Antony Blinken signals no immediate U.S. press for Mideast cease-fire

Blinken signals no immediate U.S. press for Mideast cease-fire

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint press conference with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, following their meeting at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Eigtveds Pakhus, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Monday, May 17, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo … more >

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By Ellen Knickmeyer, Matthew Lee and Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press

Monday, May 17, 2021

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled Monday the U.S. still would not press for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Gaza‘s Hamas rulers as fighting entered its second week, with more than 200 people dead, most of them Palestinians in Gaza.

Blinken’s stand comes despite growing pressure from the United States’ U.N. Security Council partners, some Democrats and others for President Biden’s administration and other international leaders to wade more deeply into diplomacy to end the worst Israel-Palestinian violence in years and revive long-collapsed mediation for a lasting peace there.

Speaking in Copenhagen, where Blinken is making an unrelated tour of Nordic countries this week, Blinken ticked off U.S. outreach so far to try to de-escalate hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel, and said he would be making more calls Monday. 

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“In all of these engagements we have made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a cease-fire,” Blinken said. 

He said he welcomed efforts by the U.N. — where the United States has so far blocked a proposed Security Council statement on the fighting — and other nations working for a cease-fire.

“Any diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we’ll support,” he said. “And we are again willing and ready to do that. But ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a cease-fire.”

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes as of Monday, including 59 children and 35 women, with 1,300 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Eight people in Israel have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

Blinken also said he had asked Israel for any evidence for its claim that Hamas was operating in a Gaza office building housing The Associated Press and Al Jazeera news bureaus that was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike over the weekend. But he that he personally has “not seen any information provided.” 

Blinken’s comments came after U.N. Security Council diplomats and Muslim foreign ministers convened emergency weekend meetings to demand a stop to civilian bloodshed, as Israeli warplanes carried out the deadliest single attacks Sunday in the week of fighting.

Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told an emergency high-level meeting of the Security Council on Sunday that the United States was “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels” to stop the fighting.

But as battles between Israel and Gaza‘s militant Hamas rulers surged to their worst levels since 2014 and the international outcry grew, the Biden administration — determined to wrench U.S. foreign policy focus away from the Middle East and Afghanistan — has declined so far to criticize Israel‘s part in the fighting or send a top-level envoy to the region. Appeals by other countries showed no sign of progress.

Thomas-Greenfield warned that the return to armed conflict would only put a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict even further out of reach.

However, the United States, Israel‘s closest ally, has so far rejected moves by China, Norway and Tunisia in the Security Council for a statement by the U.N.‘s most powerful body, including a call for the cessation of hostilities.

In Israel, Hady Amr, a deputy assistant dispatched by Blinken to try to de-escalate the crisis, met with officials. Blinken himself has no announced plans to stop in the Middle East on his current trip.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, urged Biden on Sunday to step up pressure on both sides to end current fighting and revive talks to resolve Israel‘s conflicts and flashpoints with the Palestinians.

“I think the administration needs to push harder on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to stop the violence, bring about a cease-fire, end these hostilities, and get back to a process of trying to resolve this long-standing conflict,” Schiff, a California Democrat, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” 

And Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, the senior Republican on the foreign relations subcommittee for the region, joined Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the subcommittee chairman, in asking both sides to cease fire.

“As a result of Hamas‘ rocket attacks and Israel‘s response, both sides must recognize that too many lives have been lost and must not escalate the conflict further,” the two said. 

Biden focused on civilian deaths from Hamas rockets in a call with Netanyahu on Saturday, and a White House readout of the call made no mention of the U.S. urging Israel to join in a cease-fire that regional countries were pushing. Thomas-Greenfield said U.S. diplomats were engaging with Israel, Egypt and Qatar, along with the U.N.

Netanyahu told Israelis in a televised address Sunday that Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on Hamas. That will “take time,” Netanyahu said, signaling the war would rage on for now.
Representatives of Muslim nations met Sunday to demand Israel halt attacks that are killing Palestinian civilians in the crowded Gaza strip. 

At the virtual meeting of the Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the U.N. was actively engaging all parties for an immediate cease-fire.

Returning to the scenes of Palestinian militant rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes in the fourth such war between Israel and Hamas, “only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” Guterres said.

Eight foreign ministers spoke at the Security Council session, reflecting the seriousness of the conflict, with almost all urging an end to the fighting.

___

Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City, Lee from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Lederer from New York. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed.

UN council meets on Jerusalem violence, considers statement

UN council meets on Jerusalem violence, considers statement

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A Palestinian man runs away from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces in front of the Dome of the Rock Mosque at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City Monday, May 10, 2021. Israeli police clashed … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, May 10, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. Security Council held emergency consultations Monday on escalating violence in east Jerusalem and was considering a proposed statement calling on Israel to cease evictions and calling for “restraint” and respect for “the historic status quo at the holy sites.”

Ireland’s U.N. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, who joined in calling for the emergency meeting, said “the Security Council should urgently speak out, and we hope that it will be able to do so today.”

Council diplomats said all 15 members expressed concern at the clashes and rising violence but the United States, Israel’s closest ally, said a statement might not be useful at this time. Nonetheless, the U.S. agreed to have council experts discuss the statement after all other members said the U.N.’s most powerful body must react, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations were private.

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The draft statement would express the Security Council’s “grave concern” at escalating tensions and violence in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and “serious concern” over the possible evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, “many of whom have lived in their homes for generations.”

There have been weeks of mounting tensions and almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, already a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.

The proposed statement would call on Israel “to cease settlement activities, demolitions and evictions, including in east Jerusalem in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law” and refrain from unilateral steps “that exacerbate tensions and undermine the viability of the two-state solution.”

It would express deep worry about daily clashes, especially in and around Jerusalem’s holy sites which have led to many injuries and would call for restraint and “refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric.”

Calling for respect for the historic status of Jerusalem’s holy sites, the draft would also underscore “that Muslim worshippers at the holy sites must be allowed to worship in peace, free from violence, threats and provocations.”

The council would also reiterate its support for a negotiated solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict where “two states, Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and sovereign Palestine live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.”

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, the current council president who proposed the statement under consideration along with Norway and Tunisia, called the clashes between Israelis and Palestinians “disturbing.”

“Israeli authorities should take necessary measures to prevent violence, threats and provocations against Muslim worshippers,” Zhang said.

Antonio Guterres lays out vision for second term as UN chief

Antonio Guterres lays out vision for second term as UN chief

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaks to the media, attends a press conference about the end of a 5+1 Meeting on Cyprus, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP) more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Secretary-General Antonio Guterres laid out his vision for a second term as U.N. chief on Friday, calling for a “surge in diplomacy for peace,” urging the world’s nations to avoid a new type of Cold War, and stressing that in the 21st century everything from the climate crisis to nuclear proliferation and the pushback on human rights is inter-linked.

Guterres is the only candidate in the race so far, and he won support during a three-hour question-and-answer session in the 193-member General Assembly from two major groups — the 120-member Nonaligned Movement of mainly developing nations and the 27-member European Union — as well as smaller groups and individual countries.

In his opening presentation, Guterres painted a grim picture of a world where “more and more people live within their own echo chambers … (and) are lured by misinformation, populism, extremism, xenophobia and racism.” He called it “a kind of post-enlightenment era that has nurtured irrational, even nihilistic belief systems, spreading fear, denying science and truth.” And he reiterated his warning about “the new geostrategic divide and dysfunctional power relations, making international cooperation infinitely more difficult at a time when we need it most.”

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Guterres stressed his strong belief in nations working together to solve the world’s crises and conflicts but said multilateralism “depends a lot on the establishment of trust among member states, and on making functional relationship among the biggest powers.”

“If there is no trust among member states and if the relationship among the biggest powers remains dysfunctional, then there’s not much the multilateral system can do,” he said. “If those two things are properly addressed, then I think there is a chance for multilateralism to be more effective.”

While the General Assembly elects the secretary-general, it is on the recommendation of the 15-member Security Council where the five permanent members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — have veto power. So their support is crucial.

Before Guterres was elected, the assembly adopted a resolution in 2015 that made the previously largely secretive selection of the secretary-general more open and transparent. It allowed the world body’s member states for the first time to see basic information about all candidates, including their resumes, and to meet and question them at open sessions.

Traditionally, candidates have been nominated by a U.N. member state, but that is not a requirement in the U.N. Charter or the resolution.

Guterres, whose current 5-year term ends on Dec. 31, was nominated by Portugal, his home country. But this year has also seen seven individuals submit applications to be secretary-general without backing from any government including most recently former Ecuadorean president Rosalia Arteaga.

General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir told a news conference on Tuesday “the rule” is that an applicant can only become a candidate when a letter signed jointly by the presidents of the assembly and the Security Council is sent to all member states.

“It looks like the Security Council has the opinion that, traditionally, only applicants supported by a country can become a candidate,” he said, so the only joint letter has been sent on behalf of Guterres. An email request to China, the current council president, seeking comment was not answered.

Arteaga, whose candidacy has been pushed by the global political movement Forward, indicated earlier this week that she would have support from the government of Ecuador.

But Ecuador’s U.N. Ambassador Cristian Espinosa Cañizares told the assembly on Friday: “We have been informed that this support of the government of Ecuador expressed at the outset of the year (for Guterres seeking a second term) has been renewed by the new government that will take office in the coming weeks.”

During Friday’s question-and-answer session, Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Sofiane Mimouni, spoke first on behalf of the Nonaligned Movement, telling Guterres it “welcomes your readiness to serve a second term” and “commends … your leadership during the COVID” pandemic. European Union Ambassador Olof Skoog said “the EU and its member states have welcomed your readiness to serve for a second term” and “appreciate the vision you have set out.”

More than 200 NGOs call for UN arms embargo on Myanmar

More than 200 NGOs call for UN arms embargo on Myanmar

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – More than 200 global organizations urged the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar, saying the time for statements has passed and immediate action is needed to help protect peaceful protesters against military rule and other opponents of the junta.

A statement by the non-governmental organizations said the military “has demonstrated a callous disregard for human life” since their Feb. 1 coup, killing at least 769 people including 51 children as young as six years old and detaining several thousand activists, journalists, civil servants and politicians. Hundreds of others have disappeared, it said.

“No government should sell a single bullet to the junta under these circumstances,” the NGOs said. “Imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar is the minimum necessary step the Security Council should take in response to the military’s escalating violence.”

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The organizations urged the United Kingdom, the Security Council nation in charge of drafting resolutions on Myanmar, “to begin negotiations on a resolution authorizing an arms embargo as soon as possible.” This “will demonstrate to the junta that there will be no more business as usual,” they said.

Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. The coup took place following November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly and the military contests as fraudulent.

The 15-member Security Council has issued several statements since the coup demanding the restoration of democracy and the release of all detainees including Suu Kyi, strongly condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians and calling on the military “to exercise utmost restraint” and “on all sides to refrain from violence.”

It has also stressed “the need to fully respect human rights and to pursue dialogue and reconciliation,” and backed diplomatic efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and U.N. special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener to find a solution.

“The time for statements has passed,” the NGOs said. “The Security Council should take its consensus on Myanmar to a new level and agree on immediate and substantive action.”

They said a U.N. global arms embargo against Myanmar should bar the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of “all weapons, munitions, and other military-related equipment, including dual-use goods such as vehicles and communications and surveillance equipment.” Training, intelligence and other military assistance should also be banned, they said.

Amnesty International’s Senior U.N. Advocate Lawrence Moss told a virtual news conference launching the statement that many countries supply weapons to Myanmar.

Citing Amnesty’s research and information from other trusted sources, he said Russia has been supplying combat aircraft and attack helicopters to Myanmar while China has been supplying combat aircraft, naval weapons, armored vehicles, surveillance drones and aiding Myanmar’s indigenous naval industry. In addition, he said, Chinese weapons, small arms and armored vehicles have been diverted to ethnic armed groups, especially the Kachin Independence Army.

Moss said Ukraine has also supplied Myanmar’s military with armored vehicles and is involved in the joint production of armored vehicles in Myanmar, Turkey has provided shotguns and shotgun cartridges, India has provided armored vehicles, troop carriers and naval equipment including a submarine with torpedoes, and Serbia has recorded transfers of small quantities of artillery systems and small arms.

Israel had supplied frigates and armored vehicles to Myanmar along with police training but that stopped in 2017 though it may still be providing surveillance equipment, Moss said. South Korea transferred an amphibious assault system in 2019 but announced a halt to further military exports after the coup.

Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau said: “This is the beginning of what we hope will be an escalation of advocacy to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Security Council, wringing its hands, sticking with inaction and the occasional statement of concern.”

But getting the Security Council to adopt a resolution authorizing an arms embargo faces an uphill struggle, especially with China and Russia’s general opposition to sanctions.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose country holds the council presidency this month, told a news conference Monday that China is “a friendly neighbor of Myanmar” and is putting more emphasis on diplomatic efforts. It is “not in favor of imposing sanctions” which may hinder diplomacy and lead to suffering of ordinary people, Zhang said.

Amnesty’s Moss countered that an “arms embargo would not hurt the ordinary people of Myanmar in any way, shape or form… and I hope that China will consider that.”

Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, said Myanmar’s “murderous, military-led regime” shouldn’t be allowed to buy bombs or even “camouflage underwear” and “should be treated like the pariahs that they are.”

“I think all of us share concern that the country could become a failed state, armed conflict could intensify, and so an arms embargo now is also a kind of preventive against a refugee crisis that flows across borders in the region, and an armed conflict which serves nobody’s interests,” Adams said.

Myra Dahgaypaw, managing director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma who recalled fleeing from past military airstrikes, said an arms embargo won’t solve all the country’s problems but “it will significantly increase the safety of the people on the ground, including the ethnic and the religious minorities.”

“Today I just want to tell the U.N. Security Council that the people of Burma need your help, and they need it urgently,” she said. “Please don’t let the efforts, the struggle and the resilience of the people on the ground who are trying to survive go in vain.”

China: US should push North Korea diplomacy, not pressure

China: US should push North Korea diplomacy, not pressure

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South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, May 2, 2021. North Korea on Sunday warned the United States will face "a very grave situation" because President Joe … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – China’s U.N. ambassador expressed hope Monday that President Joe Biden’s policy toward North Korea will give more importance to diplomacy and dialogue instead of “extreme pressure” to try to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Zhang Jun said China also hopes the review of U.S. policy will give equal emphasis to both the nuclear issue and the peace and security issue.

“Without tackling the security and the peace issue properly, definitely we do not have the right environment for our efforts for the denuclearization,” he said.

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The White House said last Friday that Biden plans to veer from the approaches of his two most recent predecessors as he tries to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, rejecting both Donald Trump’s deeply personal effort to win over leader Kim Jong Un and Barack Obama’s more hands-off approach. Press secretary Jen Psaki announced administration officials had completed the review of U.S. policy toward North Korea but did not detail its findings.

The Biden administration appeared to signal it is trying to set the stage for incremental progress, in which denuclearization steps by the North would be met with corresponding actions, including sanctions relief, from the United States.

There was no mention of U.S. security guarantees for North Korea or a formal end to the Korean War, both of which had been demanded by the North and considered by the Trump team as part of a larger package.

China assumed the presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month and ambassador Zhang told a news conference that Beijing will look “very carefully” at the U.S. policy review in hopes it will give more emphasis to dialogue.

China and Russia circulated a draft resolution a year ago on lifting some sanctions against North Korea, and Zhang said it’s still on the table. He stressed that while China is implementing sanctions against the North, it also believes the Security Council should consider adjusting and lifting sanctions “which are really hindering the humanitarian access … and making people suffer.”

“At a certain stage, timely adjustment (of sanctions) will really produce good results with the creation of more favorable environment for the tackling of this issue,” the ambassador said.

North Korea said Sunday that Biden was mistaken in calling the country a security threat in a speech to Congress last week and warned of an unspecified response.

As for the current situation, China’s Zhang said: “We do hear harsh words and we do see some tensions at certain level, but in general it remains stable.”

Referring to North Korea and the United States, he said both sides “should really think seriously about what they should do next … and in particular avoiding taking any actions which may make the situation even worse.”

“All efforts should go along the direction of resuming dialogue, making more efforts, walking towards each other instead of walking against each other,” Zhang said. “Otherwise, I do not see any possibility of finding a lasting, sustaining solution simply by exercising pressure,” whether “it’s extreme pressure or light pressure.”

Top US diplomat to join China UN event on global cooperation

Top US diplomat to join China UN event on global cooperation

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FILE – In this Jan. 30, 2020, file photo, China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun speaks during a press conference at U.N. headquarters. Zhang expressed hope Monday, May 3, 2021 that President Joe Biden’s policy toward North Korea will give … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will participate in a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday chaired by China’s foreign minister on strengthening global cooperation and the key role of the United Nations in harnessing international action to tackle the world’s conflicts and crises, China’s U.N. ambassador said Monday.

It will be the first encounter, though virtually, for Blinken and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi.

China’s U.N. envoy Zhang Jun told a news conference that Friday’s meeting is “the first priority” of China’s Security Council presidency this month, and will be attended not only by Blinken but “quite a number” of other foreign ministers from the 15 nations on the U.N.’s most powerful body.

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Last week, President Joe Biden stressed to Congress the critical importance of the United States keeping up with China, which his administration sees as a strategic challenger, and proving that American democracy can still work and maintain primacy in the world.

Friday’s council session also comes in the wake of a contentious meeting in Alaska on March 18 between Blinken and Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi, who took aim at each other’s country’s sharply differed policies. It was the first face-to-face U.S.-China meeting of the Biden administration.

Blinken said the administration is united with its allies in pushing back against China’s increasing authoritarianism and assertiveness at home and abroad including its actions in Hong Kong and against Taiwan, the Uighur minority in Xinjiang and in the South China Sea. Yang responded angrily, demanding that the U.S. stop pushing its own version of democracy at a time when America has been roiled by domestic discontent and accusing Washington of hypocrisy for criticizing Beijing on human rights and other issues.

China’s Zhang said Monday: “It’s becoming more and more evident that in tackling the current global crises, multilateralism represents the right way out.”

He recalled the declaration adopted last September by world leaders commemorating the 75th anniversary of the United Nations which says that following the COVID-19 pandemic: “Multilateralism is not an option but a necessity as we build back better for a more equal, more resilient, and more sustainable world. The United Nations must be at the center of our efforts.”

At Friday’s meeting, he said, “We do hope … members will have the opportunity to reaffirm their support to multilateralism, to practice real multilateralism, and then to give stronger support to the role of the United Nations and to defend the international system with the United Nations sitting at the center, and also to support international order based on international law.”

Libya’s top diplomat urges withdrawal of foreign fighters

Libya’s top diplomat urges withdrawal of foreign fighters

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By SAMY MAGDY

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – Libya’s top diplomat Monday called for the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from the North African country as it heads toward elections later this year.

Najla al-Manqoush, foreign minister of Libya’s interim government, urged Turkey to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding the repatriation of more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya.

Her remarks came at a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. He visited the capital of Tripoli with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and other top military and intelligence officials.

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“We call on (Turkey) to take steps to implement all the provisions of … the Security Council resolutions and to cooperate together to expel all foreign forces and mercenaries from the Libyan territories,” she said.

The remarks were seen as a rebuke to Turkey, which has deployed troops and Syrian mercenaries to fight along with Tripoli militias since forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter launched their attack on the capital in 2019.

Cavusoglu responded by saying that Turkish forces were in Libya as part of a training agreement reached with a previous Libya administration. “There are those who equate our legal presence … with the foreign mercenary groups that fight in this country for money,” he said.

The Libyan foreign minister could face criticism from pro-Turkey Libyans for ideological reasons and also others in Tripoli who still fear a new attack from eastern-based forces, said Jalel Harchaoui, senior Libya researcher at the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The departure of hundreds of Turkish troops “is by all means a hard thing to implement,” he said. “Very difficult for Tripoli – because a very large (mercenary) mission is still in central Libya and could help (Hifter) march west again. And very difficult for Turkey – because it has spent untold amounts on making sure its presence in western Libya remains entrenched for a long while.”

Turkey has been closely involved in Libya. It backed the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord based in Tripoli against Hifter’s forces. Turkey sent military supplies and fighters to Libya helping to tilt the balance of power in favor of the GNA.

Turkey also signed an agreement with the Tripoli-based government delineating the maritime boundaries between the two countries in the Mediterranean. That triggered protests from Greece and Cyprus. Both countries denounced the agreement saying it was a serious breach of international law that disregarded the rights of other eastern Mediterranean countries.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The oil-rich country was in recent years split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by different armed groups and foreign governments.

Libya’s interim government, which took power in March, is tasked with bringing together a country that has been torn apart by civil war for nearly a decade. It also aims to steer Libya through a general election on Dec. 24.

Security Council diplomats say there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, along with Russians and Chadians.

The Security Council’s 15 member nations agreed in an informal meeting last week that getting the foreign fighters and mercenaries to go home was the only way forward, according to the officials.

___

Associated Press writer Suzan Frazer contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

UN Syria envoy says there’s interest in stepped up diplomacy

UN Syria envoy says there’s interest in stepped up diplomacy

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FILE – In this March 21, 2019 file photo, United Nations’ special envoy to Syria, Geir Pederson, speaks with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, at the Lebanese foreign ministry, in Beirut, Lebanon. Pederson says key global players are interested in … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. special envoy for Syria said Wednesday that key global players are interested in stepped-up international diplomacy to “unlock progress” toward ending the country’s 10-year war.

Geir Pederson called for exploratory discussions to “help test possibilities and bridge the gaps of mistrust.”

Pedersen told the U.N. Security Council he spoke about the need for more constructive and comprehensive diplomacy to make progress toward resolving “this highly internationalized conflict” with senior officials from a number of countries. They include Russia, the United States, Turkey, Iran, the Arab world, Europe and other council members. He said he also spoke to the Syrian government and opposition.

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“I appreciate that key international interlocutors are expressing interest in this idea,” Pedersen said. “At the same time, it is clear that mistrust and a desire for others to move first are prominent elements in the minds of many.”

Syrians in March marked a decade since peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s government erupted in March 2011, touching off a popular uprising that quickly turned into a full-blown civil war. Despite a decade of fighting and a broken country, Assad remains firmly in power and the country is economically devastated.

Pedersen said a “new international format” could bring stakeholders to the table. “With a relative, albeit fragile, calm on the ground, and many capitals understanding the need for a way forward, we need to explore what is possible” and “we should not lose further time,” he said.

Since the war erupted, there have been many high-level gatherings designed to stop the fighting and guide Syria to a political transition. Locations included Istanbul, Paris, Rome, Vienna and Geneva and included assemblies with names such as “Friends of Syria” and the “London 11.” In 2016 it was the “International Syria Support Group.” None has made a lasting impact.

Pedersen’s contention that international diplomacy is essential for peace in Syria came with “a warning to prioritize the proactive search for a settlement of the Syrian conflict.” He said that’s especially the case in light of the potential for the last year of relative calm to deteriorate.

Pedersen pointed to “a significant escalation” in the last rebel-held stronghold in northwest Syria, including airstrikes on a U.N.-supported hospital, the shelling of residential areas in western Aleppo, and strikes on the Syrian-Turkish border among several other trouble spots.

The worsening violence comes ahead of a government-scheduled presidential election May 26, which Pedersen stressed is being held under Syria’s current constitution without any U.N. involvement.

The United Nations continues to emphasize the importance of a negotiated political solution to the conflict as called for in a Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015, Pedersen said. It unanimously endorses a road map to peace in Syria approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012 by representatives of the U.N., Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members.

It calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends with U.N.-supervised elections under that document with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.

Pedersen has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get the Syrian government and the opposition to start negotiating a new constitution.

He told the council that after the co-chairs from both sides couldn’t agree on terms and methodology for a sixth session of the constitutional committee he proposed a compromise on April 15, which the government said it will respond to next week.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council “the failure to enact a new constitution is proof positive that the so-called election on May 26 will be a sham.” Until U.N.-supervised elections occur under a new constitution, she said, “we will not be fooled.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, whose country is Syria’s closest ally, said Moscow continues efforts “to make sure the intra-Syria dialogue is successful” and hopes Pedersen can bring the government and opposition together for a new session of the constitutional committee.

As for the upcoming presidential vote, he said: “We lament the fact that some countries are up in arms against the very idea of the upcoming elections and have already declared them illegitimate.”

On the economic front, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned that Syria‘s economic crisis is worsening, with more than half the households reporting “not having sufficient, or sufficiently nutritious food.”

Low expectations dog UN bid to relaunch Cyprus peace talks

Low expectations dog UN bid to relaunch Cyprus peace talks

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An abandoned Turkish military guard post, at top background in the north Turkish occupied area, and a blocked road with barrels in the Greek Cypriot south, in the divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Monday, April 26, 2021. U.N. chief Antonio Guterres … more >

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By JAMEY KEATEN and MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

GENEVA (AP) – U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres is “realistic” about the chances of resuming formal talks to reunify ethnically split Cyprus, a U.N. spokesman said on Tuesday, amid low expectations that a fresh bid to reinvigorate dormant negotiations will lead to a breakthrough.

Stephane Dujarric made the comments to reporters ahead of the start of an informal meeting Guterres is hosting in the Swiss city, which brings together the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities as well as the foreign ministers of Greece, Turkey and Britain – a former colonial ruler in Cyprus.

The aim of the three-day talks is to scope out chances of resuming formal peace negotiations that have been stalled since the last attempt, at another Swiss resort in 2017, ended in failure.

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Dujarric appeared to play down expectations of the “informal” meetings and said no press conferences were immediately planned.

“(The) secretary general is realistic. This is an issue that he knows well,” Dujarric said. “He has participated in discussions before. So, he is realistic.”

The U.N. spokesman had previously urged Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities to bring “creativity” to the informal talks. But the mood is dour because the two sides no longer seem to share the same vision of how a final peace deal should take shape.

Over 47 years of talks, the ultimate goal endorsed by the U.N. Security Council had been to reunify a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south as a federation – two zones running their own affairs with a federal government overseeing the core elements of national governance such as foreign policy and defense.

The island was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when a coup aimed at union with Greece triggered a Turkish invasion.

But now Turkey, and the new Turkish Cypriot leadership that espouses even tighter bonds with Ankara, have changed the rules, dismissing further talks about a federation-based accord as a “waste of time” because nearly five decades of negotiations on that model have gone nowhere.

They’re proposing instead essentially a two-state model that Greek Cypriots say they’d never accept because it would legitimize the country’s partition forever.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said as he departed for Geneva on Monday that federation is the only way toward peace.

“I wish that the other side attends with the same will, the same outlook because any deviation won’t be only against the Greek Cypriots, but the Turkish Cypriots as well,” Anastasiades said.

Speaking after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar repeated that any peace deal must be agreed upon between two separate states and that the U.N. should embrace this.

Turkey, as a guarantor country, the motherland and the largest and most powerful nation in the region, is only 40 miles from Cyprus. With its rights that stem from history … Turkey stands by the side of the Turkish Cypriots,” Tatar said.

___

Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus.

Syria rights group urges world to reject presidential vote

Syria rights group urges world to reject presidential vote

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FILE – In this May 12, 2014 file photo, campaign posters for the upcoming presidential election adorn a street in Damascus, Syria. On Monday April 26, 2021, the Paris-based Syrian Network for Human Rights called on the international community to … more >

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By SARAH EL DEEB

Associated Press

Monday, April 26, 2021

BEIRUT (AP) – A leading Syrian rights group Monday called on the international community to reject next month’s presidential elections because they will take place under the rule of President Bashar Assad, who is implicated in war crimes.

Paris-based Syrian Network for Human Rights, describing the elections as a sham, said the vote was scheduled by Assad’s government in violation of a U.N.-charted path toward a political resolution to the decade-old war.

According to the 2015 resolution, presidential elections should take place only after drafting a new constitution that allows for a free and competitive vote.

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“What is the point then of a (U.N.-backed) political track?” said the rights group’s director, Fadel Abdul-Ghany. “The regime has totally torpedoed the U.N. Security Council resolution. The world must stress these elections are illegitimate.”

The election will be the second since the country’s civil war broke out 10 years ago. It is to be held May 26 with Syrians abroad voting May 20.

The rights group noted that international investigators have found that Assad and his forces have committed war crimes against civilians, including the use of chemical weapons on several occasions.

The findings by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have been contested by Assad and his allies, who deny his government has used them against civilians.

Meanwhile, U.N. talks have been bogged down because Assad enjoys the support of veto-yielding nations Russia and China in the Security Council, as well as Iran.

Syrian Network for Human Rights said crimes against Syrians continue.

Since Assad was elected to his last 7-year term in 2014, nearly 48,000 Syrian civilians have been killed in the conflict, including more than 8,000 children. More than 44,000 are still forcibly disappeared, according to SNHR, which shares its data with the U.N.

So far, over two dozen candidates have applied to compete in next month’s elections. Abdul-Ghany said none of them represents real competition for Assad. According to the 2012 constitution, candidates must have lived in Syria for the last 10 years, which effectively bars any opposition candidate from running against him. It also requires that parliament – stacked with members of Assad’s ruling party – approve those eligible to run.

The armed conflict has subsided but Syria remains torn. Thousands of foreign troops are based in different parts of the country and over 30% of the territory, with at least 7 million people, is outside of Assad’s control.

Elections are not going to take place in at least four provinces, said Abdul-Ghany, because they are under control of the opposition and Kurdish forces.

“Is he going to be president of (only) parts of Syria?” he said, referring to Assad.

Iran denies it attacked Israeli-owned ship in Gulf

Iran denies it attacked Israeli-owned ship in Gulf

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Iran has rejected what it says are Israel’s unfounded allegations that Iran‘s Revolutionary Guard attacked an Israeli-owned cargo ship near the Gulf of Oman last month.

Iran‘s U.N. ambassador in a letter circulated Tuesday accused Israel of “playing the victim to distract attention away from all its destabilizing acts and malign practices across the region.”

Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said in the letter to the U.N. Security Council that the incident “has all the characteristics of a complicated false flag operation by actors in order to pursue their malign policies and to advance their illegitimate objectives.”

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He was responding to a letter to the council from Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan. It accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard of attaching an explosive device to the Israeli-owned cargo vessel Helios Ray in international waters near the Gulf of Oman on Feb. 25. The vessel was en route from Saudi Arabia to Singapore.

The explosion caused “severe damage, forcing the ship to return to the port of Dubai to ensure the safety of the crew,” Gilad said in the letter, also circulated Tuesday.

Israel has accused archenemy Iran of developing nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies, and of supporting hostile militant groups across the region, such as Hamas in Gaza and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Israel has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes on targets connected to Iran and its proxies in Syria.

Gilad’s letter cited previous Iranian attacks on civilian ships, including its seizure of a South Korean flagged tanker in Gulf waters in early January and on four commercial vessels in May 2019 in the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates east of the port of Fujairah.

In the tense summer of 2019, the U.S. military blamed Iran for explosions on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes. The U.S. also had attributed a series of other suspected attacks to Iran, including the use of limpet mines – designed to be attached magnetically to a ship’s hull – to cripple the four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah.

The Israeli ambassador said the Feb. 25 attack and previous attacks “prove yet again that Iran will use any means to destabilize the region” and he urged the Security Council to condemn Iran’s violations of the U.N. Charter “and hold the Iranian regime responsible for this attack and for destabilizing the regime.”

Iran’s Ravanchi countered that the “Israeli regime” must be held accountable for all of its “crimes, brutalities and threats … in particular its occupation of Palestine and parts of other countries, as well as its persistent military adventurism in such a volatile region as the Middle East.”

He said Israel must “also be reminded that it will bear all consequences as a result of any possible miscalculation.”

The Feb. 25 blast came as Iran has increasingly breached its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers in an attempt to pressure U.S. President Joe Biden to grant the sanctions relief it received under the deal that former President Donald Trump abandoned nearly three years ago.

Iran also has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.

On International Women’s Day, laments of retreat on rights

On International Women’s Day, laments of retreat on rights

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A woman waves a feminist flag as demonstrators attempt to storm the National Palace during a march to commemorate International Women’s Day and protesting against gender violence, in Mexico City, Monday, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on International Women’s Day that the COVID-19 pandemic has seen “a rollback in hard-won advances in women’s rights” even as calls for women’s empowerment echoed around the globe, from Myanmar and Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The U.N. chief paid tribute to women leaders whose countries have suffered fewer deaths during the pandemic, to the 70% of frontline health and care workers who are women – “many from racially and ethnically marginalized groups” – and to women’s organizations that have provided local services and information on COVID-19.

The pandemic, however, has shown that “this is still a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture,” Guterres said in a video message on Monday. “But it has also forced a reckoning with global inequalities, fragilities and entrenched gender discrimination.’’

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All those issues, as well as the increase in violence against women are certain to be on the agenda at two major upcoming events that are part of the delayed 25th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing women’s conference that adopted a 150-page road map to achieve gender equality.

The events, centered on civil society and meant “to catapult” gender equality, will kick off with a virtual global gathering in Mexico City March 29 to 31.

That will be followed by a meeting in Paris from June 30-July 2, announced on Monday, called the Generation Equality Forum.

“We stand at a crossroads as we ponder the recovery from a pandemic that has had a disproportionate impact on women and girls, ” said UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the U.N. observance of International Women’s Day.

She said the world faces the challenge of the underrepresentation of women in institutions, some that are critical for the recovery from COVID-19, noting that just 12% of parliaments are gender balanced, 119 countries have never had a female leader and just 13 Cabinets in the world have gender equality.

Mlambo-Ngcuka called the exclusion of women from decisions affecting their lives “bad corporate governance” and said the Generation Equality Forum will help take steps toward recovery.

Around the world, there were expressions of concern at the state of women’s rights.

In Afghanistan, Sima Samar, who has been fighting for women’s rights for 40 years, said much has been gained in the two decades since the Taliban were ousted, with schools for girls open and women now in the workforce, politics and working as judges. They are even at the negotiating table where the Taliban and the Afghan government are struggling to find a way to end war, she said.

But Samar said in an Associated Press interview that the gains are fragile, violence is on the rise, warlords have gained prominence and the U.S. is mulling a departure from Afghanistan in May.

According to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, 65 women were killed and 95 wounded in targeted attacks in 2020.

Afghanistan is second only to Yemen as the worst place in the world to be a woman, according to a 2019 Index compiled by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in Washington and the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. The illiteracy rate among Afghan women is 82% and most of the women in Afghan prisons are jailed for so-called “moral” crimes like seeking a divorce.

In Myanmar, five umbrella women’s rights organizations said in a joint letter that the number of women in mass protests against the Feb. 1 military coup is estimated at 60%, at least six women and girls have been killed, and many others have been detained and are “at high risks of violence, harassment, and sexual assault with limited to no legal protections.”

They urged “globally prominent women leaders” to issue a joint statement urging the U.N. Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to “take immediate action against the military coup and in support of the protection of civilians by all possible means.” They also called for a global arms embargo, a cutoff of revenue to the military, and an immediate stop to “the assaults, harassment and abusive tactics against women protesters and release (of) all those arbitrarily detained.”

The Georgetown Institute said it was asked to disseminate their letter to global women leaders.

In Europe, 158 parliamentarians from the European Union and the United Kingdom signed a joint statement urging authorities in Saudi Arabia to end discrimination against women and “fully dismantle the male guardianship system,” which was loosened in 2019 to allow women to travel freely without a man’s consent. Still in place, however, are rules that require male consent for a woman to leave prison, exit a domestic abuse shelter or marry.

The parliamentarians also urged Saudi authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release all women human rights defenders detained for their peaceful human rights advocacy, and drop the charges against them.”

In Kosovo, hundreds of women marked International Women’s Day with a demonstration to protest domestic violence and demand more respect for their rights.

At U.N. headquarters, Ireland’s U.N. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason co-chaired an informal Security Council meeting on the participation of women in U.N.-led peace processes and said their representation in peace negotiations “remains unacceptably low.”

“Women are not asking permission to be at the table,” she said. “We are demanding to be at the table. Participation is our right. Tokenism will not satisfy that right: We need direct, substantive inclusion of diverse women so that they can influence the course and outcome of negotiations.”

In the United States, President Joe Biden signed executive orders establishing a White House Gender Policy Council to advance gender equity and equal rights and opportunity for women and girls, and ordering the Department of Education to review regulations and policies to ensure they “guarantee education free from sexual violence.”

U.S, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council meeting that the United States is joining the U.N. Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls and announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver the U.S. statement at the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women on March 16.

“The United States and the Biden-Harris administration care deeply about gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls around the world,” she said. “We all believe and understand that women do better, countries do better, communities do better, and families do better. Not just women, but everyone.”

___

Kathy Gannon contributed to this report from Islamabad, Pakistan

Escalating violence ups pressure for Myanmar sanctions

Escalating violence ups pressure for Myanmar sanctions

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FILE – In this March 3, 2021, file photo, anti-coup protesters run as one of them discharges a fire extinguisher to counter the impact of tear gas fired by riot policemen in Yangon, Myanmar. The escalation of violence in Myanmar … more >

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By ELAINE KURTENBACH

Associated Press

Saturday, March 6, 2021

BANGKOK (AP) – The escalation of violence in Myanmar as authorities crack down on protests against the Feb. 1 coup is raising pressure for more sanctions against the junta, even as countries struggle over how to best sway military leaders inured to global condemnation.

The challenge is made doubly difficult by fears of harming ordinary citizens who were already suffering from an economic slump worsened by the pandemic but are braving risks of arrest and injury to voice outrage over the military takeover. Still, activists and experts say there are ways to ramp up pressure on the regime, especially by cutting off sources of funding and access to the tools of repression.

The U.N. special envoy on Friday urged the Security Council to act to quell junta violence that this week killed about 50 demonstrators and injured scores more.

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“There is an urgency for collective action,” Christine Schraner Burgener told the meeting. “How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?”

Coordinated U.N. action is difficult, however, since permanent Security Council members China and Russia would almost certainly veto it. Myanmar‘s neighbors, its biggest trading partners and sources of investment, are likewise reluctant to resort to sanctions.

Some piecemeal actions have already been taken. The U.S., Britain and Canada have tightened various restrictions on Myanmar‘s army, their family members and other top leaders of the junta. The U.S. blocked an attempt by the military to access more than $1 billion in Myanmar central bank funds being held in the U.S., the State Department confirmed Friday.

But most economic interests of the military remain “largely unchallenged,” Thomas Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights situation in Myanmar, said in a report issued last week. Some governments have halted aid and the World Bank said it suspended funding and was reviewing its programs.

Its unclear whether the sanctions imposed so far, although symbolically important, will have much ímpact. Schraner Burgener told U.N. correspondents that the army shrugged off a warning of possible “huge strong measures” against the coup with the reply that, “‘We are used to sanctions and we survived those sanctions in the past.’”

Andrews and other experts and human rights activists are calling for a ban on dealings with the many Myanmar companies associated with the military and an embargo on arms and technology, products and services that can be used by the authorities for surveillance and violence.

The activist group Justice for Myanmar issued a list of dozens of foreign companies that it says have supplied such potential tools of repression to the government, which is now entirely under military control.

It cited budget documents for the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Transport and Communications that show purchases of forensic data, tracking, password recovery, drones and other equipment from the U.S., Israel, EU, Japan and other countries. Such technologies can have benign or even beneficial uses, such as fighting human trafficking. But they also are being used to track down protesters, both online and offline.

Restricting dealings with military-dominated conglomerates including Myanmar Economic Corp., Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise might also pack more punch, with a minimal impact on small, private companies and individuals.

One idea gaining support is to prevent the junta from accessing vital oil and gas revenues paid into and held in banks outside the country, Chris Sidoti, a former member of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said in a news conference on Thursday.

Oil and gas are Myanmar‘s biggest exports and a crucial source of foreign exchange needed to pay for imports. The country’s $1.4 billion oil and gas and mining industries account for more than a third of exports and a large share of tax revenue.

“The money supply has to be cut off. That’s the most urgent priority and the most direct step that can be taken,” said Sidoti, one of the founding members of a newly established international group called the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.

Unfortunately, such measures can take commitment and time, and “time is not on the side of the people of Myanmar at a time when these atrocities are being committed,” he said.

Myanmar’s economy languished in isolation after a coup in 1962. Many of the sanctions imposed by Western governments in the decades that followed were lifted after the country began its troubled transition toward democracy in 2011. Some of those restrictions were restored after the army’s brutal operations in 2017 against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s northwest Rakhine state.

The European Union has said it is reviewing its policies and stands ready to adopt restrictive measures against those directly responsible for the coup. Japan, likewise, has said it is considering what to do.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, convened a virtual meeting on March 2 to discuss Myanmar. Its chairman later issued a statement calling for an end to violence and for talks to try to reach a peaceful settlement.

But ASEAN admitted Myanmar as a member in 1997, long before the military, known as the Tatmadaw, initiated reforms that helped elect a quasi-civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Most ASEAN governments have authoritarian leaders or one-party rule. By tradition, they are committed to consensus and non interference in each others’ internal affairs.

While they lack an appetite for sanctions, some ASEAN governments have vehemently condemned the coup and the ensuing arrests and killings.

Marzuki Darusman, an Indonesian lawyer and former chair of the Fact-Finding Mission that Sidoti joined, said he believes the spiraling, brutal violence against protesters has shaken ASEAN’s stance that the crisis is purely an internal matter.

“ASEAN considers it imperative that it play a role in resolving the crisis in Myanmar,” Darusman said.

Thailand, with a 2,400 kilometer (1,500-mile)-long border with Myanmar and more than 2 million Myanmar migrant workers, does not want more to flee into its territory, especially at a time when it is still battling the pandemic.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior fellow at Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies, also believes ASEAN wants to see a return to a civilian government in Myanmar and would be best off adopting a “carrot and stick” approach.

But the greatest hope, he said, is with the protesters.

On Saturday, some protesters expressed their disdain by pouring Myanmar Beer, a local brand made by a military-linked company whose Japanese partner Kirin Holdings is withdrawing from, on people’s feet – considered a grave insult in some parts of Asia.

“The Myanmar people are very brave. This is the No. 1 pressure on the country,” Chongkittavorn said in a seminar held by the East-West Center in Hawaii. “It’s very clear the junta also knows what they need to do to move ahead, otherwise sanctions will be much more severe.”

Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action

Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action

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Associated Press

Saturday, March 6, 2021

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Security forces in Myanmar again used force Saturday to disperse anti-coup protesters, a day after a U.N. special envoy urged the Security Council to take action to quell junta violence that this past week left more than 50 peaceful demonstrators dead and scores injured.

Protests were reported Saturday morning in the country’s biggest city, Yangon, where stun grenades and tear gas were used against demonstrators. On Wednesday, 18 people were reported killed there.

Protests also took place in several other cities, including Mandalay, the second-biggest city, Myitkyina, the capital of the northern state of Kachin, Myeik in the far south, where police fired tear gas at students, and Dawei in the southeast, where tear gas was also used.

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Demonstrators in the city of Monywa poured cans of beer over their feet and those of passers-by to show their contempt for the brewery’s owners – the military. Myanmar Beer is one of a number of business concerns in the country that are linked to the generals and has seen its sales plummet in the weeks following the coup. It’s also lost its Japanese partner, Kirin, which announced it was pulling out of the joint venture as a result of the power grab.

Officials are believed to have exhumed the body of a young woman who was killed during Wednesday’s suppression of protests in Mandalay. The woman, Kyal Sin, had been photographed taking part in the protests before her death, and images of her on the front lines have made her a high-profile martyr.

Security forces on Friday night sealed off the cemetery where she was buried, and when residents visited in the morning, her grave was freshly plastered over and shovels and other evidence of digging were found at the site. There was no official explanation of the incident, but media close to the military had earlier reported that the authorities had questioned the conclusion that she had been shot dead by police, and intended to investigate.

The escalation of violence has put pressure on the world community to act to restrain the junta, which seized power on Feb. 1 by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party led a return to civilian rule with a landslide election victory in 2015, and with an even greater margin of votes last year. It would have been installed for a second five-year term last month, but instead Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and other members of the government were placed in military detention.

Large protests have occurred daily across many cities and towns, and security forces have responded with greater use of lethal force and mass arrests. At least 18 protesters were shot and killed last Sunday and 38 on Wednesday, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office. More than 1,000 have been arrested, the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

U.N. special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener said in her briefing to Friday’s closed Security Council meeting that council unity and “robust” action are critical “in pushing for a stop to the violence and the restoration of Myanmar’s democratic institutions.”

“We must denounce the actions by the military,” she said. “It is critical that this council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results.”

She reiterated an earlier appeal to the international community not to “lend legitimacy or recognition to this regime that has been forcefully imposed, and nothing but chaos has since followed.”

The Security Council took no immediate action. Council diplomats said Britain circulated a draft presidential statement for consideration, a step below a legally binding resolution.

Any kind of coordinated action at the U.N. will be difficult because two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, are likely to veto it.

Earlier in the week, Schraner Burgener warned Myanmar’s army that the world’s nations and the Security Council “might take huge, strong measures.”

“And the answer was, ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived those sanctions in the past,’” she said. When she warned that Myanmar would become isolated, Schraner Burgener said “the answer was, ‘We have to learn to walk with only a few friends.’”

A decree issued by the junta and published in state media Friday increased the potential costs of opposition, declaring that members of a self-styled alternative government formed by elected lawmakers whom the army barred from taking their seats were committing high treason, which is punishable by death.

The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Myanmar’s Parliament, wants foreign countries and international organizations to recognize it instead of the junta. It also claims to have won the loyalty of local bodies inside Myanmar. The junta’s announcement said that people who collude with the committee would be subject to seven years’ imprisonment.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies urged immediate protection for all Red Cross volunteers and health workers.

The statement came after video from a surveillance camera that was circulated widely on social media showed members of an ambulance crew in Yangon being savagely beaten after they were taken into custody by police on Wednesday.

“We express profound sadness that Myanmar Red Cross volunteers have been injured while on duty providing lifesaving first aid treatment to wounded people, in line with fundamental principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality. Red Cross volunteers should never be targeted,” the federation said.

YouTube removes Myanmar army channels; U.N. to meet on crisis

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Women hold a portrait of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, during an anti-coup demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, Friday, March 5, 2021. Protests continue in Myanmar against the Feb 1 military coup that ousted the civilian government of Aung … more >

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Associated Press

Friday, March 5, 2021

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — YouTube removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its guidelines, it announced Friday, as demonstrators defied growing violence by security forces and staged more anti-coup protests ahead of a special U.N. Security Council meeting on the country’s political crisis.

YouTube said it is watching for any further content that might violate its rules. It earlier pulled dozens of channels as part of an investigation into content uploaded in a coordinated influence campaign.

The decision by YouTube followed Facebook’s earlier announcement that it has removed all Myanmar military-linked pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns.

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The escalation of violence by security forces has put pressure on the world community to act to restrain the junta, which seized power on Feb. 1 by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Large protests against military rule have occurred daily in many cities and towns. Security forces escalated their crackdown this week with greater use of lethal force and mass arrests. At least 18 protesters were shot dead on Sunday and 38 on Wednesday, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office. More than 1,000 people have been arrested, the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

Protests continued in the country’s biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, and elsewhere on Friday, and were again met by force from police.

Many cases of targeted brutality have been captured in photos and videos that have circulated widely on social media. Videos have showed security forces shooting people at point-blank range and chasing down and savagely beating demonstrators.

The United States called the images appalling, the U.N. human rights chief said it was time to “end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar,” and the world body’s independent expert on human rights in the country, Tom Andrews, urged Security Council members to watch the videos before their closed-door consultations on Friday.

While many abuses are committed by police, there is even greater concern about military forces being deployed in cities across the country that are notorious for decades of brutal counter-insurgency tactics and human rights abuses.

In Yangon, members of the army’s 77th Light Infantry Division have been deployed during anti-coup protests. The 77th was also deployed in Yangon in 2007 to suppress anti-junta protests, firing upon protesters and ramming them with trucks, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.

The 99th Light Infantry Division has also been deployed, including in Mandalay. It is infamous for its counter-insurgency campaigns against ethnic minorities across the country, including spearheading the response that led to a brutal crackdown that caused more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee from Rakhine state to Bangladesh. It also has been accused of war crimes in Shan state, another ethnic minority area, in 2016 and early 2017.

Any kind of coordinated action at the U.N. will be difficult since two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, are likely to veto it.

Even if the council did take action, U.N. special envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener cautioned this week it might not make much difference. She said she warned Myanmar’s army that the world’s nations and the Security Council “might take huge strong measures.”

“And the answer was, ‘We are used to sanctions and we survived those sanctions in the past,’” she said. When she also warned that Myanmar would become isolated, Schraner Burgener said, “the answer was, ‘We have to learn to walk with only a few friends.’”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has urged a halt to violence and the start of talks on a peaceful solution in Myanmar.

The 10-member regional grouping, which includes Myanmar, is constrained from enacting serious measures by a tradition of acting by consensus and reluctance to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.

However, one member, Singapore, was outspoken on Friday in criticizing Myanmar’s coup.

“It is the height of national shame for the armed forces of any country to turn its arms against its own people,” its foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said in Parliament.

But he also warned that the approach favored by some Western nations, of pressuring Myanmar’s generals with sanctions, would not be effective. The U.S., Britain and several other countries have already started to use that approach.

“Despite all our fervor and earnest hopes of reconciliation … the keys ultimately lie within Myanmar. And there’s a limit to how far external pressure will be brought to bear,” he said.

Myanmar crackdown on protests, widely filmed, sparks outrage

Myanmar crackdown on protests, widely filmed, sparks outrage

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Anti-coup protesters with makeshift shields stand during a rally in Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Demonstrators in Myanmar took to the streets again on Wednesday to protest last month’s seizure of power by the military. (AP Photo) more >

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Associated Press

Thursday, March 4, 2021

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Footage of a brutal crackdown on protests against a coup in Myanmar unleashed outrage and calls for a stronger international response Thursday, a day after 38 people were killed. Videos showed security forces shooting a person at point-blank range and chasing down and savagely beating demonstrators.

Despite the shocking violence the day before, protesters returned to the streets Thursday to denounce the military’s Feb. 1 takeover — and were met again with tear gas.

The international response to the coup has so far been fitful, but a flood of videos shared online showing security forces brutally targeting protesters and other civilians led to calls for more action. The United States called the images appalling, the U.N. human rights chief said it was time to “end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar,” and the world body’s independent expert on human rights in the country urged the Security Council to watch the videos before meeting Friday to discuss the crisis.

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The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip in recent years, the international community lifted most sanctions and poured in investment.

U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, described Wednesday as “the bloodiest day” since the takeover, when the military ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. More than 50 civilians, mostly peaceful protesters, are confirmed to have been killed by police and soldiers since then, including the 38 she said died Wednesday.

“I saw today very disturbing video clips,” said Schraner Burgener, speaking to reporters at the U.N. in New York via video link from Switzerland. “One was police beating a volunteer medical crew. They were not armed. Another video clip showed a protester was taken away by police and they shot him from very near, maybe only one meter. He didn’t resist to his arrest, and it seems that he died on the street.”

She appeared to be referring to a video shared on social media that begins with a group of security forces following a civilian, who they seem to have just pulled out of a building. A shot rings out, and the person falls. After the person briefly raises their head, two of the troops drag the person down the street by the arms.

In other footage, about two dozen security forces, some with their firearms drawn, chase two people wearing the construction helmets donned by many protesters down a street. When they catch up to the people, they repeatedly beat them with rods and kick them. One of the officers is filming the scene on his cellphone.

In yet another video, several police officers repeatedly kick and hit a person with rods, while the person cowers on the ground, hands over their head. Officers move in and out of the frame, getting a few kicks in and then casually walking away.

While some countries have imposed or threatened to impose sanctions following the coup, others, including those neighboring Myanmar, have been more hesitant in their response. The sheer volume of violent images shared Wednesday, along with the high death toll, raised hopes that the dynamic could change.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday urged all of those with “information and influence” to hold military leaders to account.

“This is the moment to turn the tables towards justice and end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar,” she said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was “appalled” at the “horrific violence,” and the U.N.‘s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said the “systematic brutality of the military junta is once again on horrific display.”

“I urge members of the UN Security Council to view the photos/videos of the shocking violence being unleashed on peaceful protesters before meeting,” he said on Twitter.

The Security Council has scheduled closed-door consultations for Friday on calls to reverse the coup — including from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres — and stop the escalating crackdown.

But Justine Chambers, the associate director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, said that while the graphic images would no doubt lead to strong condemnations — action on Myanmar would be harder.

“Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much,” she said. “I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

Any kind of coordinated action at the U.N. will be difficult since two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, would almost certainly veto it. 

Even if the council did take action, U.N. envoy Schraner Burgener cautioned it might not make much of a difference. She said she warned Myanmar‘s army that the world’s nations and the Security Council “might take huge strong measures.”

“And the answer was, ‘We are used to sanctions and we survived those sanctions in the past,’” she said. When she also warned that Myanmar would become isolated, Schraner Burgener said, “the answer was, ‘We have to learn to walk with only a few friends.’”

Wednesday’s highest death toll was in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, where an estimated 18 people died. Video at a hospital in the city showed grieving relatives collecting the blood-soaked bodies of family members. Some relatives sobbed uncontrollably, while others looked in shock at the scene around them.

Protesters gathered again Thursday in Yangon. Police again used tear gas to try to disperse the crowds, while demonstrators again set up barriers across major roads.

Protests also continued in Mandalay, where three people were reported killed Wednesday. A formation of five fighter planes flew over the city on Thursday morning in what appeared to be a show of force.

Protesters in the city flashed the three-fingered salute that is a symbol of defiance as they rode their motorbikes to follow a funeral procession for Kyal Sin, also known by her Chinese name Deng Jia Xi, a university student who was shot dead as she attended a demonstration the day before.

As part of the crackdown, security forces have also arrested well over a thousand people, including journalists, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. On Saturday, at least eight journalists, including Thein Zaw of The Associated Press, were detained. He and several other members of the media have been charged with violating a public safety law that could see them imprisoned for up to three years.

Reports: Myanmar security forces shoot dead 8 protesters

Reports: Myanmar security forces shoot dead 8 protesters

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Anti-coup protesters run from tear gas and charging riot police and soldiers in Mandalay, Myanmar, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Demonstrators in Myanmar took to the streets again on Wednesday to protest last month’s seizure of power by the military. (AP … more >

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar security forces shot and killed at least eight people Wednesday, according to accounts on social media and local news reports, as authorities extended their lethal crackdown on protests against last month’s coup.

Videos from various locations showed security forces firing slingshots at demonstrators, chasing them down and even brutally beating an ambulance crew. 

Demonstrators have regularly flooded the streets of cities across the country since the military seized power on Feb. 1 and ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Their numbers have remained high even as security forces have repeatedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the crowds, and arrested protesters en masse. 

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The intensifying standoff is unfortunately familiar in the country with a long history of peaceful resistance to military rule — and brutal crackdowns. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian nation after five decades of military rule.

According to the U.N. Human Rights Office, security forces killed at least 18 protesters Sunday. On Wednesday, there were reports of eight more deaths in four different cities, including a 14-year-old boy.

Security forces have also arrested hundreds of people at protests, including journalists. On Saturday, at least eight journalists, including Thein Zaw of The Associated Press, were detained. A video shows he had moved out of the way as police charged down a street at protesters, but then was seized by police officers, who handcuffed him and held him briefly in a chokehold before marching him away.

He has been charged with violating a public safety law  that could see him imprisoned for up to three years.

The escalation of the crackdown has led to increased diplomatic efforts to resolve Myanmar‘s political crisis — but there appear to be few viable options.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to hold a closed meeting on the situation on Friday, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized the give the information before the official announcement. The United Kingdom requested the meeting, they said.

Still, any kind of coordinated action at the United Nations will be difficult since two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, would almost certainly veto it. Some countries have imposed or are considering imposing their own sanctions. 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, held a teleconference meeting of foreign ministers on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

But there, too, action is unlikely. The regional group of 10 nations has a tradition of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. A statement by the chair after the meeting merely called for an end to violence and for talks on how to reach a peaceful settlement.

Ignoring that appeal, Myanmar‘s security forces on Wednesday continued to attack peaceful protesters.

Details of the crackdowns and casualties are difficult to independently confirm, especially those occurring outside the bigger cities. But the accounts of most assaults have been consistent in social media and from local news outlets, and usually have videos and photos supporting them. It is also likely that many attacks in remote areas go unreported.

In Yangon, the country’s largest city, which has has seen some of the biggest protests, three people were killed, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news service. The deaths were also mentioned on Twitter, where some photos of bodies were posted.

In addition, a widely circulated video taken from a security camera showed police in the city brutally beating members of an ambulance crew — apparently after they were arrested. Police can be seen kicking the three crew members and thrashing them with rifle butts. 

Security forces are believed to single out medical workers for arrest and mistreatment because members of the medical profession launched the country’s civil disobedience movement to resist the junta.

In Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, two people were reportedly shot dead. Photos posted on social media showed a university student peacefully taking part in the protest, and later showed her apparently lifeless with a head wound. Accounts on social media said a man was also killed.

Riot police in the city, backed by soldiers, broke up a rally and chased around 1,000 teachers and students from a street with tear gas as gun shots could be heard. 

Video from The Associated Press showed a squad of police firing slingshots in the apparent direction of demonstrators as they dispersed. 

In the central city of Monywa, which has turned out huge crowds, three people were shot Wednesday, including one in the head, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported. Reports on social media said two died. 

In Myingyan, in the same central region, multiple social media posts reported the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy. Photos that posters said were of his body showed his head and chest soaked with blood as he was carried by fellow protesters. 

Live fire also was reported to have caused injuries in Magwe, also in central Myanmar; in the town of Hpakant in the northern state of Kachin; and in Pyinoolwin, a town in central Myanmar better known to many by its British colonial name, Maymyo. 

___

This story has been updated to correct that there has been a report of one death in Myingyan, not two.

UK urges UN resolution for pause in conflicts for virus jabs

UK urges UN resolution for pause in conflicts for virus jabs

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In this image made from UNTV video, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a U.N. Security Council high-level meeting on COVID-19 recovery focusing on vaccinations, chaired by British Foreign Secretary Dominc Raab, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, at UN … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Saturday, February 20, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Britain circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable people in conflict areas to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

The proposed resolution reiterates the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia. The appeal was first made by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

The draft “emphasizes the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy and invites donation of vaccine doses from developed economies to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility,” an ambitious World Health Organization project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.

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The British draft stresses that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines, certified as safe and efficacious, is essential to end the pandemic.”

It would recognize “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, follows up on British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s appeal to the 15-member Security Council on Wednesday to adopt a resolution calling for local cease-fires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

Britain says more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from coronavirus vaccinations because they live in countries engulfed in conflict and instability.

“Cease-fires have been used to vaccinate the most vulnerable communities in the past,” Raab said. “There’s no reason why we can’t… We have seen it in the past to deliver polio vaccines to children in Afghanistan, just to take one example.”

At Wednesday’s council meeting, Guterres sharply criticized the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, saying 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations and demanding a global effort to get all people in every nation vaccinated as soon as possible.

The U.N. chief told the high-level council meeting that 130 countries have not received a single dose of vaccine and declared that “at this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.”

The coronavirus has infected more than 109 million people and killed at least 2.4 million of them. As manufacturers struggle to ramp up production of vaccines, many countries complain of being left out and even rich nations are facing shortages and domestic complaints.

Guterres’ appeal for cease-fires last March to deliver COVID-19 medical items received some initial support, but the cease-fires were almost always short-lived.

While speed of developing vaccines has been impressive, COVAX has already missed its own goal of beginning coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time that shots were rolled out in rich countries late last year.

WHO says COVAX needs $5 billion in 2021.

The draft resolution calls for the COVID-19 vaccination plans of countries to include “those at a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and the most vulnerable, including frontline workers, older people, refugees, internally displaced people, stateless people, migrants, persons with disabilities, among others, as well as people living in areas under the control of any non-state armed group.”

The proposed measure calls for increased scientific collaboration on new variants of COVID-19.

It asks Guterres to report at least every 90 days on all impediments to the COVID-19 response, including vaccination programs, in countries where conflicts and humanitarian emergencies are occurring.

It’s not clear whether the resolution will be adopted.

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Barbara Woodward, said Wednesday that humanitarian organizations and U.N. agencies need the full backing of the council to be able to carry out their job.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, objected to the council focusing on equitable access to vaccines, saying this went beyond its mandate to preserve international peace and security. He indicated Moscow was not interested in a new resolution.

Biden withdraws Trump’s restoration of UN sanctions on Iran

Biden withdraws Trump’s restoration of UN sanctions on Iran

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In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with army’s air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Thursday, February 18, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The Biden administration on Thursday rescinded former president Donald Trump’s restoration of U.N. sanctions on Iran, an announcement that could help Washington move toward rejoining the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at reining in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council on behalf of President Joe Biden saying the United States “hereby withdraws” three letters from the Trump administration culminating in its Sept. 19 announcement that the United States had re-imposed U.N. sanctions on Tehran.

Mills said in the letter obtained by The Associated Press that sanctions measures terminated in the 2015 council resolution endorsing the nuclear deal with six major powers, but restored by Trump in September, “remain terminated.”

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Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, in 2018, accusing Iran of serious violations.

Biden has said the United States wants to rejoin the pact and the State Department said Thursday the U.S. would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of the participants in the original agreement — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran.

The Trump administration’s decision to invoke a provision in the 2015 council resolution allowing the “snapback” of sanctions because Iran was in “significant non-performance” with its obligations under the accord was ignored by the rest of the Security Council and the world.

The overwhelming majority of members in the 15-nation council called Trump’s action illegal, because the U.S. was no longer a member of the JCPOA.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations would not support re-imposing sanctions on Iran as the United States was demanding until he got a green light from the Security Council. He said there was “uncertainty” on whether or not former secretary of state Mike Pompeo had triggered the “snapback” mechanism

UN chief urges global plan to reverse unfair vaccine access

UN chief urges global plan to reverse unfair vaccine access

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In this image made from UNTV video, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a U.N. Security Council high-level meeting on COVID-19 recovery focusing on vaccinations, chaired by British Foreign Secretary Dominc Raab, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, at UN … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sharply criticized the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, saying 10 countries have administered 75 percent of all vaccinations and demanding a global effort to get all people in every nation vaccinated as soon as possible.

The U.N. chief told a high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council that 130 countries have not received a single dose of vaccine and declared that “at this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.”

Guterres called for an urgent Global Vaccination Plan to bring together those with the power to ensure equitable vaccine distribution — scientists, vaccine producers and those who can fund the effort.

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And he called on the world’s major economic powers in the Group of 20 to establish an emergency task force to establish a plan and coordinate its implementation and financing. He said the task force should have the capacity “to mobilize the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors.”

Guterres said Friday’s meeting of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations — the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, France, Canada and Italy — “can create the momentum to mobilize the necessary financial resources.”

Thirteen ministers addressed the virtual council meeting organized by Britain on improving access to COVID-19 vaccinations, including in conflict areas.

The coronavirus has infected more than 109 million people and killed at least 2.4 million of them. As manufacturers struggle to ramp up production of vaccines, many countries complain of being left out and even rich nations are facing shortages and domestic complaints.

The World Health Organization’s COVAX program, an ambitious project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people, has already missed its own goal of beginning coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time that shots were rolled out in rich countries. WHO says COVAX needs $5 billion in 2021.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the council the Biden administration “will work with our partners across the globe to expand manufacturing and distribution capacity and to increase access, including to marginalized populations.”

President Joe Biden has rejoined the WHO and Blinken announced that by the end of February the United States will pay over $200 million in previously assessed and current obligations to the U.N. agency, which Washington will seek to reform.

America’s top diplomat said the U.S. also plans to provide “significant financial support” to COVAX through the GAVI vaccine alliance, and will work to strengthen other multilateral initiatives involved in the global COVID-19 response. He gave no details.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized the growing “immunity divide” and called on the world to “come together to reject `vaccine nationalism,’ promote fair and equitable distribution of vaccines, and, in particular, make them accessible and affordable for developing countries, including those in conflict.”

At WHO’s request, he said, China will contribute 10 million doses of vaccines to COVAX “preliminarily.”

China has donated vaccines to 53 developing countries including Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan and Palestine, which is a U.N. observer state. It has also exported vaccines to 22 countries, he said, adding that Beijing has launched research and development cooperation on COVID-19 with more than 10 countries.

India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also called for a halt to “vaccine nationalism” and encouragement for internationalism. “Hoarding superfluous doses will defeat our efforts towards attaining collective health security,” he warned.

Jaishankar said India has been at the forefront of the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, initially providing medicine, ventilators and personal protective equipment and now directly sending made-in-India vaccines to 25 nations across the world, with 49 additional countries from Europe and Latin America to Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands slated to receive vaccines “in the coming days.”

Two vaccines, including one developed in India, have been granted emergency authorization, the minister said, and as many as 30 vaccine candidates are in various stages of development.

Jaishankar announced “a gift of 200,000 doses” of vaccine for about 90,000 U.N. peacekeepers serving in a dozen hotspots around the world.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, whose country is currently president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, called for speeding up COVAX and stopping the ”undue hoarding” and “monopolization of vaccines.”

He urged that priority be given to countries with limited resources, saying “it’s been pointed out that these countries won’t have generalized access until the middle of 2023 if current trends persist.”

“What we are seeing is a huge gap,” Ebrard said. “In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever seen such a huge division affecting so many in such a short space of time. That is why it’s important to reverse this.”

He urged the international community not to establish mechanisms that could prevent the speedy delivery of vaccines but instead to strengthen supply chains “that will promote and guarantee universal access.”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, whose country holds the Security Council presidency this month and presided at the virtual meeting, urged the U.N.’s most powerful body to adopt a resolution calling for local cease-fires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Cease-fires have been used to vaccinate the most vulnerable communities in the past,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t… We have seen it in the past to deliver polio vaccines to children in Afghanistan, just to take one example.”

Britain says more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from coronavirus vaccinations because they live in countries engulfed in conflict and instability, including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Barbara Woodward said: “Humanitarian organizations and U.N. agencies need the full backing of the council to be able to carry out the job we are asking them to do.”

Britain has drafted a Security Council resolution that the U.K. hopes will be adopted in the coming weeks, she said.

Russia clashes with US and West over conflict in Ukraine

Russia clashes with US and West over conflict in Ukraine

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In this photo provided by the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation and President of the Security Council for the month of October, briefs reporters on the work of the Security Council for the month, at … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Thursday, February 11, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Russia clashed with the United States and its Western allies Thursday over the nearly seven-year conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the U.N. warned that the current fragile cease-fire risks being reversed if peace negotiations become deadlocked.

Russia called the Security Council meeting to mark Friday’s sixth anniversary of the signing of the Minsk peace plan brokered by France and Germany. It aimed to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists that flared in April 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for the separatists in the mostly Russian-speaking industrial east called Donbass.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Ukraine of failing to implement the 2015 Minsk agreement saying: “Over those six years, we still haven’t gotten an answer to two very important questions: How exactly does Ukraine intend to peacefully resolve the conflict, and how does Kiev envisage special status of Donbass within Ukraine?”

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“The answers to those questions will entirely determine any prospects for a settlement because after the beginning in 2014 of Kiev’s use of force and the ongoing shellings of residential areas by the Ukrainian army, which continue to this day, the people of Donbass have not felt any connection with Ukraine,” he said.

The United States and European allies France, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Norway, Belgium and the United Kingdom blamed Russia for fueling the conflict, which has killed more than 14,000 people, by providing financial and military support to the separatists.

U.S. political coordinator Rodney Hunter, speaking on behalf of the Biden administration, said Russia instigated the conflict in Donbass and “has blocked meaningful progress in diplomatic negotiations while arming, training, funding, and leading its proxy forces and supporting the self-proclaimed `authorities’ on the ground.”

“The United States reaffirms its unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, accusing Russia of escalating “its oppression of any dissent to its brutal occupation of Crimea.”

“We will never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea,” Hunter said. “As a result, U.S. sanctions on Russia in response to its aggression in eastern Ukraine and occupation of Crimea will remain in place unless — and until — Russia reverses course.”

The Minsk agreements envisage that Ukraine can regain control over its border with Russia in the separatist-held regions only after they are granted broad self-rule and hold local elections.

The accord helped reduce the scope of hostilities, but Ukrainian forces continued to exchange artillery salvos and gunfire.

While the July 2020 cease-fire “has largely held up,” U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo said there has been an increase in security incidents in several hotspots in recent months.

“This dangerous trend needs to be quickly reversed,” she said.

The cease-fire deal was reached by members of the Tripartite Contact Group that includes representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe known as the OSCE. It followed a meeting in Paris in December 2019 of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany — the so-called Normandy group — who expressed support for the Minsk deal and agreed to revive the peace process.

DiCarlo told the council that continuing discussions in these groups are “no reason for complacency” and no substitute “for meaningful progress.”

“The risk of backsliding is real if negotiations become deadlocked,” she warned.

Russia’s Nebenzia said the Minsk agreement didn’t say anything about direct dialogue with the two separatist governments of Donetsk and Luhansk in Donbass, or about agreeing on any special status for the region.

“Instead of that, fantasies about establishing some sort of international administration and holding elections only two years after that are in the document,” he said. “Do you really think the people of Donbass will really agree to this international form of occupation?”

In response, a statement from the seven European countries strongly condemned “the continued destabilization of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions” and again called on Russia “to immediately stop fueling the conflict“ by supporting the separatists.

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen went further, telling the Security Council how Russia violated key paragraphs in the Minsk agreements — including the initial 2015 cease-fire, failing to withdraw heavy weapons and foreign forces, and blocking free access for OSCE monitors to observe areas of the Russian-Ukrainian border not controlled by the Ukrainian government.

“Until today, there are Russian forces in eastern Ukraine,” Heusgen said. “They may not have the official stamp of the Russian army, but the Russians continue to be there, and without Russia, Luhansk and Donetsk could not survive.”

Halit Cevik, chief monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, saw “a window of opportunity for the sides to find a way towards lasting de-escalation, but we also see that it is narrowing.”

Cevik said the July 2020 cease-fire led to “the longest-lasting reduction in violence” since the mission began recording cease-fire violations. But he said, “adherence has frayed over time.”

UN: Bring home kids from Syria with possible extremist links

UN: Bring home kids from Syria with possible extremist links

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. counter-terrorism chief on Wednesday urged the repatriation of tens of thousands of women and children suspected of links to the Islamic State extremist group, warning that many are being radicalized in deteriorating detention camps in Syria and Iraq.

Vladimir Voronkov told the U.N. Security Council that nearly two years after the defeat of the militant extremists on the ground “some 27,500 foreign children are still in harms way” in camps in northeastern Syria, including about 8,000 from some 60 countries other than Iraq. He said 90% of them are under age 12.

Tragically, Voronkov said, the international community has made “hardly any progress” in addressing the issue of these children and women even though the “challenges and risks are growing more serious with neglect, and could have a long-term impact not just in the region but globally.”

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His call for action was echoed by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, an acting U.S. deputy ambassador who spoke on behalf of President Joe Biden’s new administration. He said Biden is committed to working with the international coalition that the U.S. established in 2014 to rout the Islamic State group from Iraq and Syria, “to ensure this terrorist group is defeated on a lasting and comprehensive basis.”

“We watch with concern as women and children languish in camps in dire conditions with little access to education, increasing the potential for their radicalization,” DeLaurentis said.

He warned that the global threat from Islamic State extremists “will grow if the international community does not repatriate their citizens.”

Voronkov said that “the already dire humanitarian and security situation in the detention facilities and displacement camps is deteriorating even further, especially in Al-Hol camp” in northeastern Syria.

“The most basic of human rights are undermined,” he said. “Many instances of terrorist radicalization, fund-raising training and incitement have been reported.”

According to a report last week from U.N. experts monitoring sanctions against the Islamic State group, there are approximately 65,000 residents in Al-Hol, vastly more than its intended capacity, but the number of guards fell from 1,500 in mid-2019 to 400 in late 2020.

The panel of experts said some 10,000 foreign women and children are in an Al-Hol annex, where some minors “are reportedly being indoctrinated and prepared to become future … operatives” for the Islamic State group.

At another camp in northeastern Syria called Roj, where the conditions are more comfortable but security is “more intrusive and effective,” the panel said the cost of being smuggled out “to a safe destination has been reported at approximately $14,000 compared with between $2,500 and $3,000 from Hol.”

Voronkov told the Security Council that in October the Islamic State group reiterated “that orchestrating jailbreaks and assisting escapees was a priority.”

He commended Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan for bringing home hundreds of children from Syria. He urged other countries, especially in Europe, that have carried out fewer repatriations, to “actively step up their efforts.”

Voronkov also warned that some 10,000 Islamic State fighters, “including foreign terrorist fighters in the low thousands, remain active in the region, the majority of them in Iraq, pursuing a protracted insurgency.”

The panel of experts said an unidentified country estimated in November that there were approximately 11,000 male IS fighters detained in northeastern Syria, including 1,700 from foreign countries, 1,600 Iraqis, 5,000 Syrians and 2,500 “of unknown nationality.” They said 100 male minors were held at the Houri camp.

UN experts say North Korea still modernizing nuclear arsenal

UN experts say North Korea still modernizing nuclear arsenal

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends at a meeting of Central Committee of Worker’s Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korean, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Independent journalists were not given … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, February 8, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. experts say North Korea has modernized its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals by flaunting United Nations sanctions and continues to seek material and technology overseas for use in these programs.

The panel of experts monitoring sanctions on the reclusive northeast Asian nation said in a report sent to Security Council members Monday that Kim Jong Un’s government has also produced fissile material — an essential ingredient for producing nuclear weapons — and maintained its nuclear facilities.

“It displayed new short-range, medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at military parades,“ the experts said. “It announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile warheads and, development of tactical nuclear weapons … and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure.“

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The Security Council has imposed increasingly tough sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name, since its first nuclear test explosion in 2006. It has banned most of the country’s exports and severely limited its imports, trying to pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

But the report’s summary, obtained by The Associated Press, makes clear North Korea remains able to evade sanctions while developing its nuclear and missile programs, illicitly import refined petroleum, access international banking channels, and carry out “malicious cyber activities.”

The arsenal of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un emerged as a major threat to the United States and its Asian allies following tests in 2017 that included a detonation of a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight tests of ICBMs that demonstrated the potential to reach American territory.

A year later, Kim initiated diplomacy with South Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump, but it derailed in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a piecemeal deal partially surrendering its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Last year, North Korea’s already battered economy decayed further amid the COVID-19 pandemic which led Kim to close the country’s borders. That severely limited the legal and illegal transfer of goods and movement of people, according to the experts.

Now, Kim must start all over again with President Joe Biden, who previously called him a “thug” and criticized Trump for summit spectacles instead of significant nuclear reductions.

In August 2019, the panel said, North Korean cyber experts illegally raised money for the country’s weapons of mass destruction programs “with total proceeds to date estimated at up to $2 billion.”

The panel said it investigated “malicious cyber activities” by North Korea’s primary intelligence agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is on the U.N. sanctions blacklist. It said those actions included “the targeting of virtual assets and virtual asset service providers, and attacks on defense companies.“

The experts said they also investigated attempted violations of the U.N. arms embargo, including illegal actions of blacklisted companies. They cited the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, alleged military cooperation by North Korea, and the use of the country’s overseas diplomatic missions for commercial purposes.

The panel said it also investigated “the country’s continued illicit import of refined petroleum, via direct deliveries and ship-to-ship transfers, using elaborate subterfuge.“

It cited images, data and calculations from an unidentified country showing that between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 last year North Korea received shipments of refined petroleum products exceeding the annual ceiling of 500,000 barrels set by the Security Council “by several times.”

U.N. sanctions ban North Korean coal exports, and the panel said shipments of coal appear to have been largely suspended since late July 2020.

It said that last year, North Korea continued to transfer fishing rights in violation of sanctions, which earned the country $120 million in 2018, according to an unnamed member state.

Under a 2017 sanctions resolution, all North Korean nationals working overseas were to be repatriated by Dec. 22, 2019. The experts said they investigated North Korean workers earning income in sub-Saharan Africa as well as information technology workers dispatched by the Munitions Industry Department.

UN kicks off selection of next secretary-general

UN kicks off selection of next secretary-general

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech during a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Saturday, February 6, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United Nations kicked off the selection of its next secretary-general on Friday, asking the 193 U.N. member states to submit candidates to be the world organization’s chief diplomat and operating officer.

The process officially began with a joint letter signed virtually by General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir and Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, this month’s president of the Security Council opening the nomination of candidates.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, whose current term expires on Dec. 31, announced last month that he is seeking a second five-year term.

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Honduras’ U.N. Ambassador Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake also sent a letter to all U.N. member nations saying there has never been a female secretary-general and asking them to “present women candidates.”

“I am writing this communication from a place of conviction, where standing for equal rights makes a difference in creating a fair and equitable organization, and opening opportunities for women all over the world,” Flores Flake said.

A 2015 General Assembly resolution, which was adopted by consensus, changed the previously largely secretive selection of the secretary-general to a more open and transparent process. It allowed the world body’s member states for the first time to see basic information about all candidates, including their resumes, and to meet and question them at open sessions.

Just before Christmas, a group of 25 nations from all regions called the Accountability Coherence and Transparency group wrote to the General Assembly and Security Council urging that the selection process for the next secretary-general meets “at a minimum” the 2015 standards of transparency and involvement of the 193 U.N. member nations.

Guterres’ election was a disappointment to women, who had hoped to break the all-male hold on the post, and to East Europeans who have never had a secretary-general from the region. It was supposed to be next in the informal geographical rotation for U.N. chief when Guterres, a Portuguese, was elected.

The General Assembly elects the secretary-general on the recommendation of the 15-member Security Council where the five permanent members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — have veto power, so their support is crucial.

In the 2016 race, there were 13 candidates vying to be secretary-general, seven women and six men, and the General Assembly held open interviews for each of them, where ambassadors from all countries could ask questions. Six straw polls were held in the Security Council between July and October, and Guterres led in all of them.

The current election is the first under the 2015 resolution where an incumbent is seeking reelection. Whether any candidates are put forward to challenge him remains to be seen.

In their joint letter, Woodward and Bozkir said “the position of the secretary-general is one of great importance that requires the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, and a firm commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” It stressed that candidates should have “proven leadership and managerial abilities, extensive experience in international relations, and strong diplomatic, communication and multilingual skills.”

The letter states that Guterres “indicated his readiness to meet the expectations of the membership regarding transparency and inclusivity with the submission of a vision statement and participation in an informal dialogue with member states.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already endorsed Guterres for a second term.

Woodward and Bozkir said informal dialogues with candidates will take place before the Security Council begins the selection process by May or June.

Woodward tweeted that the Security Council and General Assembly presidents have worked “kick-starting the process of selecting and appointing the U.N. secretary-general.”

“We look forward to contributing to an open process over the coming months,” Woodward said.

UN chief: UN will seek to unite world, reverse Myanmar coup

UN chief: UN will seek to unite world, reverse Myanmar coup

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Supporters give roses to police while four arrested activists make a court appearance in Mandalay, Myanmar, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Hundreds of students and teachers have taken to Myanmar’s streets to demand the military hand power back to elected politicians, … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Friday, February 5, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged Friday that the United Nations will do everything it can to unite the international community and create conditions for the military coup in Myanmar to be reversed.

The U.N. chief told a news conference it is “absolutely essential” to carry out the Security Council’s calls for a return to democracy, respect for the results of the November parliamentary elections, and release of all people detained by the military, “which means the reversal of the coup that took place.”

“It is absolutely essential that that moves forward, and for that, I believe, we need to have all possible areas of pressure to make it happen,” Guterres said.

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Myanmar’s military announced Monday on the eve of the meeting of new Parliament that it will take power for one year, accusing leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s government of not investigating allegations of voter fraud in the November elections, where its party did poorly. It detained Suu Kyi, whose party swept that vote, and other lawmakers, activists, journalists and members of civil society. The election commission had refuted the military’s allegations.

In its first statement following the military’s takeover on Thursday, the Security Council “stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.” It also “emphasized the need for the continued support of the democratic transition in Myanmar.”

Guterres said Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, had a first contact Friday with the military since the coup and expressed the U.N.’s strong opposition to the takeover.

According to U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, she reiterated to Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice Gen. Soe Win “the secretary-general’s strong condemnation of the military’s action that disrupted the democratic reforms that were taking place in the country.”

Schraner Burgener also reiterated her call for the immediate release of all detainees and emphasized the need for progress on the safe and voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya refugees, Dujarric said, calling it “an important conversation.”

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh since August 2017, when the military launched a clearance operation in response to attacks by a rebel group. The security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of homes. A year ago, the U.N.’s top court, the International Court of Justice, ordered Myanmar to do all it can to prevent genocide against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority.

Guterres said Schraner Burgener is also in contact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Brunei, which chairs the 10-nation regional group, including Myanmar, issued a statement Monday noting the bloc’s principles include “the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The statement encouraged “the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar,” but it made no mention of any action by ASEAN to take the lead in returning Myanmar to a democratic path.

On Friday, the leaders of Malaysia and Indonesia expressed concern about the coup and asked ASEAN foreign ministers to hold a special meeting to discuss the issue.

“Indonesia and Malaysia take the political situation in Myanmar seriously,” Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said after meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Jakarta. “This is a step backwards in Myanmar’s democratic transition. We fear the political unrest in Myanmar could disturb the security and stability in this region.”

Widodo also said both countries remain concerned about the Rohingya issue, saying all ASEAN members must respect the organization’s charter “particularly rule of law, good governance, democracy, human rights, and constitutional government.”

ASEAN’s members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Guterres said the U.N. is also in contact with the 15-member Security Council, which is in charge of international peace and security.

“We will do everything we can to make the international community united in making sure that conditions are created for this coup to be reversed,” the secretary-general said.

___

Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

UN divided on timing to end UN-AU peacekeeping in Darfur

UN divided on timing to end UN-AU peacekeeping in Darfur

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. Security Council members have affirmed their commitment to end the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan’s western Darfur region, but were divided on the timing, with Russia and African nations calling for a Dec. 31 termination and several Western nations urging more time before an exit.

The council is under pressure to decide because the mandate of the joint mission, known as UNAMID, runs out on Dec. 31.

In June, the council voted unanimously to move toward ending UNAMID, which has well over 6,000 military and police personnel and more than 1,500 civilian staffers, and replacing it with a much smaller U.N. civilian mission. But the council did not set a date for UNAMID’s end and the official start of the new political mission, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, known as UNITAMS.

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Sudan is at a critical juncture,” U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the council’s virtual meeting on Tuesday. “It can move forward decisively in its transition, but that process can still be derailed by the many challenges it faces.”

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing them on civilian populations – a charge it denies.

In recent years, as the result of a successful government military campaign, the rebellion has been reduced to a rebel Sudan Liberation Army faction headed by Abdul Wahid Elnur in Jebel Marra.

DiCarlo and all council members welcomed the peace agreement signed by Sudan’s transitional government and rebel groups on Oct. 3. But she pointed to Sudan’s “dire economic situation,” exacerbated by a five-month shutdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as rising humanitarian needs driven in part by severe flooding and intercommunal violence.

The Sudanese government has been pressing for UNAMID to end on Dec. 31, and Russia’s deputy ambassador Anna Evstigneeva backed the end-of-year termination, as did Niger’s U.N. ambassador, Abdou Abarry, speaking on behalf of South Africa, Tunisia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“The situation on the ground and arrangements set up by the transitional government to provide stability and protection of persons and property in Darfur are conducive for UNAMID to begin its withdrawal process and to hand over control to UNITAMS as of Dec. 31,” Abarry said.

DiCarlo said Sudan’s transitional government has underscored that UNITAMS should have “a light footprint.” In response, she said, the mission will focus on assisting the political transition, supporting peace processes, assisting peacebuilding, protecting civilians and the rule of law, and supporting Sudanese efforts to mobilize economic, development and humanitarian assistance.

DiCarlo said the U.N. goal is for UNITAMS and the U.N. civilian country team to begin delivering on those objectives by Jan. 1.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix noted “recent positive indications” by rebel leader Abdul Wahid “for a potential involvement in the peace process.”

He said Sudan’s transitional government is resolved to take responsibility for protecting civilians – a key role of UNAMID’s peacekeepers – but questioned who would protect civilians during a transition.

Lacroix said the AU, U.N. and the government have recommended the termination of UNAMID on Dec. 31 “followed by a six-month drawdown and liquidation thereafter.”

U.N. logistics chief Atul Khare warned the council that closing down one of the largest U.N. operations “would be a major undertaking,” explaining that the mission’s personnel are spread out at a base in El Fasher, mission headquarters in Zallingei, 13 team sites, as well as in Khartoum and Port Sudan.

In addition to equipment deployed with the 22 military and police contingents, Khare said the mission has more than 10,000 “assets plus inventory.” The drawdown will take no less than six months, he said, followed by a 9 to 12 month period “of asset disposal and liquidation” that will require “full cooperation” of the government.

Germany’s U.N. ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, echoed DiCarlo, warning that Sudan is at “a critical juncture” and “the transition process could still derail.”

He pointed to the floods, a poor harvest, COVID-19, reports of internal fights over control of gold mines, attacks against government forces, and low representation of women in transitional bodies.

Heusgen urged the council to look at its obligations in deciding on the drawdown and how to cooperate with the government “in the most effective way possible in order to cope with all the challenges we face.”

Jose Singer, the Dominican Republic’s U.N. ambassador, said he was reminded of what happened in neighboring Haiti after “the premature withdrawal” of U.N. peacekeepers, a reference to the ongoing insecurity in the country.

Britain’s new U.N. ambassador, Barbara Woodward, called on the U.N., working with Sudan’s government, “to ensure that the transition from UNAMID to UNITAMS is responsible, sequenced and sustainable.”

Estonia’s U.N. ambassador, Sven Jurgenson, said “Estonia is supporting a responsible withdrawal which is not politicized, but based on the needs on the ground.”

“Rushing the withdrawal risks losing the significant gains made by UNAMID over the years,” he said.

UN urges Iran to address nuclear, ballistic missile concerns

UN urges Iran to address nuclear, ballistic missile concerns

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging Iran to address concerns raised about its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and return to “full implementation” of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

The U.N. chief expressed regret in a report to the Security Council obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press that the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Tehran, and at Iran’s 2019 decision to violate limits in the deal including on centrifuges and enriching uranium.

Guterres said in the report on implementation of a council resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear agreement that for the last five years the nuclear deal “has been largely viewed by the international community as a testament to the efficacy of multilateralism, diplomacy and dialogue, and a success in nuclear nonproliferation.”

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But President Donald Trump has waged war on the nuclear agreement, denouncing it during the 2016 campaign as the worst deal ever negotiated, and he has kept up opposition in the years since the U.S. pullout in 2018.

The Trump administration maintains the agreement – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA – is fatally flawed because certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity gradually expire and will allow the country to eventually develop atomic weapons. In August, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally notified the U.N. that it was invoking a provision of the 2015 deal to restore U.N. sanctions, citing significant Iranian violations and declaring: “The United States will never allow the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism to freely buy and sell planes, tanks, missiles and other kinds of conventional weapons … (or) to have a nuclear weapon.”

But the remaining parties to the JCPOA — Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — as well as the overwhelming majority of the Security Council called the U.S. action illegal because the U.S. had withdrawn from the treaty. The council and the secretary-general both said there would be no action on the U.S. demands — which meant there would be no U.N. demand for countries to re-impose U.N. sanctions on Iran.

Nonetheless, concerns by the U.S. as well as the European parties to the JCPOA have increased, especially with Iran continuing to violate the deal’s limits. Iran has openly announced all its violations of the nuclear deal in advance and said they are reversible.

The deal promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for the curbs on its nuclear program. Since the U.S. withdrawal and its imposition of new sanctions, Tehran has tried to put pressure on the remaining parties using the violations to come up with new ways to offset the economy-crippling actions by Washington.

Secretary-General Guterres recounted the U.S. actions and Security Council response in the report and stressed again “the importance of initiatives in support of trade and economic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially during the current economic and health challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As for implementation of the 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing the JCPOA, the secretary-general said he focused on restrictions on nuclear, ballistic missile, and arms-related transfers to or from Iran.

He said Israel provided information about the presence of four alleged Iranian Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missiles in Libya in June. On the basis of photographic evidence, he said, one missile “had characteristics consistent with the Iranian-produced Dehlavieh” but the U.N. Secretariat has been unable to determine if it had been transferred to Libya in violation of the resolution.

On Australia’s June 2019 arms seizure, Guterres said analysis of high-definition images of some material determined that “the 7.62 mm ammunition in this seizure were not of Iranian manufacture.”

The secretary-general said the U.N. received information that an unnamed “entity” on the sanctions blacklist took actions “inconsistent” with its frozen assets and actions to ship “valves, electronics, and measuring equipment suitable for use in ground testing of liquid propellant ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles” to Iran. He said the U.N. Secretariat is seeking further information.

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report on Dec. 22.

China denies weakening sanctions enforcement on North Korea

China denies weakening sanctions enforcement on North Korea

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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China on Wednesday rejected U.S. accusations it is weakening its enforcement of U.N. sanctions against North Korea, but said more efforts are needed toward reaching a political settlement and greater attention should be paid to the impact of the sanctions on ordinary North Koreans.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was responding to comments by the State Department’s deputy envoy for North Korean affairs, Alex Wong, in which he said China was no longer even attempting to enforce many of the sanctions, including a requirement to expel North Korean contract workers.

“The Chinese government increasingly allows its companies to conduct trade with North Korea in a broad spectrum of U.N.-prohibited goods,” Wong said at a seminar in Washington on Tuesday. Chinese and North Korean-flagged ships also regularly transport coal, a key North Korean export covered by sanctions, Wong said.

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Hua told reporters at a daily briefing that, as a permanent member of the Security Council and “a responsible big power, China has always earnestly implemented Security Council resolutions and fulfilled its international obligations.”

“Under the current situation, all parties should spend more time and energy to promote the political settlement process of the peninsula issue and pay more attention to the negative impact of sanctions on the (North Korean) population and their livelihood,” Hua said.

“With the continuing spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, we once again call on the Security Council to initiate discussions on the reversible clause of the resolution as soon as possible and make the necessary adjustments to the sanctions, especially in the area of people’s livelihoods, to create conditions for a political resolution on the peninsula,” Hua said.

China is North Korea’s most important ally and source of trade and aid but agreed to U.N. sanctions after North Korea conducted nuclear and missile tests in defiance of Beijing, threatening stability in Northeast Asia and even a possible war with the U.S.

China has strongly objected to unilateral U.S. sanctions on North Korea.

The sanctions have hit North Korea’s economy hard, creating even more hardship for citizens outside of major cities. However, leader Kim Jong Un’s government has so far shown no sign of making the sort of major nuclear concessions demanded by the U.S. for an easing of the measures.

Easing or removing sanctions would give North Korea less, not more, incentive to seriously pursue denuclearization, Wong said in his talk.

“Chinese leaders are asking us to build the frame of a house, even furnish it, without laying the foundation first,” Wong said.

UN chief vows to do utmost to keep Western Sahara cease-fire

UN chief vows to do utmost to keep Western Sahara cease-fire

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FILE – In this May 20 2008 file photo, pro-independence Polisario Front rebel soldiers prepare tea in the Western Sahara region of Tifariti. The Moroccan military has intervened in a U.N.-patrolled border zone in the disputed Western Sahara to clear … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Friday, November 13, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ramped up efforts Friday to try to get Morocco and pro-independence supporters in disputed Western Sahara to step back from a renewed flare up of fighting, warning that the clashes could rupture a nearly 30-year cease-fire and have “grave consequences.”

In recent days, Guterres and other U.N. officials have been working the phones and been involved in “multiple initiatives to avoid an escalation” — so far unsuccessfully, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

But “the secretary-general remains committed to doing his utmost to avoid the collapse of the cease-fire that has been in place since Sept. 6, 1991 and he is determined to do everything possible to remove all obstacles to the resumption of the peace process,” Dujarric said.

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The Moroccan military launched an operation in the U.N.-patrolled Guerguerat border zone to clear a key road it said had been blockaded for weeks by supporters of the pro-independence Polisario Front.

A Polisario envoy accused the Moroccan military of firing at innocent protesters and said that led to clashes Friday between Moroccan and Polisario forces. The envoy urged the United Nations to intervene.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony believed to have considerable offshore oil deposits and mineral resources, in 1975. The Polisario Front fought for independence and the U.N. brokered the 1991 cease-fire and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor the truce and help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future. It has never taken place.

Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for Western Sahara. But the Polisario Front insists the local population, which it estimates at 350,000 to 500,000, has the right to a referendum.

Dujarric said the United Nations has been “expressing our concern about the situation in Guerguerat for quite some time.”

“We have seen over the last few weeks violations from both sides,” he replied when asked who was responsible for the latest fighting. “We have condemned, and we condemn all violations of the cease-fire.”

Dujarric said a special civilian-military team from the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MINURSO, has been on the ground in the Guerguerat area “since the beginning of the crisis, and we’ve had military observers there also remain overnight.”

Friday’s action came after the Polisario Front reportedly suggested earlier this week it would reconsider its engagement in the U.N.-led political process on Western Sahara‘s future, threatening to withdraw from the cease-fire if any Moroccan civilian or military personnel entered the buffer zone.

Moroccan forces set up a security cordon overnight in the Guerguerat buffer zone on Western Sahara’s southern border with Mauritania “in order to secure the flow of goods and people through this axis,” the General Staff of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces said in a statement Friday.

It said they intervened because about 60 people supervised by Polisario were blocking a road connecting Morocco with Mauritania, and called it a “non-offensive operation” that would involve use of arms “only in the case of self-defense.” The Moroccan Foreign Ministry said the road has been blocked for more than three weeks.

The Polisario’s ambassador to Algeria, Abdelkader Omar, said Moroccan forces “opened fire on innocent civilian protesters” and Polisario fighters came to the protesters’ defense, prompting “intense clashes” Friday.

Speaking on Algerian television network El Bilad, Omar said, “It’s the U.N.’s duty to intervene urgently to stop this aggression against the Sahrawi people.”

Polisario chief Ibrahim Ghali sent an urgent letter to the U.N. secretary general and U.N. Security Council about the intervention.

The letter to Guterres, obtained by The Associated Press, accused Moroccan forces of launching “a brutal attack on unarmed Sahrawi civilians who have been demonstrating peacefully in Guerguerat.”

Ghali called it “an act of aggression and a flagrant violation of the cease-fire” that the U.N. Security Council should condemn in the strongest terms.

He told Guterres the timing of Morocco’s action — on the eve of an “engagement” between the U.N. chief and the Polisario — “demonstrates clearly that the action is a premeditated act of aggression … to torpedo your efforts to diffuse tensions and de-escalate the situation in Guerguerat.”

By launching the military operation, Ghali said, Morocco has “seriously undermined” not only the cease-fire “but also any chances of achieving a peaceful and lasting solution to the decolonization question of Western Sahara.”

Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman, said he hadn’t seen the letter but confirmed the secretary-general “has been making calls to the different parties, and his people on the ground have been involved.”

Guterres has not had a personal envoy in Western Sahara since former German president Horst Köhler left the post in May 2019 for health reasons.

Dujarric said the secretary-general shared widespread “frustration” that a successor — who requires approval from Morocco, the Polisario and the Security Council — has not be appointed after 18 months, stressing that “it’s not been for a lack of trying.”

UN: After 20 years, no equality for women in peace talks

UN: After 20 years, no equality for women in peace talks

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In this photo provided by the United Nations, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, speaks in the U.N. General Assembly Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in New York. (Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo via AP) more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Thursday, October 29, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The head of the U.N. agency promoting gender equality told the 20th anniversary commemoration of a resolution demanding equal participation for women in peace negotiations that its implementation has failed, declaring Thursday that women still remain “systematically excluded” from talks to end conflicts where men make decisions affecting their lives.

Despite some good initiatives, UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told the Security Council that in peace negotiations from 1992 to 2019 only 13 percent of negotiators, 6 percent of mediators, and 6 percent of signatories to peace agreements were women.

She said negotiations elevated and empowered “the actors that have fueled the violence,” instead of empowering women and others who are peace-builders – and women were either confined to “informal processes or relegated to the role of spectators.”

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Germany’s Foreign Office Minister of State Michelle Muntefering called the U.N. resolution adopted on Oct. 31, 2000 “a little revolution” because a united Security Council made clear for the first time that women’s equal participation “is required to maintain world peace and security.” It also affirmed that gender equality is also about security and conflict prevention, and that sexual and gender-based violence in war is a crime that must be punished and abolished, she said.

But Muntefering said: “20 years and nine hard-won Security Council resolutions later… women are still excluded from peace processes, their rights and interests continue to be ignored when building post-conflict societies.”

She was blunt in pointing at who Is responsible: “As a global community, we have not lived up to our commitment.”

Too often, the German minister said, sexual and gender-based violence in conflicts remains unpunished and “even worse, in the past years we have seen a global push-back on women’s rights.” And she expressed doubt that the principles in the resolution on women, peace and security adopted in 2000 would be approved today.

“Let me be clear,” Muntefering said. “We have a joint responsibility to implement what we have agreed upon, And that is: without watering down any of the commitments we have signed up to.”

Last year, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging all countries to implement the provisions of all previous resolutions on women, peace and security “by ensuring and promoting the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all stages of peace processes.”

This year, Russia which currently holds the council presidency, has called a vote on a draft resolution which some diplomats say weakens the previous resolutions, especially on issues of human rights and the participation of civil society organizations which have been key in promoting gender equality and participation.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because email voting is taking place. The result is expected to be announced on Friday afternoon and it’s unclear whether Russia will get the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated to the council that “gender equality is first and foremost a question of power, and wherever we look, power structures are dominated by men,” starting at the top where women lead only 7 percent of countries.

He said women remain largely excluded from delegations to peace talks and negotiations and said “we face serious obstacles” if they are not fairly represented, for example, “in the rooms where the future of Afghanistan is being discussed between the Taliban and the government, or in Mali, as it embarks on a political transition.”

Afghan women’s rights advocate Zarqa Yaftali, who spoke on behalf of non-governmental organizations that work to put women at peace tables, said “the presence of four women on the government’s negotiation team is a positive development, but it is not enough.” The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and refused to allow women to go to school, work outside the home or leave their house without a male escorts, do not have any women in their delegation.

Yaftali urged the international community to insist that the parties, especially the Taliban, don’t “restrict women’s human rights, civil liberties or citizenship in any way.”

“We are not the only ones demanding action,” Yaftali said, pointing to women caught in conflicts from Yemen and Syria to Congo and Sudan who see Afghanistan as “the true test” of the Security Council’s commitment to equality in peace negotiations, and “an indication of what they too can expect” in similar challenges in their own countries.

Actress and playwright Danai Gurira, a UN Women goodwill ambassador, retold the stories of women affected by conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan who previously addressed the council, saying she didn’t want members to forget their words about working for peace and pleas for women to be at top tables.

Gurira, who was born in Iowa but grew up in Zimbabwe and has appeared in the “Black Panther” and “Avenger” movies, said one thing all those women have in common is their insistence that “equality between men and women in decision-making is the only way we will build peace.”

“Male-dominated rooms in the 21st century should be embarrassing to us all,” Gurira told the council. “And just like (the women) keep showing up for peace, it is your turn to show up for them.”