Warning Against Plan to Arm 20,000 Civilians in Afghanistan

New recruits to the Afghan army Special Forces take part in a military exercise in Rishkhur district outside Kabul, Afghanistan February 25, 2017. Picture taken on February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
New recruits to the Afghan army Special Forces take part in a military exercise in Rishkhur district outside Kabul, Afghanistan February 25, 2017. Picture taken on February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
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Warning Against Plan to Arm 20,000 Civilians in Afghanistan

New recruits to the Afghan army Special Forces take part in a military exercise in Rishkhur district outside Kabul, Afghanistan February 25, 2017. Picture taken on February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
New recruits to the Afghan army Special Forces take part in a military exercise in Rishkhur district outside Kabul, Afghanistan February 25, 2017. Picture taken on February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Afghanistan is considering training and arming 20,000 civilians to defend territories where extremists have been driven out, officials say, sparking fears the local forces could become another thuggish militia. 

The proposal for a government-backed armed group that would protect its own communities from the Taliban and ISIS comes as Afghanistan's security forces, demoralized by killings and desertions, struggle to beat back a rampant insurgency. 

But the proposal has raised concerns that the local forces could become unruly and turn into another abusive militia terrorizing the people it is supposed to defend.   

"The Afghan government's expansion of irregular forces could have enormously dangerous consequences for civilians," said Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based group said Western diplomats in Kabul familiar with the plan -- modeled on the Indian Territorial Army that supports the country's regular forces -- said Afghan officials had expressed concerns the militia could be used by "powerful strongmen" or become "dependent on local patronage networks". 

American and Afghan officials told Agence France Presse the fighters would come under the command of the Afghan army and be better trained than the Afghan Local Police -- a village-level force set up by the United States in 2010 and accused of human rights violations.

"Right now we rely on commandos and air strikes to retake the lost territories but after the commandos leave we don’t have enough forces to hold onto the territories," said a senior defense ministry official who asked not to be named. 

"The force will operate under an army corps and will be used to fill the gaps. They will be recruited from the locals and will be numbered around 20,000."

Defense ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri confirmed to AFP that a plan for "local forces" was being discussed. 

"People will be recruited from their areas because they know their regions and how to keep them," Waziri said, but added there was no guarantee it would be implemented.  

A spokesman for NATO's Resolute Support train and assist mission also confirmed a proposal for an Afghan territorial army was on the table. 

But another American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told AFP the idea was still in "the brainstorming phase".

The Afghan government and its foreign backers have been cultivating militias to bolster the 330,000-strong Afghan National Security and Defense Forces as they battle to get the upper hand in the grinding conflict. 

In Afghanistan, militias -- private armies and government-backed armed groups -- have a long and chequered history in the war-torn country and many Afghans are wary of them.

Civilian casualties were at record highs in the first six months of 2017, a UN report showed, with forces loyal to the Afghan government accounting for nearly 20 percent of the deaths and injuries.

Since NATO ended its combat mission in 2014 the Taliban has been gaining ground and ISIS is expanding its footprint.

As of February only about 60 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts were reported to be under government control, according to the US watchdog agency SIGAR.​

Earlier this year Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered a near doubling of the country's elite fighting force from 17,000 as part of a four-year roadmap that also aims to strengthen Afghanistan's air force.

While US President Donald Trump's commitment to increase American troop numbers and leave them there indefinitely has been welcomed by Afghan authorities, they know it will take time to improve the fighting abilities of their security forces.

With parliamentary and presidential elections planned in the next two years they want a security quick fix. 

But critics fear that rather than support Afghanistan's beleaguered security forces, the militia could aggravate factionalism and push Afghanistan deeper into conflict.

"It's a tool that the US military and successive Afghan governments have reached for and it looks like a solution to their problems but actually the real solution would be to have a functioning ANA (Afghan National Army) and ANP (Afghan National Police)," Kate Clark, a senior analyst at Afghanistan Analysts Network, told AFP. 

"It's a dangerous thing to play with, arming your civilians."

Meanwhile, eight members of the Afghan local and national police were killed in Afghanistan's central Ghazni province after Taliban militants attacked their checkpoint, an official said.

The attack took place early on Sunday in Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, Mohammad Arif Noori, a spokesman for Ghazni's governor, told dpa.

Ghazni is among the most insecure provinces in central Afghanistan and has seen widespread Taliban activity.



Security Council Approves Resolution Decrying Attacks on UN and Aid Workers

A MONUSCO (The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) armed vehicle drives along the Beni-Kasindi road, stronghold of the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group originally from Uganda that pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2019 and operates in eastern DRC), on May 9, 2024 in Beni territory, North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP)
A MONUSCO (The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) armed vehicle drives along the Beni-Kasindi road, stronghold of the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group originally from Uganda that pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2019 and operates in eastern DRC), on May 9, 2024 in Beni territory, North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP)
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Security Council Approves Resolution Decrying Attacks on UN and Aid Workers

A MONUSCO (The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) armed vehicle drives along the Beni-Kasindi road, stronghold of the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group originally from Uganda that pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2019 and operates in eastern DRC), on May 9, 2024 in Beni territory, North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP)
A MONUSCO (The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) armed vehicle drives along the Beni-Kasindi road, stronghold of the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group originally from Uganda that pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2019 and operates in eastern DRC), on May 9, 2024 in Beni territory, North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP)

The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution Friday that strongly condemns attacks on humanitarian workers and UN personnel, and demands that all combatants protect them in accordance with international law.

The vote was 14-0 with Russia abstaining.

The Swiss-sponsored resolution expresses grave concern at the growing number of attacks and threats against UN and humanitarian personnel along with the continuing disregard and violations of international humanitarian law by combatants.

“The goal of the resolution is as simple as it is important,” Switzerland’s UN Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl told The Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s about protecting the men and women who work and risk their lives — every day — to help people affected by armed conflict.”

The resolution does not single out any conflict, but it is being voted on as battles rage in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar and many other hotspots around the world.

It is the seven-month war in Gaza, however, that has seen the greatest number of attacks on UN and humanitarian personnel. Over 190 UN staff have been killed, a death toll unprecedented in the United Nations’ nearly 80-year history, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The war has also seen the killing of other humanitarian personnel, including seven World Central Kitchen workers who died in an Israeli airstrike last month.

Baeriswyl said in a statement to AP that the resolution was being put to a vote at a very timely moment. The Geneva Conventions, which Baeriswyl described as the cornerstone of international humanitarian law and a reflection of our common humanity, commemorates its 75th anniversary in August.

The resolution calls on all countries to respect and protect humanitarian and UN personnel as required by international law. And it calls on all nations and parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and their obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

It “strongly condemns attacks and all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, threats and intimidation against humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”

The resolution urges combatants “to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of hostilities and refrain from attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.”

It also urges warring parties to facilitate “full, safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access to all civilians in need, and to promote the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”

On another issue, the resolution condemns “disinformation, information manipulation and incitement to violence” against humanitarian and UN staff and it encourages all countries and the United Nations to take action to address these threats.

If approved, the resolution would express the council’s determination to take steps to provide for the safety and security of humanitarian and UN staff. It would ask the UN Secretary-General to make recommendations within six months on measures to prevent attacks, ensure accountability and enhance protection of humanitarian and UN staff.


Syrian Kurdish Authorities Hand over British Woman, 3 Children Linked to ISIS to UK Delegation

A British woman and three children linked to the extremist ISIS group in Syria were handed over to a UK delegation that visited the region this week, Syrian Kurdish-led authorities said Friday. (AFP)
A British woman and three children linked to the extremist ISIS group in Syria were handed over to a UK delegation that visited the region this week, Syrian Kurdish-led authorities said Friday. (AFP)
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Syrian Kurdish Authorities Hand over British Woman, 3 Children Linked to ISIS to UK Delegation

A British woman and three children linked to the extremist ISIS group in Syria were handed over to a UK delegation that visited the region this week, Syrian Kurdish-led authorities said Friday. (AFP)
A British woman and three children linked to the extremist ISIS group in Syria were handed over to a UK delegation that visited the region this week, Syrian Kurdish-led authorities said Friday. (AFP)

A British woman and three children linked to the extremist ISIS group in Syria were handed over to a UK delegation that visited the region this week, Syrian Kurdish-led authorities said Friday.

The handover, which took place on Wednesday, is the latest in a push to repatriate people from al-Hol and Roj camps in northeastern Syria that house tens of thousands, mostly wives and children of ISIS militants but also supporters of the extremist group.

The Kurdish authorities did not release the names of the four, saying only they were held at Roj camp before the handover.

According to a statement, a delegation led by Britain’s Special Representative for Syria Ann Snow visited northeastern Syria, where they discussed with the Kurdish authorities the ongoing threat that ISIS still poses, five years after the extremists lost the last sliver of land they once controlled in large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Elham Ahmad, the co-chair for foreign relations in the regional Syrian Kurdish administration, said “radical solutions should be found for the problem of terrorism.”

Thousands of ISIS members and suspects held in jails in northeast Syria should face justice, she added.

In 2014, ISIS declared a so-called state in large parts of Iraq and Syria and attracted tens of thousands of supporters from around the world. The extremists were defeated by a US-led coalition in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019.

Tens of thousands of people linked to the group were taken to al-Hol camp, close to the Iraqi border.

Over the past five years about 30,000 people, mostly Iraqis and Syrians, have left al-Hol camp and been repatriated. More than 2,000 are also held in Roj camp.

Earlier this month, the United States said it repatriated 11 of its citizens from al-Hol and Roj camps, the largest group to date that Washington has taken out of the two sprawling camps.

Earlier in May, more than 200 Syrians were taken from al-Hol to their hometowns in Syria’s eastern province that borders Iraq.


North Korea Preparing to Launch Military Satellite, South Says 

This photo provided by the North Korean government shows what the country said is the launch of the Malligyong-1, a military spy satellite, into orbit on Nov. 21, 2023. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
This photo provided by the North Korean government shows what the country said is the launch of the Malligyong-1, a military spy satellite, into orbit on Nov. 21, 2023. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
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North Korea Preparing to Launch Military Satellite, South Says 

This photo provided by the North Korean government shows what the country said is the launch of the Malligyong-1, a military spy satellite, into orbit on Nov. 21, 2023. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
This photo provided by the North Korean government shows what the country said is the launch of the Malligyong-1, a military spy satellite, into orbit on Nov. 21, 2023. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

South Korea's military said on Friday it had detected signs in North Korea of possible preparations for a satellite launch in what would be the nuclear-armed North's effort to place a second military reconnaissance craft in orbit.

South Korea and US intelligence authorities are closely monitoring North Korea's activities, a South Korean military official said.

The activities were spotted at Dongchang-ri, a northwestern area of the country where North Korea's main space flight center is based, the official said without elaborating.

North Korea launched its first spy satellite last year and claimed leader Kim Jong Un reviewed photos taken of the White House and the Pentagon, among other areas of the world. State media have not released any photos taken by the craft, however.

The launch was met with sanctions from the US and its allies and prompted Seoul to suspend part of a military agreement it signed with Pyongyang in 2018.

Pyongyang scrapped the pact in response and restored previously demolished guard houses near the border.

The reclusive state also vowed to launch three more satellites this year.

Earlier this year, South Korea launched its second homegrown spy satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida amid a space race with the North.

Pyongyang has defended its satellite launch as part of its right to self-defense and denounced Washington's reaction as a "double standard" over South Korea's launch of its own.


US Pushes For Ukraine Aid, United Front Against China's Trade Practices at G7 Finance Meeting

US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen addresses the audience as she attends a press conference in Stresa on May 23, 2024, on the eve of the G7 finance ministers meeting. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen addresses the audience as she attends a press conference in Stresa on May 23, 2024, on the eve of the G7 finance ministers meeting. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
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US Pushes For Ukraine Aid, United Front Against China's Trade Practices at G7 Finance Meeting

US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen addresses the audience as she attends a press conference in Stresa on May 23, 2024, on the eve of the G7 finance ministers meeting. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen addresses the audience as she attends a press conference in Stresa on May 23, 2024, on the eve of the G7 finance ministers meeting. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

The US sought to build support for squeezing more money for Ukraine out of frozen Russian assets and for uniting against China’s aggressive trade practices as finance ministers from the Group of Seven rich democracies opened a two-day meeting on Friday on the shores of northern Italy’s scenic Lago Maggiore.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is pushing at the meeting in Stresa for “more ambitious options” to unlock money from some $260 billion in Russian central bank reserves frozen in Europe and the US after the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion. Aid for Ukraine has become more urgent as Kyiv’s finances look shakier against the prospect of an even longer conflict, and as Russia steps up its destruction of civilian infrastructure such as power stations, The Associated Press said.
European officials have balked at outright confiscating the funds and handing them to Ukraine as compensation for the destruction caused by Russia. Instead they plan to use the interest accumulating on the assets, but that’s only around $3 billion a year — about one month’s financing needs for the Ukrainian government.
Proposals include borrowing against the future interest income from the frozen assets, so that Ukraine could be given as much as $50 billion immediately.
Ukraine spends almost all its tax revenue on the military and needs another $40 billion a year to continue paying pensions and the salaries of doctors, nurses and teachers. Support from allies and a $15.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund was initially thought to have secured the budget for four years, but the prospects of an extended conflict have darkened the outlook.
Yellen has also called for a clear united front against China’s state subsidies for manufacturing of solar panels, semiconductors and electric cars, saying that China’s production capacity exceeds the needs not only of China but of the global economy as a whole and threatens the existence of competing companies in both Group of Seven and developing countries. Ahead of the meeting she said that countries needed to take a common stance so that China’s leaders understand that “they face a wall of opposition to this strategy that they are pursuing.”
The finance ministers are working to set up final decisions at the summit of G7 leaders that will take place June 13-15 in Fasano, in southern Italy’s Puglia region.
The G7 is an informal forum that holds an annual summit to discuss economic policy and security issues. The member countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Representatives of the European Union also take part, but the EU does not serve as one of the rotating chairs.


Azerbaijan Takes Control of Four Villages on Border With Armenia as Part of Deal

Representation photo: A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024.
Representation photo: A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024.
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Azerbaijan Takes Control of Four Villages on Border With Armenia as Part of Deal

Representation photo: A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024.
Representation photo: A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024.

 

Azerbaijan's border service has taken control of four villages in the Gazakh district on the border with Armenia under an agreement struck with Yerevan, Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev said on Friday.
The size of the territory returned to Azerbaijan under a border delimitation agreement on Friday was 6.5 square kilometers (2.5 square miles), Mustafayev said.
In April, Armenia said it would return the uninhabited villages to Azerbaijan, which both sides said was a milestone on the road towards a peace deal between Yerevan and Baku who have clashed for more than three decades, reported Reuters.
The decision by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to hand over the four villages has triggered protests, with demonstrators calling for him to step down over what they cast as a betrayal.
Azerbaijan's retaking by force of the entirety of its Nagorno-Karabakh region in September last year, a move which sparked an exodus of ethnic Armenians living there, dealt a painful blow to Yerevan.
But it has also paved the way for an elusive deal in that it removed a long-running source of disagreement from the table.
Azerbaijan and Armenia still have other unresolved territorial disputes though, mostly focused on enclaves which the two sides want the other party to relinquish control of or provide access to.
 


Iran’s Military Says Raisi’s Helicopter Caught Fire Soon After Crash and There Was No Sign of Attack 

A person holds a candle in front of photo of Iran's late president Ebrahim Raisi, at the Khana-e-Farhang Iranian culture center in Peshawar, Pakistan, 23 May 2024. (EPA)
A person holds a candle in front of photo of Iran's late president Ebrahim Raisi, at the Khana-e-Farhang Iranian culture center in Peshawar, Pakistan, 23 May 2024. (EPA)
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Iran’s Military Says Raisi’s Helicopter Caught Fire Soon After Crash and There Was No Sign of Attack 

A person holds a candle in front of photo of Iran's late president Ebrahim Raisi, at the Khana-e-Farhang Iranian culture center in Peshawar, Pakistan, 23 May 2024. (EPA)
A person holds a candle in front of photo of Iran's late president Ebrahim Raisi, at the Khana-e-Farhang Iranian culture center in Peshawar, Pakistan, 23 May 2024. (EPA)

The helicopter carrying Iran's late President Ebrahim Raisi caught fire soon after it crashed into a mountain and there was no sign it was attacked, state media reported, citing the military's crash investigators.

The statement from the general staff of the armed forces in charge of investigating the crash was read on state television late Thursday. The first statement on the crash did not lay blame but said more details would come after further investigation.

The crash Sunday killed Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and six other people.

The general staff’s statement said the communications between the control tower and the crew of the helicopter before the crash contained nothing suspicious. It said the last communication of the crashed helicopter was between it and two helicopters accompanying it some 90 seconds before the crash.

There was no sign of anything shot at the helicopter and its flight path did not change, the statement said.

The aging Bell helicopter went down in a foggy, remote mountainous region of Iran’s northwest on Sunday. The crash site was discovered Monday morning with all eight on board dead.

Raisi was buried in a tomb at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad on Thursday.


More Than 100 People Believed Killed by Landslide in Papua New Guinea, Australian Media Report 

People walk with their belongings in the area where a landslide hit the village of Kaokalam, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, 24 May 2024. (EPA)
People walk with their belongings in the area where a landslide hit the village of Kaokalam, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, 24 May 2024. (EPA)
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More Than 100 People Believed Killed by Landslide in Papua New Guinea, Australian Media Report 

People walk with their belongings in the area where a landslide hit the village of Kaokalam, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, 24 May 2024. (EPA)
People walk with their belongings in the area where a landslide hit the village of Kaokalam, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, 24 May 2024. (EPA)

More than 100 people are believed to have been killed Friday in a landslide that buried a village in a remote part of Papua New Guinea, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

The landslide reportedly hit Kaokalam village in Enga province, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) northwest of the South Pacific island nation's capital of Port Moresby, at roughly 3 a.m. local time (15:00 GMT), ABC reported.

Residents say current estimates of the death toll are above 100, although authorities have not confirmed this figure. Villagers said the number of people killed could be much higher.

Videos on social media show locals pulling out bodies buried under rocks and trees.

The Papua New Guinea government and police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Elizabeth Laruma, who runs a women's business association in Porgera, a town in the same province near the Porgera Gold Mine, said village houses were flattened when the side of a mountain gave way.

“It has occurred when people were still asleep in the early hours, and the entire village has gone down,” Laruma told ABC. “From what I can presume, it’s about 100-plus people who are buried beneath the ground.”

The landslide blocked the road between Porgera and the village, she said, raising concerns about the town's own supply of fuel and goods.

Village resident Ninga Role, who was away when the landslide struck, expects at least four of his relatives have died.

“There are some huge stones and plants, trees. The buildings collapsed,” Role said. “These things are making it hard to find the bodies fast.”

Belinda Kora, a Port Moresby-based ABC reporter, said authorities had yet to make any official comment more than 12 hours after the disaster.

Kora said helicopter was the only way of accessing the village which is in the mountainous interior region known as the Highlands with the main road closed.

Papua New Guinea is a diverse, developing nation of mostly subsistence farmers with 800 languages. There are few roads outside the larger cites.

With 10 million people, it is also the most populous South Pacific nation after Australia, which is home to some 27 million.

Telecommunications are poor, particularly outside Port Moresby where government data shows 56% of the nation's social media users reside. Only 1.66 million people across the country use the internet and 85% of the population live in rural areas.


Philippine Defense Chief Says Taiwan Strait Situation an 'Internal Matter'

The Philippines' Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro arrives to attend the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 15, 2023. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/Pool/ File Photo
The Philippines' Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro arrives to attend the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 15, 2023. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/Pool/ File Photo
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Philippine Defense Chief Says Taiwan Strait Situation an 'Internal Matter'

The Philippines' Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro arrives to attend the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 15, 2023. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/Pool/ File Photo
The Philippines' Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro arrives to attend the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 15, 2023. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/Pool/ File Photo

The situation in the Taiwan Strait, where China has carried out military exercises, is an "internal matter," Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said on Friday, declining to comment on drills that Taiwan has condemned.
China's military conducted a second day of war games around Taiwan on Friday, with drills to test its ability to "seize power" and control key areas. Beijing has said the exercises were launched to punish Taiwan's new president, Lai Ching-te, Reuters reported.
"I will not comment on anything on the Taiwan Strait, as that's an internal matter for them," Teodoro told reporters on the sidelines of a Philippine Navy anniversary event.
China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and denounces Lai as a "separatist". It strongly criticized his inauguration speech on Monday, in which he urged Beijing to cease threats and said the two sides of the strait were "not subordinate to each other".
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr drew China's ire in January when he congratulated Lai after winning an election, referring to him as president.
China in response summoned the Philippine ambassador and warned the country "not to play with fire", calling the message from Marcos gross interference and a serious violation of the "One China" principle.
Marcos later defended his remarks, stressing that his message was "common courtesy" and he did not endorse Taiwan independence. US ally Manila has said it wanted to recognise the Philippines and Taiwan's "mutual interests", including 200,000 Filipino workers on the island.


Terrorist Attacks Escalate in Niger, Dozens Killed This Week

A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes a Nigerien soldier while practicing buddy team movement drills in Diffa, Niger, March 11, 2017. (US Army)
A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes a Nigerien soldier while practicing buddy team movement drills in Diffa, Niger, March 11, 2017. (US Army)
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Terrorist Attacks Escalate in Niger, Dozens Killed This Week

A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes a Nigerien soldier while practicing buddy team movement drills in Diffa, Niger, March 11, 2017. (US Army)
A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes a Nigerien soldier while practicing buddy team movement drills in Diffa, Niger, March 11, 2017. (US Army)

Terrorist attacks have escalated in Niger, with more than 20 people, mostly civilians, reportedly killed this week.

“Two soldiers and a civilian have been killed in Niger in a fresh suspected terrorist attack in the restive region of Tillaberi,” the country’s defense ministry said.

The attack was carried out by “terrorists on some 20 motorcycles” in the Tabala village, some 100 kilometers east of the capital Niamey, according to a ministry statement released late on Wednesday.

Three attackers were killed in the clash and authorities were searching for the rest, the statement added.

Meanwhile, another terrorist group killed around 20 people in the Tillaberi village near the borders with Mali earlier this week, local newspapers reported on Wednesday.

The victims included women and children, they said.

“The Tillaberi region is in a state of mourning after the attack,” the newspapers wrote.

The military junta, which has ruled Niger since last year, sent a delegation from the transitional government to the village to offer condolences to the families of the victims.

On Monday night, the Support for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), affiliated to Al-Qaeda group, attacked an army position in a village near the border with Burkina Faso, and killed at least seven soldiers.

The Nigerian Defense Ministry said the army had successfully repelled the attack and killed dozens of terrorists.

The statement, broadcast on Nigerian state television, added that the transitional government and the ruling junta in Niger assured citizens that “the security and defense forces are moving forward in the fight against terrorism until it is eliminated.”

The latest security developments came as US troops will complete their withdrawal from Niger by the middle of September, the Pentagon said last Sunday.


UN Approves Resolution to Commemorate 1995 Srebrenica Genocide Annually Over Serb Opposition 

Screens show results of the United Nations General Assembly's vote on the creation of an international day to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, US, May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
Screens show results of the United Nations General Assembly's vote on the creation of an international day to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, US, May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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UN Approves Resolution to Commemorate 1995 Srebrenica Genocide Annually Over Serb Opposition 

Screens show results of the United Nations General Assembly's vote on the creation of an international day to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, US, May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
Screens show results of the United Nations General Assembly's vote on the creation of an international day to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, US, May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

The United Nations approved a resolution Thursday establishing an annual day to commemorate the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs, a move vehemently opposed by Serbs who fear it will brand them all as "genocidal" supporters of the mass killing.

The vote in the 193-member General Assembly was 84-19 with 68 nations abstaining, a reflection of concerns among many countries about the impact of the vote on reconciliation efforts in deeply divided Bosnia.

Supporters had hoped for 100 "yes" votes. Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who voted against the resolution, told the assembly the combined abstentions and "no" votes — 87 — was more than the 84 votes in favor. It is also noteworthy that 22 countries skipped the meeting and didn't vote, some reportedly because of the dispute over the commemoration.

The resolution designates July 11 as the "International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica," to be observed annually starting in two months.

The resolution, sponsored by Germany and Rwanda, doesn’t mention Serbs as the culprit, but that didn’t stop the intense lobbying campaign for a "no" vote by Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik and the populist president of neighboring Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, who had a Serbian flag draped over his shoulders as he sat in the assembly chamber during the vote.

Vukic told UN members after the vote that all those involved in the Srebrenica massacre have already been convicted and sentenced to prison and said the only purpose of the resolution was "to put moral and political guilt on one side" — the people of Serbia and Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb half of Bosnia.

"Those people that wanted to stigmatize Serbian people, they did not succeed and they will never succeed," he said. "Nothing could have ever united Serbian people better than what was happening here today."

Russia's Nebenzia called the resolution's adoption "a Pyrrhic victory for its sponsors," saying if their goal "was to divide the General Assembly ... then they've succeeded brilliantly."

But the resolution's adoption was welcomed by Zeljko Komsic, the Croat member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, family members of Srebrenica victims, UN human rights chief Volker Türk and by many Western and Muslim nations.

The United States was one of more than 40 co-sponsors of the resolution, and the US Mission to the United Nations welcomed its adoption in a tweet, saying "we honor the victims and commit to a more peaceful, stable world."

"We actually expected more countries to be in favor, but we are satisfied," Sehida Abdurahmanovic who lost several family members during the genocide, told AP. "Those who abstained and voted against — we will put them on a pillar of shame that we are building at the memorial center."

On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a UN-protected safe area in Srebrenica. They separated at least 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys from their wives, mothers and sisters and slaughtered them. Those who tried to escape were chased through the woods and over the mountains around the town.

The Srebrenica killings were a bloody climax of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, which came after the breakup of then-Yugoslavia unleashed nationalist passions and territorial ambitions that set Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.

Both Serbia and Bosnian Serbs have denied that genocide happened in Srebrenica although this has been established by two UN courts.

Before the vote, Vucic urged UN members to vote "no," calling the resolution "highly politicized." He warned that it will open "Pandora's Box," and said it was not about reconciliation. He said it will only "open old wounds" and create "complete political havoc" in the region and at the UN. He also strongly attacked Germany for trying to give "moral lessons" to the international community and to Serbia.

The determination in 2007 by the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest tribunal, that the acts committed in Srebrenica constituted genocide, is included in the draft resolution. It was Europe’s first genocide since the Nazi Holocaust in World War II, which killed an estimated 6 million Jews and people from other minorities.

Germany’s UN Ambassador Antje Leendertse introduced the resolution, saying her country wants to build a multilateral system to prevent a repetition of Nazi Germany's crimes and to honor the memory of the Srebrenica victims and support the survivors. The resolution "is not directed against anybody, not against Serbia," she said, adding that if anything it is directed at the perpetrators of genocide.

Leendertse noted that there is an official UN commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda genocide on April 7 every year — the day the Hutu-led government began the killing of members of the Tutsi minority and their supporters. The resolution is aimed at "closing the gap" by creating a separate UN day to commemorate the victims of Srebrenica, she said.

Menachem Rosensaft, the son of Holocaust survivors who is an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that designating July 11 as the official day of remembrance for the Srebrenica genocide "is a moral and legal imperative."

The slain Muslim Bosniaks deserve to have their deaths and the manner of their deaths commemorated and Srebrenica was supposed to be a safe area but was abandoned by Dutch UN peacekeepers, leaving the Bosniaks who sought shelter there "to be murdered on the UN’s watch," Rosensaft said.

Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, called the timing of the vote "unfortunate, given allegations that Israel is pursuing genocide in Gaza."