Senegal signs peace deal with rebels in country’s south

Senegal signs peace deal with rebels in country’s south
Senegal’s President Macky Sall speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Dakar, Senegal. (Reuters/File)
Short Url
Updated 05 August 2022

Senegal signs peace deal with rebels in country’s south

Senegal signs peace deal with rebels in country’s south
  • The signed document remains confidential for the time being

BISSAU: Senegal signed an agreement on Thursday with rebels from the country’s south who pledged to lay down their arms and work toward a permanent peace in the home of one of Africa’s oldest active rebellions.
Rebel leader Cesar Atoute Badiate, head of a unit of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), and an emissary of Senegalese President Macky Sall signed the peace deal in Guinea-Bissau.
Sall had made a “definitive peace” in the Casamance region one of the priorities of his second term.
“How many people died, (were) mutilated or left their village? We will accompany you in the search for peace,” Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo told Badiate during the signing ceremony.
Embalo, who is also head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), added: “I can assure you that we will be the guarantors of this agreement.”
The signed document remains confidential for the time being.
“I welcome the peace agreement and laying down of arms signed this August 4 in Bissau between Senegal and the provisional committee of the political and combatant wings of the MFDC,” Sall said on Twitter.
“I remain committed to the consolidation of lasting peace in Casamance,” he added, thanking Embalo for his mediation.
Casamance, Senegal’s southernmost region, is almost separated from the rest of the country by the tiny state of The Gambia. It has a distinct culture and language derived from its past as a former Portuguese colony.
The MFDC has led a low-intensity separatist campaign since 1982 that has claimed several thousand lives.
But the conflict was mostly dormant until Senegal launched a major offensive last year to drive out the rebels.
In a clash on January 24, four Senegalese soldiers were killed and seven were captured alive and taken across the border to The Gambia. The rebels released the hostages the following month.
In March, the army launched a new operation in which it claimed to have destroyed several rebel bases for the loss of one soldier and eight wounded.


Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees

Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees
Updated 07 August 2022

Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees

Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees
  • One refugee says he is ‘heartbroken and ashamed’ at schemes’ failure
  • Poor mental health and lack of permanent homes among issues faced

LONDON: The failure of two UK schemes to resettle refugees from Afghanistan has forced many to take dangerous routes to try to reach safety, according to a new report.

The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme were meant to help tens of thousands of people reach the UK after Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban a year ago.

But a briefing to Parliament featuring remarks from nine human rights groups described both as “unjustifiably restrictive,” which, it added, had left many stranded and led to an increase in people trying to enter Britain illegally.

The briefing, put together by groups including Human Rights Watch, said that interpreters and teachers were among those betrayed by the failure of the schemes.

“A year since the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the (ARAP) scheme is still not functioning properly and is marred by ongoing substantive and procedural problems,” the briefing said.

Adam Smith International had 250 staff in Afghanistan, helping implement aid projects, who applied through the ARAP scheme to relocate to the UK. Just 24 have received clearance — something the group’s director, Daniel Pimlott, said was “shameful.”

A group of 109 teachers who worked for the British Council in Afghanistan is still trapped in the country, despite being granted permission to apply for resettlement, with no way of escaping.

Joseph Seaton, former English manager and deputy director of the British Council Afghanistan, said: “The failure of the British Council and UK government to ensure the safety of their teachers has massively tarnished its great work in (the) country.”

One of the teachers, Mahmoud, said he had been sent death threats by the Taliban even before the takeover, adding: “I have moved 11 times. The Taliban whipped my then eight-year-old daughter to get her to say where I was.”

The briefing also highlighted the plight of many Afghans who had successfully made it to the UK but were now left in states of limbo, with around 10,500 currently being put up in hotels across the country, and many suffering serious mental health issues as a result.

One told the Observer newspaper: “We have been completely forgotten about.

“Having worked for many years for the British government in Afghanistan, I’m heartbroken and ashamed (that) their flagship resettlement policies have failed so badly.

“One year on, we have received no communications from the government on what happens next, and remain in a hotel. I often ask myself whether I would have been better off remaining in Afghanistan, and facing my destiny at the hands of the Taliban.”

A spokesperson for the UK Home Office told the Observer: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it and, through the new ACRS, up to 20,000 people in need will be welcomed to the UK.

The British Council said in a statement: “We know our former colleagues are living in increasingly desperate circumstances. We are incredibly concerned for them and for their families’ welfare and we continue to be in direct touch with them on a regular basis.

“The Afghanistan relocation schemes are run by the UK government. We have been pushing for progress with senior contacts within the UK government to ensure the earliest consideration of our former contractors’ relocation applications.”


Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant

Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant
Updated 07 August 2022

Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant

Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Sunday for a stronger international response to what he described as Russian “nuclear terror” after shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe.
During a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel, Zelensky called for sanctions to be imposed on the Russian nuclear industry and nuclear fuel, the Ukrainian leader wrote on Twitter.
Ukraine’s state nuclear power company said earlier that a worker had been wounded when Russian forces shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Saturday evening.


Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence

Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence
Updated 07 August 2022

Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence

Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence
  • Blinken will hold talks with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make an announcement on the US government’s new Africa strategy

JOHANNESBURG: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in South Africa on Sunday to kick off a three-nation visit aimed at countering Russian influence on the continent.
The visit came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov undertook an extensive tour of Africa late last month.
South Africa, a leader in the developing world, has remained neutral in the Ukraine war, refusing to join Western calls to condemn Moscow, which had opposed apartheid before the end of white minority rule in 1994.
Blinken will hold talks on Monday with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make an announcement on the US government’s new Africa strategy, Pretoria said in a statement.
They will “discuss ongoing and recent developments relating to the global geopolitical situation,” it said.
The State Department last month called African countries “geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day, from promoting an open and stable international system, to tackling the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics to shaping our technological and economic futures.”
Blinken who is on his second trip to Africa since his appointment early last year, is due to proceed to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda later this week.
His visit to DR Congo is aimed at boosting support for sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country which battling to turn the page on decades of conflict.
He winds up the tour in Rwanda, which has seen a flare-up in tensions with DR Congo after it accused its neighbor to the east of backing M23 rebels, a charge Kigali denies.


China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media

China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media
Updated 07 August 2022

China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media

China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media
  • China has deployed fighter jets, warships and ballistic missiles around Taiwan
  • Taiwan resumed flights through its airspace after Chinese military drills

BEIJING: The Chinese military will from now on conduct “regular” drills on the eastern side of the median line of the Taiwan Strait, Chinese state television reported on Sunday, citing a commentator.
The median line in the narrow strait between the island of Taiwan and mainland China is an unofficial line of control that military aircraft and battleships from either side normally do not cross.
The median line has never been legally recognized, and is an “imaginary” line drawn up by the US military for their combat requirements in the previous century, according to the state television commentator.

Earlier, China’s largest-ever military exercises surrounding Taiwan drew to a close on Sunday following a controversial visit last week to the self-ruled island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Beijing has raged at the trip by Pelosi — the second in the line of succession to the US presidency — ripping up a series of talks and cooperation agreements with Washington, most notably on climate change and defense.
It has also deployed fighter jets, warships and ballistic missiles around Taiwan in what analysts have described as practice for a blockade and ultimate invasion of the island.
Those exercises were set to end Sunday, though Beijing has announced fresh drills in the Yellow Sea — located between China and the Korean peninsula — to take place until August 15.
Taiwan’s transport ministry said six of the seven “temporary danger zones” China warned airlines to avoid ceased to be in effect as of noon on Sunday, signalling a drawdown of the drills.
It said the seventh zone, in waters east of Taiwan, would remain in effect until 10:00 am (0300 GMT) local time on Monday.
“Relevant flights and sailings can gradually resume,” the ministry said in a statement.
Taipei said some routes were still being affected in the seventh area, and authorities would continue to monitor ship movements there.
Earlier on Sunday, Beijing conducted “practical joint exercises in the sea and airspace surrounding Taiwan Island as planned,” the Chinese military’s Eastern Command said.
The drills were focused “on testing the joint firepower on the ground and long-range air strike capabilities,” it added.
Taipei’s defense ministry also confirmed that China had dispatched “planes, vessels and drones” around the Taiwan Strait, “simulating attacks on Taiwan’s main island and on ships in our waters.”
Beijing also sent drones over Taiwan’s outlying islands, it added.
In response, the democratic island said it mobilized a “joint intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance system to closely monitor the enemy situation” as well as sending planes and vessels.
China’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment about the expected conclusion of the drills on Sunday.
To show how close China’s forces have been getting to Taiwan’s shores, Beijing’s military released a video of an air force pilot filming the island’s coastline and mountains from his cockpit.
And the Eastern Command of the Chinese army shared a photo it said was taken of a warship patrolling seas near Taiwan with the island’s shoreline visible in the background.
The drills have also seen Beijing fire ballistic missiles over Taiwan’s capital, according to Chinese state media.
Taipei has remained defiant throughout China’s sabre-rattling, insisting it will not be cowed by its “evil neighbor.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry urged Beijing on Saturday to “immediately stop raising tensions and taking provocative actions to intimidate the Taiwanese people.”
But experts have warned the drills reveal an increasingly emboldened Chinese military capable of carrying out a gruelling blockade of the self-ruled island as well as obstructing US forces from coming to its aid.
“In some areas, the PLA might even surpass US capabilities,” Grant Newsham, a researcher at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies and former US Navy officer, told AFP, referring to China’s military by its official name.
“If the battle is confined to the area right around Taiwan, today’s Chinese navy is a dangerous opponent — and if the Americans and Japanese do not intervene for some reason, things would be difficult for Taiwan.”
The scale and intensity of China’s drills — as well as Beijing’s withdrawal from key talks on climate and defense — have triggered outrage in the United States and other democracies.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting with his Philippine counterpart on Saturday, said Washington was “determined to act responsibly” to avoid a major global crisis.
China should not hold talks on issues of global concern such as climate change “hostage,” Blinken said, as it “doesn’t punish the United States, it punishes the world.”
The United Nations has also urged the two superpowers to continue to work together.
“For the secretary-general, there is no way to solve the most pressing problems of all the world without an effective dialogue and cooperation between the two countries,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.


Four more cargo ships sail from Ukraine

Four more cargo ships sail from Ukraine
Updated 07 August 2022

Four more cargo ships sail from Ukraine

Four more cargo ships sail from Ukraine
  • The four bulk carriers loaded with more than 160,000 tons of corn and other foodstuffs
  • First ship delayed after it was set to dock in Lebanon on Sunday

KYIV: Four ships carrying Ukrainian foodstuffs sailed from Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Sunday as part of a deal to unblock the country’s sea exports, Ukrainian and Turkish officials said.
The four bulk carriers were loaded with more than 160,000 tons of corn and other foodstuffs.
The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel are working.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered the deal last month after UN warnings of possible outbreaks of famine in parts of the world due to a halt in grain shipments from Ukraine that had squeezed supplies and sent prices soaring.
Before the invasion, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.
The JCC said late on Saturday it had authorized the departure of a total of five new vessels through the Black Sea corridor: four vessels outbound from Chornomorsk and Odesa carrying 161,084 metric tons of foodstuffs, and one inbound.
The ships that have left Ukrainian ports included Glory, with a cargo of 66,000 tons of corn bound for Istanbul, and Riva Wind, loaded with 44,000 tons of corn, heading for Turkey’s Iskenderun, the Turkish defense ministry said.
It said the other two vessels to have left Ukraine were Star Helena, with a cargo of 45,000 tons of meal heading to China, and Mustafa Necati, carrying 6,000 tons of sunflower oil and heading for Italy.
The first four ships left Ukraine last week under the agreement.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon said the first grain ship that left Ukraine last week will not arrive in Lebanon on Sunday as planned.
The Razoni left Odesa on the Black Sea early last Monday carrying 26,527 tons of corn and was set to dock on Sunday in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, according to Ukrainian officials and Lebanese port authorities.
But the Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon said the ship was “having a delay” and “not arriving today,” with no details on a new arrival date or the cause of the postponement.
Shipping data on MarineTraffic.com showed the Razoni off the Turkish coast on Sunday morning.
Lebanon’s transport, agriculture and economy ministers told Reuters last week they did not know who was purchasing the grain aboard the Razoni.