Ethiopia claims retaking towns from Tigray rebels

Soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) walk in the streets of Kombolcha, Ethiopia, on December 11, 2021. (AFP)
Soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) walk in the streets of Kombolcha, Ethiopia, on December 11, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 19 December 2021

Ethiopia claims retaking towns from Tigray rebels

Soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) walk in the streets of Kombolcha, Ethiopia, on December 11, 2021. (AFP)
  • On Sunday, the rebels recaptured the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lalibela, 11 days after Ethiopian forces claimed to have retaken it from the TPLF

NAIROBI: Ethiopian forces have recaptured several towns from Tigrayan rebels including Kobo and Woldiya in the north, the government announced on Saturday, as fierce fighting raged in the 13-month war that has left thousands dead.
The conflict between forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front rebel group has triggered a severe humanitarian crisis and prompted the UN’s top rights body to order an international probe into alleged abuses.
Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the military, announced last month that he would head to the front, following which the
government has claimed to have retaken several key towns. Communications have been cut in the conflict zone and access for journalists is restricted, making it difficult to verify battlefield claims.
But on Saturday, the government communication service said pro-Abiy forces “have managed to fully control Sanqa, Sirinqa, as well as the cities of Woldiya, Hara, Gobiye, Robit and Kobo.”
“The enemy force which escaped from destruction and was fleeing ... is being followed by our allied forces,” it said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Starting late October, the two sides have each claimed major territorial advances with several key cities apparently changing hands in the weeks since.
On Sunday, the rebels recaptured the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lalibela, 11 days after Ethiopian forces claimed to have retaken it from the TPLF.
The war broke out in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into Ethiopia’s northernmost region of Tigray to topple the TPLF, accusing them of attacking army camps.
He vowed a swift victory but the rebels mounted a shock comeback, recapturing most of Tigray by June before advancing into the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, where Kobo and Woldiya are located.
The fighting has displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates, with reports of massacres and mass rapes by both sides.
On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council voted to send international investigators to Africa’s second most populous nation amid warnings of looming generalized violence, in a move slammed by Addis Ababa.
Diplomatic efforts led by the African Union to try to reach a cease-fire have failed to achieve any visible breakthrough.
Fears of a rebel march on the capital prompted countries such as the US, France and Britain to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, although Abiy’s government has insisted the city was secure.


UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit

UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit
Updated 28 May 2022

UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit

UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit
  • Michelle Bachelet's long-planned trip this week has taken her to the far-western region
  • Her office later clarified that her remarks did not contain a direct endorsement of China's rights record

BEIJING: The UN rights envoy on Saturday said her contentious visit to China was “not an investigation,” and insisted she had unsupervised access during meetings in Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of widespread human rights abuses.
Michelle Bachelet’s long-planned trip this week has taken her to the far-western region, where Beijing is accused of the detention of over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, forced sterilization of women and coerced labor.
The United States has labelled China’s actions in Xinjiang a “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” allegations vehemently denied by Beijing which says its security crackdown was a necessary response to extremism.
Bachelet has come under fire from rights groups and Uyghurs overseas, who say she has stumbled into a six-day Communist Party propaganda tour, including a meeting with President Xi Jinping in which state media suggested she supported China’s vision of human rights.
Her office later clarified that her remarks did not contain a direct endorsement of China’s rights record.
Speaking at the end of her trip while still inside China, Bachelet framed her visit as a chance for her to speak with “candour” to Chinese authorities as well as civil society groups and academics.
“This visit was not an investigation,” she told reporters, later insisting she had “unsupervised” access to sources the UN had arranged to meet in Xinjiang.
It is the first trip to China by the UN’s top rights envoy in 17 years and comes after painstaking negotiations over the conditions of her visit, which the UN says is neither a fact-finding mission nor a probe.
Bachelet this week visited the Xinjiang cities of Urumqi and Kashgar, according to her office, but no photos or further details of her itinerary have dribbled out.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said earlier this week that Bachelet’s activities were “arranged according to her will and on the basis of thorough consultations of the two sides.”
She planned to meet “civil society organizations, business representatives, academics,” her office said, but state media has only covered meetings with Xi and foreign minister Wang Yi, during which he gave her a book of Xi quotes on human rights.
Her trip has taken place under a “closed loop,” ostensibly due to Covid-19 risks.
The United States has reiterated its view that Bachelet’s visit was a mistake after the release of thousands of leaked documents and photographs from inside the system of mass incarceration this week, while the UK and Germany have voiced their concerns at the visit.


Russian ex-president Medvedev calls for tougher ‘foreign agent’ law

Russian ex-president Medvedev calls for tougher ‘foreign agent’ law
Updated 28 May 2022

Russian ex-president Medvedev calls for tougher ‘foreign agent’ law

Russian ex-president Medvedev calls for tougher ‘foreign agent’ law
  • Russia has legislation that labels groups and individuals as foreign agents if they receive foreign funding to engage in political activity
  • Dozens of Kremlin critics have been listed as foreign agents

DUBAI: Former president Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday called for Russia to toughen its laws on “foreign agents” and prosecute individuals working for the interests of foreign states.
Russia has legislation that labels groups and individuals as foreign agents — a term that carries Soviet-era connotations of spying — if they receive foreign funding to engage in what the authorities say is political activity.
Dozens of Kremlin critics have been listed as foreign agents, including journalists and rights activists, and many have fled abroad.
Medvedev, who now serves as deputy head of Russia’s security council, said the enforcement of the “foreign agents” legislation needed to be stepped up as Moscow carries out its military intervention in Ukraine and finds itself under unprecedented sanctions from the West.
“If they (foreign agents) are carrying out activities aimed against our country — especially during this tough period — and receive money for it from our enemies, our response must be quick and harsh,” Medvedev wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
He added that the legislation should more precisely classify “foreign agents” and impose stricter consequences for their offenses.
At present, those listed are subject to stringent financial reporting requirements and have to preface anything they publish, including social media posts, with a disclaimer stating that they are foreign agents.
Lawmakers said last month they planned to submit amendments to the law to add more restrictions, including on investing in strategic industries and working with children.
Medvedev also said he supported legislative initiatives to criminally prosecute “people working in the interest of a foreign state.”
His post began and ended with a reference to a 1960s Soviet television series set during the Russian Civil War of the 1920s, in which Medvedev noted that the hero was shot as a spy.


Ukraine ex-president says blocked from leaving country

Ukraine ex-president says blocked from leaving country
Updated 28 May 2022

Ukraine ex-president says blocked from leaving country

Ukraine ex-president says blocked from leaving country
  • Petro Poroshenko, in power from 2014 to 2019, has made frequent public appearances since the war started

KYIV, Ukraine: The former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said Saturday he was barred from leaving the country, accusing the government of breaking a so-called political cease-fire in place since Russia invaded.
Poroshenko, in power from 2014 to 2019, has made frequent public appearances since the war started, appearing on international television to offer commentary.
His European Solidarity party is the second biggest party in Ukraine’s parliament after President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ruling party.
After Russia invaded, Ukraine’s parliament banned several pro-Russian parties, and allowed others to still operate under a so-called political cease-fire — a tacit understanding that all parties would put aside domestic political disagreements to unite against the war.
But on Saturday, Poroshenko’s office said he “was refused to cross the border of Ukraine,” accusing the government of violating the agreement.
“There is a risk that by this decision, the authorities have broken the ‘political cease-fire’ in place during the war... which one of the pillars of national unity in the face of to Russian aggression,” his office said.
Poroshenko was due to travel to a NATO parliamentary assembly meeting in Lithuania as part of the Ukrainian delegation, and had received official permission to travel.
He was due to meet in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and a group of European parliamentarians.
He was then to travel to Rotterdam in the Netherlands for a summit bringing together European political parties.


China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan

China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan
Updated 28 May 2022

China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan

China signs deal with Samoa as Australia vows Pacific Islands plan
  • China is building on a security pact it recently signed with Solomon Islands

SYDNEY: China’s foreign minister signed a deal with Samoa on Saturday to strengthen diplomatic relations, while Australia’s new leader said he had a “comprehensive plan” for the Pacific, as Beijing and Canberra continued rival campaigns to woo the region.
China is building on a security pact it recently signed with Solomon Islands, which has alarmed the United States and its allies such as Australia as they fear a stepped-up military presence by Beijing. Australia’s new center-left government has made the Pacific Islands an early diplomatic priority.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, sworn in on Monday, said on Saturday his Labor government’s plan includes a defense training school, support for maritime security, a boost in aid and re-engaging the region on climate change.
“We will be proactive in the region, we want to engage,” he told reporters.
China’s Wang Yi, on a tour of the Pacific seeking a 10-nation deal on security and trade, finished a visit to Samoa, where he met Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa and signed documents including an “economic and technical cooperation agreement,” Samoa said in a statement.
“Samoa and the People’s Republic of China will continue to pursue greater collaboration that will deliver on joint interests and commitments,” it said.
Also Saturday, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said he had a “wonderful meeting” with Australia’s Penny Wong, who had visited days after taking office to show the new government’s attention to the Pacific Islands.
“Fiji is not anyone’s backyard — we are a part of a Pacific family,” Bainimarama wrote on Twitter, posting a picture of himself and Penny Wong shaking hands.
Bainimarama appeared to be taking a veiled swipe at Scott Morrison, the conservative prime minister ousted in an election last weekend, who once referred to the Pacific as Australia’s “backyard”.
Climate change, which Pacific Island nations consider an existential threat, had been a key issue in the election.
Australia’s Wong has said that Canberra will be a partner that does not come with strings attached, while China’s Wang expressed hope that Beijing’s ties with the Solomon Islands could be a regional model.
Wang was headed to Fiji, where he is expected to push for the regional deal in a meeting he is to host on Monday.


Ukraine: Russian advances could force retreat in part of east

Ukraine: Russian advances could force retreat in part of east
Updated 28 May 2022

Ukraine: Russian advances could force retreat in part of east

Ukraine: Russian advances could force retreat in part of east
  • A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full

KYIV/POPASNA, Ukraine: Ukrainian forces may have to retreat from their last pocket in the Luhansk region to avoid being captured, a Ukrainian official said, as Russian troops press an advance in the east that has shifted the momentum of the three-month-old war.
A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full. His troops have gained ground in the two areas collectively known as the Donbas while blasting some towns to wastelands.
Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said Russian troops had entered Sievierodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days. Gaidai said 90 percent of buildings in the town were damaged.
“The Russians will not be able to capture Luhansk region in the coming days as analysts have predicted,” Gaidai said on Telegram, referring to the area including Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk, across the Siverskiy Donets River.
“We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However, it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat.”
Russia’s separatist proxies said they controlled Lyman, a railway hub west of Sievierodonetsk. Ukraine said Russia had captured most of Lyman but that its forces were blocking an advance to Sloviansk, to the southwest.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine was protecting its land “as much as our current defense resources allow.” Ukraine’s military said it had repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday, destroying tanks and armored vehicles.
“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian,” Zelensky said in an address.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said while Russian forces had begun direct assaults on built-up areas of Sievierodonetsk, they would likely struggle to take ground in the city itself.
“Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war,” they said.
Russian troops advanced after piercing Ukrainian lines last week in the city of Popasna, south of Sievierodonetsk. Russian ground forces have captured several villages northwest of Popasna, Britain’s defense ministry said.
Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv on Thursday for the first time in days. Authorities said nine people were killed. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians in what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
In the south, where Moscow has seized a swath of territory since the Feb. 24 invasion, including the port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to impose permanent rule.
In the Kherson region in the south, Russian forces were fortifying defenses and shelling Ukraine-controlled areas, the region’s Ukrainian governor, Hennadiy Laguta, told media.
He said the humanitarian situation was critical in some areas and people were finding it very difficult to leave.
Police said 31 people had been evacuated on Friday from the Luhansk region, including 13 children.