Archive for January 22, 2016


December 15, 2015

GENEVA (AP) — U.N.-brokered peace talks between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the country’s Shiite rebels started on Tuesday in Switzerland as the guns went quiet across Yemen and air raids from a Saudi-coalition targeting the rebels were halted.

The week-long ceasefire, meant to give the warring factions a chance to find a solution to the conflict that has collapsed the Arab world’s poorest country, went into effect at noon on Tuesday. But only Yemeni government officials were able to confirm it, Shiite rebel leaders could not be immediately reached for comment on how the truce was holding.

Yemen has been torn by fighting pitting the rebels, known as Houthis, and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against an array of forces, including the internationally recognized government, which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition and supported by the United States, and also southern separatists, religious extremists and other militants.

In a statement, U.N. special envoy for Yemen Ismail Cheikh Ahmed said the talks in Switzerland “should mark the end of military violence in Yemen.” According to the U.N., the war in Yemen has so far killed at least 5,878 people since March, when the fighting escalated after the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes targeting the rebels.

Just hours before the ceasefire started, the coalition and pro-government forces seized the Red Sea island of Zuqar from the rebels. Yemeni security officials, who have remained neutral in the conflict, said both sides had intensified the fighting to solidify their positions ahead of the truce. There was no immediate word on casualties and the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Past efforts to end the violence have ended in failure, as the government insisted the Houthis comply with a U.N. resolution that requires them to return seized weapons and territory they had captured over the past year, including the capital, Sanaa. In response, the Houthis demanded negotiations over the country’s political future.

The two sides had initially agreed to halt fire at midnight Monday but the coalition delayed the truce to midday Tuesday, without elaborating. In Geneva, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said a total of 24 people were taking part in the “open-ended” talks. U.N. officials have declined to specify the location of the talks, but Swiss public radio on Monday said they were to take place in the village of Macolin, near the Swiss town of Biel.

Al-Haj reported from Sanaa, Yemen.

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December 21, 2015

CAIRO (AP) — Ahmed Doury and his wife had fled their home in Sudan’s Darfur region for safety in Jordan. But after Jordanian security forces violently rounded up and deported them and other Sudanese asylum seekers, the 32-year-old says he’s now more determined than ever to go to Europe.

“I will take the sea … I will get out of here by any means necessary,” he said Sunday, adding that it was the only thing he could think about on the flight back to Sudan. Speaking by telephone from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, he recounted the deportation to The Associated Press with a solemn voice.

Doury had gone to Jordan in 2014, fleeing death threats for his tribal and ethnic ties in the war-devastated Darfur region. He registered as a refugee with the United Nations and worked intermittent menial jobs in the Jordanian capital, Amman, to support himself and his wife.

Feeling discriminated against by authorities, the two joined a makeshift camp outside the U.N. headquarters where other Sudanese were living. On Wednesday, Jordanian security forces stormed the camp, tore it down and forced the asylum seekers onto vans headed to the airport.

The camp’s proximity to the U.N. headquarters had given the group a false sense of safety, he explained. “We have no trust in the U.N. anymore after what happened. No one did anything to help us,” Doury said, echoing a view widely held among Sudanese refugees in Jordan.

“Everyone was beaten … they stepped on the people who fell down,” he said. The troops marched in early in the morning, swearing and indiscriminately beating its inhabitants with rubber and electric batons, he said. They fired tear gas and rubber bullets and at one point shoved a pregnant woman to the ground. She fell, broke a leg and went into labor, he said.

Once dispersed, the Sudanese were driven to a holding bay near the country’s international airport in vans “so crammed, (they) were barely able to breathe.” Although all the asylum seekers were in metal or plastic handcuffs, Jordanian security continued to beat them at the holding area, and the trauma caused another pregnant woman to go into labor, he said.

On Friday, they were put onto planes taking them back to Sudan. Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani denied the use of force against the refugees. U.N. spokeswoman Aoife McDonnell said they believe the majority of those deported were registered refugees. Exact numbers were not available but the U.N. is “concerned about their status and the fear and apprehension that will pervade the remaining community here,” she said.

The agency says majority of some 3,500 Sudanese in Jordan are from the troubled Darfur region where they risk being persecuted. The U.N. had warned Jordan that the deportations violate international laws, but the Jordanian government said Friday that those deported had come under the pretext of seeking medical treatment and that asylum protection did not apply to them.

Some 120 Sudanese managed to escape the dispersal and are now on the run in Jordan. Doury said most of the Sudanese sent back were interrogated for at least two hours upon arrival in Khartoum and allowed to leave, but some have been detained indefinitely.

Doury said his wife, who is two months pregnant, was beaten in the break-up of the camp and now has pelvic and abdominal pain. “I am worried for the baby,” he said, but added that they don’t have money to see a doctor.

Being deported from Jordan may have given him and other asylum seekers the push they needed to brave the seas in search for a better life in Europe. “This is indescribably bad situation,” he said. “We tried the legal way, so now a lot of people will be trying the illegal way.”

Associated Press writers Sam McNeil and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

January 18, 2016

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A court acquitted former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf Monday in a murder case involving the killing of a separatist leader, Akbar Bugti, who had died in a 2006 military operation in Baluchistan province, lawyers said.

An anti-terrorism court announced the verdict in the southwestern city of Quetta, Baluchistan’s provincial capital. The court accepted the defense’s argument that Musharraf had nothing to do with the killing, said his lawyer Akhtar Shah. He added that he had been pleading his client’s innocence ever since the case was registered in 2009.

Musharraf’s government in mid-2000s launched a crackdown on separatist insurgents in Baluchistan province and Bugti was killed in a raid in 2006. Separatists in the province want complete autonomy from Islamabad and have been fighting for a greater share of revenue from their region’s natural resources.

The case against Musharraf was brought by Bugti’s son, Jamil Bugti. Bugti’s lawyer Sohail Rajput said he will appeal the verdict in a higher court. He alleged favoritism extended to the former military dictator due to his powerful background.

The 70-year-old Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup and then stepped down in 2008. He later left the country, but returned to Pakistan in March 2013, hoping for a political comeback. Instead, he got embroiled in court cases, including one involving treason charges, which are connected to his decision in 2007 to declare a state of emergency and detain senior judges, including the chief justice.

Musharraf, who was not in court Monday, has been released on bail pending all cases against him. He lives under tight security in the southern port city of Karachi.

Colombo (AFP)

Jan 5, 2016

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called Tuesday for closer military cooperation with Sri Lanka on an official visit to the island.

Pakistan was a key supplier of arms and aircraft for Sri Lanka’s military in their battle against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war that ended in May 2009.

In talks with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sharif also expressed a desire for more naval exchanges.

“I conveyed our desire for more frequent port calls, participation in military exercises and defense seminars and training of military personnel,” Pakistan’s leader said in a statement following an official welcoming ceremony.

Sharif held talks with Wickremesinghe soon after his arrival on Monday and is due to fly back Wednesday after visiting the Buddhist pilgrim city of Kandy.

Sri Lanka sends its military officers for higher training to both Pakistan and its arch-rival India as well as to several other countries, including the United States and China.

The island’s closest neighbor India withheld arms and ammunition during the height of Colombo’s war with Tamil rebels, who have close cultural and religious links with the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Sharif said he was also keen to expand trade with Sri Lanka and was eager to invest in its sugar and cement industries.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Pakistan_seeks_closer_military_ties_with_Sri_Lanka_999.html.

Beirut (AFP)

Oct 8, 2011

When the Syrian army raided his village in the central province of Homs and began shooting at unarmed civilians, Amin knew it was time to join the growing ranks of soldiers defecting to the opposition.

“I was off duty that day in June and I couldn’t bear what I saw,” the 25-year-old lieutenant told AFP, asking that his real name not be used.

“I decided then to send my parents and siblings to a safe area and I slipped across the border into Lebanon.”

Several soldiers who have defected in recent months and fled to Lebanon gave similar harrowing tales, describing a “scorched earth” campaign by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its much feared “shabiha,” or pro-government thugs, to crush the seven-month popular revolt.

The soldiers showed AFP their army ID cards as proof of their identity.

Amin said that on one occasion, soldiers burst into the house of a suspected activist in his village and shot the man’s wife and daughter in the legs to force them to reveal his whereabouts.

“When the army carries out such operations, the shabiha are then given a free hand to loot and destroy,” he said.

According to reports that cannot be confirmed — as the Syrian government has restricted access to foreign journalists — more and more soldiers are defecting, with some forming an underground group called the Free Syrian Army.

Apart from Lebanon, Turkey has also become a refuge for defectors.

Experts and diplomats say that while the phenomenon is not widespread, it indicates growing frustration over the regime’s fierce crackdown against a mostly peaceful uprising that has left nearly 3,000 people dead.

The cities of Homs and nearby Rastan have become hubs for defectors who have joined the opposition.

“I defected before being faced with the dilemma of having to kill someone or being killed myself for not obeying orders,” said Rami, who was with army intelligence and fled to Lebanon in June.

He described an army in which many soldiers are disillusioned with the regime and hesitate to shoot at demonstrators, but fear reprisals from their commanders.

The army top brass usually hail from the ruling Alawite community, while the rank and file are mostly from the majority Sunni Muslim community.

“Soldiers are kept under close watch by their superiors and once they come under suspicion they become the target themselves,” said Rami, who, like others interviewed for this article, did not use his real name.

“When that happens, it’s time to quickly pack the family and get out.”

He said soldiers whose loyalty is questioned are placed on the front lines when the army raids a town.

“If you fail to shoot, then they kill you and tell your family that it was the work of an armed terrorist gang,” said Rami, in his 40s.

Yussef, a frail-looking 20-year-old who fled to Lebanon in August, said his unit in Homs province would often be ordered to shoot at people even not taking part in a demonstration, just to sow terror.

“I saw with my own eyes an unarmed older farmer in a village in Homs province go by on a bicycle and we were ordered to shoot him in the back,” he said emotionally. “He was left there to bleed all day.

“I have no idea why he was killed. He didn’t represent a threat.”

Yussef said members of his unit, known for not using up their ammunition, were sent on a mission once and told to fire all their bullets or else.

He also said security services often shoot at army units to uphold the regime’s “tale” that armed terrorist groups are behind the uprising.

Maher, an activist who is among some 5,000 Syrians who have sought refuge in Lebanon, said the opposition in Homs has organised to assist defecting soldiers and offer them safe houses.

“If the international community really wants to protect the Syrian people without getting involved militarily, then it needs to supply these soldiers with ammunition,” he said.

“And this needs to be done quickly before the regime carries out new massacres.”

Amin, Rami and Yussef said they believe that as the Assad regime intensifies its brutal campaign, more and more soldiers will defect.

But they also fear being tracked down in Lebanon by Assad’s men or by his supporters in Lebanon, where the government is dominated by the powerful militant group Hezbollah and its allies.

“I got out because I need to live with a clear conscience,” said Amin. “I joined the army to protect my people and my land, to free the Golan, not Homs and Daraa.”

Source: Terra Daily.

Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Syrian_army_defectors_tell_of_regime_ruthlessness_999.html.