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Afghan Taliban divided as talks between two factions fail

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

The Afghan Taliban may split into two factions, said a spokesman for one group on Saturday, because they cannot agree who should be leader following the death of their founder.

The split could derail fledgling peace talks between the insurgency and the Afghan government and open the way for the Islamic State group to expand its foothold in one of the world's most tumultuous regions.

The dispute occurred after Afghan intelligence leaked news last month that the insurgency's reclusive founder, Mullah Omar, had been dead for more than two years.

A hastily convened meeting chose Omar's deputy, Mullah Mansour, as the new leader. But many commanders were angry that Mansour had concealed Omar's death and objected to his speedy appointment.

On Saturday, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a spokesman for the anti-Mansour faction, said talks between Mansour and the dissatisfied commanders had failed.

"We waited for two months and wanted Mullah Mansour to understand the situation and step down to let the Supreme Council choose the new leader by consensus – but he failed," said Niazi.

Representatives for Mansour were not available for comment.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan, imposing a severe interpretation of Islam and Sharia, from the mid-1990s until 2001 when they were overthrown during a U.S.-led invasion. But in recent years, and with the withdrawal of Western forces, their guerrilla forces have grown in influence.


Niazi did not suggest the dissident commanders would attack Mansour, who has considerable support. Instead, he said the dissident commanders will now direct their own attacks on the Afghan government and its foreign allies in Afghanistan.

"Anyone engaged in militant activities under the leadership of Mullah Mansour isn't a jihadi," he said. "We will now publicly oppose him."

Niazi's comments come after Omar's son Yaqoob and brother Manan swore allegiance to Mansour this week. Omar's family had initially opposed Mansour but agreed to support him after he agreed to a list of their demands.

Niazi said Mansour had threatened to cut Taliban funds that Manan had been receiving if he did not support Mansour's leadership.

"Its an economic issue rather than religious," Mullah Niazi said. "Mullah Yaqoob and Mullah Manan had never played any role in 20-year of jihad. They were sitting at home."

"We founded the Islamic Emirate, we gave sacrifices and we brought it to this level. We are the real heirs of the Islamic Emirate."

The Islamic Emirate is what the Taliban called Afghanistan under their rule.

Representatives for Omar's family were unavailable for comment.

Niazi said the dissident Taliban included Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, a prominent commander formerly held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay; Mullah Hasan Rahmani and Mohammad Rasool, two Taliban leaders with substantial power bases; and Mullah Abdul Razaq, a former Taliban minister of the interior.

Several powerful Taliban leaders based at the political office in Qatar have not yet publicly endorsed Mansour.

(Writing by Katharine Houreld; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Conflicts in Iraq, Syria leave one-year-old without nationality

Publisher: The Times of India
Author: Srinath Vudali
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

HYDERABAD: The turmoil of war-torn Syria and Iraq has now reached here. Apart from the terrible news streaming daily from back home, one couple who came to Hyderabad to study is facing an added ordeal: Their one year-old baby girl who was born in India is left without a nationality.

While Indian rules do not grant her automatic citizenship, the two war-torn nations are in no position to grant one.

Mais Sbeih, a research scholar in Osmania University, came to do her Masters in English in 2009 and stayed on to pursue a PhD. While studying she fell in love with Ahmed Ali, an Iraqi student of a private college. They married in 2013 and had a daughter Lily, now one-year-old.

"After getting married in 2009, we could not go back to either Iraq or Syria in view of the raging wars there," Sbeih said. " Now, we want to migrate to Europe, Lily would need a passport to travel. But the issue can be resolved only after her nationality is established," she added.

Sbeih, whose husband Ahmed Ali is now in Iraq, said she first approached the Iraqi authorities in New Delhi. "However, they said Lily will be granted a passport only if we take her to my husband's native village in Iraq and apply from there," she said.

Sources told TOI that in order to get an Indian passport, Lily would need an Indian citizenship first- which is a long-drawn process. "The parents will need to submit all relevant documents and a citizenship will be considered only after that. If Lily is granted Indian citizenship, she can then be eligible for an Indian passport," ministry of external affairs sources said.

According to Sbeih, Ali has returned to Iraq in desperation and with the aim of earning money, since no one was willing to employ him. "Our funds dried up couple of years ago as our relatives, who used to send us money, were displaced or got killed. Those who we got in touch with in Iraq and Syria warned us not to return. As a result, we do not have money even for completing my PhD," Sbeih said.

"Now, many like us who came to India from Iraq and Syria to study are seeking refugee status. But I want to be recognised as an immigrant and not a refugee," she said.

There are others like them. One such person is Iraqi national Raad Kasim Yhya (51) who recently applied for refugee status with the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) office in Delhi. "I completed my PhD in chemistry from Mysore University. I wanted to go back to Mosul in Iraq but it is now completely in the control of IS. And because of the atrocities committed by them, my family has strictly told me not to return," Kasim said.

Education continues in troubled Rakhine

Publisher: The Nation
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Thu Zar Moe, 12, is one of the brightest girls in her class, but she can no longer go to school due to the problems in her hometown of Rakhine.

In 2012, her family fled their home in Ahnauk San Pya village leaving behind a successful business and ending up dependent on food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP).

Now, Thu Zar lives with her father and four siblings at Thea Chaung displacement camp, near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state.

"I preferred living in the village," Thu Zar said. "We lived close to school, and I could go every day. My father owned a mechanic workshop and made a good living. My mother was still alive. Our life was much better then."

Thu Zar was speaking as she sat with her father, Hla Kyaw, on the porch of their small house, built with wood, bamboo and part of an old tent from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. It is one of many such homes, tightly packed together. It's raining, and the ground between the houses is wet and muddy.

"I still do some mechanic work here," said her father. "I earn up to 4,000 Kyats a day [about Bt100]. But it's not enough to live on or pay for health care. We get handouts of rice, beans and oil from WFP. We're safe here, but we cannot travel beyond the market. I don't think we will ever be able to go back home."

Without access to health care, his wife passed away.

Rakhine State, one of the poorest and most isolated parts of Myanmar, suffers from complex humanitarian problems and unaddressed development issues. Already marked by a high rate of poverty, the socioeconomic situation in Rakhine further deteriorated in 2012 following the outbreak of violence between majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities.

The floods that hit Myanmar in July and August this year have exacerbated these problems, with no regard for the lines that have divided these communities for so long. Children from both communities , in camps and not in camps , have felt the impact on their education.

Luckily for Thu Zar, there is a way for her to continue her studies. She attends non-formal primary education at a temporary learning centre in the camp, supported by Unicef (the United Nations Children's Fund) and run by the Lutheran World Federation.

The camp is home to 115 children who study at the learning centre. Last year, the top students got a chance to go to a new government-run middle school near the camp. Thu Zar's teacher says that she is also likely to go.

"She learns very well," he says. "I've seen her improve since coming here. She can already speak Rakhine in addition to her mother tongue, and is now learning Burmese and English."

Thu Zar rarely misses an opportunity to learn. "I go to the learning centre in the morning, and in the afternoon I read my books and help with the housework," she says. "I like learning languages. If I can speak and write English well, it will be very useful in life."

Although she has ambitions for her future, Thu Zar also assumes that she will still be living in the camp. "When I grow up I would like to work for WFP, because they give food to other people," she says.

In a village not far from the camp, 11-year-old Hlaing Hlaing Oo's family struggles with poverty. Conditions in their community are poor, and many children and families have some of their basic needs unmet, with limited opportunities to earn a living.

A few years ago, Hlaing's parents left Myanmar to work in neighbouring Thailand as migrant labourers. They left Hlaing and her younger brother with relatives in Yangon. When the family returned to Sittwe, they did not have the right paperwork to get Hlaing into the local school.

Unable to attend regular classes, Hlaing joined a non-formal primary education scheme at Mingan School, supported by Unicef and run by Myanmar Literacy Resource Centres. Classes are held every day in the evenings for out-of-school children, including those who work during the day to support their families or stay at home to take care of younger siblings.

Hlaing completed the programme, and this term she entered formal school as a Grade 6 student.

On the first week of term, the school is full of noisy, excited children in white and green uniforms. Most wear the traditional Burmese longyi skirt.

"I'm very happy to be back at school," Hlaing says. "My favourite subject is Burmese studies. I prefer coming during the day with the other children. My friend Sen Sen is in the same class as me. When I grow up, I want to be an engineer and construct new buildings."

Although they belong to two different communities and live in different circumstances, both Thu Zar and Hlaing have similar hopes and dreams, and both see the value of education for their future. Education has the power to build on these shared dreams, to bring children together to build a joint future for Rakhine State.

Unicef, with support from Australia, Denmark, the European Union, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, is working to ensure that all children in Rakhine State can develop to their full potential.

As well as the non-formal education provided to Thu Zar and Hlaing, Unicef also supports life skills education for adolescents, provides school backpacks to all Grade 1 students in eight townships in Rakhine State, and stationery for Grades 1 to 5.

"Unicef has worked in Myanmar for 60 years," says Cliff Meyers, Unicef Myanmar's chief of education.

"We're now working with the government and civil society to ensure that all children in Rakhine State can access education, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or legal status."

The future of Rakhine lies in Thu Zar and Hlaing's common dreams, as well as the aspirations of their supportive fathers. Thu Zar's father is pleased that she is continuing her education.

"I really want my daughter to be educated," he says. "She's so smart. I'm very proud of her."

Hlaing's father echoes the same sentiment. "My main hope for my daughter's future is that she gets a good education," he says.

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