South Korea summons Iran envoy over diplomatic threat

South Korea summons Iran envoy over diplomatic threat
South Korea on Saturday summoned Iran’s ambassador after he implied bilateral ties could suffer if Seoul dispatched naval forces to the Strait of Hormuz. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 12 January 2020

South Korea summons Iran envoy over diplomatic threat

South Korea summons Iran envoy over diplomatic threat
  • US wants Seoul to join maritime security effort in Strait of Hormuz

SEOUL: South Korea on Saturday summoned Iran’s ambassador after he implied bilateral ties could suffer if Seoul dispatched naval forces to the Strait of Hormuz.

Ambassador Badmchi Shabestari, in an interview last week with Seoul daily newspaper Joongang Ilbo, made the remarks at a time of heightened tension in the international community following the assassination of a top Iranian military general.

He suggested a possible deployment of South Korean naval forces to the waterway could affect bilateral ties.

“If another country conducts military activities within the Strait of Hormuz, we will not remain inactive,” Shabestari was reported as saying. “Iran and Korea share a history that dates back 1,000 years to the Silla Dynasty and this moment is the biggest crisis in our history.”

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry lodged a protest over his remarks. 

“We called in the ambassador to deliver our concerns of bilateral relations between both governments after the ambassador reportedly talked of the severing of the ties,” a ministry official told reporters. “We listened sufficiently to the ambassador’s explanations.”

According to the official, the Iranian envoy denied directly mentioning the possible severing of diplomatic ties while expressing his concern that Seoul’s participation in a US-led coalition campaign in the Strait of Hormuz could hurt bilateral relations.

The US has been pressuring South Korea to join its maritime security campaign in the waters off Iran.

US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris expressed hope that South Korea would send forces to the strait, especially because the majority of its oil imports were shipped through there. “I believe, especially as a former naval officer, that it is in the interest of all nations to support freedom of the seas and freedom of navigation on the high seas,” Harris told South Korean broadcaster KBS last Tuesday, “and I believe that Korea, who gets so much of your energy from the Middle East, this is a particularly important concept for the Republic (of Korea).”

South Korea is considering sending its Cheonghae Unit, an anti-piracy naval team operating in the Gulf of Aden, to the strait at the request of the US government. 

But the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani has led to concerns that dispatching forces could backfire.

If another country conducts military activities within the Strait of Hormuz, we will not remain inactive.

Badmchi Shabestari, Iran’s ambassador in Seoul

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa indicated her caution at a parliamentary session.

“I think the stance of the United States and ours cannot always be the same in political analysis and when considering bilateral ties with Middle East countries,” Kang told lawmakers on Thursday, adding that the government had yet to reach a conclusion about safeguarding the strait.

Deploying the Cheonghae Unit would be a useful measure to patch up ties with the US government over the thorny issue of defense cost-sharing.

Seoul and Washington have been tussling over how to share the cost of stationing US soldiers in South Korea. 

The US is said to have called for a 10-percent hike from 2019, when South Korea paid about $870 million. That figure already represents an 8 percent increase from the previous year.

“If the US demands we send troops to the Strait of Hormuz, there is little option to avoid it,” Jung Sang-ryul, a professor at the Institute of Middle Eastern Affairs at Myungji University, told Arab News. “The rub is the timing of the dispatch. A troop dispatch at this moment is risky.”

Some believe that South Korea might send the Cheonghae Unit to the strait but not as part of a US coalition, taking its cue from Japan’s naval deployment plan.

Japan’s cabinet approved a plan to send forces to waters around the strait on an intelligence-gathering mission, but the Japanese warship is expected to operate separately from US-led operations in the area.

Since 2009, the Cheonghae Unit has operated from a 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyer on a rotation basis. The unit has escorted more than 21,000 ships and conducted more than 20 operations to combat piracy off Somalia.


Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan
Updated 16 min 40 sec ago

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan
  • In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s

MOSCOW: Three Armenian soldiers were killed in an exchange of gunfire with Azerbaijan forces, Armenia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday.
In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region, before Russia brokered a cease-fire.


Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit

Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit
Updated 28 July 2021

Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit

Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit
  • Top US diplomat to meet PM Narendra Modi on Wednesday

NEW DELHI: New Delhi is a priority for the US and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first visit to India on Tuesday will provide an opportunity to deepen bilateral ties, explore COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy, and discuss the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, experts said.

“The visit is important in the larger context of the US-India relationship because it shows that there is a consistent engagement with India and India is a priority,” Harsh V. Pant, head of the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), told Arab News.

On Wednesday, Blinken is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

“Both sides will review the robust and multifaceted India-US bilateral relations and potential for consolidating them further,” India’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on July 23, announcing Blinken’s two-day visit.

It added that discussions would focus on “regional and global issues of mutual interest – including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indo-Pacific region, Afghanistan, and cooperation in the UN.”

Analysts said the visit could also lay the groundwork for an in-person summit of the Quad group of countries — comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US — likelyto be held in September and mainly aimed at drawing up measures to counter China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region which, according to Pant, sent out a “larger message” about New Delhi’s role.

“We have seen the US secretary of defense coming to India earlier this year, we have seen (US President Joe) Biden calling the Quad leadership summit early on in his term, and now we have the secretary of state coming to India. I think there is a larger message about the Indo-US relationship and how important America sees India as a partner,” he said.

A virtual summit of the Quad group held in March created a working group on COVID-19 vaccine delivery, with India as the lead manufacturer committing to produce at least a billion vaccine doses by the end of 2022, mainly for southeast Asian and Pacific countries grappling with a spike in infections.

Blinken’s visit could create an opportunity to “bolster the global strategic partnership” between India and the US and focus on ways to support Afghanistan as the Taliban make rapid territorial gains amid a drawdown of US-led foreign troops from the country after 20 years of occupation.

Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation saw India withdraw its staff from its consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif earlier this month.

“There are some apprehensions about the way things are moving in Afghanistan,” Pant added. “Therefore, from India’s perspective, it would be important to get a sense of what the American plan for Afghanistan is.”

Pranay Kotasthane, deputy director at the Takshashila Institution, said India’s primary concern would be to “deny space” in Afghanistan to “Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups” and that there might be some discussions toward this goal.

On Monday, India said that it was also “willing to discuss” its human rights record if Blinken raised it during the bilateral talks.

“India has a plural tradition and multicultural society,” and it is willing to “discuss any human rights issue,” a source in the Indian government, who could not be identified under government policy, told Arab News.

It comes after Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson told reporters in Washington D.C. on Friday that “the human rights and democracy question” would be part of the talks between Indian and US foreign ministers.

Since being elected to office in 2014, Modi and his government have faced allegations of suppressing dissent, pursuing divisive policies to appeal to Hindu voters, and enacting the Citizenship Amendment Law two years ago that Muslims see as discriminatory.

India’s human rights record became even more pronounced after the death in custody of 87-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, who was arrested on charges of supporting ultra-Maoists, while awaiting bail.

Pant said that bringing up the issue for talks reflected the “pressures” that Biden’s administration was under from various US constituencies.

“I think those who deal with India and the US know that historically India is cagey about including outsiders on domestic issues,” he added.


Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning
Updated 28 July 2021

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning
  • “The indigenous Karen in the national park continue to be forcibly evicted and their houses burnt”

BANGKOK: A vast forest complex in Thailand has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, despite the UN’s own experts warning of human rights violations against indigenous people in the area.

The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex in western Thailand is rich in biodiversity, including the critically endangered Siamese crocodile, UNESCO said Monday in its listing announcement.

But it is also home to an indigenous community of ethnic Karen people, who have long accused the Thai government of using violence and harassment to push them off their land.

Thailand had lobbied for years to get World Heritage status for the complex, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha praised UNESCO’s decision, vowing to protect the forest according to “international standards.”

“From now on, the government will ... restore the forest together and promote the livelihood development and human rights of locals,” he said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“Everyone will be part of co-management so they will feel a sense of ownership.”

United Nations experts last week urged the UNESCO committee to defer a decision until independent monitors have visited the area and the concerns about the indigenous people have been addressed.

“This is an important precedent-setting case, and may influence policies on how indigenous peoples’ rights are respected in protected areas across Asia,” the three experts said in a statement released Friday by the office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner.

“The indigenous Karen in the national park continue to be forcibly evicted and their houses burnt.”

They also said the World Heritage nomination process did not have effective participation of indigenous people, calling for indigenous people to be treated as partners in protecting the forest, not threats.

The park’s listing dismayed activist Pongsak Tonnamphet, an indigenous resident of the area.

“The decision was not made based on basic human rights principles ... the minority had no chance to speak,” the 24-year-old told AFP on Tuesday.

The World Heritage Committee did not list the park in 2016 and 2019 because of rights concerns.

The dispute has been simmering for decades.

While many indigenous residents were allegedly driven out of the area, those remaining were not allowed to cultivate the land.

Authorities say their farming activities would damage the forest, but activists argue that traditional farming methods do not harm the environment.

Rights campaigners have accused Thai officials of using harassment and violence to force indigenous people out.

The charred bones of a high-profile ethnic Karen leader were found inside the park in 2019, five years after he disappeared, according to Thai investigators.

Park officials at the time were the last to see him alive, but serious charges including premeditated murder were dropped in early 2020, with authorities citing a lack of evidence.

Ahead of the decision, an indigenous rights group held a protest in front of the environment ministry in Bangkok on Monday, flinging red paint at its signage.

Located near the border with Myanmar, the Kaeng Krachan complex is spread over more than 480,000 hectares, and includes three national parks and a wildlife sanctuary.


Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials
Updated 27 July 2021

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials
  • Boko Haram attack kills five Cameroonian soldiers and a civilian
  • The attack happened during a raid on the military outpost in the country’s far north, local authorities said

YAOUNDE: An attack by Boko Haram killed five Cameroonian soldiers and a civilian, according to a defense ministry statement on state radio Tuesday.
The attack took place on Monday night in the far north of the central African country near the border with Nigeria, where operations by the Islamist group have been on the rise, reported AFP.
Meanwhile, Reuters said the attack happened during a raid on the military outpost in the country’s far north, local authorities said on Tuesday, the second deadly raid in the area in the past week.
An army post in the village of Zigue was attacked at around 9 p.m. (20:00 GMT) on Monday, according to two officials who asked not to be identified.
The attack follows a raid that took place around 50 km (30 miles) north of Zigue on Saturday, which was claimed by Daesh. Eight soldiers were killed in that raid, according to the defense ministry.
Cameroon, alongside neighboring Nigeria and Chad, has been battling the Boko Haram militant group for years, but more recently has clashed with fighters who identify themselves as Daesh West African Province (DWAP).
In the aftermath of the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in May, DWAP has sought to absorb Boko Haram fighters and unify the groups which had hitherto fought one another for control of territory.

With AFP and Reuters.


Iranian prosecutor charged with war crimes

Iranian prosecutor charged with war crimes
Updated 28 July 2021

Iranian prosecutor charged with war crimes

Iranian prosecutor charged with war crimes
  • The victims were linked to the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, a political organization

JEDDAH: A former Iranian prosecutor was charged on Tuesday with war crimes and murder over the execution of more than 100 political prisoners in Iran in 1988.

Hamid Noury, 60, has been under arrest in Sweden since 2019, when he was detained at Stockholm airport as he arrived to visit relatives.

Human rights groups have been campaigning for years for justice over the extrajudicial execution of thousands of Iranians, mostly young people, in the late 1980s. 

The victims were linked to the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, a political organization that seeks to overthrow Iran’s ruling clerics.

In the summer of 1988, Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini “issued an order to execute all prisoners held in Iranian prisons who sympathized with and were loyal in their convictions to the Mujahedin,” Swedish prosecutors said on Tuesday. 

At the time, Noury was an assistant prosecutor at Gohardasht Prison on the outskirts of Karaj, west of Tehran.

Noury “is suspected of participating … in these mass executions and, as such, intentionally taking the lives of a large number of prisoners who sympathized with the Mujahedin and, additionally, of subjecting prisoners to severe suffering which is deemed torture and inhuman treatment,” prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson said.

Noury’s trial begins on Aug. 10 in Stockholm and is expected to last about eight months. It is likely to be embarrassing for Iran, where rights groups say many officials involved in the extrajudicial killings in the 1980s are still in positions of power.

They include the newly elected president, Ebrahim Raisi, who Amnesty International says played a key role as a prosecutor on the “death commission” that sent thousands of prisoners to be killed.