Myanmar’s worst violence since the military takeover is intensifying the crisis, the UN says

Myanmar’s worst violence since the military takeover is intensifying the crisis, the UN says
People flee from a village after renewed fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic minority armed group, in Pauktaw Township in western Rakhine State on November 19, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 05 April 2024
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Myanmar’s worst violence since the military takeover is intensifying the crisis, the UN says

Myanmar’s worst violence since the military takeover is intensifying the crisis, the UN says

UNITED NATIONS: Myanmar’s escalating conflict and worst violence since the military takeover in 2021 are having a devastating impact on human rights, fundamental freedoms and basic needs of millions of people — as well as “alarming spillover effects” in the region, UN officials said Thursday.

Assistant Secretary-General for political affairs Khaled Khiari told the UN Security Council that “the civilian toll keeps rising” amid reports of indiscriminate bombing by Myanmar’s armed forces and artillery shelling by various parties.

The nationwide armed conflict in Myanmar began after the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021 and suppressed widespread nonviolent protests that sought a return to democratic rule.

Thousands of young people fled to jungles and mountains in remote border areas as a result of the military’s suppression and made common cause with ethnic guerrilla forces battle-hardened by decades of combat with the army in pursuit of autonomy.

Despite its great advantage in armaments and manpower, the military has been unable to quell the resistance movement. Over the past five months, the army has been routed in northern Shan state, is conceding swaths of territory in Rakhine state in the west, and is under growing attack elsewhere.

Myanmar’s main pro-democracy resistance group said Thursday its armed wing launched drone attacks on the airport and a military headquarters in the capital, Naypyitaw, but the ruling military said it destroyed the drones as they attacked. It wasn’t possible to independently verify most details of the incident, but the military’s acknowledgement that it had taken place

in one of the country’s most heavily guarded locations will be seen by many as the latest indication that it is losing the initiative.

Khiari did not mention the attack but said the National Unity Consultative Council — formed after the 2021 military takeover to promote a return to democracy and comprising ethnic, political, civil society and resistance groups — convened its Second People’s Assembly on Thursday “to further define their common vision for the future of Myanmar.”

He singled out the fighting between the Arakan Army and the military in Rakhine State, Myanmar’s poorest, which he said “has reached an unprecedented level of violence.”

“The Arakan Army has reportedly gained territorial control over most of central Rakhine and seeks to expand to northern Rakhine” where many minority Rohingya Muslims still live, he said.

The Buddhist Rakhine are the majority ethnic group in Rakhine, which is also known by its older name of Arakan, and have long sought autonomy. They have set up their own well-trained and well-armed force called the Arakan Army.

Members of the Rohingya minority have long been persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. About 740,000 fled from Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh when the military in August 2017 launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in response to attacks in Rakhine by a guerrilla group claiming to represent the Rohingya.

Khiari urged all parties in Rakhine to support the Rohingya, who are caught in the middle of the conflict and continue to experience “significant restrictions” on their freedom of movement as well as denial of citizenship and disproportionate vulnerability to abduction or forced recruitment.

The crisis continues to spill over the borders and added that conflicts in key border areas have weakened security, Khiari said. The breakdown in the rule of law has enabled illicit economies to thrive, with criminal networks preying on vulnerable people with no livelihoods.

“Myanmar has become a global epicenter of methamphetamine and opium production, along with a rapid expansion of global cyber-scam operations, particularly in border areas,” he said. “What began as a regional crime threat in Southeast Asia is now a rampant human trafficking and illicit trade crisis with global implications.”

Senior UN humanitarian official Lisa Doughten said the ongoing escalation has left 12.9 million people — nearly 25 percent of Myanmar’s population — without enough food, stressing that children and pregnant women face malnutrition.

“Across Myanmar, the humanitarian community estimates that some 18.6 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2024 — a nineteen-fold increase since February 2021,” she said.

Doughten said the health system is also in turmoil, with medicines running out. She appealed for urgent funding to assist millions in need, saying the 2023 appeal for $887 million was only 44 percent funded, causing 1.1 million people to be cut off from aid.

Both Khiari and Doughten echoed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a unified international response to the escalating conflict, and for neighboring countries especially to use their influence to open humanitarian channels, end the violence, and seek a political solution.

Khiari said Guterres intends to appoint a new UN special envoy for Myanmar soon to engage with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and other key parties toward those goals.

Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward told the council, however, that “the Myanmar military refuses to engage meaningfully with international efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis.”

But she stressed, “We will not allow Myanmar to become a forgotten crisis.”

Calling Myanmar “our longstanding friend and close partner,” Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia objected to the meeting, saying the country doesn’t threaten international peace and security.

He accused Western nations of supporting armed opposition groups and destabilizing Rakhine and camps for the displaced “for the advancement of their own geopolitical concerns in the region.”


Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties

Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties
Updated 2 sec ago
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Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties

Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties
  • Russian leader hails ‘close friendship’ between the two countries based on ‘equality and respect of mutual interests’
  • North Korean state media described the meeting between the leaders as a historic event
SEOUL: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow and Pyongyang will sign an agreement that will bolster their ties, and thanked North Korea for supporting the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine.
Speaking at the start of his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Russian leader said in remarks carried by Russian state Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies that the “new fundamental document will form the basis of our ties for a long perspective.”
Putin also hailed a “close friendship” between the two countries based on “equality and respect of mutual interests,” and noted their “fight against the imperialist hegemonistic policies of the US and its satellites against the Russian Federation.”
“We highly appreciate your consistent and unchanging support of the Russian policies, including in the Ukrainian direction,” Putin added.
Putin was met upon his nighttime arrival by Kim, who shook his hands, hugged him twice and rode with him from the airport in a limousine in a huge motorcade that rolled through the capital’s brightly illuminated streets, where buildings were decorated with giant Russian flags and portraits of Putin.
North Korean state media described the meeting between the leaders as a historic event that demonstrates the “invincibility and durability” of the two nations’ friendship and unity. Huge crowds lined up on the streets to greet Putin’s motorcade before the talks, chanting “Welcome Putin” and waving flowers and North Korean and Russian flags.
Putin, making his first trip to North Korea in 24 years, was quoted in official media outlets before his arrival as saying the two countries want to cooperate closely to overcome US-led sanctions and actively develop their partnership. He also said he appreciated North Korea’s firm support of his military actions in Ukraine. The Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of the neighboring country in 2022.
Putin’s visit comes amid growing concerns about an arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions to fuel Russia’s war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.
North Korea is under heavy UN Security Council economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs, while Russia is also grappling with sanctions by the United States and its Western partners over its aggression in Ukraine.
Putin is being accompanied by several top officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Denis Mantrurov, Defense Minister Andrei Belousov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to his foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov. He said a number of documents will be signed during the visit, possibly including an agreement on a comprehensive strategic partnership.
US and South Korean officials accuse the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both Pyongyang and Moscow deny accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.
Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim’s continuing efforts to advance his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking US-led efforts to impose fresh UN sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.
Aside of sending military supplies to Russia to help its war fighting Ukraine, the North may also seek to increase labor exports and other illicit activities to gain foreign currency in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions, according to a recent report by the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s main spy agency. There will likely be talks about expanding cooperation in agriculture, fisheries and mining and further promoting Russian tourism to North Korea, the institute said.

Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China

Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China
Updated 20 min 44 sec ago
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Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China

Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China
  • China, whose government views Taiwan as its own territory, held two days of war games around the island shortly after Lai Ching-te took office last month

TAIPEI: Only military strength can keep the peace with China and the Taiwanese people will not give in to Chinese coercion, Taiwan President Lai Ching-te said on Wednesday as the United States agreed on a speeded-up arms package.
China, whose government views Taiwan as its own territory, held two days of war games around the island shortly after Lai took office last month, saying it was “punishment” for his inauguration speech, which Beijing denounced as being full of separatist context.
Speaking at a news conference to mark one month since assuming the presidency, Lai said Taiwan’s people “love peace.”
“But peace must rely on strength, which is to say avoiding war by preparing for war to achieve peace. Empty promises are not true peace,” he said.
China’s national policy is to annex Taiwan, Lai added.
“Apart from using force, in recent years they have even been using non-traditional coercive measures to force Taiwan to succumb but Taiwan will not give in,” he said.
Taiwan says such coercive means include preventing Taiwan’s participation in international bodies and events, banning or heavily taxing certain exports to China, and “grey zone” tactics such as flying balloons over the island.
Shortly before Lai spoke to reporters at the presidential office in Taipei, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said US State Department had approved the sale to Taiwan of drones and missiles for an estimated $360 million.
The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, to the constant anger of Beijing.
Taiwan’s defense ministry expressed its thanks, especially for US efforts to increase arms sales to the island. Taiwan has repeatedly complained of delayed deliveries.
“The Taiwan-US special management team continues to work hard to improve the efficiency of arms sales operations between the two sides. This time, the administrative review time has been significantly shortened,” the ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Although the United States is Taiwan’s main international arms provider, Lai and his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen have made boosting domestic capabilities a priority.
“Going forward we will continue to strengthen Taiwan’s defense capabilities, not only on arms purchases but also on defense self-sufficiency,” he said.
Lai has repeatedly offered talks with China but been rebuffed.
He says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future, and that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are “not subordinate to each other,” which he told reporters was the consensus of society in Taiwan.


Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea

Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea
Updated 42 min 50 sec ago
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Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea

Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea
  • Philippine foreign ministry ‘denounces the illegal and aggressive actions’ of Chinese authorities
  • ‘Peace cannot be achieved if China’s words do not match its behavior in the disputed waters’

MANILA: China must avoid actions that would endanger sailors and vessels in the South China Sea, the Philippine foreign ministry said on Wednesday, adding peace cannot be achieved if its words do not match its behavior in the disputed waters.
The Philippine foreign ministry said it “denounces the illegal and aggressive actions” of Chinese authorities that resulted in personnel injury and vessel damage during Manila’s routine resupply mission in the South China Sea on June 17.
“In line with the Philippines’ commitment to pursue peace, the Department has been exerting efforts to rebuild a conducive environment for dialogue and consultation with China on the South China Sea,” the ministry said in a statement.
“This cannot be achieved if China’s words do not match their actions on the waters.”
The ministry also called on China to respect the Philippines’ sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its own waters.


Russian prosecutors ask for nearly five years in prison for US soldier

Russian prosecutors ask for nearly five years in prison for US soldier
Updated 19 June 2024
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Russian prosecutors ask for nearly five years in prison for US soldier

Russian prosecutors ask for nearly five years in prison for US soldier
  • The Pentagon has said that Black broke army rules by traveling to Russia without authorization, having passed through China

Prosecutors have asked for a prison sentence of four years and eight months for a US soldier who has been detained in the Russian city of Vladivostok on suspicion of theft and threats to kill his girlfriend, Russian agencies reported on Wednesday.
Gordon Black, who was detained on May 2 in Vladivostok in Russia’s far east, pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of threatening to kill his girlfriend but admitted he was “partially” guilty of stealing from her.
“(We ask) to impose a sentence of four years and eight months, to be served in a penal colony,” Russia’s RIA state news agency cited the prosecutor as saying at the court hearing.
The prosecutor has also asked for a fine of 40,000 roubles ($469), RIA reported.
Black’s defense lawyer has asked the court to acquit him of all of the charges, RIA reported.
Earlier, RIA reported that Black “partially” acknowledged his guilt on the charge of stealing 10,000 roubles ($113) from his girlfriend Alexandra Vashchuk’s purse but said that “there was no intent.”
The pair had met in South Korea, where Black was stationed. The Pentagon has said that he broke army rules by traveling to Russia without authorization, having passed through China.


US still reviewing one bomb shipment for Israel: Blinken

US still reviewing one bomb shipment for Israel: Blinken
Updated 19 June 2024
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US still reviewing one bomb shipment for Israel: Blinken

US still reviewing one bomb shipment for Israel: Blinken
  • The United States is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza

WASHINGTON: The United States bristled Tuesday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested ally Washington was withholding critical weapons to his country as it wages war against Hamas in Gaza.
“Let me just start off by saying that we genuinely do not know what he’s talking about,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
With the exception of “one particular shipment of munitions” that US officials were looking at closely, Jean-Pierre said “there are no other pauses. None.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said earlier Tuesday that Washington is “continuing to review one shipment... with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah,” a city in southern Gaza.
But the top American diplomat said other weapons were moving as usual and that Washington was “making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself.”
The pointed reaction from the White House came hours after Netanyahu said Blinken had assured him the US government was working “day and night” to address the delay in the arrival of the weapons.
In a video statement, Netanyahu said that while he appreciated America’s support during the Gaza crisis, he also said he told Blinken “it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
The United States is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has conducted more than eight months of operations against Hamas.
The unprecedented October 7 attack by Palestinian militants on southern Israel that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Hamas militants also seized 251 hostages, of whom Israel believes 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas has killed at least 37,372 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.