Category Archives: General

Rebel Leader Machar Declines Offer to Visit Juba, Fears for His Safety

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar turned down an invitation Saturday from President Salva Kiir to visit the South Sudanese capital Juba.
Machar, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement In Opposition (SPLM IO), told Kiir in a meeting in Khartoum that the environment in South Sudan is not conducive for a visit by a rebel delegation.
“What is the security? I was concerned about that. Truly, if we are going to implement the peace agreement, there is that need for people moving to Juba, outside the areas of [rebel and government control],” Machar said.
“In our phone conversation, I had appealed to you to release the prisoners. First, prisoners of war. Second, political prisoners and detainees. I hope your excellency [President Kiir] has taken action because that builds confidence and trust among people [South Sudanese] when such an action is taken,” he added.
Kiir, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), said his group had released all prisoners of war in their custody by December.
According to the terms of the revitalized peace agreement, the signatories to the deal are supposed to submit names of their representatives who will be part of pre-transitional institutions, such as the revitalized Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, a body charged with monitoring the peace agreement, by Sept. 26.
President Kiir said his government is keen on implementing the Sept. 12 revitalized peace agreement. He said he is ready to work with Machar to start a new chapter in South Sudan.
“We have to chat among[st] ourselves to nominate members of all the communities that are supposed to be formed [to implement the agreement],” Kiir said.
South Sudan army and rebels of the SPLM IO clashed in Yei River state three weeks ago right after signing the peace deal in Addis Ababa. Machar insisted that the a cease-fire agreement has been violated.
“What is important is that there is calm, so there is respect of the permanent cease-fire. Because without the respect of the permanent cease-fire, we will be deceiving ourselves that we are implementing an agreement when it is being violated, ” he said.
Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel, Machar’s deputy military spokesman, issued a statement Saturday accusing the South Sudan army of attacking rebel positions in Yei River state. VOA could not independently verify his claims.
Chris Trott, the U.K. special representative for Sudan and South Sudan, told VOA last week the parties involved in the conflict in South Sudan have a chance to show their commitment to peace by implementing the revitalized agreement signed on Sept. 12.
The British diplomat said his government was interested in seeing an end to violence and unhindered access to humanitarian agencies operating in South Sudan. He said that if the parties failed to honor their commitments as stipulated in the peace agreement, sanctions would remain an option.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir organized a peace award ceremony in Khartoum over the weekend to reward Kiir and Machar for signing the revitalized peace deal.

Source: Voice of America

Kyagulanyi’s Return Excites Ugandan Youth

The return of Ugandan legislator Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as singer Bobi Wine, has excited his supporters and raised their hopes for political change.
Hundreds of young people gathered Thursday at Kyagulanyi’s home in the Wakiso district outside of Kampala. Their songs and chants made clear who they want Uganda’s next leader to be.
Beaten but not broken, the 36-year-old Kyagulanyi told VOA he cannot think about the 2021 presidential election at this time.
“Right now, we are actually slaves in our own country,” he said. “We cannot speak freely. We cannot even wave to each other freely. So, if we have such impunity, we must think about that impunity and how to deal with. It’s now or never. It has never happened before that so many people are so united and are speaking with one voice. This should not be taken for granted.”
Kyagulanyi returned to Uganda on Thursday, after receiving medical treatment in the United States. He sustained injuries last month when police arrested him following protests against President Yoweri Museveni in the town of Arua.
Nakuya Aida, who was among those chanting her support for Kyagulanyi, sees this as the start of a movement.
“This is the process, leading us to 2021,” she said. “We are hoping change through elections. We are spreading the gospel of people power all over the country. So, there is nothing like asking what’s next. We are already in the transitional process without tear gas, without worry, but with the vigor, with all the courage.”
Political analyst Anna Adeke Ebaju says young people are tired of hearing the older generation praise the current government for bringing peace after years of conflict. She argues that the younger generation has reached its breaking point.
“We are talking about young people who can’t get jobs. We are talking about systems that we need to build so that they work for all of us. For our sake as young people, I hope that we are preserved until we can finish this revolution that is already in its primary stages. But we would never want, of course, our country to be marred by more bloodshed,” she said.
Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo says the ruling National Resistance Movement created expectations through its political promises.
“NRM government is not able to create for them opportunities at a faster pace,” he said. “And, therefore, there is genuine discontent and yearning, particularly opportunity for gainful employment. But that cannot be achieved by the kind of emotional wave of Bobi Wine.”
Kyagulanyi and several opposition colleagues are still facing charges of treason in connection with the incident in Arua, when someone threw a stone at the president’s motorcade, shattering a car window.

Source: Voice of America

EU Envisions New Joint Border Force

An ambitious plan for a European Union Border and Coast Guard force was unveiled at a special meeting of the European Council in Austria this week.
European Commission officials have told VOA that they want the project approved before European elections next May, in which immigration is expected to be a central issue.
The project is being pushed by the EU’s current rotating president, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who used the summit to criticize southern European countries for failing to fully register immigrants entering through their borders. He said that EU officials who didn’t work directly for any state might be less susceptible to “distractions.”
While officials meeting in Austria doubt that the border force plan will go into effect with the speed and reach suggested by the European Commission, a senior Spanish diplomat says that EU leaders “have to give the impression of advancing on immigration control and that some steps will be taken towards creating of a joint border force as long as it’s flexible and complimentary to member states.”
Long-standing suggestions for a joint border force have gained urgency recently as differences on dealing with the ongoing influx of immigrants threatens to divide the EU and generate support for populist and nationalist politicians running on anti-immigrant planks.
Spanish foreign minister JosepBorrell said this week that the future of European integration rests on developing a joint policy on immigration. Forming a border force to give teeth to the EU’s understaffed and underfunded border control agency would further the goal, according to European Commission president Jean Claude Junker.
He has asked for $1.5 billion to be budgeted over the next two years to reinforce Europe’s main border control agency FRONTEX with a standing force of 10,000 guards capable of responding to new emergencies.
Based in the Polish capital Warsaw, FRONTEX has until now operated as a coordinating and information exchange mechanism between European security services. Its capacity to engage in prolonged field operations is limited by its dependence on voluntary contributions from individual government.
Junker has warned of growing migration pressures from Africa, which, he said, could soon hold 25 percent of the planet’s population. EU analysts also fear a new flood of refugees from Syria as the Assad regime threatens an offensive against the last major rebel stronghold bordering Turkey.
“I want a standing corps of 10,000 in place by 2020 ready to support the over 100,000 national border guards in their difficult tasks. We need to establish a genuine, efficient EU border guard — in the true sense of the word. For this to happen, we also need equipment. We need more planes, more vessels, more vehicles,” Junker recently told the European parliament.
A legislative proposal issued on Sept. 12 by the European Commission projects an eventual budget of $15 billion over seven years beginning in 2021, to establish a network of surveillance centers, frontier check points as well as permanent sea, air and land patrols which would be armed and equipped with latest technology.
The plan contemplates “dynamic” border protection by which the EU force would be deployed and moved around “hot spots” as requested by member states, as well as exercising a degree of “executive powers” in responding to emergencies “autonomously.”
The force would also be tasked with the removal of migrants who do not qualify for EU protection under existing international treaties, according to the European Commission briefing presented at this week’s summit.
Some EU governments such as Italy have been seeking the creation of “regional platforms” in third countries for returning migrants.
Officials tell VOA that while setting up such facilities is not contemplated as a border force mission, the return of immigrants to countries outside Europe is the type of task which an EU unit might perform more effectively than single governments.
Pressures for a border force follow a series of immigration crises over the past year which have seriously tested European unity. In his speech before the European parliament last week, Junker referred to an episode in which Italy defied the EU by refusing entry to a ship ferrying African migrants.
He blamed the incident on a lack of mutual “solidarity” which could have been resolved with a common coast guard to direct the ship.
Spain expelled 166 African migrants who forced their way through border fences with Morocco over the protests by EU officials while Austria and Hungary have similarly engaged in unilateral expulsions and closed their borders in defiance of the EU Shengen treaty.
Distrust of Europe’s ability to police frontiers was also a factor in Britain’s decision to “Brexit” from the EU through a referendum two years ago.
An EU immigration expert working in Spain’s foreign ministry has told the VOA that creation of an EU Border and Coast Guard will probably gain support in a series of meetings between interior and justice ministers over the next few months.
But the proposal put forward by Junker is likely to undergo major changes before it goes up for a vote before the European parliament, according to the source.
A summit between EU, Arab and African governments to further cooperation on immigration is being held in February according to European Commissions’ high representative for foreign affairs and security, Federica Mogherini.
An EU force composed of security units from different member states is already operating in the Sahel region of northern Africa.

Source: Voice of America

Pussy Riot Links Member’s ‘Poisoning’ to African Murder Probe

Russian punk group Pussy Riot on Wednesday linked the suspected poisoning of member Pyotr Verzilov with his attempt to investigate the deaths of three Russian journalists in Africa.
The journalists were shot dead on July 30 in the Central African Republic (CAR) while probing a shadowy Russian mercenary group for a project founded by Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Verzilov’s estranged wife, told the independent channel TV Dozhd that he received a report on the killings a day before falling ill last week.
“We think that (Verzilov’s involvement in the inquiry) is one of the possible scenarios because Petya could be of interest to Russian secret services or state structures including in the Central African Republic,” she said, using a shorter version of his name.
Verzilov, who has both Canadian and Russian citizenship, was admitted to a Moscow clinic on Sept. 11 following a court hearing, with symptoms including vison loss and disorientation.
He was flown to Germany on Saturday by the Cinema for Peace Foundation NGO. Doctors say he is now out of danger.
Tolokonnikova has already commented that Verzilov’s illness was probably the result of an “assassination attempt.”
Verzilov, who works for the Mediazona news site that focuses on courts and prisons, was making a film with one of those killed in Africa, acclaimed documentary director Alexander Rastorguyev.
Tolokonnikova told Dozhd that Verzilov’s cell phone showed he had received a report on Sept. 10 from a CAR contact who was investigating the journalists’ deaths.
Tolokonnikova said Verzilov had told her he expected “sensational information.”
Only Verzilov knew the password to access the report, and he was still “in a quite unstable condition,” she said.
A doctor treating Verzilov at Berlin’s Charite hospital said Tuesday it was “highly plausible that it was a case of poisoning.”
Tolokonnikova told Dozhd that she and other people close to Verzilov thought he might also have been poisoned for taking part in a pitch invasion at the World Cup final in Moscow to protest against police abuses.
That action “possibly upset many” people, she said.

Source: Voice of America

US Unveils New Biodefense Strategy

U.S. President Donald Trump introduced the new national strategy for combating disease outbreaks and bioterrorism Tuesday, on the anniversary of the 2001 anthrax attacks on the United States that left five people dead.
In a statement, the president said, “Biological threats emanate from many sources, and they know no borders.”
In the 2001 attacks, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to two Democratic U.S. senators and several news media outlets. Five people died in the attacks, and another 17 were infected by exposure to the spores. The identity of the person responsible for the letters was never discovered, although the prime suspect, a government scientist, committed suicide in 2008.
This year’s strategy, the president said, builds on lessons learned from past biological incidents, including not only the anthrax attacks but the 2009 U.S. outbreak of influenza and the Ebola virus epidemic that killed thousands of people in West Africa in 2014.
Trump said he has authorized Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to serve as the federal lead in coordinating implementation of the national strategy. He said he has also established a cabinet-level biodefense steering committee, and directed National Security Adviser John Bolton to review threats and prioritize biodefense actions annually.
In a news briefing Tuesday, Azar told reporters that biological threats are “very real, and they’re growing.” He said this year’s strategy is the first by the U.S. to include naturally occurring threats.
Previously, the national biodefense strategy focused on the weaponization of biological threats by enemy forces. But Bolton told reporters at the briefing that there is no “particular immediate threat” of a biological attack.
Cuts to funding
Ashley Arabasadi, chair of the Global Health Security Agenda Consortium, told VOA on Tuesday that her collective welcomes the release of the strategy after several delays. However, she said in an email, “the administration’s actions do not match its words.”
She said the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts health security funding to the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and withdraws unspent funding for Ebola defense.
“Without funds, we cannot continue to implement the programs on the ground and ensure that we are making the world [and the U.S.] safer from infectious disease threats whether natural, man-made, accidental, or intentional,” she said.
The Global Health Security Agenda Consortium is an international group of nongovernmental organizations that promotes cooperation on world health security needs and defends against infectious threats.

Source: Voice of America