US defense chief to visit Macedonia, concerned about Russian ‘mischief’

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis holds a press conference at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on August 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
0

US defense chief to visit Macedonia, concerned about Russian ‘mischief’

  • NATO invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but said it would have to change its constitution and adopt the new name first

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday he would visit Macedonia before a Sept. 30 referendum on changing the country’s name, also expressing concern about suspected Russian interference in the vote, which Moscow denies.
Macedonia scheduled the referendum on the government’s deal in June with neighboring Greece to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia which would open the door for it to join NATO and the European Union.
“I am concerned about it... The kind of mischief that Russia has practiced from Estonia to the United States, from Ukraine and now to Macedonia, it always has adapted to the specific situation and it’s always beyond the pale,” Mattis, who will visit Macedonia over the weekend, told reporters.
Mattis said he wanted to make it clear the United States supported the Macedonian people.
NATO invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but said it would have to change its constitution and adopt the new name first. The EU has also said it would set a date for Macedonian accession talks pending implementation of the name deal.
Moscow’s ambassador to Skopje has criticized Macedonia’s ambitions to join NATO, saying it could become “a legitimate target” if relations between NATO and Russia deteriorate further.
Greece, a member of both NATO and the EU, has refused to accept the Balkan country’s name, saying it implies territorial claims on the Greek province of Macedonia and amounts to an appropriation of its ancient civilization.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s government, elected in 2017, pushed for an agreement with Greece. Nationalists, including President Gjorge Ivanov, oppose the deal saying it is against the constitution.
In July, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and barred two other people from entering the country, accusing them of having meddled by encouraging demonstrations and bribing unidentified officials to thwart the Macedonia agreement.
Russia has denied wrongdoing and responded in kind with expulsions of Greeks.


Rohingya leaders to visit Myanmar

Updated 16 November 2018
0

Rohingya leaders to visit Myanmar

  • Community leaders will check on preparations for repatriation
  • Refugees who fled tents fearing forced repatriation have started to return

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: A group of Rohingya community leaders will go to Rakhine, Myanmar, to witness developments on the ground there, said Bangladesh Foreign Minister A. H. Mahmood Ali on Thursday evening in Dhaka.

Ali was talking to the journalists after his briefing to diplomats in Dhaka over the Rohingya repatriation and forthcoming general election. He said that during the briefing session diplomats came up with the idea of sending the Rohingya community leaders (Majhi) to witness the practical developments for repatriation.

“We agreed with this idea,” said Bangladesh Foreign Minister.

A group of community leaders will check the preparations initiated by Myanmar government and will brief their fellow Rohingyas after returning Bangladesh.

Ali said that there is a misconception among a few stakeholders that Bangladesh was trying to send back Rohingyas against their will.

“If we wanted to send the refugees forcibly, we won’t have allowed them in our country. We have shown a humanitarian gesture to them, so there is no question of sending them back forcibly,” Ali said.

“We will not send a single one of the refugees against their will. Those who will repatriate will go on their own will,” he added.

Talking to Arab News, Abul Kalam, Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner of Bangladesh said, they have not stopped the repatriation process. It will remain open and if any of the Rohingyas wants to go back home, Bangladesh authorities will initiate repatriation for him or her.

Commenting on the failure of the first attempt at repatriation Kalam said, “Now we need to create more pressure on Myanmar for the completion of some specific tasks to build confidence among the Rohingyas. In the next Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting, we will put up these issues after more scrutiny.”
However, the next JWG meeting date is yet to be fixed, Kalam said.

After a week of tension over feared repatriation, on Friday everything was peaceful in the Rohingya camps at Cox’s Bazar. The refugees who fled from their tents fearing forceful repatriation started returning to their shanties.

“The Myanmar authority wanted to deceive us in the name of so-called repatriation process. If we would have returned on Thursday, they (Myanmar) would never granted our citizenship rights,” said Mohammad Lutfor Rahman, 53, of Jamtoli camp, Ukhia, who fled from his own tent after hearing that he was listed as a returnee in the first group.

Why did the Rohingyas refuse to take the offer to go back home, Rahman was asked. He said, “Myanmar authorities have declared that the repatriated Rohingyas will be kept in the camps for 5 months or more, guarded by armed law enforcers and there were no clear guidelines if we can go back to our original places or villages. So, what is point of accepting a camp life proposal in Rakhine?”

Another refugee, Syed Alam, 37, of Kutupalang camp, told Arab News, “Before any kind of repatriation, our top most priority is the guarantee of citizenship and once it is granted many of our problems will be minimized.”

However, talking about the future course of repatriation, United Nations Human Rights agency, UNHCR spokesperson in Bangladesh, Fairas Al-Khateeb, said, “We will continue to assist the Bangladesh government in assessing the voluntariness for repatriation. Bangladesh and Myanmar have made the deal of repatriation bilaterally, we can’t say when it will actually take place.”