ICC issues arrest warrants against top Russian commanders Kobylash and Sokolov

ICC issues arrest warrants against top Russian commanders Kobylash and Sokolov
The ICC 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. (X/@EuromaidanPR)
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Updated 05 March 2024
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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.


Muslim leaders are ‘out of words’ as they tire of the White House outreach on the war in Gaza

Muslim leaders are ‘out of words’ as they tire of the White House outreach on the war in Gaza
Updated 7 sec ago
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Muslim leaders are ‘out of words’ as they tire of the White House outreach on the war in Gaza

Muslim leaders are ‘out of words’ as they tire of the White House outreach on the war in Gaza
  • “No matter what happens, we will continue to stand firm against Israel’s barbaric attacks on Gaza and Israel will pay the price for this cruelty,” Altun reported Erdogan as saying

WASHINGTON: Osama Siblani was sipping his morning coffee at the office when his phone buzzed with a message from one of President Joe Biden’s advisers. As publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn, Michigan, Siblani serves as an occasional sounding board, and the White House wanted to know what he thought of Biden’s recent call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
After months of mounting concerns over the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, Biden had publicly, albeit vaguely, threatened to cut US assistance to Israel’s military operations in the Hamas-controlled territory.

Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News is photographed in his office, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Dearborn, Mich. (AP)

“This is baby steps,” Siblani said he responded. “What we need is giant steps rather than baby steps.”
The text exchange is an example of the behind-the-scenes communication that the White House has nurtured at a time of anger at the Democratic president over his support for Israel. Such informal contacts have become more important as some Muslim and Arab American leaders have turned down opportunities to talk with Biden or his advisers, frustrated by the sense their private conversations and public anguish have done little or nothing to persuade him to change course.
The White House says it is keeping an open door for difficult conversations, but it can be hard to get people to walk through.
“All they are trying to do is convince us that there is some kind of movement toward where we want,” Siblani said. “But it’s too slow and it’s dragging. It’s more death and casualties that are happening.”

A Muslim man prays to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan in Los Angeles Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (AP)

The highest-profile example of the stonewalling came last week when a Palestinian American doctor walked out of a meeting with Biden. But interviews with Muslim and Arab American leaders reveal how that face-to-face protest was only the most conspicuous case of a fracture that has damaged crucial relationships and closed avenues needed to repair them.
“What more can we tell the White House for them to change course? I’ve run out of words,” said Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, who met with senior officials in February but has not had any contact with them since then.
Dan Koh, deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, said the administration wants “to make sure we’re as accessible as possible.”

CEO of Emgage Wa'el Alzayat poses for a photograph in Chevy Chase, Md., Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (AP)

“We understand that some people do not want to engage. We respect that,” he said. “But we think that the people who have engaged have felt that it was a fruitful discussion.”
Top White House officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, senior adviser Anita Dunn and chief of staff Jeff Zients, have been involved in the outreach. Biden is briefed on their conversations, and Vice President Kamala Harris has talked with Muslims, Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans.
The White House believes it still can find receptive audiences, such as a recent series of meetings with Lebanese Americans that focused on efforts to prevent the conflict from expanding along Israel’s northern border, where Hezbollah operates.

President and co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam Al-Marayati, far right, gets ready to address American Muslims after a prayer in Los Angeles Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (AP)

But the situation presents a challenge for a president who believes in the political power of personal relationships and has prized his history of sitting down with opponents and critics. It could also jeopardize his reelection this year, with some Muslims warning they are unwilling to support Biden even it that risks returning Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, to the White House.
Salam Al-Marayati, who lives in Los Angeles and leads the Muslim Public Affairs Council, described the attitude as, “Forget them. They have to learn a lesson. And if they lose, that’s the lesson they should learn.”
His disillusionment with Biden began soon after the war started on Oct. 7, when Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack. The president described himself as a Zionist during a trip to Israel later that month, emphasizing his belief in the importance of a Jewish state as a guarantee of security for people who have historically been persecuted around the world.
Al-Marayati heard the statement differently.
“What it meant was, he doesn’t care for the Palestinian people and their displacement,” he said.
Al-Marayati and members of his organization did participate in meetings with officials from the National Security Council and the State Department, but he soured on the conversations.
“We realized they were not listening,” Al-Marayati said. “Maybe they were nodding when we were speaking, but they were continuing with the same policy.”
With the war entering its seventh month, Israel has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza-based Ministry of Health, an agency in the Hamas-controlled government.
US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota who is Muslim, said it’s still important to support Biden as a shield against the return of Trump, saying “our democracy is on the line.”
But when it comes to the war, Omar said, Biden “is not where we need him to be at the moment, and it is our job to push him, and to get him where we need him to be.”
“It is incredibly hard to have any sort of conversation when there isn’t any policy change coming out of the White House in regards to stopping weapons from being delivered into Israel,” she said.
That is a step that Biden has been unwilling to take, though he has moved closer to that line. After Biden’s most recent call with Netanyahu, the White House said the president “made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action” to protect civilians and allow increased humanitarian assistance.
The conversation came two days after Biden met with Muslim leaders at the White House. Officials had originally tried to arrange an iftar meal, where Biden could join Muslims as they broke their daily fast for Ramadan after sunset. But too many people refused invitations, turned off by the thought of eating with Biden at the same time he is supporting Israeli military operations that have pushed Palestinians to the brink of famine.
The White House changed its plans and hosted a private meeting about the war. One of the guests was Thaer Ahmad, a Palestinian American doctor from Chicago who has volunteered in Gaza. Angry over the continued flow of US weapons to Israel, Ahmad stood up during the meeting and told Biden he was walking out.
Among the leaders who have kept talking with the administration is Wa’el Alzayat, who lives in the Washington, D.C.-area and heads the advocacy organization Emgage. The former US State Department official said he texts or calls senior officials to relay sentiments from the Muslim and Arab American communities and push for a ceasefire.
Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said he last met with administration officials in February, and they have reached out to ask his thoughts since then. His city has the largest Muslim population per capita in the country, and Hammoud said he always is willing to talk if “there’s a conversation to be had that can lead to saving one life.”
Some White House meetings have focused on Lebanese Americans, who fear how the war could spiral out of control. One conversation took place last month in the private basement dining room of a Lebanese restaurant in Detroit. The other was hosted by a Lebanese American businessman in Houston over the weekend.
Ed Gabriel, who helped organize the conversations as president of the American Task Force on Lebanon, said participants appreciated the opportunity to learn about US efforts in the Middle East. But there is frustration over the situation in Gaza.
“At what point does the president say, ‘Enough is enough, it has to be now?’” Gabriel said. “I know what they’re trying to get done. But after 30,000 deaths, you can’t expect people to understand. And that’s the challenge the president has.”
 

 


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

Former US ambassador sentenced to 15 years in prison for serving as secret agent for Cuba
Updated 29 min 40 sec ago
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Former US ambassador sentenced to 15 years in prison for serving as secret agent for Cuba

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

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.