Amid military aggression, China ramps up diplomacy with US

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Although U.S. officials have accused China's military of carrying out dangerous provocations in recent days, diplomats from both countries are ramping up engagement at the same time -- a two-prong approach that seems to be increasingly driven by Beijing.

On Monday, White House spokesperson John Kirby condemned a close call in the Taiwan Strait over the weekend when a Chinese warship crossed just about 150 yards across an American destroyer's bow, a move the Pentagon described an "unsafe maritime interaction."

"We urge them to make better decisions about how they operate in international airspace, and sea-space," Kirby said, adding that this incident as well as a Chinese fighter jet recently coming within 400 feet of a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace speaks to an "increasing level of aggressiveness" demonstrated by Beijing's military.

But despite that public chastisement by the Biden administration, high-level U.S. officials from the State Department and the National Security Council held private talks in Beijing -- the latest sign that tensions between the powers are easing, at least on the diplomatic front.

The State Department's deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel described the meetings as "candid and productive discussions as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication," and an effort to build on other recent high-level engagements.

"President Biden has been clear we don't seek any kind of new Cold War and our competition must not spill over into conflict," Patel said.

While the Biden administration has been consistent in seeking to maintain open lines of communication across areas of government, Beijing's split-strategy has become more evident in recent weeks as it apparently seeks to thaw relations with Washington while continuing to show its military might in the Indo-Pacific.

China's reticence to participate in military-to-military communication with the U.S. across senior and working levels is a longstanding tradition, and one on display last week when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's request for a face-to-face meeting with his Chinese counterpart at the annual Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore was rejected.

A reason for that hesitancy, sources and experts say, is that the Chinese government sees military communication between the countries as dominated by the Taiwan issue -- a matter where Beijing sees virtual zero room for compromise, and thus, little need for conversation.

But in other arenas, Beijing sees plenty of potential benefits in engaging with Washington -- particularly when it comes to the U.S.-China trade relationship.

Although China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has periodically sent mixed messages about its posture towards the U.S., its actions in recent weeks have displayed a renewed enthusiasm for diplomacy. In May, Beijing appointed an ambassador to the U.S. after the post was left vacant for months and sent a delegation to Detroit to participate in trade talks.

Officials from both countries also see the recent visit by U.S. officials to Beijing as an important precursor for rescheduling Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip the city, which was scrapped in February after a Chinese surveillance balloon was identified over the U.S. mainland.

Sources say that getting that trip back on track is something that both countries want to see happen, and that it may be added to the calendar before the end of the summer.

While there are examples of progress in the bilateral relationship, American officials have warned that a gap in military-to-military communication may still result in a dangerous blind spot, which could lead to additional close-calls between countries and dangerous escalation.

"It won't be long before somebody gets hurt," Kirby said of the intercepts. "They can lead to misunderstandings. They can lead to miscalculations."

ABC's Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Joran van der Sloot, suspect in Natalee Holloway disappearance, plans to appeal extradition: Lawyer

Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the unsolved 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway, on Monday refused to sign the laissez-passer that would allow him to be extradited to the United States, his lawyer tells ABC News.

Van der Sloot plans to appeal his extradition to the U.S., Maximo Altez, his lawyer, said. A hearing on the appeal will likely happen Tuesday or Thursday, he added.

This process could slow down when van der Sloot is transferred to the U.S., but it is unclear how much this action will delay his extradition.

A National Penitentiary Institute of Peru spokesperson had previously said van der Sloot will likely be extradited to the United States on Thursday night.

Van der Sloot left the Challapalca prison in Peru on Saturday to be transferred to another prison in Lima, where he's awaiting his extradition to the U.S.

The Dutch citizen has been serving a 28-year sentence in Peru for the 2010 murder of 21-year-old college student Stephany Flores.

U.S. Justice Department officials acknowledge that a "temporary surrender" was granted by Peru under Article X of an existing extradition treaty between the two countries. The department would not comment on the timing of his movement, citing policy regarding safety and security concerns.

In the U.S., van der Sloot faces extortion and wire fraud charges stemming from an accusation that he tried to profit from his connection to the Holloway case.

Holloway, 18, went missing in May 2005 while on a high school graduation trip in Aruba. She was last seen driving off with a group of young men, including van der Sloot, then 17.

Van der Sloot, who was detained as a suspect in the teen's disappearance and then later released, was indicted by an Alabama federal grand jury in 2010 for allegedly trying to extort Holloway's family.

Federal prosecutors alleged that in March 2010 van der Sloot contacted Holloway's mother, Beth Holloway, through her lawyer and claimed he would reveal the location of the teen's body in exchange for $250,000, with $25,000 paid upfront. During a recorded sting operation, Beth Holloway's attorney, John Q. Kelly, met with van der Sloot at an Aruba hotel, giving him $10,000 in cash as Beth Holloway wired $15,000 to van der Sloot's bank account, according to prosecutors.

Then, van der Sloot allegedly changed his story about the night he had been with Natalee Holloway, prosecutors said. Van der Sloot claimed he had picked her up but that she had demanded to be put down, so he threw her to the ground. He said her head hit a rock and she was killed instantly by the impact, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said van der Sloot then took Kelly to a house and claimed that his father, who had since died, buried Natalee Holloway's body in the building's foundation.

Kelly later emailed van der Sloot, saying the information he had provided was "worthless," according to prosecutors. Within days, van der Sloot left Aruba for Peru.

ABC News' Jack Date and Nadine El-Bawab contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ukrainian counteroffensive 'shaping-up' amid attempts to destabilize Russian forces

A billboard promoting contract army service is pictured in the Russian city of Belgorod, some 40 km from border with Ukraine, on May 27, 2023. -- Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

(SLOVYANSK, Ukraine) -- Well-trained, well-equipped Ukrainian combat forces are now in "assembly areas," close enough to front line areas, meaning they could launch a concerted attack on Russian positions in a relatively short time period, according to Western officials.

In the meantime, Ukraine has already increased its offensive operations, both within its own borders and in Russia and beyond, in order to attempt to create more favorable conditions ahead of a much-anticipated counteroffensive.

Current operations were part of a "bigger plan," which would eventually lead to a major offensive, a senior Ukrainian commander said in a recent interview with ABC News.

Unconfirmed reports indicated on Monday that Ukrainian offensive actions in certain areas of the front lines were increasing.

The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed to have repelled a number of Ukrainian attacks, however the leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Ukrainian forces had advanced around the settlement of Berkhivka, to the north of the Ukrainian eastern city of Bakhmut.

"The troops are fleeing," said Prigozhin in an audio message posted online.

It's unclear whether fresh offensive actions by the Ukrainian military will evolve into larger assaults on wider areas of the Russian front lines or whether they are more localized -- or even diversionary operations -- aimed at testing and wearing down the Russian defenses in preparation for a more substantial offensive later on.

In an online briefing this week, Western officials cautioned that, even though Ukraine now has the military weaponry and equipment it needs to punch through the Russian lines, a large-scale assault could still be "weeks" away.

The officials said Ukraine was currently engaged in "shaping operations," which refers to a series of actions on and off the battlefield aimed at destabilizing the Kremlin and the Russian military in order to create the optimal conditions for the counteroffensive.

Despite officially denying involvement in a drone attack last week on Moscow, in private Ukrainian officials have indicated that Ukrainian intelligence was behind that strike and a number of other recent attacks inside Russia.

Officials in the Russian region of Belgorod have also reported a spike in Ukrainian artillery and drone attacks in recent days.

The assessment from Western officials given to reporters was that the series of attacks inside Russia are "difficult for the Russian leadership" as the Kremlin has to strike a balance between recognizing the seriousness of what had been happening, but also not reinforcing the notion that the war in Ukraine is now having a tangible impact in Russia.

The officials said they were now "tracking" Russian media sources to see whether criticism of the Russian leadership might become "a less taboo thing."

Over the past two weeks ABC News has interviewed four middle-ranking and senior Ukrainian commanders, as well as low-ranking soldiers about the forthcoming counteroffensive.

Most of the men said preparations for the counteroffensive are moving into the final stages.

Colonel Oleksandr Bakulin, who commands around 6,000 men positioned near the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut said Ukraine was "pushing" in some frontline areas, however he cautioned that in other areas, Russian forces were doing the same.

Bakulin said recent Ukrainian gains in areas near to Bakhmut were part of a "bigger plan" which would "eventually lead to the counteroffensive."

In recent weeks Ukraine has also stepped-up long-range missile strikes on areas of occupied territory deep behind the Russian lines.

The efficacy of such strikes is impossible to judge, given that there is little public comment about the strikes and claims by either side cannot be verified.

However verifiable videos circulating online fit the same broad pattern seen in the run-up to Ukraine's counteroffensive on the city of Kherson back in November which was preceded by Ukrainian strikes on Russian military assets and logistics.

Officials in the United Kingdom said their Storm Shadow missiles are now being used by the Ukrainian military.

Those missiles have a range of around 155 miles, which is roughly triple the range of the missiles which the United States has supplied to Ukraine for use with the HIMARS missile-launchers.

In order not to reveal sensitive information to the Russians the quantities of long-range missiles supplied to Ukraine has not been revealed.

ABC News contributing military analyst, retired Col. Steve Ganyard questioned whether Ukraine's stocks of Storm Shadows will be sufficient to substantially weaken Russian forces.

"Continued attacks on fuel storage areas and ammunition dumps will eventually prove useful in weakening Russia's ability to wage war," Ganyard said.

However he was skeptical about whether this can be achieved to a sufficient level over the next few weeks.

Russian defensive fortifications are also now, in places, "potentially formidable," said Western officials.

Ganyard said he agreed with that assessment. He said there are still question marks about whether the Ukrainians "have the overwhelming force required to advance against a well dug-in opponent."

However, he said, it was also important to bear in mind "how surprisingly poorly the Russian military has performed in this war."

"It will all come down to how good Ukrainian and western supplied intelligence is, and how well Ukraine is able to exploit the Russian weaknesses they find," Ganyard said.

Senior Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have in recent days given a number of interviews and statements in which they have said that Ukrainian forces are now ready for the pending offensive.

However, as Western officials conceded, a major attack might still be weeks away.

Keeping the Russian military waiting and guessing is an important part of the Ukrainian game plan.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

At least 200 killed, hundreds injured in train crash in India

Tuul & Bruno Morandi/Getty Images

(ODISHA, India) -- At least 200 people have been killed and hundreds more injured in a train accident in India, as the death toll continues to rise, officials said.

The crash occurred Friday night in Odisha, a state in eastern India, and involved three trains, according to Odisha Chief Secretary Pradeep Jena. Several cars of a passenger train derailed in the incident, he said.

"Death toll in the train accident increasing," Jena said on social media, saying Sunday that the official death toll is 275 people.

Approximately 900 people were injured in the accident, per reporting from the Special Relief Organization, which deals with disaster management in the state.

More than 200 ambulances have responded to the scene of the "violent train accident," Jena tweeted.

Rescue teams have been mobilized from various parts of the country, according to Ashwini Vaishnaw, India's minister for Railways, Communications, Electronics and Information Technology.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "distressed" by the accident.

"In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families," Modi tweeted. "May the injured recover soon."

President Joe Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden were heartbroken and offered prayers for those who lost loved ones or were injured by the train crash in a statement Saturday.

"The United States and India share deep bonds rooted in the ties of family and culture that unite our two nations—and people all across America mourn alongside the people of India. As the recovery effort continues, we will hold the people of India in our thoughts," the statement read.

Saturday was declared a day of mourning in Odisha due to the rail accident, which occurred near Bahanaga.

Ex-gratia payments will be offered to "victims of this unfortunate train accident in Odisha," Vaishnaw tweeted.

Families who suffered a death will receive 10 lakhs -- equivalent to about 12,000 USD -- while those who suffered "grievous" injuries will receive two lakhs -- about 2,400 USD -- according to Vaishnaw.

People with minor injuries will receive 50,000 rupees -- about 600 USD -- Vaishnaw said.

ABC News' Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

As Sudan war rages, country's health system nears breaking point

Abbas Hussein Eltoum

(KHARTOUM, Sudan) -- When electricity shortages closed the Ibrahim Malik Teaching Hospital where Dr. Mohamed Karrar worked, he packed a bag with any medical equipment and medicine he could carry.

"I posted on Twitter that I am an emergency doctor in Al Mamoura available at any time for anyone who needs me for free, along with my phone number," Karrar said.

The doctor is one of many Sudanese medical professionals working in neighborhood primary health care centers amid the ongoing conflict in Sudan, where rival forces are battling for control of the country. Cease-fire talks that could end the bloody conflict have stalled. Karrar's parents call him daily from the safety of a village in South Sudan.

"They worry about me. But I studied for years to do this," he told ABC News. "I feel like I can't just leave those sick and wounded people to die."

Data from Sudan's Doctor's Trade Union suggests 70% of health care services are no longer functioning due to lack of supplies, personnel and access. Twenty-one hospitals have been forcibly evacuated by militants. And 17 hospitals have suffered aerial or land bombings, with nine ambulances attacked. A video filmed by an eyewitness on May 15 shows smoke billowing from the East Nile Hospital in Bahri, Khartoum.

"It's no longer safe for patients or healthcare providers to reach hospitals," said Dr. Yasir Elamin, president of the Sudanese American Physicians Association, which supports health care facilities countrywide.

The number of civilian deaths has climbed to 866 with 3,721 injuries, according the union. Some died from shrapnel and bullet wounds, others had medical conditions and died as a result of not being able to access medical help, said Elamin, speaking to ABC News from Houston, Texas.

Weak health infrastructure

"Before the war, the health infrastructures were weak anyway," Elamin said. "Almost 80% of health care services in Sudan are based in Khartoum. And now Khartoum is really one of two hotspots of the war. The second being West Darfur. So paralyzing healthcare in Khartoum effectively means paralyzing healthcare in Sudan."

SAPA has more than 200 volunteers who provide telemedicine consultations 24 hours every day. The challenge is when you speak to people who have acute injuries from the war, because you can't just tell them to go to a hospital, Elamin said.

"The majority of Sudanese people wouldn't have standard access to the Internet. So the poorest people can't benefit from this service," he said.

"We know that there has been a very big disparity within the country, in terms of service provision, rural versus urban, in addition to differential access, depending on people's socioeconomic circumstances," Kate Nolan, Deputy Director of Operation Medecins San Frontieres, said.

Some of the worst of the fighting has been concentrated in impoverished West Darfur. Last week Sudan's Doctor's Union reported more than 280 civilian deaths in two days alone. MSF has been forced to seize almost all activities in the region.

Photos taken at West Darfur's Geneina Teaching Hospital, which is funded by MSF, show the aftermath of looting at the facility. Hospital beds are seen without mattresses. Cabinets have been emptied. Boxes of medicine have been combed through.

"After the looting of one of our medical warehouses in Khartoum, fridges were unplugged and medicines removed," Jean-Nicolas Armstrong Dangelser, MSF's emergency coordinator in Sudan, said in a press release. "The entire cold chain was ruined so the medicines are spoiled and can't be used to treat anyone."

Getting aid from Port Sudan to desperate civilians in West and South Darfur will be a 'major challenge' with no clear solution, both MSF and SAPA said.

Resistance committees

A neighborhood WhatsApp group reviewed by ABC News called the "Central Emergency Room," which counts health sector workers from the Al Mamoura neighborhood as its members, is being used to share logistic and medical advice.

Elamin says the Sudanese uprising led to the growth of so-called "resistance committees" within neighborhoods. They have been playing the critical role of bolstering communication within communities.

Clinics are using social media to facilitate transporting people to hospitals, identifying patients, reuniting them with family and burying them.

"A colleague of mine told me about his uncle who was killed alongside his son in his car. Someone took photos of them with their cell phone. The family were looking for them for almost four or five days," Elamin said.

The photos were shared online and the family were eventually able to bury the bodies, he said.

Threats to medical personnel

Whilst civilian resistance committees are plugging the gaps, every day is a struggle. Elamin said he doesn't know how long his colleagues in Sudan can continue. Intense battles have continued to rage in Khartoum in spite of repeated cease-fire declarations aimed at securing humanitarian access.

Sudan Doctor's Trade Union condemned a "series of assaults on facilities, medical personnel and civilian volunteers'' in their latest situation report.

"I am worried someone will find out I am a doctor", says Dr. Noah Madni, who is unable to travel to his place of work, the Elrazi hospital, located in an embattled area of Khartoum, "I hear that one of my friends was at the Elrazi and the RSF came and forced them to treat them. Now we have no contact."

This is a sentiment echoed by several physicians ABC News spoke with in Sudan. They said they hide their IDs and monitor entrances to hospitals.

In a graphic video seen by ABC News, Karrar, a primary care doctor, filmed the inside of the abandoned Alraqi hospital in Khartoum. The video from April 21 shows military boots and blood stains inside the evacuated facility. Service at the hospital is still suspended.

"When we arrived, it was empty and there was blood on the floor in the emergency room, corpses belonging to soldiers and civilians lying on the ground and on trolleys," Karrar said. He was told by staff that it had been taken over by soldiers from the Rapid Support Forces, one of two rival factions fighting for control of Sudan. Doctors were made to treat injured soldiers by force, Karrar said.

"Every day we live out the worst days of our lives," Madni said. "We see death in front of our eyes. Our families are terrified."

ABC News' Ayat Al-Tawy contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Chinese warship cuts off US Navy ship, marking 2nd military provocation in week

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

(TAIPEI, Taiwan) -- In the second major provocation by China's military in the span of a week, a Chinese warship carried out what the U.S. military called "an unsafe maritime interaction" when it crossed an American warship's bow at a distance of 150 yards forcing the U.S. Navy destroyer to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision.

The incident occurred on Saturday as the American destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and the Canadian frigate HMCS Montreal executed a transit in the international waters of the Taiwan Strait, the body of water that separates the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, according to officials.

"During the transit, PLA(N) LUYANG III DDG 132 (PRC LY 132) executed maneuvers in an unsafe manner in the vicinity of Chung-Hoon," said a statement from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

"The PRC LY 132 overtook Chung-Hoon on their port side and crossed their bow at 150 yards. Chung-Hoon maintained course and slowed to 10 kts to avoid a collision," said the statement.

The Chinese warship then executed a second pass in front of the American warship's bow at a distance of 2,000 yards and remained off the destroyer's port bow.

"The LY 132's closest point of approach was 150 yards and its actions violated the maritime 'Rules of the Road' of safe passage in international waters," the Indo-Pacific Command said.

The close call at sea was captured on video by journalists with Canadian news outlet Global News that were traveling aboard the HMCS Montreal, which was sailing a distance behind the Chung-Hoon.

That video showed the Chinese warship appearing to head left to right in front of the warship's path.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific as China engages in provocative behavior in the region in a speech Saturday to a security conference in Singapore.

"We will support our allies and partners as they defend themselves against coercion and bullying," said Austin. "To be clear, we do not seek conflict or confrontation, but we will not flinch in the face of bullying or coercion."

China's Defense Minister Li Shangfu also referenced "bullying" and "double standards" in Asia by "some country," an apparent reference to the U.S., in remarks Sunday to the Shangri-La Dialogue summit.

"A cold war mentality is now resurgent, greatly increasing security risks," he said. "Mutual respect should prevail over bullying and hegemony."

Chinese aircraft and warships have encountered harassment from Chinese planes and ships as they have transited the South China Sea where China has made territorial maritime claims in recent years.

U.S. officials said they believe that the harassment is coordinated and increasing in frequency.

A Chinese fighter jet crossed the path of an American reconnaissance plane in late May as it flew in international airspace, above the South China Sea, forcing the American plane to fly through the Chinese aircraft's wake.

A senior U.S. defense official spoke Tuesday about that incident, expressing the belief that the Chinese harassment is coordinated and increasing in frequency.

"We don't believe it's done by pilots operating independently," the official told a small group of reporters. "We believe it's part of a wider pattern we see in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and elsewhere."

Austin has sought to engage in substantive discussions with China to emphasize the need for regular discussions to avoid potential miscalculations or escalations that could develop from such incidents.

Before arriving in Singapore, China declined his offer to meet with Li, but on Friday Austin was able to shake Li's hand and engage in a brief discussion at a dinner for senior leaders attending the conference.

"A cordial handshake over dinner is no substitute for a substantive engagement," Austin said in his remarks Saturday. "And the more that we talk, the more that we can avoid the misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict."

Another previous such incident occurred on Dec. 21, 2022, when a PLA J-11 fighter pilot came within 10 feet of what INDO-PACOM labeled "an unsafe maneuver."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Sudan conflict: Neighbors volunteer to bury dead amid battle for Khartoum

Sudanese Red Crescent Society

(LONDON) -- Perturbed by the stench entering his family home in Bahri, Khartoum North, Dr. Noah Madni and his remaining neighbors decided to remove the bodies amassing in the street themselves.

"No one from the military or health ministry was coming to pick the bodies up," Madni told ABC News.

He and his neighbors gathered a party of people from different specialties. They set about assigning roles and organizing transport. Madni then shared pictures on Facebook, calling on friends and families to contact him if they saw a dead body.

For weeks the world has watched an exodus of more than 100,000 people from Sudan, the northeastern African country where a dispute between rival generals has led to a bloody internal conflict. Cease-fire talks have stalled. And citizens and doctors who remain face a worsening humanitarian situation and the monumental task of preventing Sudan's fragile health system from full-scale collapse.

Civilians account for a small number of the dead that Madni encounters, he said. Instead, the majority are members of the Rapid Support Forces, a powerful Sudanese paramilitary group. Many are soldiers aged between 20-30 years old, though Madni said he has heard some are as young as 16.

"We wash them and bury them in the cemetery. We try our best to dig holes. We are just trying our best," he said.

Photos show burial sheets, bodies wrapped and ready for burial, and graves being dug at Hillat Hamad Cemetery in Bahri.

'This is about basic human dignity'
With electricity in short supply and near constant air raids and gunfire prohibiting families and medical teams from collecting their dead, the issue is a prescient one, said Alyona Synenko, regional spokesperson for Africa with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"We've been hearing about lots of bodies piled up in morgues. These were bodies from before these hostilities started, they were abandoned in morgues without electricity."

Sudan Doctor's Trade Union has warned of an "environmental catastrophe" as the bodies of soldiers and civilians caught in the crossfire lie in the street for days. They advised citizens in a Facebook post to avoid washing bodies that had reached a great degree of decomposition.

The bodies pose a public health risk, but civilians were also warned to avoid them as a measure of basic human dignity, Synenko said.

"These are not just bodies, these are people. It's important to properly collect them, identify them in a dignified way," Synenko told ABC News.

One video posted on social media shows a body being removed from ِِِAl-Wadi Street, Omdurman, Sudan, on April 17. Other social media posts seen by ABC News show bodies lying unburied in homes in embattled areas of Khartoum for weeks.

"It's a Muslim country and there is a tradition to bury people very quickly," Synenko said "The cultural and religious traditions must be respected."

Several physicians ABC News spoke to reported families were burying loved ones or colleagues wherever they could, often in their own gardens.

The ICRC said it's working closely with the Sudanese Red Crescent society engaged in "Dead Body Management," which includes collecting, identifying and burying those that have been killed. Whilst the ICRC has supplied 100 body bags, they have warned of potential implications when people are not identified.

"It's important to prevent people from going missing," they said. "If we have dead bodies that are not properly identified, that can translate into years or decades of suffering for families who will then try to find their loved ones and won't be able to do so if somebody was killed and buried somewhere without proper identification."

Sudan's Doctor's Trade Union has advised volunteer groups to assign numbers to each unidentified corpse and record the place of death and any identification papers they may be carrying.

"It is possible to go back to exhume the corpses and take a sample of the bone for DNA testing after the end of the war."

ABC News has reviewed photographs on social media showing pictures of unidentified corpses and numbered graves. One caption reads: "I have a name but buried unknown on May 23. 3487 that's my name, remember me to survive".

Civilians missing in Khartoum
Israa Kamal Ali, 22, said she has had no contact with her father since May 2.

Kamal Ali Osman left his home in Al Sahafa to collect heart medication from his father's home in Omak. Osman later sent a text message to his family telling them he had been stopped by the RSF, but minutes later these messages were deleted, Israa told ABC News from Cairo, Egypt.

Israa Kamal Ali



























"We think they forced him to delete the messages," Israa explains that the 60-year-old had recently undergone heart surgery that requires daily heart medication.

Israa's family is one of hundreds that have taken to social media to seek information about missing loved ones since the conflict began. According to the local monitor, the Missing Persons Initiative, 190 Sudanese people are now deemed missing.

"It has been a difficult time for my family," Israa said. "We are constantly worried about him and his health."

ABC News' Ayat Al-Tawy contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ethnic cleansing continues in Tigray, despite truce agreement: Report

omersukrugoksu/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Ethnic cleansing campaigns have continued in Ethiopia's Tigray region, despite a November 2022 peace agreement, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

"The November truce in northern Ethiopia has not brought about an end to the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans in Western Tigray Zone," Laetitia Bader, deputy Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "If the Ethiopian government is really serious about ensuring justice for abuses, then it should stop opposing independent investigations into the atrocities in Western Tigray and hold abusive officials and commanders to account."

The new report highlights that Tigrayans have suffered forced expulsions and deportations, torture, death and life-threatening treatment that "may amount to the crime against humanity of extermination" on the basis of their identity.

The Ethiopian military entered Tigray, a semi-autonomous region in the northern part of the country, on Nov. 4, 2020, in response to claims the Tigray People's Liberation Front attacked a military base in the region, according to the country's prime minister.

The war in Tigray is estimated to have claimed the lives of up to 600,000 civilians between November 2020 and August 2022, according to researchers from Belgium's Ghent University. Han Nyssen, senior professor of geography at Ghent University, told ABC News in January that the true scale of death in Ethiopia's Tigray region remains hard to ascertain.

"We [still] have almost no view of what happens in Western Tigray," he said.

Human Rights Watch conducted dozens of interviews with witnesses, victims and humanitarian aid staff in gathering information about the bleak conditions for Tigrayans.

"The [militias] came into my home and said I need to leave because it's not our land," a woman from the town of Adebai who was forced to flee toward Sudan told Human Rights Watch on the condition of anonymity. "They would knock at midnight and say Tigrayans can't come back."

More than a thousand Tigrayans have been arbitrarily detained from September 2022 to April 2021, in the Western Tigrayan towns of Humera, Rawyan and Adebai, according to the report. One interviewee who was held at Bet Hintset prison told Human Rights Watch that detainees endured poor treatment, with many dying due to lack of food and medication.

The African Union, which convened the peace talks alongside members of the high-level, AU-led Ethiopian Peace Process panel, reached a "cessation of hostilities agreement" on Nov. 2, 2022. It said at the time it marked an "important step in efforts to silence the guns."

Many of the displaced -- which the U.N. registered as 47,000 in eastern Sudan as of October 2022 -- told Human Rights Watch that they felt unsafe returning home due to intimidation from abusive officials and security forces that remain in the region.

The Human Rights Watch has called on the Ethiopian government to "suspend, investigate and appropriately prosecute" commanders and officials who are implicated in the abuse of human rights in Western Tigray.

"If the Ethiopian government is really serious about ensuring justice for abuses, then it should stop opposing independent investigations into the atrocities in Western Tigray and hold abusive officials and commanders to account," Bader said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

At Offensive, a new Kyiv bar, revellers toast to Putin's downfall amid the debris of war

Valentyn Semenov / EyeEm/Getty Images

(KYIV, Ukraine) -- A group of friends in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, opened what they call the first military-meme art bar: Offensive.

On the walls of a new bar, there's a piece of a Russian UAVs, a spent shell, the debris of the downed Russian jet and a few uniforms of captured Russian soldiers. There are a bunch of war trophies and war-related jokes.

The opening comes ahead of the Ukrainian army's much anticipated counteroffensive against Russians forces on the front line, some Ukrainians have turned the current success of their Armed Forces into a brand.

"Most of these items were brought to us by our friends in the Army who participated in the Kharkiv counter-offensive," said Borukh Feldman, the owner of the bar, whose name has been changed for security reasons.

He referred to a remarkable blitzkrieg of the Ukrainian forces in the east in early September last year when they managed to liberate a few hundred settlements in a few days.

"And I'm sure there will be even more new pieces from the future operations," Borukh said.

The idea to open a military-style bar came to him back in 2015, he said, when the war in Ukraine was practically frozen -- Russia annexed Crimea and parts of Donbas and there were only random shots fired on the front line.

"Then people almost forgot about the war, so I wanted to establish a place to remind of it," Borukh recalled. He didn't have enough money then to open a bar, but now it's easier since the price of the rent dropped due to the full-scale invasion and power outages caused by Russian attack on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure in autumn and winter.

Now, the bar not just reminds people of the war, but it's a way to go through this traumatic experience, praise the military and help the army, Borukh said.

One of the customers ABC News met at the bar was an American from the International Legion, who asked no to disclose his name. He said he was passing by, noticed the name, decided to pop up and found the place "very comfy."

"I have friends for example in the Azov battalion and they said they feel like home here" Borukh said. "The military entourage is very familiar to them but they can relax here and be sure everyone understands them."

The memes on the walls of Offensive are a fascinating mixture of very particular Ukrainian jokes, dark humor about the deceased Russian soldiers and propaganda posters with F-16 jets and Neptune destroying a Russian warship.

"The sense of humor helps us stay sane and be resilient," Borukh said. "Some memes were created by our soldiers right in the trenches. They presented them to us and said this bar is blessed by the Armed Forces," Borukh laughed. "And that is true. If not [for] our army we wouldn't be even alive probably."

That's why fundraising is a must for the owners. The bar hosts regular concerts of some underground Ukrainian bands to raise money for certain needs Borukh's military friends have on the frontline -- from walkie-talkies to drones.

Not only the decor of the bar is unique, but, of course, the menu, too. It has some craft blackberry beer brewed locally and "fried Putin," which is actually a variation of the Canadian poutine.

One could think it's crazy to start a business during the war. But cafes, bars and restaurants are one of the most successful businesses in Ukraine and in particular in Kyiv, a vibrant megapolis, which both locals and foreigners love for the food, coffee and casual lively atmosphere.

Around a hundred establishments were opened in the city during the last year, many owned by internally displaced people, who lost property in the occupied areas of Ukraine or just preferred to move out of the occupation.

"It usually takes half a year or even a year to become profitable in the gastro sphere. After two months I feel like we're doing very well," Maksym, the administrator of the Offensive. said.

The bar already has its particular audience -- the military, students and young professionals of the creative industries, some actors and painters -- typical habitants of the Podil district of Kyiv, popular with its cultural places.

And war-related naming is not a rarity in Ukraine these days, too. There's another restaurant named after Bayraktar, a type of Turkish drone, and cafe Javelin, named after an American anti-tank weapon. There are cocktails called Himars, another American game-changer that has helped the Ukrainian forces.

Such features set a patriotic mood at the establishment and attract customers, but most businesses that use such branding -- from small to large companies -- have pledged to donate to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Good Samaritan describes rescuing five after Bahamas plane crash

Abstract Aerial Art/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Keith Russell began his day with a trip to the airport to pick up some supplies. It ended with a scene that could have been pulled from an adventure movie when he rescued five travelers from an airplane submerged in the crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas.

A single-engine Piper PA-32 aircraft carrying five people crashed roughly 10 miles north of Andros, Bahamas on Thursday afternoon, according to the Bahamas' Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority.

The aircraft, which took off from San Andros Airport bound for West Palm Beach, suffered mechanical issues before the pilots ditched the craft in shallow waters, according to the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

That’s when Russell got involved.

While picking up supplies from the airport, Russell ran into a pilot who remembered that Russell owns a high-speed boat that might be able to reach the stranded travelers.

While officials from the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, Royal Bahamas Police Force and United States Coast Guard all participated in the search, Russell joined aboard his 18-foot center-console boat, powered by a 115-HP outboard.

"My goal was just to get out there to assess the situation and hope that I wasn't going out there to meet no bodies," Russell told ABC News.

Soon after launching his boat, Russell said he spotted a Coast Guard plane circling above shallow water.

“I see the Coast Guard circling and sure enough I got down there, and the plane was there in the water,” he said. “The passengers and the pilot were on top of the plane with a life raft and everything was there.”

To Russell’s surprise, he found no mangled bodies or debris. Instead he found two pilots and three passengers resting atop the plane in good spirits. With its tail peaking above the water line, the Piper aircraft rested seemingly unscathed on the seafloor.

"Everybody was just sitting on top of the plane, and they were just happy to see me," Russell said about finding the two pilots and three passengers.

Russell then transported the five travelers to land, where he said they declined medical attention. The Volunteer Pilot Group, which operated the flight, said that the passengers and pilots were unharmed after the “emergency water landing.”

The Volunteer Pilot Group is a Florida-based nonprofit that facilitates “charitable air transportation by connecting volunteer pilots with flight requests from passengers in need,” according to the organization’s website.

"I was just thankful that I was able to go out there and help. You know, at the end of the day, my goal was to try to do my best to save their lives," Russel said.

He added that helped the five travelers got to a local hotel, where they are resting ahead of another, hopefully drier, flight on Friday.

ABC News' Sam Sweeney, Jared Higgs, Rachel DeLima and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

5 people rescued after private plane crashes into waters near Bahamas: Authorities

pawel.gaul/Getty Images

(NASSAU, Bahamas) -- Five people were rescued after a private plane crashed into waters near the Bahamas on Thursday, the Bahamas' Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority told ABC News.

The plane was en route to Florida when it crashed into the water about 10 nautical miles north of Andros, an island in the Bahamas, the Royal Bahamas Police Force said during a press conference Thursday.

The passengers were rescued and transported back to Andros Island, authorities said. They are being transported to receive medical care for non-life-threatening injuries, authorities said.

The plane -- a single-engine Piper PA-32 aircraft with United States registration -- crashed around 3:10 p.m., the Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority said.

The aircraft had departed the San Andros Airport in Andros and was en route to Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach when "the pilot encountered issues and attempted to return to Andros Island," the agency said.

The crash was caused by "mechanical issues," the Royal Bahamas Police Force said in a statement

"The pilot was able to land the aircraft safely into shallow waters, without any casualties," police said.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Royal Bahamas Defence Force and Royal Bahamas Police Force responded to the scene.

The crash remains under investigation.

ABC News' Jared Higgs and Rachel DeLima contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Are US arms sent to Ukraine being tracked so they can't be used to attack Russia?

Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Paramilitary organizations making the largest cross-border attack inside Russia since the war began have maintained they're fighting for Ukraine and reportedly claimed to have conducted another operation Thursday.

But more than a week after verified images appeared to show that the fighters were equipped with U.S.-supplied military vehicles in their initial incursion, the Biden administration has yet to say whether the groups are formally fighting in coordination with Kyiv.

The incidents raise questions about whether they put at risk the main U.S. strategic goal of avoiding escalation with Moscow -- "World War III" as the White House has warned -- and they come just when the conflict appears poised to intensity with Ukraine's long-awaited spring offensive.

And, they raise practical concerns about whether that goal could be undermined given questions about how well the U.S. keeps track of the billions in arms and equipment it has sent to Ukraine.

Any assessment from Washington on whether the groups are operating within the Ukrainian government's chain of command could have significant impact in determining whether any end-use violation or breach of agreement occurred if the fighters were given access to the equipment or pave the way for Kyiv to openly outfit the fighters with donated weaponry, while the persisting lack of clarity raises questions about how effectively these arms are monitored.

Gaps in monitoring, potential for escalation

When pictures surfaced appearing to show U.S.-manufactured Humvees and MRAP armored vehicles used in the Belgorod incursion, the administration initially showed strong skepticism. But after the photographic evidence was vetted by various major media organizations, officials promised to investigate.

"We're looking into those reports that the U.S. equipment and vehicles could have been involved," White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

Asked on Thursday about the status of that investigation, a State Department spokesperson said there were no updates to share.

The Ukrainian government has denied playing any part in the first wave of raids on Belgorod, which were carried out by groups made up of anti-Kremlin Russian nationals known as the Free Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, the latter of which has been linked to neo-Nazi sentiments.

On Thursday, the pro-Ukrainian militants appeared to shell towns in Belgorod, prompting a partial evacuation of civilians from the area. While the groups seemed to be heavily armed with sophisticated weaponry, there were no immediate signs that American arms were used in the attacks.

Although U.S. officials have not publicly characterized Ukraine’s role in the incursions, they have repeatedly said that the U.S. does not support attacks on Russian territory.

"We have been very clear with the Ukrainians privately, we certainly have been clear publicly, that we do not support attacks inside Russia," Kirby said on Wednesday, after announcing the latest drawdown of equipment for Ukraine in the White House briefing room. "We certainly don't want to see attacks inside Russia that are, that are being propagated, that are being conducted, using US-supplied equipment."

Kirby said that stance was rooted in the president's goal to "avoid World War III."

"I think we can all agree that a war that escalates beyond that -- that actually does suck in the West and NATO and the United States is not only not good for our national security interest, it is not good for the Ukrainian people," he said.

Beyond close coordination with the Ukrainian government, U.S. officials have touted close monitoring of military aid shipped to Ukraine. But their flip-flopping on the possibility that some of the armored fighting vehicles used in Belgorod could have been supplied to Ukraine by Washington and their inability to provide any conclusions after a week has opened the Biden administration up to criticism.

Republicans have zeroed in on accountability but have largely centered their focus on avoiding waste rather than preventing escalation.

"I do not conduct this oversight to undermine or question the importance of support for Ukraine, but rather -- to the contrary -- oversight should incentivize the administration and Ukraine to use funds from Congress with the highest degree of efficiency and effectiveness," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said at a hearing in late March.

While the Department of Defense's top watchdog testified during that hearing that he had not seen any illicit diversion of the over $20 billion worth of American weapons and other military equipment provided to Ukraine, previous reports have indicated that only around 10% of high-risk munitions have been inspected by U.S. monitors and only a handful of the weapons are legally subject to enhanced end-use tracking.

Defense officials have also noted that carrying out oversight in an active war zone with a very limited American footprint comes with challenges and potential blind spots. Ukraine's history of past corruption has also stoked some unease across Washington.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller was asked last Thursday whether the time that had elapsed in the investigation into the incident raised red flags for the administration regarding the effectiveness of its tracking measures.

"No, I think it raises the fact that we are looking into it and haven't yet reached a conclusion," he responded.

One way that the U.S. tracks sensitive items to Ukraine is by the placement of barcodes on each item that contain unique identifying information, such as serial numbers, and by providing Ukraine with ways to track the equipment it has been given by the U.S.

Ukraine keeps stock of its Humvees and MRAP armored vehicles, and regularly reports battlefield losses to American officials.

ABC News reached out to Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of Ukraine's parliament seated on a committee charged with monitoring weapons supplied by foreign governments but did not receive a response.

A shortfall in tracking weapons

Despite the administration's apparent hesitancy to draw firm conclusions, experts closely studying the conflict say some key answers are obvious.

"It is a shortfall in tracking of weapons and munitions," Mark Cancian, a senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies' International Security Program, said. "War is complicated -- there is no guarantee that weapons will not be used in ways that we don't approve, and this is clearly one of them."

"It would strain credulity to me to think there is not command control here from Kyiv—or at least from Ukrainian military intelligence," said John Hardie, the director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Russia program.

Cancian echoed that conclusion, adding that any disconnects within Ukraine's military could present serious problems.

"It's not impossible that there are fractures within the Ukrainian government. If that's the case, it is quite disturbing -- because that means that the Ukrainians are not in full control of military forces on their territory," he said. "It opens the possibility of what we're seeing in Russia, where you have militias that are acting independently and confronting even in some ways undermining the central government."

Cancian says that repeated incidents of American military gear surfacing in the hands of paramilitary groups would be telling.

"If this happens again, then it's not just happenstance -- it's a pattern. And that would indicate that they have not been able to get control," he said.

Or, Hardie posited, the Biden administration could seek to allow Ukraine to leverage ambiguous attacks on Russia while publicly standing by its policy against such actions.

"Perhaps U.S. officials look the other way," Hardie said.

Beyond Belgorod, apartment buildings in the heart of Russia's capital were the target of a drone strike on Tuesday. Though Ukrainian authorities did not take responsibility, the country's officials have not masked their pleasure.

"If the Russians can make Kyiv a nightmare, why do the people of Moscow rest?" Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, said in a televised address following the strike.

While the spike in attacks waged by Ukraine on Russia drastically pales in comparison to those waged on Ukraine by Russia through the course its 15-monthlong invasion, Kyiv has much more to lose in terms of public opinion since its war efforts depend on support from dozens of allies who largely see the country as a besieged victim rather than a tit-for-tat combatant.

Conversely, by bringing the war full circle, strikes into Russia might erode its population's support for the Kremlin -- something some indicators show has already been happening in recent weeks.

So far, the Biden administration appears to be sticking to an increasingly familiar strategy.

"We're still trying to get information here and develop some sort of sense of what happened," Kirby said when asked about the Moscow drone strikes on Wednesday.

ABC's Matthew Seyler and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

France passes law to regulate paid influencers, combat fraud

Telmo Pinto/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(PARIS) -- France is now the first country in Europe to regulate influencer marketing on social media, cracking down on what people can monetize and promote online with a new law passed on Thursday.

"The law was passed in record time and unanimously, which shows how much support it had in both government and parliament," Stéphane Vojetta, one of the French legislators who championed this new bill, told ABC News. "There was a clear understanding of the need to urgently respond to the challenge at hand."

Influencer marketing is a form of social media marketing that involves people leveraging their reputation to endorse products or services in exchange for money.

There are an estimated 150,000 influencers creating content on social media aimed at a French audience, according to France's Ministry of Economics, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty.

This new law makes it unlawful for influencers to create paid content promoting cosmetic surgeries, online sports betting sites or financial products like cryptocurrencies.

Influencers and companies caught violating the law could face up to two years in prison and 300,000 euros ($330,000) in fines, and see their ability to post on platforms potentially be revoked, according to the text of the bill.

Until Thursday, no law in France directly regulated commercial activity on social media leaving consumers vulnerable to scams and frauds.

Influencers will now be required to label all paid content, adding extra disclaimers if the content has been filtered or edited.

The law also closes an existing loophole when it comes to online advertisement, Vojetta tells ABC News. Now, content creators will have to abide by existing French advertising laws when it comes to the promotion of products and services.

For example, posts promoting sodas or processed food will have to include a message reminding consumers to undertake physical activity, similar to how it would be done on television.

The Senate unanimously adopted the law and will go into effect within the next two weeks. The Ministry of Economics and Finance has already released guidance for paid influencers on how to operate lawfully moving forward.

"It is a sector in which we believe in because it creates jobs and because it values French culture and creativity," said Bruno Le Maire, the French economic minister, describing the influencer economy at a press conference in March.

"The best way to protect it is to define a framework and rules so that in this dynamic sector, there are no profiteers, stowaways, or people who can take advantage of the weakness of certain consumers," Bruno Le Maire said.

Over 42 million consumers in France purchase goods or services online, according to a report by the government's Directorate General for Enterprise.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Prince William, Kate attend royal wedding in Jordan

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- William and Kate traveled from their home in Windsor, England, to Jordan to attend the wedding of Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, 28, and Rajwa Alseif, 29, on Thursday.

The Waleses are reportedly among 1,700 guests at the high-profile wedding.

Kate was seen arriving in a pale pink dress, while William chose a dark suit and blue tie for the occasion.

U.S. first lady Dr. Jill Biden was also in attendance at the royal wedding, held at Zahran Palace.

The bride and groom were both educated in the United States.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

'A number of items seized' in Portugal in renewed search for Madeleine McCann, German authorities say

Sheila Paras/Getty Images

(LONDON and BERLIN) -- German authorities said Thursday that "a number of items were seized" in Portugal during a renewed search for missing British child Madeleine McCann.

"These will be evaluated in the coming days and weeks," the Braunschweig District Attorney's Office in Germany said in a statement. "It is not yet possible to say whether any of the items are actually related to the Madeleine McCann case."

German, Portuguese and British police took part in the three-day operation in the Algarve region of southern Portugal last week, during which officers were seen scouring the banks of the Arade reservoir for possible evidence. The area is about 30 miles from the Praia da Luz resort, where McCann was last seen in 2007. The 3-year-old was on vacation with her family at the time.

A number of searches have been conducted over the years, but the latest was done at the request of German authorities. Portuguese police said last week that all material collected during the operation would be handed over to German authorities for examination.

"Sincere thanks go out to all police officers involved in the search," the Braunschweig District Attorney's Office said. "The cooperation between the Portuguese police, the police officers from Great Britain and the and the Federal Criminal Police Office was excellent and very constructive."

In 2020, German police identified 45-year-old German citizen Christian Brueckner as a suspect in McCann's disappearance. Brueckner, who was in Portugal's Algarve region in 2007, is currently in jail in the northern German city of Braunschweig for a different case.

"The investigations conducted here in Braunschweig against the 46-year-old suspect are are expected to continue for some time," the district attorney's office added.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


970 KSYL On Air Now

George Noory
George Noory
12:00am - 5:00am
Coast To Coast AM

94.7 ESPN On Air Now

Local Events







Station Tour

Station Tour