Ukraine and Russia agree on a prisoner swap

Ukraine and Russia agree on a prisoner swap
A relative of Ukrainian servicemen said to be captured by Russian forces, holds a child as she stands next to their portraits during their rally at Independence Square in Kyiv, as they call to hasten their release from Russian captivity according to the formula "All for All". (AFP)
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Updated 11 January 2023

Ukraine and Russia agree on a prisoner swap

Ukraine and Russia agree on a prisoner swap
  • Russia and Ukraine have conducted numerous prisoner swaps — most recently on Sunday — amounting to hundreds of captives each

ANKARA: Russia and Ukraine have agreed on an exchange of 40 prisoners of war each, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said on Wednesday after meeting her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Lubinets in Turkiye.
Moskalkova and Lubinets were meeting on the sidelines of an international ombudsman conference in Ankara. Photos showed them sitting on opposite sides of a table.
“It is very important that the ombudsmen of Ukraine and Russia, in the absence of diplomatic relations (between the two countries), take concrete actions to help people,” Moskalkova told reporters.
Russia and Ukraine have conducted numerous prisoner swaps — most recently on Sunday — amounting to hundreds of captives each in the course of the war, which is now in its 11th month.
Earlier, Moskalkova said on the Telegram messaging app that she and Lubinets had also discussed the issue of servicemen missing on both sides, and civilian humanitarian issues.
She said she had asked Lubinets to help Ukrainian citizens who want to visit relatives in Russia.
Given the current difficulty of establishing humanitarian corridors inside Ukraine, she said the ombudsmen should help specific people to move between regions and countries, saying Turkiye could play an important role.
Separately, Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency quoted Moskalkova as saying “important words about the need for a cease-fire” in Ukraine had been spoken during her meeting with her Ukrainian and Turkish colleagues.
Moskalkova said a cease-fire was necessary to stop human rights violations, RIA reported. She also asked Turkiye, a NATO ally, to stop supplying arms to Ukraine.
As Moskalkova and Lubinets met in Ankara, a fierce battle was raging for the small town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine.
Both were later due to visit the Turkish presidential palace, where President Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to make a speech for the conference.


UK launches ad drive to deter Albanian migrants

The scheme is the latest attempt by UK authorities to control the number of migrants making the journey across the Channel.
The scheme is the latest attempt by UK authorities to control the number of migrants making the journey across the Channel.
Updated 17 sec ago

UK launches ad drive to deter Albanian migrants

The scheme is the latest attempt by UK authorities to control the number of migrants making the journey across the Channel.
  • They ‘face being detained and removed’ if they reach Britain illegally, adverts warn
  • Charity CEO: Campaign ‘repeats myth that refugee migration is illegal’

LONDON: The UK Home Office is launching an advertising campaign to discourage Albanian migrants from traveling to Britain illegally via small boats.

The scheme, which will use Facebook and Instagram, is the latest attempt by British authorities to control the number of migrants making the dangerous journey across the English Channel. Albanians “face being detained and removed” if they reach Britain illegally, the adverts warn.

So far this year, more than 6,000 migrants have crossed from mainland Europe into Britain using small vessels.

The Home Office did not release information about the advertising campaign’s cost, but said it would “make clear the perils” that migrants could face in making the journey.

It described Albania as a “safe and prosperous country,” adding that migrants are making “spurious asylum claims” following their arrival in the UK.

But the campaign, which will launch next week, has been criticized by migrant advocacy groups and the main opposition Labour Party.

Refugee Action CEO Tim Naor Hilton said the advertising is “pointless” and “repeats the myth that refugee migration is illegal.

He added: “If the government wanted to smash the smuggling gangs and stop people crossing the Channel in flimsy boats, it would create more safe routes for refugees to travel here to claim asylum.”

The new campaign follows a similar scheme launched last August by the Home Office, which also used social media to deter Albanian would-be asylum seekers.

Albanians were the top asylum claimants in the UK from January to March this year, with 13,714 people from the Balkan country filing applications.

Care4Calais CEO Steve Smith warned that the new advertising campaign would fail to meet its objectives.

“No amount of taxpayer-funded PR spin will deter refugees, who have experienced some of the worst things imaginable from war and conflict to torture and human rights abuses, from seeking a safe future,” he said.

“The only solution that will put people smugglers out of business, stop small boat crossings and save lives is to offer safe passage to refugees with a viable asylum claim in the UK.”

The campaign follows the launch of the government’s proposed Illegal Migration Bill, which aims to deport asylum seekers who arrive in the UK illegally to their countries of origin or Rwanda.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said: “We are determined to stop the boats and the campaign, launching in Albania this week, is just one component of the Home Office’s work upstream to help dispel myths about illegal travel to the UK, explain the realities and combat the lies peddled by evil people smugglers who profit from this vile trade.”


US conducts strike near site of Shabab attack in Somalia

US conducts strike near site of Shabab attack in Somalia
Updated 28 May 2023

US conducts strike near site of Shabab attack in Somalia

US conducts strike near site of Shabab attack in Somalia
  • Al-Shabab militants drove a car laden with explosives into the base, prompting a gunfight, local residents and a Somali military commander told AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States conducted an airstrike that destroyed stolen Al-Shabab weapons and equipment in Somalia near an African Union military base that was attacked by the group, officials reported Saturday.
The base in Bulo Marer, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu, was housing Ugandan troops when it was raided Friday in an attack claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group.
In a statement, US Africa Command said that it “destroyed weapons and equipment unlawfully taken by Al-Shabab fighters,” without specifying when or where the weapons were stolen.
“US Africa Command conducted an airstrike against militants in the vicinity” of Bulo Marer on Friday, in support of the Somali federal government and the AU force known as ATMIS, it said.
Al-Shabab militants drove a car laden with explosives into the base, prompting a gunfight, local residents and a Somali military commander told AFP.
It was not immediately known if there were any casualties from the Al-Shabab attack.
US Africa Command said its “initial assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed” in its operation.
Pro-government forces backed by ATMIS forces launched an offensive last August against Al-Shabab, which has been waging an insurgency in the fragile Horn of Africa nation for more than 15 years.
The 20,000-strong ATMIS force has a more offensive remit than its predecessor known as AMISOM.
The force is drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, with troops deployed in southern and central Somalia.
Its goal is to hand over security responsibilities to Somalia’s army and police by 2024.

 


Russia unleashes ‘largest’ drone attack on Ukrainian capital ahead of Kyiv Day

Russia unleashes ‘largest’ drone attack on Ukrainian capital ahead of Kyiv Day
Updated 28 May 2023

Russia unleashes ‘largest’ drone attack on Ukrainian capital ahead of Kyiv Day

Russia unleashes ‘largest’ drone attack on Ukrainian capital ahead of Kyiv Day
  • Air defense systems downed at least 20 drones moving toward Kyiv

KYIV: Russia unleashed multiple waves of air strikes on Kyiv overnight in what officials said appeared to be the largest drone attack on the city since the start of the war, as the Ukrainian capital prepared to celebrate the anniversary of its founding on Sunday.
In what also appeared to be the first deadly attack on Kyiv in May and the 14th assault since the start of the month, officials said air defense systems downed at least 40 drones moving toward Kyiv with falling debris killing one person.
The pre-dawn attacks came on the last Sunday of May when the capital celebrates Kyiv Day, the anniversary of its official founding 1,541 years ago. The day is typically marked by street fairs, live concerts and special museum exhibitions — plans for which have been made this year too, but on a smaller scale.
“The history of Ukraine is a long-standing irritant for the insecure Russians,” Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, said on his Telegram channel.
Preliminary information indicated the air raid was the largest drone attack on Kyiv since the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022, Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration said. Russia used the Iranian-made Shahed drones in the attack, he added.
Reuters was not able to independently verify that information.
“Today, the enemy decided to ‘congratulate’ the people of Kyiv on Kyiv Day with the help of their deadly UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles),” Popko said on the Telegram messaging app.
“The attack was carried out in several waves, and the air alert lasted more than five hours.”
Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the victim was a 41-year-old. The military administration said at least two people were injured.
Several districts of Kyiv, by far the largest Ukrainian city with a population of around 3 million, suffered in the overnight attacks, officials said, including the historical Pecherskyi neighborhood.
Reuters witnesses said that during the air raid alerts that started soon after midnight, many people stood on their balconies, some screaming offensives directed at Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and “Glory to air defense” slogans.
With a Ukrainian counteroffensive looming 15 months into the war, Moscow has intensified missile and drone strikes after a lull of nearly two months, targeting military facilities and supplies. Waves of attacks now come several times a week.
In the leafy Holosiivskyi district in the southwestern part of Kyiv, falling debris set a three-story warehouse on fire, destroying about 1,000 square meters (10,800 square feet) of building structures, Mayor Klitschko said.
A fire broke out after falling drone debris hit a seven-story non-residential building in the Solomyanskyi district west of the city. The district is a busy rail and air transport hub.
In the Pecherskyi district, a fire broke out on the roof of a nine-story building due to falling drone debris, and in the Darnytskyi district a shop was damaged, Kyiv’s military administration officials said on Telegram.

 


NATO urges Kosovo to de-escalate tension with Serbia

NATO urges Kosovo to de-escalate tension with Serbia
Updated 28 May 2023

NATO urges Kosovo to de-escalate tension with Serbia

NATO urges Kosovo to de-escalate tension with Serbia
  • Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti defended police actions in escorting the new mayors the previous day

BRUSSELS: NATO on Saturday urged Kosovo to dial down tensions with Serbia, a day after its government forcibly accessed municipal buildings to install mayors in ethnic Serb areas in the north of the country.
The resulting clashes on Friday between Kosovan police and protesters opposed to the ethnic Albanian mayors prompted Serbia to put its army on full combat alert and to move units closer to the border.
“We urge the institutions in Kosovo to de-escalate immediately and call on all parties to resolve the situation through dialogue,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for the transatlantic military alliance, in a Twitter post.
She said KFOR, the 3,800-strong NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, would remain vigilant.
Things were still tense in the north part of the country where heavily armed police forces in armored vehicles were guarding municipality buildings.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti defended police actions in escorting the new mayors the previous day.
“It is the right of those elected in democratic elections to assume office without threats or intimidation. It is also the right of citizens to be served by those elected officials,” Kurti said on Twitter on Saturday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday criticized Kurti’s government for its actions in the north, saying they “unnecessarily escalated tensions, (were) undermining our efforts to help normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia and will have consequences for our bilateral relations with Kosovo.”
Almost a decade after the end of a war there, Serbs in Kosovo’s northern region do not accept Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and still see Belgrade as their capital.
Ethnic Albanians form more than 90 percent of the population in Kosovo, with Serbs only the majority in the northern region.

 


Iraq seeks multi-sector engagement with Philippines after 10-year gap

Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed poses for a photo at the Iraqi Embassy in Manila on May 24, 2023.
Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed poses for a photo at the Iraqi Embassy in Manila on May 24, 2023.
Updated 28 May 2023

Iraq seeks multi-sector engagement with Philippines after 10-year gap

Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed poses for a photo at the Iraqi Embassy in Manila on May 24, 2023.
  • The last time the Iraq-Philippines joint committee convened was in 2013
  • 4,000 Filipinos live and work in Iraq, and many are married to Iraqi nationals

MANILA: Iraq is seeking a reboot in relations with the Philippines after a lull of 10 years, its head of mission has told Arab News, as Baghdad eyes possible cooperation in agriculture, oil, health and tourism.

Formal relations between Iraq and the Philippines were established in 1975 with the opening of the Iraqi embassy in Manila. Five years later, the Philippines opened its mission in Baghdad, but in the early 2000s both countries closed their respective diplomatic offices.

The embassies were later reopened, and in 2012 the two countries signed an agreement to boost diplomatic exchanges and develop bilateral relations. But the last time the Iraq-Philippines Joint Committee Meeting was held was in 2013.

Iraq is hoping to persuade tourists from the Philippines to explore the country known as the ‘cradle of civilization,’ as it was the site of the Mesopotamians who developed the world’s first writing, agriculture and cities.

Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires, Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed

“Now we are restarting ... Iraq is keen to strengthen relations with the Philippines at various levels,” Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed told Arab News earlier this week. “There are a lot of things we can do with the Filipinos ...  we actually need many projects. And we are looking now for partners.”

Mohammed, who took up his post a few months ago, said that while Iraq has, in the past two decades, been the scene of prolonged conflict, it was already witnessing security and stability.

A number of cooperation proposals, particularly relating to agriculture, health, education, security, and oil, were being prepared for the Philippine side, and Mohammed said the Philippines has been invited to participate in his country’s largest expo, the Baghdad International Fair, in November.

“(The fair) is an appropriate opportunity to exchange experiences, display Philippine products, learn about the Iraq market close-up, and see the great openness that the country is experiencing,” he said.

Currently, around 4,000 Filipinos live and work in Iraq, many of whom have Iraqi spouses.

To strengthen connections, Baghdad has launched a Study in Iraq program, offering scholarships to Filipino students.

Mohammed said Iraq is also hoping to persuade tourists from the Philippines to explore the country known as the “cradle of civilization,” as it was the site of the Mesopotamians who developed the world’s first writing, agriculture and cities.

For Filipinos, who are predominantly Catholics, a major attraction could also be the ancient city-state of Ur, where Abraham was born. According to Mohammed, the state has allocated 9,000 square meters for the construction of “the tourist city of Ur, which will be one of the largest tourist cities in the Middle East.”

Mohammed added that tourist traffic could flow both ways, too.

“Maybe very soon you will see the first Iraqi (tourist) group visit the Philippines” he added. “It’s now under process.”