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.


‘Nut rage’ Korean Air heiress questioned over illegal Filipino maids

Updated 4 min 17 sec ago
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‘Nut rage’ Korean Air heiress questioned over illegal Filipino maids

SEOUL: A Korean Air heiress known for a “nut rage” tantrum that sparked national uproar was summoned for questioning Thursday for illegally hiring immigrants to work as maids, the latest scandal to engulf her billionaire family.
Cho Hyun-ah kept her head bowed as she reported to immigration authorities in Seoul on Thursday.
“I’m sorry to cause trouble,” she said in a quiet voice before entering the office.
She faces allegations that she illegally hired some 10 Filipinos to work as housemaids in the family home by disguising them as company trainees to obtain visas.
It is against the law in South Korea to hire foreigners as domestic helpers.
A series of scandals have left Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho and his family facing mounting scrutiny over a spate of alleged wrongdoings that have riled the public and even sparked protests by the firm’s employees.
The family first shot to international infamy in 2014 when Cho Hyun-ah forced two Korean Air flight attendants to kneel and beg for forgiveness after she was served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than a bowl.
She ordered the Seoul-bound flight back to the gate so one of them could be ejected in an incident quickly dubbed “nut rage” that many South Koreans felt typified the way ultra-wealthy families often behave.
She was sentenced to a year in prison by a lower court. But after serving five months in jail she was was freed when the appeals court cleared her of hampering an air route — the most serious charge — as the aircraft was still on the ground.
Her younger sister Cho Hyun-min recently won unflattering headlines with her own tantrum when she allegedly splashed fruit juice over a business associate in a fit of rage.
Prosecutors stopped short of bringing charges against her after the victim reconciled with her.
But the incident set off a flurry of new allegations about the family’s other alleged wrongdoings.
Among the allegations authorities are now investigating include smuggling of furniture and food, tax evasion, hiring of illegals and verbal abuse and assaults against employees.
Korean Air workers launched an online chat room detailing various grievances they had with the family.
On Friday some employees will hold their fourth weekly rally calling for Cho family to take a back seat in the company.
Police have also summoned the chairman Cho’s wife Lee Myung-hee for questioning on Monday after more than ten people claimed they had been physically or verbally assaulted by her.
Lee is also suspected of involvement in the illegal hiring of foreign maids and will be questioned in this case as well, the immigration office said.