World must do more to free Nigerian schoolgirl hostages: Malala

Updated 13 April 2015

World must do more to free Nigerian schoolgirl hostages: Malala

LAGOS: Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai on Monday criticized Nigerian and world leaders for not doing enough to help free 219 schoolgirls kidnapped a year ago by Boko Haram militants.
“In my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help you,” she said in a letter to the teenagers, on the eve of the first anniversary of their abduction.
“They must do much more to help secure your release. I am among many people pressuring them to make sure you are freed,” she added, calling the girls “my brave sisters.”
Yousafzai’s letter, which she said was “a message of solidarity love and hope,” comes as events, including marches, prayers and vigils, were being held to mark the girls’ 12 months in captivity.
Boka Haram fighters kidnapped 276 girls from their school in the remote town of Chibok, in Borno state, northeastern Nigeria, on the evening of April 14 last year.
Fifty-seven managed to escape soon afterwards but the remainder have not been seen since an appearance in a Boko Haram video in May last year.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan and his government were heavily criticized for their response to the kidnapping but Malala said there were now “reasons for hope and optimism.”
“Nigerian forces are re-gaining territory and protecting more schools,” she wrote.
“Nigeria’s newly elected president, Muhammadu Buhari, has vowed to make securing your freedom a top priority and promised his government will not tolerate violence against women and girls.”
Malala, 17, also wrote of her own experiences at the hands of militants in her native Pakistan. She was nearly killed by the Taleban in October 2012 for insisting that girls had a right to an education.
She recovered and became a global champion of girls’ rights to go to school.
A fund set up in her name would ensure the girls will continue their education after their release, she said, urging them not to give up hope.
“I look forward to the day I can hug each one of you, pray with you and celebrate your freedom with your families. Until then, stay strong and never lose hope. You are my heroes,” she added.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Monday said that 800,000 of the 1.5 million people displaced by Boko Haram’s insurgency were children.
More than 300 schools have been severely damaged or destroyed between January 2012 and December last year, with at least 196 teachers and 314 schoolchildren killed in that period, it added.
Children have increasingly become targets for kidnapping, sexual abuse and forced marriage as well as “weapons of war,” being made to fight alongside militants or used as human bombs, UNICEF said.


Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

Updated 7 min 41 sec ago

Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

  • Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before
  • Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island

ANURADHAPURA, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn in Monday at a Buddhist temple revered by his core Sinhalese nationalist supporters, following an election victory that triggered fear and concern among the island’s Tamil and Muslim minority communities.

Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before, seven months after deadly Islamist attacks rocked the country.

The former defense secretary is lauded by his majority Sinhala-Buddhist community for leading a no-holds-barred military campaign that crushed Tamil rebels and ended a 37-year separatist war in 2009 when his brother was president.

Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island.

He did so facing the temple’s stupa, which is the tallest in Sri Lanka and dates back more than two millennia.

The imposing structure is said to have been built by a Sinhalese king who is venerated by Sri Lanka’s Buddhists for vanquishing an invading south Indian Tamil ruler.
Around 40,000 Tamil civilians were allegedly killed at the end of the civil war in 2009.

Saturday’s election saw the country’s Tamils, who account for about 15 percent of the population, vote overwhelmingly against Rajapaksa.

During his brother’s 2005-15 presidency Gotabaya had unfettered control over security forces, while “death squads” that abducted dozens of dissidents, opponents, journalists and others also allegedly reported to him.

Many people were never found again after being bundled into feared white vans, while some were killed and dumped by roadsides. Rajapaksa has denied any involvement.

He has resisted international calls to investigate the alleged war crimes.

At his only press conference during a three-month election campaign, Rajapaksa reiterated that he will not allow Sri Lankan troops to be tried by any war-crime tribunal, foreign or local.

He had also pledged to exonerate and free from prosecution the dozens of military personnel accused of abductions, extortion and killings during his brother’s decade in power.

In his brief acceptance speech at the announcement of the final election results on Sunday, Rajapaksa pledged to work for all Sri Lankans.

“I am the president of not only those who voted for me but also those who voted against me... irrespective of which race or religion they belong to,” Rajapaksa said.

“I am deeply committed to serve all the people of Sri Lanka.”

The island’s minority Tamils have been campaigning for greater autonomy in areas where they are concentrated.

Tamil youth took up arms in 1972 demanding a separate state and their violent guerilla campaign at its height saw them control a third of the country.

After being in opposition for nearly five years, the Rajapaksa family’s comeback came after the Sinhalese-Buddhist community and the powerful Buddhist clergy rallied behind them.

Rajapaksa formally announced his intention to run for the presidency just days after Islamist attacks on April 21 that killed 269 people, promising to protect the nation.

The Easter Sunday suicide bombings on three upscale hotels and three churches was carried out by a homegrown outfit from among Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority, who make up 10 percent of the population.

It shocked the nation, and the world, just as Sri Lankan tourism was booming and as the nation prepared to celebrate a decade since the end of the Tamil separatist war.

Rajapakasa insisted that extremists would not have carried out any attacks if he had been in power. He blamed the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for weakening the intelligence apparatus he had built.