EU chief says to give signal on Ukraine’s hopes next week during Kyiv visit

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomes European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters)
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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attend press briefing in Kyiv on June 11, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 11 June 2022

EU chief says to give signal on Ukraine’s hopes next week during Kyiv visit

  • Ursula von der Leyen visited Ukraine to discuss the country’s hopes of joining the bloc
  • President Volodymyr Zelensky warned the world not to look away from the conflict devastating his country

KYIV: The European Commission will provide a clear signal next week on Ukraine’s EU candidate status bid, its chief Ursula von der Leyen said Saturday, as fighting raged in the east and south of the country.
Making a surprise visit to Kyiv, von der Leyen said talks she held with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “will enable us to finalize our assessment by the end of next week” — the first time the bloc has publicly given a timing.
Zelensky has been pressing for rapid admission into the European Union as a way of reducing Ukraine’s geopolitical vulnerability, which was brutally exposed by Russia’s February 24 invasion.
But officials and leaders in the bloc caution that, even with candidacy status, actual EU membership could take years or even decades.
All 27 EU governments would have to agree to grant Ukraine candidate status, after which there would be extensive talks on the reforms required before Kyiv could be considered for membership.
Von der Leyen, in her second trip to Kyiv since the start of the war in February, reminded Zelensky that, despite progress on administrative reforms and elsewhere, much still needed to be done.
“You have done a lot in strengthening the rule of law but there is still need for reforms to be implemented, to fight corruption for example,” she told the joint news conference.
For his part, the Ukrainian president warned it was a “decisive time” for his country and the EU.
“Russia wants to ruin the European unity, wants to leave Europe divided and wants to leave it weak. The entire Europe is a target for Russia. Ukraine is only the first stage in this aggression, in these plans.”
Zelensky told the briefing: “All of Europe is a target for Russia, and Ukraine is just the first stage in this aggression.
“This is why a positive EU response to the Ukrainian application for membership can be a positive answer to the question of whether the European project has a future at all.”
Despite reservations among some member states, EU leaders are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status at a summit on June 23-24, though with stern conditions attached.
The EU and the US have strongly backed Ukraine, sending weapons and cash to help it see off Russian forces, and punishing Moscow with unprecedented economic sanctions.
Zelensky has urged them on during a continuous diplomatic offensive that has seen him appearing via video link at parliaments and summits around the world.
On Saturday, he warned the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore of the dangers of a global food crisis posed by Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
He warned of “an acute and severe food crisis and famine,” adding that the “shortage of foodstuffs will inexorably lead to political chaos” — all of it “the direct consequence of the acts of the Russian state.”
Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s top producer of sunflower oil and a major wheat exporter, but millions of tons of grain exports remain trapped due to the blockade.
Speaking to delegates including Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and China’s defense minister, Zelensky urged international pressure to end the blockade.
Kyiv is in discussion with the UN, Turkey and other countries to open a way to allow the grain exports, and Zelensky said the talks are focused on the “format” of the corridor.
After withdrawing from the capital Kyiv, Russian forces have concentrated their firepower on the eastern Donbas region and the south.
They continued their bombardment overnight Friday-Saturday of towns and villages around Kharkiv and in the Donbas regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, Zelensky’s office said.
“Russia wants to devastate every city in the Donbas, every single one, without exaggeration,” the president said in his nightly address Friday.
Moscow has particularly focused on the key eastern industrial city of Severodonetsk, which Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said Saturday was “ruined” by Russian forces.
“This is their tactics — people are not needed, the infrastructure is not needed, houses are not needed, everything should be simply ruined,” he said in an interview posted on his Telegram channel.
He declined to estimate the number of civilian victims, but said he expected the figure would be “enormous and terrible.”
“Many people were buried in front of their houses’ entrances. A shell from heavy artillery is tearing people up into bits and pieces,” he said.
He added: “They lie like this for a day, three or four. It is impossible to take them out because there is constant shelling.”
In the Mykolaiv region near the front line in the south, regional governor Vitaliy Kim stressed the urgent need for international military assistance.
“Russia’s army is more powerful, they have a lot of artillery and ammo. For now, this is a war of artillery... and we are out of ammo,” he said.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace visited Ukraine on Friday, where Zelensky thanked London for its support.
Following Washington’s lead, Britain announced the delivery of multiple rocket launcher systems — with a range of about 80 kilometers (50 miles), slightly superior than the Russian systems.
It was not clear when Ukraine will be able to start using them.
In areas now controlled by its forces, Moscow has sought to impose its authority.
Authorities in the occupied city of Kherson in southern Ukraine handed out Russian passports to local residents for the first time on Saturday, news agencies reported.
Russia’s TASS agency said 23 Kherson residents received a Russian passport at a ceremony through a “simplified procedure” facilitated by a decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May.
Ukraine has denounced the move as a “flagrant violation” of its territorial integrity, saying Putin’s decree was “legally void.”
It follows the introduction last month in the Kherson region of the Russian ruble as an official currency alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia.
(With AFP and Reuters)


Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

Updated 19 min 51 sec ago

Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

  • With temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius, Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world 
  • Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area 

NEW DELHI: The body of an Indian soldier who went missing 38 years ago on a glacier on the disputed border with Pakistan has been found.  

A unit of the Indian Army tweeted pictures of the coffin of Chander Shekhar wrapped in an Indian flag early Wednesday, two days after India celebrated the 75th anniversary of independence.  

The Army said Shekhar was deployed for Operation Meghdoot in 1984 when India and Pakistan fought a brief battle to assert control over the Siachen Glacier, reputed to be the world's highest battlefield.  

At over 18,000 feet (5,486 metres) with temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit), Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world.  

Located in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, it has long been contested between the nuclear-armed neighbours.  

Local media reported that Shekhar was part of a 20-member group that got caught in an ice storm during a patrol.  

Fifteen bodies were recovered at the time but the other five could not be found, among them Shekhar, the reports said.  

His last rites will now be performed with full military honours in the state of Uttarakhand, where his family lives.  

His daughter, who was four years old when he went missing, said the family would now get closure.  

"He has been long gone... Papa has come but I wish he was alive," the Hindustan Times newspaper quoted her saying.  

Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area.  

 


Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Updated 17 August 2022

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand
  • Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will return to the island nation next week after fleeing in July amid mass protests, local broadcaster Newsfirst reported on Wednesday, citing a former ambassador.
Udayanga Weeratunga, a former Sri Lankan envoy to Russia who is related to Rajapaksa, said he will arrive in Sri Lanka on Aug. 24, Newsfirst reported.
Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand, after fleeing Sri Lanka on a military plane to the Maldives and then spending weeks in Singapore.
He resigned from office soon after arriving in Singapore, facing public anger over his government’s handling of Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka. Reuters was not able to immediately contact him or Weeratunga.
The office of Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who suggested last month that the former president refrain from returning to Sri Lanka in the near future, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
“I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return,” Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on July 31. “I have no indication of him returning soon.”

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

Updated 17 August 2022

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

  • ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings
  • Junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings

Myanmar’s military leadership on Wednesday lashed out at the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian countries for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to “external pressure.”
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have heaped condemnation on Myanmar’s junta, which they say has failed to make concrete progress on a peace plan agreed with the 10-nation bloc last year, including engaging with opponents and a cessation of hostilities.
Myanmar’s military seized power from an elected government in a coup last year, and has since then crushed dissent with lethal force. Most recently, the junta has been criticized for executing political activists and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of Myanmar’s opposition and democracy movement.
ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings, and some members said last month it would be forced to rethink the way forward unless the junta demonstrates progress on the peace plan.
The junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings.
“If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labelled an ASEAN summit,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a routine news conference on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar was working on implementing the peace plan.
“What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists,” he said, using the junta’s label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.
He said ASEAN was violating its own policy of non-interference in a country’s sovereign affairs while facing “external pressure,” but did not elaborate.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, which is currently chairing ASEAN, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Several western countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s junta over the coup.


Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Updated 17 August 2022

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

  • There have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India

NEW DELHI: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India’s capital will be allotted apartments and provided with police protection, a government minister said on Wednesday, signalling a change in the stance toward members of the Muslim minority.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge,” Minister for Housing and Urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter, outlining new provisions for Rohingya refugees in New Delhi.
“India respects & follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Puri said.
Puri did not elaborate on what he said would be “round-the- clock” police protection but there have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has previously tried to send back members of the Muslim minority from predominately Buddhist Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years.


South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show

Updated 17 August 2022

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show

  • Yoon Suk-yeol repeats his willingness to provide phased economic aid to North Korea

SEOUL: Talks with North Korea should not be for political show but contribute to establishing peace, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Wednesday, speaking at a wide-ranging press conference to mark his first 100 days in office.
Yoon repeated his willingness to provide phased economic aid to North Korea if it ended nuclear weapons development and began denuclearization, noting that he had called for a dialogue with Pyongyang since his campaign.
“Any dialogue between the leaders of the South and North, or negotiations between main working-level officials, should not be a political show, but should contribute to establishing substantive peace on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” he said.
The comments were an apparent criticism of a series of summits involving his predecessor Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and then-US President Donald Trump.
Despite those meetings, denuclearization talks stalled in 2019 and North Korea has said it will not trade away its self-defense, though it has called for an end to sanctions. It has been observed preparing for a possible nuclear test, which would be its first since 2017.
South Korea was not in a position to guarantee the North’s security if it gave up its nuclear weapons, but Seoul did not want a forced change in the status quo in the North, Yoon said.
The North’s recent missile tests and nuclear development has revived debate over whether the South should pursue its own nuclear weapons. Yoon said that he was committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and working with the United States to boost its “extended deterrence” for South Korea.
“The NPT should not be abandoned and I will adhere to that until the end,” he said.