By Tom Esslemont BAMBARI, Central African Republic (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When two of Josephine's uncles were murdered by armed cattle rustlers on Central African Republic's southern border just before her twelfth birthday, all she could think of was taking revenge. The schoolgirl was an easy target for recruitment by mostly Christian militia groups battling fighters of the Muslim Peul tribe in the flatlands of the eastern Ouaka region. "The Peuls had killed my uncles and I was ready to commit reprisals," said Josephine, now 14, sitting in a bright yellow dress under the shade of a mango tree in her school playground. "Our job as children was to decapitate the bodies of dead enemy soldiers," she said, her face blank and betraying no emotion. Children have been enslaved and used as fighters and human shields by rival militias who have recruited up to 10,000 under 18s since largely Muslim Seleka rebels briefly seized power in 2013, triggering waves of violence and reprisal killings, according to the U.N. children's agency UNICEF. It was during a gunbattle across the lawless, mineral-rich floodplain in 2013 that Josephine was recruited by the so-called anti-balaka, a largely Christian militia that tried to inflate its ranks with children who could be easily mobilised against the Peuls. Her brigade of 111 soldiers included 42 children at the height of the conflict in 2013, during which the opposing militias used blood-thirsty tactics, ransacking villages and stealing livestock, said Josephine, twiddling a biro in her fingers. "The Peuls had no hesitation in killing my uncle and his brother so for me it was the same. I got it out of my system," Josephine said. Her name has been changed for her safety. BRUTALITY The red-soil scrubland of Ouaka is some 200 km from the capital Bangui, where Pope Francis was due to arrive on Sunday seeking to heal Christian-Muslim divisions. His visit comes with the city still tense from a fresh bout of fighting in September. In Ouaka, the anti-balaka are often involved in deadly skirmishes with ethnic Peul fighters of the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), a Muslim splinter group of the Seleka coalition, which controls CAR's northeast. Nearly three years of inter-religious conflict in Central African Republic have been characterised by shocking brutality and abuses on both sides. A number of ex-child combatants have told UNICEF they were forced to disembowel deceased pregnant women and to kill their own parents as a form of initiation into the armed group. But the proportion of under 18 year-olds in rebel ranks has fallen sharply, UNICEF said, spurred by the signing of an internationally-sponsored pact in Bangui, in May, under which the armed factions agreed to demobilise all child soldiers as part of CAR's transition towards elections now set for Dec. 27. More than 5,000 children have been released from armed groups since the beginning of 2014, the U.N. agency said. Josephine, who stayed with the anti-balaka for two years, was one of 1,300 children, 213 of them girls, to be released as part of a UNICEF scheme this year which presented her with a choice - go back to school or to start a business. "I turned my back on the armed groups and decided school was the way forward," said Josephine, suddenly distracted by the uproar of songful children bursting out of classrooms in the heat of the early afternoon. NUMBERS GAME In Ouaka's main town, Bambari, where a river divides Muslim and Christian communities, former child combatants have set up businesses with sponsorship through a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Nda. "I used to carry weapons," said shaven-headed Mahmoud, 16, an ex-UPC member whose real name has been changed. He spent two years with the UPC, whose leaders also forced him to carry out menial tasks such as cooking and cleaning equipment. "I used to think being a soldier was the way forward but now I want to make clothes for money," said Mahmoud, his eyes lighting up as he drew green cotton from an a rainbow of spools in a tiny mud-walled tailor's shop in the town's main market. A $300 grant from UNICEF, paid in installments, gave him the capital to buy textiles and a sewing machine, which he uses to stitch clothes, making him one of the more successful ex-fighters to enter the rehabilitation programme. Others can be reluctant to leave the armed groups fearing they may be stigmatised in their home community after playing a role in the conflict, said Benoit Daoundo, UNICEF's head of child protection programme in Bambari. Daoundo said he was concerned that fresh tensions in CAR, which saw an upsurge in fighting two months ago, had created fertile conditions for children to re-join the rebels. The violence caused the postponement of internationally-backed elections to the end of the year, but both the UPC and the anti-balaka have said they are adhering to the U.N.-backed process to release children from their ranks. "We have already freed all the children associated with our group. They are no longer part of the UPC," Ali Daras, the UPC's leader, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in Bambari, close to the border with Democratic Republic of Congo. Daras, dressed in a white shirt, and his young uniformed fighters, many of them ethnic Peuls, control Bambari, a vital gateway to barely exploited diamond and gold mines that analysts say could one day transform CAR into an export powerhouse. Despite assurances from Daras and anti-balaka commanders that those remaining in their ranks are all over 18, the U.N. mission, MINUSCA, whose 10,800 uniformed peacekeepers patrol towns and cities across the country, is unconvinced. "The armed groups have not let go of all their children, despite some notable successes," said Diane Corner, Deputy Special Representative to the U.N. Secretary General in Bangui. Despite progress, there are still some children beyond reach because of the intensity of ongoing fighting and the reluctance of the armed groups to adhere to MINUSCA's disarmament programme, U.N. officials say. There are still several hundred children connected to armed groups in Lobaye, a prefecture west of Bangui, as well as close to the towns of Bossangoa, Batangafo and in Markounda region, in the north, said Speciose Hakizimana, UNICEF deputy country representative. "We have little information on the situation in the east," she added. UNICEF said the crisis in Central African Republic was one of the most under-funded of those it was responding to in the world, and that it had only received half of its required 2015 budget of $71 million. (Reporting By Tom Esslemont, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
- The Independent
White nationalist website calls Tucker Carlson’s ‘replacement’ rant ‘one of the best things Fox News has ever aired’
The Fox News host has won the praise of an officially designated hate group after appearing to endorse the racist ‘replacement’ theory
- Business Insider
Pfizer is ramping up vaccine production and will meet its goal of 300 million doses 2 weeks early, its CEO says
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Twitter that his company was ramping up production of its COVID-19 vaccine.
- The Independent
‘Unlike anything we’ve seen in modern history’: Attacks against journalists soar during Black Lives Matter protests
Arrests of US journalists halfway through 2020 outnumber number of jailed reporters in China in 2019
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The 2021 golf season’s second major championship will be played May 20-23 outside Charleston.
- The Independent
Fox News host under fire for defending white nationalist conspiracy theory
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A 27-page report, which summarizes the best assessments of analysts from across the 18 different agencies within the intelligence community, has identified China as the biggest threat to U.S. global influence.
- The Independent
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Daunte Wright: Obamas say police killing reveals ‘how badly we need to reimagine policing and public safety’
Following ‘another senseless tragedy’, former first family stresses urgency for ‘nationwide changes that are long overdue’ to address racial inequities
- Architectural Digest
These fantastical houses range from a 64,000-acre Texas ranch to an oceanside estate in the south of France Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest
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Japan says it will release more than a million tonnes of contaminated water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear station into the sea.On Tuesday, the government announced a plan to begin releasing the water in about two years.The plant's operator, TEPCO, will filter the water to remove harmful radioactive isotopes.Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga again made his country's argument that the water must be released to decommission the Fukushima plant."We will secure safety which is far above the regulation standards, and the government as a whole will conduct exhaustive measures against harmful rumours. We've judged that oceanic release is a realistic (option)."One isotope that has sparked anxiety is called tritium, as it is difficult to separate from water.However, it is considered to be relatively harmless because it does not emit enough energy to penetrate human skin.Suga says that even still, its concentration in the water Japan dumps would be reduced to around one-seventh of the drinking water standard defined by the World Health Organisation.Other plants around the world routinely pump water with lows levels of tritium into the ocean.But local fisherman have opposed dumping the water for years.And neighbours aren't happy either.China called the move 'extremely irresponsible' on Tuesday, and spokesman for South Korea called the decision unacceptable.Japan has been working closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency since the meltdown.Despite the outrage, the government has pointed out there is simply no more room at the site in the huge tanks that hold waste water.The Japanese government has been keen to stress the filtering and dilution processes.A senior government spokesperson emailed media outlets on Monday to request the term "contaminated" not be used in reporting, arguing it was misleading.
- The Independent
Senator from Texas hauled in more than $5.3 million in 2021 first quarter
- The Telegraph
Boris Johnson could “very easily” be seen as “a truly historic figure” in 100 years’ time according to the unofficial biographer of 10 Downing Street. Sir Anthony Seldon, who has written biographies of Prime Ministers going back to Winston Churchill, said while "the jury is out," history was beckoning the Prime Minister. He added: "He could very easily be one of those figures who people still in 100 years talk about as a truly historic figure who made the weather. I mean, Boris Johnson is a weather maker.” Sir Anthony, widely acknowledged to be a national authority on all matters to do with 10 Downing Street, warned that “anyone who writes off Boris Johnson is, I think, letting their prejudice take over. “Historically, he has been in charge of the country at the time of Brexit and Covid, two massive events in British history. And he won a landslide. “You don't have to be well organised as PM. You just need to have people around you.” Speaking to today’s Chopper’s Politics podcast, Sir Anthony added: “Whatever one thinks about Brexit, it was a historic decision and execution. So the jury's out. “If he can stabilise the country, the economy and society, if he can do something for levelling up and also with COP 26 - Carrie Symonds very keen by his side on that, they're a very strong double act." Turning to the problems facing David Cameron, who is under fire for texting the Chancellor Rishi Sunak when he was working for financial company Greensill, Sir Anthony said: "I think that it is a service to have been Prime Minister and you have to give back to the country. I think you have a duty to ensure that you do something that is going to benefit people, in a not dissimilar way to the monarchy." Sir Anthony advised Mr Cameron "to find his niche, something that truly he believes in, which people can respect and admire and think is appropriate... he has to find something that gains respect and trust". Listen to the full interview with Sir Anthony Seldon on Chopper's Politics podcast, along with Tobias Ellwood MP, chairman of the Defence select committe, and Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, on the audio player at the top of this article or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.
- Business Insider
Fair Isle is a tiny island, smaller than three square miles. Each round of the vaccination programme for the adult population took one morning.
- The Independent
One of the police officers involved has been sacked
- The Daily Beast
Andrew Renneisen/GettyHours after the Biden administration announced that the remaining 3,500 American troops will return from Afghanistan by the twentieth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, a Taliban spokesperson announced a refusal to join U.S.-facilitated peace talks between the Islamic group and the Afghan government.“Until all foreign forces completely withdraw from our homeland, the Islamic Emirate will not participate in any conference that shall make decisions about Afghanistan,” Mohammed Naeem, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s political arm, said on Tuesday.The boycott marks the latest blow to U.S. efforts to strike a deal between the militant group and the government ahead of a scheduled April conference in Istanbul that was viewed as pivotal to Washington’s residual vision for Kabul.Biden About to Make Huge, Last-Second Gamble on AfghanistanA formal Taliban response to the prospective U.S. pullout was not expected until Wednesday when President Joe Biden is slated to formally announce the withdrawal in a speech. Aides said that, following a policy review, Biden decided to zero out forces several months after the original May 1 deadline that resulted from last year’s accord with the Taliban.A crucial unknown in the U.S. withdrawal plan was whether the Taliban will consider Biden to have broken that deal by staying beyond the agreed-upon May 1 date. Biden is gambling that a four-month unilateral delay will not prompt the Taliban into a return to violence against departing U.S. forces.Chris Kolenda, a retired Army colonel who has personally negotiated with the Taliban, cautioned that the Taliban have heard promises of U.S. withdrawal before. He expected the Taliban to require some form of additional material concession to accept a summertime withdrawal.“What happens if four months becomes six, and six becomes eight?” Kolenda asked.An ex-Taliban minister told The Daily Beast that the “Taliban is seriously disappointed with the U.S. for not obeying the historical Feb. 29, 2020 [deal] in which the U.S. made a clear commitment to pull out U.S. troops by the end of April 2021.” He explained that “by prolonging its presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. has shattered the Taliban’s trust.”The ex-minister, who currently serves as a member of the Taliban military commission, asserted that “[The Taliban] is not tired of war. We have time. The U.S. should leave Afghanistan to Afghans.”But Laurel Miller, a former State Department special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had expected the Taliban to accept the delay, provided they see real evidence of U.S. withdrawal coalesce imminently.“If it really looks certain that the U.S. is leaving by September, and the wheels will have to be in motion quickly—it will be in the interests of the Taliban to facilitate that, and that means not attacking U.S. forces on their way out,” Miller told The Daily Beast. “It’s also in their interest to preserve some possibility of good-enough relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world if and when they come to power.”Shortly after the U.S. withdrawal announcement, the United Nations, Turkey, and Qatar announced that they will hold a long-anticipated conference on Afghanistan peace in Istanbul from April 24 to May 4, beyond the timeframe of the 2020 U.S.-Taliban accord. That conference is crucial to the Biden administration’s hopes of reaching a power-sharing deal between the government of Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban and staving off an outright battlefield victory and regime change by the Taliban.Yet it is that conference that Naeem said the Taliban will not attend.Biden has sought to end the U.S.’ longest overseas war, a war that he treated with skepticism and antipathy as vice president due to the U.S. inability to triumph. Last month he told ABC News it would be “tough” to withdraw by the negotiated May 1 deadline and criticized the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, brokered by the Trump administration.Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are scheduled to be in Brussels on Wednesday for discussions with NATO allies. They are expected to brief coalition partners on U.S. plans to withdraw.It remains to be seen whether Republicans and hawkish Democrats on Capitol Hill will resist the withdrawal. Public opinion supports ending the war. Think tanks influential in Washington largely do not. Fears of a post-American collapse of the Afghan government and security forces, justified by Taliban military advances even after the deal and persistent security-force weaknesses, have driven elite discussion of Afghanistan since Biden took office.Sen. Jim Inhofe, the senior Republican on the armed services committee, objected to the withdrawal and called the peg to the 9/11 anniversary “not conditions based.” A senior administration official told reporters that was correct. “A conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever,” the official said.Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the only legislator to vote against the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, the legal wellspring of the Afghanistan war and other aspects of the post-9/11 “forever wars,” praised the apparent pullout. “This is the result of decades of hard work by activists, advocates, and members of Congress committed to ending our forever wars,” she said in a statement.Miller said that while the U.S., the United Nations, and its allies will work diplomatically to sustain a peace effort with the objective of a power-sharing deal, “as soon as the words leave President Biden’s mouth and the effort turns to managing the withdrawal, the oxygen is going to be sucked out of the peace process. That probably suits the Taliban reasonably well at this stage.”The senior administration official also said that al Qaeda currently lacks “an external plotting capability that can threaten the homeland.” Representatives from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA did not substantively respond to a query about whether they concur with that assessment. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director Bill Burns are set to testify on Wednesday before the Senate intelligence committee—which will become the first forum for legislators to stake out their positions on Biden’s withdrawal.Restraining any residual al Qaeda presence on Afghan soil is the primary obligation of the Taliban under the 2020 accord. But the senior official indicated to reporters that while Afghanistan may soon no longer be a theater of the Forever War, Biden accepts that some version of the Forever War will continue. How much Biden will retain is the subject of a review currently underway by Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser.“In 2021, the terrorist threat that we face is real and it emanates from a number of countries—indeed a number of continents—from Yemen, from Syria, from Somalia, from other parts of Africa,” the official said. “And we have to focus on those aspects of a dispersed and distributed terrorist threat, even as we keep our eye on the ball to prevent the re-emergence of a significant terrorist threat from Afghanistan through these repositioned counterterrorism capabilities.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- The Independent
During a memorial service at the US Capitol Rotunda for Officer William Evans, President Joe Biden picked up a toy dropped by the officer’s daughter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told his family that while “no words are adequate” to address their loss, “we hope it’s a comfort to you that so many now know about your dad and know he’s a hero”. “And that the President of the United States is picking up one of your distractions.” Officer Evans was killed outside the Capitol on 2 April after a driver struck two officers before slamming into a security barrier outside the Capitol, then exited the car with a knife, according to police.
If anyone has figured out how to position a corporation as a socially conscious neighbor who still chases profit while keeping useful lawmakers close without appearing to fund their disinformation, there’s money to be made in D.C. right now. How to do business in Georgia has become the latest flashpoint for the ongoing discussion in political circles about just what responsibilities corporations have in shaping the public debate.
- The Independent
US president tells Russian counterpart he will not tolerate cyber-incursions or further election interference
- Associated Press
Johnny Gaudreau scored 36 seconds into overtime and the Calgary Flames beat the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 Tuesday night. Juuso Valimaki and Elias Lindholm also scored for the Flames. Gaudreau and Lindholm each added an assist, and Jacob Markstrom stopped 24 shots.
- FOX News Videos
FOX News correspondent Mike Tobin has the latest developments on 'Special Report'