To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns

Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict are seen at a market in the Um Raquba refugee camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on January 5, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
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Updated 07 January 2021

To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns

  • One in five people in the Middle East and North Africa lives close to a major conflict zone, according to World Bank
  • Iran uses proxies to “weaponize instability” in an effort to create conflicts and crises in other states, says US envoy

NEW YORK: For the first time in 22 years, extreme poverty is on the rise around the world. The increase is being fueled by a pandemic that has intensified a host of social and economic ills that were already causing problems before the coronavirus emerged.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted and worsened the fragility of war-torn countries. It has undermined public health, contributed to mass unemployment, threatened food security, resulted in increased levels of violence against women and, in the words of Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, “reinforced or even created political and social divisions.”

The UN estimates that economic contraction caused by the pandemic is expected to push an additional 18 to 27 million people into extreme poverty in nations blighted by conflict. Worldwide, 51 million people are already internally displaced.

Armed conflicts and social, economic and environmental fragility are among the greatest hurdles to implementation of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 global objectives, set in 2015, are designed to help eradicate poverty in all its forms and improve lives of all the peoples of the world.

With less than 10 years left to achieve the goals, Tunisia, which holds the presidency of the UN Security Council this month, organized a high-level virtual debate on Wednesday to examine and discuss the challenges that face efforts to maintain peace and security in war-torn or otherwise-fragile countries.

The debate underscored the link between fragility and conflict, with “transboundary threats” such as climate change, terrorism, organized crime and the rapid increase in numbers of armed groups continuing to contribute to instability. This is especially true in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east.

Tunisian president Kais Saied, who presided over Wednesday’s debate, urged the participants to tackle the root causes of conflicts, along with the factors that exacerbate them.

These include “marginalization, exclusion, poverty, the weakening of human development and state institutions, transnational organized crime, the impact of climate change, and the threat the pandemic poses to social cohesion,” he said.

The solution, he added, lies in promoting human rights, democracy and good governance, and ensuring the inclusive participation of people from all segments of society, including women and young people.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Conflicts have become more complex, fueled by greater regionalization, the proliferation of non-state armed groups, and their linkages with criminal and even terrorist interests. They last longer and become more difficult to resolve.”

Citing the Fragility and Conflict Report published by the World Bank last year, he noted that one in five residents of the Middle East and North Africa lives in close proximity to a major conflict. As a result, the number of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance has reached levels unseen since the Second World War.

The report also predicted that by 2030, two-thirds of people living in extreme poverty worldwide will reside in fragile or war-torn countries.

These trends, Guterres said, have locked many nations into a vicious circle: ongoing hostilities contribute to greater levels of poverty and institutional fragility, which in turn make societies even more fragile and vulnerable to conflict, with the result that the prospects for peace dwindle.

The connection between conflict and fragility has been particularly apparent in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, where the situation has been exacerbated by climate change, terrorism and the proliferation of armed groups.

Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou — in whose country more than 100 villagers were killed by gunmen last weekend — called on Security Council members to help the region overcome its fragility, “the primary victims of which are women and children.” He added that he hopes the region will figure prominently on the council’s agenda.

US ambassador Craft said that within fragile states, “weak institutions, corruption, diminished respect for the rule of law, and authoritarianism increased the risk for violent conflict and instability and opened the doors for more cycles of political subversion and violence.”

She singled out Iran as a malign presence that aims to “weaponize instability” and use it against other states.

“Iran undermines the stability of its neighbors by using fragile state or non-state actors as proxies, contributing to protracted conflicts and complex humanitarian crises,” she said.

The participants in the debate also reiterated a call by Guterres early last year for a global ceasefire so that international efforts and resources can focus on fighting the pandemic. The call has largely been ignored.

To break the cycle of poverty and war, Guterres urged the adoption of two principles enshrined in the SDGs.

The first is interdependence, as there can be “no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.” He added that a “holistic approach” to building and sustaining peace “with targeted and tailored investments across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, is essential.”

The second principle is inclusion. The promotion of sustainable development, and the prevention and resolution of conflicts, requires the international community to honor a pledge “to leave no one behind,” he said.

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy

Updated 5 sec ago

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy

WASHINGTON D.C.: Iran added demands unrelated to discussions on its nuclear program during the latest talks and has made alarming progress on enriching uranium, the US envoy for talks on reinstating a nuclear deal said on Tuesday.
US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that there was a proposal on the table for a timeline by which Iran could come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and Washington could ease sanctions on Tehran.
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week without the hoped-for progress.
Malley said Iranian negotiators added new demands.
“They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they’ve wanted in the past,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio.
The demands included some that the United States and Europeans have said could not be part of negotiations.
“The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we’re prepared to have that. It’s between Iran and itself,” Malley said. “They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal.”
Under the nuclear pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment program, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy.
Then-US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.
Now, Tehran is much closer to having enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, Malley said, though they do not appear to have resumed their weaponization program.
“But we are of course alarmed, as are our partners, about the progress they’ve made in the enrichment field,” Malley said.
Iran has enough highly enriched uranium on hand to make a bomb and could do so in a matter of weeks, he said.
Malley said Americans were also working a parallel track to secure the release of Americans detained in Iran. Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and is the longest-held Iranian American prisoner, made a plea for help in a New York Times piece on Sunday headlined: “I’m an American, Why Have I Been Left to Rot as a Hostage of Iran?“
“We hope that regardless of what happens with the nuclear talks, we’ll be able to resolve this issue because it weighs in our minds every single day,” Malley said.

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

Updated 05 July 2022

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

  • The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines

MANILA: A land mine set by suspected communist guerrillas wounded seven soldiers in the central Philippines on Tuesday, in one of the insurgents’ first known attacks since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last week.
Army troops were checking reports from villagers of anti-personnel mines laid by New People’s Army rebels along a village trail in Mapanas town in Northern Samar province when an explosion wounded the seven soldiers, regional army commander Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon said.
Two of the wounded soldiers were in critical condition, he said, adding that no villagers were injured.
“Some of the soldiers were tossed away because the rebels have been using really powerful land mines,” de Leon said.
The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines, de Leon told reporters.
The soldiers were not able to open fire at the rebels, who fled after the attack and were being hunted by government forces, he said.
On Friday, a day after Marcos Jr. was sworn in after winning a landslide victory in a May 9 election, government troops assaulted eight communist rebels, killing one, in a brief gunbattle in central Negros Oriental province, the army said.
Marcos Jr. must deal with decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies, along with longstanding territorial disputes with China and other claimants in the South China Sea.
During the campaign, he said he would pursue peace talks with communist insurgents and expressed support for a government task force established under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to fight the insurgency by bringing infrastructure, housing and livelihood projects to the poverty-stricken countryside.
The task force has drawn criticism for linking several left-wing activists and government critics to the communist insurgency, in what Duterte’s opponents said was baseless “red-tagging” aimed at muzzling legitimate dissent.
Despite battle setbacks, infighting and factionalism, the communist insurgency has continued to rage, mostly in rural areas, for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. It currently has an estimated 2,700 armed fighters.
The new president is the son of the late leader Ferdinand Marcos, whose counterinsurgency program was known for killings, torture and disappearances of suspected rebels, left-wing activists and their supporters.
The elder Marcos was overthrown in an army-backed 1986 “People Power” pro-democracy uprising that drove him and his family into US exile.
After Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, his widow and children returned to the Philippines, where they achieved a stunning political comeback by whitewashing the family image on social media, critics say.

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

Updated 05 July 2022

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

  • The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement

SEOUL: US Air Force F-35A stealth fighters arrived in South Korea on Tuesday on their first publicly announced visit since 2017 as the allies and nuclear-armed North Korean engage in an escalating cycle of displays of weapons.
Joint military drills had been publicly scaled back in recent years, first in 2018 because of efforts to engage diplomatically with North Korea and later because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has sought to increase public displays of allied military power, including exercises, to counter a record number of missile tests conducted by North Korea this year.
North Korea also appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.
The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
“The purpose of this deployment is to demonstrate the strong deterrent and joint defense posture of the US-ROK alliance while at the same time improving the interoperability between the ROK and US Air Force,” the ministry said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name.
The aircraft deployed from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, US Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement.
A USFK spokesperson said it was the first public deployment of the 5th generation fighter aircraft to South Korea since December 2017, but did not elaborate whether there had been unannounced visits.
A former senior US official previously told Reuters that during diplomatic talks many drills had in fact continued but had not been publicized.
South Korea has purchased 40 of its own F-35As from the United States, and is looking to buy another 20. The South Korean air force F-35As will be among the aircraft participating in the joint drills, USFK said.
North Korea has denounced joint exercises as well as South Korea’s weapons purchases as an example of “hostile policies” that prove US offers to negotiate without preconditions are hollow.

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

Updated 05 July 2022

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

  • A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two

BRUSSELS: The process to ratify Sweden and Finland as the newest members of NATO was formally launched on Tuesday, the military alliance’s head Jens Stoltenberg said, marking a historic step brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“This is a good day for Finland and Sweden and a good day for NATO,” Stoltenberg told reporters in a joint press statement with the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers.

“With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” he added.

The NATO secretary general was speaking ahead of a meeting in which the ambassadors from NATO’s 30 member states were expected to sign the accession protocols for the two Nordic countries, opening a months-long period for alliance countries to ratify their membership.


“We are tremendously grateful for all the strong support that our accession has received from the allies,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

“We are convinced that our membership would strengthen NATO and add to the stability in the Euro Atlantic area,” she added.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Sweden and Finland in parallel announced their intention to drop their military non-alignment status and become part of NATO.

A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two, after Turkey won concessions over concerns it had raised and a US promise it would receive new warplanes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused Sweden and Finland of being havens for Kurdish militants he has sought to crush, and for promoting “terrorism.”

He also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed for Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.

But Erdogan has kept the rest of NATO on tenterhooks by saying he could still block Sweden and Finland’s bids if they fail to follow through on their promises, some of which were undisclosed, such as possible extradition agreements.


Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Updated 05 July 2022

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

  • Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens

QUETTA, Pakistan: At least six people, including women and children, were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed in heavy rains lashing southwestern Pakistan and other parts of the country, a provincial disaster management agency said Tuesday.
There were fears the death toll could be higher as several people went missing after flash flooding hit southwestern Baluchistan province’s remote areas overnight, according to a statement from the agency.
Authorities say the latest spell of torrential rains, which started on Monday and continued on Tuesday, also damaged dozens of homes in Baluchistan.
Since June, rains have killed 38 people and damaged more than 200 homes across Pakistan, including in Baluchistan, where over the weekend, a passenger bus skidded off a road and fell into a deep ravine amid heavy rain, killing 19 people.
Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens.