UN Welcomes Moves to Restart Negotiations on Western Sahara

The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution welcoming stepped up efforts to try to restart negotiations to end the 42-year conflict over the mineral-rich Western Sahara between Morocco and the Polisario Front.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front until the U.N. brokered a cease-fire in 1991. A peacekeeping mission established to monitor it was also mandated to help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future that has never taken place.

Wednesday’s vote on the U.S.-sponsored resolution extending the mission’s mandate until April 30, 2019, was 12-0 with Russia, Ethiopia and Bolivia abstaining.

Bolivia’s U.N. Ambassador Sasha Llorentty Soliz welcomed an upcoming roundtable of key parties but complained that the resolution neglected the crucial issue of self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

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Machar Returns to Juba for Peace Celebrations

President Salva Kiir publicly apologized to South Sudanese citizens Wednesday for the devastation the past five years of conflict has caused and announced the release of rebel leader Riek Machar’s former spokesman James Gatdet, who had been sentenced to death, along with South African citizen William John Endley, Machar’s former security advisor, who was sentenced to death by hanging on spying charges.

“As your president I want to apologize on behalf of all the parties to the conflict as leadership requires acceptance of responsibility,” Kiir told a large crowd gathered at the John Garang Mausoleum for celebrations marking the signing of a revised peace deal last month.

“Those of us who considered ourselves leaders must accept the blame collectively and solemnly promise our people never to return them back to war again,” said Kiir.

The president told the thousands gathered for the party in Juba that he would release Machar’s former spokesman and Machar’s former security advisor.

“One of them is called James Gadtet. We will release him although he was condemned in court,” said Kiir of his former deputy’s spokesman.

Kiir also promised to free South African citizen William John Endley, who was charged with spying, illegal entry into South Sudan, and conspiracy to overthrow Kiir’s government. Kiir said Endley would be released shortly and deported to South Africa.

Regional leaders including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni and newly elected Ethiopian President Sahle Work Zewd attended the celebrations.

Kiir called on citizens and all security agencies to welcome Machar and all other opposition leaders back to the country.

“In the spirit of promoting peace and stability in our beloved nation I ask you all in welcoming and congratulating Dr. Riek Machar and all the opposition leaders who have shown their commitment to the peace agreement by coming to celebrate with us here today in Juba.”

Kiir said their presence “is very strong testimony and proof to all that war is ending and a new era for peace and prosperity is breaking.”

Machar told the jubilant crowd that the SPLM-IO (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement In Opposition) is serious about the Sept. 12 peace deal signed in Khartoum last month and his presence in Juba is a sign that he wants true peace.

“Why are we here today? If we come after eight months, some of you will say we don’t want peace. We want peace. Our heart is on peace like you,” said Machar.

Wednesday marked the first time Machar has returned to Juba since he fled the country in July 2016 after fighting broke out between his body guards and government soldiers in the capital. Machar is to be reinstated as first vice president in South Sudan’s next government.

Reverend Abraham Nyari of the Pentecostal church of Juba said the faithful are praying for peace.

“We as the church people are praying for peace and we are praying for our leaders, especially the president, to bring peace to South Sudan,” Nyari told South Sudan in Focus.

Beatrice Abe, a member of parliament, said both Kiir and Machar must keep their promises to end the war.

“Let them not break what they put together. Remember, they fought together in the bush and brought this nation [together] and it should not be them to break it apart,” Abe told South Sudan in Focus.

But Abe remains skeptical about the amount of progress being made in forming the transitional government.

“The country is already economically unstable and people go for months without salary and it will take a while for this country to establish. We now have a small government but later we are going to have a bigger government and the resources will all go to maintain the bigger government with little to go for the citizens,” Abe told VOA.

Dusman Joyce, chairwoman of the Women’s Caucus in the National Parliament, said the leaders must show a real commitment to ending the war.

“After this celebration, in a few months we need to see that there is free movement of people and humanitarian aid, we need to see the return of the refugees and people are given freedom of speech so that people see that this peace is signed in spirit and letter,” Joyce told South Sudan in Focus.

 

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CAR Defense Minister: Efforts to Rebuild National Army Continue

Throughout nearly six years of civil war, the Central African Republic’s military has struggled to restore peace. Fighting with rebels and militias has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, while accusations of human rights abuses and ethnic bias have left some civilians in fear of their protectors.

The CAR minister of defense, Marie-Noëlle Koyara, hopes to change course. She’s leading efforts to rebuild the military’s reputation and restore the country’s security.

“We want a professional army that will truly be of service to the people,” Koyara told VOA’s French to Africa service in a recent interview.

Koyara said the country is working on various reforms: background checks on soldiers, training, and troop deployments across the country. Military leaders also plan to establish four garrisons in key areas of the CAR.

“For there to be a return to security, it is necessary for our security forces, of which the Central African Armed Forces are part, to be reconstructed, because we have experienced the highs and the lows with this army,” Koyara said.

International players

Much of the rebuilding of the Central African Armed Forces, or FACA, has been supervised by the U.N. Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) and the European Union.

The United Nations has helped vet soldiers, create a biometric database, and rebuild a military camp in Kassai, near the capital, Bangui.

The European Union has trained more than 3,000 security forces in the CAR since 2016 and has recently moved to increase funding for training in the country, the Wall Street Journal reported  this month.

The United States says it is focusing on improving food security for the CAR’s displaced people and providing employment opportunities that make young people less vulnerable to recruitment by militias or extremist groups.

“We need to create a partnership where peace is more profitable than conflict for the people of the Central African Republic,” said Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs. “That’s our goal, and we’ll work on a variety of fronts to see how we can accomplish that.”

Russian presence

One country has played a more active role in CAR’s conflict. Russia has donated weapons and sent about 500 military trainers to the country. As of September, they have trained more than 1,000 soldiers. Russia is also flexing its diplomatic muscles by working with Sudan to mediate a peace deal among CAR rebel groups.

But Russia’s involvement in the CAR has drawn criticism from the international community, which has accused Moscow of destabilizing the CAR and seeking access to its abundant natural resources.

“I think any country that wants to play a constructive role, a law-abiding role, is understandably welcome,” Fitzsimmons said.

“Where I see concern is if we have countries that want to come in and exploit the natural resources, that want to try and run a parallel peace process to the one… under the auspices of the African Union,” she added. “If those partners are not going to be constructive, they aren’t going to be true partners. Potentially they’re going to exploit the resources and continue divisions.”

Russian mercenaries in the CAR have also grabbed headlines in recent months. In July, three documentary filmmakers were ambushed and killed in the CAR while investigating the activities of the Russian military firm Wagner.

Koyara said she was saddened by the loss of life and is anxious to see the results of an inquiry into their deaths. She called on the international community to help the CAR track and remove mercenaries from the country.

“If you look among the armed groups who come to our country, there are mercenaries there also among these armed groups,” she said. “We need to have the means to follow and identify who are the people who come to destroy or destabilize our country. We are a country who has endured a grave crises, and we are returning with great difficulty because we don’t have the means to control everything that happens in our territory.”

This story originated in VOA’s French to Africa service. Idrissa Fall sat down for a studio interview with the Central African Republic Minister of Defense Marie-Noëlle Koyara and Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs Elizabeth Fitzsimmons in Washington at VOA headquarters. Salem Solomon wrote the story based on the interviews.

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Hidden Secrets of America’s Ghost Towns

Clues to America’s past can be found in its ghost towns, once bustling communities that have been abandoned.

The deserted communities show us how the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars shaped the history of the United States, according to Geotab, a telematics company (think global positioning and vehicle tracking), which developed an interactive map showcasing more than 3,000 abandoned towns across America.

Ghost towns are often associated with the Wild West and Texas does have the most ghost towns with 511 abandoned communities. California follows with 346, and Kansas with 308.

Most of the Texas towns were established during the frontier era, from the early to mid-1800s. Mining towns sprang up around rich mineral deposits while the Mexican government’s favorable terms — a promised 4,000 acres per family for a small fee — attracted settlers.

“In the end, some Texas towns were destroyed by natural disasters and droughts, while others failed once the railroad and highway system reshaped transportation routes,” Geotab’s Kelly Hall told us via email.

Towns founded around particular mineral resources were abandoned when demand dried up.

“Once the need declined or resources were scarce, it caused the population or entire town to vanish,” said Hall. “Others were economically overpowered by neighboring towns, the Great Depression or frontier settlements that simply died down.”

Sixty structures still survive in Bannack, Montana, which was founded in 1862. The town flourished when thousands descended on the area with hopes of making their fortune in gold. By 1860, the gold was harder to reach and, despite a brief resurgence in the 1890s, the town was abandoned by the 1940s.

Natural disasters could also wipe out a town. That’s what happened to Fort Jefferson in Monroe County, Florida.

Built starting in 1846, the fort once helped defend the state against pirates, became a prison during the Civil War, was once used as a quarantine station, and then a refueling station for the U.S. Navy. But Fort Jefferson was abandoned in 1906 after it was damaged by a hurricane.

“With limited access to technology and without today’s emergency management advancements, a hurricane, a tornado or an earthquake could mean the total devastation of an entire community,” Hall said.

But some of these ghost towns, such as Fort Jefferson, have gotten a second life as tourist attractions. The residents are long gone, but the buildings, and the unique history of each town, remain.

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Austria Will Not Join Global Migration Agreement

Austria said Wednesday it will join the United States and Hungary in not signing a global agreement meant to minimize the factors that push migrants to leave their home country, while boosting safety, access to services and inclusion for those who are compelled to go.

Nations are due to gather in early December in Morocco to adopt the non-binding Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which was negotiated through a U.N.-led process during the past two years.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his government fears the agreement would pose a threat to its national sovereignty and that it would blur the lines between legal and illegal migration.

Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said there is not and should not be a human right to migration.

Hungary also cited concerns about the agreement going against national interests when it announced in July it would not be part of the pact.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told reporters that contrary to his government’s policies, the agreement would promote migration as “good and inevitable,” and “it could inspire millions” of migrants.

The United States was the first to step away from the negotiations, deciding in December of last year that the proposed agreement was “inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies.”

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States supports international cooperation on migration issues, “but it is the primary responsibility of sovereign states to help ensure that migration is safe, orderly, and legal.”

The Global Compact features 23 objectives, including boosting access to basic services, strengthening anti-smuggling and anti-trafficking efforts, eliminating discrimination, safeguarding conditions that ensure decent work, and facilitating safe and dignified return for those who are sent back home.

The United Nations estimates there are about 258 million migrants in the world — or just over three percent of the world’s population. The world body considers a migrant to be anyone who changes their country, regardless of the reason. It expects the number of migrants to increase due to factors such as population growth, trade, rising inequality and climate change.

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S. Korean Voting Machines at Center of DRC Election Dispute

As elections approach in the central African nation the Democratic Republic of Congo, concerns have been raised over the integrity of electronic voting machines being used in the national poll that were made by South Korea’s Miryu Systems. VOA’s Steve Miller reports from Seoul on the risks.

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