US Bars Private Charter Flights to Cuba

The U.S. Department of Transportation barred private charter flights to Cuba on Thursday in a move designed to put more economic pressure on the Cuban government.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted the decision.“Today, I asked the Department of Transportation to suspend private charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba. The Castro regime uses tourism and travel funds to finance its abuses and interference in Venezuela. Dictators cannot be allowed to benefit from U.S. travel.”The order was issued on the birthday of the late Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro, who was the country’s prime minister and president. He died in 2016.The ban will go into effect for most flights on Oct. 13.The U.S. has taken similar actions against Cuba in the past year. The Transportation Department in May limited the number of charter flights to Cuba at 3,600. Last October, the U.S. also suspended regularly scheduled flights to Cuba, other than those to the capital, Havana.President Donald Trump has been increasing economic pressure on Cuba throughout his presidency.  

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WHO: Congo Facing Growing Ebola Crisis

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing a growing Ebola outbreak in its northwest Equateur province in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. At his COVID-19 news briefing in Geneva on Thursday, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the outbreak is a “worrying” development, with 86 cases confirmed in the province.  He said the DRC government faces significant logistical challenges in trying to rapidly investigate and respond to the outbreak because the cases are spread over a vast area, sometimes separated by more than 250 kilometers, and many areas are accessible only by helicopter or boat. Tedros said the WHO has about 100 staff in the DRC and is working with the Ministry of Health, nongovernmental agencies, and people in communities to address the outbreak. He said his agency has also released $2.5 million in emergency response funds to support the immediate response. But he said more funding is needed to bring the outbreak under control and urged the international community to contribute.  He said the WHO, working with the DRC government as well as local and international partners collectively defeated a similar outbreak in the eastern part of the country, what he called “one of the most difficult Ebola outbreaks the world has ever faced.” Tedros said he knows from experience that this is not just a matter for one country’s health security. “It is a matter of global health security. Whether it’s COVID-19, Ebola or other high impact epidemics, we must be prepared, we need to be on high alert and we need to respond quickly.” 

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Nearly 130 Killed in South Sudan’s Warrap State After Argument During Disarmament Exercise

Nearly 130 people have been killed and thousands more displaced in violence over the past week in South Sudan’s Warrap state, according to a South Sudanese army spokesman.During a government campaign Saturday to disarm civilians in Tonj East County, an argument erupted between a group of youths and soldiers in the town of Romic, according to County Executive Director Makuei Mabior.The clashes left 127 people dead, including 82 civilians, according to Army spokesperson Major General Lul Ruai Koang.“Unfortunately, the number of casualties on the side of our civilians is rising,” Koang told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus on Thursday. He said 45 soldiers were among the dead.Family members missing Tonj East resident Makol Tong accused soldiers of killing and raping civilians. Tong, who fled his home and is in hiding with one of his children, said he is still searching for several members of his family.“I am now with only one child. Five other children are still missing; their mother is missing too, my brother, my sister and my mother all are still missing until now. I only managed to escape with this one child,” Tong told VOA.Many people hiding in the bush like himself are in desperate need of food and medicine, added Tong.“For these five days we have spent here, we are surviving on wild leaves. I pick them, chew it and give it to my child. I chew another and swallow it for myself. That is how we are surviving here,” he said.One local woman, who asked not to be identified, said she tried to escape Romic when she heard gunshots. She alleged a group of soldiers captured and gang raped her Saturday evening.“I was trying to collect my things in the market when they caught me. They were like 10 men. Right now, my abdomen is hurting and there is no hospital I can go to,” the woman told VOA.Military waiting for informationMajor General Koang on Thursday would neither confirm nor deny accusations that soldiers raped and killed civilians.“I can only confirm after I get in touch with relevant authorities on the ground,” Koang told South Sudan in Focus.Need for foodLocal chief Mawan Dhur is urging government officials to punish two generals who led the disarmament exercise.“Perhaps the government of Kiir doesn’t want us anymore, the way it has shot at us,” Dhur told South Sudan in Focus, referring to South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir. “There is no weapon they have not used against the civilians here. They have used all kinds of artillery, including tanks. I would like to tell the government, if you don’t have another agenda against us, rescue us from hunger and give us medical supplies.”  

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Islamist Insurgents Capture Strategic Port in Northern Mozambique   

Islamist insurgents have captured a strategic port in the restive province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, local military officials told VOA.      The takeover of the port of Mocimboa da Praia on Wednesday came after five days of fierce clashes between the insurgents and Mozambican security forces.  The insurgents still held the port on Thursday, according to Mozambican officials.    Since 2017, Islamist militants, some of which are affiliated with the Islamic State terror group, have been carrying out attacks against civilians and Mozambican armed forces. The violence has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced over 210,000 others, according to the United Nations.      IS-affiliated media released images showing dead bodies allegedly of Mozambican soldiers, as well as weapons and ammunition seized from the military.    In April 2019, IS claimed the so-called Central African Province, known as IS-CAP. Terror attacks carried out by IS-CAP have so far been limited to Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo.      The recent fighting has reportedly left at least 55 Mozambican military personnel killed and 90 others wounded.      Strategic port   The port of Mocimboa da Praia is a strategic site in Cabo Delgado, particularly for gas companies operating in the resource-rich region.   
  
Several foreign oil and gas firms such as ExxonMobil and Total have investment projects in the area, but they have largely been disrupted due to militant attacks and the coronavirus pandemic.     The insurgents reportedly took control of the port after a Mozambican naval force defending the vicinity ran out of ammunition.     A military source told VOA that a private South African military unit of the Dyck Advisory Group, which provides air support to the Mozambican government in combating insurgents, tried to join the battle. But its involvement was minimal, due to a helicopter refueling stop in Pemba, Cabo Delgado’s provincial capital.      “I don’t understand why [the towns of] Macomia, Mueda or even Palma were not used” for the helicopter refueling, said the source, who has been embedded with the military in Cabo Delgado’s operations.      During the last battle, the insurgents sank one of the HV32 interceptor boats in the port that belonged to the Mozambican military, the source told VOA.   Eric Morier-Genoud, a Mozambique expert at Queen’s University Belfast, says while it is not the first time that Mocimboa da Praia has fallen under the control of militants, the “difference is that the government has reinforcement and mercenaries, and they still lost.” “The insurgents said they wanted to stay at once and make it their capital,” he told VOA.    Displaced people   Many residents of the affected areas in Cabo Delgado have sought refuge in the nearby province of Nampula.   Salome Said, 70, left Macomia when it was recently attacked by the insurgents.  “Their intention was to kill me,” she told VOA. One of them said, ‘Leave her. She is an old woman.’ That was how I escaped. But my house was set on fire. I lost everything, and ran away from my village to find peace here in Nampula,” she said.  Said now lives with her niece. She said the militants killed her 16-year-old grandson and kidnapped other young people, adding that “being alive is a miracle.”  
  
There are about 10,000 displaced people, mostly women and children, from Cabo Delgado who now live in Nampula.   
Caritas, a charity organization affiliated with the Catholic Church, has provided aid to the displaced families in Nampula.     Orlando Fausto, a bishop who works with Caritas, said his organization has supplied food and other essential needs.  Despite the difficult situation due to the pandemic, “There are more people who are volunteering to make some contribution,” Fausto told VOA.   Adina Suhele contributed to this report from Nampula, Mozambique.    

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WHO Official Urges Equitable Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccine in Africa

A senior World Health Organization official is calling for the equitable distribution of a future COVID-19 vaccine in Africa, warning that the virus will continue to spread if some countries are left behind. WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti sees worrying signs that nations in Africa may be among those last in the queue of low-income countries to receive a vaccine against COVID-19.  She notes some high-income countries that are financing the production or research of vaccines are reserving supplies for themselves.While it is understandable that governments would want to protect their own people, she tells VOA she hopes they are considering the needs of other countries as well. “We are continuing to analyze how this would work,” said Moeti. “We are continuing to advocate very strongly for this equity principle to be adhered to and respected by everyone and that we all work together to make sure that countries, low-income countries, least developed countries are not disadvantaged when it comes time to having access to a vaccine.”  Moeti warns it would be short-sighted of wealthy countries to think only of themselves.  In this interconnected world, she says, no one is safe until everyone is safe, adding a virus knows no borders.  She says COVID-19 will continue circulating around the world until everyone is protected from its deadly sting.She says a vaccine is not a magic bullet and nations must not wait to take action until a safe, effective vaccine is developed—a process that will take many months.  In the meantime, she says it is absolutely essential that countries continue to identify cases, trace contacts, isolate them and minimize the spread of the virus.“Even more importantly, people’s understanding, knowledge and behavior to protect themselves, prevent the virus, prevent themselves spreading to others by wearing masks, by physical distancing whenever it is feasible, by hygiene measures, hand washing, cleaning surfaces in different places are very, very important,” said Moeti.  Moeti notes even when a vaccine is available and affordable, it will take some time to roll it out.  Until then, she says, preventive measures must continue.Latest reports put the number of coronavirus cases in Africa at nearly 1.1 million, including more than 23,000 deaths.  Moeti says cases are increasing as the virus moves from high density urban areas to rural areas that have a lower population density and as communities ease up on lockdown restrictions.She says countries must remain vigilant as curbing COVID-19 is a marathon and not a sprint.

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Pakistan Army Chief to Visit Saudi Arabia in Quest to Smooth Ties

Pakistan’s army chief will visit Saudi Arabia this weekend, officials said, seeking to calm diplomatic strains over Kashmir as financial support for Islamabad hangs in the balance.
 
The two countries are traditionally close and Saudi Arabia in 2018 gave Pakistan a $3 billion loan and $3.2 billion oil credit facility to help its balance of payments crisis.
 
But Riyadh is irked by criticism from Pakistan that Saudi Arabia has been lukewarm on the Kashmir territorial dispute, two senior military officials told Reuters, motivating General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s planned fence-building visit on Sunday.
 
“Yes he is traveling,” Pakistan army spokesman Major General Babar Iftikhar told Reuters, though the official line was that the visit was pre-planned and “primarily military affairs oriented.”
 
India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full.
 
Pakistan has long pressed the Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting to highlight alleged Indian violations in the part it controls.
 
But the OIC has only held low-level meetings so far.
 
“If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told local media last week.
  Money at stake
 
Last year, Islamabad had pulled out of a Muslim nations forum at the last minute on insistence by Riyadh, which saw the gathering as an attempt to challenge its leadership of the OIC.
 
Qureshi’s remarks have revived Riyadh’s anger, one of the Pakistani military officials and a government advisor said.
 
Saudia Arabia had already made Pakistan pay back $1 billion two weeks ago, forcing it to borrow from another close ally China, and Riyadh is yet to respond to Pakistan’s request to extend the oil credit facility.
 
“The first year (of the oil credit facility) completed on 9th July 2020. Our request for an extension in the arrangement is under consideration with the Saudi side,” a Pakistani finance ministry official told Reuters.
 
Saudi Arabia is also asking for another $1 billion back, officials at Pakistan’s finance ministry and one of the military officers said. The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 
Pakistanis account for more than a quarter of the 10 million expatriates working in Saudi Arabia.
 
Pakistani leader Khan is also seeking to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran, after attacks on Gulf oil interests that Washington blamed on Tehran, though he said recently that was progressing slowly.

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