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UN envoy says ex-FARC fighters in Colombia being killed

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The United Nation envoy for Colombia called on Wednesday for improved protection for former combatants who continue to be killed “in alarming numbers,” and he complained of rising violence and massacres by other groups that have cropped up since the 2016 peace accord.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu told the UN Security Council that efforts must also be stepped up to fight impunity for these crimes, “including by bringing intellectual authors to justice”.

“Priority should be given to staffing and resources for the National Protection Unit to clear the backlog of pending requests for protection for former combatants,” he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ latest report to the council, circulated last week, said the UN political mission in Colombia verified 19 killings of former combatants from the country’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in the three-month period ending September 25.

The latest victims included one of the highest-ranking former FARC commanders, Jorge Ivan Ramos, who became a FARC political party leader and was killed on August 28. The UN chief said Ramos was actively engaged in implementing the 2016 peace deal with the government, including working on a crop substitution programme and the handover process for FARC assets.

The FARC party addressed an open letter to the National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish acronym ELN, which is one of Colombia’s last remaining rebel groups, expressing shock “over information that ELN was behind the crime,” Guterres said.

He said the latest killings bring the total number of former combatants killed so far this year to 50, including two women. Since the peace agreement was signed, he said, the UN mission has verified 297 attacks on former FARC fighters, including 224 killings, 20 disappearances and 53 attempted homicides.

Before the peace deal was signed with the FARC, more than 50 years of war in Colombia caused more than 220,000 deaths and displaced nearly six million people. An amnesty law was adopted covering most offences committed by FARC fighters.

Ruiz Massieu told the Security Council that the FARC’s laying down of arms and its transition into a political party has been completed and is “irreversible.” But he said the reintegration of FARC members into civilian life, “the search for truth, reparations and restorative justice for victims” and the transformation of rural Colombia remain enormous challenges.

“Despite continued attacks and stigmatisation against them, the vast majority of those who laid down their weapons remain engaged in the reintegration process, with nearly a third of them having received funding for productive projects through mechanisms created by the peace agreement,” he said.

But Ruiz Massieu said land for the former combatants continues to be “one of the most pressing matters” for reintegration.

He said the FARC’s decision to disarm “has contributed significantly to the overall reduction of violence since the signing of the peace agreement.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “some of the areas that suffered immensely during the conflict continue to be besieged by violence from other actors who continue attacking social leaders, human rights defenders, former combatants and entire communities.

Recent massacres in various departments have served as a painful reminder of how innocent civilians, including young people, are falling victim to the actions of these groups.”

Colombia’s Foreign Minister Claudia Blum told the council “safety and security of former combatants, human rights defenders and social and political leaders remain our greatest challenge.”

She said the government is strengthening prevention and protection efforts and the attorney general has advanced investigations into 126 cases of attacks on ex-combatants, and so far 30 people have been convicted.

Blum called on the UN mission to address the FARC’s “lack of contribution to truth, reparations and justice.”

“Colombia demands members of the FARC political party to tell the truth and to recognise their responsibility regarding the recruitment of children, kidnappings, sex crimes, attacks against civilians, planting of anti-personnel mines and forced disappearances among other serious crimes,” Blum said.

“Likewise, they must give details on drug trafficking groups, money laundering, and the link between the former guerrilla and other criminal organisations.”

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‘Ignition of new war:’ Sudan political parties reject Israel deal

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Sudanese political parties have rejected the government’s decision to normalise relations with Israel, with officials saying they will form an opposition front against the agreement.

Dozens of Sudanese people demonstrated in the capital Khartoum on Friday following the joint statement from Israel, Sudan and the United States on Friday saying that the two countries agreed to “end the state of belligerence between their nations”.

A statement from Sudan’s Popular Congress Party, the second most prominent component of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) political coalition, said Sudanese people are not obligated to accept the normalisation deal.

“We see that our people, who are being systematically isolated and marginalised from secret deals, are not bound by the normalisation agreement,” the statement said.

“Our people will abide by their historical positions and work through a broad front to resist normalisation and maintain our support for the Palestinian people in order for them to obtain all their legitimate rights.”

Sudan’s former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi also slammed the announcement, adding that he withdrew from a government-organised religious conference on Saturday in Khartoum in protest.

Al-Mahdi, who is the country’s last democratically elected premier and heads the country’s largest political party, said: “This statement contradicts the Sudanese national law … and contributes to the elimination of the peace project in the Middle East and to preparing for the ignition of a new war.”

Kamal Omar, a leader in the Popular Congress Party, said in a separate statement that Sudan’s transitional government is not elected and therefore not authorised to normalise relations with Israel.

“This transitional government hijacked the Sudanese position to satisfy regional and international intelligence agencies,” he said.

Protesters in Khartoum took to the streets and chanted “no peace, no negotiation, no reconciliation with the occupying entity” and “we will not surrender, we will always stand with Palestine”.

Muhammad Wadaa, a leader in the Sudanese Baath Party, which is part of the FFC, said the anti-normalisation front includes a civil force and influential parties from within and outside the forces of freedom and change.

Wadaa said there are a number of parties within the FFC that warned the transitional government they will withdraw their support if normalisation with Israel was agreed to.

“Normalisation with Israel is a move that is rejected. The government is not authorised to take such a decision with a racist state that practises religious discrimination,” he said.

Wadaa told Al Jazeera that “the government made a big mistake and it is a step that will not achieve economic abundance”.

Palestinian officials reacted with dismay as Sudan became the third country to normalise relations recently, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the deal and said the only path towards peace is by resorting to international law to make Israel end its occupation of Palestinian territories.

However, according to Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, many Palestinians believe the PA does not have much to offer other than condemnation.

“For many political analysts here, Palestinians have their backs against the wall and really don’t have much to hope for, other than Trump would not get a second term in office,” she said, speaking from the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

“Many Palestinians on social media say the Sudanese people’s hearts are with the Palestinian people but they were dragged into this by their military rulers.”

On Saturday, Iran’s foreign ministry slammed Sudan’s move, saying: “Pay enough ransom, close your eyes on the crimes against Palestinians, then you’ll be taken off the so-called ‘terrorism’ blacklist.”

“Obviously the list is as phoney as the US fight against terrorism. Shameful!” it added.

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EU border agency ‘involved in illegal pushbacks’ of migrant boats

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Media investigation reveals ‘senior Frontex officials know about illegal practices by Greek border guards’.

Europe’s border security agency Frontex has been involved in several illegal “pushbacks” of migrants and refugees crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, a media investigation has revealed.

The investigation shows “senior Frontex officials know about illegal practices by Greek border guards – and that some of them are themselves implicated in pushbacks”, Germany’s Der Spiegel said on its website.

Also known as refoulements, “pushbacks” are incidents where refugees or migrants are illegally returned across a border to a country where they could face persecution.

Journalists say they have uncovered six cases since April when Frontex units did nothing to stop refugee boats in Greek waters being returned towards Turkey.

A video from a June incident shows a Frontex boat blocking one with refugees on it. A later shot from the same encounter shows it racing across the bow of the boat before leaving the area.

German public broadcaster ARD, journalist collective Lighthouse Reports, investigative platform Bellingcat and Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi were involved in the investigation alongside Der Spiegel.

The journalists say they compared “dozens” of videos, also checking satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts from refugees, migrants and Frontex workers.

Der Spiegel reported that more than 600 people from the European border agency equipped with boats, drones and aircraft are deployed in Greece, where many migrants first enter the European Union.

It added that Frontex would not comment on the individual cases uncovered by the investigation, but referred to a human rights and non-refoulement code of conduct supposed to bind staff.

On Friday, it posted on Twitter that its actions in support of Greek authorities were “in full respect of fundamental rights and international law”, adding that it “has been in contact with the Greek authorities about some incidents at sea in recent months”.

Athens had launched an “internal inquiry”, it added.

Greece’s conservative government has always rejected claims of illegal pushbacks taking place at its borders, regularly alleged by several charities.

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NASA probe leaking asteroid samples due to jammed door

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Images beamed back to ground control revealed it caught more material than scientists anticipated and was spewing excess of flaky asteroid rocks into space.

A US probe that collected a sample from an asteroid earlier this week retrieved so much material that a rock is wedged in the container door, allowing rocks to spill back out into space.

On Tuesday, the robotic arm of the probe, OSIRIS-REx, kicked up a debris cloud of rocks on Bennu, a skyscraper-sized asteroid some 320 million kilometres (200 million miles) from Earth and trapped the material in a collection device for the return to Earth.

But images of the spacecraft’s collection head beamed back to ground control revealed it had caught more material than scientists anticipated and was spewing an excess of flaky asteroid rocks into space.

The leakage had the OSIRIS-REx mission team scrambling to stow the collection device to prevent additional spillage.

“Time is of the essence,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, told reporters on Friday.

Zurbuchen said mission teams will skip their chance to measure how much material they collected as originally planned and proceed to the stow phase, a fragile process of tucking the sample collection container in a safe position within the spacecraft without jostling out more valuable material.

NASA will not know how much material it collected until the sample capsule returns in 2023.

The troubleshooting also led mission leaders to forgo any more chances of redoing a collection attempt and instead commit to begin next March the spacecraft’s return to Earth.

“Quite honestly, we could not have performed a better collection experiment,” OSIRIS-REx’s principal investigator Dante Lauretta said.

But with the door lodged open by a rock and the “concerning” images of sample spillage, “we’re almost the victim of our own success here”, he added.

The roughly $800m, minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, launched in 2016 to grab and return the first US sample of pristine asteroid materials.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.

A sample could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists say.

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