Archive for April, 2018


April 25, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Wednesday called on Russia, Iran and Turkey to ensure a halt to fighting in Syria, as international donors gathered in Brussels to drum up aid for the conflict-ravaged country.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the three have a “special responsibility” to establish a cease-fire and to press Syrian President Bashar Assad to return to the negotiating table. “We are seeing an escalation in military activities which is exactly the contrary” to what they promised, Mogherini said.

Around 80 countries, organizations and partners backing Syria are taking part in the donor conference. The EU hopes the meeting will give impetus to stalled peace moves under U.N. auspices, on top of gathering several billion dollars in humanitarian aid for Syria and for neighbors like Lebanon and Jordan, struggling to cope with millions of refugees. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country will provide 1 billion euros in new funding for 2018 and subsequent years.

The EU, along with many other partners, refuses to help with serious reconstruction in Syria until meaningful peace moves to end the conflict, now into its eighth year, resume in Geneva. Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, said “it’s high time the international community …. takes bold decisions to help Syria and its people get their country back together.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who faces elections in two weeks, said the plight of Syrians is simply getting worse. “The bitter truth is that despite all our combined efforts conditions have deteriorated. Lebanon continues to be a big refugee camp,” he said.

Britain’s State Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, agreed that Syria’s needs are enormous. “This is the world’s greatest protection crisis. If you look at what’s happened and what’s been done to people — breaches of humanitarian laws, the weakening of multilateral norms that we have seen for a long time — it’s all focusing on Syria,” he said.

“We all know that what we do on a humanitarian basis is only the sticking plaster on the wound. You’ve got to address the wound itself. So we hope that the seriousness of the conflict and the damage that it’s done might be used to further encourage the various parties to get going again.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura has warned that the northern, rebel-held province of Idlib could become Syria’s newest humanitarian crisis area. De Mistura said Tuesday that “Idlib is the big new challenge — 2.5 million people.” He told reporters that “there are women, children, civilians, and this is looming up there.”

De Mistura hopes the two-day donor conference “will be an occasion for also making sure that Idlib doesn’t become the new Aleppo, the new eastern Ghouta, because the dimensions are completely different.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 177,000 people have fled combat in eastern Ghouta since February. The rest — including about 12,000 fighters — relocated to Idlib.

April 29, 2018

KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh (AP) — A U.N. Security Council team visiting Bangladesh promised Sunday to work hard to resolve a crisis involving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled to the country to escape military-led violence in neighboring Myanmar.

The diplomats, who visited the sprawling camps and border points where about 700,000 Rohingya have taken shelter, said their visit was an opportunity to see the situation firsthand. Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyansky, said he and his fellow team members would not look away from the crisis after their visit, though he warned that there are no simple solutions.

“It’s very necessary to come and see everything at place here in Bangladesh and Myanmar. But there is no magic solution, there is no magic stick to solve all these issues,” he said at a news conference at the Kutupalong refugee camp in the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar.

The diplomats will conclude their three-day visit to Bangladesh on Monday, when they leave for Myanmar. The recent spasm of violence in Myanmar began when Rohingya insurgents staged a series of attacks on Aug. 25 on about 30 security outposts and other targets. In a subsequent crackdown described by U.N. and U.S. officials as “ethnic cleansing,” Myanmar security forces have been accused of rape, killing, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes. Thousands are believed to have been killed.

The diplomats, comprising representatives from the five permanent Security Council members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — and 10 non-permanent member states, talked to some 120 refugees, including rape victims.

Peru’s ambassador to the U.N., Gustavo Adolfo Meza Cuadra Velasqez, said he and his fellow team members were ready to “work hard” and were “very concerned” about the crisis. “I think we have witnessed the magnitude of the refugee crisis and very tragic situation of some of the families,” he said.

The refugees are seeking U.N. protection to return home. The U.N. refugee agency and Bangladesh recently finalized a memorandum of understanding that said the repatriation process must be “safe, voluntary and dignified … in line with international standards.”

Karen Pierce, the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that the Security Council would continue to work on enabling the refugees to return to Myanmar, but that the Rohingya must be allowed to return under safe conditions.

“The problem there lies in their expulsion, treatment and the fact that they had to flee to Bangladesh,” she said. Rohingya are denied citizenship in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar, where they’ve faced persecution for decades. They’re derided as “Bengalis,” and many in Myanmar believe they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Most of them live in poverty in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, next to Bangladesh.

Thousands of refugees gathered amid scorching heat at the Kutupalong camp to welcome the visiting delegation. They carried placards, some of which read “We want justice.” “We are not Bengali, we are Rohingya. They have killed my family members, they tortured us, they will kill us again,” said one of the refugees, 29-year-old Mohammed Tayab, standing in front of a tent where he was waiting to meet the U.N. team.

Tayab, who was using crutches, said he was shot by Myanmar troops in his right leg. He said he lost a brother, an uncle and a nephew after Myanmar soldiers shot them dead. “I am here to talk to them, we want justice from them,” he said of the diplomats. “I will tell them my stories. They should listen to us.”