Returning Nigerian refugees could create new crisis as rainy season starts: UNHCR

GENEVA (Reuters) – Nigerian refugees who fled Islamist militants are returning from Cameroon into a country that is still not equipped to support them, and they risk creating a new humanitarian crisis, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, said on Wednesday.

The UNHCR issued a similar warning last month when about 12,000 refugees returned to the border town of Banki in Borno state, which was already housing 45,000 displaced Nigerians.

Another 889 refugees, mostly children, arrived in Banki on June 17 from Minawao camp in Cameroon, Grandi said.

“The new arrivals – and we hear reports of more refugees seeking to return – put a strain on the few existing services, he said in a statement. “A new emergency, just as the rainy season is starting, has to be avoided at all costs.”

“It is my firm view that returns are not sustainable at this time.”

Banki, once a thriving town, was razed to the ground by the time the Nigerian army retook it from Boko Haram insurgents in September 2015.

Grandi said the severely overcrowded town could not provide adequate shelter or aid and its water supply and sanitation were “wholly inadequate”, creating the risk of disease.

Although Boko Haram attacks have been fewer in recent months, more people are on the move and there are 1.9 million Nigerians displaced across the northeast, the World Food Program (WFP) said in a report last week.

“Insecurity persists in parts of Northeast Nigeria, disrupting food supplies, seriously hindering access to basic services, and limiting agricultural activities, worsening an already dire food security situation,” it said.

More than 5 million people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states in northeastern Nigeria have no secure food supply, WFP said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Nigeria says half of government food aid never reached victims of Boko Haram

LAGOS (Reuters) – At least half of Nigerian government food aid sent northeast for hungry people driven from their homes by Boko Haram has been “diverted” and never reached them, a government official said.

Some 1.5 million people are on the brink of famine in the northeast, where the jihadist group has killed more than 20,000 people and forced 2.7 million to flee during its eight-year uprising to create an Islamic caliphate.

A program was launched on June 8 by Yemi Osinbajo, acting president while President Muhammadu Buhari is in Britain on medical leave, to distribute grain to 1.8 million people still displaced by the insurgency, many of whom live in camps.

“Over 1,000 trucks of assorted grains are now on course, delivering the grains intact to beneficiaries since the commencement of the present program as against the reported diversion of over 50 trucks in every 100 trucks sent to the northeast,” said Osinbajo’s spokesman Laolu Akande in an emailed statement late on Saturday.

“The issue of diversion of relief materials, including food and related matters, which has dogged food delivery to the IDPs [internally displaced people] would be significantly curbed under the new distribution matrix.”

Akande said 1,376 military personnel and 656 armed police would guard the food as it was moved from warehouses and distributed to displaced people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe – the three states worst hit by the insurgency.

Boko Haram controlled an area of the northeast around the size of Belgium in early 2015 but has since been pushed out of most of the territory by Nigeria’s army and troops from neighboring countries.

But the Islamists continue to carry out attacks in the northeast and neighboring Cameroon and Niger.

Boko Haram killed 14 people in bombings and shootings in the northeastern city of Maiduguri on June 7, in a large-scale attack quelled by the army after several hours.

A U.N. official said this month the World Food Programme had scaled back its emergency plans in the northeast because of lack of funds, now aiming to supply food to 1.4 million people instead of the 1.8 million previously intended.

The U.N. says it needs $1.05 billion this year to deal with the crisis in northeast Nigeria – which, along with Somalia and South Sudan, is one of three humanitarian emergencies unfolding in Africa – but has only received about a quarter of that sum.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Andrew Roche)

On Boko Haram front line, Nigerian vigilantes amass victories and power

Members of the local militia, otherwise known as CJTF, sit in the back of a truck during a patrol in the city of Maiduguri, northern Nigeria June 9, 2017. Picture taken June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye.

By Ed Cropley

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – His broken arm is in a bamboo splint, his torso pock-marked with shrapnel and his jaw wired together by a Nigerian army surgeon.

But 38-year-old vigilante Dala Aisami Angwalla is undaunted by two nearly fatal brushes in the last year with Boko Haram, one involving a landmine, the other an ambush, and is determined to rid northeast Nigeria of the jihadists.

It is a sentiment shared by thousands of other volunteer vigilantes who have been instrumental in checking Boko Haram’s progress but whose presence now casts a shadow over longer-term efforts to bring stability to the troubled Lake Chad region.

“Why do I do it? Because it’s my country,” the father-of-five told Reuters in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and epicenter of Boko Haram’s bloody, eight-year campaign to build an Islamic caliphate in the southern reaches of the Sahel.

“My children are OK. When I go out, they say ‘Go well, father. May God keep you safe,'” he said, fingering a charm around his neck that he believes keeps him from harm’s way.

Angwalla belongs to the 30,000-strong “Civilian Joint Task Force” (CJTF) now fighting on the front line of Nigeria’s struggle against Boko Haram after helping the military push the Islamists from towns across Borno in the last three years.

Despite a string of victories, the CJTF has drawn criticism.

Rights groups accuse its members of abuses ranging from extortion to rape and say their entry into the fray three years ago may be the reason for a sharp rise in Boko Haram violence against civilians.

CJTF leaders, who say 670 of its “boys” have been killed in action, say bar a “few bad people” its members are registered, impartial and professional.

FEAR OF ARMED GROUPS

The CJTF, most of whom are unemployed men, has asked the government to provide payment for its operations, a demand seen by political observers as ominous given the blurred lines in Nigeria between local politics and orchestrated violence.

With national elections in 2019 and the long-term illness of President Muhammadu Buhari pointing to a power vacuum, fears about organized armed groups are on the rise.

“In Nigeria in particular, vigilantism did much to turn an anti-state insurgency into a bloodier civil war, pitting Boko Haram against communities and leading to drastic increases in violence,” the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, said.

“In the longer term, vigilantes may become political foot soldiers, turn to organized crime or feed communal violence,” it said in a February report.

Few in Nigeria would question the significance of the CJTF’s role against Boko Haram, whose fighters have killed at least 20,000 people and displaced 2.7 million. Aid experts say 1.4 million are on the brink of famine after years without harvests.

Set up as a Sunni fundamentalist group influenced by the Wahhabi movement, Boko Haram has led a violent uprising since 2009. The group, whose name means ‘Western education is forbidden’, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

CUTLASSES AND ARROWS

Building on Nigeria’s long-standing tradition of communal self-defense, the vigilante group was founded in Maiduguri in 2013 when groups of young men decided they had had enough of the Islamist militants living in their midst.

Their cutlasses, bows and arrows, and rudimentary shotguns were little match for Boko Haram’s modern weaponry, mostly captured in raids on Nigerian army and police positions, but their local knowledge was decisive.

Hundreds of suspected militants were detained by soldiers and police acting on CJTF tip-offs in raids that turned the tide against Boko Haram in Maiduguri, a city of a million established as a military outpost by British colonial authorities in 1907.

“Within one week, we secured the whole center of Maiduguri,” said Abba Aji Kalli, a 51-year-old accountant who is also CJTF’s state-wide coordinator. “The army were strangers but we live with Boko Haram in the same community, in the same neighborhood. We know who are the members of Boko Haram.”

Three years on, the CJTF forms the backbone of Borno’s anti-Boko Haram defenses, attracting the praise of Buhari, who in December declared the Islamist group “technically” defeated.

“They have been of tremendous help to the military because they are from there. They have local intelligence,” Buhari said.

CHEEK-BY-JOWL WITH BOKO HARAM

Now, most day-to-day security in Maiduguri and the refugee camps that surround it falls to black-clad CJTF members patrolling entrances to markets or sitting behind sandbag barricades with machetes, muskets and bows and arrows.

“Without the CJTF, there would be no security at all,” said Tijani Lumwani, head of the 40,000-strong Muna Garage refugee camp, hit by several suicide bombers in March. “They live in the community. We trust them. Without them, we would have no peace.”

Most CJFT vigilantes, including Angwalla, go unrewarded for their efforts, although 1,850 who have received paramilitary training are given a 15,000 naira per month ($48) stipend by the Borno government.

Around 450 have been incorporated into the main security forces and 30 into the intelligence services, group coordinator Kalli said, although he and his colleagues believe that is not enough and want more money and jobs to follow.

Buhari spokesman Femi Adesina said there would be “some sort of demobilization” for CJTF members but denied any obligation to provide jobs. “The CJTF was a voluntary thing. There was no agreement that ‘You do this, and the government will do that.'”

Borno state attorney general Kaka Shehu Lawal said the local government was investing heavily in agriculture and other industrial projects to create jobs for unemployed CJTF members who otherwise had the potential to become trouble-makers.

“We need them not to be idle because an idle man is the devil’s workshop,” Lawal said.

WHAT PRICE PEACE?

However, allegations of CJTF abuses have raised fears among diplomats and rights workers that the counter-insurgency effort has spawned a provincial militia the authorities may not be able to control.

Amnesty International researcher Isa Sanusi said he had credible reports of “widespread” abuses by CJTF guards in Borno, including extorting money from refugees seeking access to camps or sexual favors in exchange for food.

Kalli said a handful of culprits had been arrested.

Rights groups say that if the vigilantes fail to receive what they feel is due to them, they are likely to become another long-term source of instability. “They will come out of this crisis with some kind of entitlement that will make them think they are above the law,” Amnesty’s Sanusi said.

(Reporting by Ed Cropley, editing by Peter Millership)

Boko Haram make biggest raid on Nigeria’s Maiduguri in 18 months

By Lanre Ola

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Boko Haram insurgents launched their biggest attack on the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri in 18 months on Wednesday night, the eve of a visit by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to war refugees sheltering there.

Police said that 14 people were killed before government troops beat back the raid.

Maiduguri is the center of the eight-year-old fight against Boko Haram, which has been trying to set up an Islamic caliphate in the northeast.

The fighters attacked the city’s suburbs with anti-aircraft guns and several suicide bombers, said Damian Chukwu, police commissioner of Borno State, of which Maiduguri is the capital.

“A total of 13 people were killed in the multiple explosions with 24 persons injured, while one person died in the attack (shooting),” he told reporters.

Osinbajo went ahead with his visit to Maiduguri, planned prior to the attack, launching a government food aid initiative to distribute 30,000 metric tonnes of grains to people displaced by the insurgency, his spokesman Laolu Akande said.

President Muhammadu Buhari handed power to Osinbajo after going to Britain on medical leave on May 7.

Aid workers and Reuters witnesses reported explosions and heavy gunfire for at least 45 minutes in the southeastern and southwestern outskirts of the city. Thousands of civilians fled the fighting, according to Reuters witnesses.

The police commissioner said several buildings were set on fire but the military repulsed the fighters after an hour.

The raid took place six months after Buhari said Boko Haram had “technically” been defeated by a military campaign that had pushed many insurgents deep into the remote Sambisa forest, near the border with Cameroon.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram’s campaign to establish a caliphate in the Lake Chad basin. A further 2.7 million have been displaced, creating one of the world’s largest humanitarian emergencies.

Despite the military’s success in liberating cities and towns, much of Borno remains off-limits, hampering efforts to deliver food aid to nearly 1.5 million people believed to be on the brink of famine.

The government food program launched by Osinbajo seeks to distribute grains to 1.8 million people delivered quarterly, his office said in an emailed statement.

The acting president, speaking in Maiduguri, said a “comprehensive livelihood and support program” would be launched by the government within weeks.

A United Nations official on Wednesday said the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) has had to scale back plans for emergency feeding of 400,000 people in the region due to funding shortfalls.

(Writing by Ulf Laessing and Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Boko Haram attack on Nigerian city of Maiduguri kills 14 people, say police

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – An attack by Boko Haram jihadists on the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri killed 14 people and wounded 24 others, police said on Thursday, the first official toll.

Maiduguri is the epicenter of the eight-year fight against Boko Haram which has been trying to set up an Islamic State in the northeast, and has been largely free of violence for the past two years.

The fighters attacked the city’s suburbs on Wednesday night with anti-aircraft guns and several suicide bombers, said Damian Chukwu, police commissioner of Borno State, of which Maiduguri is the capital.

“A total of 13 people were killed in the multiple explosions with 24 persons injured while one person died in the attack (shooting),” he told reporters.

Several buildings were set on fire but the military repulsed the fighters after an hour, he said.

Aid workers and Reuters witnesses reported explosions and heavy gunfire for at least 45 minutes in the southeastern and southwestern outskirts of the city. Thousands of civilians fled the fighting, according to Reuters witnesses.

The raid comes six months after President Muhammadu Buhari said Boko Haram had “technically” been defeated by a military campaign that had pushed many jihadists deep into the remote Sambisa forest, near the border with Cameroon.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram’s campaign to establish a caliphate in the Lake Chad

basin. A further 2.7 million have been displaced, creating one of the world’s largest humanitarian emergencies.

Despite the military’s success in liberating cities and towns, much of Borno remains off-limits, hampering efforts to deliver food aid to nearly 1.5 million people believed to be on the brink of famine.

(Reporting by Ola Lanre; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Funds shortage forces U.N. to cut emergency food aid for 400,000 in Nigeria

A woman sits outside a shed as she waits for food rations at an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp on the outskirts of Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

By Ed Cropley

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has had to scale back plans for emergency feeding of 400,000 people in Boko Haram-hit northeast Nigeria due to funding shortfalls, a top U.N. official said on Wednesday.

The decision to cut aid for some believed to be on the brink of famine comes as the onset of the annual rains threaten to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. Farmers have been unable to plant or harvest crops for years due to the Islamist insurgency.

“The plan was from the beginning to reach 1.8 million (people) this year but due to the funding constraints WFP has been forced to come up with a contingency plan,” said Peter Lundberg, the U.N.’s Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

The WFP is now focusing on supplying 1.4 million people deemed to be most at risk, with assistance for the remainder cut by around a third, Lundberg told Reuters in Maiduguri, capital of the hardest-hit state of Borno.

The U.N. says it needs $1.05 billion this year to deal with the crisis – one of three humanitarian emergencies unfolding in Africa – but has only received just over a quarter of that.

The reductions in Nigeria come a month after the WFP halved the monthly rations of more than 800,000 South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda because of a lack of funds.

MAROONED

More than 20,000 people are thought to have died and 2.7 million have been displaced in Boko Haram’s bloody eight-year battle to establish a medieval Islamic caliphate.

Two years ago, the group controlled an area the size of Belgium but a military push by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger has ejected the militants from cities and major towns.

However, according to the latest U.N. assessments, huge swathes of land remain no-go zones, even with military escorts. As many as 700,000 people might still be trapped in these areas, Lundberg said.

The rainy season also makes it harder to bring in emergency supplies of food and medicine as dirt roads turn to rivers of mud for up to three months.

“Some of these places will be completely locked in because of the rain,” Lundberg said. “When the rain comes, we know there will be very big challenges.”

Furthermore, aid agencies have been prevented from building up large supply centres outside cities such as Maiduguri for fear they will be attacked.

In the town of Rann near the Cameroon border, nearly 50,000 people are about to become marooned with only two weeks’ supply of food to hand, said Dana Krause, an emergency coordinator for the Swiss arm of the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

“The populations along the border are pretty much entirely dependent on external aid,” Krause said. “And by the end of July, Rann will literally be an island.”

As a last resort, a WFP spokeswoman said it was considering air drops for the most inaccessible areas.

Nigeria’s military did not respond to a request for comment.

(Editing by Susan Fenton)

Chibok girl escapes Boko Haram, says Nigeria’s presidency

A group of 82 Chibok girls, who were held captive for three years by Islamist militants, wait to be released in exchange for several militant commanders, near Kumshe, Nigeria May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zanah Mustapha

ABUJA (Reuters) – Another Nigerian schoolgirl from the kidnapped group known as the “Chibok girls” has escaped from her captivity by Islamist insurgency Boko Haram, a presidential spokesman said on Wednesday.

The escape makes her the latest to return of the roughly 270 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014 from the northeastern town of Chibok. Earlier this month, the militants swapped 82 of the girls in exchange for prisoners.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at a cabinet meeting in the capital Abuja on Wednesday “announced that another Chibok schoolgirl had been found after she escaped from her captors,” said the spokesman.

“I learned she is already being brought to Abuja,” he said, giving no further details.

Of the 270 girls originally kidnapped, around 60 have escaped and more than 100 have been released. About 100 more are still believed to be in captivity.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced more than two million since 2009 in an attempt to create an Islamic caliphate in northeastern Nigeria.

Three years ago, the abduction of the girls from their secondary school by Boko Haram sparked global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls.

For more than two years there was no sign of the girls. But the discovery of one of them with a baby last May raised hopes for their safety, with a further two girls found in later months and a group of 21 released by the Islamist militants in October.

Although the Chibok girls are the most high-profile case, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of adults and children, many of whose cases are neglected, say aid organization’s.

The group often uses those captives, especially young girls and women, as suicide bombers.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Red Cross finds 115 bodies in CAR diamond-mining town

DAKAR (Reuters) – Red Cross workers have found 115 bodies in Central African Republic’s diamond-mining town of Bangassou after several days of militia attacks, the president of the aid group’s local branch said on Wednesday.

The battle for control of the town marks a new escalation in a conflict that began in 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka fighters ousted then-President Francois Bozize, prompting reprisal killings from Christian militias.

Recent clashes have centered on diamond-rich central and southern areas of the country, with rival militias battling among themselves to control them, aid workers say.

“We found 115 bodies and 34 have been buried,” Antoine Mbao Bogo told Reuters by phone from the capital Bangui. “They died in various ways: from knives, from clubs and bullet wounds.”

A senior U.N. official had previously reported 26 civilian deaths.

Hundreds of militia with heavy weaponry seized the southeastern border town of Bangassou at the weekend and U.N. peacekeepers have since then been trying to wrest it back.

The deployment of extra U.N. troops and air strikes have helped peacekeepers regain control of strategic points, U.N. spokesman Herve Verhoosel said on Wednesday.

Clashes between militias in the central town of Bria have killed five people, he added. The U.N. is also seeking to verify the deaths of up to 100 people in the town of Alindao.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Richard Lough)

Purported Boko Haram fighter says group plans to bomb Nigerian capital – video

By Ahmed Kingimi

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – A man purporting to be a Boko Haram fighter said the Islamist militant group plans to bomb Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, in a video seen by Reuters on Saturday.

“More bombs attacks are on the way, including Abuja that you feel is secured,” said the man in the video, which was obtained by Sahara Reporters, a U.S.-based journalism website, and Nigerian journalist Ahmad Salkida.

Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the video. The man spoke in the Hausa language widely used in northern Nigeria and held a rifle while flanked by four other armed men.

Nigeria’s state security agency, the Department of State Services (DSS), in April said it had thwarted plans by Boko Haram militants linked to Islamic State to attack the British and U.S. embassies in Abuja.

About 82 girls were freed last Saturday in exchange for Boko Haram commanders after being held captive for three years. They were among about 270 kidnapped by the jihadist group from the town of Chibok in northeast Nigeria in April 2014.

In a second video seen by Reuters, one of a group of four females covered in full-length Muslim veils claiming to be among the abducted girls said she did not want to return home.

“We don’t want to reunite with our parents because they are not worshipping Allah, and I urge you to join us,” she said, holding a rifle and speaking in the Hausa. She added: “We have not been forcefully married to anybody. Marriage is based on your wish.”

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the authenticity of the video.

Mediator and lawyer Zannah Mustapha said some of the abducted girls refused to be released, fuelling fears that they have been radicalised.

Boko Haram has killed about 20,000 people and forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes since 2009 in an insurgency aimed at creating a state adhering to strict Islamic laws in the northeast of Africa’s most populous nation.

The militant group also carries out cross-border attacks in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Boko Haram controlled a swathe of land in northeast Nigeria about the size of Belgium until the start of 2015.

The army has retaken much of the territory that had been lost to the group, but large parts of the northeast, particularly in Borno state, remain under threat from the militants.

(Additional reporting by Angela Ukomadu in Lagos, Garba Muhammad in Kaduna and Ardo Abdullahi in Bauchi; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Trott)

Nigeria exchanges 82 Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram for prisoners

A group of 82 Chibok girls, who were held captive for three years by Islamist militants, wait to be released in exchange for several militant commanders, near Kumshe, Nigeria May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zanah Mustapha

By Felix Onuah and Ahmed Kingimi

ABUJA/MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Boko Haram militants have released 82 schoolgirls out of a group of more than 200 whom they kidnapped from the northeastern town of Chibok three years ago in exchange for prisoners, the presidency said on Saturday.

Around 270 girls were kidnapped in April 2014 by the Islamist militant group, which has killed 15,000 people and displaced more than two million during a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in northeastern Nigeria.

Dozens escaped in the initial melee, but more than 200 remained missing for more than two years.

Nigeria thanked Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross for helping secure the release of the 82 girls after “lengthy negotiations”, the presidency said in a statement.

President Muhammadu Buhari will receive the girls on Sunday afternoon in the capital Abuja, it said, without saying how many Boko Haram suspects had been exchanged or disclosing other details.

A military source said the girls were brought on Sunday morning from Banki near the Cameroon border to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state where the insurgency started.

The release of the girls may give a boost to Buhari who has hardly appeared in public since returning from Britain in March for treatment of an unspecified illness.

He made crushing the insurgency a pillar of his election campaign in 2015.

The army has retaken most of the territory initially lost to the militants but attacks and suicide bombings by the group have made it nearly impossible for displaced persons to return to their recaptured hometowns.

“The President directed the security agencies to continue in earnest until all the Chibok girls have been released and reunited with their families,” the presidency said.

INSECURITY

More than 20 girls were released last October in a deal brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Others have escaped or been rescued, but 195 were believed to be still in captivity.

Buhari said last month that the government was in talks to secure the release of the remaining captives.

Although the Chibok girls are the most high-profile case, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of adults and children, many of whose cases have been neglected.

Although the army has retaken much of the territory initially lost to Boko Haram, large parts of the northeast, particularly in Borno state, remain under threat from the militants. Suicide bombings and gun attacks have increased in the region since the end of the rainy season late last year.

Some 4.7 million people in northeast Nigeria depend on food aid, some of which is blocked by militant attacks, some held up by a lack of funding and some, diplomats say, stolen before it can reach those in need.

Millions of Nigerians may soon be in peril if the situation deteriorates, as authorities expect, when the five-month rainy season begins in May and makes farming impossible in areas that are now accessible.

This part of Nigeria is the western edge of an arc of hunger stretching across the breadth of Africa through South Sudan, Somalia and into Yemen on the Arabian peninsula. The United Nations believes as many as 20 million people are in danger in what could become the world’s worst famine for decades.

(Additional reporting by Tife Owolabi and Ulf Laessing; editing by Angus MacSwan and Jason Neely)