Russian veto terminates all UN sanctions on Mali junta, abolishes panel critical of Wagner

A United Nations peacekeeping force patrols in the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, on Sept. 26, 2021. UN forces are gradually pulling out of Mali on orders of the West African nation's military junta, which has brought in mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group to help fight Daesh and Al-Qaeda insurgencies. (AP/File)
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Updated 31 August 2023
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Russian veto terminates all UN sanctions on Mali junta, abolishes panel critical of Wagner

  • Resolution seeking to extend sanctions regime until Aug. 31, 2024 and the mandate of aUN panel of experts monitoring sanctions until Sept. 30, 2024 gets vetoed by Russia

UNITED NATIONS: Mali’s military junta succeeded in kicking out the UN peacekeeping force, and on Wednesday its Russian allies scored yet another victory against the UN: They were able to terminate all UN sanctions on Malians and abolish a panel of experts which has been critical of activities of Russia’s Wagner Group in the West African nation.

The travel ban and asset freeze, currently affecting eight Malians on the UN blacklist for threatening peace efforts, and the mandate of the panel of experts monitoring the implementation of sanctions were up for renewal in the UN Security Council.
A French and United Arab Emirates-drafted resolution that would have extended the sanctions regime until Aug. 31, 2024 and the mandate of the UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions until Sept. 30, 2024 was put to a vote first. It got 13 “yes” votes in the 15-member council but was vetoed by Russia. China abstained.
A rival Russian resolution that would have extended sanctions “for the final period of 12 months” until Aug. 31, 2024 and abolished the panel of experts “with immediate effect” failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes needed for adoption. In the vote, Russia was the only country to vote in favor, Japan voted against, and 13 countries abstained.
The result is that after Thursday, Aug. 31, when the current sanctions regime ends there will be no sanctions on the Malians. The panel of experts submitted their last report which was circulated last week and its mandate will officially end on Sept. 30.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told council members before the vote that it would not allow another resolution to be put forward on sanctions and the panel of experts.
Nebenzia called for consultations before the votes, which the US agreed to after a long break, but Russia’s demands on sanctions and the experts were not acceptable to supporters of the France-UAE resolution, so the voting went ahead. Nebenzia said after casting the veto on that resolution that its views and those of the Mali rulers were not taken into consideration.
US deputy ambassador Robert Wood, who chaired the meeting, called sanctions “necessary to stem the illicit financial transfers and ill-gotten gains both from Mali and into a region in which numerous malign actors operate and have sadly proliferated.”
He called the panel of experts’ reporting “a central source of information on the situation in Mali,” and said Russia wanted to eliminate its mandate “to stifle publication of uncomfortable truths about Wagner’s actions in Mali, which require attention.” He said Russia’s draft was “lamentably short” on providing sustained support for Mali.
France’s deputy UN ambassador Nathalie Broadhurst expressed deep regret at Russia’s veto at a crucial time for Mali and the region. “The choice made by Russia follows the participation of Wagner mercenaries in fighting” in northern Ber, where the UN was evacuating a peacekeeping base, and in airstrikes that “imperil” a cease-fire and a 2015 peace agreement, she noted.
In their final report to the council, the panel of experts said they remain particularly concerned with persistent conflict-related sexual violence in Mali’s eastern Menaka and central Mopti regions, “especially those involving the foreign security partners of the Malian Armed Force” – the Wagner Group.
“The panel believes that violence against women, and other forms of grave abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law are being used, specifically by the foreign security partners, to spread terror among populations,” the report said.
The experts also said Daesh extremists have almost doubled the territory they control in Mali in less than a year, and their Al-Qaeda-linked rivals are capitalizing on the deadlock and perceived weakness of armed groups that signed a 2015 peace agreement.
The stalled implementation of the peace deal and sustained attacks on communities have offered the Daesh group and Al-Qaeda affiliates a chance “to re-enact the 2012 scenario,” they said.
That’s the year when a military coup took place in the West African country and rebels in the north formed an Islamic state two months later.
The extremist rebels were forced from power in the north with the help of a French-led military operation, but they moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali in 2015 and remain active.
In August 2020, Mali’s president was overthrown in a coup that included an army colonel who carried out a second coup and was sworn in as president in June 2021. He developed ties to Russia’s military and the Wagner group whose head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was reportedly killed in a plane crash on a flight from Moscow last week.
In June, Mali’s junta ordered the nearly 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force to leave after a decade of working on stemming the jihadi insurgency The Security Council terminated the mission’s mandate on June 30 and the UN is in the throes of what Secretary-General António Guterres calls an “unprecedented” six-month exit from Mali.
The UN special envoy for Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, laid out the scale of the operation to the council on Monday: All 12,947 UN peacekeepers and police must be sent home, their 12 camps and one temporary base handed over to the government, and 1,786 civilian staff terminated by the Dec. 31 deadline.


Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

Updated 24 February 2024
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Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

  • Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles
  • After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects

STOCKHOLM: Police opened an investigation Friday after a suspicious odour at Sweden’s Security Service office left eight people needing hospital treatment with respiratory symptoms.
Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles as an area around the office of the agency, known as Sapo, was closed off.
“Around 1:00 p.m. today, there were indications that there was a dangerous substance at Sapo’s offices,” Patrik Soderberg, chief physician at the local health care authority Region Stockholm, told AFP.
“A total of eight people with symptoms have been treated at hospital,” Region Stockholm said in a statement, adding that the “cause of the leak was still unclear.”
After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects.
Police said an area of “a couple of hundred meters” around the building had been closed off after “a potential gas leak.”
Some of those taken to hospital were officers who had “smelled an odour when they arrived,” the service added in a statement.
Sapo spokeswoman Karin Lutz told AFP the intelligence agency had called emergency services after receiving an alarm.
Lutz said the building had been “partly evacuated” during the emergency but declined to give further details or comment on whether they suspected foul play.
In a later statement, Sapo said “emergency services ended the operation after confirming that there was no gas inside the premises or outside the building.”
The Nordic country is on high alert as it is expecting to clear the final hurdle to its bid to join NATO on Monday, with the last holdout Hungary scheduled to vote on ratifying its membership.
The Aftonbladet newspaper said witnesses had reported smelling something that reminded them of paint, and that locals had been told to close their windows.
Swedish media also reported that a gas sensor on the roof of the building had alerted the presence of phosgene, but these reports have not been confirmed.
The gas was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, but is also widely used in industry for the production of plastics and pesticide.


Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

Updated 23 February 2024
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Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

  • The A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar
  • The operation was carried out by the air force and the intelligence directorate

KYIV: Ukraine’s military on Friday destroyed a Russian A-50 surveillance aircraft, Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said, the second time in a little more than a month that Ukraine has reported downing the sophisticated plane.
“The A-50 with the call sign ‘Bayan’ has flown its last!” Oleshchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted military sources as saying the A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar. The operation was carried out, it said, by the air force and the intelligence directorate.
Russian news agencies quoted emergency services in southern Krasnodar region as saying that fragments of an aircraft were found in marshland in Kanevskoy district and firefighters extinguished a blaze.
The report made no reference to the A-50.
Ukraine’s military in January said its air force destroyed a Russian Beriev A-50 surveillance plane and an Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post in the Sea of Azov.
The A-50, which first came into service near the end of the Soviet era, is a large airborne early warning and control aircraft that can scan several hundred kilometers for enemy aircraft, ships and missiles.
Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, told the Financial Times a month ago that Russia had eight A-50s at that time.


Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

Updated 23 February 2024
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Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

  • Alejo Vidal-Quadras was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger
  • "I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference

MADRID: A right-wing Spanish politician who was shot in November in Madrid on Friday accused Iran of being behind his attempted murder during his first public appearance since the attack.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a founder of Spain's far-right Vox party and former head of its centre-right People's Party in Catalonia who has long supported Iran's opposition movement, was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger.
"I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference in the Spanish capital.
Tehran has "a long tradition, a track record, of extraterritorial terrorist activities" against "dissidents and against foreigners who support then," he added, without offering any proof to back up his claim.
Four people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the shooting, but the suspected gunman -- a French national of Tunisian origin with several previous convictions in France, remains at large.
Police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting.
Vidal-Quadras, who already pointed the finger at Iran when he was questioned by police after the shooting, said it was a "miracle" that he survived.
"I made a movement of my head that meant that the shot, which was supposed to be fatal, was not," he said.
The bullet entered one side of his jaw and exited the other, and Vidal-Quadras spent time in hospital recovering from a jaw fracture.
"The detonation sounded like a thunderclap in my head, in fact I have a perforated eardrum, and I started bleeding, it caused a puddle on the floor," he said.
Vidal-Quadras said he believes the quick intervention of a passer-by, who stopped the bleeding with a piece of clothing, saved his life.
He said he has suffered from after-effects since the shooting, including "some paralysis of the facial muscles".
Vidal-Quadras, a top member of the International Committee in Search of Justice which supports the "Iranian resistance", has long called for the international community to harden its position towards Iran.


Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

Updated 23 February 2024
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Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

  • Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center
  • They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt

VALLETTA, Malta: Five migrants, including a woman, died when their boat capsized as they were being rescued off Malta on Friday, the island’s armed forces said.
Another eight were injured and taken to hospital, including two who swallowed a considerable amount of seawater and fuel.
Armed Forces of Malta deputy commander Col. Edric Zahra told reporters that the incident happened at about midday when the eight-meter (26-ft) boat was four miles (6.5 km) south of Malta.
Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center. They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mediterranean sea crossings from North Africa to Italy or Malta are among the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Last year almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing on those routes, the International Organization for Migration says.
The vast majority of migrants head for Italy. Malta’s armed forces rescued 380 migrants at sea last year, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said in parliament in January.


Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

Updated 23 February 2024
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Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

  • Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons
  • The frontlines in the war had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka

MOSCOW: Russian forces have advanced further to the west after taking control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the defense ministry said on Friday.
It said Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons in the past week including seven British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a US Patriot anti-aircraft guided missile and launch vehicle, and 42 HIMARS rockets fired by multiple launch systems.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.
The frontlines in the war, which started two years ago on Saturday, had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka, and Russia still controls just under a fifth of Ukrainian territory.
The capture of Avdiivka, following months of fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, was Russia’s first significant gain since taking the city of Bakhmut last May.
After taking Avdiivka, units of the “Center” group of Russian forces “continued advancing in a westerly direction,” the defense ministry statement said.
“In cooperation with aviation and artillery, they defeated accumulations of manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” in six nearby settlements, it said.