Divided UN council heads to Sweden for farmhouse retreat

After a week of bitter acrimony over Syria, UN Security Council ambassadors are heading to a farmhouse in southern Sweden for a retreat that could help them recover some common ground. (AFP)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Divided UN council heads to Sweden for farmhouse retreat

  • 15 ambassadors will join Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the secluded getaway in a country setting.
  • The three-day retreat will begin on Friday.

United Nations, United States: After a week of bitter acrimony over Syria, UN Security Council ambassadors are heading to a farmhouse in southern Sweden for a retreat to try to break the deadlock over how to end the war.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley and her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia will be among the 15 ambassadors joining Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the secluded getaway in a country setting.
The three-day retreat beginning Friday comes after one of the council’s most divisive periods, with the United States and Russia split over the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma that lead to military action by Washington and its allies against Syria.
The council met five times on Syria last week including on Tuesday when Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution setting up a chemical weapons probe while two other proposed measures failed to pass.
The Russia-US rivalry prompted Guterres to declare that the Cold War was “back with a vengeance.”
Asked whether he expected awkward moments during the Swedish retreat, Nebenzia told reporters: “I will see how they feel about dealing with me after all that happened.”
“It’s not news to anyone that the council is divided on Syria,” said Sweden’s Deputy UN Ambassador Carl Skau. “There is some need for humility and patience at this moment.”
The council will be staying at Backakra, the summer residence of Dag Hammarskjold, who was the United Nations’ second secretary-general.
The residence located on the southern tip of Sweden, far from Stockholm, is a “fitting and inspiring venue” to reconnect with the power of diplomacy, said Skau.
“It’s a place to roll up our sleeves, take off our jackets and ties and come up with some real and meaningful ways forward,” he said.
The annual brainstorming session usually takes place in upstate New York, but Sweden, which is a non-permanent council member, offered to host this year’s gathering.
Guterres had told council members that the focus of the meeting would be his plan for a “surge of diplomacy” to address conflicts worldwide, but the council’s deadlock over Syria is emerging as the top priority.


Investigators identify Russian military unit in downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Updated 42 min 39 sec ago
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Investigators identify Russian military unit in downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

BUNNIK, Netherlands: Prosecutors investigating the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 said on Thursday they had identified the missile used to shoot down the plane as coming from a Russian military unit.
The airliner was hit by a Russian-made missile on July 17, 2014, with 298 people on board, two-thirds of them Dutch, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists. All aboard died.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the crime squad of the Netherlands’ national police, said the missile had been fired from a carrier belonging to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade.
“All the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces,” he told a televised news conference.
Russia has denied involvement in the incident. There was no immediate comment from Moscow on the investigative development.
In an interim update on their investigation, prosecutors said they had trimmed their list of possible suspects from more than a hundred to several dozen.
“We have a lot of proof and a lot of evidence, but we are not finished,” said chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke. “There is still a lot of work to do.”
He said investigators were not yet ready to identify individual suspects publicly or to issue indictments. The question of whether members of the 53rd Brigade were actively involved in the downing of the plane remains under investigation, he said.
Westerbeke called on witnesses, including members of the public, to help identify members of the crew that was operating the missile system. He also asked for tip-offs in determining what their orders were and in identifying the officials in charge of the brigade.
A Joint Investigation Team, drawn from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, is gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution in the downing of the plane.
The Dutch Safety Board concluded in an October 2015 report that the Boeing 777 was struck by a Russian-made Buk missile.
Dutch prosecutors said in September 2016 that 100 “persons of interest” had been identified in the investigation, while Australian and Malaysian officials had initially expressed hope that suspects’ names would be made public in 2017.
Eventual suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in the Netherlands after Russia used its veto to block a UN Security Council resolution seeking to create an international tribunal to oversee criminal complaints stemming from the incident.