Russia offers to help mediate in Armenia-Azerbaijan border row

Russia offers to help mediate in Armenia-Azerbaijan border row
Russia on Wednesday offered to help mediate demarcation negotiations after Armenia accused Azerbaijan of a border incursion amid fragility of a Russian-brokered ceasefire. (AP)
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Updated 19 May 2021

Russia offers to help mediate in Armenia-Azerbaijan border row

Russia offers to help mediate in Armenia-Azerbaijan border row
  • Armenia accused Azerbaijan of sending troops across border last week but the latter denied and said it defended their side
  • "Russia has offered first of all to provide assistance with the delimitation and demarcation of the border," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

DUSHANBE: Russia said on Wednesday it had offered to help mediate demarcation negotiations after Armenia accused Azerbaijan of a border incursion.
Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of sending troops across the border last week, highlighting the fragility of a Russian-brokered cease-fire that halted six weeks of fighting between ethnic Armenian and Azeri forces last year.
Azerbaijan has denied crossing the frontier and said its forces only defended their side. But Armenia said on Friday that Azerbaijan had failed to fulfil a promise to withdraw troops that had crossed the border.
“Russia has offered first of all to provide assistance with the delimitation and demarcation of the border,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters during a visit to Tajikistan.
He said Moscow had proposed setting up a joint Armenian-Azeri commission, with Russia possibly participating as a consultant or mediator.
Russian President Vladimir Putin later held separate calls with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev and Armenian acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Putin said Moscow would assist Azerbaijan and Armenia in reaching an agreement, according to a readout of the talks published by the Kremlin.
Armen Grigoryan, secretary of the Armenian government’s security council, said demarcation work could not start until Azeri troops had left Armenian territory, TASS news agency reported.
However, Armenia’s defense ministry said talks between the Armenian and Azeri defense officials were underway, the Interfax news agency reported.
“In the absence of a peaceful settlement within a reasonable timeframe — in the event that Azerbaijan’s military does not return to its original positions without any preconditions — the Armenian armed forces have the right to resolve the issue by other means, including by force,” the ministry said.
Moscow helped secure a cease-fire in November after Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenians out of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Russia, which has a military base in Armenia, sent peacekeepers to the area last year to help enforce the cease-fire. It has strong ties and a mutual defense pact with Armenia but is also friendly with Azerbaijan.


South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage
Updated 18 sec ago

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage
  • Sri Lankan-born Sudesh Amman was offered support from two different mentors following his release from jail but before the attack
  • Mentors said there was no behavior of concern to report, but were ‘shocked’ when they saw details of the 2020 incident in Streatham

LONDON: A convicted terrorist told his mentor that he had changed, days before carrying out a knife rampage in south London which ended when he was shot dead by police, an inquest has heard.

Sudesh Amman, 20, told his allocated mentor that he had “now realized” that terrorists were “pushing people away” from Islam.

Amman made the comments on Jan. 30, 2020, seven days after his early release from prison and just three days before he suddenly stole a knife from a shop in Streatham and stabbed two unsuspecting members of the public. He was fatally shot by covert police officers who were tasked with keeping him under surveillance. Both of his victims survived.

An inquest into his death at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London heard yesterday that Amman pledged his allegiance to Daesh in prison and that he told prisoners he “wanted to kill the Queen.”

The inquest was told that the Sri Lankan-born terrorist was offered support from a theological mentor to deal with his extreme brand of Islam and a practical mentor to help him adapt to life beyond prison.

He had met both of them following his release from prison.

His mentors told the court that they were “shocked” and “gobsmacked” when they recognized Amman as the perpetrator of the shocking attack on Feb. 2, 2020.

One of his mentors had a testimony following a meeting with Amman read out in court: “He (Amman) said he now realized that people who hurt other people through things like acts of terror were pushing people away from the faith and causing hatred.”

The witness said Amman had been “the most relaxed that I have seen him” in the last of their four meetings in person, which took place in HMP Belmarsh and after his release.

The mentor, who was known as “Witness M” to retain their anonymity, said: “He was happy to talk, he had no moments where he held back from saying anything and he seemed happy and relieved at being released.

“I took him at his word. He seemed sincere the way he was saying it.”

The mentor said that he felt there was no behavior of concern to report, but was “shocked” when he saw details of the incident in Streatham unfolding.

Witness M said: “I saw when it said the incident was in Streatham, I knew I visited him, I hoped it was not (him). I kept watching the news and I had a little bit of disbelief, to be honest.”

The other mentor, referred to as “Witness T,” told the inquest that he discussed religious matters with Amman during their only meeting on Jan. 29.

Witness T said Amman showed that he was “ignorant” of Islam during their meeting. Amman told Witness T that he was keeping to himself in the week after his release at a Streatham probation hostel out of fear that people believed he was radicalizing others.

Witness T said he found out about the attack on Streatham high street on the same day it occurred.

“I was gobsmacked, I was shocked, I was surprised,” he said.


Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release

Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release
Updated 13 min 59 sec ago

Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release

Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release
  • Mawlavi Talib was among 5,000 militants freed last year by the Afghan government under pressure from Washington

LONDON: The Taliban assault on Lashkar Gah is being led by a commander released by the Afghan government last year as part of a US deal to boost peace talks.

Mawlavi Talib was among 5,000 militants freed under pressure from Washington as it attempted to reach an agreement to end the 20-year war, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province is one of several Afghan cities under a fierce onslaught from the Taliban as the insurgents seek further gains after sweeping through the country’s rural areas in recent months.

The report of Talib’s release is particularly embarrassing for US President Joe Biden, who faced fierce criticism for his decision to pull American troops out of the country. 

Many of the freed insurgents are now taking part in offensives that have brought huge pressure on the Afghan government.

A Taliban commander told The Times newspaper that Talib is “leading the fight and the Taliban are close to gaining control of Lashkar Gah.”

“Talib is an aggressive fighter, advancing well in the province,” he said. 

Talib previously commanded militants in Helmand before working as the Taliban’s “shadow” deputy governor for the province.

He was arrested last year by Afghan troops but was freed within months after the Afghan government reluctantly agreed to release the insurgents.

British and American troops spent years in fierce battles with the Taliban as the militants attempted to capture Helmand.

Much of Lashkar Gah was seized by the Taliban in recent weeks but US and Afghan airstrikes overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday attempted to dislodge the fighters.

The UN said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” about tens of thousands of people in the city who could be trapped by the fighting.


UK moves UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to amber list for medium-risk travel

UK moves UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to amber list for medium-risk travel
Updated 37 sec ago

UK moves UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to amber list for medium-risk travel

UK moves UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to amber list for medium-risk travel
  • Britain will also require arrivals from France to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated
  • The government has gradually eased restrictions, as vaccination numbers increased

LONDON: The UK government said late Wednesday it will ease English entry rules and will move the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to its “amber” list of countries for travel after being on the red list, which requires a costly 10-day hotel quarantine on arrival.
The change will come into effect at 4:00 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Sunday.
Britain will also require arrivals from France to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated, following its latest review of travel curbs, which puts France back on England’s “amber” list under its traffic light system for arriving travelers.
The government last month eased the rules to allow people from amber countries fully jabbed with a vaccine approved by regulators in the United States and European Union to enter without having to self-isolate.
However, arrivals from France were the exception.
Britain said it acted over fears about the prevalence of the Beta strain, even though it mainly affected France’s overseas territories, particularly La Reunion.
But furious officials in Paris called the move “discriminatory.”
France now rejoins dozens of other countries on the amber list — including many EU members and the US — which mandates virus tests before and after arrival for those jabbed in those territories.
Others must self-isolate at home for 10 days.
Other changes to the rules — which are reviewed every three weeks — will see Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and Norway added to the green list.
Travelers in that designation must only take COVID-19 tests before and after entering England, regardless of their vaccination status, and do not have to self-isolate.
Meanwhile, Georgia, Mexico, and France’s Indian Ocean territories of La Reunion and Mayotte will be moved onto the red list.
“We are committed to opening up international travel safely,” Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement.
“While we must continue to be cautious, today’s changes reopen a range of different holiday destinations across the globe, which is good news for both the sector and traveling public.”
The UK government in London determines health and travel policy for England. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland governments set their own and have broadly adopted the same measures.
Britain has been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with 130,000 deaths within 28 days of a positive test since the outbreak began.
But the government has gradually eased restrictions, as vaccination numbers increased, cutting numbers of hospital admissions with COVID.
Some 88.7 percent of all adults have now had a first dose, and 73.2 percent two doses, according to the latest government figures.


Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier
Updated 04 August 2021

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier
  • Gen. Nick Carter: Govt forces need to secure military stalemate with Taliban so as to enable talks
  • There is a ‘real risk’ that the West is ‘giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban’

LONDON: Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state unless government forces can prevent the Taliban’s advance, Britain’s most senior soldier warned on Wednesday.

Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of defense staff, said Afghan forces have to secure a military stalemate in order to start talks between the government and the Taliban. 

He also warned the international community against giving credence to the Taliban and its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, saying there is a risk of giving the group “legitimacy” that it does not deserve.

Carter said the country becoming a failed state “is one of the scenarios that could occur, but we have to get behind the current Afghan government and support them in what they’re trying to do.

“And if they can achieve a military stalemate, then there will have to be a political compromise. Even the Taliban at the level of Baradar recognize that they can’t … conquer Afghanistan.

“There has to be a conversation. And the important thing is to achieve the military stalemate that can then bring on that conversation.”

Carter told the BBC that there is a “real risk” that the West is “giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban movement.”

He added: “There’s a huge disparity between what Mullah Baradar is saying publicly and … what’s actually happening on the ground. 

“And the international community has got to do much more about calling out the way that the people on the ground are trashing government buildings, they’re threatening the population, there are reports of people being forced into marriages.”

Carter said he has seen “grisly videos of war crimes,” and the international community “mustn’t let them get away with this — we’ve got to call them out.”

His comments come as Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, called for the West to “rethink its strategy.”

Ellwood, himself a former British Army officer, tweeted on Wednesday that there is “still time to prevent civil war” by sending “a 5,000-strong coalition force — enough to give legitimacy to the Afghan government & support to Afghan forces to contain and deter the Taliban.” He added: “Otherwise we face a failed state.”


Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
Updated 04 August 2021

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
  • Lithuania calls on the EU to take action to halt the growing number of people illegally crossing its border
  • Minister said more than 4,000 migrants have entered Lithuania illegally this year

LONDON: Lithuania accused Belarus on Wednesday of using migrants from the Middle East and Africa as a “political weapon” and urged the EU to intervene.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was allowing flights with what he claims are tourists from Iraq, Syria and African countries who then illegally cross the border into Lithuania in an attempt to seek asylum in the EU.

More than 4,000 migrants have already entered Lithuania in this way so far this year, compared with only about 80 in the whole of 2020, Landsbergis told the website Politico.

“This is not the 2015 migration crisis,” he said. “This is not people fleeing the war in Syria. This is actually a hybrid weapon, a political weapon one might say, that is (being) used to change the European policy.”

He warned that a recent decision by Belarus to increase the number flights from Iraq to Minsk could lead to more than 6,000 migrants crossing the border into Lithuania every week.

“There are currently 24 flights to Minsk from Istanbul and eight flights from Baghdad each week,” said Landsbergis. “If you consider that each of these flights can transport up to 170 people, and if you fill all the seats with asylum seekers, the capacity is up to 6,000 people a week — or even more because new flights from Erbil have been announced on Monday. So there is a possibility for Lukashenko to really up the ante.”

The foreign minister called for increased international pressure on Minsk through further sanctions and by lobbying the home countries of migrants to take action.

“The EU could tell countries such as Iraq that there’s a list of instruments — restrictions of visa programs, for example — that we will use if they don’t stop these flights to Minsk,” Landsbergis said.

“We know that these people are not tourists coming to visit Belarus.”

The number of migrants crossing into Lithuania from Belarus could exceed 10,000 by the end of the summer, he warned, and added that this number could dramatically increase as Lukashenko approaches African governments “to build up new routes.”

“So what we are seeing might be just the beginning,” he said.

The foreign minister said he has discussed the issue with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other EU officials who “understand the situation,” but he stressed that more must be done.

“I think we need to really step up our game,” Landsbergis said. “Because at this point the message that we are sending (is) not sufficient to change the way things are.”

Lithuania has asked for an emergency meeting of EU interior ministers this month to agree assistance for the country, which is on the front line of a new migration crisis in Europe.

On Tuesday, Lithuanian authorities said they reserve the right to use force to prevent illegal immigration, and turned away 180 people attempting to enter the country. However, rights groups said all nations have an obligation to protect vulnerable people.

“Push backs of people seeking asylum are not compatible with the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and other human rights instruments” Egle Samuchovaite, program director for Lithuania's Red Cross, told the Associated Press.

She added that refusing to allow vulnerable people to cross the border leaves them in an unsafe environment, trapped between two countries.

Lithuania has no physical barriers along its almost 700-kilometer border with Belarus.

The row over the latest actions of Belarus’s authoritarian president comes after the EU imposed sanctions on his country over an incident in May that was denounced as “state piracy,” in which a Belarusian warplane was scrambled to intercept an aircraft so that a dissident journalist could be arrested.