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it was not clear whether there were any Turkish soldiers remaining in the Morek observation post or whether they had withdrawn from the area overnight.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.
Dar Es Salaam, Aug 10 (AP/UNB) — A damaged tanker truck exploded in eastern Tanzania Saturday as people were trying to siphon fuel out of it, killing at least 62, in one of the worst incidents of its kind in the East African country.
Citing police figures, state broadcaster KBC said a further at least 70 people were injured in the incident early Saturday in the town of Morogoro. Regional police commissioner Steven Kabwe told the local Azam TV that many suffered serious burns.
Tanzanian government spokesman Hassan Abbasi said on Twitter that news of the deaths was "received with sadness."
"We send our condolences to the families, relatives and friends," he said.
Witnesses in Morogoro, which lies about 120 miles (200 kilometers) from Tanzania's economic hub of Dar es Salaam, told The Associated Press that scores of people had gathered around the fuel tanker after it was involved in an accident early on Saturday. They said people were trying to siphon away fuel when the tanker burst into flames.
Incidents of people being killed in explosions while stealing fuel from incapacitated tankers are common in East Africa. Those who steal the fuel usually hope to be able to sell it cheaply to motorists.
In 2013, a similarly deadly incident killed at least 29 people on the outskirts of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, as scores swarmed around the scene of an accident.
There is limited awareness among many people about the danger from explosions of damaged fuel tankers, said Henry Bantu, a road safety expert who runs the Tanzania-based Safe Speed Foundation. Local leaders need to do more to educate people on the risks, he said.
Johannesburg, Aug 7 (AP/UNB) — Mozambique's president and the leader of the country's main opposition group signed a new peace accord Tuesday, pledging to end years of violence and facilitate elections in the fall.
In signing the Peace and National Reconciliation Agreement, President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Ossufo Momade said they would peacefully participate in Oct. 15 elections.
Portuguese news agency Lusa said the signing ceremony in Mozambique's capital of Maputo was witnessed by five African heads of state, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Thousands of Maputo residents also attended the ceremony in Peace Square, including many children wearing T-shirts printed with the phrase "Ultimate Peace."
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and Portuguese Foreign Secretary Teresa Rebeiro were present as well.
Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony that won independence in 1975. Portugal supported the peace negotiations.
The peace accord followed the two leaders signing a related agreement last week to cease military hostilities.
The two agreements are the result of years of negotiations to bring an end to sporadic violence that has persisted since a bloody civil war ended in 1992. An estimated 1 million people died in the 15-year war.
A previous peace agreement was signed in 2014, but the violence sporadically flared up.
The new accords call for the immediate disarmament and reintegration into society of more than 5,000 Renamo rebels. Some Renamo officers are to take up leadership positions in the military.
However, only a few of the rebels have turned in their arms so far.
As part of the negotiations, Mozambique's legislature amended the country's constitution so provincial governors will be elected instead of appointed by the ruling party.
The change is expected to allow Renamo to win a few provincial governorships in the central and northern regions where it has support.