Financial Times: global action is needed to end the fighting in Libya

July 12, 2019

 

The FT editorial board: foreign meddling is fuelling a conflict in which there can be no victor

Some of those who have read the Financial Times for its news coverage for several years will have noticed a change of emphasis on issues of social justice since it was bought by the Nikkei. It has also withdrawn from the unjustifiable media onslaughts on the leader of the Labour Party.

Its call for global action to end the fighting in Libya is consistent with Japan’s security policy and Article 9 of its constitution.

Japan has closely monitored the use of its peacekeepers in South Sudan who were helping to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the long civil war between northern and the southern Sudan.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that the Government of Japan has now decided to revise the Implementation Plan for the International Peace Cooperation Assignments and extend its peace-keeping service there until 31 May 2020.

The Financial Times editorial opens with the news that a detention centre for African migrants in Tripoli (below) was hit by an air strike killing at least 55 people, including six children – the Cyprus Mail gives the numbers as 40 dead and 80 injured.

After trekking through the Sahel, African migrants are rounded up and held for an average of two years in inhumane conditions. Now they have become targets in the latest conflict to erupt in the oil-rich north African state.

The FT editorial: “foreign powers have played a duplicitous role”

Rival factions carved up the country into a ‘patchwork of fiefdoms’ following the western-backed toppling of Muammer Gaddafi in 2011.

While preaching peace and stability, regional powers supported rival sides. Qatar and Turkey have supported militias loyal to the Tripoli government, while Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have backed the self-styled Libyan National Army. More than 1,000 people have been killed since the offensive was launched.

Two days after the strike, which UN envoy said could be a war crime, the UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the attack — calling for a ceasefire. The editorial comments that the communiqué was apparently delayed by US foot dragging.

This detention centre for African migrants in Tripoli was hit by an air strike earlier this month, killing at least 55 people, including six children

The editorial reports that the main players have pursued rival interests that have hampered diplomatic efforts.

  • Italy, which worries about the flow of migrants, has favoured the UN-backed government,
  • France, which has courted Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army and
  • Russia which has also backed Mr Haftar who controls eastern Libya.

It continues: “Washington, meanwhile, has delivered confused messages typical of the Trump administration’s incoherence on the Middle East. The State Department initially condemned the fighting, only for Donald Trump to call Mr Haftar and praise his ‘significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources’ “.

Weapons have been flooding in to all sides, in violation of a longstanding arms embargo. This, coupled with the inaction of the UN Security Council, has led to prolonged suffering for the war-weary population. The FT’s editorial board ends:

“World powers must put serious effort into securing a ceasefire and the UN Security Council needs to enforce the arms embargo. There should then be concerted action to restart a UN-led diplomatic process that would offer the best chance of bringing a semblance of stability. If no diplomatic process is launched, regional and international powers will be complicit in a proxy war that drives Libya towards deeper disintegration”.

 

 

 

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Britain could transform its role in the world

June 25, 2019

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The EWG-NLW shares three quarters of George MacPherson’s post-imperial nonlethal defence vision

George MacPherson, who served for three years in the RAF, sets the scene:

We live in a military society. British culture, prosperity, ceremony and government structure are built on conquest and annexation. Our empire, though, is over and we have to readjust . . .We are not against men and women in uniform – simply against the violence that is a small part of their existence. There are so many ‘better things to do’ that, in the long term, are less expensive.

  • Our politicians, influenced strongly by arms manufacturers, allow war while, personally, keeping away from any battlefield.
  • Every missile, mine, lethal drone, bullet and bomb exported supports our treasury and pension funds.
  • Our children are brought up to admire military exploits and stories of valour.
  • We celebrate our assassins and condone distant killing by remote control.

He asks if Britain can convert its ‘fighting force’ into a ‘force for nonlethal defence and law enforcement’

This would keep the command structure; the recruitment; the excellent training in so many artisan and technical skills; the great engineering ingenuity; the communications excellence; the medical expertise; the awards for bravery; the camaraderie and team spirit; the career structure; the overseas bases to meet emergencies; the sporting teams and the rules of conduct.

But the role of our military services would be redefined to leave out mass destruction and combat, expanding the design and development of nonlethal defence equipment for emergency use against crazed violence, criminal acts and despotic rulers.

Let’s refine prevention nets, vehicle cripplers, darting, tasers, anaesthetic gases and, of course, digital intelligence to predict future incidents and prevent them.

The European Working Group on Nonlethal Weapons (EWG-NLW) has members from many countries, drawn from NATO and the naval, scientific, technical, policing and defence research sectors

Its mission statement follows:

 Could it go a step further and work towards the use of these technologies to halt armed conflict and enter mediation, followed by long-term economic and cultural peacebuilding?

And, as George MacPherson urges (paywall): “redirect our spending towards, for example, disaster relief; housing and services; renewable energy; rapid response to pandemics; the United Nations and international law and order; and environmental conservation.

 

 

 

 

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Oslo: a second round of talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition

May 26, 2019

Reports of the first round of exploratory talks earlier this month, between the Venezuelan government and opposition, which took place at a secret location in Norway’s capital Oslo, were confirmed by Juan Jorge Valero (left), Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

Representatives of Mr Maduro and Mr Guaidó outlined their positions to Norwegian mediators, but did not meet face to face.

The Norwegians have a record of mediating in the region, having played a key role in brokering Colombia’s historic peace deal between the government and leftwing guerrillas in 2016.

The meeting took place a week after Mr Guaidó’s unsuccessful proposal to ask for US to launch a military intervention to oust President Maduro from power.

Today (26th May) the FT reports that Norwegian broadcaster NRK said anonymous sources reported that a second round of talks had been under way for “several days” and that representatives of the two sides were due to return to Venezuela on Thursday.

In a video posted on Twitter (in Spanish) Mr Maduro (below, left) welcomed the second round as a chance “to look for peace, always to look for peace”. He said his foreign minister Jorge Arreaza, absent from the initial talks, would join his team.

Mr Guaidó (right), while welcoming the initiative, said the opposition would not be dragged into any process that delayed efforts “to find a solution to the chaos our country is suffering”.

In addition to the Norwegian initiative, the European Union and some Latin American countries have set up an International Contact Group (ICG) to look for ways out of the crisis.

Representatives of the External Action Service, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay, travelled to Venezuela on 16 and 17 May for meetings with all national relevant actors. The mission stressed the ICG’s political commitment to a peaceful and democratic solution to the current crisis and discussed possible way forward for a negotiated electoral path.

The ICG welcomed the Oslo announcement and said it was “ready to provide support to the ongoing efforts as appropriate”.

 

 

 

 

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Non-violent action: dockworkers in France and Italy refuse to load arms on to Saudi Arabian ship

May 22, 2019

 

The Brussels Times reported, that a 50,000-tonne Saudi Arabian ship the Bahri-Yanbu – after visiting the United States where it was said to have loaded weapons from Sunny Point – called at Bremen in Germany on May 2nd, before loading arms in Antwerp on the 4th. Amnesty International adds that ammunition was also loaded.

The loading of weapons at Le Havre on the 8th May was cancelled

French officials said that a scheduled loading of arms (allegedly ‘eight self-propelled Caesar cannons’ pictured above) at Le Havre on the 8th May was cancelled following protests by activists. French rights group ACAT argued in a legal challenge that the consignment contravened a U.N. treaty because the arms might be used against civilians in Yemen. The Bahri-Yanbu set sail without the weapons and made its way to Santander in Spain.

Arriving at the Spanish port of Santander on the 13th, it loaded weaponry made by a company called Instalaza, from Zaragoza. This will be displayed at a trade exhibition in the United Arab Emirates and then returned to Spain. Another company sent ceremonial cannon to Saudi Arabia. A Spanish source said the cannons could be used for salutes in military ceremonies in Saudi Arabia, but not wars.

Equipment was left behind on the quay in Genoa

Genoa was the first port to block US ships headed to Vietnam and dock workers there also refused to unload war equipment for the Chile coup. On May 20th it was reported that unions had tried to have the Bahri-Yanbu banned from Italy, but it docked just after dawn, met by a handful of protesters who gathered on the quay.

Loading was delayed by protests by harbour workers. Members of the CGiL union united with activists saying: “We will not be complicit with the civilian deaths in Yemen,” as they blockaded the port.

The Italian news agency ANSA said that union and port officials then held talks on the nature of the cargo to be loaded. Union workers refused to load two electricity generators aboard the boat, saying that although they were registered for civilian use, they could instead be directed to the Yemen war effort The Port Authority confirmed the  Bahri-Yanbu (above) would only be allowed to embark with civilian material, and a stockpile of equipment, including the generators was left behind on the quay.

This action by French and Italian dockworkers led to a search which refreshed dim memories of similar refusals to load and unload munitions – once even sabotaging a ship carrying such a cargo. There was an account of the 1920s action in UK due to a ‘general feeling of revulsion at the idea of further warfare’, of South African dockers refusing to unload Chinese arms bound for Mugabe’s Zimbabwe in 2008 and of the Swedish, Indian, American and South African dockers’ response to Israel’s Flotilla Massacre and Gaza Siege.

 

The ship returned to France on Tuesday 28th and again ACAT – a civil rights group – filed a legal challenge to stop that consignment being loaded, arguing that it contravened a U.N. treaty because the arms might be used against civilians in the Yemeni conflict. The cannon – sometimes described as ceremonial – are now referred to as howitzers, field guns definitely used for warfare.

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-yemen-security-france/rights-group-tries-to-block-new-saudi-ship-from-leaving-france-with-arms-idUKKCN1SY1Q9

 

 

 

 

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Afghanistan: a pragmatic approach to peace negotiations

May 22, 2019

‘Kiwi Christopher’, who was there in 1971, several years before the Soviet government staged a coup, writes:

“it was a safe, peaceful and altogether exquisite place to be. Some men carried long, often beautifully crafted rifles or indeed muskets, which they carried as a warrant that they were ready to fight for their chief, their village or their family.

“But their way of being peaceful had nothing to do with being a democratic nation, and never will. Loyalty is to the local chief, who in turn owes loyalty to the one above him. ‘Nation’ is a vague concept that means nothing in daily life. A peaceful solution must be based on this structure. Yes, the balance of power ultimately rests in the barrel of a gun but when things are in equilibrium it stays there and does not emerge as a bullet”.

The Times war correspondent Anthony Loyd reported in June last year: “A former bomb maker from Sangin who lost a hand when a fuse assembly detonated prematurely, is one of the emerging new generation of Taliban. He said that planning for the Eid ceasefire had begun soon after the start of Ramadan. It was the main topic of a meeting he attended in Pakistan six weeks ago along with Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s leader, and Seraj Haqqani, the deputy. ‘There was a need to keep the planning secret until the last details were agreed upon. “We felt in a strong and powerful position but there was debate among ourselves as to the benefits of continuing fighting or negotiating for peace. We have also suffered.’ ”

Before the three-day Eid celebrations that ended the month-long Ramadan fast, Major Noor Ahmadzai, 45, a commander of an Afghan special police unit, was ordered to organise a ceasefire with the Taliban around Maidan Shah, the provincial capital of Wardak province. The night before Eid began, as he stepped into no-man’s-land 25 miles southwest of the Afghan capital Kabul, he wondered if he would see the dawn.

Afghan civilians carry the national flag along with Taliban flag as fighters from both sides enjoy the truce JAWAD JALALI/EPA

“I passed a message to the Taliban through an interlocutor just before I walked over to meet them,” he told me. “I said I am coming over to talk. Kill me if you will.”

Minutes after he and his bodyguard began moving through the edge of Maidan Shah, he saw a group of heavily armed Taliban standing before him. One stepped forward. “Are you a Pashtun?” the major asked. “So am I.” “Do you obey your leader?” he continued. “I obey mine.”

“Should we kill one another as Muslims and Afghans over Eid?” he added. “I believe it is time to stop.”

The men began to talk through the details of the planned truce. Then they embraced. At dawn the next day, June 15, in Wardak and across most of the conflict areas of Afghanistan, the war stopped for three glorious days for the first time in the memory of anyone but the elders. In many areas the Taliban moved from their lines and joined troops and policemen in embrace, some weeping as they prayed together. Hope soared across Afghanistan that finally there was a chance to end the killing and destruction. Taliban officials, foreign diplomats and Afghan officers described the plan as the best chance yet to end the country’s four decades of conflict.

One of the thousands of Taliban who joined them during the truce to embrace and pray with them was a political adviser to the Quetta Shurah, the leaders of the Afghan Taliban. “I could not help but weep when I met the first soldiers,” said the man, who asked not to be named as a condition of his face-to-face interview. “It seemed we were all full of regret for killing one another. I cried and I was not alone in doing so.”

Above: Children celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, free from the threat of conflict JALIL REZAYEE/EPA

Though the Taliban have consistently demanded the total withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan as a precondition to peace negotiations, the adviser expressed a more pragmatic view.

“We want a third country to act as our guarantor for an agreement of a scheduled withdrawal in stages by foreign troops,” he said. “It seems both Ghani [the president] and us are keen for peace and stability. If we get a guarantee for an eventual withdrawal of foreign troops then we will be prepared to enter serious talks to share power, and in turn give our own guarantees never to threaten the West or the US.”

Fighting resumed once Eid was over but has dramatically reduced. Heavy fighting was recorded in 24 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces before the ceasefire. Since the truce ended significant violence has been recorded only in eight provinces.

There has since been a flurry of further contact between the Kabul government and Taliban leaders, using interlocutors loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a controversial Afghan former warlord, the founder and leader of Hezb-e Islami, who returned to Kabul two years ago after 20 years in exile. The conference was attended by local tribal elders, Afghan intelligence officers and Taliban representatives.

“The presence of alien forces and their insistence on democratic elections that are more than symbolic is what is preventing peace”

The Taliban, long criticised for being a divided and disparate force, appeared as a cohesive organisation that maintained a disciplined ceasefire. The Afghan president, supported by the US, seems determined to pursue peace. And the people of Afghanistan, on whose support the government and Taliban rely, appear desperate for an end to the fighting. After the truce, and on the back of meetings like those in Kandahar, hope has soared across Afghanistan that the end of the war might be in sight.

“Our nation is like a wounded man struck repeatedly on one side by the government and on the other by the Taliban,” one Pashtun tribal elder from Wardak, Haji Abdul Mannan, said. “The people are exhausted. Peace is desperately desired.”

Yes, the balance of power ultimately rests in the barrel of a gun but when things are in equilibrium it stays there and does not emerge as a bullet.

Kiwi Christopher, who visited Afghanistan before the Soviet and Allied invasions wrote: “The presence of alien forces and their insistence on democratic elections that are more than symbolic is what is preventing peace. Voting as we understand it is a nonsense when virtually all the voters are told by their chief whom to vote for, but it is a nonsense that we must accept and let them get on with. A peaceful solution must be based on this structure”.

Unacceptable? Is our feeble semblance of democracy any better than a tribal/familial structure?

 

 

 

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‘The spirit of brotherhood defines Pakistan’s approach towards Afghanistan’

May 15, 2019

 

As tensions rise between Saudi Arabia/US and Iran it is good to read that heads of two troubled states are agreeing to seek peace and economic progress towards regional prosperity

In January, Afghan President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani phoned Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to discuss recent efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Business Recorder reports that he expressed gratitude for Pakistan’s facilitation of these efforts, initiated by the US Special Representative for Peace and Reconciliation in Afghanistan, Ambassador Zamlay Khalilzad. He invited Imran Khan to visit Afghanistan at his earliest convenience. Khan reciprocated by inviting President Ghani to visit Pakistan.

In April, PM Khan (below) said “Afghanistan conflict has brought great suffering for both Afghanistan and Pakistan over last 40 years. Now, after a long wait, the Afghanistan Peace Process presents a historic opportunity for peace in the region and Pakistan is fully supporting the process including the next logical step of Intra Afghan Dialogue wherein Afghans will themselves decide upon the future of their country”.

Earlier this month the Times of Islamabad reported that according to a statement issued by the Foreign Office, Imran Khan has called Ashraf Ghani (right) and they agreed to work to realise the true economic potential of the two countries and assure the socio-economic development, alleviation of poverty and welfare of the two peoples. He stated that the spirit of brotherhood defined Pakistan’s approach towards Afghanistan. The prolonged Afghan conflict had damaged Afghanistan and adversely affected Pakistan over many decades.

Imran Khan presented his vision of a peaceful solution in Afghanistan, fully owned and led by the Afghans themselves and stressed that Pakistan will spare no effort to advance the common objectives of building peace in Afghanistan and having a fruitful bilateral relationship between the two countries.

The Gulf News adds that – according to the Foreign Office statement – during the conversation, the Afghan president accepted the invitation to visit Islamabad “for a comprehensive exchange of views on all issues of mutual interest.”

 

 

 

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Israel’s annexation of Judea and Samaria (West Bank): “reaching the point of no return”?

April 11, 2019

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A radio commentator recently said. “Annexation is the name of the game now” and an article by David Gardner (Financial Times), expands on this statement.

Gardner reports that following the US president’s recent statements, Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 12 News at the weekend that he ‘will not uproot anyone [among the Jewish settlers], and will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians’. He said Israel would take the big clusters of Jewish settlements, mostly around Jerusalem and the settler outposts deep inside the West Bank, built illegally under international law.

See https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-the-settlers-who-didn-t-know-they-were-settlers-1.6157541

His biographer, Anshel Pfeffer, writing in the newspaper Haaretz, predicted the victory. Netanyahu, he wrote, “will do anything to stay in office. Stoke Israelis’ darkest fears, appeal to racist demons and undermine the pillars of Israel’s incomplete and limited democracy to fend off the charges of his rank corruption”.

Last year the central committee of Netanyahu’s Likud party — whose charter expressly repudiates a Palestinian state — voted unanimously to extend Israeli sovereignty and law to “all liberated areas of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]”.

Mr Netanyahu, elected despite impending corruption charges, is now forming a coalition with groups that advocate the paid “transfer” of Palestinians to neighbouring Arab countries.

President Donald Trump, after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there, called last month for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, annexed in 1981, though both decisions were declared illegal by the UN Security Council in resolutions 478 and 497. Gardner ends:

“This story, seen by Arabs as the colonisation of the Palestinians by Israel, is reaching the point of no return”.

He appears to reserve his pity for future generations of Israeli Jews condemned to ”the instability of living in a single state with Palestinian Arabs as second-class citizens — who would eventually outnumber them in the cramped and combustible space between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean”.

137 countries officially recognise the state of Palestine, according to the Palestinian mission to the United Nations. Currently, the UK – like the US – only recognises the state of Israel. Would a Labour government act on MP John McDonnell’s proposal to convene an international conference with the stated aim of creating a viable Palestinian and Israeli state?

 

 

 

 

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