UN envoy: Myanmar crisis deepens, taking ‘catastrophic toll’

UN envoy: Myanmar crisis deepens, taking ‘catastrophic toll’
Debris are scattered after air strikes by Myanmar’s military destroyed wooden structures near Aung Bar Lay Village, Hpakant township, Kachin state in Myanmar on Oct. 24, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 26 October 2022

UN envoy: Myanmar crisis deepens, taking ‘catastrophic toll’

UN envoy: Myanmar crisis deepens, taking ‘catastrophic toll’
  • Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule
  • Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s term ended with the military’s Feb. 1, 2021 coup

UNITED NATIONS: The UN special envoy for Myanmar warned Tuesday that the political, human rights and humanitarian crisis in the military-ruled Southeast Asian nation is deepening and taking “a catastrophic toll on the people.”
Noeleen Heyzer told the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee that more than 13.2 million people don’t have enough to eat, 1.3 million are displaced and the military continues operations using disproportionate force including bombings, burnings of homes and buildings, and the killing of civilians.
Heyzer’s briefing was her first at the UN in New York since she visited Myanmar in August and met the head of the military government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
She said the meeting “was part of broader efforts by the UN to urgently support a return to civilian rule.” She stressed that “there is a new political reality in Myanmar: a people demanding change, no longer willing to accept military rule.”
Heyzer said she made six requests during the meeting with the military’s commander-in-chief, including to end aerial bombing and the burning of civilian infrastructure; deliver humanitarian aid without discriminating; release all children and political prisoners; institute a moratorium on executions; ensure the well-being of and allow meetings with the country’s imprisoned former leader Aung San Suu Kyi; and create conditions for the voluntary and safe return of over 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh to escape military crackdowns.
Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country.
That ended with the military’s Feb. 1, 2021 coup following November 2020 elections in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won overwhelmingly and the military contested as fraudulent.
The takeover was met with massive public opposition, which has since turned into armed resistance that some UN experts, including Heyzer’s predecessor, Christine Schraner Burgener, have characterized as civil war.
Much of the international community, including Myanmar’s fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have expressed frustration at the hard line the generals have taken in resisting reform. Myanmar’s rulers agreed to a five-point ASEAN plan in April 2021 to restore peace and stability to the country but the military has made little effort to implement the plan.
The plan calls for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all concerned parties, mediation of the dialogue process by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid through ASEAN channels and a visit to Myanmar by the association’s special envoy to meet all concerned parties. Heyzer and ASEAN special envoy Prak Sokhonn, a Cambodian minister, have both visited Myanmar but neither was allowed to meet Suu Kyi.
Heyzer told the human rights committee there are some avenues to pursue.
“While there is little room for the de-escalation of violence or for ‘talks about talks’ in the present zero-sum situation, there are some concrete ways to reduce the suffering of the people,” she said.
Heyzer said she has been working “extremely closely” with the ASEAN envoy and the ASEAN chair, but she was critical of its five-point consensus, which doesn’t deal with the Rohingya or how best to return Myanmar to civilian rule.
Another issue that is critical, she said, is that the humanitarian aid under the five-point plan “actually works through the channels of the military, and it doesn’t quite reach the people that are most in need.”
Heyzer said that since many more people will be forced to flee Myanmar to escape violence, she will keep pressing ASEAN “to develop a regional protection framework for refugees and forcibly displaced persons.”
“The recent forced return of Myanmar nationals, some of whom were detained on arrival, underlines the urgency of a coordinated ASEAN response to address shared regional challenges caused by the conflict,” she said.
On the humanitarian front, Heyzer said key armed ethnic organizations and the opposition National Unity Government appealed to her to convene a forum “to facilitate protection and humanitarian assistance to all people in need, in observance of international humanitarian law.”
She said the plight of the Rohingya, and other forcibly displaced from Myanmar, “remains desperate, with many seeking refuge through dangerous land and sea journeys.”
Violence between the Arakan Army and the government in northern Rakhine state, where the Rohingya fled from but where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya still live, “has escalated to levels not seen since late 2020, with significant cross-border incursions,” she said.
Heyzer said this is endangering all communities, harming conditions for the return of Rohingya, and “prolonging the burden on Bangladesh.”


Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
Updated 57 min 14 sec ago

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
  • Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Friday named his former top Covid-19 aide Jeff Zients to White House chief of staff — one of the most crucial positions in an administration gearing up for a likely re-election campaign.
Zients replaces Ron Klain, who saw Biden through the first two years of his term in the post, arguably the most powerful behind-the-scenes job in any US administration. The swap will take place on February 8, a day after Biden delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.
The departure of Klain, who has worked with Biden throughout his decades-long Washington career — from senator to vice president, then victor over Donald Trump in 2020 — will deprive the 80-year-old president of an especially close, trusted aide.
Chiefs of staff do everything from managing access to the president, setting his agenda, communicating with political power brokers and acting as a constant crisis manager and sounding board for ideas.
“During the last 36 years, Ron and I have been through some real battles together. And when you’re in the trenches with somebody for as long as I have been with Ron, you really get to know the person. You see what they’re made of,” Biden said in a statement.
Klain is credited with masterminding the intricate, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the White House and lawmakers in Congress that has seen Biden get a string of landmark bills passed, often against expectations in the last two years.
Until November’s midterm elections, Democrats held a razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress and Klain was instrumental in preventing the various party factions from splitting at key moments.
On Twitter, Biden described Klain as a “once in a generation talent with fierce intellect and heart.”

Zients, who oversaw the vast Covid-19 pandemic response when Biden took office, is considered a skilled technocrat, who does not have the deep political connections of Klain but will aim to make sure that the earlier legislative victories are followed through.
“A big task ahead is now implementing the laws we’ve gotten passed efficiently and fairly,” Biden said.
“When I ran for office, I promised to make government work for the American people. That’s what Jeff does,” Biden said. “I’m confident that Jeff will continue Ron’s example of smart, steady leadership.”
Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024.
Zients will also be taking over just as Republicans flex their muscles in the House of Representatives, where they won their own tiny majority in November. With the hard-right of the party in the ascendant, Biden is due to face a series of aggressive investigations into his policies and the business activities of his son Hunter.
Biden is also currently embroiled in a Justice Department probe after the discovery of a small number of classified documents in his house and at a former office. The White House says the documents were accidentally mislaid after Biden’s time as vice president to Barack Obama.
Trump is also under investigation for handling secret documents, although in his case they number in the hundreds and the Republican repeatedly refused to cooperate with authorities on the matter.

 


Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
Updated 28 January 2023

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
  • Jullebee Ranara’s charred remains were discovered in a desert in Kuwait on Sunday
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases

MANILA: The murder of a Filipina worker whose body was found in a desert in Kuwait has sent a shockwave through the Philippines, where a two-week vigil will begin after her remains return to the country on Friday.

Jullebee Ranara, 35, was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers — mostly women employed as domestic helpers — living in Kuwait.

Her charred remains were discovered in a desert on Sunday. Kuwaiti media reported that she was pregnant and had been subjected to blunt-force trauma. The 17-year-old son of her employer has been arrested by Kuwaiti police on murder charges.

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople declined to comment on the causes of Ranara’s death until after the National Bureau of Investigation has conducted an autopsy.  

“There are many speculations as to the cause of death and motives behind it. The family has requested for an autopsy,” she said in a media briefing on Friday.

“What is important is the police acted quickly. The primary suspect is under the custody of the Kuwaiti police, and we are closely monitoring the case.”

A vigil for Ranara is going to begin after her remains are repatriated on Friday evening.

“We are hopeful that her wake will start by Sunday,” Ople told reporters.

“According to the husband, they would like the wake scheduled for two weeks to give time for relatives and friends who are in the province to pay their respect.”

The news of her death was “dreadful” for former OFWs like Maria Nida Dizon.

“What they did to her is inhuman. She went to Kuwait to work, carrying in her suitcase every hope for a better life, only to meet a gruesome death,” she told Arab News.     

FASTFACT

In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases.

“Based on my own experience, protection for OFWs, especially when it comes to our rights, is hardly felt by migrant workers. There is no guarantee that justice will be given to them when they get abused.”

Dizon, who used to work in the UAE, did not think that Ranara’s case would deter Philippine workers from seeking employment abroad, where they can earn much more than at home.

“Many cases of abuse have been reported, but our countrymen still want to try (to work abroad), especially women, mothers mostly,” she said.

“They think that they can help the family more if they work outside.”

While the migrant workers secretary said Philippine authorities would work with Kuwait to introduce better screening and accreditation mechanisms for employers, Rick Hernandez, a local administration worker in Manila, was now sure he would prevent his family members from working as domestic helpers abroad.

“A lot of Filipinos, especially our women, are willing to brave harsh climes and abusive employers just to provide for their loved ones,” he said.

“As a father and husband, I would rather starve here rather than send my daughter or wife to toil as menials in a faraway country.”   

Kuwait’s Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh Al-Thwaikh said on Friday that Kuwaiti society was also “shocked and saddened” by the incident.

“Our justice system will not lose sight in ensuring justice for Mrs. Ranara,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Ople.

“We assure you that such an incident is an isolated case.”

Ranara’s murder, however, was not the first such incident in Kuwait that shook the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment.     

The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers.   

In May 2019, Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another one, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured by her employer to death.   

The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging.

 


Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Updated 28 January 2023

Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)

COPENHAGEN: After pledging all 19 of its French-made Caesar howitzers to Ukraine, Denmark is in talks with Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems for new mobile artillery to plug a “critical gap.”
The Defense Ministry said that negotiations were on “with the manufacturer Elbit Systems for the delivery of ATMOS artillery pieces and PULS rocket launcher systems as soon as possible.”
The equipment could be delivered this year, the government said.
“The rocket launchers complement the new artillery systems,” the ministry said.

BACKGROUND

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.
But deliveries have been delayed and only a few have arrived. All of them have been pledged to Ukraine.
The system can carry 36 155 mm shells and reach targets at distances of up to 40 km.
ATMOS can fire six shots per minute and can be mounted on most off-road 8X8 trucks.
The next acquisitions are “important for Denmark’s defense and for Denmark to be able to meet its NATO commitments,” Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said.
“The donation to Ukraine leaves a critical capability gap in defense,” he said.
According to Danish media, Nexter advised Denmark against changing suppliers, saying it could provide new artillery.
“Caesar has proven itself on the battlefield in Ukraine, Danish soldiers can use them and the parts are compatible with Danish military IT systems,” a spokesman for the group said.

 


Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict

Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict
Updated 28 January 2023

Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict

Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict

NAIROBI: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki on a tour of Africa to shore up support for Russia, focusing on the “dynamics of the war in Ukraine,” Eritrea’s information minister said.
Lavrov has been on a week-long charm offensive on the continent, starting in South Africa, which is planning joint military drills with Russia and China, and finishing off with a surprise trip to the reclusive Horn of Africa nation of Eritrea.
South Africa is one of Russia’s most important allies on a continent divided over the invasion and Western attempts to isolate Moscow because of its military actions.
Eritrea is one of the few African countries that voted against a UN resolution condemning Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine although many abstained.

BACKGROUND

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been on a week-long charm offensive on the African continent, starting in South Africa.

“We are thankful to Eritrean friends for their consistent support of Russian initiatives in the UN,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency TASS.
He said Asmara had taken a “principled and balanced position on issues regarding the events in Ukraine and around it,” TASS reported, adding that he also invited his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, to visit Moscow soon.
The talks in Eritrea also explored ways of enhancing ties in energy, mining, information technology, education and health, Information Minister Yemane Meskel said on Twitter.
Both sides will conduct a joint study to establish the logistical and transit opportunities presented by the Red Sea port of Massawa and its airport, TASS said.
“I would like to mention the possibility of using the logistical potential of the Massawa port and the city’s airport. The airport of Massawa looks interesting from the point of view of its transit possibilities,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov’s visit to Africa coincides with others by senior US officials, who are crisscrossing the continent to shore up ties with US allies there.
Speaking when he met Lavrov’s delegation on Thursday, Foreign Minister Osman blamed the crisis in Ukraine on what he described as the US’ “reckless policy of hegemony and containment” over a number of decades.
“The sad fact is that Ukraine is both a pretext and victim of this policy,” Osman said during the speech delivered in Massawa.
There was no mention of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where Eritrean troops fought alongside their Ethiopian federal counterparts against rebellious Tigrayan forces.
A deal to end the fighting was signed last November but Eritrea was not party to the truce. Eritrean troops have started to leave some parts of Tigray, witnesses said.

 


Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder
Updated 27 January 2023

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder
  • Tahir Zarif, 31, will serve a minimum of 30 years for the killing of Akhtar Javeed, 56
  • Zarif and 3 others attempted to rob Javeed in 2016; killer hid in Pakistan to escape justice

LONDON: A man has been jailed for life in the UK after murdering another man in a botched robbery and then fleeing to Pakistan to escape justice.
Tahir Zarif, 31, from Derby, shot Akhtar Javeed, 56, in 2016 while he and three others — Suraj Misty, 26; Lamar Wali, 23; and Sander van Aalten, 54 — attempted to rob Javeed’s food warehouse in Birmingham.
One of the four had previously worked at the warehouse, with knowledge of its layout. Employees at the site were tied up, and Javeed was dragged to his safe, where Zarif shot him in the leg to force him to open it.
Javeed then managed to free himself but was shot again by Zarif in the throat and chest as he tried to escape, stumbling out of the warehouse and into a street before collapsing.
Five days later, Zarif left the UK for Pakistan. He was arrested in Mirpur in 2018 and extradited two years later.
Video footage later emerged of Zarif firing a machine gun while on the run in Pakistan, and further footage showed him smiling when formally arrested on board his extradition flight to London by UK police.
Zarif claimed the murder of Javeed was accidental, but his “clear willingness to use the gun” and “intention to kill” saw him jailed for a minimum of 30 years at Coventry Crown Court.
His fellow robbers were convicted and sentenced in 2016. Misty was jailed for 23 years for manslaughter, while Wali and Van Aalten were both convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery and jailed for seven years and six years, eight months, respectively.
Javeed’s daughter, who requested anonymity, told the press following Zarif’s sentencing: “It’s been six years and nine months since my father’s life was taken by Tahir Zarif.
“My father has been in our thoughts every day since. As I have said before, my father was an honorable gentleman.
“Another man’s greed led to my father’s unlawful death. We are grateful to West Midlands Police for their hard work in ensuring justice is served.”