Archive for July 15, 2016


June 09, 2016

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Islamic State militants were retreating Thursday from their main bastion in Libya, as militiamen allied to a U.N.-brokered government pushed into the central city of Sirte, officials said.

Some militants reportedly shaved off their beards to escape while the pro-government fighters, mostly from the western Libyan city of Misrata, pushed into the city center in their tanks and pickup trucks mounted with machine guns. At a main roundabout, the militiamen dismantled the metal frame of what some Sirte residents had dubbed the “stage of horror” — a podium used by IS for public beheadings and extrajudicial killings during its reign of terror.

Videos circulated on social media show triumphant militiamen flashing victory signs and chanting “Allahu-Akbar” or “God is Great” as they drive around Sirte. The capture of Sirte capped a month-long offensive by the Libyan militiamen to take the IS stronghold — it was the only major IS-held city outside Syria and Iraq, and was seen as a possible fallback option for the capital of its self-styled caliphate. The IS extremists are currently struggling to fend off advances on a number of fronts, including in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Raqqa.

In Libya, militiamen from the western city of Misrata have been the main fighting force for the U.N.-brokered unity government that was installed in Tripoli earlier this year. For nearly four weeks, the militiamen have been advancing from the west and south against IS. The extremist group dispatched suicide bombers against the militiamen, who lost dozens of fighters last month.

On Wednesday, the militias pushed deeper into Sirte, which lies in the central part of Libya’s Mediterranean coastline. On Thursday, they reached the city’s key Zafarana roundabout, where they dismantled the stage where Human Rights Watch says IS killed at least 49 people.

Misrata-based media official Ahmed Hadiya said his forces found sinks full of shaved-off beards and long hair inside a Sirte school taken from IS, suggesting that the militants tried to get rid of their trademark looks before fleeing.

Left behind were also militant cell phones, IS paraphernalia and leaflets pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to a Misrata fighter who shared photos he took of the items with The Associated Press. One of the photographs showed a graveyard that belonged to IS in Sirte, he said, declining to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to talk to reporters.

A militia commander, Ali bin Gharbiya, claimed in an audio message posted on Facebook that the victory against IS militants in Sirte was quick. “Except for a little bit of anti-aircraft fire, they immediately withdrew,” he says.

The pro-government forces’ next goal was the Ouagadougou gigantic convention center, another city landmark, Hadiya said. The center was the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s onetime favorite conference hall where he hosted lavish African and Arab summits. IS had turned it into its headquarters, raised its black banner over the center and held graduation ceremonies there for those who completed IS-organized religious sessions.

“The Daesh are cornered inside and around the center,” Hadiya said, using the Arabic language acronym for the Islamic State group. “Our forces are preparing … to seize the center.” IS militants unexpectedly showed little resistance once the militiamen pushed into their bastion. This could signal either a tactical retreat or a reflection of the small size of IS fighters remaining inside the city — after Western officials have earlier estimated IS strength in Sirte to be over 5,000 men.

Ismail Bashir, a lawmaker from the town of Jufra, a nearly three-hour-drive south of Sirte, said the Sirte “offensive showed (Islamic State’s) real size and capabilities; their collapse was really dramatic.”

IS and other extremists have exploited the chaos that followed the 2011 overthrow of Gadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising, establishing strongholds just across the Mediterranean Sea from Europe. Libya meanwhile sunk deeper into turmoil, with the country’s feuding factions splitting it into two parliaments and rival governments.

This year, Western nations have thrown their support behind the U.N.-backed government in hopes of ending the rivalry between authorities based in the capital, Tripoli, and in the country’s far east. According to Ziad Hadia, who represents Sirte in the parliament based in eastern Libya, more than 2,000 IS fighters are thought to remain in the city. Foreign fighters, mostly from Tunisia and sub-Saharan Africa, account for more than 85 percent of the fighters, he added.

The Western-backed unity government, in the absence of an organized and unified army, has depended on the Misrata militias, among the country’s most powerful. Meanwhile, another force that answers to army leader Khalifa Hifter, based in the country’s east, has announced that it has deployed fighters south of Sirte. A third armed group, which has declared its loyalty to the U.N.-backed government, on Thursday took the town of Hawara, east of Sirte, from IS. The group has also taken other small towns located between Sirte and an oil-rich area in eastern Libya in recent weeks.

Hifter has also been battling Islamic militias in the eastern city of Benghazi and the former IS stronghold of Darna, where his forces have carried out airstrikes. On Thursday, four civilians were killed, including three children, when an airstrike hit a storehouse in a crowded area of Darna, according to the city’s lawmaker Hamid Al-Bandag.

Hadiya said the assault on Sirte has cost the Misrata militiamen the lives of 130 fighters and that about 400 have been wounded. Among the fatalities were two former government ministers who took up arms to battle IS, Mohammed Sawalem and Abdel-Rahman al-Kissa.

Before he was killed in Sirte, al-Kissa said on his Facebook page that fighting IS was a “gift from God … this is a sacred war.”

Michael reported from Cairo.

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Wednesday 25 May 2016

Taiz, YEMEN – The national tricolor of Yemen could not be seen in Taiz on this year’s unity day, and its people did not celebrate. The government-in-exile cancelled Sunday’s events in answer to those planned by their Houthi enemies in the capital, Sanaa.

Instead, new flags were flying for a growing movement – the Republic of Taiz – and traditional celebrations were replaced by local protests calling for independence.

Such is the mood in Taiz, scarred by a year of war, neglected by the government and its Saudi backers, shunned by southern separatists and under siege by the Houthis, that many feel their only answer is to go it alone.

The republican movement has taken root among residents and those fighting the Houthis – the local “Popular Resistance” and regular army troops who ostensibly back the government-in-exile of President Abd Rabbuh Hadi.

And their feelings have been made known. Their red, blue and yellow flag can now be seen fluttering from many military vehicles in the city of Taiz, and protests are regularly held by civilians.

Farouq al-Samei, an independence activist in Taiz, told Middle East Eye: “When I saw the Houthis killing the civilians of my city and no one helped, I decided to demand independence.

“All sides had disappointed Taiz – even those injured in the war have been denied help. We demand independence, and then we can develop our country.”

Samei said resistance fighters and the military were at the forefront of the movement, which would push their plan after the Houthis were defeated.

“In 2011 we supported Hadi, and he did not help us. In 2015 we fought for Hadi, and again he did not help us. We will not fight for Hadi again, we are fighting for liberation, and then we will build our own country.”

“We changed our loyalty, we are loyalists to the Republic of Taiz and not Yemen, and we do not care about the north or the south, we only care about Taiz.”

Taiz faces isolation despite being caught in the nexus of Yemen’s year-long civil war. It has been besieged by Houthi fighters for months, and reinforcements from the Saudi-led coalition have never arrived.

The secessionist Southern Movement, based in Aden, has refused aid to Taiz and continues to send undocumented “northerners” back to a war zone if they are found in its territory.

On Thursday, independence activists staged their first public demonstration in Jamal Street, in the center of Taiz city. Although the protest was small, military vehicles were decked with the new standard, suggesting tacit if not outright support from military leaders.

A soldier in Taiz city told MEE: “I have been fighting the Houthis for more than one year. The Yemeni government and the coalition forces did not send enough military reinforcements for us.

“Meanwhile, the southern authorities did not allow our injured friends to recover in Aden’s hospitals. I will not fight for the sake of Hadi or his government any more, but I will fight for Taiz.”

He could not give his name for fear his leadership would revoke his pay.

Activists say the new republic would encompass “al-Ganad” – Taiz province and surrounding areas such as Ibb, and some areas from al-Dhale and Lahj provinces.

Their plan mirrors agreements made in the national transition period after the fall of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, which envisaged the division of Yemen into six regions as a solution to growing calls for independence in the former South Yemen.

The Houthis cancelled the plan, agreed by the National Dialogue Conference, when they took over Sanaa and kicked out President Hadi, Saleh’s replacement.

The Houthis and Hadi government are currently locked in UN-sponsored peace talks in Kuwait, which special envoy Ahmed Ould-Sheikh on Wednesday said was “closer” to an agreement to end more than a year of full-blown war.

“We are in a stage where the parties have to make hard choices and compromises,” the diplomat said, adding that he was “very optimistic” that a deal could be reached.

However, a report released by the London-based Chatham House think tank warned on Wednesday that Yemen faces dissolving into a “chaos state” of small wars over local issues and grievances that would be unresolved by “elite-level” talks in Kuwait.

“In the event of an end to the ‘big war’, a replication of past patterns of behavior – focusing on the dynamics and ignoring localized issues – will most likely result in Yemen collapsing into a multitude of small wars,” the report said.

Taiz is one such localized issue.

Fadhl al-Rabei, a political analyst, said while independence for Taiz was not likely, the demand would nevertheless send a message to the world that Taiz was fighting alone.

Division was “the best solution” for war-torn Yemen, he added, noting Taiz was not the only area calling for independence.

The Tehama movement has grown in popularity in Hodeida province and its surrounding areas in recent years, with grievances similar to Taiz such as neglect by the government.

“The Southern Movement demands independence, the Tehama movement demands independence for Tehama, as does Taiz. These parts of Yemen can be divided into regions, and this will be the best solution,” he added.

However, the movement in Taiz is still only grassroots. Many of the province’s political parties support the Hadi government, meaning their hands are tied.

The leaders of the Popular Resistance, meanwhile, are publicly against the movement. Nael al-Adimi, a leader in Taiz city, called those involved “traitors” and a threat to the common defense of the province.

He stated that all Taiz residents must first expel the Houthis, before any other project can be discussed.

“We will not support such a ridiculous project,” he said.

“There are some traitors in Taiz trying to divide the Popular Resistance with their new projects, which are not in the interests of Taiz, and the Republic of Taiz is one of them.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/republic-taiz-yemen-resistance-1769604821.

May 18, 2016

The Yemeni government delegation on Tuesday has walked out of talks in Kuwait saying rebels insist on power sharing in violation of UN resolutions.

A source in the government delegation told Anadolu news agency that the delegation will issue a formal statement later in the day adding that the delegation intends to stay in Kuwait.

Yemen’s Saba News Agency (state owned) reported Foreign Minister, Abdulmalek Al-Mikhlafi who heads the government delegation as saying that he had asked UN envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to oblige the rebels to respect the negotiations references as precondition to return.

Anadolu news agency reported sources close to the talks earlier as saying that the rebels had asked to transfer President Hadi powers to a transitional council which includes them before they withdraw from cities they control.

According to sources the rebels have also asked to respect the peace and partnership agreement signed in September, 21 2014.

President Hadi has described the agreement void after moving to Aden in February 2015, saying it was signed under force of arms.

Meanwhile, the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Monday said the two sides were still discussing the best way to reach a peaceful solution in Yemen after nearly 4 weeks of fruitless talks.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160518-yemeni-government-delegation-pulls-out-of-kuwait-consultations/.

July 02, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin-backed strongman leader of Chechnya says he will seek another term in office. Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s president since 2007, had said earlier this year that he considered his mission to be complete. His term was to expire in April, but Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed him interim leader until a September election.

Russian news agencies cited Kadyrov as saying Saturday he has filed to run in the election. Putin has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars, effectively allowing him to rule the region like a personal fiefdom. Critics allege human rights violations have been widespread under Kadyrov.

The suspected triggerman in the 2015 killing of prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was an officer in Kadyrov’s security force.

June 11, 2016

Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour has called on the UN to persuade armed opposition and political movements to accept a national agreement roadmap ahead of achieving comprehensive peace in the country, Quds Press reported on Friday.

“Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,” said the minister, “renewed the UN’s support to the African roadmap which was signed by the Sudanese government and the African mediation and praised Sudan’s role in achieving peace in South Sudan.”

Ghandour met with Ban in New York on Thursday, where he briefed the UN chief on the details of the national dialogue and the efforts being conducted to include the opposition. He thanked the UN for welcoming the acceptance by the Sudanese government of the African roadmap.

Meanwhile, Ban announced his support for the roadmap to achieve peace in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, and expressed his hope that all parties will take part in the national dialogue. The secretary general also called on the Sudanese government to remove all obstacles which face the joint peacekeeping mission – UNAMID – operating in Darfur.

However, Ghandour called on the UN to withdraw UNAMID based on the exit strategy for the international force, the meetings of the team tasked to follow up this issue and the prevailing peace in the area.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160611-khartoum-calls-on-un-to-bring-opposition-to-negotiating-table/.