Over 130 Malian civilians ‘systematically’ killed by suspected extremists

Over 130 Malian civilians ‘systematically’ killed by suspected extremists
A truck is driven along the RN16, going from Sévaré to Gao on November 5, 2021. The road is one of the most dangerous in Mali due to extremist attacks. (AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2022

Over 130 Malian civilians ‘systematically’ killed by suspected extremists

Over 130 Malian civilians ‘systematically’ killed by suspected extremists
  • The Malian government blamed the attack on the Fulani preacher Amadou Kouffa’s organization the Macina Katiba
  • Central Mali has been plagued by violence since the Al Qaeda-affiliated organization emerged in 2015

BAMAKO: Suspected extremists massacred more than 130 civilians over the weekend in neighboring central Mali towns, the latest mass killings in the troubled Sahel region.

Local officials reported scenes of systematic killings by armed men in Diallassagou and two surrounding towns in the Bankass Cercle, a longtime hotbed of Sahelian violence.

“They have also been burning huts, houses, and stealing cattle — it’s really a free-for-all,” said a local official who for security reasons spoke on the condition of anonymity.

He and another official, who like him had fled his village, said the death toll was still being counted on Monday.

Nouhoum Togo, a local official from Bankass, the main town in the area, said that the death toll was even higher than the 132 announced by the government, who have blamed Al-Qaeda affiliated extremists for the killings.

The national authorities broke their silence on Monday afternoon after alarming reports proliferated on social networks over the weekend.

Togo told AFP that army operations in the area two weeks ago had led to clashes with extremists. On Friday, the extremists returned on several dozen motorbikes to take revenge on the population, he added.

“They arrived and told the people, ‘You are not Muslims’ in Fulani, then took the men away, and a hundred people went with them,” he said. “Some two kilometers away, they systematically shot people.”

He said the bodies continued to be collected in the surrounding areas around Diallassagou on Monday.

The government blamed the attack on the Fulani preacher Amadou Kouffa’s organization the Macina Katiba.
Central Mali has been plagued by violence since the Al Qaeda-affiliated organization emerged in 2015.

A large part of the area is beyond state control and is prone to violence carried out by self-defense militias and inter-community reprisals.
Mali has since 2012 been rocked by an insurgency by groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the so-called Daesh group, plunging the country into crisis.
Violence that began in the north has since spread to the center and to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Civilians are often subjected to reprisals by extremists who accuse them of collaborating with the enemy.
Some areas of the country, especially in the center, have fallen under the control of the extremists, which vigorously enforce their world views.

Civilians also often find themselves caught in the crossfire in clashes between rival armed groups, including those affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
The number of civilians killed in attacks attributed to extremist groups has almost doubled since 2020 in the central Sahel, a coalition of West African NGOs said in a report released Thursday.
A UN document published in March said nearly 600 civilians had been killed in Mali in 2021 in violence blamed mainly on extremist groups, but also on self-defense militias and armed forces.

The UN has expressed alarm in Security Council documents at the deteriorating security situation in central Mali, as well as in the north and in the so-called three-border zone on the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger.
Some 20 civilians were killed on Saturday in the northern region of Gao.

Last Wednesday, an armed group reported the death of 22 people in the Menaka region.
In northern Burkina Faso, 86 people were killed in June in Seytenga.


Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines
Updated 6 sec ago

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines
KYIV: Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages.
“Throughout the entire six months of war, Russia has not (allowed) proper humanitarian corridors so we could provide our own medicines to the patients that need them,” Liashko said, speaking at the Health Ministry in Kyiv late Friday.
“We believe that these actions are being taken with intent by Russia, and we consider them to be crimes against humanity and war crimes that will be documented and will be recognized,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian government has a program that provides medications to people with cancer and chronic health conditions. The destruction of hospitals and infrastructure along with the displacement of an estimated 7 million people inside the country also have interfered with other forms of treatment, according to United Nations and Ukrainian officials.
The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruptions to the country’s state-run health service, which was undergoing major reforms, largely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
The World Health Organization said it recorded 445 attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities as of Aug. 11 that directly resulted in 86 deaths and 105 injuries.
But Liashko said the secondary effects were far more severe.
“When roads and bridges have been damaged in areas now controlled by the Ukrainian forces... it is difficult to get someone who had a heart attack or a stroke to the hospital,” he said. “Sometimes, we can’t make it in time, the ambulance can’t get there in time. That’s why war causes many more casualties (than those killed in the fighting). It’s a number that cannot be calculated.”

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry
Updated 35 min 59 sec ago

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry
ANKARA: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Saturday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 16.
Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey’s southern Iskenderun province, it said. The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey’s Tekirdag, carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds.
The statement added that another ship would depart from Turkey on Saturday to Ukraine to buy grains.

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul
Updated 46 min 16 sec ago

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul
  • Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts

KABUL: Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women — chanting “Bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” chanted the protesters, many of them not wearing face veils, before they dispersed.
Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters.
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long trips, and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Azkhundzada, even ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.


‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump
Updated 13 August 2022

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump
  • In Poland, the government has come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action
  • Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned

SCHWEDT, Germany: Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the Oder river running through Germany and Poland, sparking warnings of an environmental disaster as residents are urged to stay away from the water.
The fish floating by the German banks near the eastern town of Schwedt are believed to have washed upstream from Poland where first reports of mass fish deaths were made by locals and anglers as early as on July 28.
German officials accused Polish authorities of failing to inform them about the deaths, and were taken by surprise when the wave of lifeless fish came floating into view.
In Poland, the government has also come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action.
Almost two weeks after the first dead fish appeared floating by Polish villages, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “everyone had initially thought that it was a local problem.”
But he admitted that the “scale of the disaster is very large, sufficiently large to say that the Oder will need years to recover its natural state.”
“Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” added the Polish leader, as German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke urged a comprehensive probe into what she called a brewing “environmental disaster.”
Standing by the riverbank, Michael Tautenhahn, deputy chief of Germany’s Lower Oder Valley National Park, looked in dismay at the river on the German-Polish border.
“We are standing on the German side — we have dead fish everywhere,” he told AFP.
“I am deeply shocked... I have the feeling that I’m seeing decades of work lying in ruins here. I see our livelihood, the water — that’s our life,” he said, noting that it’s not just fish that have died, but also mussels and likely countless other water creatures.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish make their home in the waterway.
But now, lifeless fish — some as small as a few centimeters, others reaching 30-40 cm — can be seen across the river. Occasionally, those still struggling to pull through can be seen flipping up in the water, seemingly gasping for air.
Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned.
“This fish death is atypical,” said Axel Vogel, environment minister for Brandenburg state, estimating that “undoubtedly tons” of fish have died.
Fish death is often caused by the distortion of oxygen levels when water levels are too low, he explained.
“But we have completely different test results, namely that we have had increased oxygen level in the river for several days, and that indicates that a foreign substance has been introduced that has led to this,” he said.
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending.
In Poland, prosecutors have also begun investigating after authorities came under fire over what critics said was a sluggish response to a disaster.
Tautenhahn said the disaster would likely carry consequences for years to come.
“If it is quicksilver, then it will also stay here for a long time,” he said, noting that mercury does not disintegrate but would then remain in the sediments.


Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban
Updated 13 August 2022

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban

Inside Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls defy the Taliban
  • Since seizing power a year ago, the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam
  • To circumvent the restrictions, Afghan women and girls attend secret schools that have sprung up in rooms of ordinary houses across the country

KABUL: Nafeesa has discovered a great place to hide her schoolbooks from the prying eyes of her disapproving Taliban brother — the kitchen, where Afghan men rarely venture.
Hundreds of thousands of girls and young women like Nafeesa have been deprived of the chance of education since the Taliban returned to power a year ago, but their thirst for learning has not lessened.
“Boys have nothing to do in the kitchen, so I keep my books there,” said Nafeesa, who attends a secret school in a village in rural eastern Afghanistan.
“If my brother comes to know about this, he will beat me.”
Since seizing power a year ago, the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam — effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Women can no longer travel on long trips without a male relative to escort them.
They have also been told to cover up with the hijab or preferably with an all-encompassing burqa — although the Taliban’s stated preference is for them to only leave home if absolutely necessary.
And, in the cruellest deprivation, secondary schools for girls in many parts of Afghanistan have not been allowed to reopen.
But secret schools have sprung up in rooms of ordinary houses across the country.
A team of AFP journalists visited three of these schools, interviewing students and teachers whose real names have been withheld for their safety.
This is their story.

Clandestine classroom
Decades of turmoil have played havoc with Afghanistan’s education system, so Nafeesa is still studying secondary school subjects even though she is already 20.
Only her mother and older sister know about it.
Her brother fought for years with the Taliban against the former government and US-led forces in the mountains, returning home after their victory imbued with the hard-line doctrine that says a woman’s place is the home.
He allows her to attend a madrassa to study the Qur'an in the morning, but in the afternoon she sneaks out to a clandestine classroom organized by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
“We have accepted this risk, otherwise we will remain uneducated,” Nafeesa said.
“I want to be a doctor... We want to do something for ourselves, we want to have freedom, serve society and build our future.”

 

When AFP visited her school, Nafeesa and nine other girls were discussing freedom of speech with their female teacher, sitting side-by-side on a carpet and taking turns reading out loud from a textbook.
To get to class, they frequently leave home hours earlier, taking different routes to avoid being noticed in an area made up mostly of members of the Pashtun ethnic group, who form the bulk of the Taliban and are known for their conservative ways.
If a Taliban fighter asks, the girls say they are enrolled in a tailoring workshop, and hide their schoolbooks in shopping bags or under their abaya and burqa overgarments.
They not only take risks, but also make sacrifices — Nafeesa’s sister dropped out of school to limit any suspicions her brother might have.

No justification in Islam

Religious scholars say there is no justification in Islam for the ban on girls’ secondary school education and, a year since taking power, the Taliban still insist classes will be allowed to resume.
But the issue has split the movement, with several sources telling AFP a hard-line faction that advises supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada opposed any girls’ schooling — or at best, wanted it limited to religious studies and practical classes such as cooking and needlework.
The official line, however, remains that it is just a “technical issue” and classes will resume once a curriculum based on Islamic rules is defined.
Primary girls still go to school and, for now at least, young women can attend university — although lectures are segregated and some subjects cut because of a shortage of female teachers.
Without a secondary school certificate, however, teenage girls will not be able to sit university entrance exams, so this current crop of tertiary female students could be the country’s last for the foreseeable future.
“Education is an inalienable right in Islam for both men and women,” scholar Abdul Bari Madani told AFP.
“If this ban continues, Afghanistan will return to the medieval age... an entire generation of girls will be buried.”

Lost generation

It is this fear of a lost generation that spurred teacher Tamkin to convert her home in Kabul into a school.
The 40-year-old was almost lost herself, having been forced to stop studying during the Taliban’s first stint in power, from 1996 to 2001, when all girls’ schooling was banned.
It took years of self-study for Tamkin to qualify as a teacher, only for her to lose her job at the education ministry when the Taliban returned last year.
“I didn’t want these girls to be like me,” she told AFP, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“They should have a better future.”
With the support of her husband, Tamkin first turned a storeroom into a class.
Then she sold a family cow to raise funds for textbooks, as most of her girls came from poor families and couldn’t afford their own.
Today, she teaches English and science to about 25 eager students.
On a rainy day recently, the girls trickled into her classroom for a biology lesson.
“I just want to study. It doesn’t matter what the place is like,” said Narwan, who should be in grade 12, sitting in a room packed with girls of all ages.
Behind her, a poster on a wall urges students to be considerate: “Tongue has no bones, but it is so strong that it can break the heart, so be careful of your words.”
Such consideration by her neighbors has helped Tamkin keep the school’s real purpose hidden.
“The Taliban have asked several times ‘what’s going on here?’ I have told the neighbors to say it’s a madrassa,” Tamkin said.
Seventeen-year-old Maliha believes firmly the day will come when the Taliban will no longer be in power.
“Then we will put our knowledge to good use,” she said.

'We are not afraid'

On the outskirts of Kabul, in a maze of mud houses, Laila is another teacher running underground classes.
Looking at her daughter’s face after the planned reopening of secondary schools was canceled, she knew she had to do something.
“If my daughter was crying, then the daughters of other parents must also be crying,” the 38-year-old said.
About a dozen girls gather two days a week at Laila’s house, which has a courtyard and a garden where she grows vegetables and fruit.
The classroom has a wide window opening to the garden, and girls with textbooks kept in blue plastic folders sit on a carpet — happy and cheerful, studying together.
As the class begins, one by one they read out the answers to their homework.
“We are not afraid of the Taliban,” said student Kawsar, 18.
“If they say anything, we will fight it out but continue to study.”
But the right to study is not the only aim for some Afghan girls and women — who are all too frequently married off into abusive or restrictive relationships.
Zahra, who attends a secret school in eastern Afghanistan, was married at 14 and now lives with in-laws who oppose the idea of her attending classes.
She takes sleeping pills to fight her anxiety — worried her husband’s family will force him to make her stay home.
“I tell them I’m going to the local bazaar and come here,” said Zahra of her secret school.
For her, she says, it is the only way to make friends.