President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that the resolution of conflict situations in African countries remains a key component in the overall development of the continent.
Speaking Wednesday during the opening session of the ongoing Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development in Africa, taking place in the Egyptian town, the President said: “As Africans, it is important to focus on the issues of conflict prevention and resolution. Conflicts have devastating effects on our societies and they militate against our progress. In this regard, the need to silence the guns cannot be overemphasized.”
President Buhari equally emphasized that massive investment in transportation infrastructure was necessary for African economic resurgence as this would facilitate the African Free Trade Area Agreement recently signed on by the continental leaders.
“Africa should embark on the provision of transport connectivity by enhancing the development of roads, rail, and air links which will ease the free movement of persons, goods and services within the continent. In this regard, we in Nigeria have already commenced an aggressive drive to upgrade our rail transport system and road networks across the country.
“We should furthermore promote free trade within and amongst Africa and Africans especially now that we have launched the African Free Trade Area Agreement,” he said.
In order to realize its Pan-African vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena, President Buhari declared: “We in Nigeria have already taken the strategic decision to bring down barriers that have hindered the free movement of our people within the continent by introducing the issuance of visa at the point of entry into Nigeria to all persons holding passports of African countries with effect from January 2020.”
The Nigerian leader also stated that Africa must take its destiny in its own hands by minimizing reliance on donor funding for the execution of its vital peace, security and development agenda. According to him, “Nigeria is not the only host to our sub-regional body ECOWAS but has also been supporting substantially the ECOWAS budget up to about 60 percent.
“Nigeria has been funding by almost a 100 percent the operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram Terrorists in the Lake Chad Basin.”
President Buhari also harped on the fight against corruption and inclusive growth: “The menace of corruption undermines our efforts to achieve sustainable development and realize the goals of the AU Agenda 2063. It is also important to attach great priority to the promotion of good and inclusive governance as we equally strive to empower our women and youth.”
The President once again used the opportunity to draw global attention to the recession of the Lake Chad and its attendant economic consequences for the region.
“The issue of climate change should be given the due attention that it deserves. The effects of Climate Change are at the root of some of the conflicts in parts of the continent. This is why we must focus on the issue of the recharging of the Lake Chad which used to provide a livelihood to over forty million people in the region. It is difficult to expect durable stability in the region without restoration of the shrinking lake.
He urged African leaders to see education as a key tool for the transformation and repositioning of our continent, saying, “Africa would need to heavily invest in education and capacity building. Education creates opportunities and holds the key for a better and prosperous future of our people.”
The President added that his administration was, “ pursuing the diversification of our economy through the development of agriculture and mineral resources, the promotion of manufacturing sector and the creation of job opportunities for our teeming youths. By so doing, we will also discourage the irregular migration of our youth out of the Continent through dangerous journeys.”
Two days of clashes between regime forces and armed groups in Syria’s last major opposition bastion have killed nearly 70 on both sides, undermining a months-long ceasefire agreement, a war monitor said Sunday.
The battles in the northwestern province of Idlib are “the most violent” there since a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement went into effect in late August, said Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Residents of affected villages fled north to escape the fighting, adding to the hundreds of thousands who have already flooded out of the province’s violence-plagued south since fighting escalated earlier this year.
“I don’t want to see my children trapped under rubble,” said one of those driven from his home, Hafez, who escaped the flashpoint area along with his wife and three kids two days earlier.
On Sunday morning, clouds of smoke rose over the Maaret al-Numan region as warplanes pounded jihadists and allied rebels in positions they had recently recaptured from regime forces, said an AFP correspondent.
The Britain-based Observatory on Sunday put the death toll from fighting at 69 combatants since battles started the previous day.
At least 36 regime forces were among those killed.
The Observatory said an attack led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate on several regime positions had initially sparked the fighting.
Overnight, the Syrian army backed by Russian warplanes launched a counter-push to reclaim territory it had lost in the battles, the war monitor said.
Regime forces have since regained lost ground but violent clashes are ongoing, the Observatory and an AFP correspondent said.
Air strikes on Sunday afternoon hit jihadist-run areas dozens of kilometres (miles) away from the main frontline, signalling a potential escalation, the correspondent said.
The Idlib region, home to around three million people including many displaced by Syria’s eight-year civil war, is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance also controls parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces, with battles also currently taking place in the latter, according to the monitor.
The region is one of the last holdouts of opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who controls more than 70 per cent of the country, according to the Observatory.
Assad has repeatedly vowed to reclaim all of Syria, including Idlib, which he views as a “terrorist” holdout.
In August, government troops began a ground offensive that saw them retake several areas in southern Idlib, allowing them their first foothold in the region in years.
Assad, during a visit to the area in October, his first since the start of the eight-year war, said that defeating jihadists in the province was key to ending the conflict.
The other flashpoint
Between late April and the end of August, Idlib was pounded ceaselessly by Syrian soldiers backed by Russian air power.
The Observatory estimates that nearly 1,000 civilians were killed in that period, and the UN says that more than 400,000 people were displaced.
A ceasefire announced by Russia in late August has reduced fighting, but air strikes and clashes increased in November.
According to the Observatory, more than 160 civilians and more than 460 fighters, including regime forces, have been killed since the deal went into effect.
The Idlib front was the main focus of Syrian regime forces before Turkey in October launched an invasion of swaths of northeast Syria.
The operation against Kurdish forces who had controlled the region since 2012 paved the way for mass regime deployments in the area for the first time in seven years.
Syrian troops arrived in positions bordering Turkey as well as other parts of the northeast under a deal with Kurdish forces seeking protection from Ankara and its Syrian proxies.
An agreement between Russia and Ankara in October further cemented the deployment, tasking regime forces with ensuring the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the border region.
Turkey last month accused Russia and Damascus of failing to secure that objective, threatening further action against Kurdish groups.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011.
Pro-democracy demonstrators holed up in a Hong Kong university campus set the main entrance ablaze Monday after police warned they may use live rounds, deepening fears over how nearly six months of unrest across the city will end.
The violence extended a dangerous new phase of the crisis, which over the past week has seen schools shut down, roads barricaded and Chinese soldiers briefly leave their local barracks to clean up streets.
China has refused to budge on any of the protesters’ key demands, which include free elections for the city of 7.5 million people and an end to the perceived erosion of liberties under China’s tightening grip.
Beijing has instead repeatedly warned it will not tolerate any dissent, and concerns are growing it could intervene militarily to quell the unrest.
On Monday several loud blasts were heard around dawn before a wall of fire lit up an entrance to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), AFP reporters said, as what appeared to be a police attempt to enter the campus was repelled by protesters determined to hold their ground.
Police said they had fired three live rounds at a protest site near the university but no one appeared to have been hit.
Intense clashes on Sunday saw a police officer hit in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs.
At the besieged campus, protesters hunkered down under umbrellas from police water cannon, and hurled Molotov cocktails at an armoured vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — rioting is punishable by up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Hong Kong police routinely carry sidearms, but until now they have only used them in isolated incidents during running street clashes. Three people have been shot, none of them fatally.
Faced with large groups throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails, they have relied on tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets, but the new warning suggests a more proactive use of live rounds.
Fear gripped protesters inside the campus — whose occupation is a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid nature.
One 19-year-old, who gave her name as “K”, said there was desperation among the 200 demonstrators she estimated remained.
“Some people were crying badly, some were furious, some agonising, because they felt hopeless as we were left no way out of the campus.
“We don’t know when the police will storm in.”
A few hundred metres from the campus, protesters erected barricades in the Tsim Sha Tsui and Jordan areas.
One 16-year-old, who gave his name as Joshua, said it was an attempt to draw police attention away from the university.
The nearly six-months of unrest has rocked previously stable Hong Kong, tipping the international financial hub into recession and frightening off tourists.
What began as a series of mostly peaceful demonstrations against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to the Chinese mainland has morphed into wider calls for democracy and an inquiry into alleged police brutality.
Violence has worsened this month, with two men killed in separate incidents.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down sections of Hong Kong’s transport network and closed schools and shopping malls.
Chinese President Xi Jinping last week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
On Saturday, dozens of soldiers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army briefly left their Hong Kong barracks to help clean-up the streets.
It was a rare and symbolic operation, as the troops are normally confined to barracks and are meant to be only called out in a time of emergency.
Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian on Monday defended the operation, as he repeated warnings from Beijing that the military had the capabilities to quell the unrest.
“Ending violence and restoring order is the most pressing task we have in Hong Kong,” Wu said in Bangkok.
In a small — but largely symbolic — victory for the demonstrators, Hong Kong’s high court on Monday said a government ban on the wearing of facemasks at demonstrations was unconstitutional.
The ban has been widely flouted and police have found it all-but-impossible to enforce.
Airstrikes by Syrian regime ally Russia on Sunday killed nine civilians in the jihadist-run enclave of Idlib in the northwest of the country, a war monitor said.
Five of the victims died in the village of Al-Malaja in southern Idlib province while the other four were killed in raids on the town of Saraqeb in the east, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A number of people were wounded, some seriously, the monitor’s head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, though he was unable to say how many.
The Idlib region, home to around three million people including many displaced by Syria’s eight-year civil war, is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance also controls parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
The region is one of the last holdouts of opposition to forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A ceasefire announced by Russia has largely held since late August.
But the Observatory says 48 civilians — including 16 children — have been killed in Russian air strikes on the region since the start of November.
The Britain-based monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria, says it determines who carries out an air strike according to flight patterns, as well as aircraft and the munitions involved.
Last month Assad said Idlib was standing in the way of an end to the civil war that has ravaged his country.
Syria’s conflict has killed 370,000 people and displaced millions since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.
France said Wednesday that the security of Kurdish-run prisons holding suspected jihadists in northern Syria was “currently” not threatened by a Turkish military operation in the region.
“To my knowledge, the Turkish offensive and the positioning of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) have so far not led to the safety and security of these camps… currently being threatened,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French broadcaster BFMTV and RMC radio.
Meanwhile, Le Drian said he would discuss a judicial framework for putting jihadists on trial during an upcoming visit to Iraq, as calls grow for an international court to judge the extremists.
“We need to work things out with the Iraqi authorities so that we can find the ways to have a judicial mechanism that is able to judge all these fighters, including obviously the French fighters,” he told newsmen, without specifying when he would go to Baghdad.
At least three people were killed and about 20 children wounded when a Taliban truck bomb detonated near a rural police station and partially destroyed a nearby religious school, Afghan officials said.
The early morning attack happened in Alishing district in eastern Laghman province, said interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.
“Three people including two security forces were killed and 27 were wounded,” he added.
According to Asadullah Daulatzai, spokesman for the provincial governor, the bomb exploded outside a police station and severely damaged a nearby madrassa, or religious school.
“The students were wounded by flying glass,” he said, adding about 20 students were hurt.
Ezatullah, an injured 10-year-old, said the blast was “huge and loud”.
“I was in class with my friends reciting the Koran when we saw a red truck rushing toward us. For a moment everything went dark, and when I woke up I found myself in the hospital,” he told AFP.
The Pentagon said Sunday President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of up to 1,000 troops from northern Syria — almost the entire ground force in the war-torn country — amid an intensifying Turkish assault on Kurdish forces.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the move came after the US learned that Turkey was pressing further into Syria than had been expected.
The Kurds — with whom the US partnered to combat the Islamic State (IS) group — later announced they had reached a deal with the regime in Damascus to deploy Syrian troops near the border to confront the Turkish offensive.
“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it’s a very untenable situation,” Esper told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“So I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.”
Esper said he was unable to provide a timeline because of the rapidly changing situation on the ground, but added that the withdrawal would be carried out in a “very safe, deliberate manner.”
“Look it’s a very terrible situation over there, a situation caused by the Turks… Despite our opposition they decided to make this incursion into Syria,” Esper told CBS.
“And at this point in time in the last 24 hours we learned that they likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned and to the west.”
– Bipartisan firestorm – Esper also pointed to a possible deal — later confirmed by the Kurdish administration in northern Syria — on a Syrian troop deployment near the border with Turkey to help the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) confront Ankara’s offensive.
The US withdrawal announcement came after its troops came under artillery fire Friday which the Pentagon said was from Turkish positions, warning that the US was ready to meet aggression with “immediate defensive action.”
Asked if troops would be leaving the country altogether, Esper clarified that the withdrawal was just from northern Syria, “which is where most of our forces are.”
Fighting raged Sunday along the border on the fifth day of an offensive that has provoked an international outcry and left dozens of civilians and fighters dead.
Ankara launched the long-threatened offensive against the SDF, which it considers “terrorists” linked to insurgents inside Turkey, after Trump ordered special forces serving as a trip wire against Turkish action to pull back from the border.
The US withdrawal provoked a bipartisan firestorm of criticism and accusations that Trump was abandoning a loyal ally in the fight against IS militants.
– ‘Derelict in his duty’ – “The president is simply derelict in his duty as president. He is making Americans much less safe, he is undoing years of work to curb (IS),” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said in a statement on Sunday.
“He is making America more susceptible to terrorism by his actions.”
Trump hit back at the criticism in a tweet describing the US withdrawal as “very smart.”
“The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years… Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them! We are monitoring the situation closely. Endless Wars!” he said.
Hundreds of relatives of foreign jihadists have escaped from a displacement camp in northern Syria, Kurdish authorities said Sunday, as the number of people fleeing the Turkish assault soared to 130,000.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Friday that Trump had authorized — but not yet activated — new sanctions to dissuade Turkey from further offensive military action.
“We can shut down all US dollar transactions with the entire government of Turkey,” Mnuchin told ABC on Sunday.
“It’s something we may do. There’s full authority and something at a moment’s notice the president can tell me to do.”
US President Donald Trump on Saturday confirmed that Hamza bin Laden, the son and designated heir of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, was killed in a counter-terrorism operation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
US media reported more than a month ago, citing intelligence officials, that the younger Bin Laden had been killed sometime in the last two years in an operation that involved the United States.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said last month that it was “his understanding” that Bin Laden, who was thought to be about 30, was dead.
But Trump had not publicly confirmed the news until Saturday — three days after the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks by Al-Qaeda, and a week after Trump’s surprise announcement that a planned secret meeting with Taliban leaders at the Camp David presidential retreat had fallen through.
“Hamza bin Laden, the high-ranking al-Qaeda member and son of Osama bin Laden, was killed in a United States counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region,” Trump said in a brief statement issued by the White House.
“The loss of Hamza bin Laden not only deprives al-Qaeda of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father, but undermines important operational activities of the group.”
The statement did not specify the timing of the operation, how his long-rumored death had been confirmed, or even specifically in which country it occurred.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, welcomed the development, saying on Twitter that it sent “a strong signal that America never forgets and we will go wherever the terrorists take us to protect our homeland.”
Hamza, the 15th of Osama bin Laden’s 20 children and a son of his third wife, was “emerging as a leader in the Al-Qaeda franchise,” the State Department said in announcing a $1 million bounty on his head in February 2019.
It said Hamza was married to a daughter of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, a senior Al-Qaeda leader indicted by a US federal grand jury in 1998 for his role in the bombings that year of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya — attacks overseen by the senior Bin Laden.
Sometimes dubbed the “crown prince of jihad,” Hamza had issued calls for attacks on the United States and other countries, especially to avenge his father’s killing by US forces in Pakistan in May 2011, the department said.
That work helped him attract a new generation of followers to the extremist group that carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks, which left nearly 3,000 dead.
Colin Clarke, an analyst with the Rand Corporation and the Soufan Center think tanks, said he was “still skeptical he had a major role operationally.”
“But obviously he’s got the DNA — the Bin Laden name,” he told AFP.
Al-Qaeda has yet to confirm the US announcement.
Barak Mendelsohn, a political science professor and terror specialist at Haverford College, called it “surprising” that so long after Hamza’s death was first reported, “Al-Qaeda has yet to release a formal announcement with details about how he died, and a eulogy.”
Osama bin Laden’s death and the rise of the more virulent Islamic State group saw Al-Qaeda lose currency with younger jihadists. But the proliferation of associated jihadist groups in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere has underscored its continuing potency.
In 2017, Hamza was placed on the US terror blacklist, seen as a potent future figurehead for the group then led by Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Clarke said the younger bin Laden’s death might open the way for the rise in Al-Qaeda of younger and even more radical leaders.
“The unknown actually is what’s more dangerous,” he said.
Just this week, Al-Qaeda’s small Syrian affiliate Hurras al-Din released a message calling the group “a producer of leaders” and saying it is used to overcoming the loss of its chiefs, Mendelsohn pointed out.
“The reality is that while Hamza was being groomed as a potential replacement for al-Zawahiri, the group could never focus on grooming only one potential heir,” he said.
“They cannot predict who will actually be alive when al-Zawahiri departs the scene.”
US President Donald Trump on Saturday condemned drone attacks at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities that reportedly disrupted production and marked a new escalation in regional tensions with Iran.
“The United States strongly condemns today’s attack on critical energy infrastructure. Violent actions against civilian areas and infrastructure vital to the global economy only deepen conflict and mistrust,” the White House said in a statement following a phone call between Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Trump offered Prince Mohammed “his support for Saudi Arabia’s self-defense,” the White House said, following an earlier statement from Riyadh saying the crown prince told Trump the kingdom was “”willing and able” to respond to the attacks blamed on Yemeni rebels.
“The United States Government is monitoring the situation and remains committed to ensuring global oil markets are stable and well supplied,” the US statement said.
US President Donald Trump said he had called off a secret summit with the Taliban and Afghanistan’s leader, abruptly slamming the door on a year of diplomacy to end America’s longest war.
In a Saturday evening bombshell, Trump said that he had planned unprecedented, albeit separate, talks with the two sides Sunday in Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, but that the Taliban’s persistent, grisly violence made them untrustworthy partners.
“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump said in a tweet.
“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”
“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump said.
A US soldier and another service member from Romania were killed in the bombing Thursday in Kabul — the latest major attack claimed by the Taliban even as they negotiated with a US envoy on the withdrawal of thousands of troops.
Trump would have met the Taliban at Camp David days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which triggered the US invasion that toppled the militants’ regime.
Washington was jolted by the announcement from Trump, who is fond of dramatic gestures but whose Twitter pronouncements have often come into question later.
“Why a lethal attack in Kabul on Thursday would be the reason for calling it off, considering the multiple recent Taliban attacks, is unclear,” said International Crisis Group’s Asia director Laurel Miller, who earlier served as the US special representative on Afghanistan.
Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who has been pressing for clarity on the US strategy in Afghanistan, called the idea of Taliban leaders at Camp David “weird.”
“But I’m glad the president called off this farce, and hope this good decision sticks,” Malinowski tweeted.
Deal unpopular in Kabul
The announcement appears to abruptly end, at least for now, a painstaking diplomatic process led for nearly a year by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born veteran US diplomat who held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban, usually in Qatar.
Khalilzad had earlier said that he had reached an agreement “in principle” with the Taliban.
According to parts of the draft deal made public, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops from five bases across Afghanistan next year.
The insurgents in turn would renounce Al-Qaeda, promise to fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.
Afghanistan’s internationally recognized president, Ashraf Ghani, had been outspoken in his criticism of the emerging shape of the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, who have refused to negotiate with his government.
“The Afghan government, in relation to the peace, appreciates the sincere efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other allies to bring a lasting peace,” said a statement from Ghani’s office Sunday in response to Trump’s announcement.
Question mark on troops
Trump’s announcement draws a fresh question mark on whether the United States will leave Afghanistan anytime soon.
The decision comes weeks before Afghanistan is set to hold elections, an unwieldy exercise even in more stable times. The Afghan government said it “insists” the polls should go ahead in its statement Sunday.
Trump had been uncharacteristically reticent about Afghanistan in recent weeks, with all eyes on whether he would approve a final deal.
Washington had hoped that a withdrawal of US troops would lead to peace negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul.
The Taliban have shown no signs of letting up on violence. Claiming responsibility for Thursday’s bombing in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that a suicide bomber had killed “foreign invaders.”
“Since the Taliban were flexing muscles on the ground, Americans also showed them they have a say politically,” analyst Ahmad Saeedi said — adding that he expects talks to resume again.
Trump has walked away from high-stakes talks before. In February, his aides pressed him not to accept a deal in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — another individual whom it would have long been unthinkable for a US president to meet.
But Trump soon made clear that he wanted to keep talking, calling Kim a friend, and arranged to meet him in June as the US leader visited the Korean peninsula.