Iran’s strategy of state piracy menaces Middle East oil lanes

When Iranian “armed soldiers” boarded the South Korean-flagged oil tanker Hankuk Chemi on Jan. 4, 2021, they were implementing a longstanding if unstated policy of state piracy in the waters of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. (AFP/File Photo)
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When Iranian “armed soldiers” boarded the South Korean-flagged oil tanker Hankuk Chemi on Jan. 4, 2021, they were implementing a longstanding if unstated policy of state piracy in the waters of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. (AFP/File Photo)
The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow entrance to the Gulf from the Arabian Sea, has emerged as a favorite hunting ground for Iranian IRGC naval units looking to harass oil tankers, of which the Hankuk Chemi, seized on Jan. 4, 2021, is only the latest. (Reuters/WANA)
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The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow entrance to the Gulf from the Arabian Sea, has emerged as a favorite hunting ground for Iranian IRGC naval units looking to harass oil tankers, of which the Hankuk Chemi, seized on Jan. 4, 2021, is only the latest. (Reuters/WANA)
Two oil tankers were damaged in twin attacks close to the Iranian coast on June 13, 2020, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. The Kokuka Courageous was struck in the Gulf of Oman by a limpet mine resembling Iranian weapons, according to the US military in the Middle East. (AFP)
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Two oil tankers were damaged in twin attacks close to the Iranian coast on June 13, 2020, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. The Kokuka Courageous was struck in the Gulf of Oman by a limpet mine resembling Iranian weapons, according to the US military in the Middle East. (AFP)
The Japanese vessel Kokuka Courageous was struck in the Gulf of Oman by a limpet mine resembling Iranian weapons, according to the US military in the Middle East. It was one of two oil tankers damaged in twin attacks close to the Iranian coast on June 13, 2020, just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
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The Japanese vessel Kokuka Courageous was struck in the Gulf of Oman by a limpet mine resembling Iranian weapons, according to the US military in the Middle East. It was one of two oil tankers damaged in twin attacks close to the Iranian coast on June 13, 2020, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. (AFP/File Photo)
The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero was seized in July 2019 by IRGC units and held off Bandar Abbas port in southern Iran for more than two months as a tit-for-tat move against the detention of an Iranian vessel suspected of shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. (AFP file photo)
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The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero was seized in July 2019 by IRGC units and held off Bandar Abbas port in southern Iran for more than two months as a tit-for-tat move against the detention of an Iranian vessel suspected of shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. (AFP file photo)
In July 2019, it was the turn of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which was seized by IRGC units and held off Bandar Abbas port in southern Iran for more than two months as a tit-for-tat move against the detention of an Iranian vessel suspected of shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. (AFP/File Photo)
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In July 2019, it was the turn of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which was seized by IRGC units and held off Bandar Abbas port in southern Iran for more than two months as a tit-for-tat move against the detention of an Iranian vessel suspected of shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. (AFP/File Photo)
Iran-backed Houthi militias have repeatedly rebuffed UN pleas to allow an inspection team to enter the FSO Safer, abandoned off the port of Hodeidah with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, to conduct repairs. The UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of
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Iran-backed Houthi militias have repeatedly rebuffed UN pleas to allow an inspection team to enter the FSO Safer, abandoned off the port of Hodeidah with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, to conduct repairs. The UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of "catastrophe" if the vessel ruptured into the Red Sea. (AFP/File Photo)
The UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of
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The UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of "catastrophe" if the FSO Safer, abandoned off Yemen's coast with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, ruptured into the Red Sea. Iran-backed Houthi militias, who control Hodeidah port, have repeatedly rebuffed UN pleas to allow an inspection team to enter the ship to conduct repairs. (AFP/File Photo)
A group of 15 British Royal Navy personnel celebrated their release in April 2007 after nearly two weeks of captivity in Iran. They had been seized by Iran in northern Gulf waters in an act of gunboat diplomacy that sparked weeks of wrangling between the two countries. (AFP/File Photo)
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A group of 15 British Royal Navy personnel celebrated their release in April 2007 after nearly two weeks of captivity in Iran. They had been seized by Iran in northern Gulf waters in an act of gunboat diplomacy that sparked weeks of wrangling between the two countries. (AFP/File Photo)
In April 2007, 15 British Royal Navy personnel celebrated their release after nearly two weeks of captivity in Iran. They were seized by Iran in northern Gulf waters in an act of gunboat diplomacy that sparked weeks of wrangling between the two countries. (AFP/File Photo)
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In April 2007, 15 British Royal Navy personnel celebrated their release after nearly two weeks of captivity in Iran. They were seized by Iran in northern Gulf waters in an act of gunboat diplomacy that sparked weeks of wrangling between the two countries. (AFP/File Photo)
British servicemen were made to march blindfolded on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway where they were detained in June 2004 by Iranian troops. The eight were arrested allegedly for straying into Iranian waters. The Shatt al-Arab straddles the border between Iran and southern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
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British servicemen were made to march blindfolded on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway where they were detained in June 2004 by Iranian troops. The eight were arrested allegedly for straying into Iranian waters. The Shatt al-Arab straddles the border between Iran and southern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
Detained by Iranian troops in June 2004, eight British servicemen were made to march blindfolded on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway after they allegedly strayed into Iranian waters. The Shatt al-Arab straddles the border between Iran and southern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
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Detained by Iranian troops in June 2004, eight British servicemen were made to march blindfolded on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway after they allegedly strayed into Iranian waters. The Shatt al-Arab straddles the border between Iran and southern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 07 January 2021

Iran’s strategy of state piracy menaces Middle East oil lanes

A picture obtained by AFP from the Iranian news agency Tasnim on January 4, 2021, shows the South Korean-flagged tanker being escorted by Iran's Revolutionary Guards navy after being seized in the Gulf. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Iran’s IRGC naval units and their Houthi proxies thumb their nose at the world by seizing oil tankers plying the Gulf
  • The South Korean-flagged Hankuk Chemi is just the latest in a long line of vessels seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz

LONDON: Iran dialed up tensions in the Gulf this week when its troops stormed a South Korean-flagged tanker as it transited through the strategic Strait of Hormuz — a choke point through which a fifth of world oil output passes. The incident is only the latest in a long line of Iranian acts of “state piracy” in the flashpoint region.

The MT Hankuk Chemi was en route from Saudi Arabia’s Jubail to the UAE’s Fujairah on Monday when members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) navy boarded the vessel and brought it to the port of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran, placing its multinational crew of 20 under arrest.

Iranian authorities alleged the tanker, carrying 7,200 tons of ethanol, was seized for infringing maritime environmental laws — claims the vessel’s owner denies.

Observers suspect the ship was in fact taken hostage as part of an ongoing row with Seoul over $7 billion in revenue from oil sales that remain frozen in South Korean banks under US sanctions imposed against Iran by the Trump administration.

Although the MT Hankuk Chemi is the first major vessel to be seized by Iran in more than a year, incidents of this kind have become all too common in the Strait of Hormuz and nearby shipping lanes. Several vessels have been boarded or mysteriously attacked since President Donald Trump ramped up his “maximum pressure” campaign, with Iran named as the likely culprit.

The IRGC navy has long used its fleet of speedboats to harass commercial shipping and military vessels in the region, seizing at least six ships in 2019 over alleged fuel smuggling. Iran has also repeatedly threatened to blockade the strait if it is attacked.

Several incidents pre-date the current tensions. In January 2016, the IRGC seized two US Navy riverine command boats after they entered Iranian territorial waters near Iran’s Farsi Island. After a flurry of phone calls between then-US secretary of state John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the sailors were released unharmed 15 hours later.




Iran's ambassador to South Korea Saeed Badamchi Shabestari arrives at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on January 5, 2021, after he was summoned over a South Korean oil tanker being seized by Iran. (AFP/YONHAP)

In March 2007, the IRGC detained 15 British navy personnel from HMS Cornwall as they were searching a merchant vessel off the Iran-Iraq coast. They were released 13 days later. A similar incident occurred in 2004 when six Royal Marines and two Royal Navy sailors were captured by the IRGC in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. They were released three days later.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen has also launched repeated attacks on ports and ships in recent years, routinely planting marine mines in the southern Red Sea and in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait in the path of commercial shipping.

The militia has repeatedly rebuffed UN pleas to allow an inspection team to enter the FSO Safer, a 45-year-old oil tanker abandoned off the port of Hodeidah with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, to conduct urgent repairs. In an extraordinary session, the UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of "catastrophe" if the vessel ruptured into the Red Sea.




This CCTV image provided by South Korea's Taikun Shipping Co. shows the moment a South Korean tanker was captured by an Armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat, right, on the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

In May 2019, Washington deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and four B-52 bombers to the Middle East, citing unspecified Iranian threats. A matter of days later, on May 12, four commercial ships, including two Saudi Aramco oil tankers, were damaged near the port of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman in what the UAE called a “sabotage attack.”

On June 13, the oil tankers Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous were also both rocked by explosions, thought to have been caused by limpet mines or flying objects. Days later, on June 20, Iran shot down an American RQ-4A surveillance drone flying over the Strait of Hormuz, raising tensions further.

At the time, US President Donald Trump said Iranian boats harassing the US navy “will be shot out of the water.”

INNUMBERS

Iranian Piracy

 

* 20 - Civilian sailors aboard South Korean-flagged Hankuk Chemi.

* $7bn - Amount claimed by Iran to be in a South Korean bank.

The following month, the IRGC held the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero for two months for allegedly ramming a fishing boat. The move was widely seen as an act of retaliation after British Royal Marines detained an Iranian tanker, the Grace 1, in the Strait of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating EU sanctions on Syria.

In the wake of the incident, US Central Command established Operation Sentinel, invited nations to coordinate on surveillance and provide escorts to their flagged commercial vessels in the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Oman.

After European powers voiced qualms about the possibility of being dragged into a war with Iran, the US rebranded Operation Sentinel as the “International Maritime Security Construct” in Sept. 2019, headquartered in Bahrain.

The world’s eyes are once again on Iran as it uses the capture of the Hankuk Chemi to win concessions from South Korea. Seoul has confirmed it is in talks with Tehran and Washington to use the frozen Iranian money to purchase coronavirus vaccines for the country.




This undated picture taken in an unknown location and released on January 5, 2021 by Yonhap news agency in Seoul shows South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Choi Young. South Korea will send a government delegation to Iran "at the earliest possible date" to negotiate the release of a seized oil tanker and its crew, Seoul's foreign ministry said on January 5. (AFP/File Photo)

At the same time, South Korea’s foreign ministry said it is launching legal action to demand the ship’s release. Its defense ministry has also deployed its 300-strong Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz aboard the destroyer Choi Young to “ensure the safety” of South Korean nationals.

Shin Beom-chul, chief researcher at the Korea Research Institute for Economy and Society, told Arab News that the Iranian move is a desperate bid to get recognition from the incoming Biden administration in the US, which is expected to take a relatively softer stance vis-a-vis Iran.

“Tehran is sending a clear message that it can ratchet up aggression in the region any time, while the issue of frozen money in South Korea is just part of the Trump administration’s financial sanctions,” Shin said.

Iran is reeling from sanctions reintroduced after the Trump administration withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, in May 2018. Iran’s economic woes have been compounded by one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the region.




This handout photo provided by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official website via SEPAH News on November 19, 2020, shows a military drone parked on a warship named after slain Naval commander Abdollah Roudaki, sailing through the waters in the Gulf during it's inauguration. (AFP/File Photo)

European powers, meanwhile, are scrambling to salvage the JCPOA, just as Iran announced on Monday it has stepped up its uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity — far beyond the limits set by the deal.

Tehran’s successive breaches of the nuclear deal are widely interpreted as a means of pressuring European signatories to provide sanctions relief — a move that Washington has branded “nuclear extortion.”

Also fresh in Tehran’s mind this week is the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC’s extraterritorial Quds Force commander, who was eliminated with a US drone strike near Baghdad airport one year ago.

Struggling with sanctions and COVID-19, and bruised by strategic setbacks, Iran appeared to rein in its extra-legal naval activities in 2020. But now the IRGC seems to be reasserting itself in the waning days of the Trump administration.

With little sign of de-escalation in the Gulf, the Hankuk Chemi may not be the last commercial ship to be targeted by Iran in 2021.

-------------------

Twitter: @RobertPEdwards

 

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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UN hails reopening of Libya coastal road as historical achievement

Libyan security officers stand on a truck during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
Libyan security officers stand on a truck during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 30 July 2021

UN hails reopening of Libya coastal road as historical achievement

Libyan security officers stand on a truck during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Road linking the country’s long-divided east and west reopens after the UN demanded the safe passage of civilians and goods
  • Highway had been closed since April 2019 when eastern commander Khalifa Hifter launched a military campaign to capture Tripoli 

NEW YORK: After nearly two years of closure, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Friday welcomed the official reopening of the coastal road linking Libya’s long-divided east and west.

Calling it a landmark and historical achievement, Jan Kubis, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for Libya said, “the opening of the coastal road is a critical step to further the implementation of the cease-fire agreement of Oct. 23, 2020. Equally important, it will allow the free movement of commerce, humanitarian support, and the people of Libya.”

The highway had been closed since April 2019 when eastern commander Khalifa Hifter launched a military campaign to capture the capital of Tripoli from the then Government of National Accord.

Hifter endorsed the reopening of the road along the Mediterranean where a potential resumption of traffic is seen as a crucial step toward peace between the warring parties. 

The highway reopening was an “addition to other significant confidence-building measures achieved thus far, such as the resumption of flights and the exchange of detainees,” Kubis said.

He thanked Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeiba for the release of salaries for the security forces. Kubis also hailed the role of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the presidency council, and the Government of National Unity for the achievement. 

“It is another step in strengthening peace, security, and stability in the country, and in the unification of its institutions,” Kubis said. 

The special envoy called on Libyan leaders to follow the “exemplary work of the 5+5 JMC” and “set aside their differences and work together to implement the roadmap and hold elections on Dec. 24.”

The highway was reopened following the 11th meeting of the JMC in Sirte.

“The next major step in the ceasefire agreement’s implementation process is to commence the withdrawal of all mercenaries, foreign fighters, and forces from Libya without delay,” Kubis said.

The JMC called on the UNSMIL to convene a meeting with international stakeholders to discuss a plan for the withdrawal. 

The JMC also requested that the deployment of UN ceasefire monitors be expedited. 

The warring parties signed a UN-sponsored cease-fire agreement that ended the fighting in October 2020.


Afghan troops to be trained in Turkey under first NATO program abroad

Afghan troops to be trained in Turkey under first NATO program abroad
Updated 30 July 2021

Afghan troops to be trained in Turkey under first NATO program abroad

Afghan troops to be trained in Turkey under first NATO program abroad
  • Senior analyst Andrew Watkins sees Ankara solidifying its role in country amid uncertainty over Taliban stance

ANKARA: Afghan soldiers will receive training from NATO in Turkey, in the first such training program of its kind outside Afghanistan.

The location of the program for Afghan special forces, to begin after NATO officially finishes its mission in the country, has not been disclosed.

The move is expected to be the prelude to regular training programs outside Afghanistan for the country’s forces.

Turkey insists on not engaging in any combat operation in Afghanistan, except for self-defense purposes. However, it is negotiating with the Afghan government over the protection of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport after the withdrawal of US forces.

The move is considered a goodwill gesture by Turkey to show its willingness to improve ties with the West after it drew criticism for its military rapprochement with Russia through the purchase of the S-400 missile system.

The increased influx of Afghan migrants over recent weeks has prompted public criticism in Turkey and fueled anti-refugee sentiment, as hundreds have attempted to cross the border with Iran to flee instability and the Taliban after the US withdrawal.

Andrew Watkins, senior analyst on Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, said Ankara assuming the role of host for the training of Afghan forces is just one of several ways Turkey is solidifying its role in a post-US Afghanistan.

“It may also serve as a point of leverage with the US and NATO, as Washington appears to be scrambling to address the many details, complications and ripple effects of its decision to withdraw,” he told Arab News.

However, for Watkins, it is unclear how the Taliban will respond to news of the training, though they have already issued stern warnings against Turkish troops assuming security duties in Kabul.

“Much depends on if Turkey will engage in direct diplomatic dialogue with the group, in order to come to some understanding that might make their continued presence in Kabul more sustainable,” he said.

In mid-July, the Taliban warned Turkey against keeping troops in Afghanistan and extending its military presence in the country.

In January 2021, the Turkish army assumed leadership of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, requiring it to place thousands of soldiers on standby to be deployed within days if needed. 

This comes in addition to its key role offering advice and assistance to the government in Kabul.


HRW slams Iranian crackdown on Khuzestan protests

People gathering at Washington Square Park in support with the protests for access to water in Khuzestan, Iran. (Shutterstock)
People gathering at Washington Square Park in support with the protests for access to water in Khuzestan, Iran. (Shutterstock)
Updated 30 July 2021

HRW slams Iranian crackdown on Khuzestan protests

People gathering at Washington Square Park in support with the protests for access to water in Khuzestan, Iran. (Shutterstock)
  • Human Rights Watch calls for ‘independent international investigation into security agencies’ alleged use of lethal force’
  • Crackdown mainly aimed at province’s Arab population

LONDON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday condemned Iran’s violent crackdown on protests in Khuzestan province.

Amnesty International and UN Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet have also expressed condemnation in the past week.

HRW reported hundreds arrested and at least nine deaths, including a child. “Unconfirmed reports indicate the number of deaths and arrests may be higher,” it added.

On July 15, massive protests broke out in Khuzestan over water shortages, spearheaded by the province’s Arab community demonstrating against government negligence and anti-Arab discrimination.

Iranians in several other provinces have joined in solidarity. Iranian officials have blamed “rioters” for the killing of protesters.

But HRW said: “Videos shared on social media from protests in cities in Khuzestan show security officials shooting firearms and teargas toward protesters.”

Karim Dahimi, a London-based Ahwazi human rights activist, told Arab News that the death toll could go higher since many protesters “haven’t gone hospital for fear of being arrested and returned home with heavy injuries.”

He said Iranian authorities have set conditions for the return of victims’ bodies to families, including “protesters’ mobile number, information on who they were in contact with, who was with them, and who informed the parents.”

Another condition is that the fathers of victims go on camera and claim that “the protesters killed my son, and my son had no involvement in the demonstrations,” Dahimi added.

“Some families are under pressure and want to take the bodies, so they’ve accepted the government’s conditions. Other families haven’t.”

Eight of the protesters killed are Ahwazi Arabs and the ninth is Bakhtiari, Dahimi said. The crackdown on the mass protests is disproportionately impacting Iran’s Arab minority.

Shadi Sadr, a lawyer and co-founder of London-based NGO Justice for Iran, tweeted that the hundreds of protesters and activists arrested are “mostly of Arab Ahwazi ethnicity.” They have been arrested “in their homes and workplaces,” he added.

HRW said Iranian authorities “should immediately and unconditionally release peaceful protesters, provide information about deaths, and allow an independent international investigation into security agencies’ alleged use of lethal force. All those responsible for abuses should be held to account.”

 


Foreign fighters in Libya must be held accountable for rights abuses, say UN experts

The departure of foreign fighters from the country is a “vital precondition” for the peaceful staging of elections scheduled for December, UN experts said. (Reuters/File Photo)
The departure of foreign fighters from the country is a “vital precondition” for the peaceful staging of elections scheduled for December, UN experts said. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 30 July 2021

Foreign fighters in Libya must be held accountable for rights abuses, say UN experts

The departure of foreign fighters from the country is a “vital precondition” for the peaceful staging of elections scheduled for December, UN experts said. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Head of working group warns continued presence of mercenaries ‘impedes progress in peace process’ and is ‘an obstacle for upcoming elections’
  • The UN estimates that more than 20,000 foreign fighters seek to profit from the conflict, the majority of them from Syria, Turkey, Chad and Sudan

NEW YORK: Human rights abuses committed by foreign mercenaries and private contractors in Libya must be investigated and the perpetrators held accountable, UN experts said on Friday.

The departure of foreign fighters from the country is a “vital precondition” for the peaceful staging of elections scheduled for December, they added.

The UN estimates there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters seeking to profit from the conflict in Libya, the majority of them from Syria, Turkey, Chad and Sudan.

The members of the UN Security Council have agreed that they must be repatriated. However two of the council’s permanent members, the US and UK, accuse another, Russia, of being responsible for some of the foreign fighters. In particular they point to the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-backed private-security firm that UN experts say is involved in the fighting in Libya.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any role on the country’s battlefields. Jelena Aparac, chair of the UN working group on the use of mercenaries, said that well-armed private contractors from Russia, Syria, Sudan and Chad threaten the security and stability not only of Libya but also other countries in the region.

“Nine months after the ceasefire agreement calling for withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, mercenaries and private military and security contractors continue to operate in the country,” she said.

“Their continued recruitment and presence in Libya impedes progress in the peace process and constitutes an obstacle for the upcoming elections.”

The working group’s experts said these mercenaries must leave the country immediately and “there must be an immediate end to the transfer of military weapons and materiel into Libya.”

Aparac appealed to the international community “to take concrete steps” to move the repatriation process forward.

During the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, representatives of both sides in the conflict agreed a road map to “credible, inclusive and democratic national elections” that are due to take place on Dec. 24 this year.

If foreign fighters remain in the country at that time, Libyans will not be able to vote in a safe and secure environment, Aparac warned.

Her working group concluded more than a year ago that a reliance on mercenaries since 2019 contributed to the escalation of the conflict in Libya, undermined the peace process, and constituted a breach of the Security Council’s arms embargo on the country. Since then, the experts have repeatedly urged governments to investigate all allegations of violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

“A year on, and looking forward to elections, we remain concerned that any political process aiming to establish sustainable peace has to include a genuine commitment to human rights,” the experts said on Friday.

“There must be real accountability for abuses committed by mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private contractors.”

Working groups and special rapporteurs are part of what is known as the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. They are independent experts and work on a voluntary basis. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.


Wildfires sweep Turkey as government slammed over emergency response

In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
Updated 30 July 2021

Wildfires sweep Turkey as government slammed over emergency response

In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
  • Countries including Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, and Greece have offered emergency help

ANKARA: Emergency services in Turkey were on Friday desperately battling to contain more than 60 wildfires that had broken out in just one day across 17 provinces.

The raging fires have devastated homes and livelihoods, killed thousands of animals, and destroyed huge tracts of forest, forcing many residents to flee.

At least four people are reported to have died and dozens have been hospitalized as the blazes continued for a fourth consecutive day in the country’s Aegean and Mediterranean regions.

And Turkey’s civil aviation agency has come under public criticism for its handling of the crisis. Although wildfires during summertime are common in Turkey, this year the fires have reached an unprecedented level.

Turkish Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said strong winds and hot weather had made it difficult to bring the fires under control and prevent them moving toward settlements.

The mayor of the southern resort town of Marmaris blamed “sabotage” for the fires and said an investigation had been launched. A number of buildings and hotels in tourist zones of Marmaris and Bodrum were evacuated after separate fires.

Countries including Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, and Greece have offered emergency help. Three planes, nine drones, 38 helicopters, 680 firefighting vehicles, and more than 4,000 personnel have been deployed to put out the fires.

Turkey has only three planes available to fight forest fires, but all are leased from Russia for 1.3 million liras ($154,350) per day.

Alpay Antmen, a lawmaker from the southern Mersin province and a member of the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), told Arab News: “We have been monitoring the situation on the ground since the beginning. Fortunately, they contained the fire from reaching the settlements. But this tragic case has shown once again the weakness of state apparatus in such emergency situations.”

He, along with other opposition parliamentarians, have been lobbying the Turkish government for a year to upgrade the country’s firefighting capacity.

“Nobody replied to our parliamentary inquiries, and we all witnessed the result of this incapacity. The Turkish president has 13 private planes in his possession, but why couldn’t they buy one single firefighting plane so far?” Antmen said.

Tolga Ozbek, general coordinator of the aviation sector website kokpit.aero, told Arab News that Turkey had increased its annual water carrying capacity to 148,000 tons this year from 80,000 tons in 2018.

“Fighting wildfires requires an integrated approach, using different types of planes and helicopters based on the geographical conditions. Turkey has been leasing its firefighting helicopters for the last 35 years. This has turned out to be costlier than buying some,” he said.

He pointed out that Turkey needed a permanent fleet of firefighting planes and should allocate a reasonable budget for such emergency situations.

“Whatever you invest in fighting fires, it always falls short because the fires can erupt anywhere anytime. While formulating specific policies in this regard, one should always consider the implications of global warming and the ongoing drought in the country,” Ozbek added.