Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cubans Hope For Better Future With US-Havana Deal

Construction workers speculate what Cuba's President Raul Castro will announce in an upcoming live, nationally broadcast speech in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Castro spoke about the country's restoration of relations with the United States, saying that profound differences remain between Cuba and the U.S. in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty, but that the countries have to learn to live with their differences "in a civilized manner."


HAVANA, CUBA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Cubans cheered the surprise announcement that their country will restore relations with the United States, hopeful they'll soon see expanded trade and new economic vibrancy even though the 53-year-old economic embargo remains in place for the time being.
"This opens a better future for us," said Milagros Diaz, 34. "We have really needed something like this because the situation has been bad and the people very discouraged." Bells tolled in celebration and teachers halted lessons midday as President Raul Castro told his country Wednesday that Cuba would renew relations with Washington after more than a half-century of hostility.
Wearing his military uniform with its five-star insignia, the 83-year-old leader said the two countries would work to resolve their differences "without renouncing a single one of our principles." Havana residents gathered around television sets in homes, schools and businesses to hear the historic national broadcast, which coincided with a statement by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington. Uniformed schoolchildren burst into applause at the news.
At the University of San Geronimo in the capital's historic center, the announcement drew ringing from the bell tower. Throughout the capital, there was a sense of euphoria as word spread. "For the Cuban people, I think this is like a shot of oxygen, a wish-come-true, because with this, we have overcome our differences," said Carlos Gonzalez, a 32-year-old IT specialist. "It is an advance that will open the road to a better future for the two countries."
Fidel and Raul Castro led the 1959 rebellion that toppled the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The U.S. initially recognized the new government but broke relations in 1961 after Cuba veered sharply to the left and nationalized U.S.-owned businesses.
As Cuba turned toward the Soviet Union, the U.S. imposed a trade embargo in 1962. Particularly since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Cubans have confronted severe shortages of oil, food and consumer goods, forcing them to ration everything from beans to powdered milk.
The Cuban government blames most of its economic travails on the embargo, while Washington has traditionally blamed Cuba's Communist economic policies. In his address, Castro called on Washington to end its trade embargo which, he said, "has caused enormous human and economic damage."
Ramon Roman, 62, said he hoped to see Cuba welcome more tourists. "It would be a tremendous economic injection, both in terms of money and in new energy and would be a boost for average people who need it," he said.
Victoria Serrano, a lab worker, said she hoped to see an influx of new goods because life in Cuba has been "really very difficult." "In particular," she said, "I hope we'll see an improvement in food — that there is trade in this with the United States, which is so close. Right now, even an onion has become a luxury."
Around the cathedral in Old Havana, people gathered in doorways and on sidewalks, gesturing excitedly as they discussed the news. Guillermo Delgado, a 72-year-old retiree, welcomed the announcement as "a victory for Cuba because it was achieved without conceding basic principles."
Yoani Sanchez, a renowned Cuban blogger critical of the government, noted the development came with a price. Castro, she said, could now claim a triumph and that he had made a "bargaining chip" of Alan Gross, the U.S. aid worker who was released from prison Wednesday while the U.S. freed three Cubans held as spies.
"In this way, the Castro regime has managed to get its way," she wrote in a blog post. "It has managed to exchange a peaceful man, embarked on the humanitarian adventure of providing Internet connectivity to a group of Cubans, for intelligence agents that caused significant damage and sorrow with their actions."
Some dissidents expressed their displeasure at not being consulted by the U.S. government about the historic move. Dissident Guillermo Farinas considered the move a "betrayal" by Obama who, he said, had promised that they would be consulted. Another activist, Antonio Rodiles, said the measure "sends a bad message."
Others, meanwhile, were cautious, saying they'll wait and see what it all means. "It's not enough since it doesn't lift the blockade," said Pedro Duran, 28. "We'll see if it's true, if it's not like everything here: one step forward and three steps back. For now, I don't think there will be any immediate improvement after we've been living like this for 50 years."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

US, Cuba Patch Torn Relations In Historic Accord

Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez and Ramon Labanino, who are known as the "Cuban Five." The men were intelligence agents operating in Florida in the 1990s, and were arrested in 1998 and later convicted on charges including conspiracy and failing to register as foreign agents. On Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, the United States and Cuba agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties. As a confidence-building measure, Guerrero, Hernandez and Labanino are expected to be released from federal prison in Butner, N.C.


WASHINGTON (AP) — After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations — a historic shift that could revitalize the flow of money and people across the narrow waters that separate the two nations.
President Barack Obama's dramatic announcement in Washington — seconded by Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana — was accompanied by a quiet exchange of imprisoned spies and the celebratory release of American Alan Gross, a government contract worker who had been held in Cuba for five years.
The shift in U.S.-Cuba policy was the culmination of 18 months of secret talks between the longtime foes that included a series of meetings in Canada and the personal involvement of Pope Francis at the Vatican. It also marked an extraordinary undertaking by Obama without Congress' authorization as he charts the waning years of his presidency.
"These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked," Obama declared at the White House. "It's time for a new approach." Obama spoke as Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and school teachers paused lessons to mark the news. Castro said that while the U.S. and Cuba remain at odds on many matters, "we should learn the art of living together in a civilized manner in spite of our differences."
Obama's plans for remaking U.S. relations with Cuba are sweeping: He aims to expand economic ties, open an embassy in Havana, send high-ranking U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry to visit and review Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. also is easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, including for family visits, official government business and educational activities. But tourist travel remains banned.
Obama and Castro spoke by telephone Tuesday for nearly an hour, the first presidential-level call between their nations' leaders since the 1959 Cuban revolution and the approval of a U.S. economic embargo on the communist island that sits just 90 miles off coast of Florida. The two men are also expected to meet at a regional summit in Panama next spring.
Obama did not rule out traveling to Cuba before his presidency ends, telling ABC News: "I don't have any current plans to visit Cuba, but let's see how things evolve." Despite Obama's declaration, the Cuba embargo was passed by Congress, and only lawmakers can revoke it. That appears unlikely to happen soon given the largely negative response to Obama's actions from Republicans who will take full control of Capitol Hill in January.
"Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom — and not one second sooner," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "There is no 'new course' here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies."
The response from around the world was far more welcoming, particularly in Latin America, where the U.S. policy toward Cuba has been despised. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called Obama's action "a gesture that was courageous and historically necessary."
The Vatican said Pope Francis "welcomed the historic decision taken by the governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history."
Even Hillary Rodham Clinton, who advocated for Gross' release as Obama's former secretary of state, weighed in, arguing that U.S. policy in Cuba, while well-intentioned, had only strengthened Castro. "The best way to bring change to Cuba is to expose its people to the values, information and material comforts of the outside world," she said in a statement.
In Cuba, a sense of euphoria spread through Havana as people gathered around televisions to watch the Obama and Castro announcements. "For the Cuban people, I think this is like a shot of oxygen, a wish come true, because with this, we have overcome our differences," said Carlos Gonzalez, a 32-year-old information technology specialist.
Half a century ago, the U.S. recognized Fidel Castro's new government soon after his rebels took power from dictator Fulgencio Batista. But before long things began to sour as Cuba deepened its relationship with the Soviet Union. In 1961 the U.S. broke diplomatic relations, and then came the failed U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion meant to topple Castro. A year later a U.S. blockade forced removal of Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba in a standoff that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Since then, the number of Americans who see Cuba as a serious threat has declined. A 1983 CNN/Time poll found 29 percent considered Cuba a very serious threat. That dipped to 13 percent in 1994 and 12 percent in 1997.
Under the changes announced Wednesday, licensed American travelers to Cuba will be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits.
Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans. The financial impact on Cuba is unclear, though some American businesses welcomed the prospect of expanding into a new market. Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said his organization stands "ready to assist as the Cuban people work to unleash the power of free enterprise to improve their lives."
Fidel Castro's specific whereabouts weren't known Wednesday, nor was it known when he might comment on the fast-shifting diplomacy. While Obama has long spoken of his desire to open ties with Cuba, the 2009 imprisonment of Gross, an American government subcontractor, became a major obstacle. Gross was detained while working to set up Internet access for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which does work promoting democracy in the communist country.
Cuba considers USAID's programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Last spring, Obama secretly authorized two of his senior advisers to hold exploratory conversations with Cuba about securing Gross' release. Over a series of nine clandestine meetings in Canada and the Vatican, the talks expanded to include broader discussions of normalizing relations.
Pope Francis raised the issue with Obama when the U.S. president visited the Vatican in March. And in early summer, the pontiff sent separate letters to Obama and Castro urging them to end their decades-long freeze.
The details of the prisoner releases and policy changes were largely finalized during a meeting at the Vatican last fall. Wednesday morning, Gross boarded a U.S. government plane and flew out of Cuba, accompanied by his wife and three U.S. lawmakers. Waiting for him on board were big bowls of popcorn and a corned beef sandwich on rye.
"This is game changing," Gross declared in brief, emotional remarks later in Washington. He flashed a broad grin with missing teeth — lost during his imprisonment — after taking an admiring glance at the American flags posted behind him and taking note that his release came on the first day of Hanukkah.
The two nations also released spies that they were holding. The Castro government released a Cuban spy who had spent nearly 20 years in prison after working for the United States and accessing closely held intelligence information at the highest levels of the Cuban government. U.S. officials said the spy was responsible for some of the most important counterintelligence prosecutions that the United States has pursed in recent decades, including convicted Cuban spies Ana Belen Montes, Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers and a group known as the Cuban Five.
In exchange for the spy's release, the U.S. freed the three remaining members of the Cuban Five who were jailed in Florida. The men, who are hailed as heroes in Cuba, were part of the "Wasp Network" sent by Cuba's then-President Fidel Castro to spy in South Florida.
Two of the five were previously released after finishing their sentences.
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko, Jack Gillum, Bradley Klapper and Ken Dilanian in Washington, Andrea Rodriguez and Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
Follow AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC and AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee at http://twitter.com/APDiploWriter

Freed American Endured Years Of Declining Health

Alan Gross smiles as he walks in with his wife Judy before speaking to members of the media at his lawyer’s office in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Gross was released from Cuba after 5 years in a Cuban prison.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Alan Gross spent five years wasting away in a Cuban prison, losing hope that he would ever be free and at one point apparently contemplating suicide. He dropped more than 100 pounds, developed hip problems and lost most of the vision in one eye.
On Wednesday, the 65-year-old American returned to Washington a free man. "It's good to be home," he said in brief remarks at his lawyer's Washington office, where he stood in front of two U.S. flags and grinned, despite having lost teeth in prison.
The former federal subcontractor arrested in 2009 was freed as part of a historic announcement that the U.S. would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. His detention had been a sticking point in improving relations between the countries, and Gross spoke supportively of President Barack Obama's move. He said history had shown that the nation's previous approach to its old foe was ineffective.
"Two wrongs never make a right," Gross said. "I truly hope that we can now get beyond these mutually belligerent policies." Gross' wife, Judy, has called him a humanitarian and an idealist, someone who was "probably naïve" and did not realize the risks of going to Cuba to work for the federal government's U.S. Agency for International Development.
His wife and officials said he went to Cuba to set up Internet access for the communist island's small Jewish community. But a 2012 investigation by The Associated Press found he was using sensitive technology typically available only to governments, and the Internet connections Gross was establishing were intended to bypass local restrictions and be hard for the government to trace. The visit he was arrested on was his fifth trip for that purpose.
Cuba considers USAID's programs like the one Gross was working on illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government. Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In court in Cuba, the Maryland native called himself a "trusting fool" who never meant any harm to the Cuban government. But reports he wrote about his work showed he knew it was dangerous.
"This is very risky business in no uncertain terms," he wrote in one report after his third trip, and he repeated the same sentiment in a report after his fourth. During the five years he was imprisoned, family members said, Gross never grew angry at the Cuban people, and on Wednesday he described the vast majority of Cubans as "incredibly kind, generous and talented."
In prison, he got along well with his jailors, his family has said. He watched Cuban baseball and even jammed with his jailors on a stringed instrument they gave him. One of his talents is being able to pick up and play almost any instrument.
He kept in touch with relatives through weekly phone calls and passed the time reading books and magazines sent by his wife. The Economist, The Atlantic and Washingtonian were favorites. On Friday nights, Gross, who is Jewish, would take out a picture of a group of friends celebrating the sabbath and recite the prayers they would say together.
But prison was tough on Gross. His health was constantly an issue. In April, after an AP story revealed that USAID secretly created a "Cuban Twitter" communications network to stir unrest on the island shortly after Gross was arrested, he went on a hunger strike for more than a week.
His mother, who was in her 90s, persuaded him to start eating again. She died earlier this year and despite pleas from his family, Gross was not allowed to return to the United States for her funeral. After her death, Gross became withdrawn and seemed to contemplate ending his life.
"Life in prison is not a life worth living," he told his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, and vowed that "one way or the other" he wouldn't spend another birthday in prison. Earlier, he had been more hopeful, dreaming of what he would do when he got out.
His older sister, Bonnie Rubinstein, said in 2012 that he wanted to watch a Cuban baseball game as a free man. He also wanted to eat ribs and drink scotch. His brother-in-law, Rubinstein's husband, even purchased a 12-year-old single-malt scotch he planned to save until his brother-in-law got home.
But when Gross' lawyer told him Tuesday by phone that he would soon be free, he responded with stunned silence, a family spokeswoman said. "I'll believe it when I see it," he finally said. A military plane arrived to take him home Wednesday, and Gross and his wife walked to it hand-in-hand.
Onboard was a bowl of popcorn, another thing he had missed, and a corned beef sandwich on rye. There were also latkes with applesauce and sour cream in honor of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which began Tuesday.
When the pilot announced they were leaving Cuban airspace, Gross stood up and took a deep breath. He spoke with the president by telephone while in the air. And he called his sister and two daughters.
"I'm free," he told them.
Follow Jessica Gresko at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko 

Clinton Denounces Torture, Says Black Lives Matter

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks after accepting the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award during a ceremony, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014 in New York.


NEW YORK (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday she's proud to have been part of an administration that "banned illegal renditions and brutal interrogations" and said the U.S. should never be involved in torture anywhere in the world.
Clinton spoke about the importance of the nation acting in accordance with its values after receiving an award from The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights at a gala in New York. "Today we can say again in a loud and clear voice that the United States should never condone or practice torture anywhere in the world," Clinton told the audience. "That should be absolutely clear as a matter of both policy and law, including our international treaty obligations."
The remarks marked Clinton's first on the subject since the release of a Senate report last week investigating the CIA's interrogation techniques after 9/11. The report has sparked questions about the appropriate use of force in the war against terrorism.
Clinton said that recent world events, including the mass murder of children in Pakistan and the siege in Sydney, Australia, "should steel our resolve and underscore that our values are what set us apart from our adversaries."
Clinton said Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968, would agree that it's "possible to keep us safe from terrorism and reduce crime and violence without relying on torture abroad or unnecessary force or excessive incarceration at home."
Clinton, a former first lady, New York senator and U.S. Secretary of State, is considering another run for president and is viewed as the likely Democratic nominee if she runs. She was honored at the Kennedy organization's star-studded Ripple of Hope Award ceremony.
Clinton also addressed the recent protests that have raged across the country, and drew links between violence at home and abroad. She declared, "yes, black lives matter," a mantra of demonstrators around the country who have been protesting recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and in New York.
She wondered what Kennedy would say about "the thousands of Americans marching in our streets demanding justice for all," and "the mothers who've lost their sons." "What would he say to all those who have lost trust in our government and our other institutions, who shudder at images of excessive force, who read reports about torture done in the name of our country, who see too many representatives in Washington quick to protect a big bank from regulation but slow to take action to help working families facing ever greater pressure," Clinton said.
Entertainers Robert De Niro and Tony Bennett and Physicians Interactive Chairman Donato Tramuto also were honored. The nonprofit says the award is meant to laud business leaders, entertainers and activists who demonstrate commitment to social change and "reflect Robert Kennedy's passion for equality, justice, basic human rights, and his belief that we all must strive to 'make gentle the life of this world.'"

Aussie Leader: Siege Gunman Dropped Off Watch List

Michelle Cotterill, left, gives a woman a hug in the street at a temporary memorial site close to the Lindt cafe in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Cotterill said she had a steady stream of hug requests from the mourners who visited the site to pay their respect and leave flower tributes. Three people including a gunman were shot after police ended a siege in the city coffee shop in on Tuesday morning Dec. 16, 2014.



SYDNEY (AP) — A gunman responsible for a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe was once on the national security agency's watch list — but was dropped off it years ago for reasons that remain unclear, Australia's prime minister said Wednesday.
Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old Iranian-born, self-styled cleric described by Prime Minister Tony Abbott as deeply disturbed, took 17 people hostage inside a downtown Sydney cafe on Monday. Sixteen hours later, the siege ended in a barrage of gunfire when police rushed in to free the captives. Two hostages were killed along with Monis.
Abbott said that Monis was on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation's watch list in 2008 and 2009, but was later dropped from it. The agency was watching Monis because he had sent a series of offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers, Abbott said.
"I don't know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don't," Abbott told reporters. Monis was convicted and sentenced last year to 300 hours of community service for sending what a judge called "grossly offensive" letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009. He later was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged with the 2002 sexual assault of a woman. He had been out on bail on all the charges.
"We particularly need to know how someone with such a long record of violence and such a long record of mental instability was out on bail after his involvement in a particularly horrific crime," Abbott said. "And we do need to know how he seemed to have fallen off our security agency's watch list back in about 2009."
Abbott also said Monis, who wielded a shotgun throughout the siege, had a gun license. But the New South Wales police later said they checked with the state firearms registry and found no record of him ever holding a license.
"Plainly there are questions to be asked when someone with such a history of infatuation with extremism, violent crime and mental instability should be in possession of a gun license," Abbott said. "We have very tough gun laws and I guess we can be pleased that he didn't have a more potent weapon at his disposal. But why did he have a gun license in the first place?"
Abbott's spokesman later released a statement saying that federal security officials had told the prime minister that the National Police Reference System — a database holding all state and territory police records — showed that Monis had been the owner of a New South Wales firearms license. The federal police commissioner was investigating the origin of the entry, the statement said.
Abbott promised a transparent investigation and the government was expected to release a report in January looking into all aspects of the siege. The prime minister said it was impossible for security agencies to monitor everyone, forcing them to make judgment calls about who posed the greatest risk for committing violence against innocent people.
Just three days before Monis began his deadly rampage, Australia's highest court refused to hear his appeal against the convictions for sending the letters. The next business day, a shotgun-wielding Monis walked into the cafe, just a short stroll from the courtroom where the ruling was delivered.
New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said police had asked that Monis not be granted bail, but the court ruled otherwise. Asked why Monis was not on any national security watch list, Scipione noted that the charges Monis faced were not politically motivated.
Thousands of tearful Australians continued to pour into Martin Place on Wednesday, a plaza in the heart of Sydney's financial and shopping district where the Lindt cafe is located. A makeshift memorial had grown into a mountain of flowers left to honor the hostages killed: Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old lawyer and mother of three, and Tori Johnson, the cafe's 34-year-old manager. Officials have not said if the two died in crossfire as police stormed in or were shot by their captor.
Small boxes of Lindt chocolates had been left among the candles, flowers and cards, and a steady stream of mourners signed memory books for the victims. A wooden cross with the words "I'll ride with you!" lay nearby, referring to the hashtag #IllRideWithYou which was tweeted tens of thousands of times by Australians offering to accompany people dressed in Muslim clothes who were afraid of a backlash.
Bouquets were also attached to the police barricades that surround the cafe, along with an Australian flag emblazoned with the words, "Vale Tori Johnson" and "Hero," a nod to reports that Johnson brought the standoff to an end by grabbing Monis' shotgun, saving the lives of most of his fellow hostages.
Monis grew up in Iran as Mohammad Hassan Manteghi. In 1996, he established a travel agency, but took his clients' money and fled, Iran's police chief, Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, told the country's official IRNA news agency Tuesday. Australia accepted him as a refugee around that time.
The police chief said Iran tried to have Monis extradited from Australia in 2000, but that it didn't happen because Iran and Australia don't have an extradition agreement. Abbott said he wanted to know how Monis had been granted permanent residency and why he had been receiving welfare benefits for years, despite being able-bodied "if not necessarily of sound mind."
Associated Press writers Nick Perry in Sydney and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Crises In Africa 'Far From An African Problem'

Secretary-General Tells Security Council, Calling for New Levels of Partnership


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the United Nations' Union of Cities and Local Government Conference April 23, 2012. Image: James Leynse
Following are UN Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon’s remarks, as delivered, to the Security Council on Peace Operations: The United Nations-African Union Partnership and its Evolution, in New York today:
Monsieur le Président [Son Excellence M. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Ministre des affaires étrangères du Tchad], Mesdames et Messieurs,
Merci, Monsieur le Président, et merci au Gouvernement tchadien, d’organiser ce débat sur les opérations de paix et le partenariat entre les Nations Unies et l’Union africaine.
Monsieur le président, si vous le permettez, je voudrais faire une déclaration sur la situation au Pakistan.
Before addressing today’s formal agenda, I would like to say a few words about the blood-curdling attack today in Pakistan.
The hearts of the world go out to the parents and families who have lost loved ones in the horrific attack at a school in Peshawar this morning, which has taken the lives of more than 130 people, the vast majority children.
I condemn this heinous act in the strongest possible terms.  No cause can justify such brutality.  No grievance can excuse such horror.  It is an act of horror and rank cowardice to attack defenceless children while they learn.
Schools must be safe and secure learning spaces.  Getting an education is every child’s right.  Going to school should not have to be an act of bravery.  I extend my deepest condolences to the people, Government and particularly those touched by today’s tragedy.
The United Nations will continue to support the efforts of the Pakistani authorities in their fight against terrorism and extremism.  I urge the Government of Pakistan to make every effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.
La coopération entre l’Union africaine et les Nations Unies dans le domaine de la paix et de la sécurité est cruciale et doit systématiquement intervenir aux premiers signes de crise.  Il est vital que nous continuions à renforcer notre partenariat stratégique et que nous nous employions plus efficacement, ensemble, à prévenir, gérer et régler les conflits.
Je salue la Présidente de l’Union africaine, Mme Zuma, pour sa volonté de renforcer notre coopération, et tiens à souligner la contribution importante que les pays d’Afrique apportent aux activités de maintien de la paix des Nations Unies.
Over the years, cooperation between the United Nations and its regional and subregional partners has intensified.  The Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council are working together more closely, and there is increased support for African-led peace operations and their transition into United Nations peacekeeping operations, as we have seen in Mali and the Central African Republic.
The United Nations Secretariat and the African Union Commission meet regularly for the United Nations-African Union Joint Task Force on Peace and Security, mapping out joint initiatives and strategies.  Through the Regional Coordination Mechanism, both organizations have taken joint planning and implementation of programmes.
Our partnership must be based on a common understanding of what each organization can do in any given context, and on a realistic assessment of each other’s comparative advantages.
In the Central African Republic, for example, cooperation between the African Union, the United Nations and the Economic Community of Central African States led to the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in Brazzaville in July.
In Somalia, our two organizations are working together with other partners, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, to support the people and the Federal Government in this critical phase of peacebuilding and State-building.
We are also working closely with the African Union and with subregional organizations in Sudan and South Sudan.  In the Great Lakes region, strong cooperation between the United Nations, the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the Southern African Development Community has been vital to the progress that has been made under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region.
However, we need to do more.
In Burkina Faso, there was close cooperation between the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] in the immediate aftermath of the uprising that led to the departure of former President Blaise Compaoré.  But, this crisis also points to the need for greater emphasis on preventive action.
We also need to adapt in the face of an evolving peace and security landscape.  Two thirds of peacekeeping missions are now operating in areas where there are significant threats, including well-armed groups of terrorists and extremists, transnational organized crime and trafficking of people and drugs, serious human rights violations and impunity.
In some cases, the Security Council has responded by approving robust mandates.  However, peacekeeping missions are now being mandated to advance national reconciliation and dialogue in the absence of peace agreements or even clear identification of the parties to the conflict.
Peacekeeping is also becoming a more crowded field, involving diverse actors and even parallel missions.  In the Central African Republic, for example, the joint efforts of the African-led International Support Mission (MISCA); the French Operation Sangaris; the European Union[-led peacekeeping] force (EUFOR-RCA) and MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] contributed to a significant improvement in the security situation, especially in the capital, Bangui.
I have launched a major review of peace operations as part of efforts to address some of these challenges.  The review will encompass every aspect of our peace operations, from mandates to our cooperation with key partners, including the African Union, to peacebuilding and transition, the protection of civilians, accountability and the role of special political missions and United Nations police.  We have a responsibility to ensure that all the tools we have at our disposal are ready to face current and future demands.
In addition to this review, and in line with resolution 2167 (2014), I am also reviewing the handover modalities from African Union to United Nations operations.  And in March next year, I will submit an assessment report with recommendations on the progress of the partnerships between the United Nations and relevant regional organizations in peacekeeping operations.
Whatever the outcome of these reviews, we must continue to strengthen the role of the United Nations in conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacekeeping, and ensure the effective functioning of the collective security system established by the Charter.
In order to do so, we face significant challenges.  First, we must build stronger political partnerships that are anchored in a clear strategic vision.
Second, we need a clear, agreed role for the African Union and subregional organizations.  It is important to increase the predictability of our cooperation and to conduct the joint assessment missions and planning exercises that are critical to enhance joint peace operations.
Third, the United Nations, regional organizations and other partners must cooperate to enhance joint logistical capabilities.  To provide the necessary mobility, capacity and robustness, we need creative approaches.  These might include multinational cooperation schemes, pooled capacities and co-deployments.  Member States with certain specialized capacities, from helicopters and intelligence to engineering expertise, can make invaluable contributions.
We should also strengthen our trilateral discussions with the European Union which, together with the African Union, is an important regional partner in deploying and managing peace operations.
Fourth, financing continues to pose a major challenge to African capability.  I have advocated for further resources from within Africa, but we must find creative ways to mobilize the international community.
The time has come for us to take our partnership to a new level of clarity, practicality and predictability.  This Council knows well that crises in Africa are far from an African problem.  They concern the entire international community; and they will only be resolved by all the parts of that community acting as one.
I commend the African Union for doing more than ever before to meet these operational and political challenges.  I look forward to deepening our ties as we strive to meet the yearning of the continent’s people for lasting peace.  Thank you.

A Look At The Pakistani Taliban Militant Group

A Pakistani army soldier takes position on a bunker close to a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. The attack began in the morning when the gunmen entered the school and started shooting at random. Army commandos quickly arrived at the scene and started exchanging fire with the gunmen. Students wearing green school uniforms could be seen fleeing the area on Pakistani television.


(ASSOCIATED PRESS) -- A look at the Pakistani Taliban, a militant organization that has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar:

WHO ARE THE PAKISTANI TALIBAN?

The extremist group is made up of fighters who largely have been based in North Waziristan, a northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan. They have been battling government troops in the northwest since Pakistan aligned itself with the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. But the Pakistani Taliban didn't officially form until 2007 as an umbrella organization that included various militant factions, all aligned against the government. In recent months, the organization has fractured amid a Pakistani military offensive and U.S. drone strikes that have raised tension in the ranks. Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, it is headed by Mullah Fazlullah, a militant commander who claimed responsibility for trying to kill education activist Malala Yousafzai in 2012. The teenager survived the shooting and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
WHAT ARE THEIR GOALS?
The TTP has vowed to overthrow the government and install a harsh form of Islamic law. The extremists are aligned with the Afghan Taliban — a group fighting U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan — as well as al-Qaida militants who also live in the rugged northwest. They have frequently attacked Pakistani troops, government targets and civilians to help carry out their goals. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the violence, but Tuesday's school assault was one of the deadliest in more than a decade of fighting.

WHAT HAS PAKISTAN'S GOVERNMENT DONE TO STOP THEM?

Pakistan's military has carried out numerous operations in the tribal areas over the years, and more than 4,000 soldiers have been killed, with thousands more wounded. But many Pakistanis have tired of the operations and question their effectiveness. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, elected in 2013 partly on a platform of promising to negotiate an end to the violence, has tried for months to talk to the militants with little result. When militants attacked the Karachi international airport in June, the violence shocked the country. The government began an offensive in the militant hub of North Waziristan — the last remaining tribal area where the military had not launched an operation. Pakistan says it has killed more than 1,000 militants in the operation, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Taliban Assault On Pakistan School Leaves 141 Dead

A plainclothes security officer escorts students evacuated from a school as Taliban fighters attack another school nearby in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding scores, officials said, in the worst attack to hit the country in over a year.


PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN (AP) — In the deadliest slaughter of innocents in Pakistan in years, Taliban gunmen attacked a military-run school Tuesday and killed 141 people — almost all of them students — before government troops ended the siege.
The massacre of innocent children horrified a country already weary of unending terrorist attacks. Pakistan's teenage Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai — herself a survivor of a Taliban shooting — said she was "heartbroken" by the bloodshed.
Even Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan decried the killing spree, calling it "un-Islamic." If the Pakistani Taliban extremists had hoped the attack would cause the government to ease off its military offensive that began in June in the country's tribal region, it appeared to have the opposite effect. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged to step up the campaign that — along with U.S. drone strikes — has targeted the militants.
"The fight will continue. No one should have any doubt about it," Sharif said. "We will take account of each and every drop of our children's blood." Taliban fighters have struggled to maintain their potency in the face of the military operation. They vowed a wave of violence in response to the operation, but until Tuesday, there has only been one major attack by a splinter group near the Pakistan-India border in November. Analysts said the school siege showed that even diminished, the militant group still could inflict horrific carnage.
The rampage at the Army Public School and College began in the morning when seven militants scaled a back wall using a ladder, said Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, a military spokesman. When they reached an auditorium where students had gathered for an event, they opened fire.
A 14-year-old, Mehran Khan, said about 400 students were in the hall when the gunmen broke through the doors and started shooting. They shot one of the teachers in the head and then set her on fire and shouted "God is great!" as she screamed, added Khan, who survived by playing dead.
From there, they went to classrooms and other parts of the school. "Their sole purpose, it seems, was to kill those innocent kids. That's what they did," Bajwa said. Of the 141 people slain before government troops ended the assault eight hours later, 132 were children and nine were staff members. Another 121 students and three staff members were wounded.
The seven attackers, wearing vests of explosives, all died in the eight-hour assault. It was not immediately clear if they were all killed by the soldiers or whether they blew themselves up, he said. The wounded — some still wearing their green school blazers — flooded into hospitals as terrified parents searched for their children. By evening, funeral services were already being held for many of the victims as clerics announced the deaths over mosque loudspeakers.
The government declared three days of mourning for what appeared to be Pakistan's deadliest since a 2007 suicide bombing in the port city of Karachi killed 150 people. "My son was in uniform in the morning. He is in a casket now," wailed one parent, Tahir Ali, as he came to the hospital to collect the body of his 14-year-old son, Abdullah. "My son was my dream. My dream has been killed."
One of the wounded students, Abdullah Jamal, said he was with a group of eighth, ninth and 10th graders who were getting first-aid instructions and training with a team of army medics when the violence became real. Panic broke out when the shooting began.
"I saw children falling down who were crying and screaming. I also fell down. I learned later that I have got a bullet," he said, speaking from his hospital bed. Another student, Amir Mateen, said they locked the door from the inside when they heard the shooting, but gunmen blasted through anyway and opened fire.
Responding to the attack, armored personnel carriers were deployed around the school, and a military helicopter circled overhead. A little more than 1,000 students and staff were registered at the school, which is part of a network run by the military, although the surrounding area is not heavily fortified. The student body is made up of both children of military personnel as well as civilians.
Most of the students appeared to be civilians rather than children of army staff, said Javed Khan, a government official. Analysts said the militants likely targeted the school because of its military connections.
"It's a kind of a message that 'we can also kill your children,'" said Pakistani analyst Zahid Hussain. In a statement to reporters, Taliban spokesman Mohammed Khurasani claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retribution for the military's operation in nearby North Waziristan, the northwestern tribal region where the group's fighters largely have been based.
"We targeted their kids so that they could know how it feels when they hit our kids," Khurasani said. He said the attackers were advised not to target "underage" children but did not elaborate on what that meant.
In its offensive, the military said it would go after all militant groups operating in the region. Security officials and civilians feared retribution by militants, but Pakistan has been relatively calm.
The attack raised the issue of whether this was the last gasp of a militant group crippled by a government offensive or whether the militants could regroup. Hussain, the Pakistani analyst, called the attack an "act of desperation."
The violence will throw public support behind the campaign in North Waziristan, he said. It also shows that the Pakistani Taliban still maintains a strong intelligence network and remains a threat. The attack drew swift condemnation from around the world. U.S. President Barack Obama said the "terrorists have once again showed their depravity."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry added: "The images are absolutely gut-wrenching: young children carried away in ambulances, a teacher burned alive in front of the students, a house of learning turned into a house of unspeakable horror."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Pakistan's longtime regional rival, called it "a senseless act of unspeakable brutality." "My heart goes out to everyone who lost their loved ones today. We share their pain & offer our deepest condolences," Modi said in a series of tweeted statements.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was a "an act of horror and rank cowardice to attack defenseless children while they learn." The violence recalled the attack on Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman outside her school in the Swat Valley for daring to speak up about girls' rights. She survived to become a global advocate for girls' education and received her Nobel Peace Prize last week, but has not returned to Pakistan in the two years since the shooting out of security concerns.
"Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this," the 17-year-old said. "I condemn these atrocious and cowardly acts."
Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Munir Ahmed in Peshawar, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

Ex-Marine Wanted In 6 Killings Is Found Dead

This undated photo provided by the Montgomery County Office of the District Attorney in Norristown, Pa., shows Bradley William Stone, 35, of Pennsburg, Pa., a suspect in six shooting deaths in Montgomery County on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said all of the victims have a "familial relationship" to Stone.


PENNSBURG, PA. (AP) — An Iraq War veteran suspected of killing his ex-wife and five of her relatives was found dead in the woods near his suburban Philadelphia home Tuesday after a day-and-a-half manhunt that closed schools and left people on edge.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said on her official Facebook page that police found Bradley William Stone's body. The cause of death was not disclosed. Stone, a 35-year-old former Marine sergeant locked in a custody dispute so bitter that his ex-wife feared for her life, went on a 90-minute shooting rampage before daybreak Monday at three homes a few miles apart, authorities said.
The killings set off the second major manhunt to transfix Pennsylvania in the past few months. Eric Frein spent 48 days at large in the Poconos after the September ambush slaying of a state trooper. As the manhunt dragged on — with SWAT teams making their way through neighborhoods and the Philadelphia police sending in a heat-sensing helicopter — at least five schools within a few miles of Stone's Pennsburg home closed, and others were locked down. Veterans' hospitals and other places tightened security.
Ashley Tessier, of Pennsburg, took her sick 7-month-old son to the pediatrician in a stroller Tuesday as SWAT teams knocked on doors along her route. She said she felt she had no choice, since she postponed Monday's doctor visit because residents were told to take cover.
"Seeing all this is really terrifying — the dogs, the guns, the SWAT team," she said. The rampage unfolded in the towns of Harleysville, Lansdale and Souderton. Stone's former wife, 33-year-old Nicole Stone, was found dead in her apartment after a neighbor saw Stone fleeing around 5 a.m. with their two young daughters, authorities said. The girls were later found safe with Stone's neighbors.
Police went to two other homes and discovered five more people dead: Nicole Stone's mother, grandmother, sister, brother-in-law and 14-year-old niece. A 17-year-old nephew was wounded in the head, and Ferman said he was in "very serious" condition.
Stone and his ex-wife had fighting over their children's custody since she filed for divorce in 2009. He filed an emergency motion this month, although the resulting Dec. 9 ruling remained sealed in court files.
Neighbors said Nicole Stone lived in such fear of her ex-husband that she would sometimes ask her apartment complex's maintenance staff to go in and check her place first because she was afraid he might be lying in wait.
"He would call and just harass her and threaten her," said neighbor Michele Brewster. "She shouldn't have had to live in terror." "She would tell anybody who would listen that he was going to kill her and that she was really afraid for her life," said Evan Weron, another neighbor in Harleysville.
Stone was probably wearing military fatigues and may have shaved off his facial hair, the district attorney said. She added that he sometimes used a cane or walker. Stone was in the Marines from 2002 to 2008. His specialty was listed as "artillery meteorological man." Stone told a 2011 child support hearing that Veterans Affairs deemed him permanently disabled and that he was collecting benefits from the agency, according to court documents.
The VA had no comment Tuesday. A longtime friend, Matthew Schafte, said he was not aware of any injuries Stone may have suffered as a Marine. Stone had faced several driving-under-the-influence charges, one of which was handled in veterans' court and led to a three- to 23-month sentence.
He remarried last year, according to his Facebook page and court records, and has an infant son. Neither his wife nor the son was injured. Nicole Stone became engaged over the summer, neighbors said.
Dale reported from Harleysville. Associated Press writer Kathy Matheson contributed from Souderton and Harleysville.