UN to appoint a new envoy to Somalia

UN to appoint a new envoy to Somalia
African Union peacekeepers take position during a blast outside the main UN compound. (AP)
Updated 05 January 2019

UN to appoint a new envoy to Somalia

UN to appoint a new envoy to Somalia
  • Mogadishu refuses to reverse a decision to expel UN representative

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday agreed to appoint a new UN envoy to Somalia after its president refused to reverse a decision to expel a representative for raising human rights concerns.

Guterres spoke by phone with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed on Friday — his second call to the Somali leader in three days — to once again urge him to change his mind, according to diplomats.

But the president dug in his heels and said UN envoy Nicholas Haysom would remain persona non grata and would not be allowed to return to Somalia, diplomats told AFP.

Guterres “deeply regrets” Somalia’s decision, said UN spokesman Farhan Haq, adding that the UN chief nevertheless intends to appoint a new UN envoy.

The UN Security Council met behind closed doors to agree on a response to Somalia’s decision.

But during that meeting, China asked for more time to consider a draft statement put forward by Britain that expressed regret at the decision, diplomats said. The council reconsiders its response on Saturday.

In the British-drafted text, the council would express its support for the UN mission in Somalia and say it expects Somalia to fully cooperate with the UN.

Haysom, a South African lawyer and experienced diplomat, was told to leave Somalia on Tuesday after he questioned the government’s decision to arrest an Al-Shabab defector who was running in elections.

Muktar Robow, who defected from Al-Shabab in 2017, was arrested last month and flown to the capital Mogadishu after announcing his bid for the state presidency in South West State.

Seeking probe

The arrest sparked protests in the southwestern town of Baidoa on Dec. 13-15 that were violently suppressed by Somalia’s security forces, leaving at least 15 dead.

In a letter sent to the government, Haysom requested an investigation of the protest violence and information on the legal basis for arresting Robow.

Haysom, who took up the post of UN envoy in October, warned the council during a meeting on Thursday of a risk of conflict during elections in Somalia’s federal states due to tensions with the central authorities.

The arrest of Robow could discourage other Al-Shabab militants “who may be considering exchanging violence for a political path,” said Haysom.

Somalia’s Ambassador Abukar Dahir Osman told the council that the UN should not interfere in his country’s national affairs.

Former Al-Shabab militants “cannot assume leadership positions without going through stringent established rehabilitation programs,” he said, adding that a terrorist should not be allowed to rebrand himself as an “ice cream salesperson.”

The UN mission in Somalia is tasked with supporting peace efforts and the strengthening of government institutions in the Horn of Africa nation, which were ruined by decades of civil war.


India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
Updated 51 min 30 sec ago

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
  • So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population

BENGALURU: A third wave of coronavirus infections is likely to hit India by October, and although it will be better controlled than the latest outbreak the pandemic will remain a public health threat for at least another year, according to a Reuters poll of medical experts.
The June 3-17 snap survey of 40 health care specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world showed a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to a fresh outbreak.
Of those who ventured a prediction, over 85 percent of respondents, or 21 of 24, said the next wave will hit by October, including three who forecast it as early as August and 12 in September. The remaining three said between November and February.
But over 70 percent of experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled compared with the current one, which has been far more devastating — with shortage of vaccines, medicines, oxygen and hospital beds — than the smaller first surge in infections last year.
“It will be more controlled, as cases will be much less because more vaccinations would have been rolled out and there would be some degree of natural immunity from the second-wave,” said Dr. Randeep Guleria, director at All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population, leaving many millions vulnerable to infections and deaths.
While a majority of health care experts predicted the vaccination drive would pick up significantly this year, they cautioned against an early removal of restrictions, as some states have done.
When asked if children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of experts, or 26 of 40, said yes.
“The reason being they are a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination because currently there is no vaccine available for them,” said Dr. Pradeep Banandur, head of epidemiology department at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.
Experts warn the situation could become severe.
“If children get infected in large numbers and we are not prepared, there is nothing you can do at the last minute,” said Dr. Devi Shetty, a cardiologist at Narayana Health and an adviser to the Karnataka state government on pandemic response planning.
“It will be a whole different problem as the country has very, very few pediatric intensive care unit beds, and that is going to be a disaster.”
But 14 experts said children were not at risk.
Earlier this week, a senior health ministry official said children were vulnerable and susceptible to infections but that analysis has shown a less severe health impact.
While 25 of 38 respondents said future coronavirus variants would not make existing vaccines ineffective, in response to a separate question, 30 of 41 experts said the coronavirus will remain a public health threat in India for at least a year.
Eleven experts said the threat would remain for under a year, 15 said for under two years, while 13 said over two years and two said the risks will never go away.
“COVID-19 is a solvable problem, as obviously it was easy to get a solvable vaccine. In two years, India likely will develop herd immunity through vaccine and exposure of the disease,” said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland and international scientific adviser, Global Virus Network.


UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar
Updated 18 June 2021

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar
  • Draft resolution condemns deadly violence by security forces and calls on the junta to unconditionally release those in arbitrary detention

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly is expected to approve a resolution calling on Myanmar’s junta to restore the country’s democratic transition and for all countries “to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar,” diplomats said.
The draft resolution also condemns deadly violence by security forces and calls on the junta to unconditionally release the ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint “and all those who have been arbitrarily detained, charged or arrested.”
The 193-member assembly is scheduled to consider the resolution, which has more than 50 co-sponsors, on Friday afternoon and its sponsors are hoping it will be approved by consensus to send a strong message to the military of global opposition to its Feb. 1 takeover and support for a return to Myanmar’s democratic transition, though any nation can call for a vote.
The draft resulted from negotiations by a so-called Core Group including the European Union, many Western nations and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN, which includes Myanmar.
A UN diplomat said there is an agreement with ASEAN to seek consensus, but what will happen with ASEAN members if there is a vote remains unclear.
The resolution’s approval would mark one of the few times that the UN’s most representative body expressed itself against a military coup and called for an arms embargo.
Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae, a member of the Core Group, said Thursday that everyone has been working hard “to reach a broad consensus” on the text, and discussions were still under way on whether it would be approved by consensus or be put to a vote.
Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.
As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. Her party was reelected by a landslide in November elections, but the military contends the vote was fraudulent and took over before the new Parliament was seated.
Widespread opposition to the junta’s rule began with massive nonviolent protests. After soldiers and police used deadly force to crush the peaceful demonstrations, a low-level armed insurrection has emerged in both the cities and countryside.
Last week, the UN human rights office cited credible reports that at least 860 people have been killed by security forces since Feb. 1, mostly during protests, and that more than 4,800 people — including activists, journalists and opponents of the junta — are in arbitrary detention.
Speaking of the draft resolution, Canada’s Rae said: “I think it’s a strong statement by the General Assembly about our strong opposition to what’s been happening in Myanmar, and our strong desire for a shift back to a process of attaining democracy in the country, civil and economic rights for everybody including the Rohingya.”
The draft calls on “the Myanmar armed forces to respect the will of the people as freely expressed by the results of the general election of Nov. 8, 2020. It also said the Parliament should be allowed to convene and the armed forces and other national bodies should be brought into an “inclusive civilian government that is representative of the will of the people.”
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do reflect global opinion and supporters of the draft believe it will have an impact.
Rae, a former Canadian special envoy to Myanmar, doesn’t believe the nation can return to its past isolation since people in Myanmar “have developed a taste for openness, for democracy, for participation, and for social and political rights,” he said. “And I don’t think the people are going to lose that taste. And I think that the answer is to do everything we can to sustain democracy.”


South Korea to mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine doses for 760,000 people

South Korea to mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine doses for 760,000 people
Updated 18 June 2021

South Korea to mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine doses for 760,000 people

South Korea to mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine doses for 760,000 people
  • Several countries have already approved such dose-mixing mainly due to concerns about rare and potentially fatal blood clots
  • Over 27 percent of its 52 million population have been inoculated with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine

SEOUL: Some 760,000 South Koreans who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine will be offered Pfizer’s vaccine as a second shot due to shipment delays by global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX, the government said.
Several countries, including Canada and Spain, have already approved such dose-mixing mainly due to concerns about rare and potentially fatal blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
A Spanish study found that giving a dose of the Pfizer shot to people who already received the AstraZeneca vaccine is highly safe and effective, according to preliminary results.
Some 835,000 doses of the AstraZeneca’s vaccine from COVAX were scheduled to arrive by the end of June, which South Korea planned to use mainly as a second shot for around 760,000 health and frontline workers who had received their first dose in April.
The shipment is delayed to July or later, while the country had used up available AstraZeneca reserves to meet stronger than expected participation in its vaccination campaign which helped the country meet its first-half inoculation target ahead of schedule.
Over 27 percent of its 52 million population have been inoculated with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Thursday, and the country is on track to meet a target of 70 percent by September and reach herd immunity before November.
The government expects to receive 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the third quarter including 10 million in July. They are from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.
South Korea said last month it will conduct a clinical trial that mixes COVID-19 doses from AstraZeneca with those from Pfizer and others.
It has so far run a trial in 100 health workers to examine the formation of antibody and other immune effects, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing on Thursday.
South Korea reported 507 new infections by midnight on Thursday, for a tally of 150,238 cases, the KDCA said, with a death toll of 1,996 since the pandemic began.


UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis
Updated 18 June 2021

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis
  • Cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million – roughly the population of Germany
  • UNHCR said now 1 percent of all humanity is displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago

GENEVA: The UN refugee agency says war, violence, persecution and human rights violations caused nearly 3 million people to flee their homes last year, even though the COVID-19 crisis restricted movement worldwide as countries shut borders and ordered lockdowns.
In its latest Global Trends report released on Friday, UNHCR says the cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million – roughly the population of Germany. It marks the ninth straight annual increase in the number of people forcibly displaced.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said conflict and the impact of climate change in places such as Mozambique, Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Africa’s broad Sahel area were among the leading sources of new movements of refugees and internally displaced people in 2020.
They added hundreds of thousands more people to the overall count, which has for years been dominated by the millions who have fled countries such as Syria and Afghanistan due to protracted wars or fighting.
“This is telling, in a year in which we were all locked down, confined, blocked in our homes, in our communities, in our cities,” said Grandi in an interview before the report’s release. “Almost 3 million people have had to actually leave all that behind because they had no other choice.”
UNHCR, which has its headquarters in Geneva, said that 99 of the more than 160 countries that closed their borders because of COVID-19 didn’t make exceptions for people seeking protection as refugees or asylum-seekers.
Grandi acknowledged the possibility that many internally displaced people who couldn’t leave their own countries will eventually want to flee abroad once borders start reopening, if the pandemic eases.
“A good example is the United States where already we have seen a surge in people arriving in recent months,” Grandi said, and referred to the US provision called Title 42 that let US authorities temporarily block people seeking asylum from entry for health reasons. “Title 42 will be lifted eventually – and I think this is the right thing to do – but this will have to be managed.”
Asked about US Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent trip to Central America, where she told would-be migrants to the US “do not come,” Grandi expressed hope that the remark was not reflective of overall US policy.
“I think that messaging indeed, as it was reported, is stark, and maybe shows only one part of the picture now,” Grandi said, adding that he had heard a “more complex response” from other officials in Washington when he was there recently.
Among recent hotspots, Grandi said hundreds of thousands of people were newly displaced in Mozambique and the Sahel last year, and up to 1 million in the Tigray conflict that started in October.
“I’m worried that if the international community is not able to stop these conflicts, we will continue to see the rise in the numbers,” he said.
The report said that at the end of last year there were 5.7 million Palestinians, 3.9 million Venezuelans and an additional 20.7 million refugees from various other countries displaced abroad. Another 48 million people were internally displaced in their own countries. Some 4.1 million more sought asylum.
Turkey, a neighbor of Syria, has taken in the most refugees in absolute numbers – 3.7 million – a figure more than twice that of the No. 2 host country, Colombia, which borders Venezuela. Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan was third.
UNHCR said now 1 percent of all humanity is displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago. Some 42 percent of them were aged under 18, and nearly 1 million babies were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020.
“Many of them may remain refugees for years to come,” it said.


Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school

Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school
Updated 18 June 2021

Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school

Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school
  • ‘They killed one of the (police officers), broke through the gate and went straight to the students’ classes’
  • A spokesman for the Kebbi state governor said they were conducting a tally of the missing

BAUCHI/KADUNA: Gunmen killed a police officer and kidnapped at least 80 students and five teachers from a school in the Nigerian state of Kebbi, police, residents and a teacher said.
The attack is the third mass kidnapping in three weeks in northwest Nigeria, which have authorities have attributed to armed bandits seeking ransom payments.
Usman Aliyu, a teacher at the school, said the gunmen took more than 80 students, most of them girls.
“They killed one of the (police officers), broke through the gate and went straight to the students’ classes,” he said.
Kebbi State police spokesman Nafiu Abubakar, said the gunmen killed one officer during an exchange and also shot a student, who was receiving medical treatment.
Police late on Thursday had not released the number of students missing, and a spokesman for the Kebbi state governor said they were conducting a tally of the missing.
The attack took place at a federal government college in the remote town of Birnin Yauri. Abubakar said security forces were searching a nearby forest for the abducted students and teachers.
Atiku Aboki, a resident who went to the school shortly after the gunfire stopped, said he saw a scene of panic and confusion as people searched for their children.
“When we got there we saw students crying, teachers crying, everyone is sympathizing with people,” he said by telephone.
“Everyone was confused. Then my brother called me (to say) that his two children have not been seen and (we) don’t know if they are among the kidnapped.”
Bandits seeking ransom have kidnapped more than 800 Nigerian students from their schools since December in a series of raids. Some have been freed while others remain missing.
The raids in the northwestern region are separate from Islamist insurgencies centered on the northeast, where the Boko Haram militant group made global headlines in 2014 when it abducted more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok.