US to open embassy in Vanuatu to counter China’s Pacific expansion

US to open embassy in Vanuatu to counter China’s Pacific expansion
Vanuatu's Prime Minister Bob Loughman Weibur (3rd R) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (3rd L) witness a signing ceremony of agreements between the two countries in the capital city Port Vila on June 1, 2022. (AFP file)
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Updated 01 April 2023
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US to open embassy in Vanuatu to counter China’s Pacific expansion

US to open embassy in Vanuatu to counter China’s Pacific expansion
  • The US and its regional allies have held concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to open an embassy in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, the State Department said on Friday, in Washington’s latest move to boost its diplomatic presence in the Pacific to counter China’s growing influence.
“Consistent with the US Indo-Pacific strategy, a permanent diplomatic presence in Vanuatu would allow the US Government to deepen relationships with Ni-Vanuatu officials and society,” the department said in a statement.
“Establishing US Embassy Port Vila would facilitate areas of potential bilateral cooperation and development assistance, including efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” it said.
The US has diplomatic relations with Vanuatu, which has a population of 319,000 spread across 80 islands, but is currently represented by diplomats based in New Guinea.
The US reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands this year after a 30-year absence and the latest State Department announcement follows a visit this month to the region, including Vanuatu, by US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell.
Other US embassies are planned in the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Tonga.
Despite the diplomatic push, the Solomon Islands announced this month it had awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to a Chinese state company to upgrade an international port in Honiara.
The United States and its regional allies have held concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year.
Washington has also been working to renew agreements with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) under which it retains responsibility for the islands’ defense and gains exclusive access to huge swaths of the Pacific.
The Biden administration is seeking more than $7 billion over the next two decades for economic assistance to the three countries, the State Department said last week, funds seen as key to insulating them from growing Chinese influence.


ICC issues arrest warrants against top Russian commanders Kobylash and Sokolov

ICC issues arrest warrants against top Russian commanders Kobylash and Sokolov
Updated 54 min 36 sec ago
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ICC issues arrest warrants against top Russian commanders Kobylash and Sokolov

ICC issues arrest warrants against top Russian commanders Kobylash and Sokolov
  • The ICC said that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the two suspects bear responsibility for missile strikes carried out”
  • Ukraine’s prosecutors were already investigating possible war crimes

THE HAGUE: The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for top Russian commanders Sergei Ivanovich Kobylash and Viktor Nikolayevich Sokolov over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The ICC, which is based in The Hague, said that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the two suspects bear responsibility for missile strikes carried out by the forces under their command against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure from at least 10 October 2022 until at least 9 March 2023.”
The Court added that the incidental civilian harm and damage from the attacks would have been clearly excessive to any expected military advantage.
Ukraine’s prosecutors were already investigating possible war crimes after a winter campaign of air strikes on Ukrainian energy and utilities infrastructure.
Russia denies deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, saying its attacks are all intended to reduce Kyiv’s ability to fight.


US cargo planes airdrop more aid for Gaza: military

US cargo planes airdrop more aid for Gaza: military
Updated 05 March 2024
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US cargo planes airdrop more aid for Gaza: military

US cargo planes airdrop more aid for Gaza: military
  • “US Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Northern Gaza on March 5, 2024,” the military command said
  • The US began airdropping aid on Saturday into Gaza

WASHINGTON: American cargo planes airdropped more than 36,000 meals to Gaza Tuesday in a joint operation with Jordan, the US military said, as the international community scrambles to curb a growing humanitarian crisis there.
The United Nations has warned of famine in Gaza, while the World Health Organization said a recent aid mission to two hospitals found horrifying scenes of children dying of starvation in the territory’s north.
“US Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Northern Gaza on March 5, 2024, at 2:30 p.m. (Gaza time) to provide essential relief to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict,” the military command said in a statement.
“US C-130s dropped over 36,800 US and Jordanian meal equivalents in Northern Gaza, an area of great need, allowing for civilian access to the critical aid,” CENTCOM said, adding that “we continue planning for follow-on aid delivery missions.”
The United States — Israel’s staunchest ally — began airdropping aid on Saturday into Gaza, which has faced relentless bombardment by Israel since Hamas launched its cross-border attack on October 7.
The Hamas attack resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza, now in its fifth month, has killed more than 30,600 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.
The amount of aid brought into Gaza by truck has plummeted during nearly five months of war, and Gazans are facing dire shortages of food, water and medicines.
Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday that between 30 to 120 trucks per day had delivered aid to Gaza in the past week.
“That’s clearly not enough... to feed the population there,” Singh said, while noting that airdrops are intended to supplement rather than replace aid brought in by ground.


PM Sunak warned not to deport UK’s Afghan allies to Rwanda

PM Sunak warned not to deport UK’s Afghan allies to Rwanda
Updated 05 March 2024
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PM Sunak warned not to deport UK’s Afghan allies to Rwanda

PM Sunak warned not to deport UK’s Afghan allies to Rwanda
  • House of Lords debating legislation to allow asylum-seekers to be removed to East African country
  • One proposal would exempt Afghans, other foreign nationals who have helped British forces overseas

LONDON: The UK government has been warned against letting Afghans who worked and fought alongside British and coalition forces be deported to Rwanda. 

Members of the House of Lords are debating new legislation proposed to allow asylum-seekers who arrive in the UK illegally to be removed to the East African state for processing.

On Monday, peers rejected the government’s attempts to have Rwanda declared a safe country until certain safeguards are met.

In 2023, the UK Supreme Court ruled the Rwanda plan unlawful, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pressed ahead, including trying to assert that the country is safe via legislation so as not to “frustrate the will of the (British) people.”

The Lords are also discussing changes to the legislation, proposed by former Defence Secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton, to exempt Afghans with a history of service alongside UK counterparts. Peers are due to vote on the amendments on Wednesday.

The Illegal Migration Act, given assent on July 20, 2023, states that illegal migrants who entered the UK after that date must be removed, and that asylum cannot be given to anyone who entered the country illegally on or after March 7 that year.

Lord Browne’s changes would mean foreign nationals who helped the UK Armed Forces overseas in an “exposed or meaningful manner,” or were “employed by or indirectly contracted to provide services to the UK government in an exposed or meaningful manner,” would be exempt, along with their families.

Lord Carlile, a former terrorism legislation reviewer, called the amendments “just, fair and required.”

He told The Independent: “If it is put to the vote, there will be a lot of support for not sending people who worked with Britain in Afghanistan to Rwanda — provided peers are satisfied it is drawn in a way which would not allow for people to use the system illegitimately.

“Obviously, we want to help genuine Afghans who would be in real trouble if, via Rwanda, they were returned to Afghanistan.”

He added: “We have to understand that the House of Lords cannot simply wreck government legislation, we are not trying to do that.

“But if there is something that is just and fair and required, then we will say to the government, ‘this is not acceptable.’”

The former chief of the UK’s general staff, Gen. Lord Dannatt, has also said he supports the proposed amendments, alongside former diplomat Tim Willasey-Wilsey, who told The Independent: “It is imperative that the House of Commons should accept Lord Browne’s amendment.”

Conservative MP Julian Lewis, former chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, told The Independent: “I’m very sympathetic to rescuing Afghans at risk for having helped the UK Nato/Isaf forces to fight the Taliban.

“Provided that their specific service background can be verified by our MoD (Ministry of Defence) and/or individual veterans, it ought to be possible for them to apply to come here from the first safe country they reach, and it should not be necessary for them to make a risky and illegal Channel crossing.”


Moldova spy chief warns on new destabilization attempts by Russia

Moldova spy chief warns on new destabilization attempts by Russia
Updated 05 March 2024
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Moldova spy chief warns on new destabilization attempts by Russia

Moldova spy chief warns on new destabilization attempts by Russia
  • Alexandru Musteata, head of the Information and Security Service, said his agency had intercepted a record level of activities by the Russian security services since 2023
  • “Russian intelligence services intend to interfere in the election processes this year as well”

KYIV: Moldova’s spy chief said on Tuesday that Russia was planning fresh attempts to meddle in the country’s internal affairs by provoking protests, interfering in upcoming presidential elections, and disrupting plans to join the European Union.
Alexandru Musteata, head of the Information and Security Service, said his agency had intercepted a record level of activities by the Russian security services since 2023 and expected more destabilising actions this year and next.
“Russian intelligence services intend to interfere in the election processes this year as well,” Musteata told media.
“We have information that attempts are being made to compromise a referendum on the European integration, interfere in the presidential elections, as well as discredit government institutions and politicians who support Moldova’s accession to the European Union.”
Relations between Moldova and Russia have disintegrated as the government has steered a pro-European course and accused Moscow of trying to destabilize it. The ex-Soviet state’s pro-Western president Maia Sandu has denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as she leads Moldova on a path to join the EU and defense alliance NATO.
Moscow denies the allegations of interference and accuses Sandu of stoking anti-Russian sentiment in the country, which lies between Ukraine and Romania.
Sandu plans to run for a second term in the presidential election expected this autumn, and her party won more than 40 percent of the votes cast for mayors, city officials, district and village councils. The government also plans a nationwide referendum on its pro-European drive although no dates have been set yet.
Musteata said Moscow tried to meddle in the local elections last November in Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries. Moscow has denied such interference.
Musteata said Moscow was also planning to interfere in the presidential vote by supporting pro-Russian politicians and parties. Russia would likely provoke protests in Moldova in March and April and stir up separatist sentiments, especially in the east and south of Moldova, he said.
Last month, the pro-Moscow head of Moldova’s Gagauzia region asked Russia for its support and to maintain close ties. Also in February, Moldova’s breakaway Transdniestria region asked Russia to help its economy withstand Moldovan “pressure.”


IAEA chief to hold talks with Putin about Ukraine nuclear plant

IAEA chief to hold talks with Putin about Ukraine nuclear plant
Updated 05 March 2024
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IAEA chief to hold talks with Putin about Ukraine nuclear plant

IAEA chief to hold talks with Putin about Ukraine nuclear plant
  • Grossi last met Putin in Saint Petersburg in October 2022 to discuss safety issues involving the Zaporizhzhia facility
  • The IAEA chief said he hoped to discuss “technical points” with Putin

VIENNA: UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi will head to Russia Tuesday for a fresh round of talks with President Vladimir Putin to discuss “the future operational status” of Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
Europe’s largest nuclear plant has been at the center of fighting since it was captured by Russian forces in March 2022, with both Moscow and Kyiv frequently accusing each other of compromising its safety.
Grossi last met Putin in Saint Petersburg in October 2022 to discuss safety issues involving the Zaporizhzhia facility.
“I think it is very important that we keep this high-level dialogue with both belligerents,” Grossi — who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — told reporters Monday.
The IAEA chief said he hoped to discuss “technical points” with Putin and get “an impression of what the plans” for the plant are.
“There are issues related to the future operational status of the plant,” Grossi said when asked about the topics he intends to raise.
Russian Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also confirmed the talks.
Grossi has visited Ukraine several times to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior officials.
The IAEA chief said he also hopes to address the nuclear plant’s “extremely fragile and thin” external power supply lines, after the facility suffered a complete loss of off-site power multiple times during bouts of fighting in the past two years.
Fears over the plant’s safety have persisted throughout Russia’s invasion, with the IAEA warning that powerful explosions and mine blasts near the plant indicated “possible combat action” that were of “deep concern.”
Grossi has called for “maximum military restraint” around the plant “to reduce the danger of a nuclear accident.”
The UN nuclear watchdog has also voiced concerned about a possible shortage of staff at the Zaporizhzhia plant.
Since February, workers from Ukraine’s atomic energy operator Energoatom who refused to sign contracts with the Russian operating entity have been barred from working at the plant.
IAEA officials have been on the ground monitoring the plant since September 2022.
The plant’s six reactor units, which produced around a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before Russia’s full-scale invasion, have been shut down.