Geneva, Aug 28 (AP/UNB) — Countries that are part of an international agreement on trade in endangered species agreed Tuesday to limit the sale of wild elephants caught in Zimbabwe and Botswana, delighting conservationists but dismaying some of the African countries involved.
Wildlife experts said a resolution approved by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora at a meeting in Geneva was a "momentous win" for elephants because it restricts their sale to zoos.
The European Union tweaked the language of the resolution to reach a compromise that limits exports of live elephants outside of Africa but allows for some exceptions relevant to Europe.
Conservationists explained the change by giving an example, saying it would allow for an elephant already in France to be shipped to nearby Germany without having to be sent back to Africa first.
But the new resolution also means zoos will no longer be able to import wild-caught African elephants to the United States, China and many other countries beyond the elephants' natural habitat. The resolution passed by a vote of 87 in favor, 29 against and 25 abstaining. The U.S. voted against it.
Animal advocates applauded the move, even though some felt it didn't go far enough.
"While it is disappointing that it is not an outright ban on trade in live elephants, the new language adds vital independent oversight and scrutiny," said Audrey Delsink, wildlife director at Humane Society International.
"The capture of wild African elephants for export to zoos and other captive facilities is incredibly traumatizing for individual elephants as well as their social groups," she said in a statement.
Dozens of celebrities, including actress Judi Dench and comedian Ricky Gervais, had signed a letter to the president of the EU's executive branch saying it would be "obscene for the EU to endorse snatching wild baby elephants and condemning these beautiful leviathans to a life of captive misery."
Renowned primatologist Jane Goodall weighed in, too, saying she was "absolutely shocked" at the idea of separating young elephants from their families and shipping them off to zoos.
D.J. Schubert, wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute, said the VIP lobbying paid off.
"Probably thanks to the celebrities that got involved and all the press attention this initial decision got, the European Union was put in a bit of a box," Schubert said. "What they ultimately decided to do, to their credit, is they decided to come up with amended text instead of trying to trash the entire decision that was made last week."
The EU's action was part of a debate over language at CITES to restrict trade in live elephants to countries with "in-situ conservation programs" or secure areas in the wild — essentially in Africa.
Botswana and Zimbabwe have the world's largest populations of African elephants, for a combined total of about 200,000.
Some African officials said the new proposal would deny them some much-needed cash and that they should be free to do what they wished with their elephants.
"The government has been pumping out a lot of money for conservation with no real return, yet our government has competing social needs," said Tinashe Farawo, spokesman for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
"We view our animals as an economic opportunity, so we should sell our elephants."
Farawo said that Zimbabwe, Botswana Namibia and other southern African countries would meet for consultations following the CITES meeting.
"We cannot continue to be hamstrung and told what to do with our resources," Farawo said. "We cannot continue to allow powerful countries and NGOs to set the agenda when the elephants are ours," he said, disputing there was any conservation concern.
"We have too many of them so selling them should not be a problem for anyone. Why should we continue to impoverish our people when we have the resource?"
United Nations, Aug 27 (AP/UNB) — Sudan urged the U.N. Security Council on Monday to lift its suspension of troop withdrawals and ensure all peacekeepers leave Darfur by June 2020, but the African Union said overall security in the vast western region "remains volatile."
Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Omer Mohamed Siddig told the council it's time to shift from peacekeeping to peacebuilding in Darfur, and to end restrictions on the government's movement of arms and troops in and out of the region.
In late June, the Security Council voted unanimously to put the brakes on the withdrawal of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force from Darfur as the country dealt with a political crisis. It extended the mandate of the force, known as UNAMID, until Oct. 31, and it asked the U.N. and AU to make recommendations by Sept. 30 on what the council should do about continuing the withdrawal.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge it denies. In recent years, as the result of a successful government military campaign, the rebellion has been reduced to a rebel Sudan Liberation Army faction headed by Abdul Wahid Elnur in Jebel Marra.
In July 2018, the Security Council voted to dramatically cut the UNAMID force in response to reduced fighting and improved security conditions. The target for ending the mission is June 30, 2020.
Smail Chergui, the AU commissioner for peace and security, told the council that Darfur still faces "intermittent armed clashes" between government forces and Elnur's rebels, who also have abducted civilians and staff of nongovernmental organizations for ransom, robbed commercial trucks and looted property of local media and humanitarian organizations.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Chergui both expressed concern about growing tensions between farmers and herders in Darfur, and the AU commissioner said the current farming season is likely to see more land-related violence.
Chergui said inadequate judiciary, police, prosecution and prison facilities outside the main urban centers are also having "an adverse impact on the security situation and in ensuring accountability for serious crimes and human rights violations."
The Darfur conflict took place under the three-decade autocratic rule of former President Omar al-Bashir, during which Sudan was convulsed by a bloody civil war and rebellions, not only in Darfur but in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. Al-Bashir's rule ended in April when the military ousted him after mass street protests by a pro-democracy movement which began late last year.
A power-sharing agreement signed earlier this month between the military and protesters calls for the government to reach a peace agreement with armed groups within six months.
Up to now, Elnur's SLA faction has refused to join the Darfur peace process. And the Sudan People's Liberation Movement North, led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, which has fought against Sudanese security forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states for much of the last decade, has also refused to talk peace.
Sudan's Siddig called on the international community to join the new transitional government "in inducing the revolutionaries who fought for toppling the previous regime to join hands with us to uplift the plight and miseries of our people who suffered the consequences of war." He also urged countries hosting leaders of armed groups to convince them to come to the peace table.
Chergui said the armed movements say their concerns are not adequately reflected in the agreement between the military and the protesters.
"It is important that the armed movements are fully engaged in the political process," he stressed, and "it is imperative" that Elnur and al-Hilu are persuaded to join the process.
"Otherwise, they will remain spoilers," Chergui said.
On a positive note, he said, "the current political environment and the changes taking place in Sudan provide a unique opportunity for ending the armed conflict, and for achieving comprehensive and lasting peace in Darfur and Sudan as a whole."
The AU commissioner urged the international community to support "all actors."
The U.N.'s Lacroix also congratulated the Sudanese people for choosing "the path of inclusive decision-making, equality and equity, and freedom and human rights for all" — and he said it's an opportunity "to put a definitive end to the conflict in Darfur."
He said once the transitional government forms a new cabinet, "we will engage ... on a range of issues, including the drawdown of UNAMID, planning for a transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding, next steps for the Darfur peace process, and post-UNAMID engagement."
Lacroix said an AU-UN-Sudan meeting has been proposed on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly's annual meeting of world leaders in late September, and he and Chergui plan to travel to Sudan together in early October.
Beirut, Aug 23 (AP/UNB) — Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops seized control of a string of villages in the northern countryside of Hama province, completing their takeover of the formerly rebel-held region just south of Idlib province for the first time since 2012, Syrian state TV and a war monitoring group said Friday.
The TV said troops seized the villages of Latamneh, Latmeen, Kfar Zeita and Lahaya, as well as the village of Morek, where Turkey maintains an observation post, on Friday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported Friday that government troops were in control of the entire northern Hama countryside after capturing a series of towns of villages.
The fate of Turkish troops manning the observation post wasn't immediately clear. Since a deal with Russia last year, Turkey has maintained 12 such posts in and around Idlib province. Turkey is a strong backer of the Syrian opposition and rebels fighting Assad's forces.
The Observatory said it was not clear whether there were any Turkish soldiers remaining in the Morek observation post or whether they had withdrawn from the area overnight.
Syrian troops, backed by Russian air cover, had laid siege to rebel-held villages in the central province of Hama earlier this week, following rapid advances.
Idlib, near the Turkish border, is the last major rebel-controlled province in Syria. Insurgents there have suffered a series of setbacks over the past three weeks in the face of a stepped-up government offensive in the country's northwest.
On Wednesday, government forces took control of the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province after an al-Qaida-linked group pulled out. They then launched the siege on rebel-held towns and villages in the northern province, adjoining Hama.
Syrian government forces have been on the offensive in Idlib and northern parts of Hama province since April 30, forcing nearly half a million people to flee to safer areas further north. The fighting also killed more than 2,000 people, including hundreds of civilians.
Kampala, Aug 19 (AP/UNB)— At least 20 people have been killed in two separate motor accidents in Uganda, including an explosion involving a fuel tanker in the country's west, police said Monday, in incidents highlighting growing road safety concerns in the region.
A fuel tanker exploded Sunday after losing control and ramming two commuter taxis and a car in a western district.
The fire from the tanker sparked "three smaller secondary explosions" of vehicles parked nearby, and several small shops at the scene also caught fire. Nine burned bodies were retrieved from the scene and another was still trapped beneath the truck, a police statement said.
Later on Sunday, according to police, 10 people were killed and four others critically injured when a speeding minivan crashed into a passenger bus on a highway in eastern Uganda.
Lethal traffic accidents frequently happen in the region, where roads are often narrow and potholed. Ugandan police usually blame motor accidents on speeding drivers.
"We strongly condemn the acts of motorists who put the lives of others in danger due to recklessness," the police statement said. "These two separate but tragic incidents call for additional measures by all stakeholders in strengthening our road safety campaigns, with stricter penalties to serve as a deterrent. This is because most of the crash and collision traffic incidents on our roads primarily occur due to bad decisions by drivers."
Accidents involving fuel tankers are especially dangerous as often people gather around the damaged vehicles to scoop fuel into plastic cans.
Scores were killed in the Tanzanian town of Morogoro earlier this month when a damaged fuel tanker exploded as people swarmed around it.
Cairo, Aug 17 (AP/UNB) — Sudan's pro-democracy movement signed a final power-sharing agreement with the ruling military council on Saturday at a ceremony in the capital, Khartoum.
The deal paves the way for a transition to civilian-led government following the military overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April.
The signing capped weeks of tortuous negotiations between the military and protest leaders. Earlier this month, the two sides initialed a constitutional document in the wake of international pressure and amid growing concerns the political crisis could ignite civil war.
Ethiopia and the African Union co-led mediation efforts between the military and protesters, and many regional leaders and international envoys attended Saturday's ceremony, including Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Attendees in the Friendship Hall where the ceremony took place received Ahmed with cheering chants.
Sudanese celebrated in Khartoum and elsewhere across the country. Videos posted online showed people celebrating in the streets in Darfur and the eastern province of Kassala.
Railway workers and other protesters had traveled to the capital Friday by train from Atbara, the northern transport hub where the uprising began in December.
Protest leader Mohammed Naji al-Asam said they have ushered a "new page" in Sudan's history after three decades of "repression and corruption."
He said the transitional government would prioritize a "fair and comprehensive peace" with rebels across Sudan.
Former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the opposition Umma party, said the deal was a "first step" in the democratic change till holding "fair" elections.
"Today is the day of transition to civilian rule.... The next stage will be a test for us, without exclusion. We will open the door so all people can participate," said al-Mahdi who led Sudan's last freely elected government before the Islamists-backed military coup in 1989.
The power-sharing deal creates a joint military and civilian sovereign council to rule for a little over three years until elections can be held. A military leader would head the 11-member council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18.
The agreement would also establish a Cabinet appointed by the activists, as well as a legislative body to be assembled within three months. The protest coalition is to have a majority in that body, as nominated by the Forces for Declaration of Freedom, a coalition of opposition parties and movements representing the protesters.
The FDFC has nominated a well-known economist, Abdalla Hamdok, to lead the government during the transition. He served as the the deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa since November 2011, and has yet to be confirmed by the sovereign council. The council's members are to be announced on Sunday, after which the ruling military council will immediately be disbanded.
The deal has been criticized by the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of the largest rebel groups in Darfur. The rebels have stressed to protester leaders that the agreement did not include "basic principles" to achieve peace in Sudan. The deal calls for the government to reach a peace agreement with the rebels within six months.
The rebel alliance, which is part of the FDFC, wanted to include a peace document agreed with the protest movement into the power-sharing deal. The rebel leaders have engaged in talks with other protest leaders to settle the disputed points.
The military overthrew al-Bashir following months of protests against his three-decade-long authoritarian rule. The protesters then remained in the streets, demanding a rapid transition to civilian leadership.
The two sides came under renewed pressure to reach an accord after security forces opened fire on student protesters in the city of Obeid on Aug. 1, leaving six people dead. At least nine troops from the paramilitary Rapid Support forces were arrested over the killings.
In June, security forces violently dispersed the protesters' main sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, killing dozens of people and plunging the fragile transition into crisis. The deal includes the establishment of an independent investigation into the crackdown.