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 61 
 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:19 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Colombian tribe scores ‘historic’ victory versus Big Gas

David Hill
Guardian
Thursday 26 March 2015 14.31 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 14.36 GMT   

The indigenous U’wa people living in north-east Colombia have won what observers call an “historic” and “decisive” victory after state oil and gas company Ecopetrol dismantled a gas drilling site in their territories.

The U’wa Association of Traditional Authorities and Councils (Asou’wa) reported in February last year the arrival of an “avalanche of heavy machinery” and increasing numbers of soldiers at the site, called Magallanes, where Ecopetrol intended to drill three wells. After statements fiercely opposing operations and a series of meetings with government and company representatives, Ecopetrol agreed to suspend operations last May and announced a decision in July to withdraw equipment - but only finished doing so in January this year.

“It’s a triumph,” Asou’wa vice-president Heber Tegria Uncaria told the Guardian. “It’s one more battle we’ve won over the last 20 to 30 years, and it’s thanks to the U’wa people themselves, national and international support, and the role of the media in drawing people’s attention to what is happening.”

“We feel extremely happy about the Magallanes victory and it gives us strength to continue fighting for our lives, for our rights and for Mother Earth,” says U’wa lawyer Aura Tegria Cristancho. “Ecopetrol’s decision was a very intelligent one. It knows the U’was and knew we wouldn’t stop fighting.”

Asou’wa issued a statement calling Ecopetrol’s withdrawal an “act of respect” for U’wa rights and an “important achievement” in the defence of their territories, and acknowledging the importance of support from organisations and individuals working on human rights and environmental issues, particularly the US-based NGO Amazon Watch.

Andrew Miller, Amazon Watch’s advocacy director, describes Ecopetrol’s decision as a “decisive victory” and says it is “very significant” that “one of Latin America’s largest corporations” would dismantle a gas drilling site following pressure.

“I can’t say this is unprecedented, but we’ve never seen a similar circumstance in the last 20 years,” he says. “Once actual construction starts, it is extremely difficult to force corporations, especially one with the full backing of the state, to reverse course.”

Carlos Andres Baquero, a lawyer from Bogota-based Dejusticia, told the Guardian Ecopetrol’s decision was “historic.”

“It’s been several decades since the U’wa started their fight to protect their territory and although it has not been easy, the withdrawal from Magallanes is a testament to their strength and capacity to mobilise,” he says.

The United Nations’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, calls it an “important victory” for indigenous peoples in Colombia.

“Such victories are far too rare,” she told the Guardian. “Too often projects see indigenous peoples driven from their lands. I hope other corporations can draw lessons from these conflicts and obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples before making use of their territories.”

Camila Mariño, a Colombian lawyer with Earthrights International, describes Ecopetrol’s decision as “in line” with the agreements made with the U’was last May, as well as recent commitments by the government - made during peace talks with Farc guerrillas in Cuba - to take human rights and indigenous communities fully into account.

Asked by the Guardian if it had pulled out of Magallanes because of U’wa opposition, Ecopetrol emailed a statement saying it had agreed to meet with them in June last year but they had failed to show up.

“Since this led to delays, Ecopetrol decided to remove the drilling equipment and facilities from the area, as has effectively happened,” the company states.

However, as Tegria Uncaria points out, Ecopetrol retains its environmental license to operate at Magallanes, and the company itself has called the suspension “temporary.” In correspondence last August Ecopetrol emphasised that suspension “didn’t imply a definite termination of the project”, and told the Guardian it “would like to continue exploring in the area, but respecting the U’wa nation and all the agreements made with them.”

The U’was have now taken legal action to have the environmental license annulled.

“We won the political battle, but the license remains in force,” says Tegria Uncaria.

The Magallanes site is roughly 270ms beyond the northern boundary of a 220,000 hectare reserve established for the U’was in 1999, but remains within their ancestral territories.

Asou’wa warns that, Magallanes aside, the U’was continue to face other serious threats. These include mining concessions in their reserve, the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline which has been attacked 100s of times, and armed conflict between guerrillas, paramilitaries and the Colombian army.

The pipeline, owned by Cenit, an Ecopetrol subsidiary, mainly transports oil from the Cano Limon oil fields in which, says Ecopetrol, it has a 55% stake and US oil firm Occidental has 45%. According to Adam Isacson, from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), some of the US’s multi-billion dollar “Plan Colombia” “aid” package - ostensibly about combating the drugs trade - has been spent on Colombian army brigades in this region in order to protect the pipeline, with the “bulk of it” going to “Black Hawk helicopters, pilot training, maintenance training, communications equipment and fuel sustenance.” According to a 2011 WOLA report co-authored by Isacson, “Plan Colombia” aid was delivered during a period of “severe human rights abuses” by security forces and paramilitary and army violence spiralling “tragically upwards”, while US officials, he says, “downplayed human rights groups’ constant warnings about military-paramilitary collaboration” and the “false positives” scandal in which Colombian soldiers dressed victims like guerrillas and claimed them killed during fighting.

“The military presence is far greater than it used to be, especially in that part of the pipeline [Arauca to Santander, through U’wa territories],” Isacson says. “Who really benefits? The oil companies getting free security would be the main ones, and all their investors. This is not designed to protect citizens.”

The U’was have repeatedly denounced the militarisation of their territories, and are now requesting that the pipeline is either buried or re-routed.

“Given the constant blowing-up of the pipeline and the environmental and human rights dangers this causes, we have requested that studies are done on the possibility of burying it underground between the points where it crosses our reserve, or finding another route outside the reserve,” says Tegria Uncaria. “To date, it hasn’t been buried, but according to Ecopetrol they’re doing technical studies.”

Ecopetrol told the Guardian that it was doing such studies and says “it is hoped they will be finished by the first half of 2015.”

In the 1990s the U’was issued a series of threats to commit mass suicide if operations went ahead at another drilling site in their territories, called Gibraltar, just to the east of Magallanes.

 62 
 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:18 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Colombian tribe scores ‘historic’ victory versus Big Gas

David Hill
Guardian
Thursday 26 March 2015 14.31 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 14.36 GMT   

The indigenous U’wa people living in north-east Colombia have won what observers call an “historic” and “decisive” victory after state oil and gas company Ecopetrol dismantled a gas drilling site in their territories.

The U’wa Association of Traditional Authorities and Councils (Asou’wa) reported in February last year the arrival of an “avalanche of heavy machinery” and increasing numbers of soldiers at the site, called Magallanes, where Ecopetrol intended to drill three wells. After statements fiercely opposing operations and a series of meetings with government and company representatives, Ecopetrol agreed to suspend operations last May and announced a decision in July to withdraw equipment - but only finished doing so in January this year.

“It’s a triumph,” Asou’wa vice-president Heber Tegria Uncaria told the Guardian. “It’s one more battle we’ve won over the last 20 to 30 years, and it’s thanks to the U’wa people themselves, national and international support, and the role of the media in drawing people’s attention to what is happening.”

“We feel extremely happy about the Magallanes victory and it gives us strength to continue fighting for our lives, for our rights and for Mother Earth,” says U’wa lawyer Aura Tegria Cristancho. “Ecopetrol’s decision was a very intelligent one. It knows the U’was and knew we wouldn’t stop fighting.”

Asou’wa issued a statement calling Ecopetrol’s withdrawal an “act of respect” for U’wa rights and an “important achievement” in the defence of their territories, and acknowledging the importance of support from organisations and individuals working on human rights and environmental issues, particularly the US-based NGO Amazon Watch.

Andrew Miller, Amazon Watch’s advocacy director, describes Ecopetrol’s decision as a “decisive victory” and says it is “very significant” that “one of Latin America’s largest corporations” would dismantle a gas drilling site following pressure.

“I can’t say this is unprecedented, but we’ve never seen a similar circumstance in the last 20 years,” he says. “Once actual construction starts, it is extremely difficult to force corporations, especially one with the full backing of the state, to reverse course.”

Carlos Andres Baquero, a lawyer from Bogota-based Dejusticia, told the Guardian Ecopetrol’s decision was “historic.”

“It’s been several decades since the U’wa started their fight to protect their territory and although it has not been easy, the withdrawal from Magallanes is a testament to their strength and capacity to mobilise,” he says.

The United Nations’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, calls it an “important victory” for indigenous peoples in Colombia.

“Such victories are far too rare,” she told the Guardian. “Too often projects see indigenous peoples driven from their lands. I hope other corporations can draw lessons from these conflicts and obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples before making use of their territories.”

Camila Mariño, a Colombian lawyer with Earthrights International, describes Ecopetrol’s decision as “in line” with the agreements made with the U’was last May, as well as recent commitments by the government - made during peace talks with Farc guerrillas in Cuba - to take human rights and indigenous communities fully into account.

Asked by the Guardian if it had pulled out of Magallanes because of U’wa opposition, Ecopetrol emailed a statement saying it had agreed to meet with them in June last year but they had failed to show up.

“Since this led to delays, Ecopetrol decided to remove the drilling equipment and facilities from the area, as has effectively happened,” the company states.

However, as Tegria Uncaria points out, Ecopetrol retains its environmental license to operate at Magallanes, and the company itself has called the suspension “temporary.” In correspondence last August Ecopetrol emphasised that suspension “didn’t imply a definite termination of the project”, and told the Guardian it “would like to continue exploring in the area, but respecting the U’wa nation and all the agreements made with them.”

The U’was have now taken legal action to have the environmental license annulled.

“We won the political battle, but the license remains in force,” says Tegria Uncaria.

The Magallanes site is roughly 270ms beyond the northern boundary of a 220,000 hectare reserve established for the U’was in 1999, but remains within their ancestral territories.

Asou’wa warns that, Magallanes aside, the U’was continue to face other serious threats. These include mining concessions in their reserve, the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline which has been attacked 100s of times, and armed conflict between guerrillas, paramilitaries and the Colombian army.

The pipeline, owned by Cenit, an Ecopetrol subsidiary, mainly transports oil from the Cano Limon oil fields in which, says Ecopetrol, it has a 55% stake and US oil firm Occidental has 45%. According to Adam Isacson, from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), some of the US’s multi-billion dollar “Plan Colombia” “aid” package - ostensibly about combating the drugs trade - has been spent on Colombian army brigades in this region in order to protect the pipeline, with the “bulk of it” going to “Black Hawk helicopters, pilot training, maintenance training, communications equipment and fuel sustenance.” According to a 2011 WOLA report co-authored by Isacson, “Plan Colombia” aid was delivered during a period of “severe human rights abuses” by security forces and paramilitary and army violence spiralling “tragically upwards”, while US officials, he says, “downplayed human rights groups’ constant warnings about military-paramilitary collaboration” and the “false positives” scandal in which Colombian soldiers dressed victims like guerrillas and claimed them killed during fighting.

“The military presence is far greater than it used to be, especially in that part of the pipeline [Arauca to Santander, through U’wa territories],” Isacson says. “Who really benefits? The oil companies getting free security would be the main ones, and all their investors. This is not designed to protect citizens.”

The U’was have repeatedly denounced the militarisation of their territories, and are now requesting that the pipeline is either buried or re-routed.

“Given the constant blowing-up of the pipeline and the environmental and human rights dangers this causes, we have requested that studies are done on the possibility of burying it underground between the points where it crosses our reserve, or finding another route outside the reserve,” says Tegria Uncaria. “To date, it hasn’t been buried, but according to Ecopetrol they’re doing technical studies.”

Ecopetrol told the Guardian that it was doing such studies and says “it is hoped they will be finished by the first half of 2015.”

In the 1990s the U’was issued a series of threats to commit mass suicide if operations went ahead at another drilling site in their territories, called Gibraltar, just to the east of Magallanes.

 63 
 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:16 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Appeals court dismisses Iran cover-up charges against Argentina president

All charges against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – brought by deceased prosecutor Alberto Nisman – are dismissed by federal court of appeals

Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires
Thursday 26 March 2015 19.57 GMT Last modified on Friday 27 March 2015 12.52 GMT   

A federal court of appeals dismissed charges against the Argentinian president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, on Thursday, regarding an alleged conspiracy to shield Iranian officials’ from prosecution over their alleged role in the deadly 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community centre.

The charges had originally been made by prosecutor Alberto Nisman in January, four days before he was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in his Buenos Aires apartment.

On 14 January, Nisman had presented a 289-page writ in court that he said unveiled a conspiracy headed by Fernández to clear five high-ranking Iranian suspects of charges that they had masterminded the 1994 bombing of the Amia centre, in which 85 people were killed.

Death of prosecutor leaves Argentina's Jewish community angry and distrustful

In a 2-1 vote, appeals judges dismissed Nisman’s accusation, but there is a strong likelihood that prosecutor Germán Moldes – who upheld Nisman’s charges before the judges – may appeal the decision to a higher court.

Fernández and other officials accused by Nisman of being involved in the alleged conspiracy have all flatly denied the charges.

Nisman’s mysterious death triggered a political earthquake, which has rocked Fernández’s government. Opinion polls have shown roughly 70% of Argentinians believe Nisman was murdered – a hypothesis propelled by the prosecutor’s family and seemingly confirmed by their independent forensic tests. One month after his death, 400,000 people participated in a “march of silence” demanding justice for Nisman. The court investigating his death has stuck to the hypothesis of suicide.

As the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation into the Amia bombing, Nisman had obtained Interpol arrest warrants against five Iranian officials that he charged with masterminding the 1994 bombing.

Nisman claimed as evidence to support the charges of conspiracy, an agreement signed by Iran and Argentina in 2013 to set up a binational “truth commission” to investigate the Amia attack. Nisman claimed that the agreement effectively neutralised his investigation and the Interpol arrest warrants against the Iranian suspects.

Although the Iran agreement was blocked last year by a court ruling that declared it “unconstitutional”, Nisman decided to accuse Fernández in January of attempting to block the court case against the Iranian suspects with that agreement.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner: is the fairytale ending for Argentina's new Evita?

Fernández needed to close the court case against the Iranians “as part of a new geopolitical alignment on the current world stage”, Nisman said in his extensive writ.

Néstor Kirchner, Fernández’s husband, who preceded her as president from 2003-2007, had resolutely rebuffed approaches from Iran proposing generous trade concessions in return for Argentina dropping the charges against its five citizens. Following his unexpected death from heart failure in 2010, Fernández began seeking closer relations with Russia, China, Venezuela and Iran.

“Fernández made Argentina drop off the map of the world with these new alliances,” said legislator Elisa Carrió, a presidential hopeful for Argentina’s upcoming October elections.

Nisman’s accusation seemed to offer an explanation for Fernández’s surprising about turn regarding Iran after her husband’s death.

“We had standing orders from Kirchner not to negotiate under any terms with Iran regarding Amia,” said Roberto García Moritán, who served as deputy foreign minister under both Kirchner and Fernández. “And Iran was very insistent.”

“They made offers of up to $4bn in wheat and maize purchases,” Kirchner’s former foreign minister, Rafael Bielsa, said in an interview with the newspaper Perfil after the “truth commission” with Nisman was signed.

Fernández was also hoping to increase trade with Iran, a traditional market for Argentinian grains before the 1994 bombing, which soured relations between the two countries, Nisman argued in his writ.

• The headline on this article was amended on 27 March 2015 to better reflect the story.

 64 
 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:14 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Nigeria Votes in Sharply Contested Presidential Election

By ADAM NOSSITER
MARCH 28, 2015

KANO, Nigeria — The most sharply contested election in Nigeria’s post-independence history wound down to a tense conclusion on Saturday amid fears that a polarized electorate would clash regardless of the outcome in a country split on religious, ethnic and sectional lines.

There appeared to be little middle ground between partisans of the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south hated in the north for mismanaging a bloody Islamist insurgency at steep cost, and his challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, the country’s ex-military ruler, a northerner and belated democratic convert whose Muslim faith and authoritarian past are feared in the south.

Saturday morning voters crowded around registration stations here in the north’s largest city, a packed metropolis of over 5 million, as hitches in the process added to the tension. Election officials were more than two hours late in some places and malfunctioning electronic registration machines — a new system designed to limit endemic fraud — stymied voters in others.

In the crowds Saturday partisan anger seethed in a city hard-hit by Boko Haram bombings and suicide attacks, with hints that — as in previous Nigeria elections —the contest may not end when results are announced early next week. Nearly 1000 were killed after the 2011 vote, hundreds of them here in Kano, in an election nonetheless judged one of Nigeria’s most peaceful.

This year the stakes are far higher as the ruling party’s hold on power is threatened for the first time since the end of military rule in 1999. Analysts reckon that the contest was too close to call though the momentum may have shifted slightly to Mr. Jonathan after his military chiefs forced a six-week delay in elections originally scheduled for February. Mr. Buhari’s supporters, on the other hand, have spoken of declaring a parallel government if they judge the vote to be rigged, or of taking their grievances to the streets.

“I’m apprehensive. I’ve just seen so much desperation on all sides,” said Clement Nwankwo, who heads a leading political study group in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. “People have dug in, and I don’t see that anybody is willing to compromise,” said Mr. Nwankwo.

In Kano’s dirt-street, trash encrusted Fagge district, many in the packed crowd warned against a declaration of victory by the incumbent, Mr. Jonathan.

“We will not accept it,” said Mannir Bala, 32, a trader. “We are only interested in Buhari,” he said, as others shouted agreement. “We won’t allow Jonathan this time,” Mr. Bala said. Others chimed in with complaints that echoed official statistics showing an increase in poverty in Nigeria in recent years: their district had no electricity, one man shouted; no water, another said; no education, said a third.

Other would-be voters here brandished their new plastic identification cards and spoke of wanting change after years of Islamist violence, corruption scandals and stagnant living standards. “There is hardship in this country. No good security,” said Dayyabu Yahaya Inuwa, a civil servant, waiting to register in the shadow of the ochre-colored walls of the Emir of Kano’s palace in this centuries-old center of Islamic culture. The crowd had been waiting over two hours to register but still no election officials had appeared. “By the grace of Allah we will change the government,” said Mr. Inuwa.

In the background to this year’s vote has hovered Boko Haram, whose violent insurgency is now stretching into its sixth year. The tide appears to have turned in the fight against the Islamists in the immediate run-up to the election — particularly during the six-week delay demanded by the country’s military chiefs — after years of half-hearted engagement by the Nigerian military. South African mercenaries hired by the government had made a substantial difference, officials in the north, diplomats and analysts said, along with a regional military push by Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, and the Nigerians themselves – though the other countries complain there is little to no coordination with the Nigerians.

The country’s airwaves and newspapers have been filled with advertising by the government trumpeting the success of its belated campaign against Boko Haram, and nearly every day the military announces a new success, after years of defeats. Friday — on the election’s eve — Nigeria army officials said they had overrun the Boko Haram stronghold of Gwoza.

Analysts said there was little doubt that the six-week delay had benefited the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party. “The PDP has got a swagger that they did not have before,” said Darren Kew, a Nigeria expert at the University of Massachusetts Boston, who is observing the election here.

 65 
 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:13 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Israel to resume tax transfers to Palestinian Authority

PM Binyamin Netanyahu claims decision was made for humanitarian reasons

Associated Press
Friday 27 March 2015 15.38 GMT Last modified on Saturday 28 March 2015 00.33 GMT
   
Israel said on Friday that it will transfer Palestinian tax revenues it has been withholding as punishment for the Palestinians’ application to join the International Criminal Court.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said the decision was made following the recommendation of Israel’s security establishment and because of humanitarian considerations. Israel has been under international pressure to release the frozen funds and Israeli security officials had warned that continuing to hold back the revenue could spark violence.

Israel freezes Palestinian tax funds over international criminal court move

Under existing agreements, Israel collects taxes and customs on behalf of the Palestinians and then transfers the sums to them. It has withheld funds before as retaliation for unilateral Palestinian actions. Over the past three months it has collected hundreds of millions of dollars without transferring the funds.

Israel withheld the tax transfers it collects for the cash-strapped government of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas after he applied to join the ICC – a move potentially paving the way for a war crimes investigation of Israel.

That and other moves prompted Abbas to complain that Israel had eroded the authority of his self-rule government in the West Bank to the point where it has “no real power here over anything”.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority hasn’t been able to pay its civil servants and has warned that it is nearing collapse.

Netanyahu said in a statement that it was in Israel’s interest to transfer the money.

“Given the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, one must act responsibly and with due consideration alongside a determined struggle against extremist elements,” he said.

The move may be part of Netanyahu’s attempt to contain the international fallout from remarks he made ahead of elections earlier this month, when he said the current regional climate made it impossible to create a Palestinian state.

 66 
 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:11 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Chad President Accuses Nigeria of Failing to Help Fight Boko Haram

by Naharnet Newsdesk 27 March 2015, 16:07

Chad's President Idriss Deby has accused Nigeria of downplaying the threat from Boko Haram and failing to cooperate with the regional coalition battling the jihadists, saying there had been zero contact between their armies.

"The whole world is asking why the Nigerian army, which is a big army... is not in a position to stand up to untrained kids armed with Kalashnikovs," Deby told French magazine Le Point, in an interview published this week.

Chad, Cameroon and Niger have joined forces since January to battle Boko Haram, whose insurgency has claimed more than 13,000 lives in northern Nigeria since 2009.

But Deby said he was baffled by the Nigerian government's lack of cooperation with the offensive.

"Two months after the start of this war, we have not had any direct contact with the Nigerian army units on the ground," he told the French weekly.

"We would have hoped to have at least one Nigerian unit with us. It was even a direct request to the Nigerian government, but for reasons that escape us, up to now we have been unable to work together."

Not wishing to be seen as foreign occupiers, Chadian troops have had to abandon towns they have taken from Boko Haram forces, letting the jihadists return.

"The Chadian army is fighting alone in its part of the Nigerian interior and that is a problem. We have had to retake certain towns twice," Deby told Le Point.

"We are forced to abandon them and Boko Haram returns, and we have to go back. That has a human and material cost."

- 'Too serious to ignore' -

Deby also criticized Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking re-election on Saturday, for downplaying the Boko Haram threat and attempting doomed peace talks in October.

"I told President Goodluck not to open negotiations with terrorists ... but it was a political choice," said Deby, adding that Boko Haram were only using the talks to buy time and regroup.

"It has become something too serious for Nigerians to ignore. The blood of the dead that we have been counting every day for the past few years demands attention."

Deby said Boko Haram's actions now amounted to "genocide" and estimated the group had some 20,000 fighters.

He told Le Point he was not surprised by Boko Haram's recent swearing of allegiance to the Islamic State group, saying they had been working together for some time.

"(IS) has always trained young people from Boko Haram in the use of explosives, the use of heavy weapons and armored vehicles. They are trained by (IS) in Libya... and are then sent to Nigeria," he said.

"I'm not surprised that (Boko Haram leader) Abubakar Shekau, who has difficulties at the moment... is trying to make people believe that he only just made contact with them."

He called for a mixed multi-national force to be established as quickly as possible, with U.N. and African Union backing, and said he hoped a conference of central and west African countries in early April would lead to a larger coalition.

Source: Agence France Presse

 67 
 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:10 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Boko Haram Leader 'Ordered Women to be Killed' in Gwoza

by Naharnet Newsdesk 27 March 2015, 18:13

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau directly ordered women to be killed in the northeast Nigerian town of Gwoza, one man who was forcibly conscripted into the militant ranks claimed on Friday.

Usman Ali said he witnessed the killing in the town, which the group's elusive leader proclaimed as part of a caliphate last year and which has generally been seen as the militants' headquarters.

Another local man, Haruna Abubakar, also confirmed the massacre in the Borno state town but neither was able to say how many women were killed.

There has also been speculation that the 219 kidnapped schoolgirls from Chibok who have been held by Boko Haram since last April were in Gwoza but both said there was no sign of them.

Nigeria's military said on Friday that troops had recaptured Gwoza, the latest claimed success in a regional offensive involving Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

There has been increasing evidence that Boko Haram has committed atrocities as the coalition regains ground.

Residents who fled the town of Bama, also in Borno state, earlier this month, also reported that dozens of women forced into marriage with Boko Haram fighters were killed.

- 'We had no choice' -

Ali, a 35-year-old farmer, said the rebels came to his village of Kilekasa, 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Gwoza and about 15 kilometers from Chibok late on Friday March 13.

In the convoy of about 46 all-terrain pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns were two armored vehicles, he said, adding: "Shekau drove in a black Toyota jeep."

Shekau was taken to the village of Huyum about five kilometers away and the following morning all residents of Kilekasa were assembled and able-bodied men were given guns.

"We had no choice," he told Agence France-Presse, adding that one man who tried to flee was executed in front of them.

"On Sunday March 15, Shekau assembled his men including us, the new recruits, and addressed us. He said they should go back to Gwoza and kill all of their women they left behind.

"He said if they didn't kill them they would not join them in paradise. They took us along to Gwoza where we witnessed the carnage.

"They gathered the women who were in large number and opened fire on them.

"One of the women who was heavily pregnant asked to be spared until she delivered her baby but her request was turned down."

- Chibok girls -

Ali said he returned to Kilekasa later that day and fled at nightfall to Yola, the capital of neighboring Adamawa state.

"I don't know what has been the fate of the people in the village. When we went to Gwoza we didn't see any sign of the girls from Chibok. They must have been moved to another place," he added.

Abubakar, who fled Gwoza to a camp for internally displaced people in Yola, said his aunt left the town on March 16.

"She told me that Boko Haram moved out of the town three days earlier at night in several vehicles. They returned on Sunday and killed their wives, some of them pregnant," he said.

"They gathered them in one place and shot them dead. She said there were no Boko Haram gunmen when she left Gwoza. She didn't know where they moved to.

"When I asked her about the whereabouts of the Chibok girls she told me they were not in Gwoza."

Source: Agence France Presse

 68 
 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:05 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Philippines Hits Back at Beijing over South China Sea

by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2015, 10:43

The Philippines on Saturday shot back at Beijing's criticism of its activities in the South China Sea, saying they were "in no way comparable to China's massive reclamation activities" in the waters.

It also said accusations that Manila was being "hypocritical" would not distract people from Beijing's own actions which were raising regional tensions.

The statement by foreign affairs department spokesman Charles Jose was the latest volley in an increasingly tense war of words over the sea, parts of which are claimed by both countries as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

"The Philippines' possible undertaking of necessary maintenance and repairs on its existing facilities in the West Philippine Sea... is in no way comparable to China's massive reclamation activities which not only violate international law... but also unnecessarily raise tensions," the statement said.

"West Philippine Sea" is the term Manila uses for the South China Sea where Filipino troops and civilians occupy some islands.

The Philippines has recently been among the most vocal in criticising China's development of isolated outcroppings in the waters into large facilities capable of hosting bases and even airstrips.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines would resume its own construction of facilities in the sea, prompting Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying to denounce his remarks on Friday.

"This does not only violate China's territorial sovereignty but also reveals (the Philippines') hypocritical nature," she said.

In response, the Philippines said: "China's recent statement... should not distract us from the real issues in the South China Sea which are China's illegitimate 'nine-dash line' claim and China's unilateral and aggressive behaviour in asserting that claim as exemplified by its massive and unrestrained 'reclamation'."

Reacting to the controversy, Philippine President Benigno Aquino affirmed his support for del Rosario, his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said on Saturday.

She also said that any repairs of Philippine facilities would not violate a "Declaration on the Code of Conduct" sealed between China and Southeast Asian countries in 2002.

The non-binding accord is intended to avoid raising tensions in the disputed territory.

Valte also stressed that the Philippines had made its position clear in a challenge it had filed before a United Nations tribunal in March 2014 to declare what Manila said was China's claim to 70 percent of the sea as illegal.

The Philippines has also filed numerous diplomatic protests against what it calls China efforts to assert its claims to the territory shown in a "nine-dash line" in several Chinese maps.

The U.N. tribunal is due to rule early next year on Manila's challenge to Beijing's claims.

Source: Agence France Presse

 69 
 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
New Zealand Ruling Party Trounced in by-Election

by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2015, 11:13

New Zealand's ruling National Party suffered a setback Saturday when it was comprehensively beaten in a by-election in one of its safest seats.

Winston Peters, the leader of the minor opposition party New Zealand First won the Northland by-election with a majority of 4,012.

National had won its traditionally safe seat with a 9,000 majority in the general election six months ago.

The successful candidate then, Mike Sabin, resigned last month amid reports he was being investigated by police.

The by-election result has reduced the center-right National Party to 59 seats in the 121-seat parliament but it retains a comfortable majority to govern with support of its political allies Act, United Future and the Maori Party.

Source: Agence France Presse

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 on: Mar 28, 2015, 06:02 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Khmer Rouge Cadre Charged with Crimes against Humanity

by Naharnet Newsdesk 27 March 2015, 14:16

Cambodia's U.N.-backed court on Friday charged another former Khmer Rouge member with crimes against humanity, weeks after the country's leader warned against prosecuting further suspects.

Mid-ranking regime cadre Ao An, believed to be 79 and better known as Ta An, is alleged to have carried out crimes at an execution site and in two security centres during the regime's brutal rule in the 1970s.

He appeared before tribunal judge Mark Harmon in northwestern Battambang province to hear the charges but was not arrested, court spokesman Lars Olsen told AFP.

"The charged person is presumed innocent until proven guilty through a final judgement," Olsen said.

A formal indictment of An was not expected before the end of this year, he added.

The news will not be welcomed by Cambodia's strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen -- himself a former Khmer Rouge cadres -- who spoke out earlier this month against further prosecutions, warning they could ignite a civil war.

Days later the court charged Meas Muth, an ex-navy commander, and Im Chaem, a female former district official, with crimes against humanity.

But a Cambodian judge on the tribunal has not signed off on the charges against the latest suspects -- including An -- reflecting wider unease over the reach of any fresh probes into a regime that massacred up to two million Cambodians in the 1970s.

Cambodian judges outnumber their international counterparts on the tribunal and can vote down a move to formally indict the pair at a later stage.

Critics say Hun Sen is attempting to thwart the trials of lower level cadres having repeatedly vowed that the current case against former top regime leaders would be the last.

So far only three people have been convicted by the hybrid tribunal, which was set up in 2006, including life sentences for the two most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leaders handed down last year.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998 without ever facing justice, the Khmer Rouge dismantled modern society in Cambodia in their quest for an agrarian Marxist utopia.

In its historic debut trial, the court in 2010 sentenced former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, to 30 years in prison -- later increased on appeal to life -- for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.

Last August Nuon Chea, 88, known as "Brother Number Two", and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, were given life sentences for crimes against humanity -- both have appealed.

The pair are currently undergoing a second trial, for genocide, centred around the killing of ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim minorities, forced marriage and rape.

Source: Agence France Presse

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