International community appeals for restraint after fighting returns to Ethiopia

International community appeals for restraint after fighting returns to Ethiopia
Ethiopian government soldiers ride in the back of a truck on a road near Agula, north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on May 8, 2021. (AP/File)
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Updated 26 August 2022

International community appeals for restraint after fighting returns to Ethiopia

International community appeals for restraint after fighting returns to Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA: The international community appealed for restraint on Thursday after fighting resumed in northern Ethiopia between government forces and Tigray rebels, scuppering a truce and dimming hopes for peace.

The situation on the ground was unclear a day after fresh fighting erupted on the border of Tigray, where the warring sides accused each other of igniting the first major clashes in five months.

Rebel authorities in Tigray said on Wednesday that government forces failed to breach their defensive lines, but offered little detail on the status of combat or casualties.

The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has also not provided an update on the fighting, or whether combat has spread beyond the scenes of Wednesday’s battles on Tigray’s southern border.

Spokespeople for Abiy’s government and the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment about the situation on the ground.

The return to combat has alarmed the international community, which has been pushing both sides to peacefully resolve the brutal 21-month war in Africa’s second most populous nation.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the truce reached between the warring parties in March had “reduced violence and saved lives.”

“We are concerned that renewed fighting puts that at risk. We call on the Ethiopian government and TPLF to redouble efforts for peace to bring a permanent end to the conflict.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged both sides to pull back from “a full-blown war,” saying: “Reports of renewed conflict in Northern Ethiopia cast a shadow on the prospect for peace.”

UN chief Antonio Guterres and envoys from Britain, Turkey, the African Union and the East African bloc IGAD made similar calls for restraint and a commitment to dialogue.

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen told diplomats that Ethiopia was “prepared to defend the nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

“But it is equally committed to using peaceful means to put an end to the conflict and collaborating with humanitarian organizations to lessen needless suffering,” he told a gathering of foreign envoys in Addis Ababa.

The UN’s World Food Programme on Thursday accused the TPLF of seizing half a million liters of fuel from a warehouse in Tigray, a rebel-held region in the grips of a major humanitarian crisis.

“We demand the Tigrayan authorities return these fuel stocks to the humanitarian community immediately. As the next harvest is not until October, our deliveries of life-saving food could not be more urgent or critical to the survival of millions,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley said in a statement.

The government on Thursday said the fuel was commandeered to further the TPLF’s military objectives and called on the international community to guarantee aid was “reaching intended beneficiaries”.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the people of Tigray had been through enough hardship: “This (fighting) will only exacerbate the suffering of civilians already in desperate need.”

The March truce paused the worst of the bloodshed and allowed aid convoys to slowly return to Tigray, where the UN says millions are severely hungry, and fuel and medicine are in scarce supply.

Since the end of June, Abiy’s government and the rebels have repeatedly stated their willingness to enter peace negotiations, but disagreed on the terms of such talks.

In recent weeks, too, they have accused each other of preparing for battle.

Addis Ababa wants talks without preconditions under the auspices of the AU, which is headquartered in the Ethiopian capital.

The rebels are demanding electricity, telecommunications and banking services be restored to Tigray before talks begin, and reject the AU’s envoy Olusegun Obasanjo as mediator, accusing him of a pro-government bias.

In a statement dated August 23, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael said “two rounds of confidential face-to-face” meetings with top civilian and military officials had taken place, the first acknowledgement by either side of direct talks.

Abiy sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF after months of tensions with the party that had dominated Ethiopian politics for three decades until he took office in 2018.

The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner said the move came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.

The TPLF mounted a comeback, recapturing Tigray and expanding into the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, before the war reached a stalemate.

The conflict has killed untold numbers, with widespread reports of atrocities including mass killings and sexual violence.

UK to house hundreds more migrants on barges, Sunak says

UK to house hundreds more migrants on barges, Sunak says
Updated 14 sec ago

UK to house hundreds more migrants on barges, Sunak says

UK to house hundreds more migrants on barges, Sunak says
LONDON: The UK government will house hundreds more asylum-seekers on barges, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Monday, as he unveiled the latest migration figures that he said showed that his plans to crack down on small boat crossings on the English Channel are working.
Two more barges will house about 1,000 migrants, Sunak said, alongside one that’s set to be docked in Portland in southern England within the next two weeks. The move is meant to help save millions in taxpayers’ money currently spent to house asylum-seekers in hotels across the country.
Sunak told reporters that compared to the same time last year, the number of people making the dangerous sea crossing on small vessels from northern France to the southern English coast so far this year has decreased by a fifth. He suggested that the UK was doing better than other countries in Europe, where he said unauthorized migrant crossings have increased by a third over the same period.
Figures from the Home Office show that about 7,600 people were detected crossing the English Channel so far this year, compared with almost 10,000 last June. However, it is difficult to tell whether the decrease was linked to Sunak’s government’s policies or other factors such as weather conditions. The summer months typically see much higher numbers making the journey.
Sunak also said that the number of Albanian migrants arriving by small boats has fallen by almost 90 percent, and that a deal with Albania has seen 1,800 asylum-seekers turned back.
Many of the asylum-seekers arriving in the UK each year hail from conflict zones, including Afghanistan and Syria, though a large number come from Albania, which Sunak’s government describes as a “safe” country.
Sunak has made “Stop the Boats” his flagship policy since he took office in October. His government is pushing through a controversial migration bill that seeks to dramatically curb migrants’ ability to seek asylum in the UK Critics, including the UN refugee agency, have decried it as unethical and unworkable, and some say it breaks international law.

Afghan personnel hunted by Taliban denied UK sanctuary

Afghan personnel hunted by Taliban denied UK sanctuary
Updated 10 min 41 sec ago

Afghan personnel hunted by Taliban denied UK sanctuary

Afghan personnel hunted by Taliban denied UK sanctuary
  • Mechanics, chefs and laborers rejected by resettlement scheme for failing frontline role criteria
  • ‘We are all the same in the Taliban’s eyes,’ says former interpreter

LONDON: Afghans who worked for the UK military and who are at risk of Taliban reprisal attacks are being refused sanctuary in the UK, The Independent reported.

The revelations are part of an investigation by the newspaper into Britain’s relocation policies regarding Afghan military personnel who aided UK forces.

The Independent’s latest report found that former mechanics, laborers and chefs are being rejected by the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme because they fail to classify as having served in frontline roles alongside British troops. 
But that distinction is not recognized by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, with the former staff and contractors facing revenge attacks as a result of their work for British forces.
Tobias Ellwood MP, chair of the defense select committee, warned that the Taliban were still hunting Afghan workers who aided Western forces.
He said: “I don’t believe the Taliban share the same criteria. They gained access to databases of all local Afghans who were assisting ISAF forces and local Taliban continue to hunt them down for execution. Each case should be judged on its own merit.”
Some of the Afghans who aided the UK war effort and who fled to the UK in the wake of the Taliban takeover have appealed to the government to help their former colleagues still trapped in Afghanistan.
But Armed Forces Minister James Heappey has said that the government has no intention of expanding the ARAP criteria to include former non-frontline staff and contractors.
An Afghan mechanic who repaired troop carriers and armored vehicles during the conflict was rejected by the scheme last year, but is now appealing the decision through a judicial review.
He was left jobless when British troops pulled out of the country, and later worked for NGOs and as a contractor for private military forces.
But following the Taliban takeover, the man was forced into hiding, with his former colleagues demanding that the UK grant him sanctuary through the ARAP scheme.
A former British Army adviser and colleague of the mechanic told The Independent: “We are trying to do our best for him and his family but he is in a very bad situation. A lot of people are being disappeared and he is all the time hiding himself because many people know that he worked with the British Army.
“Lots of people in the same situation applied for ARAP. I don’t know why ARAP just rejected his case.”
The mechanic’s solicitor, Stephanie Alban, who is challenging the decision, said: “His life is in danger so I thought they would deal with it in days and not weeks. He is in hiding and he has been moving to avoid the Taliban.
“People in the local area would know that he worked for the British. He’s on their record so they will be looking for him and targeting him. It feels like these employees have just been forgotten. You shouldn’t have to do judicial reviews just to get a simple decision on a straightforward case.”
Other Afghan personnel denied by the ARAP scheme have said that they were still exposed to danger and risk despite not serving in frontline combat roles.
A former guard who protected a British Army camp said that he was fired at during a terrorist attack on the base, but was still rejected by the UK on account of his guard role.
Since the Western withdrawal, he has received threats from the Taliban as well as Daesh, which has a small presence in Afghanistan.
As a result, the former guard has moved his family to new homes around the country to avoid reprisal attacks.
In a review into his ARAP application, the man said: “Security at the camp was vital in order to ensure the safety of the British and other NATO soldiers in the camp.
“As such, the camp and the military operations carried out from the camp could not have functioned without the presence of security guards like myself.”
The Independent also spoke to relatives of personnel who have been rejected by ARAP, including former British Army chefs and laborers.
One interpreter said that his brother, a former laborer, had gone into hiding to avoid the Taliban after the Western withdrawal.
“He is in the same risk as me. It is not written on his face that he was a laborer and not an interpreter. We were all working with the British Army and we were all the same in the Taliban’s eyes.
“They have already killed one of our other brothers in front of our family home in 2020. He was working to help the American and British troops and they encountered him and shot him.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “We owe a debt of gratitude to those interpreters and other staff eligible under the ARAP scheme who worked for, or with, UK forces in Afghanistan in exposed roles.
“Our absolute priority is supporting the movement of eligible people out of Afghanistan and, to date, we have relocated over 12,200 individuals to the UK under ARAP.

Sixty Afghan girls hospitalized after school poisoning

Sixty Afghan girls hospitalized after school poisoning
Updated 27 min 30 sec ago

Sixty Afghan girls hospitalized after school poisoning

Sixty Afghan girls hospitalized after school poisoning
  • The poisoning comes after intense scrutiny of girls’ education in the war-torn nation since the Taliban took over

KABUL: Around 60 Afghan girls were hospitalized after being poisoned at their school in northern Afghanistan, police said on Monday.
The poisoning, which targeted a girls’ school in the Afghan province of Sar-e Pol, comes after intense scrutiny of girls’ education in the war-torn nation since the Taliban took over and barred most teenage female students and after a wave of poison attacks on girls’ schools in neighboring Iran.
“Some unknown people entered a girls’ ... school in Sancharak District .. and poisoned the classes, when the girls come to classes they got poisoned,” said Den Mohammad Nazari, Sar-e-Pol’s police spokesperson, without elaborating on which substance was used or who was thought to be behind the incident.
Nazari said the girls had been taken to ho.spital but were in “good condition.” No one had been arrested.
In neighboring Iran, poisoning incidents at girls’ schools sickened an estimated 13,000 mostly female students since November.
During Afghanistan’s previous foreign-backed government, several poisoning attacks, including suspected gas attacks, on girls’ schools had taken place.
The Taliban administration has prevented most female students from attending highschool and university since taking over in 2021, sparking condemnation from international governments and many Afghans. Taliban authorities have kept primary schools open for girls, up until the age of around 12 and say they are in favor of female education under certain conditions.

Fighter jets chase small plane in Washington area before it crashes in Virginia

Fighter jets chase small plane in Washington area before it crashes in Virginia
After several hours first responders found no one alive the Virginia State Police said in a statement. (AFP)
Updated 05 June 2023

Fighter jets chase small plane in Washington area before it crashes in Virginia

Fighter jets chase small plane in Washington area before it crashes in Virginia
  • The jet fighters created a sonic boom over the US capital as they pursued the errant Cessna Citation

WASHINGTON: The United States scrambled F-16 fighter jets in a supersonic chase of a light aircraft with an unresponsive pilot that violated airspace around Washington DC and later crashed into the mountains of Virginia, officials said.

No survivors were found at the crash site, Virginia state police said.

The jet fighters created a sonic boom over the US capital as they pursued the errant Cessna Citation, officials said, causing consternation among people in the Washington area.

Four people were onboard the Cessna, a source familiar with the matter said. A Cessna Citation can carry seven to 12 passengers.

After several hours first responders reached the crash site but found no one alive, the Virginia State Police said in a statement.

The Cessna was registered to Encore Motors of Melbourne, Florida, according to the flight-tracking website Flight Aware.

Encore owner John Rumpel told the Washington Post his daughter, a grandchild and her nanny were on board.

“We know nothing about the crash,” the Post quoted Rumpel as saying. “We are talking to the FAA now,” he added before ending the call.

The US military attempted to contact the pilot, who was unresponsive, until the Cessna crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement.

The Cessna appeared to be flying on autopilot, another source familiar the matter said.

“The NORAD aircraft were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region,” the statement said, adding that NORAD aircraft also used flares to the pilot’s attention.

A US official said the fighters did not cause the crash.

The Cessna took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and was bound for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, about 80 km east of Manhattan, the FAA said in a statement, adding that it and the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate.

According to Flight Aware, the plane appeared to reach the New York area, then made nearly a 180-degree turn.

Incidents involving unresponsive pilots are not unprecedented. Golfer Payne Stewart died in 1999 along with four others after the aircraft he was in flew thousands of miles with the pilot and passengers unresponsive. The plane eventually crashed in South Dakota with no survivors.

In the case of Stewart’s flight, the plane lost cabin pressure, causing the occupants to lose consciousness because of oxygen deprivation.

Similarly, a small US private plane with an unresponsive pilot crashed off the east coast of Jamaica in 2014 after veering far off course and triggering a US security alert including a fighter jet escort.

On Sunday, the sonic boom rattled many people in the Washington area who took to Twitter to report hearing a loud noise that shook the ground and walls. Several residents said they heard the noise as far away as northern Virginia and Maryland.

China says warship crossing in front of US destroyer was ‘safe’

China says warship crossing in front of US destroyer was ‘safe’
Updated 59 min 40 sec ago

China says warship crossing in front of US destroyer was ‘safe’

China says warship crossing in front of US destroyer was ‘safe’
  • The encounter comes as both countries trade blame for not holding military talks

BEIJING: The maneuver of a Chinese warship in the Taiwan Strait during an encounter with a US destroyer was completely reasonable, legal, professional and “safe,” a spokesperson at China’s foreign ministry said at a press conference on Monday.
The US Navy on Sunday released a video of what it called an “unsafe interaction” in the Taiwan Strait, in which a Chinese warship crossed in front of a US destroyer in the Taiwan Strait on Saturday.
The encounter comes as both countries trade blame for not holding military talks — with disagreements between the two over everything from trade and Taiwan to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and raises the spectre of future face-offs that could spiral out of control.
The US military said the USS Chung-Hoon, a destroyer, and Canada’s HSMC Montreal, a frigate, were conducting a “routine” transit of the strait on Saturday when the Chinese ship cut in front of the US vessel, coming within 150 yards (137 meters).
In the video, released by the US Navy late on Sunday, a Chinese warship can clearly be seen sailing across the path of the Chung-Hoon in calm waters. The Chung-Hoon does not change course.
A voice can be heard in English, apparently sending a radio message to the Chinese ship, warning against “attempts to limit freedom of navigation,” though the exact wording is unclear because of wind noise.

“The measures taken by the Chinese military are completely reasonable, legitimate, and professional and safe,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson at the Chinese foreign ministry.
“The US had caused trouble and provocation first, while China dealt with it in accordance with the law and regulations afterwards,” Wang told a regular press conference on Monday when asked about the video released by the US Navy.
On Saturday night, China’s military rebuked the United States and Canada for “deliberately provoking risk” with the rare joint sailing.
Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping told Reuters that this “point blank interception” was a demonstration of both the capabilities and “courage” of China’s navy.
“The more intensified the provocation from the United States, the stronger the countermeasures from China,” Song said.
It was the second such encounter in recent days.
On May 26, a Chinese fighter jet carried out an “unnecessarily aggressive” maneuver near a US military plane over the South China Sea in international airspace, according to the United States.
“It seems to me that Beijing has instructed its forces to respond more assertively against what it believes are encroaching US and allied forces,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, a US think tank.
“By doing so, China is only increasing the chances for miscalculation — namely ships or aircraft accidentally colliding — that could then spiral into armed conflict,” he added.
In 2001, a US spy plane made an emergency landing on China’s Hainan island after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet, whose pilot died.
Taiwan’s defense ministry on Sunday called China’s actions with the US and Canadian ships “provocation” and said it was the common responsibility of free and democratic countries to maintain peace and stability in the strait.
“Any actions to increase tension and danger will not contribute to regional security,” it said in a statement.
The ministry called on China to respect the right to freedom of navigation.
China views Taiwan as its own territory, a claim the government in Taipei strongly rejects.
Beijing has been stepping up military and political pressure to try to force Taiwan to accept its sovereignty, including staging regular maneuvers near the island.