UP to 100 private Russian soldiers may have been killed by a U.S. strike in Syria, Russian media reports.
Tuesday in a development that could further inflame Russia-U.S. tensions.
Moscow and Washington didn’t comment on the deaths, which would leave both countries red faced if it turns out that Russian fighters were part of a unit that attacked American troops.
AFP or licensors A US air strike may have taken out as many as 100 Russian soldiers in Syria, file photo.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, did not comment on reports about the incident last week, saying they needed to be verified.
Asked during a conference call with reporters if the Russian President mentioned the incident during a phone conversation with Donald Trump, he said the situation in Syria didn’t come up.
Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that Russia has told the U.S. there were no Russians in the area of the strike.
Mattis said he saw the news reports about Russian contractors possibly being casualties of the bombing.
AFP – Getty Neither country’s government confirmed the incident had resulted in the alleged deaths
He said: “I don’t have any reporting that some non-Russian Federation soldiers, but Russian contractors were among the casualties.
“I can’t give you anything on that. We have not received that word at Central Command or the Pentagon.”
Russian media said the contractors were part of pro-Assad forces that advanced on oil fields in the eastern Deir el-Zour province and were targeted by the United States.
The reports cited activists who confirmed that at least four Russian citizens were killed in Syria on Wednesday.
During the war in Syria, Russia and the United States have maintained a communications channel to avoid collisions between their warplanes and soldiers in the chaotic battlefield.
If Russian deaths from the U.S. strike are confirmed, it would mean the two countries were on the verge of a direct military confrontation in Syria.
The episode could further strain ties between the two countries, which have plummeted to the lowest levels since the Cold War over the Ukrainian conflict, the war in Syria and the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Last week the US unleashed an air and artillery barrage on Syrian government-backed troops after some 300 attackers launched what appeared to be a coordinated assault on Syrian opposition forces accompanied by U.S. advisers in the province of Deir el-Zour.
It said it was in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the attack, and Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not strike coalition forces.
It said the U.S. strikes, which reportedly killed about 100 of the attackers, were in self-defence.
But he Russian Defense Ministry has insisted that its troops weren’t involved in the incident, saying 25 Syrian volunteers were wounded in the U.S. strike.
The Russian state news agency Tass cited Natalya Krylova, a municipal lawmaker in the town of Asbestos in the Urals, as saying local residents Igor Kosoturov and Stanislav Matveyev were killed in Syria Wednesday.
Shots Fired At North Korea-linked Group Hq In Japan
TOKYO – Japanese police arrested two men on Friday after several bullets were fired at the Tokyo headquarters of a group linked to North Korea, a spokesman and media said.
The men pulled up at the complex housing the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) in a van shortly before 4 a.m., before one of them fired multiple shots at the gate, media reported.
Slideshow (3 Images)Police at the heavily guarded complex arrested the two, who media said had links to right-wing groups.
Japan has strict gun laws and shootings, almost always gang-related, are extremely rare.
Tensions remain high between North Korea and Japan over the North’s nuclear program and its testing of several missiles in recent years, including two that flew over Japanese territory last year.
About 500,000 ethnic Koreans live in Japan, many of them descended from the two million Koreans brought to Japan as forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonisation of the peninsula.
Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim;
Row Over Kenyan Oil Revenues Threatens To Delay Production
LOKICHAR, Kenya – In the decades before oil was discovered in the northern Kenyan region of Turkana South, 100,000 poor villagers living in arid scrubland relied on a lone church-run health center in Lokichar town for medical help.
Since Tullow Oil found crude there six years ago, the London-listed company has funded a 40-bed referral hospital, school classrooms and dormitories, provided village water points graded roads, and paid for scholarships to generate goodwill.
Seeing the potential benefits of oil, residents of the poorest of Kenya’s 47 counties now want the central government to make up for decades of neglect by ploughing nearly a third of expected oil revenues back into Turkana.
The central government has other ideas.
Parliament passed a draft bill in 2016 allocating 20 percent of any state oil revenue to local government and 10 percent to communities living where the crude was discovered, leaving 70 percent for the central government in Nairobi.
But President Uhuru Kenyatta never signed the bill. A revised version due to be debated in parliament this month cuts the regional government share to 15 percent, with only 5 percent for local communities.
The legislation must be passed before large-scale oil production can begin. Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, which controls 213 of parliament’s 349 seats, is likely to back the revised law, but some of its lawmakers may break ranks and side with the opposition pushing for more money for local communities.
“Now that they have suffered for so long, the revenue from oil must actually feed them, treat them and take their children to school,” said Jubilee Party member James Lomenen, member of parliament for Turkana South.
Lomenen plans to table an amendment to the Petroleum Exploration, Development and Production Bill to restore the 10 percent share to local communities.
IT‘S OUR LAND
Residents see the new terms as another slap in the face for Turkana, a vast scrubland the size of Sri Lanka where most residents live in villages without power or running water.
Joseph Nachar, a village elder in Loktorio, which is close to one of Tullow’s wells, said locals will oppose oil companies if they don’t get their 10 percent. He vowed to vote against any representative who doesn’t fight for their cut.
In 2013, demonstrators backed by local politicians marched on drilling sites demanding jobs and other benefits, forcing Tullow to halt work for two weeks. “We are the owners of the land where they are getting oil,” said Nachar.
Local leaders say the money will help make up for years of neglect in areas such as health and education. Turkana’s literacy rate is just 20 percent, while the national average is more than 70 percent.
The maternal mortality rate in Kenya was 382 for every 100,000 live births in 2014, but in Turkana it was above 1,000, the U.N. children’s fund (UNICEF) said.
“We are starting from scratch,” said Jane Ajele, Turkana county’s executive committee member for health.
Nairobi officials argue that Turkana’s economy, which largely depends on livestock, cannot absorb a wave of cash.
“We want them to prosper but if we see a pitfall somewhere, we have to advise people,” said Andrew Kamau, principal secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum.
Workers are seen at Tullow Oil’s Ngamia 8 drilling site in Lokichar, Turkana County, Kenya, February 8, 2018. Picture taken February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Most of Kenya’s oil blocks have not been explored. Those owned by Tullow and its partners, Africa Oil Corp and Total SA, hold an estimated 750 million barrels.
While that’s less than African frontier oil countries such as Uganda and Ghana, exports scheduled to start in 2021 would earn the government $1.2 billion a year at peak production at current prices, government officials say.
That’s about 10 percent of annual revenue, comparable to the country’s biggest export, tea.
The petroleum bill would also create a sovereign wealth fund, financed with oil revenues, which the government says it would manage to guard against currency fluctuations and theft.
But Turkana residents have little faith the government, tainted by a series of corruption scandals, will manage their money well.
Slideshow (10 Images)Kenya loses a third of its state budget – the equivalent of about $6 billion – to corruption every year, former anti-graft chief Philip Kinisu told Reuters in 2016.
The government denied the figure and Kinisu was fired five months after giving the interview. His successor did not respond to requests for comment.
Auditor General Edward Ouko has also accused the national government of corruption and mismanagement in a series of scathing reports.
He has been equally critical of county authorities, set up in 2013 to help counter complaints about central government theft. About 20 percent of Turkana’s 12 billion shilling ($119 million) budget in 2016 was unaccounted for, Ouko’s office said.
“With the corruption that we have in Kenya, you can only trust what goes to the community directly,” said MP Lomenen.
‘CLOCK IS TICKING’
Tullow has already spent 1.5 billion shillings ($15 million) on community projects. But the row over revenue sharing has eaten into the oil companies’ tight timelines.
“The clock is ticking,” said Tullow Oil Kenya country manager Martin Mbogo.
Technical studies of 40 wells in the Lokichar basin were due to start last year but have been delayed.
So has early oil production, due to start last June. About 2,000 barrels of crude were to be trucked out daily until an 800 km (500 mile) pipeline is built to Indian Ocean ports.
Petroleum ministry official Kamau said delegations including community representatives would visit established producers such as Nigeria, Canada and Oman to seek advice on revenue sharing.
In Nigeria, 13 percent of oil revenue goes to local communities, though that has not stopped attacks on oil installations by those wanting more. The rest is shared out among the three tiers of the Nigerian government; the federal branch gets 52 percent.
Expectations among the Turkana people are similarly high.
“They should think about us because we are not getting any help at all,” said Joshua Losepito, standing with his wife and daughter outside their hut made of sticks and branches near Lokichar town.
Additional reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha in Lagos;
Cambodias Ruling Party Set To Sweep Senate Election
PHNOM PENH – The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Hun Sen is poised to sweep a Senate election at the weekend, helping to consolidate the prime minister’s rule of more than 30 years amid a crackdown on the opposition.
Sunday’s election for 58 members of the 62-strong Senate will see 123 members of parliament and 11,572 commune councilors vote at 33 polling stations across Cambodia. Two Senate members each are appointed by the king and the National Assembly.
But rights groups and opposition politicians say the Senate vote is a farce that shows Hun Sen, who faces a national election in July, is not committed to multi-party democracy.
Almost half of the commune councilors have been stripped of their right to vote in Sunday’s election after their opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by a court last November at the request of Hun Sen’s government.
“It’s the first time the Senate election will be held without the main opposition, without competition,” said Koul Panha of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, an election watchdog.
About 5,007 CNRP commune councillors, or 44 percent of the 11,572 eligible to vote, had been stripped of their voting rights, he added.
“It’s neither democratic nor free and fair.”
Supporters of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), attend a senate election campaign at the Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, Cambodia February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang PringOnly three small political parties are contesting the vote, apart from the CPP.
“I expect that we will win by a lot,” said Sok Eysan, a CPP spokesman in the running for Sunday’s election. “It is 100 percent sure that I will be elected.”
Slideshow (2 Images)The ruling CPP was the only party to hold rallies during the 14-day campaign period leading up to Sunday’s vote, the National Election Committee said.
The Senate, whose members have six-year terms, is seen as a rubber stamp institution, but the president has constitutional power as the head of state to sign bills into law when the king is abroad.
Dissolution of the CNRP was followed by the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha last year for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government with U.S. help, an accusation both the United States and Kem Sokha have rejected.
The CNRP ban effectively removes any major obstacles to Hun Sen’s re-election in July.
Mu Sochua, the deputy president of the CNRP, called Sunday’s vote a “sham”, saying it would further widen Cambodia’s political divide.
“It is a sham election for the sole interest of the CPP to maintain and control absolute power,” Mu Sochua, who lives abroad in self-imposed exile, told Reuters.
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