Ukraine forces to retreat from battleground city: governor

Ukrainian troops move by tanks in eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas as Ukraine says Russian shelling caused “catastrophic destruction.” (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2022

Ukraine forces to retreat from battleground city: governor

  • Capturing Severodonetsk, in the Donbas region, has become key goal of Russia
  • News came after EU granted Ukraine candidate status in a strong show of support

KYIV: Ukrainian forces will retreat from Severodonetsk in the face of a brutal Russian offensive that is reducing the battleground city to rubble, a senior Ukrainian official said Friday.
The news came shortly after the European Union made a strong show of support for Ukraine, granting the former Soviet republic candidate status, although there is still a long path ahead to membership.
Capturing Severodonetsk, in the Donbas region, has become a key goal of the Russians as they focus their offensive on eastern Ukraine after being repelled from Kyiv following their February invasion.
The strategically important industrial hub has been the scene of weeks of street battles as the outgunned Ukrainians put up a fierce defense.
But Sergiy Gaiday — governor of Lugansk, which includes the city — said the Ukrainian military would have to retreat.
“They have received an order to do so,” he said on Telegram.
“Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn’t make sense.”
The city has been “nearly turned to rubble” by continual bombardment, he added.
“All critical infrastructure has been destroyed. Ninety percent of the city is damaged, 80 percent (of) houses will have to be demolished,” he said.
The Ukrainians had already been pushed back from much of the city, leaving them in control of only industrial areas.
Capturing Severodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk would give the Russians control of Lugansk, and allow them to push further into the wider Donbas.
Gaiday said the Russians were now advancing on Lysychansk, which has been facing increasingly heavy Russian bombardment.
AFP journalists driving out of the city Thursday twice had to jump out of cars and lie on the ground as Russian forces shelled the city’s main supply road.
They saw dark smoke rising over the road ahead, and heard artillery fire and saw flashes of light, while the road was strewn with trees felled by shelling.
The situation for those that remain in the city was increasingly bleak.
Liliya Nesterenko said her house had no gas, water or electricity and she and her mother were cooking on a campfire. She was cycling along the street, and had come out to feed a friend’s pets.
But the 39-year-old was upbeat about the city’s defenses: “I believe in our Ukrainian army, they should (be able to) cope.
“They’ve prepared already.”
A representative of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine earlier told AFP the resistance of Ukrainian forces trying to defend Lysychansk and Severodonetsk was “pointless and futile.”
“At the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the whole territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” said Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed army of Lugansk.
With Ukraine pleading for accelerated weapon deliveries, the United States announced it was sending another $450 million in fresh armaments, including Himars rocket systems.
The systems can simultaneously launch multiple precision missiles at an extended range.
At a Brussels summit Thursday, EU leaders granted candidate status to Ukraine, as well as Moldova.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the news as “a unique and historic moment,” adding: “Ukraine’s future is within the EU.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said the decision by EU leaders sent a “very strong signal” to Russia that Europeans support the pro-Western aspirations of Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin had declared Ukraine to be part of Moscow’s sphere and insisted he was acting due to attempts to bring the country into NATO, the Western alliance that comes with security guarantees.
European powers before the invasion had distanced themselves from US support for Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, and EU membership is at least years away.
Ukraine and Moldova will have to go through protracted negotiations and the European Union has laid out steps that Kyiv must take even before that, including bolstering the rule of law and fighting corruption.
Western officials have also accused Russia of weaponizing its key exports of gas as well as grain from Ukraine, contributing to global inflation and rising hunger in the world.
A US official warned of new retaliatory measures against Russia at the Group of Seven summit being attended by President Joe Biden in Germany starting Sunday.
Germany ratcheted up an emergency gas plan to its second alert level, just one short of the maximum that could require rationing in Europe’s largest economy, after Russia slashed supplies.
“Gas is now a scarce commodity,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters, urging households to cut back on use.
Demand for gas is lower in the summer but shortages could cause problems with heating in the winter.
A Kremlin spokesman reiterated its claim that the supply cuts were due to maintenance and that necessary equipment from abroad had not arrived.


Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

Updated 53 min 47 sec ago

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

  • Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country
  • The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group

KABUL: The Taliban killed one of their former leaders who was known as the first commander of the group hailing from the minority Shiite Hazara community, officials confirmed on Wednesday, adding that he had rebelled against the de facto government.
Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country, the defense ministry said in a statement.
Mahdi’s appointment as a commander some years ago was touted as an example of the Taliban’s changed on stance on minorities. He was in the spotlight after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the wake of the pullout of western forces last year.
The Taliban are hard-line followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, and were previously almost exclusively associated with the Pashtun ethnicity. More recently, the group had sought to include members of other ethnicities and some Shiites.
The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group. After the Taliban formed a government last year, Mahdi was given the post of intelligence chief in a central province.
The origins of the breach between Mahdi and the Taliban have not been made public, but as far back as June, the defense ministry had spoken of a clearance operation against rebels in northern Afghanistan.
The defense ministry on Wednesday described Mahdi as a the “leader of the rebels” in a district in the northern province of Sar-e-Pol.
A Taliban source told Reuters that Mahdi had fallen out with the Taliban and had revolted against the group’s leadership.
The statement said he was killed in Herat close to the border with Shiite majority Iran, where he was trying to flee.
Reuters was not able to contact representatives of Mahdi for comment.


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

Updated 17 August 2022

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.