Pope Francis to reunite with cousin on visit to Thailand

Sister Ana Rosa Sivori will travel with Pope Francis as his personal translator when he visits Thailand. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Pope Francis to reunite with cousin on visit to Thailand

  • Sister Sivori, who has lived in Thailand for more than 50 years, will travel with Pope Francis as his personal translator
  • The cousins have grown closer since Bergoglio became Pope Francis in 2013

UDON THANI, Thailand: In a remote Catholic school in Thailand, Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, 77, kneels in a chapel to pray at the beginning of the school day.
The Catholic nun is also counting down the days when she will be reunited with her cousin, Pope Francis.
Or, as she calls him, Jorge. They grew up together in Argentina.
Sister Sivori, who has lived in Thailand for more than 50 years, will travel with Pope Francis as his personal translator when he visits the Southeast Asian nation from Wednesday to Saturday.
“For me, it’s a pleasure that he’s coming ... I never thought that he will be coming to Thailand,” the soft-spoken nun told Reuters in an interview.
“I’m happy for the people. I want the people to see him, to be close to him.”
The cousins, whose grandfathers were brothers, grew up in a big Catholic family in Argentina.
Sivori said they weren’t close as children, since Jorge Mario Bergoglio — as the Pope was known then — was six years older than she.
She joined the Catholic ministry young, and her calling as a missionary brought her to Thailand, where she has lived since 1966 and worked in schools across the country.
Now, she is a vice principal at St. Mary’s School in the northeastern province of Udon Thani, about 600 kilometers from Bangkok, the capital.
The cousins have grown closer since Bergoglio became Pope Francis in 2013.
On every journey home to her family in Argentina, Sivori first stops by the Vatican in Italy to see him for a few days.
The last time they saw each other was in 2018, when they bonded over their love of books.
“He took me up to the big room with plenty of books. He told me to choose, he would ask ‘Do you want this one?’,” she said.
“When we talk, we feel like brother and sister. For me, of course I know that he’s the Pope ... but we talk simply.”
She will travel to Bangkok ahead of the pontiff’s arrival and shadow him during his visit, at his request.
In the Buddhist-majority country, Pope Francis will meet King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the supreme Buddhist patriarch, Catholic leaders and students, before flying on to Japan.
Sivori brings out an envelope of handwritten letters and postcards from the Vatican and reads them fondly.
“When I meet him, I’ll call him by his name, Jorge. Pope Francis just came after,” she said.
“I’m proud of him.”


Future of talks unclear after Afghan security forces deaths

Updated 16 December 2019

Future of talks unclear after Afghan security forces deaths

  • Taliban claim responsibility for assault that killed 25

KABUL: Taliban guerrillas have killed up to 25 members of the Afghan security forces in the Ghazni province, officials said on Sunday.

It is the latest sign of an escalation in attacks by insurgents even as the fate of peace talks with the US remains unclear.

While members of the provincial council of Ghazni said that 25 local military staff on the payroll of the Defense Ministry died in the assault on Saturday in the Qarabagh district, the ministry put the losses at nine.

There were conflicting accounts about the nature of the attack.

A ministry spokesman in Kabul said that the incident may have been caused by a group of Taliban infiltrators or defectors. 

He said that an investigation had been launched to determine the exact cause of the incident.

Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, head of Ghazni’s provincial council, told Arab News that the insurgents had stormed the security forces’ posts when they were asleep. 

The Taliban also said that militants had staged attacks on the posts, putting deaths among the forces at 32.

“Our information suggests that 25 local military forces were killed in this attack; it is a big tragedy,” Faqiri said.

Ghazni lies on a strategic highway linking Kabul with the southern region and beyond and has been the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting since the start of the year between the Taliban and Afghan forces, backed by US-led troops.

In the face of rising Taliban attacks and as part of a move to stop forces being overstretched and instead serve as a mobile unit, the Defense Ministry established the local military force last year in some parts of the country.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The talks resumed last week after US President Donald Trump paid a surprise visit to Bagram more than two weeks ago.

• Trump pushed for a resumption after calling off talks in September following the death of an American soldier in Kabul.

The force is supposed to be composed of former and retired army officers and act as a local police force. Its creation has been controversial in Afghanistan because members can misuse their power in a tribally divided country.

The reported toll of the latest Taliban attack in Qarabagh is the highest in a single strike since Thursday when US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced a pause in the talks with militants following the latter’s abortive massive assault on a US-run major base in Bagram.

Khalilzad expressed outrage about the attack.

The talks resumed last week after President Donald Trump paid a surprise visit to Bagram more than two weeks ago. Trump pushed for a resumption after calling off talks in September following the death of an American soldier in a Taliban attack in Kabul.

Trump has said that a truce is a must for the resumption of the talks, a key demand of President Ashraf Ghani who was left out of all rounds of the discussions.

However, Khalilzad and some other US officials have spoken about a reduction in violence.

Dr. Wais Wardak, an Afghan analyst based in the US, said that in a clear change of policy, Washington was pushing for a truce as a pre-condition.

“I think this time the peace negotiations with the Taliban are more challenging than the previous nine rounds,” he told Arab News.

“This time, a cease-fire or reduction of violence has become a priority for Washington and its European allies who want a clear and pragmatic commitment from the Taliban that they are serious about the peace process …”

Dr. Wardak added: “On the other hand, just like Khalilzad, the Taliban negotiators in Qatar are also under a different sort of pressure from those Taliban who see their interest in fighting rather than peace or diplomacy. Their logic is that fighting is the only means they have at their disposal and that’s how they can assert pressure on the NATO, Afghan government and the Afghan people, which could ultimately land them a better deal.”

The Taliban have rejected a truce in the past, arguing that the group will observe it only after US commits itself to a timetable for withdrawal from the country.

“The talks are in a state of limbo now. The rising of Taliban attacks may have more negative impact on the talks,” Taj Mohammed Ahmadzada, another analyst, said in Kabul.