Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Killing 15 in East Congo Village 

Islamic State on Tuesday claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least 15 civilians in a village in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, the militant group said on an affiliated Telegram channel.   

A rights group and a local official said on Monday that fighters believed to be members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) stormed the village of Bulongo in North Kivu province after dark on Sunday, pillaging homes, murdering inhabitants that crossed their path and setting fire to six vehicles. Read full story.

The ADF is a Ugandan militia that has been active in east Congo since the 1990s and killed scores of civilians, many in middle-of-the-night attacks carried out with machetes and hatchets. It pledged alliance to Islamic State in 2019.   

Islamic State claimed its members killed nearly 20 Christians and set fire to six trucks in the attack using machine guns, and returned to their bases unhurt. 

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All Bodies Recovered From Nepal Plane Crash; Autopsies Begin

Rescuers have recovered all 22 bodies from the site where a plane crashed on a mountainside in Nepal, the airline said Tuesday.

All the bodies were flown to Kathmandu and taken to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital where doctors are performing autopsies, Tara Air said in a statement.

The bodies will be handed over to relatives once the autopsies are completed, it said.

While 10 bodies were flown to Kathmandu on Monday, the rest were brought by army helicopter on Tuesday. Relatives of the crash victims waited outside the hospital building for authorities to release the bodies.

The Tara Air Turboprop Twin Otter aircraft lost contact with the airport tower Sunday while flying on a scheduled 20-minute flight in an area of deep river gorges and mountaintops.

Four Indians and two Germans were on the plane, Tara Air said. The three crew members and other passengers were Nepali nationals, it said.

Local news reports said the passengers included two Nepali families, one with four members and the other with seven.

The plane crashed Sunday in Sanosware in Mustang district close to the mountain town of Jomsom, where it was heading after taking off from the resort town of Pokhara, 200 kilometers west of the capital Kathmandu.

The plane’s destination is popular with foreign hikers who trek on its mountain trails, and with Indian and Nepalese pilgrims who visit the revered Muktinath temple.

The Twin Otter, a rugged plane originally built by Canadian aircraft manufacturer De Havilland, has been in service in Nepal for about 50 years, during which it has been involved in about 21 accidents, according to

The plane, with its top-mounted wing and fixed landing gear, is prized for its durability and its ability to take off and land on short runways.

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Kenyan Fugitive Wanted for Wildlife, Drug Trafficking Arrested

One of two Kenyans wanted for alleged involvement in wildlife and drug trafficking has been arrested in a joint U.S.-Kenyan operation. The U.S. government had announced a reward for information leading to the arrest of Badru Abdul Aziz Saleh.

U.S. officials said Kenya’s security agencies received a tip from the public that led to the arrest of Saleh Monday in Liboi, Garissa county. An embassy statement said U.S. and Kenyan law enforcement officials cooperated to apprehend Saleh.  

Another suspect, Abdi Hussein Ahmed, remains at large.

On Thursday, the United States announced rewards of up to $1 million each for information leading to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of the two Kenyans.

Eric W. Kneedler, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, said Monday’s arrest of Saleh “would not have been possible without the public’s support. He appealed for information leading to Ahmed’s arrest.

Saleh remains in police custody in Nairobi and is expected to be extradited to the U.S.

Saleh was arrested back in 2019 for drug trafficking but released on bail, according to the U.S. State Department. A statement said he was a fugitive with an outstanding warrant for his arrest. A federal grand jury in New York indicted him in 2021.

Saleh and Ahmed were accused in the transportation, distribution and smuggling of 190 kilograms of rhinoceros horns and 10 tons of elephant ivory from different African countries.

They were also alleged to have been involved in transporting and distributing 10 kilograms of heroin from Kenya to the United States.

If convicted, both could face up to 10 years in prison in the U.S.  

In March, Kenya launched a financial toolkit to help fight illegal wildlife trade. 

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Turkish Greek Tensions Rise as Arms Race Looms

Tensions are rising between Turkey and Greece, with the Turkish foreign minister on Tuesday warning that Ankara could challenge the sovereignty of Greek islands. The threat comes as both sides increase their military presence in contested waters of the Aegean Sea. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

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Soccer Body Investigating Pre-Game Chaos at Paris Champions League Final

International soccer officials are investigating the chaos outside Paris’s Stade de France stadium for last Saturday’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid.

The highly anticipated game was uncharacteristically delayed for 37 minutes because many fans, mostly Liverpool fans, were unable to get in. Some fans reportedly were mugged.

Tear gas also reportedly was used.

The French government is blaming Liverpool fans, while Liverpool says that is an “irresponsible, unprofessional” rush to judgment and cites heavy-handed policing.

Some potential causes of the problems include only having three months to prepare for the event because the game was originally going to be hosted in Russia.

Some are pointing to a lack of signage to guide fans to the game in an orderly way.

Some also are wondering why Liverpool fans were made to walk through a narrow path from the subway to the stadium.

Another factor may be there reportedly were many fake tickets in circulation, leading to more delays.

“It was a pretty big mess,” said Madrid defender Dani Carvajal, whose family encountered safety issues. “They have to learn and fix the mistakes for the next events that may happen at this stadium, and hopefully everything will be better. But yes, in the end there were people who suffered a lot.”

Real Madrid won the game by a lone goal.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.

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Cameroon NGO Creates App to Track Endangered Marine Species

In Cameroon nearly 150 manatees, an endangered aquatic species also known as sea cow, are killed each year by poachers or fisherman, often unintended by the latter. An aid group has created a mobile app to collect data to help reduce manatee deaths. Anne Nzouankeu reports from lake Ossa, Cameroon.

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Rwanda, DRC Leaders to Discuss M23 Rebel Group

The head of the African Union is calling on Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to lower tensions. The DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebel group M23, which continues to battle the Congolese army in eastern Congo. But analysts are doubtful the tensions or the situation in eastern Congo as a whole will soon improve.

Calm has returned in some parts of the eastern DRC, which saw heavy fighting last week between the Congolese army and the rebel group M23.

Jean-Mobert Senga, Amnesty International’s DRC researcher, told VOA there is a lull in the fighting.

“When it comes to M23, there has been some calm in the last few days,” he said. “There have been no clashes reported and in some parts, civilians have started to return but that doesn’t mean that the conflict is over in North Kivu and Ituri. Civilians are still being killed by other armed groups, so it’s not only M23 which is the problem. There are also other groups who have been killing people and are continuing to kill civilians with impunity.”

Reports say the Congolese army, with the help of the U.N. peacekeeping force MONUSCO, recently repelled a rebel advance on the city of Goma. The reports say M23 fighters have now returned to their hideouts near the border with Uganda.

But residents of North Kivu and Ituri remain fearful of M23 and other armed groups in the region, which have competed for years for control of the area’s rich mines. Some of the groups have ties to Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi.

The DRC government accuses Rwanda of supporting M23 in an effort to destabilize the country.

In a statement Monday, Rwandan Foreign Minister Vicent Biruta encouraged its neighbor to de-escalate its rhetoric. He said collaboration could restore security and bring lasting stability to the region.

The minister also said the rebel group M23 was Congo’s internal problem and should be resolved among Congolese themselves.

On his Twitter account, African Union chairperson Senegalese President Macky Sall said he is concerned about the tensions between the DRC and Rwanda.  Sall said he spoke to DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a quest to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. 

Researcher and political analyst Ntanyoma Rukumbuzi said the tension between the countries and the unrest in the DRC are likely to continue. 

“I don’t see any future escalation between the two countries, Rwanda and the DRC,” he said. “I think both countries have an interest in dialogue and settling many of these issues in a pacific way through dialogue but would this be enough if Rwanda and DRC agree to solve the tension in a pacific way? Will this lead to the stability of the DRC? I am not sure.”

M23 insists it is fighting ethnic Hutu groups to protect the minority Tutsi living along the border between Congo and Rwanda.

But, Human Rights Watch DRC senior researcher Thomas Fessy notes M23 was expelled from peace talks between Congo and various armed groups that took place in Kenya at the end of April.

“All of this has created a context of tension which is sparking fears of new military confrontation on Congolese territory and civilians are always the ones always to pay the biggest price,” he said. “In a few days of heavy fighting near Goma, over 70,000 people were displaced. According to the humanitarian organizations, many of them will now need assistance.”

Congo is home to some 5.6 million internally displaced people, more than any other country in Africa.

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Ukraine Court Sentences 2 Russian Soldiers for Shelling Civilians

A Ukrainian court sentenced two Russian soldiers to 11½-year prison terms on Tuesday after they had pleaded guilty last week to indiscriminately shelling civilian targets in the Kharkiv region, from across the border in Russia. 

Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov heard the verdict as they stood in a reinforced glass box at the Kotelva district court in northeastern Ukraine.

“The guilt of Bobikin and Ivanov has been proven in full,” Judge Evhen Bolybok said, standing in front of a Ukrainian flag.

Prosecutors had asked for 12-year terms for the Russian soldiers in the second war crimes case Ukrainian officials have brought. Defense lawyers said the sentences should be eight years because the pair had pleaded guilty, expressed remorse and contended that they were following orders when they fired Grad missiles at targets from Russia’s Belgorod area. 

After they were sentenced, the two were asked whether they felt their sentences were fair and both said yes. Guards armed with Kalashnikov rifles then handcuffed the two and led them out of the courtroom. 

After the initial shelling from inside Russia, Bobikin and Ivanov, described as an artillery driver and a gunner, were captured after crossing the border and continuing the shelling.  

Last week, a Russian soldier was handed a life sentence for killing an unarmed civilian. 

Ukraine has accused Russia of committing thousands of war crimes during the war over the past three months, although Moscow denies it is targeting civilians.  


Some material in this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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In Commonwealth, Queen’s Jubilee Draws Protests, Apathy

After seven decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II is widely viewed in the U.K. as a rock in turbulent times. But in Britain’s former colonies, many see her as an anchor to an imperial past whose damage still lingers.

So while the U.K. is celebrating the queen’s Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — with pageantry and parties, some in the Commonwealth are using the occasion to push for a formal break with the monarchy and the colonial history it represents.

“When I think about the queen, I think about a sweet old lady,” said Jamaican academic Rosalea Hamilton, who campaigns for her country to become a republic. “It’s not about her. It’s about her family’s wealth, built on the backs of our ancestors. We’re grappling with the legacies of a past that has been very painful.”

The empire that Elizabeth was born into is long gone, but she still reigns far beyond Britain’s shores. She is head of state in 14 other nations, including Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Bahamas. Until recently it was 15 — Barbados cut ties with the monarchy in November, and several other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, say they plan to follow suit.

Britain’s jubilee celebrations, which climax over a four-day holiday weekend starting Thursday, aim to recognize the diversity of the U.K. and the Commonwealth. A huge jubilee pageant through central London on Sunday will feature Caribbean Carnival performers and Bollywood dancers.

But Britain’s image of itself as a welcoming and diverse society has been battered by the revelation that hundreds, and maybe thousands, of people from the Caribbean who had lived legally in the U.K. for decades were denied housing, jobs or medical treatment — and in some cases deported — because they didn’t have the paperwork to prove their status.

The British government has apologized and agreed to pay compensation, but the Windrush scandal has caused deep anger, both in the U.K. and in the Caribbean.

A jubilee-year trip to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas in March by the queen’s grandson Prince William and his wife Kate, which was intended to strengthen ties, appears to have had the opposite effect. Images of the couple shaking hands with children through a chain-link fence and riding in an open-topped Land Rover in a military parade stirred echoes of colonialism for many.

Cynthia Barrow-Giles, professor of political science at the University of the West Indies, said the British “seem to be very blind to the visceral sort of reactions” that royal visits elicit in the Caribbean.

Protesters in Jamaica demanded Britain pay reparations for slavery, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness politely told William that the country was “moving on,” a signal that it planned to become a republic. The next month, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the queen’s son Prince Edward that his country, too, would one day remove the queen as head of state.

William acknowledged the strength of feeling and said the future “is for the people to decide upon.”

“We support with pride and respect your decisions about your future,” he said in the Bahamas. “Relationships evolve. Friendship endures.”

When then Princess Elizabeth became queen on the death of her father King George VI 1952, she was in Kenya. The East African country became independent in 1963 after years of violent struggle between a liberation movement and colonial troops. In 2013, the British government apologized for the torture of thousands of Kenyans during the 1950s “Mau Mau” uprising and paid millions in an out-of-court settlement.

Memories of the empire are still raw for many Kenyans.

“From the start, her reign would be indelibly stained by the brutality of the empire she presided over and that accompanied its demise,” said Patrick Gathara, a Kenyan cartoonist, writer and commentator.

“To this day, she has never publicly admitted, let alone apologized, for the oppression, torture, dehumanization and dispossession visited upon people in the colony of Kenya before and after she acceded to the throne.”

U.K. officials hope countries that become republics will remain in the Commonwealth, the 54-nation organization made up largely of former British colonies, which has the queen as its ceremonial head.

The queen’s strong personal commitment to the Commonwealth has played a big role in uniting a diverse group whose members range from vast India to tiny Tuvalu. But the organization, which aims to champion democracy, good governance and human rights, faces an uncertain future.

As Commonwealth heads of government prepare to meet in Kigali, Rwanda, this month for a summit delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, some question whether the organization can continue once the queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, succeeds her.

“Many of the more uncomfortable histories of the British Empire and the British Commonwealth are sort of waiting in the wings for as soon as Elizabeth II is gone,” royal historian Ed Owens said. “So it’s a difficult legacy that she is handing over to the next generation.”

The crisis in the Commonwealth reflects Britain’s declining global clout.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth under its authoritarian late President Robert Mugabe, and is currently seeking readmission. But many in its capital of Harare have expressed indifference to the queen’s jubilee, as Britain’s once-strong influence wanes and countries such as China and Russia enjoy closer relations with the former British colony.

“She is becoming irrelevant here,” social activist Peter Nyapedwa said. “We know about [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] or [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, not the queen.”

Sue Onslow, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, said the queen has been the “invisible glue” holding the Commonwealth together.

But she says the organization has proven remarkably resilient and and shouldn’t be written off. The Commonwealth played a major role in galvanizing opposition to apartheid in the 1980s, and could do the same over climate change, which poses an existential threat to its low-lying island members.

“The Commonwealth has shown a remarkable ability to reinvent itself and contrive solutions at times of crisis, almost as if it’s jumping into a telephone box and coming out under different guise,” she said. “Whether it will do it now is an open question.”

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Cameroon’s Military Frees Senator, Other Separatist Hostages  

Cameroon’s military says it has freed a senator who was held captive by separatists for a month along with other hostages.

Cameroon’s military on Tuesday said it managed to rescue Senator Regina Mundi, after what a spokesman called two days of heavy battles with rebels who had taken her hostage.

Military spokesman Serge Cyrille Atongfack said in a press release that the clashes took place in Batibo district in Cameroon’s Northwest region.

Atongfack said separatists tried to escape advancing government troops on Sunday with six hostages, including Senator Mundi.

But he said the troops stopped the rebels, killing ten of them and capturing three, without any harm to the captives.

The military did not identify the other hostages but said they were receiving medical treatment after the ordeal.

Rights groups in Cameroon welcomed Senator Mundi’s release after a month in captivity.

Mumah Bih Yvonne of the Women’s Peace Movement led church prayers for Mundi’s release after her April abduction.

“I hope she is sound health wise. For those who took Mundi and kept her for this long, I pray you have a change of mindset. You are perpetuating pain and suffering on people. I congratulate those who succeeded in getting her out,” she said.

A separatist spokesman confirmed that government troops freed Mundi and other hostages but denied the military’s claim that fighters were killed and captured.

Capo Daniel is deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, one of Cameroon’s rebel groups. The separatists have been fighting since 2017 to break away from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority to create an English-speaking state called Ambazonia.

Daniel says the military abused civilians during the weekend raids to free Senator Mundi.

“Hundreds of Cameroon military brutalized our civilian population, rounded them up, tied their hands behind their backs, women were tortured, houses were searched, occupants were tied up and forced to sit in city squares where they were not allowed to have access to communication. None of our soldiers were killed or captured, We have regrouped and we will make sure that those areas remain under strong Ambazonia control,” he said.

None of Daniel’s claims could be immediately or independently confirmed.

One local, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, told VOA both sides committed abuses and detained civilians during the clashes.

Cameroon’s military denies any abuses.

Armed separatists abducted Senator Mundi with her driver in Bamenda, capital of the English-speaking North West region, on April 30.

The rebels accused Mundi of collaborating with Cameroon’s central government and demanded 47 of their arrested leaders be freed in return for her release. The government refused.

Esther Njomo Omam is executive director of Reach Out Cameroon, a group calling for a cease-fire to end the separatist conflict.

“Parties to the conflict, this is the time to talk more among ourselves and resolve our differences in a peaceful way,” she said.

Unrest in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions broke out in 2016 after teachers and lawyers protested the dominance of French in the officially bilingual country.

The military’s harsh response led separatists to take up arms, saying they had to defend the minority English speakers.

The U.N. says clashes between the two sides have since left at least 3,300 people dead and more than 750,000 internally displaced.

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Drought Affects Almost Half of Somalia as Famine Looms  

At a news conference in Mogadishu, Somalia’s special envoy for humanitarian issues on Monday said more than six million Somalis were affected by the record drought.

Abdurahman Abdishakur Warsameh said the number of people suffering was quickly approaching half of Somalia’s population.

Warsameh said the drought has hit 72 of Somalia’s 84 districts and that six of them were already facing famine-like conditions with extreme food insecurity.

He says our people are starting to die now. Deaths have begun, famine is looming in some areas, and drought is turning into famine. Warsameh says the Somali people at home and abroad should help us in taking on some of the responsibility.

The special envoy did not give any figures on how many Somalis have died from hunger but appealed for aid to reach those in need.

Warsameh said the current drought, the worst in forty years, had displaced nearly 700,000 Somalis from the countryside and forced them to seek help in nearby cities.

He said the U.N. and aid agencies requested $1.4 billion for drought relief but so far received only $58 million.

Warsameh said international aid was more focused on the COVID pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and crises in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen.

The humanitarian envoy also said not much attention is given to humanitarian needs because of Somalia’s focus on politics last year and a half of delayed elections.

International aid agencies warned Monday that the threat of starvation was worsening in Somalia and neighboring countries across Ethiopia and Kenya.

The Horn of Africa region is facing a record fifth rainy season without adequate rain, according to meteorological experts and humanitarian groups, which include U.N. agencies.

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Russia Sanctions Seen Loosening Moscow’s Grip on Central Asia

Russia’s influence in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia is expected to decline as its overstretched military struggles in Ukraine and its economy suffers shocks from the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies, according to experts.

Russia has long enjoyed leverage over the region’s five countries – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan – because of their reliance on remittances from migrant laborers employed in Russia, says Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, head of the Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh.

World Bank data published in March laid out the importance of the remittances, which it said in some cases “were comparable to or even larger than the countries’ exports of goods and services.”

“In the past, Central Asian states were wary of Russia because they understood that (their economic relationship) changes if they offended Moscow,” Murtazashvili told VOA. But, she said, the balance has shifted because of the war in Ukraine and the five countries “now understand that Russia needs labor from Central Asia very badly.”

“These countries now understand that they have agency and leverage and are beginning to understand how they can use it,” she said. “Right now, we are seeing a stronger Central Asia that will have more freedom to pick and choose among great powers.”

Russia’s weakness opens the door for China to play a larger role in the region, but it also increases opportunities for other countries that wish to do business there, according to Murtazshvili.

On Tuesday, exactly three months after Russia launched its invasion, China pledged $37.5 million of “free financial assistance” to Uzbekistan “for the implementation of joint socially significant projects,” according to the Uzbek government.

The agreement was signed by Uzbekistan’s deputy minister of investment and foreign trade, Aziz Voitov, and the Chinese ambassador in Tashkent, Jiang Yan, according to a statement on the website of Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade.

One day earlier, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu led a U.S. delegation to the region on a five-day trip to the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan.

According to the State Department, the purpose of the trip is “to strengthen U.S. relations with the region and advance collaborative efforts to create a more connected, prosperous, and secure Central Asia.”

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Washington with Mukhtar Tileuberdi, the foreign minister of Kazakhstan.

In the meeting, according to the State Department, Blinken confirmed the U.S. “commitment to minimizing the impact on allies and partners, including Kazakhstan, from the sanctions imposed on Russia.”

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and author of “Sinostan: China’s Inadvertent Empire,” said that while Russia’s influence is expected to decline it will remain an important player in the region.

Leaders of the Central Asian nations “have always had some concern and skepticism towards Russia and now it will be worse,” he told VOA. “The natural connections and public opinion mean it will be hard to entirely sever, but it is clear that the regional governments are not ecstatic about President [Vladimir] Putin’s actions” in Ukraine.

Early in the war, Putin called the heads of the Central Asian states to seek support for his planned occupation of Ukraine. But the five leaders responded cautiously, neither endorsing nor condemning the invasion.

China, meanwhile, has been expanding its footprint in the region for a while, Pantucci said. “But increasingly the region will find itself frustrated as — unlike Russia — China is not very interested in stepping in to try to fix things, but is single-mindedly focused on its own interests.”

Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also predicted Russia will remain influential in the region despite the problems created by the war.

“Russia understands what is going on here in Central Asia and it does it better than any other foreign actor in the region,” Umarov told VOA from Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, “So this is something that is really difficult to change.”

According to Umarov, the five Central Asian states have been seeking to diversify their ties with the rest of the world since they gained their independence from Moscow in the early 1990s.

“Russia’s actions toward Ukraine will add speed to the process of replacing Russia in those countries,” Umarov said. “Of course, China is the number one country that has the capacity to do that in many spheres, especially in terms of logistics because of geographic location and its economy, because of China’s economic muscle which other countries do not possess.”

But, according to Murtazashvili, China is not very popular in Central Asia. “People understand what has happened with the Uyghurs and are wary of getting too close to China,” she said.

Three of the five Central Asian countries border China’s western Xinjiang region, where Beijing is accused by the U.S. and other countries of a genocidal crackdown on its Uyghur minority. Beijing rejects the accusation as lies and says that China is fighting against the “forces of three evil,” namely separatism, extremism and terrorism in the region.

The majority-Turkic countries of Central Asia are culturally, religiously and ethnically close to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

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Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 31

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT.

1:00 a.m.: Japanese industry minister said on Tuesday that his country will not leave the Sakhalin 2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) project even if asked to leave, Reuters reported.  

The land for the project is Russia’s but the plant is owned by the Japanese government and companies, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda told a parliamentary committee. 

12:30 a.m.: Moscow backed separatist leader said Tuesday that Russian forces had not advanced as rapidly as they had hoped in the battle for Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city still in Ukraine’s hands, Reuters reported citing state-run TASS news agency. 

As the Russian offensive continued across Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the European Union agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, a move intended to blow a hole in the Kremlin’s war finances. 

12:15 a.m.: Russian troops continue to battle Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country, according to The Associated Press. 

12:01 a.m.: European Union leaders agreed late Monday to ban two-thirds of Russian oil imports as part of a compromise deal to increase pressure on Russia while accounting for the economic effects on some EU nations that are more reliant on Russian oil supplies. The embargo cuts off Russian oil delivered by sea, while exempting oil imported through pipelines. 

Landlocked Hungary had threatened to oppose restrictions on oil imports, a move that would have scuttled the effort that requires consensus of all EU members. European Council President Charles Michel said he expects EU ambassadors to formally endorse the embargo, which is part of a larger sanctions package, on Wednesday. 

Combined with pledges from countries such as Germany to phase out their Russian oil imports, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement will “effectively cut around 90% of oil imports from Russia to the EU by the end of the year.” 


Other parts of the sanction package include assets freezes and travel bans on individuals, and excluding Russia’s biggest banks, Sberbank, from the SWIFT global financial transfer system. The EU is also barring three Russian state-owned broadcasters from distributing content in EU countries. EU leaders also agreed to provide Ukraine with $9.7 billion in assistance for the country’s economy and reconstruction efforts. 

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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EU Agrees to Ban Majority of Russian Oil

European Union leaders agreed late Monday to ban two-thirds of Russian oil imports as part of a compromise deal to increase pressure on Russia while accounting for the economic effects on some EU nations that are more reliant on Russian oil supplies.

The embargo cuts off Russian oil delivered by sea, while exempting oil imported through pipelines.

Landlocked Hungary had threatened to oppose restrictions on oil imports, a move that would have scuttled the effort that requires consensus of all EU members. European Council President Charles Michel said he expects EU ambassadors to formally endorse the embargo, which is part of a larger sanctions package, on Wednesday.

Ukrainian leaders have long called for banning Russian oil imports in order to deny Russia income it can use to fuel its war effort. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated his appeal as he spoke to the EU Monday.

Combined with pledges from countries such as Germany to phase out their Russian oil imports, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement will “effectively cut around 90% of oil imports from Russia to the EU by the end of the year.”

Other parts of the sanction package include assets freezes and travel bans on individuals, and excluding Russia’s biggest banks, Sberbank, from the SWIFT global financial transfer system. The EU is also barring three Russian state-owned broadcasters from distributing content in EU countries.

EU leaders also agreed to provide Ukraine with $9.7 billion in assistance for the country’s economy and reconstruction efforts.

Luhansk fighting

Fierce fighting has erupted on the streets of the eastern Ukraine city of Sievierodonetsk, with Kyiv’s forces trying desperately to fight off the Russian onslaught.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy characterized the situation as “indescribably difficult.” In a televised speech, he described capturing Sievierodonetsk as “a fundamental task for the occupiers” and said Ukraine was doing all it could to protect the city from a Russian takeover.

Russian troops have entered the city, power and communications have been knocked out, and “the city has been completely ruined,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

“The number of victims is rising every hour, but we are unable to count the dead and the wounded amid the street fighting,” the mayor said. Striuk said 12,000 to 13,000 civilians remain in the city that once had 100,000 residents. They are sheltering in basements and bunkers to escape the Russian assault.

Striuk estimated 1,500 civilians in the city have died since the war began, from Russian attacks as well as from a lack of medicine or treatment.

Sievierodonetsk, the last major Ukrainian-held population center in the eastern Luhansk province, has become the focus of Russian attacks as Moscow attempts to control the Donbas region after failing to topple Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv, during more than three months of fighting. Sievierodonetsk is about 140 kilometers from the Russian border.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops “use the same tactics over and over again. They shell for several hours — for three, four, five hours in a row — and then attack. Those who attack die. Then shelling and attack follow again and so on until they break through somewhere.”

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said he would not send rocket systems to Ukraine that could reach Russia. Ukraine has received extensive U.S. military aid but has requested more powerful rocket systems.

Toll on journalists

Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Monday that 32 media workers had been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

That includes French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, who died Monday near Sievierodonetsk.

French broadcaster BFM TV said the 32-year-old journalist was hit by shrapnel while reporting on Ukrainian evacuations from the area.

French President Emmanuel Macron sent his condolences to the family and colleagues of Leclerc-Imhoff, writing in a tweet that the journalist died showing “the reality of the war.”

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who was in Ukraine on Monday, called for an investigation into the journalist’s death, saying in a statement that “France demands that a probe be carried out as soon as possible.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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Erdogan Discusses Turkey’s Syria Incursion Plans With Putin

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has discussed Ankara’s planned military operation in northern Syria and the war in Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan’s office said Monday.

In recent days Erdogan has said Turkey will launch a cross-border incursion against Kurdish militants in Syria to create a 30-kilometer-deep buffer zone. He told Putin in a phone call that the frontier zone was agreed to in 2019 but had not been implemented, the Turkish presidency said.

Ankara carried out an operation against the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in October 2019. Russia, the Syrian regime and the United States also have troops in the border region.

Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that has waged an insurgency against Turkey since 1984, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

However, the YPG forms the backbone of U.S.-led forces in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. The U.S. has not been happy with Turkey’s previous incursions into Syria.

Erdogan also told Putin that Turkey was ready to resume a role in ending the war in Ukraine, including taking part in a possible “observation mechanism” between Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations, the statement said.

Negotiations in Istanbul held in March failed to make any headway, but Turkey, which has close ties to both Kyiv and Moscow, has repeatedly put itself forward as a possible mediator.

The Turkish president also called for peace in Ukraine as soon as possible and for confidence-building steps to be taken.

In Washington, the National Security Council said national security adviser Jake Sullivan had called Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Erdogan, to discuss the two nations’ support for Ukraine, but also to voice caution about actions in Syria.

Sullivan “reiterated the importance of refraining from escalation in Syria to preserve existing cease-fire lines and avoid any further destabilization,” said Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Security Council.

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Pakistan, Militants Pause Afghan-Hosted Peace Talks for Internal Discourse Amid Cautious Optimism

Pakistan’s direct peace talks with an outlawed alliance of insurgent groups, being mediated and hosted by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, have reportedly made progress, with both sides agreeing to pause the process for internal deliberations and return to the negotiating table by mid-June.

The several days of discussions between Pakistani security officials and commanders of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or the Pakistani Taliban, concluded over the weekend in the Afghan capital, Kabul, with both sides pressing their set of demands and promising to adhere to an ongoing temporary cease-fire to preserve the progress, officials and militant sources said Monday.

The meeting marked the second round of talks between the two rivals since early this month when they first came to the negotiating table at the request of the Afghan Taliban, a Pakistani official told VOA on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the news media.

The peace process has led to the temporary cease-fire, release of dozens of militants from Pakistani jails and a significant reduction in TTP attacks in Pakistan.

The nearly month-long truce was due to expire Monday but would likely be extended to help prevent derailment of the fragile process, the Pakistani official said. He noted that even if there were no formal militant announcement about an extension in the cease-fire, there would be no “major” counter-militancy operations” by Pakistani security forces, nor would the TTP carry out attacks against them.

“The situation (around the talks) has been very hopeful so far,” the Pakistani official said. “Both sides have decided to pause the process to review the progress they have achieved and seek clarity from their respective leaderships on how to move forward,” he said.

The Pakistani official hailed the host Taliban government for making “utmost efforts” to ensure relevant TTP commanders were present at the table to productively carry the dialogue forward. He noted that acting Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani “is playing the key role” in mediating the talks.

The official said Haqqani was “personally available in some sessions” of the just concluded talks and “effectively intervened to remove deadlocks or impediments” to help push the process.

While Pakistani officials have not yet formally commented on the peace process, the Afghan Taliban publicly confirmed on May 18 at the end of the two-day inaugural meeting that Kabul hosted it and acted as intermediary. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at the time his government “in good faith to promote peace, strives for the negotiating process to succeed and expects both sides to be tolerant and flexible.”

Islamabad is asking TTP negotiators to terminate their insurgency against Pakistan and dissolve the group in favor of a peaceful resettlement to their native country, according to sources close to the process.

For their part, TTP negotiators have been consistently insisting that Pakistan restore the traditional semi-autonomous status of several of its northwestern districts bordering Afghanistan, formerly known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.

The militants also demand both the removal of Pakistani troops from the rugged mountainous region and implementation of their brand of Islamic justice system in erstwhile FATA, citing their rejection of the Pakistani constitution as un-Islamic.

Speaking to VOA, senior Pakistani security officials Monday again rejected these demands as unacceptable.

For decades, FATA had served as a haven for local and foreign militant outfits, including al-Qaida and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistani troops in recent years carried out major ground and air offensives, dismantling the terror infrastructure and forcing thousands of TTP militants to flee to the Afghan side of the border.

The Afghan Taliban and their al-Qaida partners used the Pakistani tribal region for regrouping and directing cross-border attacks against U.S.-led international troops in Afghanistan. TTP had sheltered, facilitated and provided them with recruits.

TTP-led suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis, including security forces, since its inception in 2007. Sustained Pakistani security operations significantly degraded TTP abilities to conduct extremist actions.

The group has intensified attacks on Pakistani forces from Afghan bases since the return of the Taliban to power in the neighboring country, killing scores of Pakistani security forces and prompting Islamabad to reportedly conduct cross-border airstrikes against TTP hideouts.

A new United Nations report earlier in May also noted the role Haqqani is playing in facilitating Pakistan’s talks with the TTP, although it cautioned that prospects of success of the peace process were bleak.

“Haqqani mediations have not led to a sustainable cease-fire but are a further indication of Mr. Sirajuddin’s central role within the Taliban as a mediator and figure of authority among rank-and-file of TTP and other mainly Pashtun groups in eastern Afghanistan,” said the U.N. annual report of the 1988 Taliban sanctions committee monitoring team.

U.S. officials have long maintained that Haqqani runs his own group of militants independent of the Taliban, known as the Haqqani Network. His areas of influence or operation have been or are largely the eastern and southeastern Afghan border provinces, where TTP has set up its sanctuaries after fleeing Pakistani security operations.

Haqqani allegedly is also closely aligned with al-Qaida. Washington has offered $10 million for information that will lead to his arrest.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan last August, days before the U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from the country after nearly 20 years of war with the-then insurgent group. The Islamist rulers have assured neighboring countries and the world at large that they would combat terrorism on Afghan soil to prevent it from becoming a haven for transnational groups.

The U.N. report, however, suggested that TTP has gained from the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul. It has around 4,000 fighters in Afghan areas bordering Pakistan, making up the largest group of foreign fighters based there.

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