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Taliban, Myanmar regime unlikely to be let into UN for now, say diplomats

A United Nations committee meeting on Wednesday is unlikely to allow Afghanistan’s Taliban or Myanmar’s junta to represent their countries at the 193-member world body, say diplomats.
Rival claims have been made for the seats of both countries with the Taliban and Myanmar’s junta pitted against ambassadors appointed by the governments they ousted this year. UN acceptance of the Taliban or Myanmar’s junta would be a step toward the international recognition sought by both.

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A nine-member UN credentials committee, which includes Russia, China and the United States, will meet at UN headquarters to consider the credentials of all 193 members for the current session of the UN General Assembly.
The committee will likely defer its decisions on the representation of Afghanistan and Myanmar on the understanding that the current ambassadors for both countries remain in the seats, four diplomats told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.
The committee — which also includes the Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden — will then send its report on the credentials of all members to the UN General Assembly for approval before the end of the year.
Both the committee and the General Assembly traditionally take decisions on credentials by consensus, diplomats say.

Leverage

The Taliban, which seized power in mid-August from the internationally-recognized government, has nominated its Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s UN ambassador. The current UN. ambassador appointed by the ousted government, Ghulam Isaczai, has also asked to keep the seat.
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 the ambassador of the government they toppled remained the UN representative after the credentials committee deferred its decision on rival claims to the seat.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition is the only leverage other countries have to press for inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s nominated UN envoy Shaheen posted on Twitter earlier this month: “We have all the conditions needed for occupying the seat of Afghanistan at UN. We hope legal requirements will supersede political preferences.”
Myanmar’s junta, which seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February, has put forward military veteran Aung Thurein to be its UN envoy.
Current Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun — appointed by Suu Kyi’s government — has also asked to renew his UN accreditation, despite being the target of a plot to kill or injure him over his opposition to the coup.
The former UN special envoy on Myanmar, who stepped down last month, warned that no country should recognize or legitimize the junta, while Guterres pledged in February to mobilize pressure “to make sure that this coup fails.”

Read more: In test, UN bypasses Taliban to pay $8 mln in salaries to Afghan health workers

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Putin, Xi pledge friendship but talks yield no Ukraine breakthrough


Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin emerged from two days of talks on Tuesday with warm words of friendship between China and Russia and joint criticism of the West but no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough over Ukraine.

Xi's visit to Moscow – long touted by the Kremlin as a show of support from its most powerful friend – featured plenty of demonstrative bonhomie. The two leaders referred to each other as dear friends, promised economic cooperation and described their countries' relations as the best they have ever been.

A joint statement included familiar accusations against the West – that Washington was undermining global stability and NATO barging into the Asia-Pacific region.

On Ukraine, Putin praised Xi for a peace plan he proposed last month, and blamed Kyiv and the West for rejecting it.

“We believe that many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when they are ready for that in the West and in Kyiv. However, so far we see no such readiness from their side,” Putin said.

But Xi barely mentioned the conflict at all, saying that China had an “impartial position” on it.

The summit, Putin's biggest display of diplomacy since he ordered his invasion of Ukraine a year ago, was partly upstaged in Kyiv, where Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit and met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The latest world leader to make the gruelling overland journey to show solidarity with Ukraine, Kishida toured Bucha on the capital's outskirts, left littered with dead last year by fleeing Russian troops. He lay a wreath by a church before observing a moment of silence and bowing.

“The world was astonished to see innocent civilians in Bucha killed one year ago. I really feel great anger at the atrocity upon visiting that very place here,” Kishida said. “Japan will keep aiding Ukraine with the greatest effort to regain peace.”

Diplomatic cover

Washington denounced the timing of Xi's visit to Moscow, just three days after the International Criminal Court in the Hague issued a warrant for Putin's arrest on war crime charges of illegally deporting Ukrainian children.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said visiting at such a time amounted to giving Putin “diplomatic cover” for atrocities. Moscow denies illegally deporting children, saying it has taken in orphans to protect them, and has opened its own criminal case into the ICC prosecutor and judges.

Putin and Xi signed a “no limits” partnership agreement last year just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. Beijing has since declined to blame Moscow for the war and criticised the West for imposing sanctions on Russia, even as China has profited by securing a deep discount for purchases of oil and gas that Russia can no longer export to Europe.

The West has largely dismissed Xi's peace plan for Ukraine as at best too vague to make a difference, and at worst a ploy to buy time for Putin to rebuild his forces and tighten his grip on occupied land.

But Kyiv, perhaps hoping to keep China neutral, has been more circumspect, cautiously welcoming the plan when China unveiled it last month. Zelenskyy has repeatedly called on Xi to speak to him.

Ukrainian officials hinted that a phone call could be in the works: “We are waiting for confirmation,” Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “That would be an important move. They have things to say to each other.”

Kyiv says firmly there can be no peace talks with Russia unless it withdraws its troops. Moscow says Kyiv must accept territorial “realities” – a reference to its claim to have annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine.

Washington has said over the past month that it is worried that Beijing could arm Russia, which China denies.

Explosion in Crimea

On the ground, Ukraine's Defence Ministry said an explosion in Dzhankoi city in Crimea overnight destroyed Russian Kalibr-KN cruise missiles as they were being transported by rail for use by Russia's Black Sea Fleet to attack Ukraine.

Russian-installed officials in Crimea, controlled by Moscow since 2014, said the blast was caused by drones laced with shrapnel and explosives, and targeted civilian sites. One person was injured, they said.

Kyiv never discusses responsibility for attacks in Crimea. Dzhankoi is Crimea's main railway hub, linking routes to Russia proper with naval bases on the peninsula and Russian-occupied territory in mainland Ukraine.

Mick Ryan, a retired Australian major general and military analyst, said Ukraine apparently being able to hit the cargo “forces the Russians to rethink their force posture and defensive deployments in Crimea and beyond”.

“Strikes like this are not war winning silver bullets. But, their impact is cumulative on the degradation of Russian morale and war fighting capability,” he tweeted.

Kyiv recaptured swathes of territory in the second half of 2022, but its forces have largely kept to the defensive in recent months. Moscow, meanwhile, has launched a massive winter offensive using hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited as mercenaries from jail.

Despite the bloodiest fighting of the war, which both sides describe as a meatgrinder, the front line has barely moved for four months.

The one exception has been around the small eastern city of Bakhmut, where Russian forces made gains in January and February. Kyiv has decided this month not to pull its forces out of the city.

In the town of Chasiv Yar, just west of Bakhmut, bursts of incoming and outgoing artillery fire could be heard. Between apartment blocks, mainly elderly residents queued for water and food delivered by a team from the State Emergency Service.

Oleksii Stepanov said he had been in Bakhmut until five days ago but was evacuated when his house was destroyed by a missile.

“We were in the kitchen and the missile came through the roof. The kitchen was all that was left standing,” said the 54-year-old.

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US ‘extremely troubled’ by Israeli parliament vote to legitimize settlements 


The United States said Tuesday it was “extremely troubled” by the Israeli parliament's vote legitimizing some settlements, calling the move "provocative" and in violation of promises to ally Washington.

“The United States is extremely troubled that the Israeli Knesset has passed legislation rescinding important parts of the 2005 disengagement law,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

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End of truce: Colombia kills two cartel members, captures one


The Colombian army said Tuesday it had killed two members of the infamous Gulf Clan drug cartel and captured one of its bosses as operations resumed after the government called off a ceasefire.

On New Year’s Eve, the government of new President Gustavo Petro had declared a bilateral ceasefire with armed groups including the Clan, National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels and dissidents of the disarmed former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group.

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It was a first step in leftist Petro’s “total peace” plan to end decades of armed conflict through negotiation.

But on Sunday, Petro suspended the truce with the Gulf Clan, accusing it of being behind attacks on civilians.

The government said the group had been supporting attacks by illegal gold miners since March 2 in the country’s northwestern Antioquia department.

Workers in illegal mines have been protesting the government’s destruction of the heavy machinery they use to dredge up soil to find gold.

Miners have shut down roads, and attacked a town hall and a bank in the Caucasia district.

On Monday, the army said, it had captured the alleged “coordinator of the hired killers… of this illegal group,” a man known as “Andres,” in the Antioquia region.

According to Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez, some 10,000 policemen and soldiers were deployed to the area.

And in a video sent to the media, the military said a “confrontation” in the neighboring Bolivar department “caused the deaths of two members of the Clan.”

The troops will “continue military operations,” added Colonel Luis Cifuentes, in charge of operations against the Clan.

Criminal groups in Colombia make almost as much money from illegal mining as they do from trafficking cocaine, authorities say.

According to official estimates, the Gulf Clan – Colombia’s biggest cartel – is behind between 30 and 60 percent of the drugs exported from Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer.

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