Pastor Andrew Brunson asks the question: “Are we more afraid of persecution than the consequences of not obeying God?”

Matthew 10:28 “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Important Takeaways:

  • I understand fear. In prison I was separated from my loved ones by force.
  • Jesus repeatedly warned His disciples that they would encounter persecution and hardship, and He repeatedly admonished them not to fear… I think Jesus’ emphasis is not so much “do not feel fear” but rather “do not act out of fear.” The danger is that the person who surrenders to fear may compromise his faith, fall away and even deny Jesus.
  • First, we need to nurture a straight-up fear of God as judge.
  • We rightly emphasize the love of God, but we don’t like to talk about hell and judgment. Yet Jesus talked about it quite a bit, and He did this because there are terrible consequences to denying Him, to compromising our faith. Jesus said it very clearly and bluntly: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
  • Second, we need to nurture a right perspective-—to develop eternal eyes… For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
  • Third, we need to nurture a desire for Heaven… “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

Read the original article by clicking here.

Three Countries Putin Could Target First in a Nuclear War

Mark 13:8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

Important Takeaways:

  • VLADIMIR PUTIN has stoked fears around the world that he could be prepared to launch nuclear weapons at Russia’s enemies.
  • The Kremlin leader is widely thought to boast the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.
  • The most likely target of any nuclear strike by Russia could be its former Cold War adversary the US
  • Allies of President Putin have threatened the UK with retaliatory action
  • Russia could also target a number of NATO’s 28 other member states, including France, Germany and Canada.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Lost hope: Ortega’s crackdown in Nicaragua stirs fast-growing exodus

By Daina Beth Solomon and Alvaro Murillo

MEXICO CITY/SAN JOSE (Reuters) – Nicaraguan activist Jesus Adolfo Tefel has already been detained once, in 2019, when he tried to bring water to mothers on a hunger strike against President Daniel Ortega. The government accused him of planning terrorist acts and, he said, locked him up for 46 days.

That time, he stayed in Nicaragua after the government released him without pressing charges. But when the Ortega government began arresting presidential contenders, journalists and activists in June ahead of November elections, Tefel fled across the border to Costa Rica with his family.

“I don’t have the slightest doubt I would have been arrested” again if I stayed, said Tefel, 35, citing his work with opposition leaders aiming to oust the longest-standing president in the Americas, who is seeking a fourth straight term in the elections.

Tefel’s family joined tens of thousands of people who have slipped into exile this year amid the crackdown. The Nicaraguan government did not immediately respond to questions about Tefel, whose earlier arrest was documented by human rights groups and international media including Reuters.

Data from the United States, Costa Rica and Mexico reveal an exodus shaping up to be among the biggest from Nicaragua since a 1980s civil war. It threatens to overwhelm Costa Rica’s asylum system and has swollen already record Central American migration numbers to the United States.

The jump in Nicaraguans going into exile is on track to be higher than in either 2018 or 2019, when repression of opposition protests against Ortega left at least 300 people dead.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection in July logged more than 13,000 Nicaraguans either illegally crossing or seeking asylum at the nation’s borders, almost double the month before. That pushed Nicaragua to overtake El Salvador, traditionally one of the main drivers of Latino migration to the United States.

Some 33,000 Nicaraguans have been apprehended at U.S. borders so far this year, over twice as many as in all of 2019, the year with the most apprehensions of Nicaraguans in at least a decade.

This could be “the year with the most applications since records began,” said Costa Rican official Allan Rodriguez, who oversees the country’s asylum unit.

Ortega’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the rising migration or accusations of political persecution. Ortega has said his opponents seek to topple him and conspire against national interests.

Costa Rica is struggling to process 11,000 Nicaraguan refugee applications received in July and August, more than in the peak months of the last wave of repression.

Asylum officers have a backlog of 52,000 cases to review.

CRACKDOWNS

Ortega first took power after the 1979 overthrow of U.S.-backed right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza by Sandinista rebels, and returned to office in 2007.

Working with his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, he has tightened his grip in the second-poorest country in the Americas.

He has abolished presidential term limits, expanded his family’s business empire and piled pressure on independent media, while at the same time using budget and tax laws to take control of at least a dozen media and news outlets .

Over the past three months, Ortega has arrested 35 opposition leaders, suspended a rival party and withheld newsprint, among other tactics that U.N. officials, the United States and Europe have called an abuse of power to stifle free speech and free elections.

“What we are seeing in Nicaragua is an escalating climate of repression, fear, and hopelessness,” a U.S. State Department spokesman said.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not respond to a request for comment.

Under President Joe Biden, the United States has identified bad governance and weak rule of law as a root cause of migration from Central America. It is seeking to cajole the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to tackle these issues to stem flows.

Nicaragua, traditionally a lesser source of immigration to the United States, has been not included in that effort.

However, the State Department said the administration is using “diplomatic and economic tools” to pressure a government it calls undemocratic and authoritarian. Washington has sanctioned several people close to Ortega, including Vice President Murillo.

In Mexico, Nicaraguans are spending weeks or months in southern border towns as they await visas to stay legally or pass through safely to the U.S. border.

Lester Altamirano, 40, lived in the Mexican city of Tapachula for eight months before making it to California with his wife and 8-year-old daughter. He crossed into the United States in late May, a DHS document seen by Reuters showed, and he plans to apply for asylum.

The family first requested asylum in the United States in 2020 but was deported. Back in Nicaragua, Altamirano and his wife were jailed for 11 days for opposing the government, Altamirano said.

Altamirano’s anti-government Facebook posts then drew the attention of officials in his small town in northern Nicaragua.

“It was going to be worse if we stayed. We had to risk it,” he said, echoing others Reuters spoke to for this story, including journalist Carlos Padilla, 26, who said he had been scared to protest on the street at home for fear of arrest.

Tefel, who once ran a tourism company in Nicaragua, said he does not know when he could return home without risking jail.

“I lived it in my own skin,” he said. “I know what it means to be locked up, and unjustly.”

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City and Alvaro Murillo in San Jose; Additional reporting by Ismael Lopez and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell)

COVID-19 surge takes toll on Portugal’s undertakers

By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) – Standing next to the sealed coffin of yet another COVID-19 victim in Portugal, funeral parlor worker Carlos Carneiro wept as the bereaved family played a record of a traditional fado song as a final goodbye.

Carneiro, 37, has been in the undertaking business for two decades helping people cope with loss, but never felt as affected by sorrow and fear as now.

Portugal fared better than others in Europe in the first wave of the pandemic in March-April, but the new year brought a devastating surge in infections and deaths, overwhelming the health service and funeral homes.

More than 14,700 people have died of COVID-19 in Portugal, with cumulative infections since the start of the pandemic at nearly 775,000.

“I have never felt this emotional, with so many consecutive funerals,” Carneiro told Reuters in a quavering voice outside the crematorium where the body of 77-year-old Matilde Firmino was turned into ashes.

“It’s hard on us. We feel it when we get home.”

Due to coronavirus rules in place to reduce the risk of contagion, funeral homes like Carneiro’s Funalcoitao near Lisbon had to quickly adapt.

Workers must wear protective gear from head to toe, bodies are placed inside white plastic bags and then in a coffin, without embalming or makeup.

Families are rarely able to see the deceased before they are buried or cremated, and Firmino’s daughter was at one point worried if it was really her mother inside the coffin.

A priest blessed the coffin in a short service held outside as family and friends sheltered from the pouring rain. “I ask God to free us from this pandemic we are living,” he said.

Carneiro said he always seeks to honor the lives of the dead, but not being able to give families the full closure they seek is taking a toll on his well-being.

“These people are not numbers…People sit on their sofas and worry about (coronavirus) numbers, but we see people and their families. We have to deal with the drama,” Carneiro said.

‘THERE’S FEAR’

His brother Alvaro, 44, said January, when Portugal reported almost half of all its COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, was the hardest month in his 24 years in the funeral business.

“We are scared of being infected, of infecting our family members at home,” he said at their family-run funeral home, which on Tuesday alone organized six services. “There’s fear.”

Funeral business associations have urged Portuguese authorities to vaccinate the sector’s around 5,000 workers as soon as possible.

“We are on the frontline so we should be considered a priority for vaccination but according to the news we are seeing there are not enough shots for everyone,” Alvaro Carneiro said. “We will have to endure this a little longer.”

A July 2020 article by two public health researchers said high death rates, restrictions, a fear of being infected and worries about their families’ wellbeing could affect funeral workers’ mental health, especially in the longer run after the daily pressure subsides.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira and Pedro Nunes; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan)

Stress? Fear of COVID-19? Therapists treating the vulnerable go online to help

By Menna A. Farouk

CAIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As the spread of coronavirus grows so too has people’s stress levels and anxieties, prompting businesses for good around the world to turn to technology to help the most vulnerable cope with mental health issues.

In Egypt, online therapy social enterprise Shezlong has offered 150,000 free sessions to help people cope with anxiety or depression or those suffering from “pseudo coronavirus” where people are convinced they have COVID-19 although they do not.

Hard Feelings, a Canadian social enterprise that aims to make therapy more accessible by offering low-cost counselling sessions, has closed its Toronto store and its counsellors will be speaking to clients online.

In Britain, a group of qualified therapists have set up a volunteering scheme called the Help Hub, offering free 20-minute Skype, FaceTime or telephone calls to vulnerable people in need of mental health support.

Meanwhile in the United States, online therapy platform Talkspace, a company with more than one million users, is donating a free month of therapy to 1,000 healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

“With negative news coming from media outlets about coronavirus, people are getting more stressed and panicked and more and more people will need psychological support,” Shezlong founder Ahmed Abu ElHaz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

About 1,500 free sessions have been given since the three-month initiative launched in March in Egypt, which has more than 400 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 20 deaths, according to data from the Johns Hopkins coronavirus resource center.

Conducted via video conference, the sessions offer coping techniques for dealing with bad news, in a country where 3% of the population – or 8.2 million – suffer from anxiety and mood disorders, according to 2018 Egyptian health ministry data.

“We use cognitive behavioural therapy which teaches patients how to manage stress and anxiety and gives relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and positive self-talk,” said Mohamed el-Shami, a therapist working for Shezlong.

Professor of Psychology at Cairo University Gamal Freusar said 70% of Egyptians were now classified as “pseudo coronavirus” as they assume they have the virus and think they have the symptoms although they actually do not.

“About two-thirds of Egyptian society is now having high levels of anxiety and tension and this may cause many physical problems for them,” he said.

U.S. online therapy platform Talkspace said it was donating free therapy to healthcare workers.

“The mental health of our social workers, nurses, doctors and other health personnel is now paramount,” Talkspace CEO Oren Frank said in a statement.

(Reporting by Menna A. Farouk in Cairo, Additional reporting by Sarah Shearman in London, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Women seek to reclaim Delhi’s streets – but more men show up

By Annie Banerji

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – How can women reclaim the streets when they fear venturing out alone?

That was the challenge faced by the organisers of a street festival in New Delhi held to encourage Indian women to reclaim public spaces this week, as the country reeled from the latest gang rape and murder to hit the headlines.

“It seemed that most women came with their families, male friends or partners,” said Kiran, a police inspector who goes by one name, of the Step Out At Night festival organised by the city authorities on Thursday night.

“We hoped women would come without fear … but maybe this needs to be done more often to make them feel safe enough to do so,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

India has a grim record of sexual violence against women, with an average of some 90 rapes reported each day in 2017, according to latest federal data.

Thursday’s event came amid angry protests over the gang-rape and murder of a 27-year-old veterinarian near the southern city of Hyderabad last week.

Four suspects were shot dead during a reconstruction of the crime early on Friday by police who said they had tried to seize weapons. the killings drewing praise from many on social media but raised concerns over due process.

India strengthened its laws on sexual violence against women after the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus that led to an outpouring of anger.

But critics say enforcement remains weak. On Thursday, a rape victim was set alight by a gang of men as she made her way to court.

In Delhi, dubbed India’s “rape capital” due to high levels of sexual violence, hundreds of women turned out for the festival, which included music and dance performances and gender equality themed games including snakes and ladders.

One female lawmaker tweeted a photo from the festival which showed her eating street food with a small group of women and throngs of men in the background.

Nishtha Gupta, a 22-year-old Delhi University student who attended, said she had asked her brother to accompany her “because my parents feel better knowing he’ll be with me”.

“The idea behind the festival is great … to have more women be visible and present in public spaces, but that’s not going to happen overnight,” she said.

Kalpana Viswanath, co-founder of an app that provides safety-related information, said the festival was a positive first step for women to assert their right to public spaces.

“As long as there are more women in public spaces, it will be safer just by virtue of there being more women,” said Viswanath, whose app, Safetipin, was a co-organiser.

(Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

Former inmate tours Ethiopian torture center after it opens to the public

Visitors use their phone torches inside Maekelawi detention center for political prisoners after it was opened to the public in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Blogger Befekadu Hailu’s eyes filled with tears as he stood on the spot where he had watched a guard attack a friend in Maekelawi detention center, a name long synonymous in Ethiopia with torture and fear.

Befekadu returned to visit the former police station on Friday as a tourist, not an inmate, after the government opened the building to the public for three days as part of its push towards new democratic freedoms.

“We have to take a lesson from this,” Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye said at a ceremony at the site. “Human rights violations which took place here should not be repeated.”

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed closed the notorious detention and interrogation center in Addis Ababa last year after he took office pledging an end to “state terrorism”.

Befekadu, 39, was imprisoned there for 84 days without charge in 2014. On Friday morning, he took Reuters to see the damp, dark interrogation rooms.

Prisoners called the frigid underground cells where he was detained “Siberia”.

The center was used by successive rulers, including military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which wrested power from him in 1991.

BEATINGS

Befekadu and other detainees had poked holes in the plaster that filled the metal bars on their cell door. It was meant to stop them from seeing outside.

He said that one day, a policeman noticed him peering out and demanded to know who made the holes. The officer began kicking Befekadu’s fellow prisoner Atnaf.

Befekadu Hailu, 39, an ex-inmate of the Maekelawi detention center for political prisoners is seen as he stands in the room where he was detained after it was opened to the public in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Befekadu Hailu, 39, an ex-inmate of the Maekelawi detention center for political prisoners is seen as he stands in the room where he was detained after it was opened to the public in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

“My friend was beaten here and I couldn’t defend him,” he said, his voice cracking. He searched on Friday for graffiti that prisoners had scrawled, but the wall under his fingers was slick with fresh yellow paint.

In a 2013 report, New York-based Human Rights Watch documented torture at Maekelawi, often used to extract confessions from suspected political opponents.

Guards beat prisoners with gun butts and electric wires and handcuffed victims’ wrists to the ceiling.

That is forbidden now, said Supreme Court president Meaza Ashenafi, a lawyer and women’s rights activist appointed by Abiy last year. The country was changing “from a condition where human rights were violated to a condition where they are now respected”, she said during her visit to the cells on Friday.

Some senior officials implicated in rights abuses have been arrested. The former head of national intelligence has been charged with murder and torture in absentia. Former political prisoners now head the election board and the government-run national human rights commission.

But Laetitia Bader, a senior Human Rights Watch Africa researcher, said more needs to be done to heal past wounds. Most trials have not begun and a reconciliation commission set up in December has an unclear mandate, Bader said.

“The government hasn’t presented a clear roadmap for how it plans to deal with the country’s abusive past,” she said.

Activists continue to be detained, said prominent journalist Eskinder Nega, who was jailed repeatedly on terrorism charges prior to Abiy’s appointment.

Five of his colleagues have been held without charge since June under the anti-terrorism law, he said. The prime minister is new, but the government is still the same ruling coalition, he said.

“This is a classic pretext to crackdown on dissent,” he said. “None of the authoritarian structures have been overhauled.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Frances Kerry)

In Colombia, victims of sexual abuse speak out after peace deal

Lina, who said she was raped by dozens of right-wing paramilitary fighters in the Montes de Maria region during the five-decade civil war, laughs as she puts on a hairband in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

By Nacho Doce and Daniel Flynn

SOACHA, Colombia (Reuters) – Yeimy sobbed with her head in her hands as she described how her husband was tied to a pole, gagged and made to watch as she was raped by four fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) 12 years ago.

Yeimy (C), 37, who was raped by four rebel fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during the five-decade civil war, holds photographs of herself and her husband Elkin, as she poses with her children at their house in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Yeimy (C), 37, who was raped by four rebel fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during the five-decade civil war, holds photographs of herself and her husband Elkin, as she poses with her children at their house in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Her husband, Elkin, had been abducted by the FARC’s 45th Front in the Tolima region of central Colombia after refusing to pay a revolutionary tax or hand their six-year-old son to the Marxist rebels to become part of the armed group, Yeimy said.

After trekking through the jungle for days to find the rebel camp, Yeimy pleaded for her husband’s release but the FARC commander, known by the nom de guerre Pepito, demanded a terrible price, she said.

“He told me, ‘I will pick four of my men and they can do what they want with you’,” said the 37-year-old, who asked that her family name not be used.

After securing a deal for the release of her husband, Yeimy fled with her family to Soacha, near Colombia’s capital Bogota, which is home to tens of thousands displaced by the conflict.

But two years later the rebels who had kidnapped Yeimy’s husband found them, claiming the couple still owed FARC the so-called revolutionary tax. Yeimy said they took away her husband and shot him.

Yeimy is one of hundreds of women who has come forward to talk to victims groups about their alleged sexual abuse during Colombia’s five decades of civil war. After a 2016 peace deal with the FARC the government set up a Special Peace Tribunal (JEP) to try crimes committed by all sides in the conflict.

Yeimy has started therapy sessions with a psychologist to overcome her fear so she can testify before a public defender, said Sonia Tarquino, who runs a victims program in Soacha.

Lina, who said she was raped by dozens of right-wing paramilitary fighters in the Montes de Maria region during the five-decade civil war, shows the picture of her son Over on the mobile phone inside her house in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, May 28, 2018. . REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Lina, who said she was raped by dozens of right-wing paramilitary fighters in the Montes de Maria region during the five-decade civil war, shows the picture of her son Over on the mobile phone inside her house in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, May 28, 2018. . REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Reuters has not been able to verify Yeimy’s account independently. FARC spokesman declined to comment on individual allegations of war crimes since the peace deal, saying these cases will be heard by the JEP.

But last month, three victims associations delivered 2,000 documented cases of sexual abuse to the JEP.

The tribunal’s president, Patricia Linares, has said those responsible would not be allowed to escape justice, but would be eligible to receive non-jail sentences if they came clean about the crimes.

Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory estimates 15,687 people were victims of sexual violence during the conflict, at the hands of right-wing paramilitary groups, security forces and the guerrillas.

Armed groups used sexual violence, including gang rape, to instill fear in communities, as a way of imposing their control over an area and as a form of punishment, rights groups have said.

The 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC guarantees non-jail sentences for crimes related to the conflict, provided those responsible fully admit their wrongdoing and tell the truth about what happened. It also furnishes rebels who disarm with lodging and a monthly stipend.

The terms of the accord frustrated many Colombians and it was rejected in a referendum before a modified version was approved by Congress.

 

IMPLEMENTING THE PEACE DEAL

Colombia’s right-wing President Ivan Duque, who took office in August, has promised to toughen the terms of the peace deal and make FARC commanders pay for crimes with prison time. He has said those guilty of rape should not be provided with special treatment under the deal.

Yet Duque faces a challenge to overhaul the accord as most parties in Congress support it and the constitutional court has also ruled that the terms of the pact cannot be altered for three presidential terms.

Former President Juan Manuel Santos, who signed the deal with the FARC, told Reuters in an interview in July that most Colombians wanted it implemented to turn the page on the conflict.

Duque has pledged not to do anything that would derail the accord as his government seeks to restore peace but a presidency spokesman said that he would continue to press for rapists to not receive amnesty.

Yet, with large areas of Colombia still prey to armed groups including dissident FARC fighters, Mexican-backed drug gangs, and the ELN leftist rebel group, some Colombians say they fear that tampering with the peace process could drive more former rebels to take up arms again.

More than 7 million people, nearly one sixth of the population, remain displaced by violence in Colombia after decades of internal conflict, according to government figures.

ABUSE BY PARAMILITARY AS WELL AS FARC

Tarquino, who runs the victims program in Soacha, has been holding meetings for women abused during the conflict for four years. Many of the women have, like Yeimy, had family members killed by the FARC rebels or right-wing paramilitary fighters.

Lina, who is now 49 and asked not to reveal her family name, said she was sexually assaulted 22 years ago in northern Colombia by paramilitaries belonging to the Heroes of the Montes de Maria group.

When she refused to take any more, the men sexually abused her using a tent pole, Lina said.

The paramilitary groups, which continued to operate in many parts of Colombia despite a 2006 peace deal, were founded by landowners to protect themselves from rebels but quickly turned to drug trafficking and violence.

Lina’s home province of Sucre was involved in a scandal that erupted in 2006 over ties between paramilitary fighters and local politicians that resulted in the arrest of several congressmen.

“The doctors were named by them. The mayor was appointed by them,” said Lina. “I had to put on a mask to hide the pain that I felt from my child. After 22 years, I can finally declare the facts to the competent authorities.”

Colombia’s government provides compensation to victims of sexual violence, including rape, under a 2011 law.

Lina has given testimony to a public defender and has been classified as a victim but has not yet received any compensation. Her case document, reviewed by Reuters, recognizes she suffered sexual violence, torture and personal injury.

Lina took part in a secret meeting this year with former paramilitaries, including one of the men who abused her, in which they asked forgiveness. Reuters reviewed a video of the meeting but Lina asked not to reveal its location nor the identity of the men.

“We as women have to forgive because we cannot live with this anger inside us,”said Lina.

Click on https://reut.rs/2xl3PY6

(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; editing by Diane Craft and Clive McKeef)

Mexican truck drivers travel in fear as highway robberies bleed economy

Trailers are pictured on the Mexico-Puebla highway, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Noe Torres and Lizbeth Diaz

PUEBLA, Mexico (Reuters) – Glancing constantly at his rear view mirror, truck driver “El Flaco” journeys the highways of Mexico haunted by the memory of when he was kidnapped with his security detail by bandits disguised as police officers two years ago.

Back then, El Flaco, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, was beaten, blindfolded and taken to a house near Mexico City where his captors threatened to kill him. Three days later he managed to escape and flee.

Today he travels with a machete and a satellite tracking device in his cab that can pinpoint him in emergencies.

Truckers covering Mexico’s vast territory often move in convoys to reduce the risk of robberies, which in 2017 almost doubled to nearly 3,000. Some drive with armed escorts traveling alongside them. Others remove the logos from their trucks.

Signs that read "Protected via satellite" are pictured on the side of a trailer on the Mexico-Puebla highway, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Signs that read “Protected via satellite” are pictured on the side of a trailer on the Mexico-Puebla highway, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Companies like brewer Grupo Modelo, a unit of AB InBev , and the Mexican subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Electronics have stepped up efforts to protect their drivers, deploying sophisticated geo-location technology and increasing communication with authorities.

The problem is part of a wider Latin American scourge of highway robbery that acts as a further drag on a region long held back by sub-par infrastructure.

“Roads are getting more and more dangerous, you try not to stop,” the 50-year-old El Flaco said, as he drove in the central state of Puebla, the epicenter of highway freight theft.

“Since I was kidnapped, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking in the mirror, checking car number plates, looking at who’s gone past me,” he added. “I look at everything.”

On the most dangerous roads, like those connecting Mexico City with major ports on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, it is almost certain that one in every two truckers will be held up, a study by U.S.-based security firm Sensitech showed.

While no official data on losses exist, insurers paid out almost $100 million in 2016 to crime-hit cargo operators, up 4.5 percent on 2015, Mexican insurance association AMIS says.

The true sum is likely far higher: only one in three loads is insured due to the cost, according to industry estimates.

More than 80 percent of goods are transported by road and rail in Mexico, and the thefts are hurting competitiveness at a time the country is seeking to diversify trade and tap new sources of business.

Fuels, food and beverages, building materials, chemicals, electronic goods, auto parts and clothing are all top targets, Sensitech said.

COMPETITION SQUEEZE

Upon taking office in December 2012, President Enrique Pena Nieto promised to get a grip on gang violence and lawlessness. But after some initial progress, the situation deteriorated and murders hit their highest level on record last year.

Highway robberies of trucks fell through 2014. But they almost doubled in 2015 to 985, hit 1,587 in 2016 and reached 2,944 last year.

The government has responded by stepping up police patrols in affected areas and lengthening prison sentences for freight robbery to 15 years.

But robberies are still rising and most are not even reported due to the arduous bureaucratic process involved, Sensitech says.

“It’s hurting productivity and competitiveness,” said Leonardo Gomez, who heads a transportation national industry body.

Some drivers are armoring cabs in trucks made by companies like U.S. firm Kenworth, an expensive move that still only covers a tiny fraction of the almost 11 million trucks crisscrossing Latin America’s second-largest economy.

Last year, 53 trucks were armored against high-caliber weapons, up 40 percent from 2016, according to the Mexican Association of Automotive Armorers.

Attacks are not confined to roads. Some 1,752 robberies were recorded on railways last year, official data show.

Criminals have also become more sophisticated.

They are turning to high-caliber weapons and employ devices to block Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to prevent trucks communicating their whereabouts, experts say.

Previously, companies that suffered robberies were generally able to recover their vehicles. Not any more.

“It’s not just the goods they want, it’s the trucks too,” said Carlos Jimenez of Mexican insurance association AMIS.

(Reporting by Noe Torres and Lizbeth Diaz, Writing by Dave Graham, Editing by Christian Plumb and Rosalba O’Brien)

Myanmar not ready for return of Rohingya Muslims, says UNHCR

FILE PHOTO: A Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/File Photo

By Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency called a Myanmar minister’s visit to Bangladesh to meet Muslim Rohingya refugees a confidence-building measure, but said conditions in Myanmar were not ready for their return.

Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye, who heads rehabilitation efforts in Myanmar’s troubled western Rakhine state, told about 50 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh on Wednesday that getting the repatriation process moving was top priority.

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Thursday Myanmar was not prepared.

“Conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees,” it said in a statement, adding that the responsibility remains with the government to create such conditions.

According to U.N. officials, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine to escape a military crackdown since August, amid reports of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes which the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its security forces launched a legitimate counter-insurgency operation on Aug. 25 in response to Rohingya militant attacks.

The refugees are living in cramped camps in the port of Cox’s Bazar and Bangladesh is keen for them to return home soon, especially with the oncoming monsoons expected to cause major devastation at the camps.

The UNHCR called on Myanmar to provide the agency unhindered access in Rakhine to assess the situation and monitor the return and reintegration of refugees if and when they voluntarily return.

Acknowledging the mistrust and fear of the Rohingya of Myanmar, Win Myat Aye told the group of refugees on Wednesday to set aside the past and to prepare to go back, promising new villages would be built with hospitals and schools.

But some refugees have said they are worried about going back, fearing persecution.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Nick Macfie)