on the verge of stopping
  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appeals to all parties to stop the fighting

GENEVA: At least 108 civilians have been killed since New Year’s in a series of airstrikes in the war-torn northern Tigray region of Ethiopia, the United Nations said Friday.
The UN also warned of a looming humanitarian disaster in the region, with its food distribution operations on the verge of grinding to a halt.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Twitter: “My appeal to the parties: stop the fighting in all its forms. All people who need humanitarian aid must receive it as quickly as possible. It’s time to start dialogue and reconciliation.”
The UN human rights office urged the Ethiopian authorities to ensure the protection of civilians, saying disproportionate attacks hitting non-military targets could amount to war crimes.
Northern Ethiopia has been beset by conflict since November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray after accusing the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of attacks on federal army camps.
“We are alarmed by the multiple, deeply disturbing reports we continue to receive of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects resulting from airstrikes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region,” rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva.
“At least 108 civilians have reportedly been killed and 75 others injured since the year began, as a result of air strikes allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian air force.”
She detailed a series of airstrikes, including the January 7 attack on the Dedebit camp for internally displaced persons, which left at least 56 dead and 30 others wounded, of which three later died in hospital.
On Monday, 17 civilians were reportedly killed and 21 injured after an airstrike hit a flour mill, and on Tuesday, the state-owned Technical Vocational Education and Training institute was hit, reportedly killing three men, said Throssell.
Numerous other airstrikes were reported last week, she added.
“We call on the Ethiopian authorities and their allies to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, in line with their obligations under international law,” said Throssell.
“Failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality could amount to war crimes.”
Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Programme said its distributions were at an all-time low, with the escalation of the conflict meaning that no WFP convoy has reached the Tigrayan capital Mekele since mid-December.
“Life-saving food assistance operations in northern Ethiopia are about to grind to a halt because intense fighting in the neighborhood that has blocked the passage of fuel and food,” WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri told reporters.
“After 14 months of conflict in northern Ethiopia, more people than ever need urgent food assistance.
“With no food, no fuel, no access, we are on the edge of a major humanitarian disaster.”


Mexican journalist murdered in Tijuana, 2nd in a week

Mexican journalist murdered in Tijuana, 2nd in a week
Updated 54 min 12 sec ago

Mexican journalist murdered in Tijuana, 2nd in a week

Mexican journalist murdered in Tijuana, 2nd in a week
  • Lourdes Maldonado López was found shot to death inside a car
  • Authorities had received a 911 call around 7 p.m. and found Maldonado dead on arrival

MEXICO CITY: A journalist was killed Sunday, the second in a week’s time in the northern Mexico border city of Tijuana, and the third in Mexico this month.
Lourdes Maldonado López was found shot to death inside a car, according to a statement from the Baja California state prosecutor’s office. Authorities had received a 911 call around 7 p.m. and found Maldonado dead on arrival.
In 2019, Maldonado came to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s daily morning news conference and asked for his support, help and labor justice. “Because I fear for my life,” she said.
Maldonado had been locked in a years-long labor dispute with Jaime Bonilla, who was elected governor of Baja California later that year as a candidate from López Obrador’s Morena party. He left office late last year.
Maldonado had recently announced that she won her dispute with a media company Bonilla owned after nine years of litigation.
Maldonado had collaborated with many outlets, but recently was doing a Internet, radio and television show, “Brebaje,” focused on local news.
Last Monday, photographer Margarito Martínez was gunned down outside his home. He was well-known for covering the crime scene in violence-plagued Tijuana. He worked for the local news outlet Cadena Noticias, as well as for other national and international media outlets.


UK must urge global shift in Afghanistan aid, experts warn

UK must urge global shift in Afghanistan aid, experts warn
Updated 24 January 2022

UK must urge global shift in Afghanistan aid, experts warn

UK must urge global shift in Afghanistan aid, experts warn
  • The group of experts laid out five practical outcomes that the UK should encourage the international community to work toward
  • They called on the UK government to convene an urgent international conference

LONDON: Experts in Britain are calling on the UK government to press the international community to broaden the definition of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to “avert an irreversible humanitarian disaster.”
In a letter sent to The Guardian newspaper, a group of experts, including former defense, national security and foreign policy chiefs, laid out five “practical outcomes” that the UK should encourage the international community to work toward.
The outcomes include meeting the UN’s appeal for humanitarian funding, preserving state delivery systems, resuming technical support to the country’s central bank to prevent economic collapse, reinstating the Afghan reconstruction trust fund and releasing some of the frozen Afghan foreign reserves so that salaries of essential workers can be paid and key social services maintained.
“But these measures are not enough to avert an irreversible humanitarian disaster,” the letter said, adding: “We believe the UK government needs to act in accordance with two fundamental principles: Afghan lives should not be used for political leverage; and economic and state collapse in Afghanistan is not in our own national interest.”
It called on the government to convene an urgent international conference, in partnership with the UN and key international partners, but to distinguish aid into two types: “Money that can be withheld to try to leverage political concessions from the Taliban, and money to enable government institutions to deliver basic human services and to keep the economy from collapsing.”
Afghanistan’s dire humanitarian situation has worsened following the Taliban takeover and withdrawal of the last remaining US troops. As a result, aid was suspended and many countries and international organizations froze the country’s assets.
The World Food Program said that it urgently needs $220 million per month this year as it ramps up operations to provide food and cash assistance to the more than 23 million Afghans facing severe hunger.
“The freezing of state assets and the cut in international funding for health and education risk tipping the country into a famine not seen before in Afghanistan’s 40 years of conflict. Economic collapse will cause death and suffering, and increase terrorism and migration,” the letter said.
Its authors include Valerie Amos, former UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs; Mark Lowcock, former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs; and Mark Sedwill, former national security adviser, cabinet secretary and ambassador to Kabul, among others.
The letter added that the proposals do not seek to give any succour to the Taliban.
“Humanitarian agencies are ready and able to pay medical staff, teachers and other civil servants delivering public services. But they need the money to do so — far more than has yet been delivered. And they need a clear political mandate from donors, not least the US,” the signatories said.
The letter comes after Norway hosted a Taliban delegation for three days of talks in Oslo with Western officials and Afghan civil society representatives to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
“We are extremely concerned about the grave situation in Afghanistan, where millions of people are facing a full-blown humanitarian disaster. In order to be able to help the civilian population in Afghanistan, it is essential that both the international community and Afghans from various parts of society engage in dialogue with the Taliban,” said Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt.
She added that though the meetings did not represent a legitimate recognition of the Taliban, it was necessary to communicate with the country’s authorities to avoid worsening the humanitarian disaster.


Soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, govt dismisses talk of coup

Soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, govt dismisses talk of coup
Updated 23 January 2022

Soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, govt dismisses talk of coup

Soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, govt dismisses talk of coup
  • Mutineers demand resignations of top security officials

OUAGADOUGOU: Sustained gunfire rang out from military camps in Burkina Faso on Sunday as mutinying soldiers demanded more support for their fight against Islamist militants and protesters ransacked the headquarters of President Roch Kabore’s political party.

The government called for calm, denying speculation on social media that the army had seized power or detained Kabore.

A spokesperson for the mutineers said they were demanding “appropriate” resources and training for the army in its fight against militants linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh and the resignation of the army and intelligence chiefs.

Frustration in the West African gold-producing country has grown in recent months over deteriorating security.

The deaths of 49 military police in a militant attack in November prompted violent street protests calling for Kabore to step down.

Protesters in the streets of the capital Ouagadougou on Sunday urged the soldiers to go further, chanting “Free the country!”

The mutiny underlines the threat posed by growing insurgencies across West Africa’s Sahel region, a semi-arid strip of land beneath the Sahara Desert.

The militants have seized control of swathes of territory across Burkina Faso and its neighbors, Mali and Niger.

Heavy gunfire was first heard on Sunday at Ouagadougou’s Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt.

Hundreds of people later came out in support of the mutineers.

At the Lamizana camp, where a crowd of about 100 sang the national anthem and chanted, the soldiers responded by firing into the air. It was not clear if this was meant to show support for the demonstrators or to disperse them.

In downtown Ouagadougou, near the Place de la Nation, police fired teargas to disperse around 300 protesters. Soldiers also fired into the air at an air base close to Ouagadougou International Airport.

The US Embassy also reported gunfire at three other military bases in Ouagadougou and at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya.


Elephant deaths lift lid on Sri Lanka waste problem

Elephant deaths lift lid on Sri Lanka waste problem
Updated 23 January 2022

Elephant deaths lift lid on Sri Lanka waste problem

Elephant deaths lift lid on Sri Lanka waste problem
  • Open garbage dumps a growing hazard for wildlife — and humans, too

COLOMBO: Disturbing images of a herd of elephants grazing in a garbage pit in Ampara, in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, have been making the rounds ever since media reports suggested that many had died after ingesting plastic waste. 

The reports estimate at least 20 of the elephants that fed on the open dump had died in the past eight years.

While conservationists question the findings, saying ingestion of plastic is not directly linked to the animals’ deaths, the issue reveals a broader problem: Sri Lanka’s poorly regulated garbage disposal.

The island generates about 7,000 tons of solid waste a day, most of which lands in unchecked open dumps. Landfill sites, banned in many countries, are often close to forest cover or water sources, and wild animals have begun to see them as sources of food.

“About 75 percent of the garbage dumps in the country are open dumps,” Pubudu Weerarathne, director of the Species Conservation Center at the University of Colombo, told Arab News.

“Animals get used to the taste of human food and begin to look for it more.”

He added: “In the case of elephants, this leads to raids and more conflict with humans. And then, of course, there is the more direct impact on their health as a result of ingesting waste.”

But it is not plastic waste that proves lethal for elephants, which are protected by their simple digestive systems. Cattle and deer often die a painful death as polythene stays in their bodies, leading to bowel obstruction.

The body of a wild elephant lies in an open landfill in Pallakkadu village in Ampara district, about 210 kilometers east of the capital Colombo, Sri Lanka.  (AP)

“Elephants are what we call ‘hindgut fermenters,’” Prof. Prithiviraj Fernando, an expert in research relating to elephants and human-elephant conflict, told Arab News.

“Their digestive systems are less complex than that of ruminants like cattle. As a result, plastics and polythene don’t get stuck in the digestive system, but pass through.”

Even though plastic waste is not the immediate cause of elephant deaths, landfills are no less hazardous for the animals. Some die from poisoning after eating fermented organic matter.

Dr. Tharaka Prasad, wildlife health director at the Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the process through which bacteria break down food refuse makes it dangerous for animals.

“Anaerobic digestion causes excretion of toxins into the food environment, which in turn can lead to a collapse of bowel movement, consequently causing partial paralysis of the gut, ending in death,” he said.

But the greatest danger for the animals comes as they encroach human settlements while feeding on landfills.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • In 2019, Sri Lanka recorded 407 elephant deaths due to conflict with humans — the highest in the world.
  • Most of Sri Lanka’s 7,000 tons of solid waste generated everyday lands in unchecked open dumps.

“More elephants die as a result of gunshot wounds, or hakka patas,” U.L. Taufeek, deputy director for elephants at the wildlife department, said, referring to small, improvised explosive devices in the shape of firecrackers that people use to scare animals away from villages.

There are about 5,000 elephants in the country, and the animals are a symbol of national and cultural pride. The Sri Lankan elephant, a subspecies of the Asian elephant, is classified as endangered.

Killing elephants is prohibited, but their deaths due to human-elephant conflict are commonplace. In 2019, 407 such deaths were reported in Sri Lanka — the highest rate in the world.

Elephants are not the only victims of ineffective waste management policies. In 2017, a landslide at the Meethotamulla dump in the capital Colombo killed 19 people.

Toxic landfill fires and pollution from the same dump, as well as in other parts of the country, have for years troubled local communities, with residents complaining of health complications.

“We have a huge waste management issue in this country,” Dr. Ajantha Perera, an environmentalist and campaigner for recycling, told Arab News.

The activist and academic, who contested the 2019 presidential election on the promise of addressing the country’s mounting garbage issue, said that national action plans and waste management policies have been in place for years.

“But until there is political will, there will be no change.”


Armenian president quits over lack of influence in ‘difficult times’

Armenian president quits over lack of influence in ‘difficult times’
Updated 23 January 2022

Armenian president quits over lack of influence in ‘difficult times’

Armenian president quits over lack of influence in ‘difficult times’
  • “This is not an emotionally-driven decision and it comes from a specific logic,” Sarkisian said
  • His role is largely ceremonial and executive power rests primarily with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan

YEREVAN: Armenian President Armen Sarkisian announced Sunday that he is resigning his largely symbolic position, citing the inability of his office to influence policy during times of national crisis.
“This is not an emotionally-driven decision and it comes from a specific logic,” Sarkisian said in a statement on his official website.
“The president does not have the necessary tools to influence the important processes of foreign and domestic policy in difficult times for the people and the country,” he said.
Sarkisian was at the center of a domestic political crisis last year that erupted in the wake of a war between Armenia and its long-standing rival Azerbaijan for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
His role is largely ceremonial and executive power rests primarily with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Sarkisian and Pashinyan had disagreed over a decision to remove the chief of the military’s general staff in the wake of the war and amid protests that brought thousands onto the streets of the Caucasus nation.
“I hope that eventually the constitutional changes will be implemented and the next president and presidential administration will be able to operate in a more balanced environment,” the statement added.
Sarkisian was born in 1953 in the capital Yerevan. He served as prime minister between 1996-1997, according to an official biography, before being elected president in March 2018.
Armenia’s economy has struggled since the Soviet collapse and money sent home by Armenians abroad has aided the construction of schools, churches and other infrastructure projects, including in Nagorno-Karabakh.