Philippines ‘apologizes’ to Kuwait after rescuing domestic workers

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (R) meeting Kuwaiti Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh (L) at the presidential guest house in Davao City, in southern island of Mindanao. (AFP)
Updated 24 April 2018

Philippines ‘apologizes’ to Kuwait after rescuing domestic workers

  • Rodrigo Duterte last month ordered workers in Kuwait to return over reports of abuse
  • There are 600 Filipino workers in embassy-run halfway houses in Kuwait

MANILA: ThThe Philippines on Tuesday apologized for actions by its embassy in Kuwait that the Gulf state viewed as a violation of its sovereignty.

The embassy “rescued” several domestic workers from their employers’ homes amid reports of abuse.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano apologized to his Kuwaiti counterpart, and to the government, people and leaders of the Gulf state “if they were offended by some actions taken” by the embassy.

The apology followed a meeting on Monday between President Rodrigo Duterte and Kuwaiti Ambassador Musaed Saleh Ahmad Al-Thwaikh to resolve issues concerning the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Gulf state.

The meeting, held at the Presidential guest house in Davao City, “ended positively,” said Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque.

Also present at the meeting were Cayetano, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, and Department of Foreign Affairs officials.

Among the issues discussed were the protest notes served by Kuwait’s government to the Philippine ambassador over the “rescue” of distressed OFWs, Roque said. 

Both parties underscored that while the Philippines continues to exercise its obligation to protect its nationals abroad, it will do so in a manner that respects Kuwait’s sovereignty, he added.

“It was a frank but very cordial discussion. And I understand that after the meeting, both parties reiterated their mutual support for each other and parted even closer as friends,” he said. 

“Whatever ill feelings may have resulted because of the leak of the video have been settled,” Roque added, referring to a viral video that showed embassy personnel rescuing an OFW from the residence of her employer.

Cayetano told Arab News that Al-Thwaikh “accepted the explanation” that the embassy acted “to protect Filipinos.”

The minister said Kuwait has expressed its commitment to the protection and welfare of Filipinos via “mechanisms of cooperation and collaboration.” 

The Philippines assured Kuwait “that we will follow their laws, respect Kuwaiti sovereignty and uphold the dignity of their state by acting within the bounds of law and international law.”

Despite the controversy, Manila said the two sides are set to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the terms and conditions for protecting OFWs in Kuwait. 

“Both states have invested time, resources, effort, and I think both are serious in signing this MoU,” said Roque.

“We can’t deny we have to provide employment for our countrymen, but I think the Kuwaiti side has recognized that they also need the services of our countrymen, so it is in that sense of mutual need for each other that we negotiated that MoU.”

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

Updated 01 June 2020

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

  • Peace hopes rest on virtual forum with Taliban amid virus threat

KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban delegates are expected to begin online talks in mid-June in a bid to end a decades-old conflict in the country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

While past meetings have been held in person, the latest round of negotiations will take place online because of the threat of coronavirus in the war-ravaged country.

“We see no challenges, the atmosphere and preparations are all set for the talks,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, newly appointed chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Arab News.

Negotiations could begin in “the next 10 or 15 days,” he said.

“The announcement of a cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners were all requirements for the start of the talks, and we have had progress on them recently,” Khawzoon said.

On Wednesday the Afghan government released a list of 20 delegates due to hold peace talks with the Taliban.

The team will be led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a former spy chief who has held indirect negotiations with the militants in the past outside Afghanistan, he added.

In the lead-up to the talks, President Ashraf Ghani’s government will release 3,000 more Taliban prisoners, an official close to the Afghan leader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

More than 2,000 Taliban inmates have already been freed as part of a historic peace deal in February.

In return, the Taliban released hundreds of government troops and, in a surprise move, announced a three-day cease-fire last week for Eid Al-Fitr.

The peace moves follow a buildup in fighting between the two sides despite the pandemic. Taliban attacks killed at least 146 people and injured 430 during Ramadan. 

Fears had been growing that the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 between the Taliban and the US would collapse.

The joint cease-fire followed talks in Qatar last week between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad later traveled to Kabul for meetings with Afghan political leaders over a reduction in violence and an exchange of prisoners. 

“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a cease-fire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government reciprocating and announcing its own,” Khalilzad said last Sunday.

Increasing Taliban attacks on government troops, and political infighting between Ghani and Abdullah over who would assume office as president, have delayed the talks.

After Washington failed to reconcile Ghani and Abdullah, both leaders agreed two weeks ago to share power, with Ghani leading the country for another five years and Abdullah appointed as chief of the peace talks.

Khalilzad described the cease-fire agreement as a “momentous opportunity that should not be missed,” and pressed both sides to agree on a new date to start negotiations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged the two sides to start peace talks, with the release of prisoners as a first step. 

Pompeo said that he expected the Taliban “to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield.”

Ghani said the release of Taliban inmates would be “expedited” and that his government’s negotiating team was ready to begin talks “as soon as possible.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not be reached for comment on the Taliban’s stance.

In the past, the group has insisted it will take part in talks with Kabul only after all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are freed.

Experts hope the latest developments are a step in the right direction.

“The Taliban do not seem to have any reservations about the structure of the government team, so the hope is high that the talks will take place by June 15,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Some of Taliban’s field commanders seem to be divided on the talks, hoping to capture power again after the departure of US forces (by next spring), while the political leaders are pushing for a political settlement,” he said.