Benin in talks with Rwanda over logistical aid to counter terror threat

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. (AFP file photo)
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 10 September 2022

Benin in talks with Rwanda over logistical aid to counter terror threat

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. (AFP file photo)
  • France withdrew its troops from Mali this summer, removing a major military force in the battle against terrorism in the Sahel

LAGOS: Benin is in talks with Rwanda over logistical aid and military expertise to combat terrorists ts on its northern border, a government official said.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has already sent troops to help Mozambique fight militants in its north and also deployed forces to help stop violence in the Central African Republic.
Benin’s armed forces are battling an expanding threat from conflicts across its northern border in Burkina Faso and Niger.
“As with Niger and Burkina Faso, we are discussing logistical support and the supply of expertise with Rwanda,” said Benin’s presidential spokesman Wilfried Houngbedji.
“But the coming agreement will not provide for the deployment of Rwandan troops on the ground.”
His remarks came after Paris-based specialist website Africa Intelligence reported that Benin was negotiating the deployment of Rwandan troops inside Benin to help fight terrorists.
It said talks were in the final stages with the first of hundreds of Rwandan troops and experts expected to arrive in Benin in October. According to the article said only a few African heads of state in the region had been notified.
“I cannot comment on that, but what I can confirm is that we have an existing defense cooperation between our two countries,” Rwanda Defense Force spokesman Ronald Rwivanga said when asked about the article.
Benin’s Armed Forces Chief of Army Staff, Brig. Gen. Fructueux Gbaguidi in July visited Rwanda for talks to deepen the existing relations between the two armies, according to a Rwanda Defense Ministry statement.
Benin President Patrice Talon has told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that he needs more equipment, especially drones, to help combat violence in the north.
France withdrew its troops from Mali this summer, removing a major military force in the battle against terrorism in the Sahel.
West African coastal states from Benin, Togo and Ghana to Ivory Coast are increasingly concerned about the spread of violence from Daesh and Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists operating in their northern neighbors.
Togo’s first acknowledged terror attack was in May 2022.
Benin’s first known fatal attack came in December, when two soldiers were killed near the border with Burkina Faso.
In Ivory Coast, four members of the security forces died in 2021, after 14 in 2020.
Gulf of Guinea states have increased their military presence in northern border regions, with Togo imposing a state of emergency in its far northern provinces.
Rwanda’s military last year deployed around 1,000 troops in Mozambique’s north alongside contingents from other southern African countries as well as support from Europe and the US.
Sources say Rwanda’s troops have been among the most effective and are the force deployed most frequently to combat operations in northern Mozambique.
Mozambique’s nearly five-year-old insurgency has killed more than 3,700 people and driven more than 800,000 from their homes as well as suspending a multi-billion dollar gas project.

 


Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures
Updated 10 sec ago

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures
  • Top military leadership, former army chiefs and politicians attend the funeral at Malir garrison
  • In 1999, after a military career spanning 38 years, Musharraf took power in Pakistan in a bloodless coup

KARACHI: Top military leaders and politicians attended the funeral prayers of former Pakistani president and army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, at a military garrison in the seaside metropolis of Karachi, before he was laid to rest in an army graveyard.

In 2022, Musharraf’s family said he had been hospitalized due to complications from a rare organ disease called amyloidosis. He died on Sunday at a Dubai hospital, aged 79. 

Musharraf’s body and his family reached Karachi via a special flight from Dubai on Monday night, state-run Radio Pakistan reported. 

Strict security arrangements were made for the funeral which media was not allowed to cover. Army and paramilitary forces were deployed outside Malir cantonment and around the military graveyard to prevent any media or members of the public from entering. 

Dr. Muhammad Amjad, former chairman of the Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League, told Arab News the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Sahir Shamshad, former army chiefs Generals Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Qamar Javed Bajwa, former governor Moinuddin Haider and other ex-military officers attended the funeral. 

“Leaders of the PMLN, PTI and MQM also attended,” said Amjad, referring to three major political parties in Pakistan. 

In 1998, after a military career spanning 37 years, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the brother of Pakistan’s current prime minister, appointed Musharraf as army chief. The following year, he seized power and toppled Sharif’s government, citing the deteriorating political and economic conditions in Pakistan. 

In 2002, Musharraf was appointed president, a title he held in addition to army chief, after winning more than 90 percent of the vote in a controversial national referendum. He stepped down as army chief in 2007 and as president in 2008. 

Musharraf subsequently lived in London but returned to Pakistan in 2013 aiming to contest elections later that year. However, he instead faced a slew of court cases and was subsequently banned for life from holding public office. 

In 2016, he left Pakistan for medical treatment in Dubai, where he died on Feb. 5. 

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Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor

Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor
Updated 07 February 2023

Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor

Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor
  • New Russian offensive possible in 10 days, says governor
  • British intel says Russia does not have forces for offensive

KYIV: Russia was pouring reinforcements into eastern Ukraine ahead of a possible new offensive, said a Ukrainian governor, but British intelligence said on Tuesday it was unlikely that Russia would have enough forces to significantly affect the war within weeks.
Desperate for Western military aid to arrive, Ukraine anticipates a major offensive could be launched by Russia for “symbolic” reasons around the Feb. 24 anniversary of the invasion, which Moscow persists in calling “a special military operation.”
Ukraine is itself planning a spring offensive to recapture lost territory, but it is awaiting delivery of promised longer-range Western missiles and battle tanks, and some analysts say the country was months away from being ready.
“We are seeing more and more (Russian) reserves being deployed in our direction, we are seeing more equipment being brought in...,” said Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of the mainly Russian-occupied Luhansk province.
“They bring ammunition that is used differently than before — it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive,” Haidai told Ukrainian television.
“It will most likely take them 10 days to gather reserves. After Feb. 15 we can expect (this offensive) at any time.”
The war is reaching a pivotal point as its first anniversary approaches, with Ukraine no longer making gains as it did in the second half of 2022 and Russia pushing forward with hundreds of thousands of mobilized reserve troops.
Britain’s Defense Intelligence said in its daily report that Russia’s military has likely attempted since early January to restart major offensive operations aimed at capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk.
However, Russian forces have gained little territory as they “lack munitions and maneuver units required for a successful offensive,” it said.
“Russian leaders will likely continue to demand sweeping advances. It remains unlikely that Russia can buiild up the forces needed to substantially affect the outcome of the war within the coming weeks.”
In his Monday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said personnel changes on the border and frontline will bolster Ukraine’s military efforts amid uncertainty over the future of his defense minister, just as Russia advances in the east for the first time in six months.
Zelensky said he wanted to combine military and managerial experience in local and central government but did not directly address confusion about whether his defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, would be replaced.
On Sunday, David Arakhamia, head of Zelensky’s parliamentary bloc, said Reznikov would be transferred to another ministerial job, but on Monday he wrote that “there will be no personnel changes in the defense sector this week.”
Zelensky says he needs to show that Ukraine was a safe steward of billions of dollars of Western military and other aid, and his government is engaged in the biggest political and administrative shake-up since Russia’s invasion nearly a year ago.
“In a number of regions, particularly those on the border or on the front line, we will appoint leaders with military experience. Those who can show themselves to be the most effective in defending against existing threats,” he said.
The European Union said Zelensky has been invited to take part in a summit of EU leaders, amid reports he could be in Brussels as soon as this week, in what would be only his second known foreign trip since the invasion began.
Zelensky’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
NEW RUSSIAN OFFENSIVE
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Ukrainska Pravda on the weekend that intelligence suggested any new Russian offensive would likely come from the east or south.
“Their dream is to expand the land corridor to Crimea in order to continue supplies. Therefore, of course, the key risks are: the east, the south, and after that the north,” he said. Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
Ukrainian defense analyst Oleksandr Kovalenko said a new Russian offensive could come from one of four directions; the eastern Luhansk region, the Donetsk region, the Zaporizhzhia region and the city and port of Mariupol.
“Things are more serious in Donetsk region, particularly around Bakhmut and Avdiivka. And the Russians will be boosting their contingents there as well as equipment and paratroops,” Kovalenko, from the “Information Resistance group” think tanks, told Ukrainian radio NV.
For months Russia’s main target in eastern Ukraine has been Bakhmut, where its state media said the Wagner mercenary group had gained a foothold. Ukraine said on Monday evening that Russian forces had trained tank, mortar and artillery fire there in the past 24 hours.
Kovalenko said Mariupol, captured by Russian forces last May, could be used by the Russians to bring in troops and equipment for a new offensive.
“It could serve as a transport hub for the Russian occupation forces,” he said.
Kovalenko said Ukraine’s counter-offensive would not happen any time soon and Ukrainian forces would be assuming a defensive position, particularly in Donetsk.
“It may be an active defense, but a defensive position nonetheless. The idea will remain to block any Russian advance,” he said.
“Things could change more quickly in other sectors. But this situation could go on for two to two-and-a-half months — that is the time required for providing the tanks for brigades, training and getting everything outfitted.”


North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills

North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills
Updated 07 February 2023

North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills

North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills
  • Pledge came after South Korea and US staged joint air drills

SEOUL: North Korea’s top army officials have said they will expand and intensify military drills to ensure their readiness for war, state media reported Tuesday, ahead of a massive parade.
The pledge came at a Monday meeting overseen by leader Kim Jong Un and follows last week’s staging of joint air drills by South Korea and the United States.
The agenda was topped by “the issue of constantly expanding and intensifying the operation and combat drills of the (Korean People’s Army) ... strictly perfecting the preparedness for war,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.
The meeting of North Korea’s central military commission comes as commercial satellite imagery suggests “extensive parade preparations” are underway in Pyongyang ahead of key state holidays this month.
North Korea celebrates the founding anniversary of its armed forces on Wednesday and the “Day of the Shining Star” on February 16. The latter is the birthday of Kim Jong Il, son of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung and father of Kim Jong Un.
Seoul and Washington have moved to bolster joint military drills following a year of sanctions-busting weapons tests, infuriating Pyongyang, which sees them as rehearsals for invasion.
Last week, the security allies staged joint air drills featuring strategic bombers and stealth fighters, prompting Pyongyang to warn such exercises could “ignite an all-out showdown.”
The joint exercises, their first this year, came a day after US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his South Korean counterpart vowed to boost security cooperation to counter an increasingly belligerent nuclear-armed North.
North Korea’s foreign minister has said the move to ramp up joint drills crossed “an extreme red line.”
Experts say Monday’s meeting of North Korea’s top brass aimed to highlight the country’s readiness to face down upcoming joint military drills between South Korea and the United States — and also stress it was prepared for an actual war.
“North Korea is hinting about the possibility of military action in the future in the name of operational and combat training and war preparedness,” said Hong Min, researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Kim recently called for an “exponential” increase in Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, including mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons and developing new missiles for nuclear counterstrikes.
Kim has also said his country must “overwhelmingly beef up military muscle” in 2023 in response to what Pyongyang calls US and South Korean hostility.


China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress
Updated 07 February 2023

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress
  • Inflation, which just a few months ago seemed a near existential threat to the Biden presidency, is steadily ticking downward

WASHINGTON: The US economy’s humming and President Joe Biden is optimistic, but brutal polls and the nation’s collective freak-out over a mysterious Chinese balloon will overshadow his State of the Union speech Tuesday.
The Democrat’s speechwriters certainly had their work cut out on the weekend as they huddled with the president at the Camp David retreat in the rural hills of Maryland, before flying back to Washington Monday.
A photo posted by Biden on Twitter showed a binder with the speech, a coffee mug and biscuits. “Getting ready,” he said.
On arrival back at the White House, Biden told reporters: “I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs — what’s going on, what I’m looking forward to working on.”
But the dramatic downing of a huge Chinese balloon by a US Air Force fighter jet Saturday left the dangerously unstable relationship with the communist superpower literally looming over the Biden administration.
And, as two polls published Sunday and Monday show, well under half of Democrats want 80-year-old Biden to seek a second term in 2024.
In other words, his personal sunniness, embodied by a constant refrain of never having “been more optimistic” about the country, is simply not penetrating.
Just last week, the script for Tuesday’s big set piece event — an address to a joint session of Congress, nearly the entire senior ranks of government, and a vast television audience — had been almost writing itself.
Inflation, which just a few months ago seemed a near existential threat to the Biden presidency, is steadily ticking downward. Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are starting to flow out into programs passed under Biden to spur high-tech manufacturing and repair infrastructure.
Then on Friday, new figures showed that a surge in job creation has driven unemployment to its lowest rate in 50 years.
In his own mini-preview of the so-called SOTU speech, Biden told journalists: “Next week, I’ll be reporting on the state of the union. But today, I’m happy to report that the state of the union and the state of our economy is strong.”
Even if Biden has yet to formally announce his 2024 candidacy, the SOTU — followed by two very campaign-like trips Wednesday and Thursday to Wisconsin and Florida — is expected to give him a big shove in that direction.
The question now is whether at his age, with an unenthusiastic party, ferociously aggressive Republican opponents, and increasingly Cold War-like confrontations with Russia and China, Biden can push hard enough.

On his side will be massive advantages: an economy defying multiple predictions of recession and the power of incumbency which means he can spend this year and the next traveling on Air Force One to tout his successes.
But the weekend’s news showed what he is up against, even before taking on whomever the Republicans choose as their candidate — Donald Trump or someone new.
The fighter jet ordered into the sky by Biden efficiently dispatched the Chinese balloon, but the White House faces swirling questions over why the craft — which China claims was studying weather — was first allowed to trace a leisurely path across the entire country, passing directly over ultra-sensitive military bases.
And polls show a very down-to-earth danger for Biden: his own side doesn’t seem to want him anymore.
In an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, a paltry 37 percent of respondents said they back Biden running for a second term, which would end when he was 86 years old.
In an ABC News-Washington Post Poll, 58 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said the party should find someone else for 2024.
Pressed about the disconnect between Biden’s message, the macroeconomic data, and the apparent widespread dissatisfaction among ordinary Americans, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged that many voters remain worried about economic insecurity.
“It’s an incredibly complicated time,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the State of the Union will be an “important moment” in the battle to change Americans’ views.
“I think (at) the State of the Union he’ll have an opportunity to talk directly to the American people, not just Congress, to talk about what we have done,” she added.

 


’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct

’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct
Updated 07 February 2023

’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct

’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct
  • The investigators said Tedros was informed of the sexual misconduct allegations in 2019 and had been warned of worrying gaps in the WHO’s misconduct policies the previous year

LONDON: A confidential UN report into alleged missteps by senior World Health Organization staffers in the way they handled a sexual misconduct case during an Ebola outbreak in Congo found their response didn’t violate the agency’s policies because of what some officials described as a “loophole” in how the WHO defines victims of such behavior.
The report, which was submitted to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last month and wasn’t released publicly, was obtained by The Associated Press. The WHO did not respond to requests for comment.
The UN investigation comes after a 2021 review by a panel appointed by Tedros found that three WHO managers fumbled a sexual misconduct case first reported by the AP earlier that year, involving a UN health agency doctor signing a contract to buy land for a young woman he reportedly impregnated.
Last week, Tedros said UN investigators concluded the “managerial misconduct” charges were unsubstantiated and the three staffers returned to work after being on administrative leave. The WHO chief said the agency would seek advice from experts on how to handle the inconsistencies between the two reports.
The investigators said Tedros was informed of the sexual misconduct allegations in 2019 and had been warned of worrying gaps in the WHO’s misconduct policies the previous year.
“If these issues were brought to Tedros’ attention and no action was taken, (WHO) member states must demand accountability,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a global health expert at Columbia University.
Tedros has previously said he became aware of sexual misconduct complaints in Congo only after media reports in September 2020 and learned of the specific case reported by the AP when it was published. He said anyone connected to sexual misconduct faced consequences including dismissal. To date, no senior WHO staffers linked to the abuse and exploitation have been fired.
In May 2021, an AP investigation revealed senior WHO management was told of sexual exploitation during the agency’s efforts to stop Ebola in eastern Congo from 2018-2020 but did little to stop it.
Among the cases WHO management were warned about was the allegation that Dr. Jean-Paul Ngandu, an infection control specialist sent to Beni, had impregnated a young woman. Ngandu met the woman at a restaurant one evening shortly after he arrived — and following mandatory WHO training on the prevention of sexual misconduct.
According to the UN report, the two had sex later that evening and Ngandu gave her some money the next morning. The relationship soured and the woman and her aunt later went to the WHO office in Beni to complain that Ngandu had impregnated her. AP obtained a notarized agreement Ngandu and the woman, in which he agreed to cover her health care costs and buy her land.
The deal, also signed by two WHO staffers, was meant to protect the WHO’s reputation, Ngandu said.
“After the allegations were made to WHO (headquarters), a decision was made not to investigate the complaint on the basis that it did not violate WHO’s (sexual exploitation and abuse) policy framework,” the UN report said.
The review explained that the decision was made by officials from the UN health agency’s legal, ethics and other departments and was due to the fact that the woman wasn’t a “beneficiary” of WHO assistance, meaning she didn’t receive any emergency or humanitarian aid from the agency, and thus, didn’t qualify as a victim under WHO policy.
WHO staffers interviewed by UN investigators said this might be considered a “loophole which had the potential to cause complaints to fall through the cracks.”
“Ngandu’s conduct did not violate any WHO (sexual exploitation and abuse) standards of conduct,” the report said, describing his agreement to pay off the woman as a “private financial settlement.”
UN investigators noted there were problems in the WHO’s sexual misconduct policies, describing those as “a collective responsibility.” In February 2018, several staffers sent a memorandum to Tedros warning of the policies’ shortcomings.
Experts slammed WHO’s defense, saying the agency should uphold the highest standards in handling sexual exploitation since it coordinates global responses to acute crises like COVID-19 and monkeypox.
“Escaping accountability based on weasel words and technical language, like not being a ‘beneficiary’ of WHO assistance is unacceptable,” said Larry Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights at Georgetown University. “That the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services excused this behavior based on this legal technicality shows the UN and WHO are not taking sexual abuse seriously.”
After the reports of sexual misconduct in Congo arose, the WHO created a new office to prevent such behavior, headed by Dr. Gaya Gamhewage. In her interview with UN investigators, Gamhewage said that prior to starting her new job, she had no knowledge of the WHO’s sexual misconduct policies and had not even read them.
“Sexual exploitation and abuse were not familiar terms to her,” the report said.
The UN investigation comes weeks after the AP published another story detailing sexual misconduct at the WHO, involving a Fijian doctor with a history of sexual assault allegations within the agency, who was preparing to run in an election for the WHO’s top director in the Western Pacific.
“These repeated instances of sexual assault, and arguably worse, its cover-up, are grossly intolerable,” said Columbia University’s Redlener. “It’s possible this Ngandu case didn’t technically break WHO’s policy, but there is policy and then there is morality and ethics,” he said. “There’s something deeply uncomfortable about what happened here.”
During the Ebola epidemic, Tedros traveled to Congo 14 times to personally oversee the WHO’s response.
“At a minimum, Tedros should promise and deliver a major overhaul on policies and accountability,” Redlener said. “There might even be an expectation that he failed in his responsibilities and should therefore resign.”