Ukraine summit paves way for peace talks with Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, center, leads other officials during the plenary session of the Summit on Peace in Ukraine in Stansstad near Lucerne, Switzerland on June 16, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 June 2024
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Ukraine summit paves way for peace talks with Russia

  • Leaders and officials from more than 90 states spent the weekend for summit dedicated to resolving largest European conflict since World War II
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky voices hope of garnering international agreement around proposal to end the war that he could present to Moscow

BURGENSTOCK: Dozens of countries meeting for a landmark international summit on peace in Ukraine agreed Sunday that Kyiv should enter dialogue with Russia on ending the war, while strongly supporting Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity.
More than two years after Russia invaded, leaders and top officials from more than 90 states spent the weekend at a Swiss mountainside resort for a two-day summit dedicated to resolving the largest European conflict since World War II.
“We believe that reaching peace requires the involvement of and dialogue between all parties,” stated a final communique, supported by the vast majority of the countries that attended the summit at the Burgenstock complex overlooking Lake Lucerne.
The document also reaffirmed a commitment to the “territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine.”
The declaration also urged a full exchange of prisoners of war and the return of deported children.
But not all attendees backed the document, with India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates among those not included in a list of supporting states displayed on screens at the summit.
After world leaders stood together to offer their support on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky voiced hope of garnering international agreement around a proposal to end the war that he could eventually present to Moscow.
The summit focused Sunday on food security, avoiding a nuclear disaster and returning deported children from Russia as countries outlined building blocks toward ending the war.
The summit, snubbed by Russia and its ally China, came at a point when Ukraine is struggling on the battlefield, where it is outmanned and outgunned.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded Kyiv’s effective surrender as a basis for peace talks.
Putin’s call for Ukraine to withdraw from the south and east of the country were widely dismissed at the summit.
But the Kremlin insisted Sunday that Ukraine should “reflect” on Putin’s demands, citing the military situation on the ground.
“The current dynamic of the situation at the front shows us clearly that it’s continuing to worsen for the Ukrainians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“It’s probable that a politician who puts the interests of his country above his own and those of his masters would reflect on such a proposal.”
Russia on Sunday claimed its troops had captured Zagrine village in southern Ukraine, continuing its progress on the front line.
The Burgenstock talks were framed around areas of common ground between Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan presented in late 2022, and UN resolutions on the war that passed with widespread support.
The tight remit was an attempt to garner the broadest support by sticking firmly to topics covered by international law and the United Nations charter.
Countries split into three working groups on Sunday looking at nuclear safety and security, humanitarian issues, and food security and freedom of navigation on the Black Sea.
The session on humanitarian aspects focused on issues around prisoners of war, civil detainees, internees and the fate of missing persons.
It also discussed the repatriation of children taken from occupied Ukrainian territory into Russia.
Talks on food security examined the slump in agricultural production and exports, which has had a ripple effect across the world as Ukraine was one of the world’s breadbaskets before the war.
Talks looked at not only the destruction of fertile land through military operations but also the ongoing risks posed by mines and unexploded ordnance.
Artillery attacks on ships in the Black Sea have driven up the cost of maritime transport.
The nuclear safety group looked at the fragile situation surrounding the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, notably Zaporizhzhia, where all of the reactors have been shut down since mid-April.
Talks honed in on reducing the risk of an accident resulting from a malfunction or an attack on Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.
“When a just and sustainable peace comes, we will all be there to help Ukraine rebuild,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the final address from invited leaders.
“The people who lost their lives, the families destroyed, they won’t be able to bring them back. That’s the most painful consequence of war: the human suffering.
“This illegal war by Russia needs to end,” he said, while accepting that “it won’t be easy.”
Minds also turned to a potential second summit, at which Ukraine wants to present Russia with an internationally-agreed plan for peace.
Swiss President Viola Amherd said in her closing remarks: “One key question remains: how and when can Russia be included in the process?
“We have heard it in many of your statements: a lasting solution must involve both parties,” she said, while acknowledging that “the road ahead is long and challenging.”
Zelensky did not say whether he was prepared to engage with Putin directly in talks to end the conflict, though he has in the past ruled out direct talks with him.
“Russia should join this process because Russia is responsible for the starting of the process that’s called the war,” Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili told reporters.


Three dead in shooting among Ukrainian troops

Updated 5 sec ago
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Three dead in shooting among Ukrainian troops

  • No further details were provided and the army did not say who was responsible, saying only that weaponry had been used for ‘personal’ rather than military reasons

KYIV:  A shooting incident among Ukrainian soldiers stationed in the northeastern Kharkiv region has left three soldiers dead and four others seriously wounded, the Ukrainian army said Wednesday.

No further details were provided and the army did not say who was responsible, saying only that weaponry had been used for “personal” rather than military reasons.

“In one of the units, soldiers used firearms on the basis of personal relationships. As a result of the shooting, three soldiers were killed and four others were injured,” the “Khortytsia” regional grouping of the Ukrainian army said.

The wounded suffered “serious” injuries and law enforcement officials were at the scene, it said.

“Management is taking all necessary measures to prevent such incidents in the future,” it added.

Violence among fellow soldiers is a sensitive issue in both Russia and Ukraine, but mass shootings are rare.

In January 2022, weeks before Russia invaded, a 21-year-old Ukrainian national guard conscript killed four fellow soldiers and a civilian with an assault rifle at an aerospace factory.

In May 2024, a 57-year-old Russian soldier recruited from a penal colony was reported to have shot dead six of his fellow troops in the eastern Donetsk region.


Rushdie attacker indicted on terrorism charges

Updated 24 July 2024
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Rushdie attacker indicted on terrorism charges

NEW YORK: The man accused of trying to kill the author Salman Rushdie in a stabbing attack in 2022 has been indicted on separate US federal terrorism charges, according to documents unsealed Wednesday.
Hadi Matar, a 26-year-old American of Lebanese descent who was already charged by the state of New York for the attack, has now been indicted by a grand jury on three counts that include attempting to provide material to support a foreign terrorist organization, said the indictment dated July 17 but not unsealed until now.
That organization is Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, the US Justice Department said.


France and Djibouti renew defense partnership

Updated 24 July 2024
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France and Djibouti renew defense partnership

  • Accord, signed at Macron’s office, governs the 1,500 French troops based in the small but strategically located East African country
  • Defense agreement was first signed in 1977 when the former French colony won independence, and was renewed in 2011

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron and his Djibouti counterpart Ismail Omar Guelleh agreed Wednesday to renew the defense partnership between the two countries, following two years of negotiations.
According to a statement from the French presidency, they signed an agreement on “the ambitious reform of the Defense Cooperation Treaty which unites France and Djibouti.”
The accord, signed at Macron’s office, governs the 1,500 French troops based in the small but strategically located East African country.
French troops have recently closed military bases in Mali and Niger following military coups in both countries, but there has never been any question of abandoning Djibouti, France’s largest permanent overseas base.
The country is located opposite Yemen, near an opening to the Red Sea, where a large part of the global trade between Asia and the West passes.
The discussions had been held up by Djibouti’s demands that France greatly increase the rent it pays, according to a source close to the negotiations.
The defense agreement was first signed in 1977 when the former French colony won independence, and was renewed in 2011.
But France only began to pay rent in 2003, following the opening of a US base in the country.


Why wave of extremism and crime may be West Africa’s ticking bomb

Updated 24 July 2024
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Why wave of extremism and crime may be West Africa’s ticking bomb

  • UN envoy to the Sahel and West Africa recently highlighted spike in trafficking of drugs, weapons and even humans
  • Regional security alliances have dissolved, leaving a power vacuum filled by extremist groups and crime syndicates

N’DJAMENA, Chad: A senior UN official delivered earlier this month a stark warning that terrorism and organized crime by violent extremist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh are escalating into a pervasive threat across West Africa and the Sahel region.

This menace is now spilling over into West Africa’s coastal countries, suggesting that the world might be waking up too late to the unfolding crisis.

The statements by Leonardo Simao, the UN special representative for the Sahel and West Africa, highlighted a surge in illegal trafficking in drugs, weapons, mineral resources, human beings, and even food.

The first half of 2024 alone has seen hundreds of people killed in terrorist attacks, reflecting a dramatic escalation in violence.

Members of the military junta arriving at the Malian Ministry of Defence in Bamako, Mali. (AFP)

These developments underscore the complex and multifaceted nature of the challenge. The intertwining of terrorism with organized crime networks has created a volatile environment where insecurity is the norm.

“This instability is significant also for the international community. As extremist groups tighten their grip, the humanitarian, economic and political fallout threatens to reverberate far beyond Africa’s borders,” Moustapha Saleh, a Chadian security expert, told Arab News.

The situation is further exacerbated by recent political upheavals. G5 Sahel, a French-backed alliance intended to coordinate security and development issues in West Africa, collapsed last year after the exit of the military-junta-run nations of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

This prompted the US and other Western countries to assist Ghana and neighboring coastal West African nations in bolstering their defenses. Although Ghana has not yet faced direct militant violence, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast have suffered attacks near their borders in recent years, illustrating the growing threat of regional instability.

Still, aid for West Africa has been lacking compared with assistance offered to Ukraine, Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said in a recent interview.

US aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion has climbed to $113 billion. In contrast, the combined assistance from the EU, the UK and the US to the Economic Community of West African States, the bloc known as ECOWAS, has amounted to a relatively tiny $29.6 million over the same period.

An operation in Menaka, Mali in 2020 aimed to lower the number of weapons in circulation. (AFP)

“Military regimes often struggle with legitimacy and resources, making them ill-equipped to handle the sophisticated and well-funded operations of extremist groups. The lack of international military support has left these nations vulnerable, and the consequences are becoming increasingly dire,” Saleh said.

This abrupt shift has opened the floodgates to a tide of extremism as these countries struggle to fill the security vacuum left by the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Many Sahel countries are now turning away from the West to find an ally to bolster their defenses. Russian mercenary group Wagner reportedly deployed contractors and military equipment in several West African countries, including Mali and Burkina Faso, over the past two years.

The human toll of this escalating crisis is staggering. In the first six months of 2024, hundreds of civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks. Communities are being torn apart, and the displacement of people is reaching unprecedented levels. Refugee camps are swelling as people flee the violence, resulting in a dire need for humanitarian aid.

Furthermore, human trafficking is becoming a critical issue. Vulnerable populations are being exploited, sold into slavery, or forced into militant groups. Illegal emigration from Western African countries into Europe, via the usual migratory routes, is soaring.

Cars supposedly burnt by members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). (AFP)

Meanwhile, trafficking in drugs and weapons not only funds extremist operations but also fuels further violence, creating a vicious cycle of instability.

The economic ramifications are equally grave. A booming illegal trade in mineral resources, which includes gold, diamond and other valuable commodities, is depriving nations of crucial revenue. Instead of funding development and infrastructure, these resources are financing terror and crime.

The disruption of legal trade routes due to insecurity has crippled local economies. Farmers and traders find it increasingly difficult to transport goods, leading to food shortages and price hikes.

“The broader economic instability discourages foreign investment and hampers development, further entrenching poverty and disenfranchisement,” Saleh said.

Until last year, global support for combating terrorism in the Sahel region was significant, with contributions from various countries and organizations. The US played a crucial role, with its drone bases in Niger and Burkina Faso and around 1,000 troops in the region.

The military junta took over power in Mali on August 19, 2020. (AFP)

France was a prominent supporter through its military operations such as Operation Barkhane, headquartered in Chad, and involving around 4,000 personnel at its peak. It was aimed at securing the region and fighting terrorism in partnership with local forces in Mali, Niger and Chad.

The EU Training Mission and the EU Capacity-Building Mission too played a role until the wave of coup d’etats took the region by surprise. Consequently, it become impossible for Western governments to continue military cooperation with hostile juntas.

But given the severity of the current crisis, many experts say the world can ill afford to look away. “The international community must recognize that the threats emanating from the Sahel and West Africa are not confined to the region but have global implications,” Souley Amalkher, a Nigerien security expert, told Arab News.

INNUMBERS

• 361 Conflict-related deaths in Niger in the first three months of 2024. (ACLED)

• 25.8m+ People in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria in need of humanitarian assistance this year.

• 6.2m+ People currently internally displaced in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

• 32.9m+ People facing food insecurity in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

Terrorism and organized crime in these areas can destabilize entire continents, disrupt global trade, and fuel mass migrations. “There is also the risk of these extremist ideologies spreading beyond Africa, posing a security threat to other regions,” Amalkher said.

Experts say that the spread of extremist ideologies and the presence of terrorist groups in West Africa will lead to instability that may also affect the Arabian Peninsula.

They say the pro-West Gulf states, while already supportive of counterterrorism efforts in West Africa, must reconfigure their strategies given the recent dissolution of the G5 Sahel.

A motorbike drives past a sign welcoming people to the ‘Islamic State of Gao’, that was transformed to read ‘Welcome to the Malian State’, in the Malian city of Gao. (AFP)

Addressing this crisis requires a multipronged approach, the experts argue, pointing to what they say is the need for a combination of immediate and long-term strategies.

“Immediate actions should include re-establishing military partnerships. It is crucial to restore and strengthen military collaborations with international partners as this would provide the necessary support to local forces to counter the extremist threat effectively,” Lauren Mitchel, a security expert from the Washington-based Institute of Peace, told Arab News.

Humanitarian aid is also vital. Immediate and substantial assistance is needed to support displaced populations and provide basic necessities such as food, water and medical care.

Additionally, strengthening border controls and international cooperation is essential for the disruption of trafficking networks. This includes better intelligence sharing and coordinated law enforcement actions.

Long-term solutions focus mostly on economic development and support for projects that encourage self-sustainability.

The military junta took over power in Mali on August 19, 2020. (AFP)

“This involves building infrastructure, creating jobs, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices to ensure food security,” Mitchel said.

Analysts have found that the provision of education and vocational training to young people can help prevent them from being recruited by extremist groups. Social programs that address poverty and disenfranchisement are vital for long-term stability.

They say that international efforts should concentrate on facilitating the transition to stable, civilian-led administrations capable of effectively managing and addressing the needs of their populations.

 


Nine arrests during London protest against Israel arms exports

Police officers remove ‘Workers for a Free Palestine’ demonstrators in London.
Updated 24 July 2024
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Nine arrests during London protest against Israel arms exports

  • Last week new Foreign Minister David Lammy said a blanket ban on arms exports to Israel would not be right
  • London’s Metropolitan Police said protesters arrived outside Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and blocked pedestrian and vehicle access

LONDON: British police on Wednesday arrested nine people during a protest against arms exports to Israel that briefly blocked the street outside the foreign ministry, highlighting pressure on the new Labour government over its stance on the Gaza war.
Pro-Palestinian protesters in Britain have been campaigning for a government ban on arms sales to Israel following its offensive on Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attack.
Last week new Foreign Minister David Lammy, who has said he wants a balanced position on Israel and Gaza, said a blanket ban on arms exports to Israel would not be right, but he would follow a quasi-judicial process in assessing whether sales of offensive weapons that could be used in Gaza could proceed.
London’s Metropolitan Police said protesters arrived outside Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and blocked pedestrian and vehicle access. Police then said the protest could only continue if it left the central arch of the street clear.
“When the group failed to comply with the conditions, officers intervened and made nine arrests, quickly restoring access,” a Met Police spokesperson said.
While in opposition, Lammy earlier this year said the government should suspend the sale of UK arms if there were a clear risk they might be used in a serious breach of humanitarian law.
Now in government, he said last week he requested on his first day in office an assessment of the legal situation and that he hoped to be able to communicate any decisions with “full accountability and transparency.”
Labour was elected with a huge majority earlier this month, but lost some seats to pro-Gaza candidates.
Campaign group Workers for a Free Palestine, which organized the protest, said that was a sign the government should take a stronger stance on restricting arms sales, and called on Lammy to “practice what he preached in opposition.”
While the previous Conservative government was a strong supporter of Israel’s right to defend itself following the Oct. 7 attack, Reuters found that the value of Britain’s approvals of new arms licenses dropped sharply after the start of the war.