Addis Ababa, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — Taking the next step in their dramatic diplomatic thaw, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea on Tuesday officially opened the border where a bloody war divided them for decades, with emotional residents embracing after years of separation.
Ethiopia's reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and longtime Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki "marked the radical transformation of the Ethio-Eritrea border into a frontier of peace & friendship," Abiy's chief of staff Fitsum Arega said in a Twitter post.
The leaders visited the Bure Front with members of their militaries to mark the Ethiopian new year and later did the same at the Serha-Zalambesa crossing, Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Meskel said on Twitter.
Photos showed Abiy in camouflage walking alongside Isaias in olive drab, while a ribbon stretched across one border post bristled with military personnel carrying not guns but cameras. Hundreds of civilians waved the countries' flags. People of the countries' Tigray region, who share close cultural ties, danced while flag-draped camels wandered by.
The former bitter rivals have made a stunning reconciliation since Abiy weeks after taking office in April announced that Ethiopia would fully embrace a peace deal that ended a 1998-2000 border war that killed tens of thousands. At the time, he said the countries would celebrate the Ethiopian new year together: "We want our brothers and sisters to come here and visit us as soon as possible."
Embassies have reopened, telephone lines have been restored and commercial flights between the capitals have resumed as some long-separated families have held tearful reunions. Landlocked Ethiopia, one of Africa's fastest-growing economies, and Eritrea, one of the world's most closed-off nations, also plan development cooperation around Eritrea's Red Sea ports in particular.
Reports on social media on Monday indicated that mine-clearing activities were underway in one border area, signaling that an opening was planned. The United Nations has called the border one of the world's most heavily mined.
It was not clear if the countries would withdraw troops from the border.
Abiy on Monday told a new year's eve concert crowd of thousands in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, that "as of today, Ethiopian and Eritrean people will prosper together and march in unison. ... The last five months have brought hope and reconciliation."
The Ethiopian new year has roots in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and is related to the Julian calendar. Eritrea has used the Gregorian calendar since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.
The reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been warmly welcomed by the international community and has led to a series of further thaws in the fragile Horn of Africa region, with Eritrea resuming diplomatic ties with both turbulent Somalia and the small but strategic port and military nation of Djibouti.
Observers now wonder whether the thaw will inspire Eritrea's leader, who has led since independence without elections, to embrace reforms and loosen a strict military conscription system that has led the small country to become one of the largest sources of migrants fleeing toward Europe, Israel and elsewhere.
Islamabad, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — Afghan rights workers warned Tuesday that the U.S. national security adviser's blistering attack on the International Criminal Court investigating war crimes allegations will strengthen a climate of impunity in Afghanistan, prolong the war and embolden those carrying out acts of violence.
In a speech Monday, John Bolton said Washington would not cooperate with The Hague-based court and threatened it with sanctions, saying it put U.S. sovereignty and national security at risk.
War crimes allegations in Afghanistan include those allegedly committed by the CIA and U.S. forces.
"It's very unfortunate because delivering justice to victims will help to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan," said Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan's Human Right's Commission, on Tuesday. "Justice is not a luxury. It is a basic human right."
During a three-month period that ended in January, the International Criminal Court received a staggering 1.7 million allegations of war crimes from Afghanistan, although some involved entire villages alleging a war crime.
Still, thousands of individual statements as well as statements filed on behalf of multiple victims, were received by the ICC in The Hague. The statements were collected by organizations based in Europe and Afghanistan and sent to the court.
Bolton's speech came as an ICC judge was expected to soon announce a decision on a request from prosecutors to formally open an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants as well as U.S. forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.
The 181-page prosecution request, dated November 2017, said "information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that members of United States of America (US) armed forces and members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period."
Washington's unequivocal rejection of the court seems likely to embolden Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government, which refused Tuesday to respond directly to Bolton's outburst, but similarly dismissed war crimes allegations against Afghan National Security Forces as well as its intelligence agency.
President Ashraf Ghani's deputy spokesman, Shahussain Murtazawi, said the Taliban, the Islamic State group affiliate and as many as 21 other anti-government groups are the perpetrators of war crimes. He dismissed allegations against security forces saying "government forces are always trying to save the people. It is the insurgents who are the killers of civilians."
Yet the prosecutor's request says there is "a reasonable basis to believe that members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), in particular members of the National Directorate for Security (NDS) and the Afghan National Police (ANP), have engaged in systemic patterns of torture and cruel treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan detention facilities, including acts of sexual violence."
For human rights activists in Afghanistan, Bolton's assault dealt a punishing blow to their relentless efforts to end a culture of impunity that has bedeviled efforts to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice.
"The solution to put an end to war is by making everyone accountable, whether it is the Taliban or the Haqqani network or whether it is the Americans or the Afghan army or Afghan government," said Ehsan Qaane, of the Kabul-based Transitional Justice Coordination Group, which represents 26 organizations working for transitional justice in Afghanistan.
The coordination group assisted many victims who wanted to file a claim with the international court.
Victims need to see justice done if they are to begin to heal, said Qaane. He said some insurgents turned to the Taliban after being picked up, tortured and released. Their fight is more about revenge than ideology, he said.
"These people will perhaps stop fighting if they feel they have justice," said Qaane.
In The Hague, the ICC simply stated it was aware of Bolton's comments. In a statement issued Tuesday it did not address Bolton directly but rather reiterated its mission and that it was supported by 123 countries who have signed on to the Rome Statute that created the court. Afghanistan is a signatory.
Samar said rights groups cannot dispense justice.
"There is a difference between a human rights defender and a judge," thus the need for the ICC, she said in a telephone interview. "My concern is that to deny justice is to deny a basic human right and human dignity."
Hyderabad, Sept 11 (AP/UNB) — A bus carrying pilgrims from a Hindu temple in the hills of south India has plunged off a road, killing at least 45 people, officials say. At least 27 other people were injured.
The driver lost control as he tried to avoid another bus on the crowded road leading from the popular Anjaneya Swamy temple in Telangana state, said Narendar, a local official who uses only one name.
Passersby rushed to help, carrying the dead and injured up the hill.
A probe has been ordered into the cause of the accident, he said.
Beijing, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — China is eliminating a trio of agencies responsible for enforcing family planning policies in a further sign the government may be planning to scrap long-standing limits on the number of children its citizens can have.
The move was part of a reorganization of the National Health Commission announced Monday that creates a new single department called the Division of Population Monitoring and Family Development responsible for "establishing and perfecting a specialized system for supporting families."
Expectations of an end to birth limits were also raised by the appearance of a postage stamp last month featuring smiling mother and father pigs with three piglets.
Alarmed by the rapidly aging population and shrinking workforce, China abandoned its notorious one-child policy two years ago to allow two children, producing a nearly 8 percent increase in births in 2016, with nearly half of the babies born to couples who already had a child.
However, that appeared to have been a one-time increase, with 17.2 million births in the country last year, down from 17.9 million in 2016. Meanwhile, the proportion of the population aged 60 or older increased last year to 17.3 percent.
China currently has the world's largest population at 1.4 billion, which is expected to peak at 1.45 billion in 2029.
While authorities credit the one-child policy with preventing 400 million extra births, many demographers argue that the fertility rate would have fallen anyway as China's economy developed and education levels rose.
Over its 36 years of existence, the policy vastly inflated the ratio of boys to girls as female fetuses were selectively aborted in line with a preference for male offspring. China is predicted to have around 30 million more men than women by the end of the decade.
Billings, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — Native American tribes in Montana and South Dakota sued the Trump administration on Monday, claiming it approved an oil pipeline from Canada without considering potential damage to cultural sites from spills and construction.
Attorneys for the Rosebud Sioux tribe and Fort Belknap Indian Reservation asked U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls, Montana, to rescind the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, issued last year by the U.S. State Department.
The tribes argue President Donald Trump brushed aside their rights and put their members at risk when he reversed President Barack Obama's rejection of the $8 billion TransCanada Corp. project.
The line would carry up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily along a 1,184-mile (1,900-kilometer) path from Canada to Nebraska. The route passes through the ancestral homelands of the Rosebud Sioux in central South Dakota and the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes in Montana.
"The tribes are talking about cultural sites, archaeological sites, burial grounds, graveyards — none of that has been surveyed and it's in the way of the pipeline," said Natalie Landreth, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, which is representing the tribes.
The tribes said a spill from the line could damage a South Dakota water supply system that serves more than 51,000 people including on the Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Lower Brule Indian Reservations.
An existing TransCanada pipeline, also called Keystone, suffered a spill last year that released almost 10,000 barrels (407,000 gallons) of oil near Amherst, South Dakota.
State Department spokeswoman Julia Mason said the agency had no public response to the lawsuit. The department has jurisdiction over the pipeline because it would cross the U.S.-Canadian border.
Calgary-based TransCanada does not comment on litigation and was not named as a party in the case.
In August, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ordered the State Department to conduct a more thorough review of Keystone XL's path through Nebraska. The move came in response to litigation from environmentalists and after state regulators changed the route.
In yet another lawsuit involving the line, the American Civil Liberties Union and its Montana affiliate sued the U.S. government last week for the release of details related to preparations for anticipated protests against the line.
The groups cited confrontations between law enforcement and protesters, including many Native Americans, which turned violent during construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through South Dakota.