Damascus Under Pressure Ahead Of Syria Peace Talks

Syria peace talkWestern powers have condemned efforts by the Syrian government to set limits to the agenda of fresh peace talks starting on Monday.

Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Uuallem, on Saturday, ruled out discussions of presidential elections.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, responded by accusing Damascus of “trying to disrupt the process.”

Mr John Kerry expressed dismay over the Syrian Foreign Minister’s firm line about President Bashar al-Assad, saying they were a “disruption” in the peace efforts.

He called for Iran and Russia- key backers of Assad  to rein in the Syrian President.

“The fact is that his strongest sponsors, Iran and Russia, have both adopted at the United Nations in support of an approach which dictates that there must be a political transition and that we must move towards a presidential election at some point in time.

“If the regime and its backers think that they can test the boundaries, diminish compliance in certain areas, or act in ways that call into question their commitment to the cessation, without serious consequences for the progress that we have made, they are deeply mistaken, ” Kerry said.

The UN-led talks represent the first serious diplomatic intervention since Russia began air strikes in September.

At the Geneva talks, diplomats hoped to build on the fragile and partial truce, which has reduced the level of violence in Syria since it came into effect at the end of February.

But analysts said that expectations for the talks were low.

On Sunday, the HNC said it would push for an interim government in which President Assad and the current leadership would have no role.

The indirect talks in Geneva were mediated by the United Nations. UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had said he wants presidential elections to be held in the next 18 months.

The fate of President Assad has been one of the main stumbling blocks in previous talks. The last round collapsed in February without agreement.

More than 250,000 Syrians had been killed and about 11 million people had been forced from their homes in five years of Syria’s civil war, which began with an uprising against President Assad.

Syrian Opposition Sets Terms For Geneva Peace Talks

syrian opposition meet in genevaThe main Syrian opposition group has arrived in Geneva, a day after backing down from their threat to boycott the UN-sponsored peace talks.

But a spokesman said they stood by their demand for an end to air strikes and blockades before they would negotiate with the Syrian government.

Their delegation is due to meet UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura on Sunday.

Meanwhile, UN Chief, Ban Ki-moon called on all sides to put the interests of Syrians above their own.

“Children and women in particular have borne the brunt of this fighting and it is time now to see the end of the fighting and other human rights abuses that have dominated the war,” he said.

More than 250,000 people had died and 11 million had fled their homes in almost five years of civil war in Syria.

The violence has also been the biggest driver behind Europe’s migration crisis.

Al Jazeera reported that on Friday, HNC member, Farah Atassi, said that the delegation was coming “not to negotiate” with the government yet, but to talk to UN officials after receiving reassurances from the organisation.

Atassi spoke at a Geneva hotel not far from the UN offices where UN Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura and Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari were meeting.

HNC spokesman, Monzer Makhous, said that the opposition had not changed a previous position that it would not travel to Switzerland if specific conditions for talking politics were not met.

“Yes, we will go to Geneva to be present but we will not attend the talks at all unless the regime fulfils our humanitarian demands, which specify stoppage to bombings and starvation of civilians in besieged areas as a condition”, Makhous said.

16 Starved To Death’ In Madaya

Syria-MadayaAnother 16 people have been starved to death in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya.

This was revealed by the Medical Charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) as the Syrian peace talks get underway in Geneva.

The Medical Charity said that there were also 33 people in danger of dying.

According to BBC, the MSF Operations Director, Brice de la Vigne, disclosed that the situation was ‘totally unacceptable’ when people ‘should have been evacuated weeks ago’.

The MSF had previously said that 30 people died of starvation in the town late last year.

Earlier in January, two emergency convoys of food and aid supplies were delivered to Madaya, up to 40,000 people were believed to be trapped in appalling conditions.

Syrian Rebel Chief’s Death Complicates Peace Talks Push

syrian rebelRussian air strikes like the one that killed a top Syrian rebel leader last week send the wrong message to groups engaged in a political dialogue to end the conflict and complicate efforts to begin negotiations, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.

Syrian rebel chief, Zahran Alloush, the leader of Jaysh al Islam who commanded thousands of fighters in the Damascus suburbs, was killed on Friday in an air strike that rebel sources said was carried out by Russian warplanes.

Jaysh al Islam was a participant in the Riyadh conference where Syrian opposition groups agreed on common aims for proposed political negotiations to end the country’s civil war and chose a former Syrian prime minister to represent them in the dialogue.

State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said that the United States did not provide support to Alloush’s group and had concerns about its “behavior on the battlefield” but noted that Jaysh al Islam had fought Islamic State rebels and was participating in the political dialogue to end Syria’s civil war.

“So the strike on Alloush and others in Jaysh al Islam and other opposition groups do in fact complicate efforts to bring about meaningful political negotiations and a nationwide ceasefire,” Toner said in response to questions at a State Department briefing. “We need progress on both these efforts in the coming weeks.”

“It doesn’t send the most constructive message to carry out a strike like that,” he added, noting that the United States hoped the attacks would not reverse progress toward negotiations.

Asked if Washington had raised the issue with Moscow, Toner said there had been conversations between the two sides but he was not certain whether that specific issue had been discussed directly.

The U.N. mediator for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, plans to convene representatives of the Syrian government and a broad spectrum of Syrian opposition groups for negotiations in Geneva on January 25.

De Mistura’s spokesman announced the timing for the meeting on Saturday, just a day after Alloush was killed. The statement urged participants not to be deterred by developments on the ground.

Toner said the United States would “encourage the opposition to fully participate in this process” and not to be swayed by the air strike that killed Alloush.

Burundi Military Sites Attacked, 12 Insurgents Killed

burndi attackGunmen attacked military sites in Burundi’s capital on Friday and 12 of the assailants were killed while 20 were arrested after heavy fighting, the Army said.

Soldiers told Reuters at least five of their number were also killed, but an official Army spokesman said they were only wounded in the latest flare-up in a nation that Western powers fear may be sliding back into ethnic conflict.

The sound of firing echoed across the capital Bujumbura throughout Friday after heavy gunfire and blasts erupted in the early hours. Residents said streets were empty and police were out in force at a time when people normally head to work.

The outbreak of violence, the worst since a failed coup in May, is unnerving for a region that remains volatile two decades after the genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

The U.N. Security Council was briefed on the developments in Burundi late on Friday. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who is president of the council for December, said the 15-member body was ready to consider “further steps.”

“The members of the Security Council demand that all armed groups put aside their arms and cease all forms of destabilizing activities in order to end the cycle of violence and retaliation,” Power told reporters.

Until now, battle lines in Burundi’s crisis have followed the political divide. But Western powers and regional nations fear old ethnic rifts could reopen.

The United States said it was concerned by the fighting and the African Union called for dialogue.

The United States called for the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva to hold a special session on Burundi next Thursday. The call got the required backing of one-third of the body’s 47 members so the session will go ahead, the United Nations said.

Burundi’s 12-year civil war, which ended in 2005, had pitted rebel groups of the Hutu majority, including one led by current President Pierre Nkurunziza, against what was then an Army led by the Tutsi minority. Rwanda has the same ethnic mix.

Diplomatic Circles To Honour Jonathan

JonathanNigeria’s ex-President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has been selected for honour by the Diplomatic Circles in Geneva, Switzerland.

Jonathan, who is being honoured for his democratic credentials and “upholding human rights in Africa” becomes the first African President to be so honoured.

He is to receive his honour on Thursday, January 21, 2016 at the group’s annual dinner in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Diplomatic Circle, which is a group of diplomats globally, have also scheduled Dr. Jonathan to deliver a keynote address at the event.

Earlier in the year, a public policy organisation on African affairs, the Africa Political and Economic Strategic Center (AFRIPOL) had also nominated Dr. Goodluck Jonathan for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The organisation stated the peaceful way he conceded victory to President Buhari in the general election as one that deserves the attention of Nobel Peace Prize committee.

The group noted that although Jonathan’s act might have not promoted “fraternity between nations” as required of a Nobel Peace Prize winner but he promoted fraternal peace among Nigerians by conceding power.

WHO Says 490 Million Dollars Needed To Contain Ebola

WHO Assistant Director General, Aylward, speaks during a press briefing on combating Ebola, at the UN headquarters in Geneva

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa could infect over 20,000 people and spread to more countries, the U.N. health agency said, warning that an international effort costing almost half a billion dollars is needed to overcome the outbreak.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a $490 million strategic plan to contain the epidemic over the next nine months, saying it was based on a projection that the virus could spread to 10 further countries beyond the four now affected – Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

With the IMF warning of economic damage from the outbreak, Nigeria reported that a doctor indirectly linked to the Liberian-American, late Patrick Sawyer who brought the disease to the country had died of Ebola in Port Harcourt, Africa’s largest energy hub.

In Britain, drug maker, GlaxoSmithKline, said an experimental Ebola vaccine is being fast-tracked into human studies and it plans to produce up to 10,000 doses for emergency deployment if the results are good.

So far 3,069 cases have been reported in the outbreak but the WHO said the actual number could already be two to four times higher. “This is not a West African issue or an African issue. This is a global health security issue,” WHO’s Assistant Director-General, Dr Bruce Aylward, told reporters in Geneva.

With a fatality rate of 52 percent, the death toll stood at 1,552 as of August 26. That is nearly as high as the total from all recorded outbreaks since Ebola was discovered in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976.

The figures do not include 13 deaths from a separate Ebola outbreak announced at the weekend in Congo, which has been identified as a different strain of the virus.

Aylward said that tackling the epidemic would need thousands of local staff and 750 international experts. “It is a big operation. We are talking (about) well over 12,000 people operating over multiple geographies and high-risk circumstances. It is an expensive operation,” he said.

The operation marks a major raising of the response by the WHO, which had been accused by some aid agencies of reacting too slowly to the outbreak.

Medical charity, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), welcomed the WHO plan but said that the important thing was now to act upon it.

“Huge questions remain about who will implement the elements in the plan,” said MSF Operations Director, Brice de le Vingne. “None of the organizations in the most-affected countries … currently have the right set-up to respond on the scale necessary to make a serious impact.”


WHO To Hold Ebola Treatment Talks In September

EbolaThe World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday that it would convene talks early next month on potential treatments and vaccines to contain the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The infectious disease has killed 1,350 people among 2,473 cases in four countries – Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone – according to the United Nations Health Agency.

The WHO, earlier in August, backed the use of untested drugs on people infected with Ebola, but the scarcity of supplies has raised questions about who gets priority access to treatment.

“The consultation has been convened to gather expertise about the most promising experimental therapies and vaccines and their role in containing the Ebola outbreak in West Africa,” it said in a statement on the talks set for September 4-5 in Geneva.

More than 100 experts in pharmaceutical research, clinical management, and on ethical, legal and regulatory issues will attend the meeting at WHO headquarters, it said.

“Issues of safety and efficacy will be discussed together with innovative models for expediting clinical trials. Possible ways to ramp up production of the most promising products will also be explored,” the WHO said.

ZMapp, a trial drug made by U.S. biotech company, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, has been used on six patients to date, but supplies are now exhausted, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.

They include two American aid workers who have recovered, a Spanish priest who died and three Liberian medical workers, he said. Two of the Liberians have shown “marked improvement”, while the third, a doctor, remains in serious condition but has improved somewhat, the WHO statement said.

Liberia To Receive Zmapp Drug To Treat Ebola Patients

EBOLA 1Liberia will receive an untested experimental drug, Zmapp, to treat people infected with Ebola Virus, the Liberian government says.

The move came after a request was sent the US from Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, while medical ethics specialists meet in Geneva to explore the use of such new treatments.

The World Health Organization (WHO), while hosting the meeting said, some 1,013 had died from Ebola in West Africa.

US government officials said their role had been to put Liberian officials in contact with Zmapp maker Mapp Bio-pharmaceutical.

According to the Pharmaceutical company, its supply of the drug was exhausted after its supplies were sent to West Africa, and the drug was “provided at no cost in all cases,” the company added.

Zmapp has been used in US on two aid workers who have shown signs of improvement, and a Roman Catholic priest, infected with Ebola in Liberia, who died on tuesday.

However, the drug has only been tested on monkeys and has not yet been evaluated for safety in humans.

At the end of the WHO’s meeting, the organisation approved the use of untested drugs that had been used for the treatment of Ebola.

Earlier, Ivory Coast had announced that it had banned all passenger flights from the three countries hit the most by the spread of Ebola – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

African Leaders Asked To Boost Trade And Share Knowledge

WEFA-2014African leaders have been urged to boost trade and learn to share knowledge and infrastructure in order to develop the continent to a desired standard.

Discussing how African countries can partner with other countries around the world and the private sector to create jobs, discussants stressed the need for African countries  to explore all sectors in order to open their economy more and create needed jobs for the youth.

At Thursday’s session on “Partnering for Prosperity” US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, stressed the need for African countries to explore the agriculture sector, which he said was capable of opening the economy of many African countries, since Africa has at least 20 per cent of the world’s land.

He also stressed the need to implement the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement reached in December on trade facilitation, which is aimed at reducing bills at the border and harmonising customs, making it easier for countries to trade with each other.

He also emphasised the need for security in the continent.

Lack Of Political Will

The Deputy, Director-General, WTO, Geneva, Yonov Fredrick Agah,  stressed the need for African governments to take advantage of free trade rules and enhance trades within and outside Africa.

He suggested that profits made from trades could be channelled to other sectors of the economy in order to develop other sectors.

“Trade rules are not bad. It enables you to work for your own economy and for the economy of the trading partner.

“Trade is part of the solution to Africa’s development. A trade led growth strategy is compatible with other strategies that would grow the economy. From trade, you direct resources into manufacturing to create more jobs and reduce poverty level.

“With the increasing importance of free trade agreements, Africa should begin to think of how it will take advantage of the free trade in order to reduce the number of the unemployed in the continent,” Mr Agha said.

He also insisted that lack of political will on the part of the leaders was affecting growth.WEF-Africa-2014-Partnering-for-prosperity

Conducive Investment Environment

For Mr Jabu Mabuza, chairman, Telkom Groups, South Africa, educating Africans would go a long way in bringing the needed development in the continent.

He also stressed the need for Local domestic investments to be encouraged in order for foreign investments to come in.

“We need to recognise that we are at various stages and we need to sort out our own regional issues first,” he said.

Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, told the discussants that the challenge Africa had at the moment was not the political will to move the continent forward, stating that African leaders were doing all they could to ensure that the investment environment was conducive for investors.

He said that Nigeria was open for investment, with adequate consideration given to the private sector’s interest in order to ensure that the purpose of opening the economy, which is to create jobs, would be achieved.

“There is the political will in Africa now for us to properly integrate. And that is why a committee has been established in the African Union level to look at how Africa can facilitate intra-Africa trade, having discovered that it is easier for countries in Africa to trade within the continent,” he said.

President Jonathan also stressed the need for African countries to also consider growing the manufacturing sector.

The discussants also pointed out that African governments should reduce bureaucratic process, which President Jonathan said “an abuse of the process was a challenge that should be tackled”.

The discussion was the last for the Thursday’s session of the WEFA that started on Wednesday.

The forum with participants from over 80 countries will end on Friday.

National Conference: Delegates Resolve Voting Modalities

National-conferenceDelegates at the ongoing National Conference have resolved the impasse over the voting modality for reaching a decision at the conference.

The delegates adopted a 70% majority voting requirement, as against the two-third and three-quarter that was proposed.

This was a key decision taken as the delegates resumed for the third week of the conference.

The delegates also rescinded an earlier decision to have delegates in committees pick their chairmen and deputy chairmen.

The conference resolved that the chairman of the conference would now be responsible for these and will try to ensure that the principle of federal character is maintained.

Series of unresolved arguments had delayed the take-off of real deliberations on issues at the National Conference, two weeks into its inauguration by President Goodluck Jonathan on March 17.

This led to the setting up of the 50-man consensus group by the delegates, to discuss with the principal officers, so as to resolve the impasse.

According to the Deputy Chairman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, while presenting the report of the outcome of the group’s meetings.

The committee met on the March 25 and 26 and had cordial deliberations as they worked in harmony to develop and put into effective use, the spirit of consensus with the national interest at heart.

“At the conclusion of deliberations, members reached a decision to amend Order VI Paragraph 4, XI paragraph 2 and XII paragraph 4 (e) as follows:

“In the case of failure to reach consensus, the matter shall be decided by majority vote of 70 per cent of delegates present and voting.

“That is the recommendation which that committee is bringing to you, distinguished delegates,” Akinyemi said.

The recommendation having been greeted with unanimous approval of the delegates, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, representing the Former Senators’ Forum, moved for the adoption of the motion, which was seconded by former Akwa Ibom Governor, Victor Attah, representing the Former Governors’ Forum.

National Conference Is Doing Well Despite Conflicts – Constitutional Law Analyst

Sunrise Collins OkekeA Constitutional Law Analyst, Collins Okeke, feels that Nigeria’s ongoing National Conference is “doing ok” and not as badly as Nigerians see it.

This, he said on Channels Television, in spite of the series of unresolved arguments delaying the take-off of real deliberations on national issues, two weeks into the conference’s inauguration.

He explained that having brought 492 people with different backgrounds and orientations together to deliberate on ideas to move the country forward, “It is expected that there would be conflicts, disagreements, fears, worries and I think the secretariat of the conference are doing their best to see how to resolve these differences.”

Okeke, like many other Nigerians, however, also has issues with the composition of delegates at the conference, complaining that the selection process was not transparent but he believes that what was most important was “getting them to do the right things.”

He agreed with the school of thought that the generation of delegates was too old.

“I think there is something wrong with having old people represent a country that is now populated by more young people. It doesn’t make sense, especially when you take into consideration, the fact that some of these old people have ideas that they’ve concretized and that’s going to be very difficult for them to change.”

On the view that the Nigerian youth who is known to have been starved of quality education for decades, lacked the intellectual capacity to provide quality contribution at the National Conference, Okeke said that indeed there is a question mark on the ability of the youths to provide meaningful contributions, especially considering the way the National Association of Nigerian Students and the National Youth Council have been in crisis.

He, however, said that his support of more youth representation was based on fairness and the fact that they have a greater stake in the discussions. He also admitted that the youths have performed below the standards of the older generation in their youth, but this would not change the fact that Nigerians between age 25 and 45 were not well represented at the National Conference.

He added that there were still very intelligent youths who could add value but only needed a platform to come together.

Mr. Okeke did not see any need for controversies on the voting requirement at the conference. The Constitutional Law Analyst said that he had sat down to do the mathematics of comparing the 75% requirement to the two-thirds requirement and he really did not find much difference as it amounted to just a difference of 41 votes.

He noted that even getting the lesser two-thirds would still be a challenge. “Getting 328 people to agree on an issue is still going to be a challenge.

“If I were to advise, I would simply say they should revert to the modalities for the conference. I think what the President had in mind was a conference that would come up with a recommendation that would be based on consensus.”

He believed that with time, the delegates would begin to understand one another and realize that “it is not a winner takes all (situation) or (that of) one group trying to outdo the other.”

Okeke, in this interview, also reacted to the threat by one of the delegates, and also the Lamido of Adamawa, who said “If you push us to wall, we can easily walk out of this country.”

“For me, I’m a bit disappointed that a traditional ruler would take this kind of position. I would have expected that he would be a bit more circumspect in the things he said”, Okeke said.