Fierce fighting in north of Ukraine’s Bakhmut, says Russian head of Wagner militia

Fierce fighting in north of Ukraine’s Bakhmut, says Russian head of Wagner militia
Black smoke rises after shelling in Bakhmut on February 3, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2023

Fierce fighting in north of Ukraine’s Bakhmut, says Russian head of Wagner militia

Fierce fighting in north of Ukraine’s Bakhmut, says Russian head of Wagner militia
  • Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the founder and head of the Wagner group, said his soldiers were “fighting for every street, every house, every stairwell”

The head of Russia’s private Wagner militia said on Sunday that fierce fighting was ongoing in the northern parts of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which has been the focus of Russian forces’ attention for weeks.
Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the founder and head of the Wagner group, said his soldiers were “fighting for every street, every house, every stairwell” against Ukrainian forces who were not retreating.


Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return
Updated 15 sec ago

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return
  • Bangladesh hosts, supports around 1.2 million Rohingya people
  • Myanmar now more willing to start repatriation process: Bangladesh foreign ministry official

DHAKA: Rohingya refugees said on Monday their citizenship and basic rights must be guaranteed before returning to Myanmar, as the first step of a potential repatriation got underway.

Around 1.2 million Rohingya people are living in squalid camps in the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, most of whom fled violence and persecution in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.

A team from Myanmar arrived last week to verify Rohingya refugees in Bangladeshi camps for their potential return as part of a pilot repatriation project, which has been delayed for years.

Authorities were expecting 400 people to be cleared to return to their homeland, part of more than 1,100 listed as a potential first batch of returnees. The documents of the rest were already cleared by Myanmar authorities remotely.

“I am willing to return to Myanmar if we are guaranteed citizenship and other associated rights, like freedom of movement,” Abdur Rahman, an 18-year-old Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group. Most were rendered stateless under the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law and had been excluded from the 2014 census. Many in the Buddhist-majority country refer to members of the community as Bengalis, suggesting they belong in Bangladesh.

“Our houses were burnt down,” Rahman said. “Some of my relatives are still living in Rakhine, I talk with them almost every day. As they told me, the situation in Rakhine is far better now.”

Rakhine State, one of Myanmar’s poorest states, was at the center of the 2017 violence.

Though Rahman’s village is still deserted, his relatives told him that some public facilities, including schools and hospitals, in other areas have been rebuilt.

However, repatriation was still uncertain even with the ongoing verification process, a Bangladesh foreign ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News.

“At the moment, it’s difficult to specify any time frame in this regard. We can say that both parties are working to solve the problems,” the official said, adding that the Myanmar delegation was expected to conclude its mission on Tuesday.

For a long time, Myanmar authorities “were going very slow” in verifying Rohingya refugees, leading to an extended delay of the repatriation process, the official said, adding that Myanmar officials now appeared “a little bit more willing than before” to start the project.

However, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said conditions in Rakhine State were still “not conducive to the sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.”

In a statement, the UNHCR said it was “not involved in the discussions” of a potential return of the Rohingya people in Bangladesh to Myanmar, though it was aware of the bilateral repatriation project between the two countries, which was reportedly mediated by China.

“We reiterate that every refugee has a right to return to their home country based on an informed choice, but that no refugee should be forced to do so,” the UNHCR added.

Mohammed Nur, a 22-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Kutupalong camp, told Arab News that he wanted to go back to Myanmar.

“I am very much willing to return to my homeland,” he said. “But it cannot happen without the rights of citizenship in Myanmar.

“If our rights are ensured, I believe all of us would return to Myanmar, because a refugee’s life has no dignity.”


India, Japan discuss stronger cooperation to foster peace in Indo-Pacific region

India, Japan discuss stronger cooperation to foster peace in Indo-Pacific region
Updated 20 March 2023

India, Japan discuss stronger cooperation to foster peace in Indo-Pacific region

India, Japan discuss stronger cooperation to foster peace in Indo-Pacific region
  • New Delhi, Tokyo hold respective presidencies of G20, G7 groupings this year
  • India ‘indispensable partner’ to achieve Japan’s vision of free, open Indo-Pacific

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida met on Monday for wide-ranging bilateral talks and discussed ways to strengthen cooperation for peace in the Indo-Pacific region.

Kishida, who is on a two-day trip to India and this year chairs the Group of Seven industrialized nations, invited Modi to participate in the G7 Summit in May, which will be held in the western Japanese city of Hiroshima.

The two PMs addressed issues ranging from security to climate and energy during their meeting and discussed ways to converge priorities of India’s presidency of the Group of 20 biggest economies and Japan’s G7 leadership.

“The India-Japan special strategic and global partnership is based on our shared democratic values and international rule of law. To strengthen this cooperation is important not only for both countries but also this will enhance peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” Modi said.

“One of the pillars of the G20 presidency is to give voice to the global south. We believe in carrying everyone together,” he added.

Modi said Kishida’s visit was important “to keep the momentum going” for India-Japan cooperation.

The Japanese premier noted that India was an “indispensable partner” to achieve its new plan of a free and open Indo-Pacific, as he pledged $75 billion to the region as part of the expansive new vision.

“I believe that Japan and India are in an extremely unique position in the current international relations and furthermore in the history of the world,” Kishida said at a lecture hosted by the Indian Council of World Affairs.

“Japan and India have a great responsibility for maintaining and strengthening a free and open international order based on the rule of law.”

The two nations, along with the US and Australia, make up the Indo-Pacific alliance known as the Quad that has sought to counter China’s rising influence in Asia.

“This year, as Japan holds the G7 presidency and India holds the G20 presidency, my hope is that through working together with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and other many countries we will bring about peace and prosperity to the international community which faces a time of challenges.”

India is not a G7 member but has been participating at its summits as a partner country. Japan, on the other hand, is a member of the two major groupings.

The two Asian nations are strong economic partners with bilateral trade valued at around $20.6 billion in the fiscal year 2021 to 2022. Japan has been supporting infrastructure development in India, which includes a high-speed rail project, and Tokyo’s investment in the South Asian nation reached $32 billion between 2000 and 2019.

Harsh V. Pant, head of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News that both countries were increasingly looking at the Indo-Pacific through similar lenses.

“Though the two nations are on different tracks when it comes to the Ukraine crisis, certainly both feel the G7 and G20 have to work together if the global governance agenda is to be changed,” Pant said.

India has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while Japan has imposed financial sanctions to isolate Russia.

“India is pivotal to Japan’s Indo-Pacific outlook and strategy,” he said.

“Japan wants G7 and India wants G20 to work for the developing world, to resolve global governance problems and to ensure that the leadership void that the world is feeling at the moment is filled with the leadership of countries like India and Japan.”


UK opens probe after Afghans in hiding told to receive Taliban-stamped papers for relocation

UK opens probe after Afghans in hiding told to receive Taliban-stamped papers for relocation
Updated 20 March 2023

UK opens probe after Afghans in hiding told to receive Taliban-stamped papers for relocation

UK opens probe after Afghans in hiding told to receive Taliban-stamped papers for relocation
  • Ministry of Defence apologizes ‘unreservedly’ over claims published by The Independent

LONDON: The UK’s Ministry of Defence has opened an investigation in the wake of a report by The Independent that revealed Afghan refugees had been asked to provide Taliban-approved documents for relocation to Britain.

The 37 applicants to the UK’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy — launched after the Taliban takeover in 2021 — were told by authorities that they needed to show documents that could only be signed by government ministries in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The MoD’s demand was “asking them (the refugees) to sign their own death warrant,” one MP said, with charities warning that Afghans had been put in danger as a result of the request.

As a result of the newspaper’s report, the ministry apologized “unreservedly” for the error after initially denying that the demands had been made to the 37 applicants.

A ministry spokesperson also told The Independent that it would now carry out an investigation, saying: “Last month, we were notified of an error in recent communications with a group of ARAP applicants, instructing them to verify documents with local authorities.

“The 37 affected applicants were notified of the error and have since responded to the correct instructions and confirmed they are currently safe.

“The MoD is now conducting a review to identify any further remedial actions needed to strengthen policies and processes.”

The newspaper’s investigation found several instances of Afghans in hiding who had been told to request documents from various Afghan ministries.

One former interpreter for British forces was told by the MoD that his marriage certificate, as well as the birth certificates of his children, needed to be validated by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He visited the Ministry of Justice to receive validation of his marriage certificate, but due to living in hiding, has been unable to communicate with the Foreign Ministry, meaning his ARAP application is unlikely to be approved by UK authorities under the current circumstances.

The MoD told another applicant regarding his children’s birth certificates: “These documents are an essential requirement and really need to be provided. They should be in English and bear the (Afghan) Ministry of Foreign Affairs seal and other necessary department stamps.”

About 4,600 Afghans still in the country are eligible for relocation to the UK under ARAP, including family members.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said last week that the UK takes its obligations to former interpreters and contractors to British forces “extremely seriously.”


Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests

Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests
Updated 20 March 2023

Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests

Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests
  • Kenyans are suffering from surging prices for basic necessities, as well as a sharp drop in the shilling against the US dollar
  • Many businesses in Nairobi were shut ahead of the demonstrations, with some employers telling their staff to work from home

NAIROBI: Kenyan riot police fired tear gas and water cannon Monday against demonstrators joining a day of action called by the opposition to protest a punishing cost-of-living crisis.
Running battles erupted between stone-throwing demonstrators and police in parts of Nairobi and at least one other city, in the first major unrest since President William Ruto became president last year, correspondents said.
Ruto’s government has vowed to take a tough stance over the protests, which opposition leader Raila Odinga insisted would go ahead despite not receiving police authorization.
“I want Kenyans to come out in large numbers and show the displeasure of what is happening in our country,” Odinga, who narrowly lost last year’s election to Ruto, told supporters on Sunday.
Police used tear gas against protesters gathered at a site near government offices in the heart of the capital Nairobi, where the major rally was scheduled to take place, and several other areas of the city.
“We came here peacefully but they tear gassed us,” said Charles Oduor, 21, who joined the large crowds in downtown Nairobi.
“They lie to us everyday. Where is the cheap maize flour they promised? Where are the jobs for the youth they promised? All they do is hire their friends.”
Kenyans are suffering from surging prices for basic necessities, as well as a sharp drop in the shilling against the US dollar and a record drought that has left millions hungry.
Odinga said he had called the rallies to protest the “skyrocketing” cost of living but also the “stolen” election last August.
In Nairobi’s biggest slum Kibera, a bastion of Odinga support, people also set tires ablaze while police used water cannon to disperse protesters.
Demonstrators and police also clashed in the lakeside city of Kisumu in western Kenya, another Odinga stronghold.
“Our victory was stolen and we are determined to get it back, we can’t sit back and watch as life becomes more difficult by the day. We want Raila in State House,” said Kevin Ojwang in Kisumu.
Nairobi police chief Adamson Bungei said on Sunday that police received requests to hold two demonstrations only late Saturday and early Sunday, when normally three days’ notice is required.
“For public safety, neither has been granted,” he said.
Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki warned on Sunday that anyone inciting public disorder or disturbing the peace would be prosecuted.
Many businesses in Nairobi were shut ahead of the demonstrations, with some employers telling their staff to work from home.
“We are here trying to fight for our rights. Life is so hard. If you see, these young men and women, we don’t have jobs, people are losing their jobs. So that’s why we’re talking about our rights,” said shoeshiner Henry Juma, 26.
Odinga, the leader of the Azimio la Umoja party, who described Monday as a “day of destiny,” continues to claim that Ruto’s August election win was fraudulent and denounces his government as illegitimate.
According to official results, Odinga — who was making his fifth bid for the presidency — lost to Ruto by around 233,000 votes, one of the slenderest margins in Kenya’s history.
The Supreme Court dismissed his appeals, with its judges giving a unanimous ruling in favor of Ruto, finding there was no evidence for Odinga’s accusations.
Ruto has declared that he would not be intimidated by the demonstrations, saying: “You are not going to threaten us with ultimatums and chaos and impunity.”
“We will not allow that,” he said, calling on Odinga to act in a “legal and constitutional manner.”


Putin welcomes China’s Xi to Kremlin amid Ukraine war

China's President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during their meeting in Moscow.
China's President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during their meeting in Moscow.
Updated 20 March 2023

Putin welcomes China’s Xi to Kremlin amid Ukraine war

China's President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during their meeting in Moscow.
  • As he greeted Xi, Putin also said he welcomed his plan for “settlement of the acute crisis in Ukraine”
  • Xi’s visit showed off Beijing’s new diplomatic swagger

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Chinese leader Xi Jinping to the Kremlin on Monday, in a visit that sent a powerful message to Western leaders allied with Ukraine that their efforts to isolate Moscow have fallen short.
As he greeted Xi, Putin also said he welcomed his plan for “settlement of the acute crisis in Ukraine.”
Xi’s visit showed off Beijing’s new diplomatic swagger and gave a political lift to Putin just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for the Kremlin leader on war crimes charges related to Ukraine.
The two major powers have described Xi’s three-day trip as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship.” China looks to Russia as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy, and as a partner in standing up to what both see as US domination of global affairs. The two countries, which are among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, also have held joint military drills.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that over dinner on Monday, Putin and Xi will likely include a “detailed explanation” of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Broader talks involving officials from both countries on a range of subjects are scheduled for Tuesday, Peskov said.
For Putin, Xi’s presence is a prestigious, diplomatic triumph amid Western efforts to isolate Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
In an article published in the Chinese People’s Daily newspaper, Putin described Xi’s visit as a “landmark event” that “reaffirms the special nature of the Russia-China partnership.”
Putin also specifically said the meeting sent a message to Washington that the two countries aren’t prepared to accept attempts to weaken them.
“The US policy of simultaneously deterring Russia and China, as well as all those who do not bend to the American diktat, is getting ever fiercer and more aggressive,” he wrote.
Xi’s trip came after the International Criminal Court in The Hague announced Friday it wants to put Putin on trial for the abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.
China portrays Xi’s visit as part of normal diplomatic exchanges and has offered little detail about what the trip aims to accomplish, though the nearly 13 months of war in Ukraine cast a long shadow on the talks.
At a daily briefing in Beijing on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Xi’s trip was a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace.”
On the war, Wang said: “China will uphold its objective and fair position on the Ukrainian crisis and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks.”
Beijing’s leap into Ukraine issues follows its recent success in brokering talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which agreed to restore their diplomatic ties after years of tensions.
Following that success, Xi called for China to play a bigger role in managing global affairs.
“President Xi will have an in-depth exchange of views with President Putin on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of common concern,” Wang said.
He added that Xi aims to “promote strategic coordination and practical cooperation between the two countries and inject new impetus into the development of bilateral relations.”
Although they boast of a “no-limits” partnership, Beijing has conducted a China First policy. It has shrunk from supplying Russia’s war machine — a move that could worsen relations with Washington and turn important European trade partners against Beijing. On the other hand, it has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and has censured Western sanctions against Moscow, while accusing NATO and the United States of provoking Putin’s military action.
China last month called for a cease-fire and peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cautiously welcomed Beijing’s involvement, but the overture fizzled.
The Kremlin has welcomed China’s peace plan and said Putin and Xi would discuss it.
Washington strongly rejected Beijing’s call for a cease-fire as the effective ratification of the Kremlin’s battlefield gains.
Kyiv officials say they won’t bend in their terms for a peace accord.
“The first and main point is the capitulation or withdrawal of the Russian occupation troops from the territory of Ukraine in accordance with the norms of international law and the UN Charter,” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted on Monday.
That means restoring “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” he wrote.
The Kremlin doesn’t recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court and has rejected its move against Putin as “legally null and void.” China, the US and Ukraine also don’t recognize the ICC, but the court’s announcement tarnished Putin’s international standing.
China’s Foreign Ministry called on the ICC to “respect the jurisdictional immunity” of a head of state and “avoid politicization and double standards.”
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said the ICC’s move will have “monstrous consequences” for international law.
“A gloomy sunset of the entire system of international relations is coming, trust is exhausted,” Medvedev wrote on his messaging app channel. He argued that in the past, the ICC has destroyed its credibility by failing to prosecute what he called US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He also cautioned that the court in The Hague could be a target for a Russian missile strike. Medvedev has in the past made bombastic statements and claims.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said Monday it is opening a criminal case against a prosecutor and three judges of the ICC over the arrest warrants they issued for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova. The committee called the ICC’s prosecution “unlawful” because it was, among other things, a “criminal prosecution of a knowingly innocent person.”

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