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Saudi Arabia recruited Darfur children to fight in Yemen: NYT | News

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Saudi Arabia recruited children from Sudan’s conflict-ravaged Darfur region to fight on the frontlines of its war in Yemen, the New York Times has reported.

The kingdom offered desperate Sudanese families as much as $10,000 to enlist their children to fight in the nearly four-year-old war against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, the Times said on Friday.

Led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, intervened in Yemen in 2015 in support of the internationally recognised President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Sudan joined the Saudi-led alliance, deploying thousands of ground troops to Yemen. 

Five Sudanese fighters who had returned from Yemen told the Times that children made up between 20- 40 percent of their units in Yemen.

Many of the child soldiers were aged 14 to 17, the report said, and were often sent off to war by their families, some of whom were so eager for the money that they bribed officers of the Sudanese units in Yemen to let their sons go fight, the Times said. 

“Families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money,” Hager Shomo Ahmed told the Times.

The returned fighter is now 16, but was recruited to fight in Yemen in 2016 when he was 14 years old.






WATCH: Hodeidah ceasefire – UN monitors meet both sides in port city (2:06)

At any time in the past four years, as many as 14,000 Sudanese people have been fighting in the Gulf country alongside Yemeni-armed groups backed by the Saudis, the newspaper said, quoting returnees as well as Sudanese lawmakers.

Darfur survivors 

The Times said almost all of the Sudanese fighters appear come from the impoverished region of Darfur, where some 300,000 people were killed after mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum in 2003.

Most of them belonged to the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group known as Janjaweed, which was blamed for the systematic rape of women and girls, indiscriminate killing and other war crimes.

The fighters told the Times that while in Yemen, the Saudis and Emirates overseeing the Sudanese units commanded them almost exclusively by remote control so that they could keep a safe distance from the battle lines.

“They never fought with us,” Mohamed Suleiman al-Fadil said, while a 25-year-old fighter identified as Ahmed told the newspaper: “They treat the Sudanese like their firewood.”

Hundreds of Sudanese fighters have been killed in Yemen, according to the Times

A spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition denied recruiting Sudanese children in a statement to the newspaper, labelling the allegations “fictitious and unfounded”.

The Times said Babikir Elsiddig Elamin, a spokesman for Sudan’s Foreign Ministry, declined to comment on troop levels, casualties or paychecks in Yemen. He told the newspaper that Sudan was fighting “in the interest of regional peace and stability.”

The Sudanese ground troops have made it easier for the Saudis and Emiratis to extend the war in Yemen, by insulating them from casualties that might test the patience of families at home, the Times said. 

The war in Yemen has killed more than 60,000 people, according to the war monitor Armed Conflict Location and Event Data, and has pushed the already impoverished country to the verge of famine.

The United Nations said the conflict there has triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. 

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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