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Somali News

Iranian ships seized ‘smuggling North Korean machine guns to Somalia militants’

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EXPRESS — The weapons were on their way to war-torn Somalia when they were caught by an inspection looking for contraband.

A UN diplomat earlier asked: “Why are Iranian and North Korean small arms finding their way into Somalia from Libya? Do they date from before the arms embargoes (against both North Korea and Iran)? How did they get there from Libya?

“It certainly emphasises the point that Somalia is a country awash with arms and still very fragile.”

It is believed the weapons were sent by Iran in an attempt to arm militants fighting in Somalia.

The ships were intercepted in the Arabian Sea by a French vessel.

The Type 73 machine guns were manufactured in the prison country before being sold to Iran between 1970 and 1980.
The hermit kingdom has repeatedly taken part in a series of illegal activities to fund its nuclear and missile programmes.

Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung sanctioned the production of opium and other drugs, including fake prescription medicine.

In 2001 the income from these activities was estimated to be as high as £800,000 ($1billion).

The news follows shocking claims that Kim Jong-un was prepared to sell nuclear weapons to “anybody with hard currency” including to Iran and terrorist groups, an ex-UN ambassador has claimed.

John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, said North Korea could also sell nuclear weapons to aspiring nuclear powers unless the rogue nation was stopped.

North Korea has continued with its development of a nuclear weapons arsenal despite international condemnation.

After the rogue state’s despot leader Kim Jong-un started a furious war of words with US President Donald Trump fears of the possible outbreak of World War 3 intensified.

Mr Bolton added his “preferred outcome” to the growing US-North Korea crisis would be to “reunite the two Koreas” but conceded talks with the hermit state would be a “complete non-starter”.

He said: “My preferred outcome is to reunite the two Koreas. That wouldn’t happen overnight.

“There are a variety of possibilities, one possibility is the Chinese said ‘we’re doing all we can, why don’t you sit down and negotiate with the North Koreans’, which is a complete non-starter in my view.

“I think then the outcome is nearly certain that North Korea will get nuclear weapons and not just North Korea since they’ll sell to anybody with hard currency, Iran, terrorist groups, other aspiring nuclear powers.

“That’s why the resolution of the North Korea issue is so important because the proliferation impact of North Korea visibly getting nuclear weapons around the world would be considerable.”

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Somali News

Bangkok’s Somali refugees persecuted and living in fear

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Bangkok, Thailand – “I’ve never experienced cold like this,” says RK, a 19-year-old Somali refugee, as he sits in a downtown Bangkok alley one December morning.

It is 20 degrees, and opposite is the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center, an office building concealing thousands of undocumented migrants.

It is a stone’s throw from Bangkok’s gregarious tourist district, and RK’s wife and nine-month-old daughter are being held inside.

“They kicked my door down and took my family when I was away,” RK says, referring to an immigration raid at his home three months earlier, as part of a crackdown on undocumented migrants.

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, told Al Jazeera that Bangkok is home to a growing community of approximately 4,500 refugees and 2,000 asylum-seekers from more than 50 countries.

Regarded as “illegal aliens” under Thai law, RK’s wife and daughter face a period of indefinite detention. They will only be released by relocation to a third country, a lengthy process.

An undocumented migrant and former detainee himself, RK relies upon volunteers to relay messages of hope on his behalf.

An exact breakdown of the origins of refugee communities in Thailand is not available.

But compared with Europe, Thailand is in seen as being in easier reach and more hospitable among Pakistani, Somali, Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian migrants and refugees – all of whom flock to the Asian country.

These were among the considerations that drew RK to the city. Three years earlier, when he was 16 years old, he fled Mogadishu, the Somali capital, after his father was killed in an al-Shabab car bomb attack.

Fearing for his life, RK’s family paid smugglers $2,000 to escort him on a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, one of the few countries where Somali citizens do not require visas.

From there, he was transported 1,500km in the back of a truck on a three-day journey up the Malay Peninsula to Bangkok – home to UNHCR’s Regional Office for Southeast Asia, and a city from where he could apply for asylum.

“They told me it would be safe to live and work here until I got accepted into another country,” says RK, talking of his smugglers.

But misinformation and false hope are the currencies that sustain the smuggling industry, with the reality on the ground remaining far bleaker.

Thailand is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and Thailand’s Immigration Act does not distinguish between refugees, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

Consequently, all undocumented migrants remain at the mercy of immigration officials who regularly arrest and incarcerate anyone unable to produce valid visas.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), this approach is central to the Thai government’s immigration policy informed by the magnet effect; a belief that making conditions as inhospitable as possible for refugees and asylum seekers will deter future arrivals.

As a result, they face crippling government-imposed restrictions on access to healthcare and education. Most debilitating is the inability to earn money legally.

UNHCR in Bangkok told Al Jazeera that due to financial shortfalls, the agency uses panels to assess the needs of refugees and “target assistance on the most vulnerable”.

Most are employed illegally and exploited.

“I received 1,500 thai baht ($47) for working 60 hours a week in a kitchen,” RK explains. “But my boss even took this away after three months because he was scared of getting caught.”

With the threat of arrest and detention constantly looming, avoiding unwanted attention from authorities is the foremost daily consideration.

With the vast majority of migrants confined to poorer Thai communities on the city’s outskirts, keeping a low profile is a must. Most spend long days confined to crowded and squalid apartments.

“Immigration [officials] bang on the doors almost every week shouting ‘Somalis come out!’. Sometimes they come inside and take people,” says 18-year-old Abdirahim, a member of a minority clan threatened with violence in his home city of Mogadishu. He arrived in Bangkok alone at the age 15.

He shares a single-room apartment with four other Somali men, none of whom are older than 20 and all are also members of minority clans in Somalia at risk of violence. The men estimate that there are seven other apartments in the building housing people of African and Middle Eastern origin living in similar circumstances.

This consigns them to a life subsisting on irregular handouts from increasingly stretched refugee support networks

Despite having had their claims of asylum verified through extensive interviews and background checks as part of UNCHR’s Refugee Status Determination – with all carrying identity cards stating as much – Abdirahim and his roommates remain too frightened to leave their home unless absolutely essential.

“I’m scared to go out or I will be arrested and locked up again … I’m powerless to do anything to help myself so I just sleep,” he says.

Life inside immigration prisons offers a different kind of misery.

With access heavily restricted, accounts of abysmal conditions are known only from the testimonies of former detainees released on a now-defunct bail system that was operated at the discretion of immigration officials until mid-2016.

“I was in a cell with 120 men, only three times as big as this room,” Abdirahim explains, gesturing to his cramped apartment of 350 square feet. “Food was rice and soup twice a day. I would sleep on the concrete floor and only saw the sun every three days.”

Despite several attempts, representatives of the Thai Immigration Bureau for comment did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Immigration detention of refugee and asylum-seeking children in Thailand violates the rights of children under international law.

Although he was a minor, Abdirahim spent two years in these conditions between the ages of 15 and 17 before being bailed out by a refugee support charity.

This practice of indefinitely detaining children among adults concerns rights groups. HRW says it violates Thailand’s obligations under international law and puts children at risk of sexual and physical abuse..

When Al Jazeera visited a detention centre, this reporter witnessed at least five children aged up to 10.

The Thai government has publicly affirmed its commitment to ending some immigration practices. In September 2016, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pledged to end the detention of refugee children during a speech at the US-hosted Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis.

But UNHCR said it was unable to access figures for the exact number of minors in immigration prisons in Thailand and was unaware of a definitive end date for this practice.

In practice, the future for Bangkok’s refugees and asylum seekers remains precarious.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, told Al Jazeera that the Thai government has “dragged its feet for decades” on the issue of immigration reforms.

Some officials simply believe that “migrants and refugees do not deserve any better”, he said.

With returning home tantamount to a death sentence for most, receiving asylum in a third country remains perhaps the best hope.

“I wish I never came here,” says Abdirahim, standing on his balcony overlooking a bustling Bangkok street below. “I will go anywhere now. Anywhere where I will be safe and can start living my life.”

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Somali News

Fighting Alshabaab Somali government enlists help from paramilitary group

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Somalia has secured a landmark agreement with a para-military group several thousand fighters strong. It opens a new chapter in the fight against al-Shabaab. The Sunni sect is the first Somali group to go it alone against al-Shabaab — and win. CGTN’s Abdulaziz Billow reports from the central Somali town of Dhusamareeb.

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Briefing Room

UPDATE: Somali authorities say troops rescue 32 children from “terrorist school”

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MOGADISHU, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Somali authorities said troops stormed a school run by al Shabaab on Thursday night and rescued 32 children who had been taken as recruits by the Islamist militant group.

“The 32 children are safe and the government is looking after them. It is unfortunate that terrorists are recruiting children to their twisted ideology,” Abdirahman Omar Osman, information minister for the Somali federal government, told Reuters on Friday.

“It showed how desperate the terrorists are, as they are losing the war and people are rejecting terror.”

Al Shabaab said government forces, accompanied by drones, had attacked the school in Middle Shabelle region. It said four children and a teacher were killed.

The Somali government said no children were killed in the rescue.

“They kidnapped the rest of the students,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military spokesman.

“Human Rights Watch is responsible for the deaths of the students and their teacher because it pointed fingers at them,” he added.

In a report this week, the New York-based rights group said that since September 2017, al Shabaab had ordered village elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and rural communities to hand over hundreds of children as young as eight.

The U.S. Africa Command said it had carried out an air strike on Thursday against al Shabaab targets 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Somalia’s port city of Kismayo, killing four militants. U.S. forces regularly launch such aerial assaults.

The al Shabaab militia, linked to al Qaeda, is fighting to topple the U.N.-backed Somali government and establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.

Somalia has been plagued by conflict since the early 1990s, when clan-based warlords overthrew authoritarian ruler Mohamed Siad Barre then turned on each other.

In recent years, regional administrations headed by the Mogadishu-based federal government have emerged, and African Union peacekeepers supporting Somali troops have gradually clawed back territory from the Islamist insurgents.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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