Houthis using summer camps to train child soldiers, parents warned

Houthis using summer camps to train child soldiers, parents warned
A Yemeni boy holds a rifle at a tribal meeting near Sanaa, Yemen. (AP/File)
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Updated 12 May 2022

Houthis using summer camps to train child soldiers, parents warned

Houthis using summer camps to train child soldiers, parents warned
  • Continuing recruitment of youngsters shows that militia readying for new military operations, say analysts

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s government officials, human rights activists, religious figures and journalists have warned families living in Houthi-held areas against sending their children to the militia’s summer camps, and have accused the Iran-backed group of wanting to recruit these young people for their army.

This comes in the wake of the movement’s leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, ordering his supporters to open these camps in areas under their control, where he pledged to “immunize them” against misconceptions about his organization and Islam.

Houthi officials have reportedly said that 57 camps were launched in Sanaa alone, which are expected to attract hundreds of students during the upcoming summer vacations.

Yemeni officials and activists say that the Houthis are using these gatherings to radicalize and indoctrinate minors, so that they can prepare them to become soldiers.

“Your child that you will send to the Houthi summer and military course is a time bomb that will kill you tomorrow,” said Ghamdan Al-Yosifi, a Yemeni journalist, labeling them “factories for manufacturing explosives.”

A similar warning to parents had been issued last year when the Houthis launched these centers. The Houthis have claimed that thousands of children graduated with religious education from these camps.

However, critics have said that the children were brainwashed, taken to graveyards and trained to use weapons.

This year’s camps are being set up as the Yemeni government and the Houthis have halted hostilities under a truce brokered by the UN.

Abdul Kareem Al-Medi, a Yemeni journalist, said that the recruitment of children threatens the country’s fragile peace.

“To our honorable people and to all those who trust us, avoid the evil of the summer terror centers. Let him go with them if you want your son to turn into a mobile death machine,” Al-Medi said.

But the Houthis argue that their summer camps are meant to teach the correct recitation of the Qur’an, counter misconceptions about Islam, and prepare the new generation to fight their enemies, including Israelis.

“The summer courses are a step and an initiative that prevents youth from wasting time during the summer holidays, immunizes them from false cultures and enables them to master the Holy Qur’an and to recite it correctly,” Jalal Al-Ruwishan, a Houthi military official, was quoted as saying while visiting a summer camp in Sanaa on Wednesday.

However, Yemen’s information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani accused the Houthis of trying to turn young people into ideologically driven soldiers, and shared images of dead child soldiers and children inside the group’s camps.

“We call on parents, sheikhs and tribesmen in Houthi-controlled areas to boycott child recruitment camps, preserve their children … refrain from sending them to fuel their absurd war and to implement (an) Iranian agenda,” he said on Twitter on Thursday.

But given the Houthis’ harsh treatment of those who disobey their orders, many Yemenis believe that parents might still allow their children to sign up for these camps.

In January, a report prepared by the UN Panel of Experts found that some women who refused to participate in these Houthi activities were abducted and raped.

“While some adults join these cultural courses because they agree with the ideology, others participate in order not to lose employment benefits or humanitarian assistance, or out of fear of reprisals for non-participation,” the experts stated.

They added that almost 2,000 Yemeni children, some as young as 10, recruited by the Houthis, were killed in fighting between early 2020 and May 2021, and children received military training or were taken to military sites during summer courses.

Mohammed Jumeh, Yemen’s permanent delegate to UNESCO, said that those children who were killed on the battlefields were initially indoctrinated and recruited inside the Houthi camps, and blamed parents for not heeding warnings.

“Protecting children from extremist ideology and priesthood is the responsibility of parents in the first place,” Jumeh said.

Yemeni military analysts argue that the continuing recruitment of children by the Houthis show that they are getting ready for a new round of military operations, despite their announced commitment to the UN-brokered truce.

“Summer centers and cultural courses are epicenters of sectarian incitement (and) mobilization in preparation for new rounds of conflict and endless battles,” Brig. Gen. Mohammed Al-Kumaim, a Yemeni military analyst, said.


Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts

Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts
Updated 29 May 2022

Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts

Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts
  • Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group singled out for violating international law
  • 7 other armed groups accused of using unlawful detention to settle scores

 

UNITED NATIONS: Libya faces a serious security threat from foreign fighters and private military companies, especially Russia’s Wagner Group which has violated international law, UN experts said in a report obtained by The Associated Press.
The experts also accused seven Libyan armed groups of systematically using unlawful detention to punish perceived opponents, ignoring international and domestic civil rights laws, including laws prohibiting torture.
In particular, “migrants have been extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses and regularly subjected to acts of slavery, rape and torture,” the panel said in the report to the UN Security Council obtained late Friday by the AP.
The oil-rich North African nation plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. It then became divided between rival governments — one in the east, backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-supported administration in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
In April 2019, Haftar and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support for the UN-supported government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
An October 2020 cease-fire deal led to an agreement on a transitional government in early February 2021 and elections were scheduled for last Dec. 24 aimed at unifying the country. But they were canceled and the country now has rival governments with two Libyans claiming to be prime minister.
The cease-fire agreement called for the speedy withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries but the panel said “there has been little verifiable evidence of any large-scale withdrawals taking place to date.”
The report said Chadian opposition groups operate from Libya and Sudanese fighters have been recruited by Haftar. Turkish-backed Syrian fighters have been seen by the panel in government military camps in Tripoli while Haftar-affiliated Syrian fighters operate alongside the Wagner Group’s fighters in the strategic northern city of Sirte and nearby Jufra. At least 300 of these Syrians have returned home and not been replaced by Haftar, the report said.
The panel said it continues to investigate the deployment of Wagner fighters and the transfers of arms and related materiel to support its operations.
The Wagner Group passes itself off as a private military contractor and the Kremlin denies any connection to it. But the United States identifies Wagner’s financer as Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The panel said it considers a Samsung electronic tablet left on a Libyan battlefield by a Wagner mercenary and obtained by the BBC in early 2021 to be authentic. It contained maps of the locations of 35 unmarked anti-personnel mines in the Ain Zara area of south Tripoli that was then a frontline area under Haftar’s control, supported by Wagner.
Several mines had never been reported as being in Libya before and their transfer therefore violated the UN arms embargo, the panel said. It added that a booby-trapped mine exploded during a mine clearance operation killing two civilian mine clearers.
Experts also received information about the recovery of anti-tank mines from positions primarily occupied by Wagner in south Tripoli.
The panel said the failure to visibly mark the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines and issue warnings of their locations to civilians in the areas was a violation of international humanitarian law by Wagner.
The Wagner tablet also contained a list of requested items including drones and tanks that would violate the arms embargo if delivered, the panel said, but it didn’t know if any of it had.
The panel said it identified 18 arms transfers and four examples of military training between March 2021 and late April 2022 that violated the UN arms embargo. Among the examples it cited was the Luccello, a ship flying the Comoros flag that delivered 100 armored vehicles to Haftar in Benghazi.
The experts said four migrants suffered human rights abuses in secret detention facilities controlled by human traffickers in the areas of Tazirbu in the Libyan desert and Bani Walid near the northwest coast. They said victims were enslaved, severely beaten, deliberately starved and denied medical care.
“Two former female detainees, who were 14- and 15-year-old girls at the time, further testified to the panel that multiple perpetrators repeatedly raped them, subjected them to sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence during the period of over 18 months in a secret detention facility in Bani Walid,” the report said.
The panel said it also found that guards responsible for protecting the most vulnerable migrants in the government-run Shara Al-Zawiya detention center “took a direct part in or turned a blind eye to consistent acts of rape, sexual exploitation and threats of rape against women and girls” detained there between January and June 2021.

 


13 Albanians, others from Kosovo are repatriated from Syria

American forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province near the border with Turkey.
American forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province near the border with Turkey.
Updated 57 min 41 sec ago

13 Albanians, others from Kosovo are repatriated from Syria

American forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province near the border with Turkey.
  • Hundreds of people from Albania and Kosovo joined Daesh and other groups fighting in Syria and Iraq in the early 2010s

TIRANA: Albania’s Interior Ministry said on Saturday that four Albanian women and nine children, all related to Albanians who joined extremist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq, have been repatriated from a Syrian camp.
The group, which landed at the Pristina Adem Jashari Airport in neighboring Kosovo, was joined by “other Kosovar citizens leaving the hell camps,” the statement said, without disclosing the number. At least one man’s blurred face was seen in a video distributed by the ministry.
Speaking at the airport, Albanian Interior Minister Bledi Cuci thanked US authorities and Lebanese Gen. Abass Ibrahim, who has played a key role in the repatriation efforts.
Kosovar Interior Minister Xhelal Zvecla did not give details on the Kosovar citizens repatriated but assured that specialized institutions would take care to “rehabilitate” and “de-radicalize” them.

BACKGROUND

Albanian Interior Minister Bledi Cuci thanked US authorities and Lebanese Gen. Abass Ibrahim, who has played a key role in the repatriation efforts.

Cuci said 43 Albanian women and children whose husbands and fathers joined Daesh and most often have been killed in fighting have been brought back in four missions since 2018.
Cuci said Albania had a list of citizens still in the camps and would continue efforts to bring them back.
Kosovo has repatriated at least 121 people since 2019.
“I would like to assure Albanians that we are determined to bring back from those camps any Albanians who remained there, every child and every woman,” said Cuci.
Hundreds of people from Albania and Kosovo joined Daesh and other groups fighting in Syria and Iraq in the early 2010s.
Many were killed, and their widows and children are stuck in Syrian camps.


Turkey shows off drones at Azerbaijan air show

A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku.
A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku.
Updated 29 May 2022

Turkey shows off drones at Azerbaijan air show

A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku.
  • Turkey’s drones first attracted attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli

BAKU: Looping in the air at lightning speed, Turkish drones like those used against Russian forces in Ukraine draw cheers from the crowd at an air show in Azerbaijan.
Turkey is showcasing its defense technology at the aerospace and technology festival “Teknofest” that started in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku this week.
Turkey’s TB2 drones are manufactured by aerospace company Baykar Defense, where  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly prominent son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar is chief technology officer.
On Wednesday, Bayraktar flew over Baku aboard an Azerbaijani air force Mikoyan MiG-29 plane. One of his combat drones, the “Akinci,” accompanied the flight.
A video showing Bayraktar in command of the warplane, dressed in a pilot’s uniform decorated with Turkish and Azerbaijani flag patches, went viral on social media.
“This has been a childhood dream for me,” Bayraktar told reporters after the flight.
Turkey’s drones first attracted attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli.
They were then again put into action the following year when Turkey-backed Azerbaijan in recapturing most of the land it lost to separatist Armenian forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Azerbaijani audience members at the aviation festival applauded during a display of TB2 drones, which are now playing a prominent role against invading Russian forces in Ukraine.
A senior official from the Turkish defense industry said his country was facing a wide spectrum of “threats,” including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Daesh.
The PKK is listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
But with NATO allies — including the US — having imposed embargoes on Turkey, Ankara was forced to take matters into its own hands to build defense equipment, the official said. “The situation is changing now with the war in Ukraine,” the official said.
Turkey has been looking to modernize its air force after it was kicked out of the F-35 fighter jet program because of its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.
But Ankara’s role in trying to mediate an end to the Ukraine conflict through direct negotiations may have helped improve its relations with Washington in the past months.
In April, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it now believed that supplying Turkey with F-16 fighter jets would serve Washington’s strategic interests.
Michael Boyle, of Rutgers University-Camden in the US, said Turkish drones such as Bayraktar TB2 drones were “increasingly important to modern conflicts because they have spread so widely.”


One killed in Sudan anti-coup protests: medics

One killed in Sudan anti-coup protests: medics
Updated 28 May 2022

One killed in Sudan anti-coup protests: medics

One killed in Sudan anti-coup protests: medics
  • The killed protester died after "taking a bullet to the chest" during rallies in Khartoum
  • The latest death brings to 97 the toll from a crackdown on anti-coup protests

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces killed Saturday a protester during the latest mass demonstrations against last year’s military coup, medics said.
The killed protester, yet to be identified, died after “taking a bullet to the chest” during rallies in the capital Khartoum, the pro-democracy Central Committee of Sudan Doctors said.
The latest death brings to 97 the toll from a crackdown on anti-coup protests which have taken place regularly since the October 25 military putsch led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the committee said.
Thousands took to the streets on Saturday in several parts of Khartoum to protest the military power grab and renew demands for civilian rule.
The coup upended a transition to civilian rule after the 2019 ouster of autocratic president Omar Al-Bashir, following mass protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule.
Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been reeling from a plunging economy due to decades of international isolation and mismanagement under Bashir.
The United Nations, along with the African Union and regional bloc IGAD, have been pushing to facilitate Sudanese-led talks to resolve the crisis.
But civilian forces have refused to enter negotiations involving the military, while Burhan has repeatedly threatened to expel UN envoy Volker Perthes, accusing him of “interference” in the country’s affairs.
Sudan has suffered from international aid cuts and economic turmoil since the coup.


Lebanon markets keep an eye on serious measures to rein in dollar

People walk past closed or half-open shops in the popular market of the Burj Hammoud neighbourhood of Lebanon's capital Beirut.
People walk past closed or half-open shops in the popular market of the Burj Hammoud neighbourhood of Lebanon's capital Beirut.
Updated 29 May 2022

Lebanon markets keep an eye on serious measures to rein in dollar

People walk past closed or half-open shops in the popular market of the Burj Hammoud neighbourhood of Lebanon's capital Beirut.
  • Parliament speaker focused on renewing his term while Lebanon races against ‘big collapse,’ national bloc says

BEIRUT: The dollar exchange rate continued its fall on the black market in Lebanon on Saturday, recording 27,650 pounds against the dollar, a drop of 11,000 pounds in less than 18 hours.

The drop was a way of easing people’s anger and calming the markets a few days before the newly elected parliament convenes on Tuesday to elect a speaker, a deputy speaker and the parliamentary committees.

The Lebanese National Bloc said that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was focused on renewing his term, while the country was racing against what it termed as “a big collapse” and the health sector was warning of the imminent collapse of hospitals.

Berri is expected to win reelection for the sixth time, despite opposition from Christian parties and opposition parliamentary blocs.

Berri should receive around 60 votes from members of his bloc, Hezbollah’s deputies and his allies’ deputies, far less than the 98 votes out of 128 he obtained in the previous parliament.

BACKGROUND

The central bank governor has asked banks to keep their branches and funds open until 6 p.m. for three consecutive days from Monday to meet citizens’ requests to buy dollars at the Sayrafa price.

One political observer said that the position of deputy speaker, which is reserved for an Orthodox deputy, had almost been secured for MP Elias Bou Saab from the Free Patriotic Movement bloc, although the bloc refuses to vote for Berri as speaker.

On Friday, the dollar exchange rate exceeded 38,000 pounds, creating unprecedented chaos in all sectors and leading to popular anger.

The dollar rate started to decrease rapidly after central bank governor Riad Salameh announced on Friday that individuals and institutions are able buy dollars from banks at the Sayrafa rate on a daily basis.

Commercial markets witnessed a state of shock on Saturday. Some shops stopped selling goods as they waited to see if the dollar rate would stabilize at the beginning of next week.

An employee in a private company said that she converted her LBP salary when the dollar rate was at its peak on Friday, fearing that it might lose more of its value if she kept the sum in Lebanese pounds.

However, the significant drop of the exchange rate by 10,000 Lebanese pounds on Friday night shocked her, as the value of her salary significantly depreciated.

Finance Minister Youssef Khalil estimated the black market exchange volume at $5 million per day.

The trading volume on the Sayrafa platform exceeds tens of millions of dollars per day, he said.

“This means that the incontrollable increase of the dollar rate is not normal, which supports the hypothesis that some people would create this exchange rate gap and are responsible for the high black-market exchange rate for political and commercial reasons or to create panic in markets.”

Economic expert Walid Abou Sleiman said that the central bank was intervening in the market to absorb the money supply in Lebanese pounds to prevent speculation and to reduce the margin in the financial market — namely the Sayrafa platform — where the rate exceeded 12,000 Lebanese pounds.

This procedure might be temporary, and contributes to the decrease of the dollar rate, he said, but added: “What matters is sustainability.”

Abou Sleiman said that “combating speculation does not happen through these procedures, but through a central platform that limits the trading for purchases and sales.”

The central bank governor has asked banks to keep their branches and funds open until 6 p.m. for three consecutive days from Monday to meet citizens’ requests to buy dollars at the Sayrafa price.

The governor’s circulars are postponing the “explosion for a few days,” the Lebanese National Bloc pointed out.

The bloc believes that the “collapse scenario could have been avoided if the needed reforms to restructure debt and the banking sector had been applied, in addition to taking the necessary decisions to unify the exchange rate and strengthen the administrative and judicial surveillance.”

The bloc also believed it could have also been avoided if Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet had not waited until its last session to propose its financial rescue plan in an attempt to circumvent the people and the international community, when throughout its mandate, it was busy protecting cartels and bankers.

“The solution is to elect the parliament bodies and committees within the next week and start the electoral consultations to form a rescue government that does not adopt sectarian allocation,” it said.

It called for implementing the financial reforms requested by the IMF and the formulation of an integrated plan to strengthen the economy.