Coronavirus: ‘Worst yet to come’ for countries in conflict, says UN chief

Guterres said that the scale of the crisis was due to “a disease that represents a threat to everybody in the world and... an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past.” (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Coronavirus: ‘Worst yet to come’ for countries in conflict, says UN chief

  • Guterres said there had been some progress following his March 23 call for peace, but that fighting still rages in a number of countries
  • Guterres appealed for developed countries and multilateral institutions to do more to aide poorer countries face the pandemic

UNITED NATIONS, United States: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Friday renewed his call for a global ceasefire, urging all parties to conflict to lay down arms and allow war-torn nations to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
"The worst is yet to come," Guterres said, referring to countries beset with fighting like Syria, Libya and Yemen.
"The COVID-19 storm is now coming to all these theatres of conflict."
Guterres said there had been some progress following his March 23 call for peace, but that fighting still rages in a number of countries, hampering the ability to put into place plans to combat the virus.
"The need is urgent," Guterres said at a UN press conference.
"The virus has shown how swiftly it can move across borders, devastate countries and upend lives."
He said that parties to conflict in a number of countries, including Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, have expressed support for his call.
"But there is a huge distance between declarations and deeds -- between translating words into peace on the ground and in the lives of people," Guterres said.
"In many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting -- and some conflicts have even intensified."
While expressing gratitude for support of his earlier call from some 70 countries, NGO groups and religious leaders worldwide including Pope Francis, Guterres said more concrete work was necessary.
"We need robust diplomatic efforts to meet these challenges. To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace," he said.
Guterres did not mention the UN Security Council, where divisions between the United States and China have blocked action.
Since the beginning of the global pandemic, the Security Council has not met once on COVID-19, making no statement or joint resolution.
On Thursday the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for international cooperation and "multilateralism" in addressing the virus, which has infected more than one million worldwide and killed more than 50,000.
Guterres appealed for developed countries and multilateral institutions to do more to aide poorer countries face the pandemic.
"To act early rather than later is essential... This is particularly true with the developing world," he said.
Guterres noted that the ceasefire in Idlib, Syria is holding but said it needs to be expanded to the entire country to allow full efforts to slow the coronavirus spread.
But he noted that expressions of support for a ceasefire by different factions fighting in Libya had not ended the violence.
"This war is now not allowing the response to COVID-19 to take place," he said.
"This is the moment to stop. It's not morally acceptable to continue with this conflict."


Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire strained by fierce new clashes

Updated 21 October 2020

Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire strained by fierce new clashes

  • The cease-fire, agreed to on Saturday, has had little impact on fighting that began on Sept. 27

YEREVAN/BAKU: A cease-fire in the mountain territory of Nagorno-Karabakh was under severe strain on Tuesday after fierce new clashes between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces fighting their deadliest battles since the 1990s. 

The cease-fire, agreed to on Saturday, has had little impact on fighting that began on Sept. 27, despite concerns it could spark a wider conflict involving Russia and Turkey.

In an interview, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian accused Turkey of destabilising the South Caucasus with its strong backing for Azerbaijan. But he said he did not advocate military intervention by Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.

“What I’m preaching is not involving Russia and then tomorrow Iran and a third party, and making Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Caucasus another Syria,” he told France-24 television.

“What I’m saying here is that instead of talking about involving Russia, we have to talk about excluding Turkey, which has a completely destructive role here.”

Ankara denies accusations by Armenia, France and Russia that it sent mercenaries from the conflicts in Syria and Libya to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke away from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed.

In comments to Azerbaijan’s parliament, Turkish Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop portrayed Armenia as the aggressor and criticized mediation led for years by France, the United States and Russia under the auspices of the OSCE security watchdog.

“If they are sincere on their path to peace, those who have held Armenia’s leash and supported it for years need to end this dangerous game now and stop supporting Armenia. Azerbaijan does not have another 30 years to wait,” Sentop said.

The OSCE’s Nagorno-Karabakh mediating panel, known as the Minsk Group, “is brain dead,” he said.

Several hundred people have been killed since Sept. 27 in fighting involving drones, warplanes, heavy artillery, tanks and missiles, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis and concerns about the security of oil and gas pipelines in Azerbaijan.

The new cease-fire appears to have had no more effect on fighting than an earlier deal brokered by Russia that failed.

Azerbaijan wants an end to what it calls Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia rules this out and accuses Azerbaijan of making a land grab.

Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh reported new artillery battles on Tuesday and said fighting was intense in southern areas of the conflict zone.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry also reported fighting in several areas, including disputed territory close to the line of contact dividing the sides. It said Armenian forces were shelling the Azeri regions of Terter and Aghdam.

Azerbaijan said its foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, would hold talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Minsk Group in Washington on Friday, but gave no details.

Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations said the Security Council had discussed the conflict on Monday. Asked about the possibility of UN observers going to the region, he said that would require a mandate from the Security Council.

“This is not a quick process,” the envoy, Vasily Nebenzya, was quoted as saying by TASS. He suggested any observer mission might involve the OSCE.