NEWS

I was misquoted, Somalia President says on report 200 KDF troops killed in El Adde

The Somalia President has denied reports that he said between 180 and 200 KDF troops were killed by al Shabaab in El Adde on January 15.

Through spokesman Daud Awes, Hassan Mohamud said he was “misquoted” and that he did not not mean the figures were of soldiers massacred in the ambush.

Mohamoud said he was only describing the size of a camp and the number of soldiers believed to have been present during the attack.

He told Somali Cable TV during an interview last Thursday that: “When 180 or close to 200 soldiers who were sent to us are killed in one day in Somalia, it is not easy.”

“The soldiers had been sent to help us get peace in our country and their families are convinced that they died while on duty.”

Sources at Villa Somalia (State House) said the retraction followed a protest letter to Mogadishu in which Kenya termed the claims “grossly out of order”.

KDF spokesman David Obonyo told the Star on phone on Thursday that the matter of the number of casualties in the ambush should not be trivialised

He said he has not talked to any media house about the number of troops killed.

“We should stop trivializing the dead . They are not mere statistics. They ought to be treated with honour and respect,” he said.

“The number the Somalia president quoted is way beyond a company size.”

A company is a military unit led by a Major or Captain, comprising three platoons each commanded by a Lieutenant with a total number of between 80 and 250.

Mohamoud mentioned the figures during an interview concerning his recent visit to Kenya soon after an attack on Lido beach attack in Mogadishu.

He joined President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari in honouring slain Kenya Defence Forces in Eldoret.

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NEWS

Syria War: What you need to know about the ceasefire

The ceasefire in Syria that took effect on Saturday was part of a negotiated deal, based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, passed in December 2015.

The deal that contained three main commitments around humanitarian access, a negotiated ceasefire and a political transition was reached in Munich by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), a group of international actors mandated to find a resolution to the Syrian conflict.

The ISSG, which includes major regional actors, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, as well as regional bodies, such as the Arab League and the European Union, has emerged out of previous attempts, notably the Geneva process, to negotiate a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

The major difference between the ISSG’s success in negotiating a deal in February had little to do with its structure or political agreement among the key sides.

Instead, the February deal has everything to do with the changing dynamics on the ground and the ability of Russia and its allies to impose a political vision for ending the conflict that suits their interests.

Below are answers to some key questions about what these commitments entail, what their chances of success are, and how the Munich agreement may shape the future of Syria.

What does the ceasefire in Syria mean on the ground? Which areas will observe it and which areas will not?

In theory, the ceasefire should apply to all of Syria. However, Russia has insisted that, along with its allied forces, it reserve the right to attack the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and al-Nusra Front forces as these two groups are outside the framework of the ceasefire, as are other groups labelled as ‘terrorist’ by the UN.

This means that the ceasefire is not geographically demarcated. This exception to the ceasefire is very problematic, however, because Russian forces have attacked many rebel groups and civilian areas under the justification of attacking ISIL and Nusra.

These two groups have become convenient scapegoats for Russian attacks throughout Syria. Russia has essentially reserved the right to militarily engage any armed groups in Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIL and Nusra.

The United States has been working with Russia in an attempt to designate whether certain areas are ceasefire-abiding areas or not, but they have yet to agree on the specific geographic contours of the agreement. The absence of such contours will give Russia greater military latitude.

Practically speaking, this means that large swaths of Syrian territory in which these groups are present, particularly in the eastern and northwestern parts of the country, will remain active conflict zones.

Groups outside of the ceasefire, such as Ahrar al-Sham and others labelled as terrorist groups, remain present in parts of Homs and Hama provinces, as well as near Damascus, meaning these areas also potentially lie outside of the ceasefire zones

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NEWS

Guantanamo being planned to be closed by Barack Obama

President Barack Obama presented a long-shot plan Tuesday to shutter the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, hoping to fulfill an elusive campaign promise before he leaves office next year.

Describing the jail as a stain on America’s reputation and a catalyst for jihadists, Obama said “I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president.”

“For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it,” Obama said from the White House’s Roosevelt Room.

He outlined a $290-475 million plan to move the 91 remaining detainees abroad and to one of 13 possible — unnamed — facilities in the United States.

Obama has tried for almost eight years to close the jail, but has been thwarted by Congress, the Pentagon, some in his own party and foreign allies who refuse to host the terror suspects abroad.

As a candidate and as president, Obama has argued that the indefinite detention without trial of Guantanamo inmates harms America’s image and its national security.

“It undermines our standing in the world,” he said. “This is about closing a chapter in our history.”

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Congress have blocked the most obvious path to closing the facility by banning the transfer of detainees to the United States, and there is little prospect of Republicans changing tack in the runup to the November presidential election.

House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately rejected the proposal, saying bringing “Guantanamo terrorists” to the United States was neither smart nor safe.

“It is against the law, and it will stay against the law, to transfer terrorist detainees to American soil,” he added.

Obama appealed for the closure plan to be given “a fair hearing, even in an election year.”

CONGRESS

But Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate, doubled down on opposing it, promising to increase the Guantanamo population if elected.

“Not only are we not going to close Guantanamo — when I am president, if we capture a terrorist alive… they are going to Guantanamo and we are going to find out everything they know,” he said.

Obama also has faced opposition from within his own administration, with the Pentagon accused of slow-pedalling transfers and overstating closure costs.

The president could still try to force the closure through an executive order, but such a move would expose him to accusations of ruling by decree.

Obama got strong backing from one prominent Democrat, presidential contender Hillary Clinton.

“Closing Guantanamo would be a sign of strength and resolve,” she said, urging Congress to implement the plan “as quickly and responsibly as possible.”

Her campaign also pointed to her efforts to help close the facility while serving as Obama’s secretary of state.

The Guantanamo Bay closure plan, which took months to produce, offers no specifics on the potential location of a US facility.

But military officials have previously listed Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, or the US Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, among possible destinations for inmates.

Those locations, however, face objections from local politicians.

Obama has long argued that many Guantanamo prisoners should be transferred overseas and some should be tried by military courts.

A small number — those deemed too dangerous to release but too difficult to prosecute — would be held in the United States.

TRANSFERS

Human rights groups worry this would only extend detentions without trial and create a “Guantanamo North.”

“The possibility of a new, parallel system of lifelong incarceration inside the United States without charge would set a dangerous precedent,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

The plan says a US facility would save money over time. It currently costs about $455 million each year to run Guantanamo, and a US site would reduce that amount by up to $180 million.

Most of the savings would come from a decrease in the number of troops guarding the reduced population on the US mainland, although it could cost up to $475 million in one-time expenses to move the men and build or update a facility to hold them.

Efforts to transfer prisoners overseas have been stymied by unrest in Yemen — a likely destination for many — and by recidivism among those already released.

Still, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has in recent weeks signed off on a flurry of transfers, and last month, the prison’s population dropped below 100 for the first time.

Today, 91 inmates remain. Of them, 35 have been approved for release. The rest face ongoing, indefinite detention.

Perhaps the most notorious prisoner is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who along with four co-defendants is charged with plotting the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Guantanamo opened in January 2002 on a US naval base on a coastal spit of land in southeastern Cuba leased from Havana under a treaty dating back to 1903.

It was set up after the 9/11 attacks under then-president George W.Bush’s administration to deal with “enemy combatants” denied many US legal rights.

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NEWS

Turkey will continue to support Somalis to live in peace, Erdogan says

BY:   Ali Haji

Turkey will maintain its support for Somalis to live in peace and safety, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday in Istanbul during an opening speech at the sixth Somali Compact High-Level Partnership Forum (HLPF), which he is co-chairing along with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and U.N.’s Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliassoin.

Somali and foreign delegates from 51 countries have converged in Istanbul for a two-day forum to discuss Somalia’s reconstruction process. “As you all know, Somalia is going through a critical period. … On this rocky road, we need to support Somalia and never leave [Somalis] in the lurch,” Erdoğan said in his speech, referring to the country’s political, security and development agenda, focusing on terrorism.

Somalia’s security needs are being addressed in efforts to seek tangible solutions to fight al-Shabaab terrorist activities in the country. Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda-linked militant group and was among the topics covered throughout the forum.

“I believe that the improvements that we will make for easing our Somalian brothers’ daily lives and increasing their welfare will also contribute to the country disposing of its terror problem. Essentially, the thing that lies under the success of the Turkish model in Somalia, which you all watch with interest, is our acting with this mentality. We also expect international cooperatives to support Somalia with the same attitude,” Erdoğan said.

Explaining that Turkey shouldered the country’s reconstruction process through universities, orphanages, roads, hospitals and even street lamps that are put into service through humanitarian institutions, Erdoğan said: “We will continue our work until Somalia finds tranquility and becomes a peaceful, stable country with the cooperation of the international community and regional countries, hopefully.”

He also said that Somalia has become the symbol of Turkey’s perspective on Africa and the relations that it wants to have with Africans.

Turkey’s role in Somalia has gained significance since Erdoğan’s visit in 2011 as prime minister, the first head of the Turkish government to visit Somalia.

Turkey’s engagement in Somalia has made visible changes to the country in many areas from health to infrastructure. Bilateral agreements have also been signed, including treaties to train the Somali national army, and Turkish Airlines has started flights to the capital of Mogadishu. Turkey’s efforts have paid off, and the increasing relationship between the two states has brought attention to the region and many have started to question Turkey’s involvement in Somalia.

Turkey also provided Somalia with over $400 million in the biggest aid campaign to the country in its struggle to fight starvation. Turkey is set to open its first military base in Africa at which Turkish military officers will train Somali soldiers and troops from other African countries to fight al-Shabaab, military sources said in January.
Erdoğan also said that Syria has turned into a place with terrorist organizations running wild:

“The chaos in Syria has provided an environment for terrorist organizations such as DAESH, al-Nusra Front, the PYD [Democratic Union Party] and YPG [People’s Defense Units] to grow and disperse.”

“All countries should adopt a common stance against terrorism and countries that support terrorism. Saying ‘but’ in this matter, making a differentiation between good terrorist and bad terrorist, and overlooking the link [between terror organizations] seen before, is supporting terrorism,” he said.

“Everyone needs to understand that with such a stance, there can be no struggle against terrorism,” he further added.

Erdoğan was referring to the U.S.’s stance defining the PKK and PYD as two separate, unlinked organizations; whereas, a 2014-dated document from the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), a U.S.
government organization, describes the PYD as the Syrian affiliate of the Kongra-Gel (KGK), under which the PKK is also listed. The U.S. does not consider the PYD and its armed YPG wing to be terrorist organizations, despite Ankara’s warnings.

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NEWS

US elections: Trump wins easily in Nevada

Republican frontrunner wins third straight victory in presidential contest, as Rubio comes in second, US media reports.

Donald Trump has won a third straight victory, the state Republican Party confirmed, with victory in the Nevada caucuses, cementing a lead that could soon be insurmountable in the Republican presidential race.

Early results on Wednesday showed Trump, who had been expected to win by a large margin, leading the pack of candidates with about 44 percent of the vote.

“If you listen to the pundits, we weren’t expected to win too much, and now we’re winning, winning, winning the country,” Trump said at a victory rally in Las Vegas.

Marco Rubio was projected by Fox News to come in second with about 30 percent, edging out Ted Cruz who received 16 percent in the Nevada caucuses, according to early results.

Both men, however, were far ahead of John Kasich and Ben Carson, Fox News projected.

The Nevada win is the third in a row for Trump in the state-by-state nominating contest for the November presidential election.

A billionaire businessman and political outsider, Trump’s brash, anti-government talk appealed to Nevada residents, political strategists said before the Tuesday evening caucus.

“If you listen to the pundits, we weren’t expected to win too much, and now we’re winning, winning, winning the country,” Trump said at a victory rally in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Basking in his victory, Trump vowed he would keep open the military detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, if elected.

“We’re going to load it up with a lot of bad dudes out there,” he said, a day after President Barack Obama presented his latest plan to close the facility.

Trump also drew loud cheers for his vow to build a wall along the southern border and his instance that Mexico will pay for it.

Trump offered shout-outs from the stage to several of his billionaire friends, including Phil Ruffin, who owns the Treasure Island, and casino developer Steve Wynn.

“Now we’re going to get greedy for the United States,” he said.

Cruz and Rubio had both set their sights on a strong second-place finish there in the hopes that a win over the other would provide important momentum before the 12 nominating contests on March 1, known as Super Tuesday.

Polls suggest that Trump will do well in many of those Super Tuesday states, placing further pressure on Cruz, Rubio, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, another presidential candidate who was not a factor in Nevada, to come up with counter-measures quickly.

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NEWS

Uganda elections: Besigye held again as march planned

Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye has been bundled into a van outside his home by police as his supporters planned a march to protest against the results of a presidential election.

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party leader had been under heavy police guard since he was placed under house arrest on Saturday, shortly before the election results were announced.

President Yoweri Museveni, who seized power as the leader of a rebellion in 1986, was returned to power with 60.8 percent of the vote. Besigye secured 35.4 percent, according to the electorial commission.

Besigye was also arrested on election day last week as he tried to show journalists what he said was a vote-rigging operation in a suburban house. He was arrested on a separate occasion during election week when he tried to hold a rally in the centre of the capital, Kampala.

Besigye had been expected to be released from house arrest on Monday, and had planned what his party said would be a peaceful march to the electoral commission to demand a transcript of last week’s results, which he has dismissed as fraudulent.

Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, who followed the van, said Besigye had been taken to a police station.

“We’ve seen a couple of vehicles leave since he was taken here but as far as we know he wasn’t inside any of them so he looks to be still in the police station at the moment,” Webb said.

“Preventative measures have been taken against Dr Besigye and he is in safe hands,” Siraje Bakaleke, a police commander, told journalists outside the police station.

“We got intelligence that Besigye and some people were mobilising others to come and cause havoc in Kampala and that is unacceptable. We cannot have business at a standstill and we are trying to prevent that.”

Earlier on Monday, Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change party tweeted: “We are leaving Kasangati now to walk peacefully to @Uganda EC HQ. Join us on this peaceful walk to the UgandaEc.”

Following the opposition leader’s arrest, police issued a statement saying that he had planned to form a procession from his house to the electoral commission, but he needed prior permission to stage such an event.

The FDC has called on its supporters to reject the election result.

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HEALTH

Malnutrition blights infants’ lives in Pakistan’s Sindh

BY:   Ali Haji

The views during the nine-hour drive to Tharparkar, a remote district in southern Pakistan, are stunning but deceptive.

The long road, the sunflower fields, the camel herders and the desert landscape can make one easily forget the real story of the people who inhabit the region.

The spell is broken when you enter the poor, dusty town of Mithi, the capital of Tharparkar. And there’s a reality check as soon as you cross the gate of the only civil hospital there.

We found some people inside the unfurnished waiting rooms but the stench and unsanitary conditions within the hospital make it almost unbearable just to stand there.

Inside the children’s ward, there are multiple cases of malnutrition

The number of infants and toddlers brought to the nutrition stabilisation centre in January is the highest in the last two years.

Dozens of people – mostly from low-income backgrounds – use the parking area to wait near their loved ones in the hospital.

The hospital seems equipped with incubators and doctors. But that’s not the case in other towns like Diplo, Islamkot, Chachro and Nagarparkar.

People from those areas say there are smaller hospitals but they operate with limited facilities and medics. We heard heart-breaking stories of how parents watched their shivering babies.

They did not know whether it was disease or malnutrition until children stopped food intake completely, became weak and died within a few days.

Having no means of transport and no money for the journey adds to the number of dead babies.

Where time stands still

Many people of Tharparkar still live the way they did hundreds of year ago.

We travelled to Diplo where for centuries mud huts are surrounded by just enough cattle and crop to survive.

The simplicity makes these people vulnerable to any change in environment.

Thar – the local name of Tharparkar – has seen drought-like conditions for the last few years but because there has been some rain, technically there isn’t a drought.

However, for the people here the less-than-normal rainfall means disaster.

Less water for people and cattle means less food and increased vulnerability to diseases.

Pregnant women and infants are the worst affected. Then there’s the pressure from local traditions.

Women get married at an early age and most have babies every year.

Many of these babies are delivered by untrained nurses and there are a lot of cases of infections – which, when left untreated, become fatal.

The number of deaths has become a contentious issue and there is great discrepancy between the official death toll and that of health workers and non-government organisations.

Provincial leaders have declared a health emergency and issued instructions for round-the-clock monitoring of the situation.

Lack of health staff

Local government officials offered us tea but wouldn’t talk to us on camera until we tracked down the district health officer, who was in the field despite it being his day off.

He admits there are problems but says the government has invested in building hospitals and purchasing equipment.

He also pointed to the fact that the infant mortality rate of his district isn’t the worst in Sindh province.

Everyone admits there is a lack of medical staff.

Doctors working on contracts see cronyism, complacency, mismanagement and corruption standing in the way of their hiring by the government as permanent staff.

The government says it’s announced full-time vacancies and its hands are tied due to bureaucratic delays and court orders.

Some officials also say it’s hard to fill all the vacancies as many doctors don’t want to work in remote places and prefer to work in the cities where living standards and incomes are better.

I’ve heard them before – the claims and counterclaims.

The one thing that has remained constant in the last 10 years of covering the interior parts of Sindh province is seeing sick, starving and dying babies.

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