South Sudan Rebel Leader Machar Back In Juba After Two Years

South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar (C) arrives at Juba international airport with his wife to attend a peace ceremony in Juba, South Sudan, on October 31, 2018. South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba for the first time in more than two years to take part in a peace ceremony. Akuot CHOL / AFP

 

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba for the first time in more than two years on Wednesday for a ceremony to welcome the latest peace accord for the war-ravaged country.

Machar, who under the terms of the September deal is to be reinstated as vice president, had not set foot in the city since he fled in July 2016 under a hail of gunfire when an earlier peace agreement collapsed.

The latest deal was signed in September to try to end a civil war that erupted in the world’s youngest country in December 2013 and uprooted about four million people — roughly a third of the population.

The rebel chief was welcomed by President Salva Kiir, Machar’s former ally turned bitter enemy, on his arrival at Juba’s airport from Khartoum.

The two rivals are to join regional leaders at the ceremony to publicly welcome the most recent agreement, signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

It was not immediately clear how long Machar would remain in Juba, as his aides have expressed concerns over his safety in the city.

 ‘Here for peace’

Lam Paul Gabriel, a spokesman for Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group, had said on Tuesday that he would be accompanied by around 30 political figures.

“We are worried for his security in Juba, but the truth is here: we are for peace, and what we are trying to do is build trust. So that is why he is able to leave his forces behind and just go with politicians,” Gabriel said.

Several thousand people had already gathered for the ceremony at the John Garang Mausoleum, built in honor of the independence hero who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2005.

Among regional leaders in Juba for the ceremony were Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Ethiopia’s newly appointed President Sahle-Work Zewde and Somalia’s head of state Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was also expected to attend.

Machar fled Juba in July 2016 after fierce fighting erupted between government forces and his rebels, leaving several hundred people dead.

He first headed on foot to the Democratic Republic of Congo before finally going into exile in South Africa.

Deep humanitarian crisis

South Sudan’s civil war erupted when Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, accused his then deputy Machar, a Nuer, of plotting a coup.

The conflict split the country along ethnic lines and has seen mass rape, the forced recruitment of child soldiers and attacks on civilians.

It has caused one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises and wrecked the economy in a country which relies on oil production for the vast bulk of its revenues.

The United Nations and the African Union earlier this month appealed to the country’s warring parties to make concrete steps to implement the latest accord.

South Sudan gained independence from its northern neighbor Sudan in 2011 after a 22-year civil war pitting rebel groups against Khartoum.

Several ceasefires and peace agreements have so far failed to end the fighting in South Sudan that has killed an estimated 380,000 people, uprooted a third of the population, forced nearly two-and-a-half million into exile as refugees and triggered bouts of deadly famine.

Sudan earlier this month appointed a peace envoy to South Sudan following the signing of the September accord in Addis.

AFP

Six Killed In Rebel Attack On Dr Congo Military Post: Army

 

A rebel attack on an army post in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo left six people dead, civilian and military sources said on Friday.

The Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is suspected of having carried out Thursday night’s attack in the city of Beni, which sits near the DRC border with Uganda.

The raid is thought to have targetted General Marcel Mbangu but instead killed four other soldiers and two civilians, said the sources.

“We were in the middle of a meeting,” said one military source who did not wish to be named. An AFP photographer in Beni saw the bodies of two civilians with machete wounds.

The ADF is a militia created by Muslim rebels to oppose Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni but which also operates in the DRC.

They are held responsible for a string of attacks in the region, including another carried out at the end of September in Beni that left 20 people dead.

In all, they are thought to have killed at least 700 civilians — and 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers — in a string of attacks carried out since 2014.

AFP

Five-Day Assault On Syria Enclave Kills More Than 400

77 Killed In Syria Bombardment Of Rebel Enclave
A Syrian woman and children run for cover amid the rubble of buildings following government bombing in the rebel-held town of Hamouria, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on February 19, 2018.  ABDULMONAM EASSA / AFP

 

Fresh bombardment on Eastern Ghouta killed dozens Thursday, bringing the number of dead civilians in a five-day assault by the Syrian government to more than 400.

Mounting calls for a humanitarian truce in one of the bloodiest episodes of Syria’s seven-year conflict went unheeded as 46 more people were killed by air strikes and rocket fire.

Regime-backer Russia said there was “no agreement” at the UN Security Council on a 30-day ceasefire for Syria and presented amendments to a draft resolution that would allow aid deliveries and the evacuation of civilians from besieged Eastern Ghouta.

As diplomats wrangled over a UN vote, people huddled in basements while government forces pounded the enclave with rockets and bombs, turning towns into fields of ruins and even hitting hospitals.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders said 13 of the facilities it supports in Eastern Ghouta were damaged or destroyed in three days, leaving remaining staff with very little to save the hundreds of wounded brought to them every day.

In the hospital mortuary in Douma, the main town in the enclave just east of Damascus, bodies wrapped in white shrouds were already lining up on the floor, two of them children.

Nowhere safe

“Five days of air strikes and intense artillery fire by the regime and its Russian ally have killed 403 civilians, including 95 children,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Morning rain appeared to initially keep warplanes away on Thursday but the sky cleared by midday and jets, some of them Russian according to the Observatory, soon returned.

Five-Day Assault On Syria Enclave Kills More Than 400
Hala, 9, receives treatment at a makeshift hospital following Syrian government bombardments on the rebel-held town of Saqba, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on February 22, 2018. AMER ALMOHIBANY / AFP

 

Russia has so far denied direct involvement in the assault on Ghouta but the pro-government Syrian newspaper Al-Watan reported on Thursday that Russian warplanes and advisers had joined the battle.

Regime and allied forces have been massing around the enclave, in which an estimated 400,000 people live, ahead of a likely ground offensive to flush out holdout Islamist and jihadist groups.

“We are 14 women and children living in a room that is 10 feet wide, with no toilet and nowhere to wash,” said 53-year-old Umm Abdo, who joined a large group in the basement of a school in Arbin.

The brief respite provided by the rain on Thursday encouraged some residents to venture out of their basements and shelters, to buy food, check on their property or enquire about their relatives and neighbours.

In the town of Hammuriyeh, a queue had formed outside a shop as starving residents tried to stock up but another rocket sowed panic and sent everybody back to their shelters.

In Douma, a young boy tried to peddle lighters on the street but rocket fire quickly forced him to scamper back to cover.

Powerless

An AFP correspondent saw rescuers known as the “White Helmets” forced to stop their efforts to retrieve a wounded woman from the rubble of a collapsed home when air strikes resumed.

When they ventured back to the site, the woman was dead.

The indiscriminate bombardment and the strikes on medical facilities sparked global outrage but few concrete options emerged to stop the bloodletting.

“The killing of children, the destruction of hospitals — all that amounts to a massacre that must be condemned and which must be countered with a clear no,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The aid community voiced its frustration as the world appeared once again powerless to stop a conflict that has left almost 350,000 dead in seven years and caused destruction rarely seen since World War II.

Humanitarian agencies are “sickened that no matter how many times they’ve raised the alarm, taken the step of speaking out, called on the Security Council to do something, the violence and brutality will sink to new lows,” said the Syria INGO Regional Forum.

Russia says ‘no agreement’

At the UN, Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said sponsors Sweden and Kuwait were requesting a vote on the ceasefire plan even though they are “fully aware there is no agreement on it”.

The Security Council needs to reach a “feasible” agreement on a ceasefire and not take a decision that would be “populistic” and “severed from reality,” he said.

Talks for a deal between the regime and the armed groups controlling Ghouta appear to have stalled.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a press conference in Belgrade that jihadist fighters in Ghouta had rejected an evacuation deal.

“A few days ago, our military in Syria suggested to the fighters that they withdraw peacefully from Eastern Ghouta, like the evacuation of fighters and their families that was organised in East Aleppo,” he said.

The head of the defence committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament said Thursday that more than 200 news types of weapons were tested as part of his country’s military support to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“It’s not an accident that today they are coming to us from many directions to purchase our weapons, including countries that are not our allies,” he said.

AFP

Burundi Rebel Group Hands Back Officer Seized Last Month

burundiA Burundian army officer who had been captured by a rebel group last month was handed back to his unit on Saturday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

At least three armed rebel groups have emerged since a political crisis erupted in Burundi a year ago, when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched his bid for a third term in office and then won a disputed election in July.

More than 400 people have been killed in violence since April last year, worrying Western powers and regional states who fear a slide back into the kind of ethnically charged fighting witnessed during Burundi’s 1993 to 2005 civil war.

Alexis Irambona was captured by a rebel group calling itself FNL, the same name as a political party in Burundi, although the party denies any links. FNL party leader Agathon Rwasa, a former rebel commander, has said he would not take up arms again.

“He was handed over from FNL to my colleagues in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Georgios Georgantas, the ICRC head of delegation in Burundi, told Reuters by telephone.

He said the handover operation began on Friday and was completed on Saturday, after he was given to the Congolese armed forces and then to his Burundi unit, in the ICRC’s presence.

It was not immediately clear why the handover took place in neighboring Congo.

FNL circulated an image of Irambona a month ago on social media, showing him with his hands tied. They said at the time he was captured in a forest northeast of Bujumbura during fighting with the army.

Army spokesman Balthazar Baratuza said at that time that there had been no clashes in that area. He said Irambona was captured while on his own in the region as he rode a bicycle.

Most of the violence in the past year has been in the capital, but there have been skirmishes between armed men and the army and other members of the security forces in some rural areas and other towns or cities.

Opponents accuse Nkurunziza of violating the constitution and a peace agreement that ended the civil war by running for a third term. The president and his supporters cite a court ruling that said he could run again.

Ukraine Military Warns Of Danger Ahead Of Ceasefire

militaryThe Ukrainian military on Saturday said that there was a great danger in pro-Russian rebel offensive in east Ukraine ahead of a planned ceasefire, after a heavy fighting was recorded.

An agreement is due to come into effect from Sunday under a peace accord that also envisages a withdrawal of the heavy weapons responsible for casualties, in the conflict that broke out almost a year ago.

A military spokesman, Anatoly Stelmakh, said in a television interview, that “there has been no lull, moreover rebels continue attacks on Debaltseve,” a strategic transport hub northeast of Donetsk city, that has been the focus of some of the fiercest fighting in recent weeks.

The Ukrainian military separately said the situation remained tense in parts of the contested Luhansk region.

The Ukraine President, Petro Poroshenko, also accused Russia of “significantly increasing” its offensive despite the peace agreement reached in Minsk on Thursday.

Shelling was heard in the rebel-held city of Donetsk early on Saturday.

Reports say as the time gets closer for the ceasefire, fears are rising that it won’t be observed.

More than a dozen civilians are said to have died in shelling in eastern Ukraine on Friday.

It is unclear who was behind the shelling but both the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions accuse each other of the attack.

Speaking earlier, President Poroshenko said despite what had been agreed in Minsk, “Russia’s offensive operations have intensified”.

“We are still convinced that the Minsk achievements are in a big danger,” he added.

“Ahead of midnight, rebels are trying to complete tactically important plans to enlarge the territory under their control, primarily in the direction of Debaltseve,” spokesman Andriy Lysenko said

Yemen Movement Announces Takeover Of Parliament

movementYemen’s Shia Houthi rebel movement has announced on Friday that it is taking over the government, dissolving the parliament and creating new interim assembly, a move that could ease a power struggle that forced the president to step down last month.

The rebel movement in a televised statement said that a presidential council would act as the government for an interim period.

The movement made it known in a television statement that the new assembly will elect a five-member interim presidential council to manage the country’s affairs in a transitional period of up to two years.

The Houthis has set a Wednesday deadline for political parties to reach an agreement on ending the country’s political turmoil, threatening to act unilaterally otherwise.

The Shi’ite Muslim movement, which is backed by Iran, had set a Wednesday deadline for political factions to agree a way out of the crisis, otherwise, the group said, it would impose its own solution.

The rebel movement took control of the capital Sanaa in September, forcing the resignation of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi last month.

Powerful Sunni and southern political parties have not recognised the takeover by the Houthis, who are minority Shia from the north.

Iran has been accused of alleged financial and military support to the Houthis, something both have denied.

Yemen has been in political limbo since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the government of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah resigned after the Houthis seized the presidential palace and confined the head of state to his residence in a struggle to tighten control.

The Houthis, who became power brokers when they overran Sanaa in September, had been holding talks with main political factions trying to agree on a way out of the stand-off.

South Sudan Agrees Truce After Meeting In Nairobi

East African leaders who are meeting in Nairobi have said that the government of South Sudan has agreed to an immediate end to fighting with rebels.

Welcoming the commitment from President Salva ‘s government, they urged rebel leader Riek Machar to do likewise, as fighting continued.

Mr Machar however told BBC News that conditions for a truce were not yet in place.  Although, he confirmed that two of his allies had been freed from custody, he called for the other nine to be released too.

The release of the 11 politicians, accused of plotting a coup, has been a key rebel condition for any negotiations.

Recent fighting left at least 1,000 people dead, with fierce new battles reported in the town of Malakal, in oil-rich Upper Nile State.

More than 121,600 people have fled their homes in the world’s newest state, with about 63,000 seeking refuge at UN compounds across the country, according to a statement by the United Nations.

There has been no confirmation from President Kiir’s office that he has agreed to end the hostilities in his power struggle with Mr Machar, his former vice-president, where members of Mr Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and Mr Machar’s Nuer community have both been targeted in the violence.

East African regional leaders, who make up an eight-member bloc known as IGAD, held talks in the Kenyan capital Nairobi a day after the leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia met Mr Kiir in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

They said they would not accept a violent overthrow of the government in South Sudan and called on the government and rebels to meet for talks within four days.

President Kiir did not attend the talks in Nairobi nor did any representative of Mr Machar.

After meeting Mr Kiir on Friday morning, US envoy Donald Booth said: “He confirmed he is moving forward to arrange a cessation of hostilities throughout the country.”

The US diplomat was also quoted by Reuters News Agency as saying Mr Kiir had agreed to release eight out of 11 politicians detained over the alleged coup plot.

“We were very encouraged to hear the president reiterate that with the exception of three… officials who have been detained… the others will be released very shortly,” Mr Booth said, according to Reuters.

Speaking to BBC World Service by satellite phone “from the bush”, Mr Machar said he was ready for talks but any ceasefire had to be negotiated by delegations from the two sides, with a mechanism agreed to monitor it.

Saying that he had the allegiance of all rebel forces in South Sudan, he called for the release of all 11 detainees.

Violence has continued through the week with conflicting reports on Friday about the situation in Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State, where some 12,000 people have been sheltering at a UN base.