Negotiations stalled: Colombia’s teachers continue strike

nsnbc :  Colombia’s teachers are taking their strike into the third week after negotiations stalled. About eight million Colombian students have been out of school since May 12 when public school teachers across the country went on strike to demand better wages and increased education investment.

Colombia_FECODE_Teachers strike 2017_Colombia’s largest teachers’ union FECODE announced on its Twitter account that it would be ready to resume negotiations with the government on Monday. However, the union also stressed that the administration would have to put better proposals on the table. The strikes started after the government and teachers failed to reach an agreement during negotiations in the first week of March.

Teachers and unions had been rather unwilling to engage in yet another compromise since many of the key promises that prompted them to end previous strikes still haven’t been kept. Besides higher salaries and bonuses that teachers’ union demanded more investment in education infrastructure. Among other demands there are calls for improvement of the quality of school meals, and not least, the recognition of previous agreements.

Education Minister Yaneth Giha denounced the teachers’ decision to strike “unjustified,” while Fecode President Carlos Rivas said “it doesn’t seem logical that there isn’t funding available for education when there’s money for corruption.” Speaking to the teachers strike earlier this month, President Santos said, “we can’t give [the teachers] what they want because we don’t have the resources.”

Slow recovery after the oil prices slumped in 2014, plus rampant tax evasion and systemic nepotism aggravated the situation. The government has struggled to balance its 2017 budget. According to data from the OECD, Colombia ranks poorly in educational outcome and second to last in educational funding with no more than $3,300 per student. 73.8% of Colombian high school graduates perform poorly in math. 51.4% fail to reach a proficient reading and writing level and 56.2% are insufficient in science. Overall, 43% of Colombian students failed to learn reach a proficient level of education compared to post-high school youth in other countries.

A/N – nsnbc 29.05.2017

Two North Koreans found dead in Moscow hotel

nsnbc : The bodies of two North Korean citizens were discovered in a hotel west of the Russian capital Moscow on Saturday, the two allegedly both died of acute heart failure.

Russia_Ambulance_rchivesThe bodies of the two citizens from the Democratic people’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) a.k.a. North Korea were discovered in a hotel west of Moscow, reported the Russian State news agency RIA Novosti.

The agency reported that preliminary results show that both of the North Koreans dies of acute heart failure. A “source” quoted by RIA reportedly said “The two DPRK citizens were found in separate hotel rooms west of Moscow”.

Maybe more noteworthy than the reported death of the two North Koreans and the alleged death from “acute heart failure – in separate hotel rooms” is the lack of information released by the State news agency.

The name of the hotel and its location “west of Moscow” were not mentioned. The names of the two North Koreans were not mentioned. It was not mentioned which authorities reached the “preliminary result that the two dies from acute heart failure” – in separate hotel rooms, the name of the investigatory authority was not mentioned.

In other words, in this case RIA Novosti shows about as much transparency as Pyongyang’s KCNA. One preliminary question would be how likely is it that two North Koreans in two hotel rooms at the same hotel both pass away from acute heart failure without the involvement of either suicide or foul play. Acute heart failure is one of the “common symptoms” of a cohort of poisonous substances used by intelligence services.

CH/L – nsnbc 29.05.2017

Norwegian special forces in Syria for “Self Defense”: Defense Ministry

Fahwad Al-Khadoumi (nsnbc) : After being contacted about the presence of Norwegian special forces in Southern Syria last week, the Norwegian Defense Ministry stated that it cannot disclose operational details about Norwegian special forces in Jordan. However, nsnbc received documents showing that Norway perceives its presence of forces in Syria as “self-defense” against ISIL. Norwegian special forces were reported to nsnbc after the U.S. bombing of troops allied to “the Syrian regime” in southern Syria on May 19.

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On May 2o nsnbc international received information from local sources in southern Syria, reporting the presence of Norwegian special forces in the region near Al-Tanf in the Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi border region. The report, verified by one of nsnbc international’s contacts within US special forces deployed in that region, came after military jets by the U.S.-led coalition bombed what the U.S. Defense Department describes as “Iranian controlled troops allied with the Syrian regime that posed a threat to U.S. supported militants in a de-escalation zone”.

The only so-called “pro-regime” forces that were present in the region near Al-Tanf on May 20 were, as far as nsnbc is informed, units of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), Syrian National Self Defense Forces, militants from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, local Druze militia, as well as some Hezbollah units. All of the above are operating in Syria with permission from the government of the Syrian Arab Republic. Syria’s UN Envoy Dr. Bashar Al-Jaafari did not specifically mention which troops had been struck by U.S.-coalition air raids but denounced the air raid as “state terrorism”.

nsnbc international contacted the Norwegian Ministry of Defense stating that “to report accurately and responsibly, could your office please answer the following questions and or make statements for publication”.

  • Can your office confirm or deny above mentioned presence of Norwegian troops in Syria, in the region around Al-Tanf, Syria, located in the greater Jordanian – Syrian – Iraqi border region.
  • We received the first reports about Norwegian troops in the region on Syrian territory on May 20. Have Norwegian troops been in Syria prior to that date, on or after that date?
  • If so, can you send us information about 1) what type of military forces this would be – 2) Unit, division, arms category … we received reports about special forces, but that could a) be incorrect or b) covering a wide range of unspecified, possible units. Could you please be specific so we may conduct interviews etc?
  • What would be the legal mandate for the deployment of Norwegian troops in Syria according to 1) Norwegian legislation, parliamentary decisions etc  2) international law, such as mandate from the UNSC, invitation from the Syrian government, “coalition of the willing” without international legal mandate?
  • The date of the first reports we received about the presence of Norwegian troops coincided approximately with US air raids against what the United States Department of Defense described to our newspaper as “Syrian regime allied troops backed and controlled by Iran”.. could you comment on this please?
  • What is the mission statement?
  • Considering the proximity of Al-Mafraq and other staging areas for insurgents, are Norwegian troops in cooperation, liaising with any armed groups in the region. It would be extremely helpful if your office were specific; which means that “Free Syrian Army – Army of the South”, due to the extreme complexity of the theater, would not exactly be “specific”.

nsnbc received a cut and paste response from spokesperson for Norway’s armed forces, LtC Frank Sølvsberg who found it appropriate to attempt to brush off nsnbc and its questions with the following cut and pate statement:

The Norwegian military contribution is a part of Operation Inherent Resolve. Due to the security of our own forces and in accordance with the Coalition Media Policy, we will not provide details regarding the operation or other operational matters.

So much to public accountability. nsnbc Editor-in-Chief Christof Lehmann thought “not so fast LtC Sølvsberg” and replied:

We are aware that Norway deployed forces within the Inherent Resolve Framework to Jordan and Iraq, but that did not answer our question about Syria. .. Could I have a clear statement about that (and the other questions) or how would you suggest we proceed with a cooperation that takes into account your military mission and our obligation to deliver decent and objective journalism. … Alternatively, please send name,  rank, mail address for a person directly in charge of the Norwegian participation in Inherent Resolve. We might have a better chance to find a feasible solution.

LtC Frank Sølvsberg responded with the following statement instead of answering “any” of the questions about the – apparently embarrassing – fact that Norwegian special forces had been spotted in Syria. Sølvsberg also appeared not to be used to snappy journalists who do their job and han on to an investigation like a terrier to a bone. Somewhat awkwardly, LtC Sølvsberg replied with ye another cut and paste reply:

Below you find links to publicly accessible information from the Norwegian MoD to answer some of your questions concerning mandate and mission. … We have a policy of not giving operational information about our special forces. This is also the case with our forces working out of Jordan. All media, domestic and international, are treated equally on this matter.

We looked at LtC Sølvsberg reply and deconstructed it, point by point. Not giving information about “operational details” for special forces is not unusual, but we asked for the name of the unit. We also asked about these trops in “Syria” and not about their absolutely legal presence in Jordan. We also asked for the foundation for their deployment to “Syria” according to Norwegian or international law. Sølvsberg did not as much as begin to answer these (and the other questions above) in his statement. So let us see what the “publicly accessible information from the Norwegian MoD” tells us.

A document from Norway’s Ministry of Defense from April 29, 2016, entitled contribution of Norwegian forces to the fight against ISIL in Syria – a memo on international law states that:

  • Iraq, in 2014, had requested help from the UN Security Council to combat ISIL, including attacks by ISIL launched from Syrian territory. Moreover, it states that the Norwegian presence in Iraq today is based on the Iraqi request for help based on the UN Charter’s Article 51 on collective self defense.
  • That ISIL can’t be defeated by limiting the fight to Iraq.
  • That UN Security Council resolution 2249 from November 20, 2015 concludes that ISIL poses an extraordinary threat to international peace and security.
  • That the UNSC called on its members to fight ISIL everywhere, including its enclaves in Syria.
  • That self-defense against non-state actors who operate on the territory of another state while this state is unwilling or incapable of combating such non-state actors, is legal and covered by the provisions of UNSC resolution 2249.

The other “publicly accessible information” LtC Sølvsberg sent to nsnbc Editor-in-Chief Christof Lehmann was a press release from Norway’s Defense Ministry quoting Defense Minister Eriksen Søreide repeating the above mentioned. The third document is a memo styled to the Foreign Ministry’s Foreign Affairs Council, repeating the same arguments UNSC resolution 2249  UN Charter Article 51 and the claim of self-defense against ISIL because Syria is unwilling or incapable. The document is from January 20, 2016.

The fourth and final information LtC Sølvsdahl referred to is another press release from March 27, 2017, in which Norway’s Defense Ministry announced that it has extended its operations against ISIL.

Some questions LtC Sølvsdahl

Besides not really having answered – the Norwegian special forces have been observed on May 19, near Al-Tanf, Syria, where ISIS has no presence. Present in the area were units from the Syrian Arab Army, National Self Defense Forces, Hezbollah, Druze militia and militants from Syria’s Social National Party. Also present were U.S. special forces, Norwegian special forces, in liaison with U.S. backed militants.

As USCENTCOM’s Col Scrocca told nsnbc international editor-in-chief Christof Lehmann in an email in response to questions about the U.S. air raid:

Coalition special operations forces train and equip, advise, assist, accompany and enable two Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO) groups to fight ISIS in the Jordan-Syria-Iraq /tri-border) area of southern Syria. The two VSO groups are the Mahhawir al Thawra (MaT) and the Shohada al-Quartayn (ShQ), two Syrian tribal groups whose homelands include the Qalamoun Mountain region, Euphrates River Valley and the Hamad Desert, which stretches from the Jordan border north along the Iraqi border to the Euphrates River.

Ironically, neither Sølvsdahl not Scrocca mentioned that ISIS has no presence in the border region, especially not in the region around Al-Tanf where the air strike was launched on May 19. nsnbc editor-in-chief Christof Lehmann commented “It’s of course embarrassing that the entire UNSC resolution 2249 and UN Charter Article 51 “self-defense” house of cards comes tumbling down because there is no ISIL in the area, so we will probably continue to ask more questions”.

F/AK & CH/L  – nsnbc 29.05.2017

Europeans should determine their own destiny: Merkel

nsnbc : German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Sunday while addressing a rally at an election campaign event in Germany’s Free Federal State Bavaria, said Europeans should determine their own destiny. Merkel and other German politicians will have to adjust their election campaigns to a post-WW II electorate where the majority of voters have not been subject to post-war “reeducation”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone may have been tapped by US secret servicesCommenting on the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, the UK leaving the European Union (Brexit) and related issues, Merkel said “Europeans really have to take destiny into their own hands. … The times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over.”

The German Chancellor added that Germany and Europe would strive to have good ties with the United States, Britain as well as other countries, “even with Russia”. But she emphasized that “We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own.”

Merkel didn’t further elaborate the reasoning behind her remarks but many German media speculated Merkel was referring her frustrating experience at the G7 meeting earlier this week in Italy’s Sicily.

Merkel described the summit as “very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory”. Some of the agendas were especially tough for Merkel, among them was the rise of protectionism and the discussion about the Paris agreement on climate change.

Six of the seven nations agreed to stick with their commitment to implement 2015 deal to tackle global warming. However, Trump in the end refused to endorse it, saying he needed more time to decide.

However, Merkel may also have been trying to appeal to many of the German voters who would like to see a Germany with equally good ties and equal distance to Washington and Moscow, and who don’t see Germany as permanently and solidly anchored in NATO. The surprising outcome of a poll conducted in 2014 may help explain Merkel’s posturing.

In 2014 discussions about foreign, that is both Western and Russian interference in Ukraine, reopened old wounds in Germany, which then 64 years after the end of the war in 1945 and the occupation by allied forces, still was and still is under de-facto administration of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Command. Major decisions in Germany cannot be made without the approval from Washington and London, regardless how much Washington, London and Berlin attempt to sugarcoat the fact behind statements of freedom and democracy.

The German, state-owned TV Channel ARD reported that 49 percent of Germans, polled in a recent DeutschlandTrend poll, would like to see Germany as a bridge between the East and the West, maintaining a policy of equal distance to both the western alliance and Russia. Only 45 percent view Germany as a country that is a solidly anchored part of the West. Not surprisingly, there is a significant variance in opinions, depending on whether one asks people in the western or in the eastern Federal States.

Only 31 percent in the eastern Federal States, the former German Democratic Republic, perceive Germany as “solidly anchored in the western alliance” while 60 percent would like to see Germany assuming a “position in-between”, reports ARD, citing the DeutschlandTrend poll.

Even though the poll in March 2014 revealed that Germans’ are suspicious about Putin and Russia, the NATO decision to increase its military presence in the eastern NATO member states was rejected by the majority of Germans. Only 40 percent approved of NATO’s increased presence in NATO’s eastern air-space, while 53 percent disapproved. It is worth noting that these opinions  were then strongly biased by a borderline hysteric anti-Russian propaganda in German and western media since December 2013.

Both the United States and the UK are doing their part to maintain the status quo, to the extend that analysts warn, that any development of close political, economic and energy-related ties between Europe and Russia, and particularly between Germany and Russia, that would challenge the dominance of the US – UK axis over European geopolitics, will be opposed by the USA and the UK.

But then again, most just somewhat politically sophisticated voters are not naive about Moscow’s role prior to World War II either. The bullying of the Baltic states and Finland, the threat to march into Romania to cut Germany off of oil supplies and Moscow’s willing participation in carving up Poland. Merkel and others will have to adjust their campaigns to a post-WW II electorate where the majority of voters have not been subject to post-war “reeducation”.

Merkel is also confronted with a growing number of Germans who do no longer perceive normal national pride and patriotism – something that is considered absolutely normal in the USA, the UK, France and most other countries – as a taboo. Whether Merkel or any other German politician would want to – or be able to – challenge “the final and greatest taboo”, that of German post-war sovereignty and the role of the EU in this context, is of course an entirely different question. It’s an election campaign, and one ought to be mindful of that.

CH/L – nsnbc 29.05.2017

Murderous mayhem in Mosul as the final curtain is falling for ISIS

ISIS makes final stand in 9 square kilometers of Mosul. 130,000 civilians caught in the crossfire.

nsnbc : Iraqi military, police and counterterrorism units are confident that the final curtain for ISIS in Mosul will be falling soon. The presence of the “Caliphate” in Mosul has been reduced to a 9 square kilometer are. However, the fighters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State have prepared their positions well and benefit from the fact that tens of thousands of non-combatant civilians are caught in the crossfire.

Old Mosul - Minaret of the

Old Mosul, minaret of the Nouri mosque where al-Baghdadi proclaimed his “Caliphate” only 900 meters from the front line.

The questions are not “if”, but “when and how” the final curtain will fall for ISIS in Mosul. The insurgents are not only well-prepared by offer frantic resistance, adding to the chaos and the fog of war. Currently nobody, no political party or military strategist can accurately predict when ISIS will fall. What most can predict with tragic accuracy is that the final battles will be murderous mayhem.

The only major place that remains held by ISIS is the Old Mosul district. ISIS, unable to survive in Mosul’s more open neighborhoods, has decided to make its final stand in complex areas where air superiority, rockets, as well as large to medium caliber artillery play minor roles only.

About 500 – 1,000 ISIS fighters are holding out. The neighborhoods of Zanjali and Saha are complementary areas of the Old Mosul town which has seven gates: three from the north and four from the south. The gates considered to be districts are Bab al Tub, Bab Sinjar, Bab Latish, Bab al Biz, Bab al Shams, Bab al Saray and Bab al Jadid. Besides the complexity of these areas, ISIS has one other joker up its sleeve, the 130,000 civilians who are currently under siege.

Caliph Ibrahim_al-Baghdadi_al_badri_ISIS

The “Caliph” has, according to the majority of intelligence sources long escaped from Mosul and is also struggling against internal revolts within the ranks of ISIS. It’s noteworthy that ISIS initially attracted a large number of disillusioned, former and serving Iraqi military men

The most important of the areas of Old Mosul for current and coming operations are Sarzkhana, Faruq, Shifa, Bab Sinjar and Zanjali. Iraq’s Federal Police, Rapid Response Forces, Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Forces and Division 9 in the Iraqi Army are engaged with the war on the right bank of Mosul.

Meanwhile, the at least in part Iranian-backed Hashd al Shaabi is fighting outside Mosul. It’s been over 40 days since the Iraqi Federal Police Forces have reached the vicinity of the Nouri mosque in which the ISIS leader Abu Bakir al-Baghdadi declared his so-called caliphate.

They are now merely 900 meters away from the mosque, stationed there but also bogged down by frantic resistance. It was the opening of the northern front by the counter-terrorism forces and Division 9 that made ISIS turn to Old Mosul to fight its final war there.

On their second day of “their final push”, Iraqi troops faced a combination of sniper fire, suicide bombers, small arms fire and the challenge to reduce casualties among the about 130,000 civilians as low as possible. In the last two days, by Sunday afternoon, the U.S.-trained Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) had reportedly killed at least 40 militants, many of whom the Iraqi commanders say are foreign fighters. However, an estimated 500 – 1,000 remain and no reliable casualty numbers for casualties among CTS troops are currently available.

Mosul (archives May 2017)

Mosul (archives May 2017)

Over the course of the last two days until Sunday evening ISIS reportedly used 16 car bombs. ISIS has developed a relatively high degree of sophistication, including remote-controlled car bombs. However, car bombs, remote-controlled or driven by suicide bombers, are expected to decrease in numbers as fighting begins to focus on the narrow streets and passageways of Old Mosul. Improvised Explosive Devices left behind, explosives left in tunnels, snipers and the dirty work of face to face, house to house and floor to floor combat will soon pose the greatest risk for Iraqi troops as well as for civilians.

Maan Zayid Ibrahim, a CTS commander, told reporters “With the control of the [Saha] district. We would be able to control the northern part of the Old Mosul. … This means full control over the three districts of Saha, Zanjali and Shifa. That is to say a 360 degree siege around the Old Mosul.” The campaign against ISIS in Mosul has now lasted for about eight months. Maan Zayid Ibrahim noted that “the enemy has lost many of its defense capabilities” these past months but warned against overly optimistic assessments. Nobody, not the CTS, members of the U.S.-led coalition, nor the Iraqi federal government want to see a repetition of the PR quagmire they faced after members of the U.S.-led coalition launched an air strike on March 17, that resulted in more than 100 fatalities among non-combatant civilians.

CH/L – nsnbc 29.05.2017