Daily Archives: August 23, 2016

South Sudan's children need to be students, not soldiers

Listen /

Three boys formally associated with armed forces pose for UNICEF photographer at a training centre run by UNICEF partner, INTERSOS, in southern Somalia. Photo: UNICEF Somalia/Rich

The world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, needs teachers, doctors, lawyers and engineers, not soldiers.

That’s according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which is working to remove children from the ranks of armed groups in the country.

South Sudan gained independence five years ago but roughly half that period has been marred by conflict.

UNICEF estimates at least 16,000 children have participated in the fighting.

More than 1,700 child soldiers were demobilized last year which UNICEF regional communications officer James Elder called a “positive sign.”

However, he told Sani Martin that recent fighting indicates that children there are still at risk.

Duration: 4’38”

Deep house duo Blonde talk Craig David and touring the world ahead of Exeter’s Lockdown festival

They have collaborated with Craig David and took the charts by storm with “All Cried Out” – is there anything these boys can’t do?

Deep house duo Blonde will be returning to Exeter next month to perform at Lockdown Festival (although they won’t be bringing garage singer Craig David with them they have promised us a few surprises).

The duo also known as Adam Englefield and Jacob Manson met in their university days in Bristol and will be performing at Exeter’s biggest dance festival on September 11.

Adam, who went to UWE University, said that the pair originally met through his internet music channel in 2013.

He said: “Jake was born in Bristol and we met by my YouTube channel which I called Eton Messy. We would often send each other music and the first three tracks that we produced we made before we even met face to face. It is amazing how easy collaboration is nowadays.

“We decided to call ourselves Blonde because we felt it was the perfect way to sum up the music we were making. It is summery house music, even though some people expect us both to be blonde.”

Read more: Aliens in Exeter: New trailer for Hollywood blockbuster ‘Arrival’ sees Devon visited by a spaceship

The other acts that will also be heading to Exeter next month are Tinie Tempah, Katie B and Chase and Status and being the superstars that they are Blonde have revealed they will be sticking around at the festival to watch some of the other stars perform.

Adam revealed: “We are going to try and catch Rudimental and Andy C’s sets as they always both bring the party. We want to check out Yungen too.”

Before they make a return to the city the boys have got gigs lined up in Ibiza, Liverpool and Denmark.

The pair have toured all over the world during the summer but have said they are looking forward to coming back to Exeter as ‘the crowds have always been a rowdy one’.

Adam said: “We have played in Exeter a fair bit in the past but haven’t been back for a little while now, so we are buzzing to get back.

“Obviously it’s only a stone’s throw away from our old stomping ground Bristol so it is always nice to come back to the area.

“Summer has been nonstop for us, we have done a lot of UK festivals, Glastonbury being one of the highlights.

“The other week we also came back from a tour in Asia which was incredible, it was mine and Jake’s first time in all of the countries we had visited so it was one big adventure.

“South Korea was awesome as well we are desperate to go back there. The crowd in Jakarta however was one of the best, they had endless amounts of energy.”

Blonde released their debut single “Foolish” in 2014, which features vocals from Ryan Ashley and shortly after in July 2014 they released their second single “Higher Ground” featuring Charli Taft.

On their fourth single they collaborated with Glee singer Alex Newell wth “All Cried Out” which reached number four in the UK charts.

Finally in 2016 they released “Nothing Like This” with superstar Craig David which Adam explains was a dream come true for the pair.

He said: “Craig’s music was a massive influence on us both when we were younger and when we heard that he was keen to work with us we just couldn’t believe that we would get to write music with one of our heroes.

“The whole process was incredible, everything from being in the studio with him to performing the song on stage, he is an extremely talented guy.”

With lots of musical collaborations under their belt, Blonde have said that they would love to collaborate with American rapper Missy Elliot.

“This may sound really random but we would both really like to work with Missy Elliot. I think that it could make for a really interesting combo, Adam said.

“We are both big fans of hers and have been for years, I also think an Ellie Goulding and a Blonde collaboration could be brilliant as well.”

After a summer of festivals and touring the world, Blonde have revealed they will getting back to the studio to finish their album.

Adam said: “We are in the studio pretty much any chance that we get, but at the moment we are really focussing on finishing this mixtape we are putting together.

“It is a collection of music we have made over the past few years, in many different styles. We cannot wait to share it with our fans and see what they think of it.

“The mixtape is in essence very similar to an album and that is very close to completion so the release won’t be too far around the corner. “

Read more: David Brent: Life on the Road – Meet the musician from Exeter who stars along Ricky Gervais

Soprano drug courier jailed after police see him burying stash on the outskirts of Exeter

Comments (0)

A drug courier who called himself Chris Soprano has been jailed after police spotted him trying to bury £2,700 worth of heroin and crack in woodland.

Christopher Nkongo fled when police arrived at a nursery on the outskirts of Exeter where he was staying but officers stalked him through woodland and watched as he dug with his bare hands and hid his drugs.

He was arrested after a police dog tracked him to a nearby farm where he had asked the farmer to give him a lift into Exeter and claimed be was being chased by knife wielding killers.

After he was taken into custody he told police his name was Chris Soprana, a reference to the hit TV show about an American crime family.

Tests proved his true identity and showed he was a prisoner on early release who had been freed three months earlier half way through a 32 month sentence for an identical offence.

Nkongo, aged 21, of Longshore, Deptford, London, admitted two offences of possession of class A drugs with intent and possession of a personal amount of cannabis and was jailed for 28 months by Recorder Mr Philip Mott, QC, at Exeter Crown Court.

Read next: I suffer daily flashbacks, says partner of Newton Poppleford woman kill in Looe coach crash

He told him:”I accept you were acting as a courier and were under pressure to repay money owed for drugs which had been confiscated on an earlier occasion.

“You played a lesser role and that substantially reduces the sentence you receive but other elements I have to consider are your previous conviction, that you attempted to dispose of the drugs, and that you gave a false name.”

Miss Sally Daulton, prosecuting, said police went to Fernleigh Nurseries at Ludwell Lane, Exeter, on Monday July 25 to investigate suspected drug dealing.

She said:”A man ran out of the back into a wooded area. Police shouted for him to stop but continued to run into the woods where an officer crept up on him and saw him digging in the ground.

“He ran off when he saw the officer, who recovered three packages which Nkongo was trying to bury.”

The police followed footprints in the grass and used a dog to track him to Ludwell Farm, where he had asked the owner to give him a lift and said he was on the run from men armed with knives.

When he was booked into custody he gave his surname as Soprano and made no comment in interview. The drugs were found to be 16.12 grams of heroin, 11.56 grams of crack, and 0.7 grams of cannabis with a total value of £2,778.

Mr Joss Ticehurst, defending, said Nkongo was bullied into transporting the drugs to Exeter by threat to himself and his family.

He said Nkongo had been left owing £2,000 to a drugs gang for heroin and crack seized by police at the time of his first conviction last year.

Mr Ticehurst said Nkongo had worked at the 2012 Olympics and had jobs at supermarkets since. He plans to live a normal life and get away from drugs or gangs when he is released.

'All of humanity is part of this story,' UNESCO says on Day to remember slavery and its abolition

23 August 2016 – The courage of the men and women who in August 1791 revolted against slavery in Haiti &#8220has created obligations for us,&#8221 the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said on the day set aside for remembrance of that rebellion, noting that &#8220all of humanity is part of this story&#8221 and efforts to teach the history of the slave trade will help build a better world.

&#8220The uprising was a turning point in human history, greatly impacting the establishment of universal human rights, for which we are all indebted,&#8221 said UNESCO Director-General in her message for the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, marked annually on 23 August to commemorate the night in 1791 when people who had been torn from Africa and sold into slavery revolted against the slave system to obtain freedom and independence for Haiti, gained in 1804.

She said that UNESCO is marking the Day of Remembrance to pay tribute to all those who fought for freedom, and, in their name, to continue teaching about their story and the values therein.

&#8220The history of the slave trade and slavery created a storm of rage, cruelty and bitterness that has not yet abated,&#8221 said the Director- General, &#8220but the courage of these men and women has created obligations for us.&#8221

She acknowledged that the success of this rebellion, led by the slaves themselves, is a deep source of inspiration today for the fight against all forms of servitude, racism, prejudice, racial discrimination and social injustice that are a legacy of slavery.

&#8220All of humanity is part of this story, in its transgressions and good deeds,&#8221 Ms. Bokova noted.

Through its project The Slave Route, UNESCO intends to find in this collective memory the strength to build a better world and to show the historical and moral connections that unite different peoples.

In this same frame of mind, the UN proclaimed the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). UNESCO is contributing to it through its educational, cultural and scientific programmes so as to promote the contribution of people of African descent to building modern societies and ensuring dignity and equality for all human beings, without distinction.

Booby-trapped bicycles

Under the scorching midday sun and the rattle of heavy artillery and Kalashnikov fire, three men on the Libyan coast are deactivating mines with electricians’ pliers, clad in flak jackets and helmets that will do them little good if a device detonates.

“One mistake here and basically you’re dead,” Mohammed*, 40, tells IRIN.

He is carrying three newly deactivated devices, including a frighteningly realistic fake rock packed with explosives. He is taking them off the battlefield in Sirte, where Libyan forces are edging closer to defeating the so-called Islamic State.

The militant group’s mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have already left hundreds of Libyan fighters dead and maimed and, as government forces continue to advance into the centre of the town, poorly equipped demining units are struggling to deal with the aftermath.

International demining organisations are loath to work in Libya – a position that won’t have been helped by the death of a British de-mining expert in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Monday – so these explosives threaten to leave a terrifying legacy for civilians long after the war is over.

Understaffed and unprepared

Just 200 metres ahead of Mohammed and his colleagues, a child’s bicycle lies in the middle of the road. It looks innocent but the men have spotted a trap; a thin wire leads from the bike to a rigged tank shell.

Anyone attempting to use the road would have to move the bicycle, triggering the explosive mechanism. To add to the danger, Mohammed explains that the ground on either side of the road is also mined.

His unit – part of the intelligence services of one of Libya’s three governments – was drafted in to help when Libyan fighters found the sheer numbers of mines and IEDs in Sirte unmanageable.

The assault on the city, led by fighters from the UN-backed Government of National Unity and the Tripoli-based government Mohammed is loyal to, began in May.

It has really put Mohammed’s skills to the test. Trained in the United States back in 2004, he said IS has used tactics he’s never seen before. Retreating militants have left a trail of devices across each district of the town, many disguised as, or rigged to, everyday objects.

“This stuff never existed before in Libya. We never saw a range of devices like these,” he says.

Doors, windows, even furnishings, have been connected to explosives.

It’s been deadly for the Libyan forces. Brigadier General Mohammed al-Ghasri, a spokesman for the military operation in Sirte, told IRIN that mines and IEDs had killed more than 400 fighters and injured another 2,000.

The dead include four commanders of military engineering units that specialise in deactivating and removing IEDs. Another demining officer lost both his arms when a device he was working on exploded.

“If the international community had helped us with this, we could have avoided a lot of bloodshed and losses”

“No international organisations or governments have given us any help with demining operations or even provided us with equipment we desperately need, such as metal detectors for finding mines,” al-Ghasri complained. “If the international community had helped us with this, we could have avoided a lot of bloodshed and losses.”

Al-Ghasri said the engineering units had dismantled 200 IEDs in the last fortnight alone. “But every day we find more and more, including explosives rigged with transparent fishing wire in civilian homes.”

In recently liberated districts of Sirte, fighters have uncovered makeshift factories where IS has been hand-crafting explosives, including grenades, bombs and IEDs.

In one sprawling farm in the Hay Dollar district of Sirte, once a villa-lined luxury area favoured by former ruler Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle, soldiers found dozens of bags of fertiliser piled next to metal components, ready to be packed into bombs to create lethal shrapnel.

There were pipe joints stuffed with explosives, racks of chemicals and gas masks, as well as bomb “recipes”.

In addition to these urban stockpiles, fighters have to deal with desert expanses and exposed rural areas on the coastline that IS controlled until recently.

“We desperately need help with special technologies for detecting IEDs and mines,” said army officer Salah Jarbar, standing on charred tarmac outside the ruins of a police station destroyed two months ago by an IS car bomb in the village of Abu Grain.

Abu Grain’s outlying desert, 150 kilometres west of Sirte, was left heavily mined by IS. Like al-Ghasri, Jarbar said even metal detectors would be of great help. “They are a cheap technology but really we need a lot of them.”

The threat to civilians

Once Libyan forces finish off IS in Sirte, al-Ghasri estimates it will take at least another five months to clear the town of mines, IEDs, and unexploded ordnance.

A number of international humanitarian demining outfits, including Handicap International and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG International) were active in Libya after the 2011 uprising until fighting in Tripoli in 2014 prompted embassies and international organisations to flee the country. Libya’s ongoing instability, including in the capital, has left most wary of returning.

“MAG is not working in Libya and we currently have no plans to restart,” MAG Fundraising and Communications Assistant Gayle Gabe told IRIN. As of September 2013, MAG alone said it had removed more than 495,000 explosive remnants of war across the country, including those found in ammunition stockpiles.

For now, local people living in former IS-controlled territory live in fear that any accidental stumble could be their last.

In the Ghardabiya district south of Sirte, a former teacher still too scared of IS retribution to give his name, said that with the group gone explosives were now his greatest fear and called on the international community to pitch in.

“We urgently need international mine-clearance organisations to come and check the areas around Sirte, especially in the desert areas, because there are just so many mines there,” he said. “We are afraid for our children and we are afraid for our future.”

Other areas already liberated from IS have begun to see the consequences of explosives left untended, with shepherds and herdsmen – whose livestock roam significant distances – in particular danger.

One shepherd from Bin Jawad, a town freed from IS in late May, has already fallen victim. 

While searching for his sheep in late July, the shepherd drove over a suspected IS mine 10 kilometres south of the town. Local civil society activist Fadiel Fadel described the man – who sustained only minor injuries mainly from the shattered glass windows of his truck – as lucky, but said the incident showed the threat locals face.

As displaced former residents started to return to their homes after Bin Jawad was liberated, military engineering units dismantled IEDs left in homes but did not have the capacity to comb the outlying desert areas for mines, the activist explained.

“Mines are really dangerous and difficult, especially for farmers, and here we are looking at large areas that can’t be explored or cleared easily,” Fadel said. “The situation is quite critical and I don’t think Libya has the capacity to manage this problem alone.”

* Name changed for security concerns

(TOP PHOTO: A demining team works on deactivating a mine hidden in a fake rock. Tom Westcott/IRIN)