EU's Barnier gives Britain two-week Brexit deadline

Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier address a joint news conference after the latest round of talks in Brussels on Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 10 November 2017
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EU's Barnier gives Britain two-week Brexit deadline

BRUSSELS: EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier on Friday handed Britain a two-week ultimatum to make concessions on a divorce agreement if it wants to unlock the next phase of talks in December.
Frenchman Barnier said it was "vital" for Britain to increase its offer on its exit bill — a figure senior EU officials put at up to €60 billion —to open up talks on a future trade deal.
The fate of the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has also thrown an unexpected spanner into the works, with British negotiator David Davis ruling out the EU's preferred solution.
"My answer is yes," Barnier told a press conference at the end of the sixth round of talks in Brussels, when asked if he would need "concessions" from Britain within the next two weeks to move on.
"On the financial settlement, this is absolutely vital if we are to achieve sufficient progress in December. It is just a matter of settling accounts, as with any other separation," the former European commissioner and French foreign minister said.
Barnier added that he was "following attentively" the political situation in Britain where a series of government resignations has further weakened the government of Prime Minister Theresa May.
EU leaders decided at their last summit in October that there was insufficient progress on three main divorce issues — the bill, Northern Ireland and the rights of three million Europeans living in Britain — to move on to the next stage.
They said they hoped to open talks on future relations and a post-Brexit transition period at their next meeting on Dec. 14-15, but officials have warned that could now slip to February or March.
Hopes of a breakthrough at this week's Brussels talks —  the first since mid-October — were so low that they were cut to just one-and-a-half days from the normal four days.
Northern Ireland has reared its head in the discussions, with an internal EU paper for the talks suggesting that it should remain in the EU's single market and customs union after Brexit to prevent a hard border with Ireland.
Davis insisted Friday that any Brexit deal cannot create a frontier between Northern Ireland, where a 1998 peace deal ended decades of sectarian unrest, and the rest of the United Kingdom.
"We recognize the need for specific solutions for the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland," Davis said. "But let me be clear, this cannot amount to creating a new border inside the United Kingdom."
Barnier, meanwhile, welcomed a British proposal on protecting the rights of EU nationals living in Britain after 2019, but said there were still differences on key issues.
There appeared to be little progress on the main sticking points: The rights of EU migrants to bring their families to Britain, their ability to send welfare payments to their home countries, and whether the European Court of Justice would have jurisdiction over those rights.
"On citizens' rights we are making some progress although we need to move further on a number of points," Barnier said.
The Brexit bill has been the main source of deadlock in the talks since they began in June. The EU says it must meet budgetary commitments totalling €50 to 60 billion, but Britain puts the figure nearer 20 billion.
Britain voted to leave the EU in a shock referendum result in June 2016. The government confirmed Thursday that Brexit day will be 2300 GMT on March 29, 2019.


Indonesian fishermen return home after release from Philippines militants

Updated 20 September 2018
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Indonesian fishermen return home after release from Philippines militants

  • With the release of the trio, all Indonesians abducted by Filipino militants before 2018 have been released
  • Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines wil boost security cooperation in the Sulu Sea, which is a busy maritime area for fishing boats and cargo vessels transporting coal from Indonesia to the Philippines

JAKARTA: After 20 months being held hostage by militants in the southern Philippines, three Indonesian fishermen were finally reunited on Wednesday with their respective families at the Foreign Ministry.

Vice Foreign Minister A.M. Fachir handed them over from the government to their respective family representatives in a ceremony which was held without media presence.
 
"The condition on the field was getting more difficult. But we made the most of our contacts and assets on the field, and with the Philippines government support we were able to get them released,” Fachir said in a statement from the ministry. .
 
Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the Foreign Ministry’s director for protection of Indonesians abroad, said the handover was held in private because “it was not a cause for celebration.”
 
“We are grateful for their release, but we still have two Indonesians who were abducted on Sept. 11 and we don’t want to hurt their families’ feeling,” Iqbal said.
 
The three fishermen are Hamdan bin Saleng, Sudarling bin Samansunga, and Subandi bin Sattu, who hail from Selayar and Bulukumba in South Sulawesi province. They were freed from their captors on Friday in Sulu province on the southern Philippines.
 
Rudi Wahyudin, a representative of Sattu’s family, said the family members were devastated during the 20 months Sattu was held hostage but they tried to keep their hopes up by keeping in touch with the foreign ministry to get updates of efforts to release him and his fellow fishermen.
 
“It’s normal for people in our village in Bulukumba to migrate and work abroad. Now his wife has asked Sattu to quit working overseas and find another job close to home instead,” Wahyudin said.
 
Indonesian ambassador to the Philippines, Sinyo Harry Sarundajang said the military attache and he flew to Zamboanga City to pick up the three men, after the embassy received information of their release from the West Mindanao Command.
 
“We thank President Duterte and the Philippines government for their attention and cooperation on this matter. It was a long and delicate process to release them and we had to be very careful because we didn’t want anyone to become victim in the process,” Sarundajang said at the press conference.    
 
According to the ambassador, the three men were moved and had to island-hopped to various small islands on the Sulu archipelago as their captors were avoiding the Philippine military operation.
 
The three men were working as crew members in a Malaysian fishing boat when they were abducted in the waters of Sabah in Malaysia on Jan 2017.
 
Iqbal said there are about 6,000 Indonesians working in fishing vessels in Sabah. Since 2016, there has been 34 Indonesian citizens who were kidnapped by armed militants in the southern Philippines and 13 of them were fishermen who were abducted from their vessels in the waters of Sabah.
 
With the release of the trio, all Indonesians abducted by Filipino militants before 2018 have been released.
 
“We are now working to release the two fishermen who were abducted on Sep 11. We have expressed our concerns to the Malaysian authority on the lack of security on their waters,” Iqbal said.
 
He added that Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines would boost security cooperation in the Sulu Sea between the three countries, which is a busy maritime area for fishing boats and cargo vessels transporting coal from Indonesia to the Philippines.
 
The three neighboring countries agreed in May 2016 to launch joint patrols in the area following a series of hijacking and kidnapping of Indonesian vessels and crew members. The initial maritime patrol was launched in June 2017 and was beefed up with air patrols in Oct 2017.