JUBA: Scores of civilians were killed in political clashes in South Sudan between February and May this year, a UN report said Tuesday, with women and children subjected to brutal assaults, including gang rape. The clashes between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his rival, Vice President Riek Machar, in oil-rich Unity State affected at least 28 villages across three counties, with 173 people killed and 37 women and children kidnapped. “Many of the abductees were subjected to sexual violence, including girls as young as eight-years-old and a nine-year-old girl who was gang-raped to death,” the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said. Both sides committed severe abuses, the report said, adding that pro-government forces and militias loyal to Kiir appeared to be “the main perpetrators of the human rights violations.” The violence caused 44,000 people to flee their homes across 26 villages, with a total of 131 cases of rape and gang-rape documented. South Sudan has been wracked by instability since independence in 2011 and is still struggling to draw a line under a civil war between pro-Kiir and pro-Machar fighters that claimed the lives of almost 400,000 people. The joint report covered the period between 11 February and 31 May 2022, with researchers traveling to the pro-Machar strongholds of Koch, Leer, and Mayendit as well as surrounding areas to document the aftermath of the violence. It said that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that these attacks were consistently premeditated and carried out with a degree of organization mainly by the joint Government forces and allied militias/groups operating in these areas.” In a press statement accompanying the report’s release, Nicholas Haysom, the UN envoy to the country, said that “human rights violations were committed with impunity.” “The government is duty-bound under international law to protect civilians, investigate allegations of human rights violations, and hold suspected perpetrators accountable,” he added. The UN has regularly criticized South Sudan’s leadership for its role in stoking violence, cracking down on political freedoms and plundering public coffers. It has also accused the government of rights violations amounting to war crimes over deadly attacks in the southwest last year. Since the five-year civil war ended in 2018, the country’s lumbering peace process has run into multiple delays, with violence regularly breaking out between Kiir and Machar’s forces. In July, the United States pulled out of two peace process monitoring organizations in South Sudan due to the government’s failure to meet reform milestones, citing a “lack of sustained progress.”
KYIV, Ukraine: Russia attacked power stations and other infrastructure Sunday, causing widespread outages across Ukraine as Kyiv’s forces pressed a swift counteroffensive that has driven Moscow’s troops from swaths of territory it had occupied in the northeast. The bombardment ignited a massive fire at a power station on Kharkiv’s western outskirts and killed at least one person. President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the “deliberate and cynical missile strikes” against civilian targets as acts of terrorism. Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv appeared to be without power Sunday night. Cars drove through darkened streets, and the few pedestrians used flashlights or mobile phones to light their way. Separately, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the Russia-occupied south completely shut down in a bid to prevent a radiation disaster as fighting raged nearby.
Kyiv’s action in recent days to reclaim Russia-occupied areas in the Kharkiv region forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to prevent them from being surrounded, leaving behind significant numbers of weapons and munitions in a hasty flight as the war marked its 200th day on Sunday. Ukraine’s military chief, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyy, said its forces had recaptured about 3,000 square kilometers (1,160 square miles) since the counteroffensive began in early September. He said Ukrainian troops are only 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) from the Russian border. One battalion shared a video of Ukrainian forces in front of a municipal building in Hoptivka, a village just over a mile from the border and about 19 kilometers (12 miles) north of Kharkiv. Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said Ukrainian troops have reclaimed control of more than 40 settlements in the region. In Sunday night’s missile attacks by Russia, the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions seemed to bear the brunt. Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia and Sumy had only partially lost power, Zelensky said. Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov called the power outage “revenge by the Russian aggressor for the successes of our army at the front, in particular, in the Kharkiv region.” Ukrainian officials said Russia hit Kharkiv TEC-5, the country’s second-biggest heat and power plant, and Zelensky posted video of the Kharkiv power plant on fire. “Russian terrorists remain terrorists and attack critical infrastructure. No military facilities, only the goal of leaving people without light and heat,” he tweeted, But Zelensky remained defiant despite the attacks. Addressing Russia, he added: “Do you still think you can intimidate, break us, force us to make concessions? ... Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst for us are not as scary and deadly as your `friendship and brotherhood.’ But history will put everything in place. And we will be with gas, lights, water and food … and WITHOUT you!” Later in the evening some power had been restored in some regions. None of the outages were believed to be related to the shutdown of the reactors at the Zaporizhzhia plant. While most attention focused on the counteroffensive, Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, was reconnected to Ukraine’s electricity grid, allowing engineers to shut down its last operational reactor to safeguard it amid the fighting. The plant, one of the 10 biggest atomic power stations in the world, has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for shelling around it. Since a Sept. 5 fire caused by shelling knocked the plant off transmission lines, the reactor was powering crucial safety equipment in so-called “island mode” — an unreliable regime that left the plant increasingly vulnerable to a potential nuclear accident. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog that has two experts at the site, welcomed the restoration of external power. But IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said he is “gravely concerned about the situation at the plant, which remains in danger as long as any shelling continues.” He said talks have begun on establishing a safety and security zone around it. In a call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron urged the withdrawal of Russian troops and weaponry from the plant in line with IAEA recommendations. The pullback of Moscow’s forces in recent days marked the biggest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize Kyiv near the start of the war. The Kharkiv campaign seemed to take Moscow by surprise; it had relocated many of its troops from the region to the south in expectation of a counteroffensive there. Yuriy Kochevenko, of the 95th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, tweeted a video from what appeared to be central Izyum. The city was considered an important command and supply hub for Russia’s northern front. “Everything around is destroyed, but we will restore everything. Izyum was, is, and will be Ukraine,” Kochevenko said in his video, showing the empty central square and destroyed buildings. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian troops also had left several settlements in the Kherson region, in the southern part of the country, as Kyiv’s forces pressed the counteroffensive. It did not identify the areas. But an official with the Russian-backed administration in the city of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, said on social media that the city north of the Crimean Peninsula was safe and asked everyone to stay calm. The Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday the withdrawal from Izyum and other areas was intended to strengthen Moscow’s forces in the neighboring Donetsk region to the south. The explanation was similar to how Russia justified pulling back from Kyiv earlier this year. But Igor Strelkov, who led Russia-backed forces when the separatist conflict in the Donbas erupted in 2014, mocked the Russian Defense Ministry’s explanation of the retreat, suggesting that handing over Russia’s own territory near the border was a “contribution to a Ukrainian settlement.” The retreat angered Russian military bloggers and nationalist commentators, who bemoaned it as a major defeat and urged the Kremlin to step up its war efforts. Many criticized Russian authorities for continuing with fireworks and other lavish festivities in Moscow that marked a city holiday on Saturday despite the debacle in Ukraine. In Moscow, Putin attended the opening of a huge Ferris wheel in a park on Saturday, and inaugurated a new transport link and a sports arena. The action underscored the Kremlin’s narrative that the war it calls a “special military operation” was going according to plan without affecting Russians’ everyday lives. Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov criticized the Moscow festivities as a grave mistake. “The fireworks in Moscow on a tragic day of Russia’s military defeat will have extremely serious political consequences,” Markov wrote on his messaging app channel. “Authorities mustn’t celebrate when people are mourning.” In a sign of a potential rift in the Russian leadership, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, said the retreat resulted from blunders by the Russian brass. “They have made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions,” Kadyrov said. “If they don’t make changes in the strategy of conducting the special military operation in the next day or two, I will be forced to contact the leadership of the Defense Ministry and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of NATO cautioned Friday the war would likely go on for months, urging the West to keep supporting Ukraine through what could be a difficult winter. Ukraine’s battlefield gains would help as the Biden administration seeks continued financial support of the war effort from Congress and Western allies, said Daniel Fried, a former US ambassador to Poland and now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “The Biden administration policy is evolving in a direction that is more and more justified,” Fried said.
ABIDJAN: Ivory Coast has accused Bamako of “hostage taking” after its neighbor laid out conditions for the release of 46 Ivorian soldiers held in Mali for two months.
“It’s a hostage-taking that will not remain without consequences,” a source close to the Ivorian presidency said Sunday, adding that Ivory Coast would continue to seek a solution through “diplomatic channels.”
Ivory Coast says the 49 troops were sent on a routine rotation for personnel who provide backup services for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, and has called for their release.
Three women in the group were released according to an announcement earlier this month.
The arrest of the soldiers after their arrival at Bamako airport on July 10 has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Mali and its West African neighbor.
Mali’s military-led government says the troops had had no orders or supporting documents and has described them as “mercenaries.”
In mid-August, Malian prosecutors filed charges against all 49, including for alleged conspiracy and harm to state security. Talks to secure their release are ongoing.
Diplomatic sources close to the talks say Mali is demanding that Ivory Coast acknowledge its responsibility in the affair and express its regrets for the deployment of the soldiers.
Bamako also wants Abidjan to hand over people who have been on its territory since 2013 who are wanted in Mali, said the sources.
Ivory Coast has rejected both demands and is preparing for extended negotiations to free its men, they added.
ADDIS ABABA: Renewed conflict in the north, a crippling drought and stubbornly high inflation: Ethiopians rang in their new year on Sunday with little to celebrate.
At a livestock market in the capital Addis Ababa, traders and visitors alike bemoaned the various crises confronting Africa’s second most populous nation.
“As you can see now, everything is expensive. If there was peace it wouldn’t be like this,” trader Endashew Denekew said on Saturday, the eve of the new year holiday known as Enkutatash.
“The peace situation that you see and hear in different places is not good. People stayed at home and didn’t come to the market and bring their livestock.”
Fighting broke out last month between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, shattering a five-month truce that had raised hopes of a peaceful resolution to the nearly two-year war.
“The heightened level of conflict and fragility in Ethiopia is of great concern,” the World Bank said in a gloomy report on Ethiopia published on Sept. 8.
“Multiple conflicts combined with historic drought and other shocks have severely impacted millions of Ethiopians, jeopardizing the economic and social development progress the country has achieved in recent years.”
The UN’s emergency response OCHA earlier this month described the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia as “dire,” with 20 million people nationwide in need of assistance because of conflict as well as climatic shocks such as prolonged drought and seasonal floods.
With a population of 115 million, Ethiopia has been one of the world’s fastest-growing economies over the past 15 years, according to the World Bank. But like many has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from the war in Ukraine, as well as its own domestic woes.
Inflation in July was running at 33.5 percent, according to official data, with food inflation at 35.5 percent, deterring people from spending.
“There are not the usual crowds that you would see during the holiday market, like before,” civil servant Chombe Gebrehana said near the main open-air market in the capital.
“Inflation has had its impact. If people had enough money in their hands ... we wouldn’t see smaller crowds like this during the holiday market.”
In a recent interview with the state-run Ethiopia News Agency, Abiy’s senior policy adviser Mamo Mihretu acknowledged the cost of living crisis but said the government was taking measures to bring prices under control.
“Our effort is actually bearing fruit because inflation, if not completely addressed, is becoming stable right now,” said Mamo, who is also head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.
He said the government was adopting reforms to attract investment and trade and forecast economic growth of 6 percent this year.
Meanwhile, the renewed hostilities in the north have led to a new round of frantic diplomacy to try to end the conflict that first erupted in November 2020.
“May the parties in the conflict have the courage to choose talks over fighting, and participate in an African Union-led process that produces a lasting peace,” the visiting US envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, said in a new year’s message to Ethiopians.
Back at the livestock market, metal worker Assefa Alemu says only a few people are buying.
“I used to buy (sheep) from 4,000 to 5,000 birr (about $75 to $95 at current exchange rates). But today it is 15,000 birr (about $285). Some people have less income, they can no longer afford this ... the current situation is very difficult,” he said. “I think if peace comes to the country, the prices will decrease.”
KABUL: A new economic corridor between four countries that will run along Afghanistan’s northern border will boost trade between the South Asian country and China, the Afghanistan Railway Authority said on Sunday, as the trial agreement is also expected to boost regional connectivity.
Railways authorities from Afghanistan, China, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan signed an accord on Friday to create a new economic corridor between their countries.
The agreement is on a trial basis for three months and concerns “containerized commercial goods” from China that will first come to Kyrgyzstan before reaching Afghanistan’s Balkh province via Uzbekistan, ARA said in a statement.
The corridor will also include various transportation systems, including trucks, though most will involve shipments via railways, the authority said.
“The economic corridor has several benefits for Afghanistan,” ARA spokesman Abdulsami Dorani said in a video message shared with reporters on Sunday.
“The containerized goods that would previously reach Afghanistan from China in two months through land transport will now reach Afghanistan via train in just two weeks.”
“The corridor will also create employment opportunities for Afghans,” he added.
As transportation time is reduced for shipment of goods and expenses decrease, the Afghan government is expecting an increase in revenue, Dorani said.
“We will also experience regional connectivity. If we can export goods to China and import goods from there, it means we can create a regional connection,” he said.
The countries involved are also committed to reduce tariffs on Afghanistan’s exports and imports, Dorani said.
China announced long-term economic reconstruction plans with the Taliban-led government in July, after pledging $8 million in aid for relief from the June 22 earthquake in the southeast of the country that killed more than 1,000 people. China’s Ambassador Wang Yu said that one of the priorities would be trade.
Afghan economic expert Dr. Tayeb Khan hailed the new corridor as a “significant achievement” for the Taliban government, which took over the country last August.
“In a situation where the new government in Afghanistan is facing multiple restrictions, creating this economic corridor is a significant achievement for Afghanistan and the region,” Khan said.
“It will help Afghanistan increase its exports and decrease its dependency in trade on specific regional countries, in addition to instantly reducing prices of goods inside the country,” he added.
But Afghanistan still has more work cut out for it, Khan said, as the country must also balance its trade with other countries beyond China. Though the new corridor is a good alternative, developing a trade route in the Wakhan corridor, a narrow strip in the region of Badakhshan should be the government’s long-term goal.
While Wakhan still lacks adequate infrastructure for any significant economic activities to take place, it may still play a key role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“The corridor is a good temporary solution to improving Afghanistan’s trade but cannot be a full time alternative to Wakhan, which connects Afghanistan and China without any mediator.”
ATHENS: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Sunday that Athens would try to keep communication channels with Ankara open despite recent “unacceptable” comments from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan accused Greece of occupying demilitarised islands in the Aegean Sea and saying Turkey was ready to “do what is necessary” when the time came. “I consider recent statements by the Turkish president unacceptable,” Mitsotakis told a news conference in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “However, we will always try to keep communication channels open,” he said, adding he has been always willing to meet Erdogan.