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A group of delegates from the Afghan government and the Taliban last week approved a “roadmap for peace” during a conference on ending the 18-year civil war. The meeting produced one of the most detailed peace plans yet, but uncertainty remains over the absence of a cease-fire agreement and the Taliban’s commitment to the discussions.
About 70 delegates, including women, civil society members, government officials, and some members of the insurgent group, attended the conference in Doha, Qatar. In a joint statement, both sides committed to setting up an Islamic legal system, defending women’s rights, and ensuring representation for all ethnic groups. The nonbinding statement said all sides will refrain from attacking public institutions and targeting civilians and will release “elderly, incapacitated, and ill prisoners.” They also pledged to avoid inflammatory comments to “not fuel the conflict and revenge.”
German special envoy on Afghanistan Markus Potzel said the meeting was only the first step and told Afghan-based Tolo News that subsequent conferences are expected to happen in Uzbekistan or Europe.
The United States toppled the Taliban’s leadership in 2001 and maintains about 14,000 troops in the country. The Taliban and the Islamic State Khorasan Province to carry out attacks on civilians and security forces. Previous efforts to hold talks between the Taliban and Afghan government failed because the Taliban called Afghan government officials “American puppets” and refused to sit down with them.
Thomas Ruttig, the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, explained that the delegates attended the latest conference in their personal capacities “in order to circumvent the Taliban’s rejection of direct talks with the Afghan government.”
Despite the progress, the agreement failed to lay out a clear stance on a cease-fire, a major concern for civilians. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded 581 civilian deaths from January to March from insurgents, pro-government forces, and airstrikes. Taliban insurgents on Saturday killed three security officials and 10 other people in an attack on a commercial building in the western Baghdad province.
“Too often the Taliban’s words and deeds are contradictory, as the many civilian casualties in attacks that targeted military installations showed,” Ruttig said. “But neither have critics shown any realistic alternative on how to end the 40-year war—which is the most bloody worldwide—without talking and compromising with the Taliban.”
U.S. Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the United States is hopeful the talks can result in a more detailed framework by Sept. 1, ahead of the Afghan presidential elections slated for Sept. 19. The Taliban and the United States, led by Khalilzad, are also holding talks in Qatar to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Associated Press/Photo by Pills Kolo
Bodies of victims in Karida, Papua New Guinea, on Monday
At least 30 women and children died last week in Papua New Guinea in one of the worst upticks in tribal violence.
The attack on July 8 began early in the morning in the village of Karida in Hela province. At least two of the murdered women were pregnant.
Community health worker Philip Pimua told The Guardian he was in his house when the gunfire started and he saw some homes burning, “so I just ran away and hide in the bush. Then later on, about 9 or 10, I came back and saw bodies chopped into pieces and houses were burnt.”
Provincial Gov. Philip Undialu told Reuters the violence was retaliatory and some of the victims had offered shelter to people targeted by an earlier attack weeks ago. “Both attacks were made in an innocent community where people were not expecting it, and all of us are in a state of shock.”
Tribal violence displaces thousands of people each year in the country.
Prime Minister James Marape condemned the attack on Facebook: “In memory of the innocent who continue to die at the hands of gun-toting criminals, your time is up.” —O.O.
Associated Press/Photo by Chamila Karunarathne (file)
Bodies of victims lie inside St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, in April
Months after the deadly Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, some Christians say attitudes toward them have shifted for the better, making it easier to share their faith.
Wendy Nagle of Global Disciples told Mission Network News that one of their facilitators says the country is more accepting of Christians in the wake of the tragedy. “As they offered forgiveness, their country just couldn’t believe the response,” Nagle told MNN, noting that Buddhist and Muslim leaders told Christians they would have sought revenge for the bombings. “They were literally in awe of the forgiveness that was being offered by the Christian churches.” Now, Christians are meeting and speaking publicly in a country where it used to be difficult to share Christianity, she said.
Joy Mariaratna, a Claretian priest in Sri Lanka, told Crux in late May he had seen “an intense thirst” for faith since the attacks that killed more than 250 people, adding, “These bombs have rekindled in their hearts a desire for Jesus Christ.” —Julia A. Seymour
Associated Press/Photo by Jossy Ola (file)
Men identified by Nigerian police as Boko Haram fighters in Maiduguri, Nigeria
Two Nigeria-based extremist groups have recruited more than 8,000 children since the start of an insurgency in 2009, the United Nations reported last week. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime said Boko Haram and the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) have used children as combatants and forced girls to marry, among other violations of international law. “Due to the difficulties associated with collecting reliable data, it is likely that these figures are underestimated,” the group said.
On June 17, one boy and two girls set off suicide explosives in Borno’s Kodunga village, killing at least 30 people.
Boko Haram’s insurgency began in northeast Borno state, and the group continues with sporadic attacks. ISWAP emerged as an offshoot of Boko Haram in 2016 under the leadership of Abu Mus’ab Al Barnawi over disagreements about targeting civilians. —O.O.
Associated Press/Photo by Malcolm Foster
Pakistani refugees and asylum-seekers at an Urdu-speaking church on the outskirts of Bangkok
Immigration officials in Thailand raided several homes in Bangkok on July 8, arresting 51 Pakistani Christians requesting asylum, UCA News reported. Authorities took the men, women, and children to an immigration detention center known for its squalid conditions. “They even took sick old people who can’t walk anymore,” a Pakistani Christian asylum-seeker told the news site. Another said officers “roughed up” some Christians during the arrests.
Hundreds of fearful Christians have fled Islamic Pakistan for Thailand but live in limbo because they came on now-expired tourist visas. Thailand considers them illegal immigrants rather than asylum-seekers. —J.A.S
Uncertainty remains over the insurgent group’s commitment to peace
Health officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday confirmed the first Ebola case in the city of Goma along the border with Rwanda since the outbreak began nearly a year ago. The health ministry said the case involves a pastor who traveled by bus from one of the worst-hit towns of Butembo to Goma after he fell sick on Tuesday.
Ebola cases in Congo have topped 2,000 since August, and more than 1,600 people have died in the world’s second-worst outbreak of the disease. Last month, health officials reported the first cross-border transmission in Uganda. Health ministries in neighboring towns remain on alert and have already vaccinated frontline health workers.
Congo’s health ministry said it tracked down all passengers who shared a bus with the infected man. “Because of the speed with which the patient was identified and isolated, and the identification of all the other bus passengers coming from Butembo, the risk of it spreading in the rest of the city of Goma is small,” the agency said in a statement.
Mark Cassayre, the top U.S. diplomat in Geneva, on Monday said the United States would “provide more in the coming months” to aid the response to the outbreak. European Union Ambassador Walter Stevens said the bloc would also review the possibility of scaling up its response. —O.O.
INDIA: Less than an hour before liftoff, the national space agency called off the launch of an unmanned rover, which was scheduled for the early hours of Monday and had ignited national interest. The launch was set to take place just as the United States marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing on Saturday. My colleague Jamie Dean profiles the man at the controls that day, Charlie Duke.
ROMANIA: “There will be no one working in Romania for a few days because people will be celebrating Simona’s great victory,” said former Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci following Simona Halep’s victory over Serena Williams to become Romania’s first singles champion at Wimbledon. Comaneci put Romanian sportswomen in the limelight after she scored a perfect 10 at the 1976 Olympics.
SOUTH AFRICA: Ousted President Jacob Zuma made his first appearance before a commission looking into widespread graft and corruption (known as “state capture”) under his African National Congress leadership. He defended his leadership and said he was the victim of multiple conspiracies.
AFGHANISTAN: A U.S. special forces officer was killed during combat operations on Saturday, as talks with the Taliban to wind down the war continue this week with Pakistan joining the United States, China, and Russia at the table—with significant pushback from U.S. generals.
SRI LANKA is seeing spiritual revival following the Easter bombings at three churches that killed more than 250 people.
IRAN: The movement among women to remove the hijab, or head covering, is growing.
GLOBAL: Follow here for livestreaming of the U.S. State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which formally begins Tuesday. I’ll be attending it and numerous side events, plus speaking on Wednesday as part of a panel on the journalist’s role in highlighting abuses.
FRANCE: Vincent Lambert, the quadriplegic at the center of a euthanasia battle, has died. The case highlights the complexities in French law on difficult end-of-life cases, and was used to press for legalizing euthanasia.
IRAN: A British warship confronted three Iranian boats that tried to block a British tanker entering the Strait of Hormuz. In Brussels, the United States threatened further sanctions over what it calls “nuclear extortion” in Iran’s latest enrichment gambit, and on The World and Everything In It I explain what’s behind that.
BRITAIN: Ambassador Kim Darroch resigned his post to the United States after a British tabloid on Sunday reported on leaked cables in which the diplomat disparaged President Donald Trump. Trump, no surprise, fired back.
QATAR: There’s reason to oppose arms sales and an expanded economic partnership with Qatar, despite the White House rolling out the red carpet this week.
Top religious freedom advocates have signed a letter challenging D.C. law firm Squire Patton Boggs over its representing “the world’s most aggressive persecutors of people of faith,” including Qatar.
MAURITANIA: A fledgling church of mostly Muslim converts (Mauritania is 99.75 percent Muslim, according to Operation World) is using SD and SIM cards to translate Scripture and provide it clandestinely, one pastor recently explained to me. Yet the church faces frequent threats under a tightened apostasy law.
BURKINA FASO: Watching here a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis, with 170,000 people displaced, largely stemming from jihadist violence targeting Christians.
CANADA: Heads of state are polishing their bona fides ahead of next week’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau giving a speech on his record of protecting the persecuted, even though he closed the government’s Office of Religious Freedom and eliminated the budget to support related projects abroad.
UNITED STATES: The State Department’s second annual ministerial appears set to draw more than 1,000 officials, religious leaders, and advocates from around the world next Tuesday through Thursday in Washington. I’ll be on hand and speaking Wednesday on “the role of the journalist in highlighting abuses.”
RUSSIA: Since most of us haven’t read the Mueller report, never-to-miss author Mark Bowden and comic illustrator Chad Hurd were commissioned to give it some POW!
The family of Vincent Lambert has confirmed he died at a hospital east of Paris on Thursday morning after 11 years of court battles over whether to discontinue his food and fluids. Doctors began to discontinue Lambert’s life support last week after a final ruling from France’s highest court. France does not allow euthanasia, but it does allow doctors to stop providing nutrition and hydration to someone deemed terminally ill or terminally injured.
In 2008, Lambert, a French psychiatric nurse, was in a motorcycle accident that left him mentally impaired and unable to move or eat. He had received food and fluids through a feeding tube at Reims University Hospital but was able to breathe on his own. Lambert’s wife, Rachel, pushed for removal of the tube for years, saying he never would have wanted artificial life support. His Catholic parents, along with two of his eight siblings, fought for continued tube feeding and wanted to put Lambert in a facility for those with disabilities.
On Wednesday, more than 300 people in support of maintaining measures to keep Lambert alive gathered for a vigil outside the Saint-Sulpice Catholic Church in Paris. Some prayed, while others held signs that read, “Indignation.”
Three Iranian paramilitary boats attempted to impede a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday, according to the British government. The Iranian vessels tried to block the British Heritage but retreated when Britain’s HMS Montrose warship positioned itself between the two ships and issued verbal warnings, the British navy said. “We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region,” British government officials said.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard denied the accusations, saying, “There were no clashes with alien boats, especially English boats.” The day before, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Britain would face “repercussions” for aiding in last week’s seizure of an Iranian supertanker suspected of transporting oil to Syria in violation of sanctions.
Iran on Monday exceeded the 2015 nuclear deal’s limits on the size of its low-enriched uranium stockpile and its uranium enrichment level after weeks of escalating tensions. It set a September deadline for world powers to offer a new deal.
Hundreds of activists turned out last week for a solidarity march in support of three women and several witnesses who accused former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh of sexual assault and described the attacks in shocking detail.
A report released last month by Human Rights Watch and Trial International includes an account from Fatou Toufah Jallow, who was 16 when she won a state-sponsored beauty pageant. Jallow said the president showered her with gifts over the next six months, including installing running water at her family home in the capital city of Banjul. After refusing multiple advances, including a marriage proposal, Jammeh finally locked her in a room at the State House and told her he could have any woman he wanted. “She said that he then hit and taunted her, injected her with a liquid, and raped her,” Human Rights Watch reported.
The president, according to the report, also hired “protocol girls,” who worked at the presidential palace, received a state salary, and were on call to have sex with him. Five of his former officials said Jammeh ordered them to get the phone numbers of women he identified. His female cousin, Jimbee Jammeh, allegedly helped him gain access to the women he abused.
Jammeh went into exile in Equatorial Guinea with his cousin after losing the 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow. Extrajudicial killings, torture, and reports of sexual abuse marred Jammeh’s 22-year leadership.
Activists shared the #IamToufah hashtag and donned white T-shirts with the inscription “Our silence is their protection” for a peaceful procession Thursday in Banjul.
“When I was coming out with my story, I did not anticipate this level of public show of support,” Jallow said.
Ousman Rambo Jatta, a spokesman for Jammeh’s political party, rejected the accusations in a statement to the BBC: “We as a party and the Gambian people are tired of the steady stream of unfounded allegations that have been reported against our ex-president.”
In March, an official commission accused Jammeh of stealing up to $1 billion from state coffers. The Truth, Reconciliation, and Repatriations Commission (TRRC) has so far revealed that he personally directed killings, among other findings. Barrow said he would consider repatriating the former leader after the commission hands in its final report.
“These admirable women broke the culture of silence. It is now crucial that the TRRC and the government give them a path to redress and justice,” said Marion Volkmann-Brandau, lead project researcher for Human Rights Watch and Trial International. “It’s time for the ‘shame’ of rape to switch sides.”
Associated Press/Photo by Pasquale Claudio Montana Lampo/ANSA
Capt. Carola Rackete (second from left) at Porto Empedocle in Sicily on July 1
An Italian court last week ruled in favor of the German captain of a migrant rescue ship who rammed through a security blockade and disobeyed orders not to dock in Italy.
Judge Alessandra Vella said 31-year-old Carola Rackete was “doing her duty saving human lives” when she docked the humanitarian ship German Sea-Watch 3 carrying 41 African migrants at the port of Lampedusa. She was placed under house arrest and faced up to 10 years in prison for hitting a border police motorboat while docking after rescuing the migrants off the coast of Libya.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly prevented rescue boats with stranded migrants from docking, saying they only enable traffickers. “Ignoring the law and ramming a motorboat of border police officers aren’t enough motives to go to jail,” Salvini tweeted sarcastically.
Rescue groups argue it violates international law to send migrants back to war-torn Libya, where clashes persist between the forces of Khalifa Hifter’s self-named Libyan National Army and Libya’s internationally recognized government in the capital city of Tripoli. At least 53 people died and more than 130 others sustained injuries last week when an airstrike hit a detention center for mostly African migrants in a suburb of Tripoli. “There are reports that following the first impact, some refugees and migrants were fired upon by guards as they tried to escape,” the United Nations humanitarian office said. —O.O.
Associated Press/Photo by Emily Wang
Alek Sigley at the airport in Beijing on Thursday
A 29-year-old Australian student returned to Tokyo last week after spending one week detained in North Korea. Alek Sigley said in a statement that he had reunited with his Japanese wife in Tokyo. Sigley was pursuing a master’s in Korean literature at North Korea’s Kim Il-sung University and also ran a tour company before he disappeared.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed his release and said Swedish diplomats intervened in the absence of an Australian consul in the country.
Sigley did not explain the reason for his detention. The country’s Korean Central News Agency accused him of spying and said he provided photos to media outlets critical of the country. The agency said he was expelled out of “humanitarian leniency.”
Sigley’s case had a different ending from that of U.S. student Otto Warmbier, who was convicted in 2016 of stealing a propaganda poster from a North Korean hotel. He died shortly after North Korea returned him to the United States in a comatose state.
Sigley thanked his family and the authorities for their support in gaining his release. “I intend now to return to normal life but wanted to first publicly thank everyone who worked to ensure I was safe and well,” he said. —O.O.
Associated Press/Photo by Eugene Hoshiko (file)
Chinese paramilitary police shortly after the riots in Urumqi in western China’s Xinjiang province in 2009
Chinese border officials secretly installed surveillance apps on the phones of visitors entering the remote Xinjiang region, where officials have continued to crack down on Muslim minority groups, The Guardian reported last week. The British newspaper and other international partners uncovered the surveillance after some foreign travelers took their phones to reporters in Germany.
According to the report, officials at the region’s border with Kyrgyzstan collected travelers’ phones and downloaded a Chinese-developed app that extracts emails, texts, and contacts. It also searches against a content list that includes weapons operation manuals, Robert Greene’s The 33 Strategies of War, and music from the Japanese metal band Unholy Grave.
Chinese authorities say about 100,000 people visit Xinjiang every year. The Chinese government is holding as many as 1 million minority Uighur Muslims and other Turkic Muslims in so-called “reeducation camps” in Xinjiang.
“It suggests that even foreigners are subjected to such mass and unlawful surveillance,” said Maya Wang, the senior China reporter at Human Rights Watch. —O.O.
Associated Press/Photo by Tatan Syuflana (file)
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho in Jakarta, Indonesia, in March
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster agency, died Sunday at a hospital in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, where he was undergoing treatment for cancer. He was 49.
Sutopo began working as the agency’s spokesman in 2010. He announced last year he was battling stage 4 lung cancer and might not survive a year. In 2018, his country faced multiple natural disasters, including earthquakes in Bali and Lombok and a tsunami on Suwalesi island that killed more than 2,000 people. Sutopo continued to write press releases with a drip in his hand and between chemotherapy treatments, The Guardian reported.
In November 2018, he said, “Although the doctors say that I don’t have so much time left, in my last days, I want to try to do good, to be useful. That’s so much better than having a long life but making people miserable!” —O.O.
Commission also accuses Yahya Jammeh of financial misconduct
Protesters in Hong Kong Tuesday vowed to continue with their demonstrations despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam saying a controversial extradition bill is “dead.” She told reporters, “There are still lingering doubts about the government’s sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the Legislative Council. So, I reiterate here, there is no such plan, the bill is dead.”
The anti-government protests began last month over proposed amendments to an extradition bill that would make it easier to send criminal suspects to Taiwan and China, where they could face unfair trials. Lam eventually suspended the bill, but demonstrators demanded a formal withdrawal and her resignation. They are also calling for an investigation into a violent police crackdown on protesters.
Tens of thousands of protesters marched Sunday chanting “Free Hong Kong.” Protest leader Bonnie Leung said the organizers will announce details on upcoming activities soon. “We cannot find the word ‘dead’ in any of the laws in Hong Kong or in any legal proceedings in the Legislative Council,” Leung and fellow leader Jimmy Sham said in statements in English and Cantonese. “So how can the government tell us that we should preserve our rule of law, when [Lam] herself does not use the principle of the rule of law.”
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: The International Criminal Court found former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda guilty on 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the mineral-rich northeastern region of Ituri between 2002 and 2003. The 45-year-old warlord known in the decadeslong civil war as “The Terminator” for ordering the massacre, rape, and enslavement of civilians, surrendered to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda in 2013, his trial began in 2015, and he will be sentenced following a 30-day appeal process. The verdict paves the way for reparations for thousands of victims.
IRAN: The escalating crisis with Iran—which has now for a second time violated the limits placed on its nuclear program under its 2015 deal with world powers—has roots in newly discovered—but officially unused—evidence showing its nuclear enrichment capacity far exceeds what was previously detected.
SUDAN: Opposing sides are expected to sign a power-sharing agreement Monday, called by the United States an “important step forward,” as the country’s ruling military council and a coalition of opposition and protest groups form a provisional government for three years. The shaky agreement comes three months after President Omar al-Bashir was turned out of office, and with hundreds killed or wounded in protests.
UNITED STATES: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she is “deeply shocked” by the treatment of migrant children at U.S. border detention facilities—echoing findings of leading human rights groups and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The DHS inspector general in a report released Tuesday called the situation “urgent” and advised the federal government to “take immediate steps to alleviate dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults.”
SYRIA: The United States is formally calling on Germany to replace U.S. troops in Syria in areas controlled by U.S.-allied forces. The U.S. drawdown continues, despite indications of an ISIS resurgence—and Americans in the region who remain unaccounted for.
CHINA is forcing foreigners crossing its border into Xinjiang to install spyware on their phones that gives all text messages and other data to authorities. After physically seizing cell phones and installing the app, it collects all of the phone’s calendar entries, phone contacts, call logs, and text messages, and uploads them to a server, according to expert analysis.
FRANCE: Despite appeals by family members and church leaders, including Pope Francis, doctors have withdrawn life support (including food and water) from quadriplegic Vincent Lambert, 42, who has been in a semi-conscious state for 10 years. “L’affaire Lambert” has focused attention on protecting disabled persons through international law and in France, where euthanasia remains illegal.
CABO VERDE: When you are the U.S. secretary of state, you never forget a national independence day, anywhere.
Greek conservative leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis became the country’s new prime minister Monday after his New Democracy party won a weekend parliamentary election. With at least 90 percent of the ballots counted, Mitsotakis’ party received the largest proportion of the vote to secure an estimated 158 seats in the 300-member Parliament. The extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party narrowly failed to reach the 3 percent threshold to win any parliamentary seats, bucking the rising European trend that has seen populist parties take control. The party said in a statement that it plans to request a recount.
Mitsotakis promised to cut taxes, attract investment, and improve the job market. “Greeks deserve better, and the time has come for us to prove it,” he said.
Former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for the election three months early after his party faced defeat in the European Union and in local elections earlier this year. He conceded defeat and pledged his leftist Syriza party would remain “a responsible but dynamic opposition.”