Sunak plans deal with Italy on Mediterranean migrants

Migrants who were rescued at open sea off Greece along with other migrants after their boat capsized are seen inside a warehouse — used as shelter — at the port of Kalamata, Greece. (Reuters)
Migrants who were rescued at open sea off Greece along with other migrants after their boat capsized are seen inside a warehouse — used as shelter — at the port of Kalamata, Greece. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 July 2023
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Sunak plans deal with Italy on Mediterranean migrants

Sunak plans deal with Italy on Mediterranean migrants
  • Tackling people-smuggling gangs is a shared challenge, UK govt spokesperson says

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is planning a deal with Italy to stem the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and return them to North Africa, the Telegraph reported.

Sunak had sent Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Simon Case to Italy in mid-June for two days of meetings with top Italian government officials to work on a deal, the newspaper reported.
A government source familiar with the matter confirmed to Reuters that Case was in Italy, without providing any additional details.
“If we are going to be successful in tackling illegal migration we have got to deal with the issue at source as well as focus on small boats,” the Telegraph quoted a government source as saying.

BACKGROUND

The UK and Italy signed a memorandum of understanding in April to tackle illegal migration under ‘Strategic Migration Partnership.’

The UK and Italy signed a memorandum of understanding in April to tackle illegal migration under “Strategic Migration Partnership.”
“We are cooperating closely with Italy and other European partners to stem illegal migration and tackle people-smuggling gangs which operate cross-border,” a UK government spokesperson said. “This is a shared challenge.”
Britain had a record 45,000 people coming to the country in small boats across the Channel last year, mainly from France, according to government figures.
More than 11,000 have arrived so far this year, according to the government.
Sunak of the Conservative Party has made stopping boat arrivals one of his top five priorities.
He has been criticized by some members of his own party and the public for not moving quickly enough to crack down on irregular migration.
In another development, a European official said the EU’s border agency is seeking “clarifications and information” from Greece’s coast guard on two alleged cases of migrants who crossed by boat being illegally deported back to Turkiye.
The official said Frontex’s executive director Hans Leijtens wrote to a senior police official representing Greece on the Frontex management board, requesting a reply by July 10.
The agency helps patrol EU member Greece’s eastern borders.
Greece’s center-right government has in recent years stepped up patrols in the eastern Aegean Sea, radically reducing the numbers of migrants from the Middle East and Africa crossing in small boats from neighboring Turkiye.
But Athens has been repeatedly accused of dumping migrants who enter Greek waters back inside Turkiye’s maritime jurisdiction without allowing them to apply for asylum — an illegal practice known as “pushbacks.” There have been similar claims on Greece’s treatment of migrants crossing the land border with Turkiye. Greece denies the accusations, saying its migration policy is “strict but fair.”
Separately, Greece’s coast guard has been strongly criticized for its handling of the June 14 sinking of a trawler carrying hundreds of migrants from Libya to Italy, which left more than 500 people feared dead.
The European official, who had knowledge of the Frontex communication, spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
The letter dated Thursday referred to two alleged incidents on April 11 and 22 off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos — a major destination for migrants crossing from the nearby Turkish coast in small boats.
The first was reported by The New York Times, based on a video provided by an activist. It claimed Greek authorities illegally deported a group of migrants who had reached Lesbos, leaving them on a raft at sea for Turkish authorities to pick up. In the second, it was alleged that a Portuguese Frontex boat helping patrol the region stopped a boat carrying migrants and handed it over to the Greek coast guard, which forced it back into Turkish waters.
Leijtens’ letter said Frontex has launched a “Serious Incident Report” into the April 11 case, which “confirms the gravity of the allegations.”
“I am aware that there might be investigations in progress with regard to the events mentioned above,” it said. “However, I would like to emphasize that it is of paramount importance for (Frontex) to receive all clarifications and information that are at this moment at the disposal of the (Greek) Coast Guard in view of current and future cooperation” between Greek authorities and Frontex.
The letter was first reported by Spain’s El Pais newspaper.
Leijtens also asked for Greece to release image and video recordings from the coast guard vessel involved in the alleged April 11 incident.
The New York Times report said migrants were brought by van to a Lesbos beach and taken by speedboat to a coast guard vessel. The coast guard allegedly left them on a life raft at sea to be picked up by the Turkish coast guard and taken back to Turkiye.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, reelected for a second four-year term on June 25, has said he takes the alleged April 11 incident “very seriously” and has ordered an investigation.
Asked about Greece’s relationship with Frontex at a press conference on Friday, after a two-day EU summit that focused on migration, Mitsotakis said it had always been good.
“I think that with Frontex we have a common mission: to protect our external borders, and of course to always save people who may be in danger at sea,” he said.

 


Former US ambassador sentenced to 15 years in prison for serving as secret agent for Cuba

Manuel Rocha. (US Department of State via Wikipedia)
Manuel Rocha. (US Department of State via Wikipedia)
Updated 6 sec ago
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Former US ambassador sentenced to 15 years in prison for serving as secret agent for Cuba

Manuel Rocha. (US Department of State via Wikipedia)

MIAMI: A former career US diplomat was sentenced Friday to 15 years in federal prison after admitting he worked for decades as a secret agent for communist Cuba, a plea agreement that leaves many unanswered questions about a betrayal that stunned the US foreign service.
Manuel Rocha, 73, will also pay a $500,000 fine and cooperate with authorities after pleading guilty to conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed more than a dozen other counts, including wire fraud and making false statements.
“Your actions were a direct attack to our democracy and the safety of our citizens,” US District Court Judge Beth Bloom told Rocha.
Rocha, dressed in a beige jail uniform, asked his friends and family for forgiveness. “I take full responsibility and accept the penalty,” he said.
The sentencing capped an exceptionally swift criminal case and averted a trial that would have shed new light on what, exactly, Rocha did to help Cuba even as he worked for two decades for the US State Department.
Prosecutors said those details remain classified and would not even tell Bloom when the government determined Rocha was spying for Cuba.
Federal authorities have been conducting a confidential damage assessment that could take years to complete. The State Department said Friday it would continue working with the intelligence community “to fully assess the foreign policy and national security implications of these charges.”
Rocha’s sentence came less than six months after his shocking arrest at his Miami home on allegations he engaged in “clandestine activity” on Cuba’s behalf since at least 1981, the year he joined the US foreign service.
The case underscored the sophistication of Cuba’s intelligence services, which have managed other damaging penetrations into high levels of US government. Rocha’s double-crossing went undetected for years, prosecutors said, as the Ivy League-educated diplomat secretly met with Cuban operatives and provided false information to US officials about his contacts.
But a recent Associated Press investigation found red flags overlooked along the way, including a warning that one longtime CIA operative received nearly two decades ago that Rocha was working as a double agent. Separate intelligence revealed the CIA had been aware as early as 1987 that Cuban leader Fidel Castro had a “super mole” burrowed deep inside the US government, and some officials suspected it could have been Rocha, the AP reported.
Rocha’s prestigious career included stints as ambassador to Bolivia and top posts in Argentina, Mexico, the White House and the US Interests Section in Havana.
In 1973, the year he graduated from Yale, Rocha traveled to Chile, where prosecutors say he became a “great friend” of Cuba’s intelligence agency, the General Directorate of Intelligence, or DGI.
Rocha’s post-government career included time as a special adviser to the commander of the US Southern Command and, more recently, as a tough-talking Donald Trump supporter and Cuba hard-liner, a persona that friends and prosecutors said Rocha adopted to hide his true allegiances.
Among the unanswered questions is what prompted the FBI to open its investigation into Rocha so many years after he retired from the foreign service.
Rocha incriminated himself in a series of secretly recorded conversations with an undercover agent posing as a Cuban intelligence operative. The agent initially reached out to Rocha on WhatsApp, calling himself “Miguel” and saying he had a message “from your friends in Havana.”
Rocha praised Castro as “Comandante” in the conversations, branded the US the “enemy” and boasted about his service for more than 40 years as a Cuban mole in the heart of US foreign policy circles, prosecutors said in court records.
“What we have done … it’s enormous … more than a Grand Slam,” Rocha was quoted as saying.
Even before Friday’s sentencing, the plea agreement drew criticism in Miami’s Cuban exile community, with some legal observers worrying Rocha would be treated too leniently.
“Any sentence that allows him to see the light of day again would not be justice,” said Carlos Trujillo, a Miami attorney who served as US Ambassador to the Organization of American States during the Trump administration. “He’s a spy for a foreign adversary who put American lives at risk.”
“As a Cuban I cannot forgive him,” added Isel Rodriguez, a 55-year-old Cuban-American woman who stood outside the federal courthouse Friday with a group of demonstrators waving American flags. “I feel completely betrayed.”
 

 


Ukrainian fighter pilots train in France during European training drive

Ukrainian fighter pilots train in France during European training drive
Updated 12 April 2024
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Ukrainian fighter pilots train in France during European training drive

Ukrainian fighter pilots train in France during European training drive
  • Other countries including the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania are seeking to help Ukraine train its F-16 pilots
  • A dozen Ukrainians, some of whom have received prior training in Britain, are currently also undergoing “advanced training” for “several months”

PARIS: Future Ukrainian fighter pilots likely to fly American F-16 aircraft are receiving their initial training in the south of France with the French Air Force, the French defense minister said on Friday, amid a European training push.
The pilots are receiving “general training on the Alpha Jet (a Franco-German military aircraft), which enables Ukrainian pilots to acquire the fundamentals of flying a fighter jet,” Sebastien Lecornu said in an interview with the newspaper Ouest France.
Other countries including the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania are seeking to help Ukraine train its F-16 pilots following the green light given by the United States.
A dozen Ukrainians, some of whom have received prior training in Britain, are currently also undergoing “advanced training” for “several months” in an undisclosed location to learn how to fly fighter jets, according to a military source.
They will then join specific F-16 training programs in countries allied with Ukraine that have the aircraft, while Kyiv awaits their delivery, the same source added. France’s military does not use the F-16.
Lecornu pointed out on Friday that the French armed forces had succeeded in adapting AASM air-to-ground guided bombs on Soviet-class aircraft held by the Ukrainians.
“We have taken the lead with these AASM bombs to be able to supply Ukraine with them,” Lecornu said.
Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, France has trained 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers on its own territory and in Poland.


13 arrested over killing of Oromo opposition figure

Bate Urgessa. (Supplied)
Bate Urgessa. (Supplied)
Updated 12 April 2024
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13 arrested over killing of Oromo opposition figure

Bate Urgessa. (Supplied)
  • The 41-year-old Bate had been released on bail early last month following his arrest alongside French journalist Antoine Galindo in February

ADDIS ABABA: Police in Ethiopia have arrested 13 suspects over the killing of a prominent opposition figure from the restive state of Oromia, official regional media reported.
The body of Bate Urgessa of the Oromo Liberation Front or OLF was found dumped on a road outside the town of Meki on Wednesday, shortly after he had been arrested by “government forces,” the party said.
The US, the EU, and Britain have joined rights campaigners in calling for a full investigation into the killing of Bate, an outspoken politician who had spent several years in and out of detention.
Police in the East Shawa zone where Meki is located have arrested 13 suspects over the shooting, the Oromia Broadcasting Network said on Facebook late on Thursday, adding that Bate had been buried in a ceremony in Meki that day.
No details about the suspects were disclosed.

BACKGROUND

The US, the EU, and Britain have joined rights campaigners in calling for a full investigation into the killing of Bate Urgessa, an outspoken politician who had spent several years in and out of detention.

The 41-year-old Bate had been released on bail early last month following his arrest alongside French journalist Antoine Galindo in February.
However, OLF spokesman Lemi Gemechu said he was arrested again late on Tuesday by “government armed forces” at a hotel in his hometown of Meki, 150 km south of the capital Addis Ababa.
“He was then briefly taken to a detention center in the city,” Lemi said.
Bate’s family said he was found dead on Wednesday morning on a road on the outskirts of Meki, he added. There have been calls at home and abroad for a full investigation into his death.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission — an independent state-affiliated body — urged both the regional and central governments to conduct a “prompt, impartial and full investigation” into Bate’s killing.
The US also called for a full investigation, the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs said in a statement on X on Wednesday.
“Justice and accountability are critical for breaking the cycle of violence,” it added.
The British ambassador in Ethiopia, Darren Welch, issued a similar message, adding: “As well as justice and accountability, political dialogue is needed to end the cycle of violence affecting civilians in Oromia.”
The EU ambassador to Addis Ababa, Roland Kobia, also supported the human rights commission’s call, saying on X: “This is part of the need to ensure accountability, justice, and reconciliation.”
The largest and most populous region of Ethiopia, Oromia has been in the grip of an armed insurrection since 2018.
The OLF renounced armed struggle that year after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, himself an ethnic Oromo, came to power, prompting the Oromo Liberation Arm or OLA to split from the party.
Federal forces have been fighting OLA rebels in Oromia ever since, while peace talks have failed to yield meaningful progress.
Classified as a “terrorist organization” and referred to as OLF-Shane by Addis Ababa, the OLA has been accused by the government of orchestrating massacres, which the rebels deny.
The authorities, in turn, are accused of waging an indiscriminate crackdown that has fueled Oromo resentment.
The Oromo ethnic group accounts for about a third of the 120 million inhabitants of Africa’s second most populous country.

 


US, Japan, Philippines condemn Beijing’s South China Sea moves in summit

US, Japan, Philippines condemn Beijing’s South China Sea moves in summit
Updated 12 April 2024
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US, Japan, Philippines condemn Beijing’s South China Sea moves in summit

US, Japan, Philippines condemn Beijing’s South China Sea moves in summit
  • China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Friday the statement amounted to a “wanton smear attack” and Beijing summoned a Japanese diplomat to protest against the comments

WASHINGTON: Long-simmering tensions between China and its neighbors took center stage on Thursday as leaders of the US, Japan and the Philippines met at the White House to push back on Beijing’s stepped-up pressure on Manila in the disputed South China Sea.
US President Joe Biden’s administration announced new joint military efforts and infrastructure spending in the former American colony while he hosted Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Washington for a first-of-its-kind trilateral summit.
Topping the meeting’s agenda was China’s increasing pressure in the South China Sea, which has escalated despite a personal appeal by Biden to Chinese President Xi Jinping last year.

HIGHLIGHT

Launching the White House meeting with the three leaders, Biden affirmed that a 1950s era mutual defense treaty binding Washington and Manila would require the US to respond to an armed attack on the Philippines in the South China Sea.

“We express our serious concerns about the People’s Republic of China’s dangerous and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. We are also concerned by the militarization of reclaimed features and unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea,” the countries said in a statement issued after the summit.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Friday the statement amounted to a “wanton smear attack” and Beijing summoned a Japanese diplomat to protest against the comments.
The Philippines and China had several maritime run-ins last month that included the use of water cannon and heated verbal exchanges. The disputes center on the Second Thomas Shoal, home to a small number of Filipino troops stationed on a warship that Manila grounded there in 1999 to reinforce its sovereignty claims.
Launching the White House meeting with the three leaders, Biden affirmed that a 1950s era mutual defense treaty binding Washington and Manila would require the US to respond to an armed attack on the Philippines in the South China Sea.
“United States defense commitments to Japan and to the Philippines are iron clad,” he said.
Marcos has successfully pushed Washington to resolve longstanding ambiguity over the treaty by specifying that it would apply to disputes in that sea.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including the maritime economic zones of neighboring nations. The Second Thomas Shoal is within the Philippines’ 200-mile (320-km) exclusive economic zone.

A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration found that China’s sweeping claims have no legal basis.
Japan has a dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.
The three countries said their coast guards planned to conduct a trilateral exercise in the Indo-Pacific region in the coming year and establish a dialogue to enhance future cooperation.
The moves come after two prominent US senators introduced a bipartisan bill on Wednesday to provide Manila with $2.5 billion to boost its defenses against Chinese pressure.
“China’s frequent tactic is to try to isolate the target of its pressure campaigns, but the April 11 trilateral signals clearly that the Philippines is not alone,” said Daniel Russel, who served as the top US diplomat for East Asia under former President Barack Obama.
The leaders also unveiled a wide range of agreements to enhance economic ties during the meetings, including backing new infrastructure in the Philippines, aimed at ports, rail, clean energy and semiconductor supply chains.

 

 


Ireland says moving closer to recognizing Palestinian state

Ireland says moving closer to recognizing Palestinian state
Updated 12 April 2024
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Ireland says moving closer to recognizing Palestinian state

Ireland says moving closer to recognizing Palestinian state
  • “Let me this evening say our assessment is that that point is coming much closer and we would like to move together in doing so,” Harris said after meeting Sanchez
  • “The people of Israel deserve a secure and peaceful future, so do the people of Palestine. Equal sovereignty, equal respect“

DUBLIN: Ireland is close to formally recognizing a Palestinian state and would like to do so in concert with Spain and other like-minded countries, new prime minister Simon Harris said on Friday after meeting his Spanish counterpart.
Spain and Ireland, long champions of Palestinian rights, last month announced alongside Malta and Slovenia that they would jointly work toward the recognition of a Palestinian state.
The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout out Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.
“Let me this evening say our assessment is that that point is coming much closer and we would like to move together in doing so,” Harris said after meeting Sanchez, the first premier to visit Dublin since Harris became prime minister this week.
“When we move forward, we would like to do so with as many others as possible to lend weight to the decision and to send the strongest message. The people of Israel deserve a secure and peaceful future, so do the people of Palestine. Equal sovereignty, equal respect.”
Israel told the four EU countries that committed to moving toward Palestinian recognition that their initiative would amount to a “prize for terrorism” that would reduce the chances of a negotiated resolution to the generations-old conflict.
The meeting with Harris was part of a number Sanchez planned this week with EU counterparts to try to garner support for the recognition of a Palestinian state.
Sanchez said following a meeting in Oslo with his Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Store earlier on Friday that there were “clear signs” in Europe that countries in the region were prepared to recognize a Palestinian state.
Sanchez has previously said he expects Madrid to extend recognition to Palestinians by July.
Harris said Dublin would continue discussions with other like-minded countries in Europe and beyond, including at next week’s meeting of EU leaders.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said earlier this week that he was preparing to bring a formal proposal to government on the recognition of a Palestinian state.
Since 1988, 139 out of 193 United Nations member states have recognized Palestinian statehood.