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ASWAN, (Xinhua) -- Tourists take photos in front of the Great Temple of Abu Simbel during the Sun Festival in Aswan, Egypt, Oct. 22, 2016. During the Sun Festival, crowds gather before sunrise to observe sunlight gradually enlightening the sculptures of King Ramses II, Re-Harakhty and Amun. XINHUA PHOTO: ZHAO DINGZHE

UNHCR says 33,000 Somali refugees
repatriated from Kenya’s Dadaab camp  

NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Saturday more than 33,000 Somali refugees living at Kenya’s Dadaab camp have returned to their motherland since December 2014.

“In total, as of Oct. 15, 33,178 Somali refugees had returned home since December 8, 2014, when UNHCR started supporting voluntary return of Somali refugees in Kenya, out of which 27,077 were supported in 2016 alone,” a UNHCR report said.

The report said some 517 refugees had been repatriated in the past two weeks by flight, adding that flight movements have now resumed and are currently operating three days per week.

“Owing to the suspension of reception of road convoys by the (Somalia’s) Jubaland administration, the operation began facilitating return to Baidoa by flights,” it added.

According to the UNHCR, road convoys were suspended from Aug. 30, after the Jubaland administration told the UNHCR Somalia it would not receive any more returnees until “integration process” inside Somalia was addressed.

The UNHCR said two flights would continue to transport returnees to Jubaland every two days a week until further notice.

Jubaland, which borders Kenya, is an autonomous region in southern Somalia.

UN agencies in Somalia held a meeting with the Jubaland administration last month, after which they said Jubaland agreed to cooperate in the reintegration of the returnees.

Kenya says it is working with the UNHCR to repatriate the over 300,000 Somalis living at Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp. It said earlier this year it would close Dadaab, citing security concerns.

Last week, the UNHCR said a total of 26,819 Somali refugees had in principle confirmed their intention to return home and were waiting to be facilitated to start their journeys.


Two killed in suicide car bombing in Somali capital

MOGADISHU, (Xinhua) -- A suicide car bomber killed two people and injured four others on Sunday evening in the Somali capital Mogadishu, a local official said.

Bondhere District Commissioner Qasim Abdullahi told reporters at the scene that the suicide bomber detonated his car outside an eatery near the Daljirka Dahsoon Monument in Bondhere district.

Daljirka Dahsoon is “a popular place for people in the evening”, said Abdullahi.

Police and witnesses said there was a huge blast, sparking panic.

“We heard a heavy blast near Daljirka. Everybody was running around and we learned it was a car explosion,” witness Hassan Shire told Xinhua.

No group has yet claimed responsibility, but Somalia-based Islamist group Al-Shabaab carries out frequent attacks in the country, many of them in Mogadishu.


MOGADISHU, (Xinhua) -- Somali police force checks the wreckage of the suicide car in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, Oct. 23, 2016. A suicide car bomber killed two people and injured four others on Sunday evening in the Somali capital Mogadishu, a local official said. XINHUA PHOTO: FAISAL ISSE

News Analysis: Kenya’s urban crime surges despite anti-terror success

NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- Experts have warned about the rising crime rates in Kenyan cities as the country’s security forces focus on the war against terrorism.

National leaders, security experts and investors have expressed concerns over the surge in armed robberies, carjacking and abductions which threaten economic growth and social cohesion in the East African nation.

Based on police records, violent crimes have escalated in different parts of the Kenyan capital Nairobi since mid October.

This week alone, ten hardcore criminals were shot dead by police in several parts of Nairobi and lethal weapons including an AK-47 rifle and Ceska pistols were recovered.

A bizarre incident that involved lynching of three robbery suspects by an irate public was reported by police on Thursday when Kenya celebrated the Heroes’ day.

Despite assurances from senior police officers, ordinary Kenyan citizens and foreigners residing in major cities have expressed concern over escalating robberies, murders and kidnappings.

Security experts who spoke to Xinhua on Friday said that Kenya must reframe its strategies of fighting urban crimes, which have almost surpassed terrorism to become a leading national security threat.

Simiyu Werunga, a Nairobi-based security expert, said that criminals have exploited a vacuum occasioned by too much concentration of personnel and resources on the war against terrorism.

“My take is that even as the country makes significant headway in the fight against Somalia-based terror group, Al-Shabaab, we are losing the battle against violent crime that has assumed crisis proportion lately,” Werunga said.

He urged the government to invest in state of the art technology and personnel in order to enhance response to urban crime.

“The police force should be equipped with modern technology to enhance tracking of criminals. Likewise, surveillance cameras should be installed along major highways, shopping malls, banks and market centers to record movement of criminals,” Werunga told Xinhua.

He added that Kenya should devote more attention to domestic security threats that bodes ill for the country’s economic progress and stability.

Police records indicate that Nairobi alone has more than a dozen criminal gangs comprised of young men and women that have operated in low-income suburbs located on the eastern fringes of the capital.

The gangs are behind the current wave of violent robberies, carjackings and burglaries reported in residential and business premises.

Police say retail shops and mobile money transfer outlets are their prized destinations, while entertainment spots in wealthy Nairobi suburbs are also a major target.

The Kenyan police service has responded to a public outcry over a spike in violent crime in Nairobi streets and residential premises with enhanced patrols. 


Kenya plans to introduce toll roads

NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- Kenya will develop a policy to introduce toll roads with private sector participation, an official said Friday.

The director of the Kenya National Highway Authority, Peter Mundinia, told Xinhua that relevant stakeholders will soon meet to develop the policy.

“The policy will then be forwarded to cabinet for approval and thereafter endorsed by parliament,” Mundinia said.

He said that the government is planning to introduce user fees on some of the high-traffic highways.

“Public resources are not adequate to maintain the roads in good condition and so we plan to introduce fees,” he said.

According to him, under the new policy, firms from the private sector will build and operate roads for 25 years and then hand them over to the government after recouping their investments.

Six road projects have already been chosen to be the first toll roads, including the 487 km Nairobi-Mombasa highway and the 160 km Nairobi-Nakuru highway.

Next month, the roads agency will hold a meeting with potential investors.

“The private sector is expected to inject 700 million U.S. dollars for the Nairobi-Nakuru road project and recoup investment by charging roads users,” he said.

According to the official, the first toll roads in Kenya will be operational in the next five years.

He also said the Nairobi-Mombasa road will be divided into three parts to make it easier for private investors to undertake the project. 


Tanzania calls for laws to check migration, cross-border crimes

DAR ES SALAAM, (Xinhua) -- A senior Tanzanian government official has proposed for the enactment of laws to govern migration of people to Europe and within the southern African region and check cross-border crimes.

Augustine Mahiga, the east African nation’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said on Friday the scourge of illegal migration and cross-border crimes has increased rapidly in recent years both towards Europe and within southern Africa.

He was speaking in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam at the opening session of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)-European Union (EU) Policy Dialogue on peace and security.

He said: “Terrorism and cross-border organized crime continues to impact countries around the world.”

Mahiga added: “A number of African teenagers have been killed when attempting to migrate to European countries and within southern African countries.”

On democratization, the minister said SADC member states have made significant progress in conducting democratic elections.

“We have made deliberate efforts to ensure that the member states adhere to the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections,” said Mahiga.

Stergomena Lawrence, the SADC Executive Secretary, said SADC and EU regions are faced with various challenges related to peace, security and stability in different forms and intensity.

Lawrence said: “It is important to note that SADC and EU share many aspirations with regard to our ambitions to foster peace, stability and democratic governance and enhanced public security as fundamental elements in strengthening regional integration and social economic development.”

She said SADC has adopted an anti-terrorism strategy and regional strategy to combat illegal migration, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons.

“We hope that the EU has also developed responses to the migration crisis and several policy instruments related to EU cooperation with respect to counter-terrorism,” she added.

Roeland Van De Geer, the EU head of delegation to Tanzania, said the EU will continue nurturing the long standing partnership with SADC countries. 


Spotlight: Officials, lawyers propose tougher laws against kidnappers in Nigeria

LAGOS, (Xinhua) -- Government officials and lawyers in Nigeria have proposed tougher laws to curb frequent occurrence of kidnapping in the countryn with death penalty being suggested.


Kidnapping has become a social problem in Nigeria as criminal gangs in different parts of the West African nation are holding citizens hostage for ransom.

The Cameroon-based African Insurance Organization (AIO) said kidnapping has become a monster.

“Nigeria is now the kidnap capital of the world, accounting for a quarter of globally reported cases,” the AIO said.

The NYA International, a United Kingdom-based global risk and crisis management consultancy, placed Nigeria on top among the five countries with the largest numbers of cases of kidnapping in the world between January and June 2015.

Another United Kingdom-based risk-control consultancy, which tracks kidnapping cases globally, said Nigeria has risen to the fifth position in the world in terms of kidnapping, just behind Mexico, India, Pakistan and Iraq.

The deadly Islamic insurgency in the North and militancy in the Niger Delta seem to have fueled this degeneracy.

In April 2014, Boko Haram terrorists captured 276 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in the country’s northeastern state of Borno.

A total of 57 girls managed to escape over the next few months after they were abducted and 21 were freed in October 2016, but nearly 200 girls are still in captivity.

With the recent suspension of the pipeline operation mostly in southwest Nigeria, the criminals no longer had access to the oil money and they resorted to terrorizing other citizens.

Abdullahi Chafe, the police chief in Kogi State, said kidnappers now target elderly people with well-to-do children outside the state and compel their children to pay ransom.

Crime rate has reduced by about 70 percent in the state as kidnapping and armed robbery no longer take place on highways but in individual homes, said Chafe.

The stop-and-search security measure and other security strategies introduced by police to improve security of the state has paid off handsomely, he said.

Medical doctors, for unknown reasons, are prime targets. Early this year, doctors reportedly embarked on a strike in southern Rivers State to protest against the incessant abduction of their members.

Public figures were also major victims of kidnapping in Nigeria with several cases reported in 2015 and 2016.

The latest case was Margaret Emefiele, wife of the Nigerian Central Bank Governor, who was kidnapped early this month with four others on Benin-Agbor road in southern Edo State.

In September 2015, Olu Falae, a former secretary to the Government of the Federation, was kidnapped in his farm in southern Ondo State.

In April 2016, Iyabo Anisulowo, a former senator, was kidnapped in her home state of Ogun, which is located in the southwestern part of Nigeria.

The two have since regained freedom after spending days in captivity, but the conditions under which they were released remained unclear.

While the police claimed to have rescued them, many victims and their families have been paying ransom without calling the police.

Security analysts believed that the situation requires radical and creative countervailing measures.

Akeem Gbadamosi, a security expert, said the Department of State Services needs to step up its intelligence activities on kidnapping.


In a move to tackle repeated cases of kidnapping in Lagos, where about 20 million people live, a private member bill sponsored by the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, seeks death penalty for kidnappers.

Obasa condemned the trend of kidnapping in the state, saying that the kidnappers should be punishable by death penalty.

Those who engaged in the crime were not fit to live, said Obasa.

The bill comes after two cases of kidnapping in the state in which gunmen stormed schools and kidnapped school children.

The children in both cases have been released by their abductors.

The bill prescribes that any person, who kidnaps, abducts, detains or captures, or takes another person by any means, or tricks him or her with the intent to demand ransom, is liable on conviction to a death sentence.

Attempt to kidnap attracts life imprisonment, while false representation to release a kidnapped or abducted person, under Section 4, attracts seven years imprisonment, the bill stipulates.

The bill also provides that any person, who knowingly or willfully allows or permits his premises, building or a place belonging or occupied to which he has control of, to be used for the purposes of keeping a person kidnapped is guilty of an offence under the law.

Such a person can be sentenced to 14 years in prison without an option of fine, according to the bill.

States like Abia and Anambra, where kidnapping was once rife, adopted tough measures with laws imposing death penalty on kidnappers and mandatory demolition of the properties of kidnappers.

Richard Komolafe, a lawyer from the United Action for Change, commended the move for stiffer penalty for kidnappers, but said that death sentence was no longer fashionable all over the world.

Komolafe said hanging itself is inhuman by conventions as against life imprisonment.

Seri Sholebo, a Chief Magistrate in Lagos State, said it was fundamental to add conspiracy to kidnapping, as the ministry had not been able to convict offenders of conspiracy since 2011. 


Nigeria extends anti-piracy operation by 3 months

LAGOS, (Xinhua) -- The Nigerian government Friday said an anti piracy operations has been extended by three months to tackle incessant attacks on merchant ships by criminals.

Ibok-Ete Ibas, the country’s Chief of Naval Staff, made the remarks in the southern city of Onne in Rivers State, adding that the navy has reduced incessant attacks on merchant ships by pirates on the nation’s territorial waters.

Ibas said deployment of several warships was responsible for the decline.

“In order to sustain the gains of the earlier operation for optimum performance and benefits, it has become imperative to extend it by another three months,” he added.

“It is instructive to note that attacks on shipping have substantially declined since the commencement of this operation, relative to what obtained between January and April 2016,” he said.

“This is because only four attacks on shipping have been reported during the period as compared to 45 incidences of piracy reported from Jan. 16 to April 16,” the navy chief told reporters.

According to him, the navy operation was aimed to stem the rising wave of attacks on shipping and other criminality within Nigeria’s maritime domain, particularly in the offshore areas.

Ibas said the operation would enable merchant ships move their cargoes freely, while sustaining protection of oil and gas installations for improved revenue for the country.


AU mission in Somalia probes killing of civilians by its soldiers

MOGADISHU, (Xinhua) -- The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) said on Friday it had launched a probe into the circumstances of a shooting by its soldiers that killed a driver and injured two others in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Wednesday evening.

The head of AMISOM Francisco Madeira said in a statement the accident happened after a convoy carrying civilian contractors were stopped at an AMISOM camp for routine security check.

“Unfortunately, one of the soldiers conducting the security check accidentally shot a driver dead and injured two others. The injured were immediately ferried to AMISOM Level II hospital for treatment,” the statement said.

The AU envoy said the families of the deceased and the injured had been notified of the incident and regretted “this very unfortunate development.”

Madeira said “a final conclusion on the circumstances” would be reached soon.

AMISOM troops are helping the Somali government battle Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, which stages frequent attacks in the country. But there had been incidents involving AMISOM troops against civilians.

In April, AMISOM troops  killed four civilians near Bulla Marer in southern Somalia in what the AU mission called an accident, sparking protests by locals.

In July, AMISOM troops were accused of killing 14 civilians and injuring three others in Wardiinle location, southern Somalia. 


Somali pirates free 26 hostages held since 2012

MOGADISHU, (Xinhua) -- Somali pirates on Saturday released 26 people who had been held hostage for nearly five years, an organization involved in mediation efforts said.

An Omani-flagged fishing vessel FV Naham 3 was hijacked south of the Seychelles in March 2012, according to John Steed, a regional coordinator of the organization, Oceans Beyond Piracy.

“Of the original 29-member crew, sadly one died during the hijacking and two more succumbed to illness during their captivity. The remaining 26 crew members spent much of their captivity on land in Somalia,” Steed said in a statement.

The hostages are all men and are from China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“They have spent over four and a half years in deplorable conditions away from their families,” said the statement.

The statement added their release represented the end of captivity for the last remaining seafarers taken hostage during the height of Somali piracy.

It however said the threat of piracy remains, and urged the shipping industry to continue to follow the Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia-based Piracy to reduce risks.

China on Sunday confirmed the release of the captives.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the 29 crew members kidnapped included 12 Chinese, of them 10 from the Chinese mainland and two from Taiwan.

Meanwhile, three of the hostages, including one from the Chinese mainland and another from Taiwan, had died, Hua said.

Hua said the 26 men released had arrived in Kenya with UN intervention. Chinese officials had met the Chinese crew members and would accompany them on their trip back home.

Hua said the Chinese government offers its sincere gratitude to all the organizations and people involved in the “rescue operation”, and best wishes to the released crew members. It also sends its profound condolences to the families of the three deceased crew members.

A report released by the International Maritime Bureau of the International Chamber Commerce in July said piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia had fallen to its lowest levels since 1995 with only one incident recorded in the past six months.

The report attributed the fall to operations by foreign warships. Chinese naval fleets have been involved in escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia since 2008.

The report, however, said that there has been a surge in kidnappings off West Africa.


Burkina Faso Police kill alleged jihadist, arrest others

OUAGADOUGOU, (Xinhua) -- Burkina Faso’  Police on Sunday killed an alleged jihadist Saturday night during dismantling operation in the north-west suburb of the capital Ouagadougou.

The alleged jihadist, with an explosive and a pistol in hand, was killed during gunfire exchange as security and defense forces were dismantling jihad supporters recruitment network, police said in a news release.

“The operation led to the arrest of suspects and the investigation is underway”, security authorities said, adding that no exact members of suspects were arrested in the operation.

According to the National commissioner of the police, Lazare Tarpaga, police were informed that criminal suspects were trying to recruit youths to join their groups.

The country has been experiencing terrorist attacks over the few past years as well as coup attempts that involve soldiers of the disbanded former special presidential security guard unit who served under Blaise Compaore.


Burundian police arrest reporters for allegedly destroying evidence

BUJUMBURA, (Xinhua) -- Burundian police said they had arrested two journalists, including a United States national and a BBC’s local employee, on Sunday morning.

Julia Steers, a U.S. citizen, and Gildas Ihundimpundu, a Burundian journalist working for the BBC were arrested at the 9th Avenue at Mutakura while taking pictures of a mass grave, Burundian police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said.

“They are accused of planning to destroy evidence that insurgents killed people and dumped them in that mass grave,” Nkurikiye said.

Nkurikiye told Xinhua that the two journalists had not informed the local administration or the police of their visit at Mutakura in the north of the capital Bujumbura. 

“Their goal is to destroy evidence that insurgents killed people and dumped them there,” said Nkurikiye.

According to him, both journalists are being heard by investigators as well as representatives of the Burundian Media Council (CNC).

CNC Chairman Ramadhan Karenga told Xinhua that the U.S. journalist was later released after the CNC confirmed that she had an accreditation.

“The U.S. journalist has been released but the Burundian journalist is still in the hands of the police because he has not registered with the CNC,” said Karenga.

On Aug. 25, Steve Irakoze Gisa, a dual Burundian-Rwandan journalist working for Burundi-based Buja FM was arrested and released after spending one week at the custody of the Burundi National Intelligence Service (SNR).

He was accused of posing a threat to Burundi’s security after police agents browsed through his mobile phone and said it contained subversive information.


14 Egyptian police detained over 6 criminals’ deadly jailbreak

CAIRO, (Xinhua) -- The Egyptian prosecution decided on Sunday a 4-day detention of 14 policemen over a recent jailbreak of six criminals in the Suez Canal province of Ismailia, northeastern the capital Cairo, official MENA news agency reported.

The fire exchange during the escape from Al-Mustaqbal (Future) Prison on Thursday night left a policeman killed and another wounded, while a citizen who happened to pass by the prison was randomly shot dead during the confrontations.

Ismailia prosecution charges the 14 policemen, including three officers, with gross negligence and they are currently in custody for four days pending investigation.

Some Egyptian local media said that machine guns had previously been smuggled into the prison to facilitate the criminals’ jailbreak. 


Zambian president names commission to probe election violence

LUSAKA, (Xinhua) -- Zambian President Edgar Lungu has named a 15-member Commission of Inquiry to probe the causes of political violence before and after the August 11 general elections, his office has said in a statement.

During his inauguration speech after being declared winner of the election, Lungu had promised to constitute a Commission of Inquiry to look at the causes of electoral violence.

Presidential spokesperson Amos Chanda said the Commission of Inquiry would be headed by Justice Munalula Lisimba.

The statement noted that the Commission will examine to what extent the pre-election violence could have influenced the voting patterns as well as the role of political parties, traditional leaders and the media in shaping voting patterns and instigation of violence among others.

The Commission has been tasked to submit its report to the Zambian leader within 120 days from the date of appointment, he added.

Zambia witnessed unprecedented violence in the run-up to and after the elections.


Update: Egypt court confirms Morsi’s 20-year prison sentence over violence

CAIRO, (Xinhua) -- An Egyptian court confirmed on Saturday a 20-year prison sentence against deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, official MENA news agency reported.

Egypt’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, rejected Morsi’s appeal, rendering the prison sentence final, convicting the former president of inciting clashes between his supporters and opponents outside the presidential palace in late 2012 that left 10 people dead.

The same court on Saturday also cancelled the 25-year jail term against the Brotherhood’s top chief Mohamed Badie and six others including former supplies minister Bassem Ouda, ordering their retrial before different courts over similar charges.

The defendants have been accused of urging confrontations between Morsi’s loyalists and opponents that left at least 10 people killed and 20 others injured outside a mosque in Giza following Morsi’s removal.

Morsi was removed by the military in July 2013 in response to mass protests against his one-year rule.

Later security crackdown against his loyalists, mostly from the Brotherhood, left about 1,000 killed and thousands more arrested while the group was eventually blacklisted as a terrorist organization.

In May 2015, Morsi and 106 of his Brotherhood supporters received initial death sentences over a mass jail break following the 2011 uprising that ousted the country’s long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Later in June 2016, a criminal court handed Morsi 25-year jail and announced confirmation of death sentences against six other Brotherhood loyalists over conspiring with militant Hamas and Hezbollah groups and leaking classified documents to Qatar against Egypt’s national security.

Since Morsi’s ouster, Egypt has been facing growing anti-government terrorist attacks that left hundreds of police and military men killed, with a Sinai-based militant group loyal to the Islamic State (IS) regional group claiming responsibility for most of them.

On Saturday, a senior military general, who served in restive North Sinai province, was shot dead by three unknown assailants outside his home on the outskirts of the capital Cairo.

A week earlier, at least 20 soldiers were killed in blasts and armed attacks in North Sinai, and the security forces retaliated by killing around 100 militants and wounding 40 others.

Overall, the security forces killed over 1,000 militants and arrested a similar number of suspects in the chaotic peninsula as part of the country’s “war against terrorism” declared by then military-chief and now-President Sisi. 


Roundup: Khartoum welcomes U.S. “positive” stances towards Sudan

KHARTOUM, (Xinhua) -- Sudan welcomed the U.S. officials’ recent statements which reflected positive stances towards the war-torn country.

On Saturday, the U.S. envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth, who is currently visiting Sudan’s Darfur region, told reporters that “war and arms are no longer the appropriate way to resolve Sudan’s issues.”

He explained that Washington has asked the Chief African Mediator Thabo Mbeki to put pressure on the Sudanese armed groups and reject opposition forces to join Sudan’s national dialogue.

Booth’s statements came contrary to previous U.S. stances that regarded the national dialogue conference, which recently concluded, as not leading to resolving Sudan’s issues because key players did not participate in it.

On Oct. 10, the national dialogue conference concluded its sessions and approved the dialogue’s national document which is to be the base for the country’s permanent constitution.

However, major armed movements have refused to participate in the conference, including the Revolutionary Front Alliance, which brings together the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)/northern sector and the major Darfur armed movements, besides major political parties, top of them the opposition National Umma Party.

The second U.S. stance was represented in a statement attributed to Mark Toner, U.S. deputy spokesperson of the State Department, which was widely reported by local Sudanese media Saturday and in which he urged South Sudan government to stop supporting Sudanese armed groups.

“The United States calls on the Government of the Republic of South Sudan to comply with its commitments to cease harboring or providing support for Sudanese armed opposition groups, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 2046,” said Toner in the statement.

Sudan’s foreign ministry welcomed the stance of the U.S. State Department and regarded it as a “positive stance.”

The ministry reiterated in a press release the importance for the South Sudanese government to fulfil its commitments recently signed with Sudan to expel the Sudanese armed groups and preventing them from launching any armed act from its territories against Sudan in accordance with the security arrangements agreement signed by the two countries.

In a related development, the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Friday availed South Sudan until the end of current year to implement the agreements signed between the two sides.

In September 2012, Sudan and South Sudan signed a cooperation agreement in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa under the patronage of the African Union.

The agreement included a package of understandings related to security, citizens’ status, border and economic issues and others related to oil and trade. However, the signed agreements did not tackle the issues of Abyei and border demarcation.

The border issue is the biggest obstacle to the settlement of differences between Sudan and South Sudan.

Khartoum repeatedly accuses Juba of supporting and sheltering the rebels of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)/northern sector, which are fighting the government at South Kordofan and Blue Nile areas, besides the armed groups which are fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The Sudan-U.S. ties have been characterized by continued tension where the U.S. has been imposing sanctions on Sudan since 1997 and putting it on its list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

Since then, Washington has been renewing its sanctions on Sudan due to the continuing war in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions besides a number of outstanding issues with South Sudan, including the disputed oil-rich area of Abyei.

However, in February 2015, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it had decided to loosen the sanctions on Sudan via allowing exports of personal communications hardware and software, including smart phones and laptops.

It said the move aimed at helping the Sudanese citizens integrate into the global digital community.

In October last year, Washington also expressed readiness to cooperate with Sudan in the field of counter-terrorism.

According to economic reports, Sudan’s losses due to the U.S. sanctions amounted to over four billion U.S. dollars annually.

Sudan has also been witnessing an escalating economic crisis since the secession of South Sudan in 2011, which has greatly affected the Sudanese economy as the country lost around 70 percent of its oil revenues. 


Feature: Pumpkin farming catches on in Kenya amid dry weather

By Robert Manyara NYERI, Kenya, (Xinhua) -- In an effort to remain resilient to hostile environment, farmers in central Kenya region have embraced farming of pumpkin, an orphan crop well performing in water stressed areas.

They have also learned different ways of diversifying its use, a progress attributed to the ongoing sensitization of farmers from various food production stakeholders.

George Muraya has three acres of a high producing and drought resilient variety of pumpkin in Nyeri, north of capital Nairobi. He said it’s the best choice a farmer can make to escape from hunger.

“You only need two cups of water each week per fruit,” said Muraya, who grows a variety called opica. It is a graft of jolladale and rock mass species, he said.

“This variety is highly resistant to diseases and does well in arid and semi-arid areas because it can survive with low rainfall,” said Muraya.

In cold areas, the crop matures between 28 to 32 weeks while in hot regions, it is ready for harvest in 17 to 20 weeks, he said.

“In moderate weather it can mature in 20 to 24 weeks. It is a crop that can grow anywhere,” he said.

Kenyans living in at least two thirds of land in the country fall in either arid to semi-arid zones with minimal or zero agricultural activities.

It is in these areas that the National Drought Management Authority shows the need for redress to upscale food production.

As temperatures continue to rise as a result of the impact of the devastating climate change, more areas are turning into unfavorable farming zones, an inevitability the Kenyan government is aware of.

Kenyan economy is mainly anchored in farming, which provides more than 85 percent of the population jobs spread across the whole production and consumption chain.

“We will be able to address the issue of hunger if we had people in the areas such as Baringo, Kilifi, Garissa or Mandera growing pumpkin. These are dry areas and there are others in various parts of the country,” said Muraya.

Presently, more than 1.3 million are threatened with hunger and malnutrition in the Eastern, North Eastern and Coastal parts of the country.

Worse still, the Kenya Meteorological Services has in the latest forecast predicted a rather dry season in most parts of the country till the end of the year.

This as it indicates will affect farming activities but advises farmers to consult agricultural officers on the appropriate crops to grow during the season. In Muraya’s farm, each plant of pumpkin produces 45 fruits.

On average, each fruit weighs 20 kilograms. And one unit of weight goes for 1.8 U.S. dollars. To enhance its shelf life, the fruit is dried and milled into flour used for various purposes as preparing ugali, porridge as well as well as cakes.

He also makes juice out of the fruit rich in vitamins. It is the realization of the existing benefits and markets for the produce that has also drawn Paul Kabuchwa into pumpkin farming.

“You can eat pumpkin at any time of the day,” said Kabuchwa who jointly runs the three acre farm in Nyeri with Kabuchwa.

“We should not be having farmers sticking to crops that fail. The weather is changing and it’s impossible to feed ourselves if we cannot grow what can survive in bad weather,” said Kabuchwa.

He said the proceeds from the crop farming are encouraging since they have a ready market in the cities and other farmers in various parts of the country.

Out of will to change the farming landscape in the country, the two visit farmers in their farms to educate them on pumpkin farming.

“We have been to Coast, Eastern, Western, Rift Valley and some parts of Central Kenya, meeting farmers in groups and as individuals,” said Muraya.

“And we already have so many of them growing pumpkin. And it is very encouraging.”

For decades, many Kenyan communities regarded pumpkin as a traditional crop but it is these changing temperatures and preferences that have catapulted interest in converting it into one of the emerging cash crop in a country of more 40 million people to feed.

Recently, the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Willy Bett said the government will continue to support farmers in becoming more resilient to climate change through supplying varieties of seeds of crop that perform well in low rainfall.

He also said they are making all efforts to encourage farmers to grow orphan crops to boost food security, which can in the long-term lower levels of hunger and poverty.

With other enlightened farmers like Muraya and Kabuchwa taking part in spreading the information, it is expected that the country will be steady in feeding its population in the midst of harsh climatic conditions. 


Tanzania imposes ban on plastic bags effective Jan. 2017

DAR ES SALAAM, (Xinhua) -- Tanzanian authorities has advised plastic bags producers in the east African nation to adopt new technologies of making biodegradable bags saying the plastic bags will be banned from January 1, 2017.

“Plastic bags will not be used in the country from January 1,” Luhaga Mpina, the Deputy Minister in the Vice-President’s Office responsible for Environment, told a Parliamentary Committee on Industries, Trade and Environment on Friday.

The minister presented a draft ban regulations which indicated that there will be an exemption on plastic bags used in medical services, industrial packaging, construction industry, agricultural sector and in sanitary use and waste management.

Mpina added that there will also be a special phasing out exemption time of up to two years for plastic bags manufacturers either to shut down their facilities, laying off workers or changing technology.

“For industries which will still have raw materials to process the bags which were ordered before the official announcement of the ban will be allowed to manufacture the bags provided if the bags will be for export only,” said Mpina.

He said the plastic bags have been causing devastating pollution and the government has tried since 2006 to set regulation to combat the problem by banning the use of plastic bags below the width 30 microns.

In 2015 the ban was extended to plastic bags below the width of 50 microns, but now they have decided to do away with the matter altogether, he added.

The minister said in Dar es Salaam alone authorities spend up to 5 million U.S. dollars annually to repair water supply infrastructures due to blockages caused by the plastic bags. 

For their part, the Members of Parliament expressed concern over the government’s aptitude to stop illegal importation of plastic bags.

Mushtak Walij, the chairman of Plastic Manufacturers Association of Tanzania (PMAT), said the manufacturers had no problems with embracing the biodegradable technology.

However, Walij said importing chemical additives to make biodegradable bags will increase the production costs by between 20 to 25 percent.


Massive capital investment boosts Nigeria’s economy: accountant general

LAGOS, (Xinhua) -- The on-going massive capital investment by the Nigerian government is helping the country to get out of a recession gradually, a top official said Friday.

Speaking at a forum in Abuja, the nation’s capital city, Idris Ahmed, Accountant-General of the Federation of Nigeria, said the recent announcement by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa demonstrates the resilience of the economy.

“The IMF rating confirms the resilience of our economy and the resilience of Nigerians in terms of coming out of this recession,” he added.

“It also goes to confirm the massive capital investments that are being made by this government and it is not just by the Federal Government but by the state governments as well,” the official said.

“So, we will come out of this recession. It is just a matter of time,” Ahmed said.

The IMF, in its Economic Outlook Report for October, projected Nigeria as the biggest economy in Africa ahead of South Africa and Egypt despite the worst economic recession Nigeria faced in 29 years.

Nigeria entered a recession on Aug. 31, when figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics showed the second quarter Gross Domestic Product fell 2.06 percent year on year, after slipping 0.4 percent in Q1. 

Financial experts have called the the West African country’s economic situation “the worst possible time ever,” with many predicting that it may take up to three years before the country can come out of the recession. 


UN reports financial shortage for Madagascar aids

ANTANANARIVO, (Xinhua) --  The United Nations agencies face a financing gap of 124 million U.S. dollars in its aids provision in Madagascar, a joint statement from the UN agencies said Friday.

From October 2016 to April 2017, the World Food Programme (WFP) faces a shortage of 69 million dollars out of a total need of 82 million dollars for its operations in Madagascar.

WFP needs the money to provide food assistance to 1 million people by the end of next month, to provide food to more than 200,000 pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under five years,  and to assist some 230,000 children through the school feeding program in southern Madagascar.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also requires an additional 36.5 million dollars to increase its efforts in southern Madagasca.

UNICEF said the funds will allow it to increase water supply and sanitation to 850,000 people and health interventions for the 350,000 people living far from a health center. The money will help treat 10,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, transfer cash to 4,000 families and provide education to 200,000 children.

Out of 22 million dollars needed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), only 3.5 million is available at its pocket and the organization is still looking for the the rest.

With the funds, FAO plans to give immediate response to 850,000 farmers in the most affected districts, providing them with seeds, tools and supporting their livestock production.

Some 92 percent of the population in Madagascar lives on less than 2 dollars per day. The El-Nino phenomenon has worsened the situation by plunging the deep south of the country into an alarming food insecurity. 


Egypt’s exports 1 bln USD up, imports 7 bln USD down: minister

CAIRO, (Xinhua) -- Egypt’s exports increased by one billion U.S. dollars since the beginning of this year while imports decreased by seven billion U.S. dollars, the country’s trade and industry minister said in a statement on Sunday.

“The fields of construction materials, chemicals, fertilizers, food industries and furniture are on top of the sectors where exports have increased,” said Trade and Industry Minister Tarek Kabil, referring to the period from January to September 2016 compared to the same period last year.

He added that the rising exports and declining imports over the past 10 months contributed to reducing the country’s budget deficit by eight billion U.S. dollars.

Egypt’s budget deficit has exceeded 35 billion dollars in the outgoing fiscal year 2015/2016, which led the country to resort to a 12 billion U.S. dollars loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) whose initial agreement has been reached in August.

The minister said the large decline in imports “represents a great chance for Egyptian industries to replace imported products with local ones.”

Egypt’s has recently seen a sharp decline in its main foreign currency resources including tourism, which led to a large hike in dollar price and a wide gap between its official and black market exchange rates, affecting many import-based businesses.

Economic reforms, the IMF loan, tourism recovery and rising exports are hopeful steps for the country’s to revive its struggling economy.

“Exports represent one of the most important sources of foreign currencies, so raising our export rates requires improving the competitiveness of Egyptian products in the local and foreign markets,” the trade and industry minister explained.

Kabil said that his ministry is currently preparing a new strategy to double exports within the next five years in cooperation with all export sectors in Egypt. 


Feature: All-women blind orchestra in Egypt brings light to darkness

CAIRO, (Xinhua) -- Clapping of audience at Egypt’s Opera House lasted several minutes after an Egyptian orchestra composed of blind girls magically performed one of the most famous pieces of Beethoven.

It is not the first time the Al-Nour Wal Amal (Light and Hope) Chamber Orchestra plays at Egypt’s most elite house of music as the group, which consists of some 40 visually impaired and completely blind female musicians, has performed across the country over the past four decades.

Dubbed the fourth Pyramid of Egypt, the orchestra has also played in 24 countries in five continents and was highly applauded by foreign audiences.

The orchestra won its uniqueness as it is the only chamber orchestra in the whole world entirely composed of blind musicians who play western classical music as well as oriental music.

The orchestra works under the umbrella of the Al-Nour Wal Amal Association, a non-profit organization founded in 1954 that provides education and professional training for visually impaired and blind girls to integrate them into society.

In addition to the main orchestra, the association also has a junior orchestra composed of younger girls.

All female musicians graduated from the Music Institute of Al-Nour Wal Amal Association.

Wearing white veils and black gowns, the all-women orchestra amazed the audience with their efficiency and professionalism as they performed the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Rossini, Verdi and Bizet.

“We learn the musical piece in Braille and then we have to memorize it by heart,” 31-year-old violist Shaimaa Yahiya told Xinhua in the backstage minutes before the concert started.

Yahiya, who is also an English language teacher, said this requires great efforts since it is not easy to memorize the sheets of tens of musical pieces and songs and play them with a group.

Even for a well-trained sighted musician, playing in the Al-Nour Wal Amal Chamber Orchestra is not easy, because the musicians have no music notes or conductors to follow during the performance, Yahiya said.

The orchestra is composed of girls and women of different ages, from school children to university students and graduates, and with different levels of music education.

Yahiya said students there learn to play their musical roles separately and they train twice a week as a chamber orchestra, adding that the orchestra has all four sections, strings, woodwind, brass and percussion.

“I joined the orchestra when I was 12 years old...it was a dream that has come true,” she said as she tuned her violin. “My life would have been so different if I did not join the orchestra. It really changed my life to the best.”

Yahiya said that she feels proud that the orchestra is playing an important role in spreading classical music among Egyptians who are not big fans of this genre of music.

For her colleague Shaimaa Mukhtar, who plays the oboe, a flute-like instrument, being a member of the orchestra made a notable difference in her life.

“I do not feel that I’m a person with a disability at all, thanks to the orchestra and the people who supported me to join it,” Mukhtar said as her visually impaired fiancé stood next to her in the backstage.

The 30-year-old Arabic language teacher said she feels that she is very distinguished in music. “I may have not been a musician at all if I were a sighted person,” she said.

“The orchestra has given me much, maybe more than I have expected,” she revealed as holding her fiancé’s arm.

The orchestra has a long history, said Amal Fikry, vice president of Al-Nour Wal Amal Association. It was founded in 1961 as a regular music school and in 1972 the orchestra held its first performance outside the premises of the Association at the old Cairo Opera House.

In 1988, Fikry said the Chamber Orchestra performed for the first time abroad in Austria, adding that the orchestra gained international reputation, fame and recognition after the trip.

“The second generation performed in Vienna, the audience was so delighted to see the girls and could not believe how clever they were,” Fikry added as the girls were finalizing the rehearsal before the concert.

“The first, the second and the current third generations traveled 30 times around the world, visiting five continents and performing in 24 countries,” the lady said.

Fikry noted that the two orchestras, the junior and the main music have 65 girls, adding that 20 more girls are now learning at the music institute of the association.

Today, Fikry said, a fourth generation Orchestra composed of school children is being trained, to follow the successful path of the former generations of musicians of Al Nour Wal Amal Chamber Orchestra.

“These young musicians have already won the hearts and admiration of audiences in Cairo,” she said. 

CAIRO, (Xinhua) -- Female musicians from the Al-Nour Wal Amal(Light and Hope) Chamber Orchestra perform at the Opera House in Cairo, Egypt on Oct. 21, 2016. The Al-Nour Wal Amal(Light and Hope) Chamber Orchestra, consisting of some 40 visually impaired and completely blind female musicians, played at Egypt’s most elite house of music on Friday. XINHUA PHOTO: AHMED GOMAA

Kenya’s runners lead Frankfurt marathon elite field

NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- It is a dream to wear the shoes of his mentor and big brother Martin Lel, but Paris marathon champion Cyprian Kotut now wants to follow his own path as he seeks a second title in as many attempts on Sunday during the Frankfurt marathon.

Kotut hopes a good run in the German city will move him closer to his target, getting a national team call ahead of the 2017 World Championships in London.

“I want to represent the country in international competition. My elder brother was good and he won London and New York races. I hope to go the same path and now the challenge ahead is in Frankfurt and hopefully, I will be able to excel,” he said.

Kotut triumphed at this year’s Paris marathon and improved his best by almost two minutes to 2:07:11. The 24-year-old will be eager to run another personal record on Frankfurt’s flat course.

The Kenyan will be up against compatriot Mark Korir, a former winner of Paris (2015) and Ethiopia’s Tadese Tola.

“Korir is a good racer and I hope it will help us get faster time. It is a big field with everyone keen to outdo the other. I will study the race as it proceeds and not put much pressure on myself and then we see what time best to attack,” he added.

Korir, who was the only Kenyan to finish the Beijing World Championship marathon race from Kenya, in position 22 clocking 2:21:20, has not had a good season and will be keen to redeem his image in Frankfurt. 


ALEXANDIA, (Xinhua) -- Players of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrate after claiming the 2016 African Champions League title in Alexandria, Egypt, on Oct. 23, 2016. South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns won the 2016 African Champions League on Sunday by defeating Egypt’s Zamalek with a 3-1 aggregate victory in the two-leg finals. XINHUA PHOTO: AHMED GOMAA

Kenya’s Jepchirchir pulls out of Frankfurt marathon

NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- World half marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya has withdrawn from the Frankfurt marathon race, which will be held on Sunday because of poor preparations.

Earlier this year she finished fourth at the Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon and cut 55 seconds off the women’s course record on her way to claim the Yangzhou Jianzhen International Half Marathon in April.

But she has had niggling injuries and will not be ready to compete on Sunday in Frankfurt.

“I must say I am disappointed not to be running in Frankfurt. I had wanted to taste the waters and see how the ultimate distance is like, but I have to wait. My focus will now turn to the track where I want to compete for Kenya in the 10,000m at the World Championships in London,” she said on Friday.

In March, Jepchirchir had said she was not keen to run the marathon, but changed her mind. She felt she is not ready and did not want to push he body further because she felt her training hadn’t gone well enough.

Last year’s runner-up, Dinkinesh Mekash, will return to Frankfurt, looking to improve on the 2:23:12 personal best time she set in the German city in 2015.

The field also includes the likes of 2011 Frankfurt marathon winner Mamitu Daska and Germany’s Fate Tola.

Fellow Ethiopian Sutume Asefa has also been added to the field. The 22-year-old made her marathon debut earlier this year, clocking 2:24:00 in Dubai. She followed that with a runner-up finish in Rotterdam.

Kenya’s Sarah Chebet (2:27.59) and Doris Chengeywo (2:31.05) will also be putting the best foot forward as they seek to secure the title.

Ethiopian Meselech Melkamu holds the course record at 2:21:01 in Frankfurt, which has stood since 2012 and many of the competitors will try to break it.

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