Yemen Presidential Council Forms Security, Military Committee

UN envoy Grundberg meets with head of the Presidential Leadership Council Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi in Aden. (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen).
UN envoy Grundberg meets with head of the Presidential Leadership Council Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi in Aden. (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen).
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Yemen Presidential Council Forms Security, Military Committee

UN envoy Grundberg meets with head of the Presidential Leadership Council Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi in Aden. (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen).
UN envoy Grundberg meets with head of the Presidential Leadership Council Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi in Aden. (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen).

The Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council announced on Monday the formation of a joint security and military committee.

Veteran military official Haitham Qassem Taher was named as head of the 59-member committee.

The formation of the body is part of the Council's efforts to consolidate its authority and efforts to unify the army and security forces.

Official sources added that the PLC also agreed to restructure the armed and security forces in line with the declaration of the transition of power in the country.

The Saba news agency said the meeting was chaired by PLC Chairman Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi and other members of the council.

The sources added that the PLC agreed to form a committee that would assess and restructure the intelligence agencies.

The members stressed the importance of these committees in carrying out their duties to achieve security and stability and unify the armed and security forces under one national command.

This would boost the battle of restoring the state and protect the current national consensus, with the support of the Arab Coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Yemenis are hoping that the security and military committee would be a changing point in that it would unify the military and security forces, which would consolidate the ability of the legitimate forces in confronting the Houthi coup and unite national forces that are keen on restoring the state and liberating the capital Sanaa from the militias.

Meanwhile, the legitimate government warned that the ongoing nationwide truce was on the verge of collapse due to the intransigence of the Iran-backed Houthi militias. The truce is set to expire on Thursday.

United Nations envoy Hans Grundberg pledged on Monday to extend the truce.

He held talks with Al-Alimi, members of the PLC and Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak in the interim capital Aden.

The UN office in Yemen tweeted that the meeting focused on re-opening roads in Taiz, which under a years-long siege by the Houthis, and renewing the truce.

"Discussions focused on the need to deliver results for civilians in Taiz and across Yemen. Grundberg noted that renewing the truce is critical to solidify benefits delivered so far and provide space to move towards a political settlement," it added.

The representative of the warring parties met for three days in the Jordanian capital Amman last week to discuss ending the siege.

They failed to reach an agreement with the Houthis rejecting the government delegation's proposal to open the main roads.

Lifting the siege was among the articles of the truce. The question of the blockaded city is key to extending the ceasefire.

Grundberg said a proposal had been floated in what he described as "an initial round of discussions" for a phased reopening of roads in Taiz and elsewhere, which would help facilitate aid deliveries and the movement of suffering Yemenis.

The representatives agreed to hold a follow up meeting.

Bin Mubarak informed Grundberg on Monday that the government was keen on ensuring the success of the truce to ease the suffering of the people.

He accused the Houthis of committing violations and stalling, complicating efforts to end the Taiz siege.

He expressed the PLC's commitment to exercise restraint to ensure that the truce holds, demanding that the envoy and international community pressure the Houthis and guarantee that all articles of the truce are implemented.

The sources said Grundberg hailed the government's position and keenness on respecting the truce to ease the people's suffering.

He stressed that lifting the siege was at the top of his priorities and that he is keen on extending the truce.



One Year Later, Migrants Who Cheated Death Off Greece Seek Justice

A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean. Reuters file photo
A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean. Reuters file photo
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One Year Later, Migrants Who Cheated Death Off Greece Seek Justice

A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean. Reuters file photo
A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean. Reuters file photo

Desperate hands clutched at Ali Elwan's arms, legs and neck, and screams misted his ears, as he spat out saltwater and fought for three hours to keep afloat in the night, dozens of miles from land.
Although a poor swimmer, he lived — one of just 104 survivors from the wreck of a dilapidated old metal fishing boat smuggling up to 750 migrants from North Africa to Europe.
“I was so, so lucky,” the 30-year-old Egyptian told The Associated Press in Athens, Greece, where he works odd jobs while he waits to hear the outcome of his asylum application. “I have two babies. Maybe I stay(ed) in this life for them.”
Thousands have died in Mediterranean Sea shipwrecks in recent years as migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seek a better life in the affluent European Union.
But the sinking of the Adriana a year ago Friday in international waters 75 kilometers (45 miles) off Pylos in southern Greece was one of the worst. Only 82 bodies were recovered, so that hundreds of families still lack even the grim certitude that their relatives are dead.
Elwan, a cook whose wife and children are in Cairo, says he still gets phone calls from Egypt from mothers, brothers and wives of the missing.
“We (left) home to get the best life for the family and until now (their families) know nothing about them,” he said.
And after a year there are only hazy answers as to why so many lives were lost, what caused the shipwreck and who can be held answerable.
Migrant charities and human rights groups have strongly criticized Greece's handling of the sinking and its aftermath.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Thursday “a credible process for accountability” was needed.
“It is unconscionable that one year since this horrific tragedy, the investigation into the potential liability of (Greece’s) Coast Guard has barely progressed,” HRW official Judith Sunderland said in the groups' joint statement.
The Greek coast guard, migration ministry and other officials did not respond to AP requests for comment ahead of the anniversary.
Authorities had a coast guard boat on the scene and merchant ships in the vicinity during the trawler's last hours. They blame smugglers who crammed hundreds of people into an unseaworthy vessel — most in an airless hold designed to store a catch of fish — for a nightmare voyage from Libya to Italy.
They also say the Adriana capsized when its passengers — some of whom wanted to press on for Italy after five dreadful days at sea, others to seek safety in Greece — suddenly surged to one side, causing it to lurch and turn turtle. And they insist that offers to take the migrants off the ship were rebuffed by people set on reaching Italy.
Elwan — who says he was on deck with a clear view of what happened — and other survivors say the lurching followed a botched coast guard attempt to tow the trawler. He claimed the coast guard hurriedly cut the towline when it became evident the Adriana would sink and drag their boat down with it.
“If you find the ship (at the bottom of the sea), you will find this rope” still attached to it, he said.
But the logistics make such a feat nigh-on impossible, Greek authorities say, as the ship rests some 5 kilometers (more than 3 miles) down, at one of the Mediterranean's deepest points.
The coast guard has denied any towing attempt, and allegations that its vessel tried to shift the trawler into neighboring Italy's area of responsibility.
A naval court began investigating last June, but has released no information on its progress or findings.
Separately, in November Greece's state ombudsman started an independent probe into authorities' handling of the tragedy, bemoaning the coast guard's "express denial” to initiate a disciplinary investigation.
Last month, a Greek court dropped charges against nine Egyptians accused of crewing the Adriana and causing the shipwreck. Without examining evidence for or against them, it determined that Greece lacked jurisdiction as the wreck occurred in international waters.
Effie Doussi, one of the Egyptians' defense lawyers, argued that the ruling was “politically convenient” for Greek authorities.
“It saved the Greek state from being exposed over how the coast guard acted, given their responsibility for rescue,” she said.
Doussi said a full hearing would have included testimony from survivors and other witnesses, and let defense lawyers seek additional evidence from the coast guard, such as potential mobile phone data.
Zeeshan Sarwar, a 28-year-old Pakistani survivor, said he's still waiting for justice, “but apparently there is nothing.”
“I may be looking fine right now, but I am broken from the inside. We are not getting justice,” he told the AP. “We are not receiving any information about the people of coast guard ... that the court has found them guilty or not.”
Elwan, the Egyptian, said he can still only sleep for three or four hours a night.
“I remember every second that happened to me,” he said. “I can’t forget anything because (I) lost friends in this ship.”
The journey that preceded the wreck was also horrendous.
Survivors said Pakistanis were confined in the hold and beaten by the crew if they tried to stir. But Arabic-speaking Egyptians and Syrians enjoyed the relative luxury of the deck. For many, that spelled the difference between life and death when the ship capsized.
“Our condition was very bad on the first day because it was the first time in our life that we were traveling on the sea,” Sarwar said.
“If a person ... tried to vomit, then they used to say that you have to do it right here on your lap, you can’t get (outside),” he said. “On the fifth day, people were fainting because of hunger and thirst. One man died.”
Elwan said he left for Europe secretly, telling his wife he would be away for months, working at an Egyptian Red Sea resort.
He's upset that he's still to be granted asylum, unlike many Syrian survivors who, he said, have moved on to western Europe.
“Only people from Egypt can't get papers,” he said. “I've been working for 10 months to send money for my family ... If someone says come and move rubbish, I will go and move this rubbish, no problem for me.”
If he gets residence papers, Elwan wants to work in Greece and bring his family over.
Otherwise, “I will go to Italy, maybe Germany. I don't know.”