United Nations, Jun 8 (AP/UNB) — Estonia and the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines were elected to the U.N. Security Council on Friday, marking the first time the countries will hold seats on the U.N.'s most powerful body.
Niger, Tunisia and Vietnam also won two-year terms, and the five countries will take their new spots next year on the 15-member council.
"An historic occasion," St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said after his country became one of the smallest ever elected to the council. Vincentians hope to work on addressing "the security consequences of adverse climate change," among other concerns, Gonsalves said.
The council has five permanent members with veto power: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Other members are elected by the assembly's 193 states for staggered, two-year terms. Five are chosen each year.
Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Peru and Poland are finishing their terms this year. Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa will remain on the council through the end of 2020.
The coveted seats are allocated by global regions. Countries often plan for years to campaign for a spot, which can raise a nation's profile in international affairs and afford it a strong voice on the world's most pressing peace and security issues.
The council also provides a platform for bringing up international topics of particular concern to those who hold seats at the horseshoe-shaped table.
"It was an effort of 14 years to arrive here, and we are extremely grateful," Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid said after her country vied with Romania through two rounds of voting for an Eastern European seat. A 2/3 majority is necessary to win.
Estonia's priorities include cybersecurity, promoting principles of international law and making the council more transparent and efficient, Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said.
Tunisia has served on the council three times, most recently in 2000-2001. Niger had a term in the 1980s, and Vietnam in 2008-2009.
Singapore, Jun 1 (AP/UNB) — Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that countries including the United States need to be willing to change international rules in response to a stronger China.
Speaking at an annual security conference in Singapore, Lee said Friday that China must in turn play a greater role in supporting trade frameworks and upholding peace and stability in the region and beyond.
"Countries have to accept that China will continue to grow and strengthen, and that it is neither possible nor wise for them to prevent this from happening," he said.
"China will have its own legitimate interests and ambitions, including to develop indigenously advanced technologies like infocomms and artificial intelligence. New international rules need to be made in many areas, including trade and intellectual property, cybersecurity and social media."
Lee was the keynote speaker at the Shangri-La Dialogue, attended by U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and other defense officials and academics.
He noted that the U.S. "has the most difficult adjustment to make" as the "pre-eminent power."
Earlier this month, the U.S. and China concluded their 11th round of trade talks with no agreement and raised import taxes on each other's goods. The Commerce Department has also placed Chinese tech giant Huawei on its "Entity List," effectively barring U.S. companies from selling it technology without government approval.
Lee expects China to want a say in any new rules, because it did not participate in the creation of current ones. "And this is an entirely reasonable expectation," he said.
In return, China should take on more responsibilities and not expect to be treated in the same way as it was in the past, he said. This extends to trade arrangements and concessions that the country negotiated when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.
At that time, China's merchandise trade accounted for 4% of the world's total. Lee said its share has since almost tripled to 11.8%, making the terms "no longer politically wearable for other countries."
"It is in China's own interest to prevent the international framework of trade from breaking down, and to implement timely changes that bring about greater reciprocity and parity with its trading partners," he added.
He also urged China to use its strength "with restraint and legitimacy" and settle disputes peacefully in areas like the South China Sea.
"It should do so through diplomacy and compromise rather than force or the threat of force, while giving weight to the core interests and rights of other countries," Lee said.
"Then over time it will build its reputation as a responsible and benevolent power that need not be feared."
China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in the crucial waters. On Thursday, its defense ministry dismissed a report that Australian navy pilots were hit by lasers earlier in May while exercising in South China Sea waters claimed by China.
Lee said the hardening of attitudes in both the U.S. and China was worrying.
"The fundamental problem between the U.S. and China is a mutual lack of strategic trust. This bodes ill for any compromise or peaceful accommodation. But to go down the present path would be a serious mistake on both sides. There is no strategic inevitability about a U.S.-China faceoff," he added.
Shanahan and Wei met on the sidelines of the conference Friday and agreed to improve communication and deepen exchanges and cooperation between their militaries.
Congo, May 27 (AP/UNB) — Authorities in western Congo say at least 30 people are dead and another 200 are missing after a boat sank on a lake.
Simon Mboo Wemba, the mayor of Inongo, told The Associated Press on Sunday night that many of those aboard the boat that sank on Lake Mai-Ndombe were teachers.
The mayor says they had traveled to collect their salaries by boat because roads in the region are so poor.
It was not immediately known how many people were aboard the boat when it hit bad weather late Saturday.
But officials estimate several hundred were on board. More than 80 people survived.
Boats in the vast nation of Congo are usually overloaded with passengers and cargo, and official manifests don't include all those aboard.
Nairobi, May 23 (AP/UNB) — Islamic extremists exploded a suicide car bomb near the presidential palace in Somalia's capital Wednesday, killing at least nine people, including former Foreign Minister Hussein Elabe Fahiye, who was an adviser to the current president.
Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press that an additional 13 people were wounded and most of the casualties were soldiers.
The Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the blast in Mogadishu, saying it targeted vehicles carrying government officials.
The car bomb exploded at a security checkpoint near the presidential palace as soldiers were conducting security checks on vehicles on the main road. A white column of smoke rose over the seaside city as gunfire rang out and people scattered.
The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab frequently carries out such blasts in the capital near the presidential compound and at hotels frequented by government officials and foreigners.
"In the past I was wounded in this area, and again today my daughter has been killed in this attack which also destroyed my home. This is terrible," witness Madey Ahmed told the AP.
Amid the crumpled vehicles and tangled metal roofing, a small corps of yellow-vested workers carried bodies and began sweeping the dusty street.
At U.N. headquarters in New York, Somali Ambassador Abukar Dahir Osman paid tribute to Fahiye, saying: "We are more determined to fight the menace of faceless, borderless international terrorism."
He told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Somalia that "al-Shabab continues to be a threat undermining our efforts to deliver security."
"We have made significant gains against al-Shabab in the past eight weeks," retaking two strategic towns in Lower Shabelle, Osman said. But he said the extremist group enjoys "a comparative advantage" because the government is still under a U.N. arms embargo.
United Nations, May 22 (AP/UNB) — The U.N. envoy for Libya warned Tuesday that the oil-rich nation "is on the verge of descending into a civil war" that could divide the country and imperil the security of its neighbors and the wider Mediterranean region.
Ghassan Salame told the Security Council that extremists from the Islamic State and al-Qaida are already exploiting the security vacuum sparked by the offensive to take the capital Tripoli launched April 4 by the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter.
He said the black flags of the Islamic State extremist group are appearing in southern Libya and there have been four attacks by its fighters in the south since April 4 that together have killed 17 people, wounded more than 10 and led to eight kidnappings.
"Libyan forces that had in the past courageously defended their country against these terrorist groups are now busy fighting each other," Salame said.
Besides innocent Libyans being increasingly subjected to the increasing wrath of Islamic State extremists, he said, "there will be spillover of this violence to Libya's immediate neighbors."
Civil war in Libya in 2011 toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and the chaos that followed resulted in a divided country, with a U.N.-aligned, but weak, administration in Tripoli overseeing the country's west and a government in the east aligned with Hifter. Each is backed by an array of militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.
Salame lamented that when Hifter launched the offensive on April 4 "the capital was enjoying a measure of increased security, the population a much more stable currency and an improved economic outlook, and the political process, despite many obstacles, was moving forward" with a national conference 10 days away to chart a roadmap to elections and a united future for Libya.
But 48 days into Hifter's offensive, he said, more than 460 people have died, including 29 civilians, over 2,400 mainly civilians have been wounded, and over 75,000 civilians have been forced from their homes.
Humanitarian officials estimate that "over 100,000 men, women and children remain trapped in immediate frontline areas, with over 400,000 more in areas directly impacted by the clashes, he said. And "nearly 3,400 refugees and migrants are trapped in detention centers exposed to, or in close proximity to, the fighting."
Salame said there are also numerous reports of extremists, people on U.N. sanctions blacklists, and people wanted by the International Criminal Court "appearing on the battlefield on all sides."
He called on the Security Council to support the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry "to determine who has taken up arms and support the establishment of mechanisms to ensure the exclusion of unwanted elements." And he urged all parties to hand over those sought by the ICC.
Salame also said that "arms are pouring in again to all sides" from many countries that he did not name, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo against Libya. He urged the U.N. to enforce the embargo, saying the amount and sophistication of new weapons "are already causing greater numbers of casualties."
"I am no Cassandra, but the violence on the outskirts of Tripoli is just the start of a long and bloody war on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, imperiling the security of Libya's immediate neighbors and the wider Mediterranean region," Salame said.
However, the U.N. envoy said "full civil war is not inevitable," though "it may occur by the will of some parties, and by the inaction of others."
He called on the Security Council to urge an immediate cease-fire and return to a U.N.-led political process.
"A better future is still possible, but we all must be seized with the fierce urgency of now while the front lines remain on the outskirts of Tripoli and before the battle moves, God forbid, to the capital's more densely populated neighborhoods," Salame said.