Washington, Nov 1 (AP/UNB) — At an apparent turning point in one of its hardest foreign policy challenges, the Trump administration is demanding a cease-fire and the launch of U.N.-led political talks to end the Saudi-Iran proxy war in Yemen. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called for a halt to hostilities within 30 days.
The renewed diplomatic drive reflects a convergence of political pressures: international outrage over the slaying of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist and a Yemeni humanitarian crisis fueled by the dual threats of war and hunger in the Arab world's poorest country.
"The time is now for a cessation of hostilities," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a written statement late Tuesday. His plea came shortly after Mattis spoke in unusual detail about diplomacy to end a crisis that has put vast numbers of Yemenis on the brink of starvation.
The administration's new push comes amid mounting fears of a fresh Arab coalition assault on the Red Sea port of Hodeida, the entry point for 70 percent of food imports and international aid to Yemen.
"Yemen has more problems than any people deserve to carry," Mattis said.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, and the toppling of the government by the Houthis, a Shiite Muslim minority in the country. The Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
An estimated 10,000 people have been killed. The war has also left around two-thirds of Yemen's population of 27 million relying on aid, and more than 8 million at risk of starvation.
The fact that the Pentagon chief offered detailed thoughts on the urgency of a need for diplomatic progress, even before Pompeo had weighed in, strongly suggests that the administration has reached a turning point in its approach to Yemen, which also confounded the Obama administration. At stake is not only the humanitarian crisis in Yemen but also the future of the American relationship with Saudi Arabia, long the linchpin of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf.
"It's about time," said one congressional critic, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. "After more than three years of war, thousands of dead, millions on the brink of starvation, and growing pressure from Congress, the Trump administration is finally calling for an end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen," Khanna said in a statement.
The Oct. 2 killing of Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey has prompted critics of the Saudi ruling family to urge an end to American arms sales to the kingdom and a reappraisal of U.S. military support for the Saudi-led Arab coalition that has been bombing Iranian-supported Houthi rebels, sometimes at the expense of killing civilians.
A top Turkish prosecutor said Wednesday that Khashoggi, who wrote columns critical of the Saudi government for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered in a premeditated murder at the consulate. As details about the case have emerged, U.S. lawmakers stepped up demands for responses to the murder and to the crisis in Yemen.
Pompeo urged a cease-fire, citing both missile and drone strikes into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by Houthis and the airstrikes "in all populated areas" of Yemen by the U.S.-backed Arab coalition. He urged implementation of "confidence-building measures" to address the underlying issues of the conflict.
Mattis was more specific than Pompeo in his call for urgent movement toward a political solution to the fighting under peace talks being urged by the U.N. special envoy, Martin Griffiths. Mattis said a cease-fire should take effect within 30 days.
"We're calling on all the parties, specifically the Houthis and the Arab coalition, to meet in Sweden in November and to come to a solution," Mattis said.
The U.S. proposal was greeted with skepticism in Houthi-controlled Sanaa. Sultan Al-Samaey, a member of the Houthi political council, said that while the war needed to be brought to an end, the group would only support "a peace which will preserve our independence."
Ayoub Al-Tamimi, a Sanaa resident and political activist, said: "This is simply a solution that will only plant land mines in the future of this region. There is no solution that can come from Trump or the Democrats, only booby traps."
Sweden on Wednesday said it had accepted Griffiths' request that it host such talks but that nothing was definite.
Griffiths on Wednesday welcomed the U.S. calls for immediate resumption of the political process and said the United Nations remains committed "to bring the Yemeni parties to the negotiations table within a month."
Mattis called for demilitarization of Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia "so that the Saudis and the Emirates do not have to worry about missiles coming into their homes and cities and airports." He also said measures should be taken to "ensure that all Iranian-supplied missiles to the Houthis" are put under "international watch."
"This has got to end. We've got to replace combat with compromise," Mattis said.
Mattis put the primary blame on Iran. He said its proxies and surrogate forces are fueling the conflict.
"They need to knock it off," he said. Mattis said the political process should "set the conditions for a return to traditional areas inside Yemen and a government that allows for this amount of local autonomy that Houthis or that southerners want."
A group of five Republican senators cited the situation in Yemen as well as the Khashoggi killing as reasons for calling on the administration to halt ongoing negotiations with Saudi Arabia on a civilian nuclear energy agreement. Among them, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has proposed legislation that would stop arms sales to the Saudis.
The administration's diplomatic push highlights the severity of the crisis in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida. A protracted siege of Hodeida by the U.S.-supported Arab coalition could imperil the international lifeline to the port.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said Wednesday that its team in Hodeida this week found dreadful living conditions for thousands of displaced families "who own only the clothes they wear and survive on a little rice or a thin mix of flour and water, if they find any food to eat at all."
Juchitan, Nov 1 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of weary Central Americans in a migrant caravan aiming to reach the United States had their visions of quick transport hundreds of miles ahead to Mexico City dashed Wednesday as dozens of hoped-for buses failed to materialize.
The migrants took the day off from walking and hitching rides in packed trucks from small town to small town as representatives tried to negotiate rides for all 4,000 or so in hope of relief from the long and exhausting grind.
But as the day wore on there was no sign Mexican authorities intended to accede to the demand, and by evening leaders acknowledged it wasn't going to happen.
"The attempt to travel by bus failed," coordinator Walter Cuello said.
After spending the night at a city-owned property on the outskirts of the southern city of Juchitan, the migrants wandered around looking for something to eat as classic songs by Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez, known as "the king of ranchera music," played in the background. Loudspeaker announcements discussed bathroom use and a prohibition on charging money to power their cellphones.
Red Cross personnel bandaged the swollen feet of Honduran farmer Omar Lopez, who had pounded the hot asphalt of highways every day for the last two weeks after spending nights on concrete sidewalks with just a thin sheet of plastic for cover. Lopez said playing soccer back home had given him stamina but the "exaggerated" walk has taken its toll.
"The sacrifice is worth the effort," Lopez said. "I promised to buy my son a real motorcycle and I'm going to make good. I promised him many other things ... not only things, I also want to give them education. Everything good costs money."
Amid the increasing exhaustion of the migrants, a Guatemalan woman gave birth to the first known caravan baby at a hospital in Juchitan. Mexico's governmental National Human Rights Commission said it had arranged for medical attention for the woman, who was 28 weeks pregnant, and the girl was healthy.
The plan for Thursday was to set out around 3 a.m., taking advantage of the cool pre-dawn and morning temperatures to trek to Santa Maria Jalapa del Marques, about 35 miles (57 kilometers) to the west.
The migrants had not said what route they intended to take northward or where on the U.S. border they planned to reach, and Juchitan, still about 900 miles from U.S. soil, was something of a crossroads. Choosing Jalapa del Marques as the next destination appeared to indicate they were opting to travel via Oaxaca state's eponymous capital instead of turning north toward the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, the latter a common transit route toward McAllen, Texas.
In Washington on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised Mexico for stopping the migrants from getting rides. "Mexico has stepped up in an unprecedented way," Sanders told Fox News. "They have helped stop a lot of the transportation means of these individuals in these caravans, forcing them walking. They have helped us in new ways to slow this down, to break this up and keep it from moving as aggressively toward the United States."
The Mexican government, has, in fact, taken a fairly contradictory stance on helping or hindering the first caravan, reflecting the country's balancing act: Officials don't want to irk Trump, but Mexicans themselves have long suffered mistreatment as migrants.
For the first week of the caravan, Mexican federal police sometimes enforced obscure safety rules, forcing migrants off paid mini-buses, citing insurance regulations. They also stopped some overloaded pickup trucks carrying migrants and forced them to get off. But in recent days, officials from Mexico's immigrant-protection agency have organized rides for straggling women and children on the caravan as a humanitarian effort.
And police have routinely stood by as migrants piled aboard freight trucks.
A second, smaller group of 1,000 or so migrants who forced their way into Mexico on Monday was trailing some 250 miles back. They spent Tuesday night in the city of Tapachula.
Behind them, a third group of migrants from El Salvador had already made it to Guatemala, and on Wednesday a fourth group of about 700 Salvadorans set out from the capital, San Salvador, with plans to walk to the U.S. border, 1,500 miles away.
Salvadoran man Jose Santos, 27, brought his baby son with him on the quixotic quest.
"I didn't want to go, but I'm unemployed and I have to get money to buy food for my son," Santos said. "There is no work here, and the violence never stops."
The caravans combined represent just a few days' worth of the average flow of migrants to the United States in recent years. Similar caravans have occurred regularly over the years and passed largely unnoticed, but U.S. President Donald Trump has seized on them to try to make border security a hot-button issue less than a week before midterm elections.
The Pentagon has announced it will deploy 5,200 troops to the Southwest border, though federal law restricts the military from engaging in law enforcement on U.S. soil. So their role would largely be limited to activities such as providing helicopter support for border missions, installing concrete barriers and vehicle maintenance, rather than detaining migrants.
Trump said Wednesday that the number could go as high as 15,000. He also tweeted: "We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our Border is sacred, must come in legally. TURN AROUND!"
Worn down from long miles of walking and frustrated by the slow progress, many migrants have done just that, dropping out and returning home or applying for protected status in Mexico. The initial group is significantly diminished from its estimated peak at more than 7,000 migrants. A caravan in the spring ultimately fizzled to just about 200 people who reached the U.S. border at San Diego.
Mexican Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida said about 2,300 have applied to stay in Mexico under a government plan, and hundreds more have accepted assisted repatriation.
New York, Nov 1 (AP/UNB) — Police investigating the mysterious deaths of two Saudi Arabian sisters whose bound bodies washed up on New York City's waterfront on Oct. 24 say it appears they were alive when they went into the water.
New York City police said Wednesday that 16-year-old Tala Farea and 22-year-old Rotana Farea were last seen Sept. 24 in Virginia, where they lived, and appear to have traveled together to New York.
Investigators haven't determined how the sisters died. They say there were no obvious signs of trauma.
The sisters' mother told detectives that a Saudi official called her the day before the bodies were discovered and said the family had to leave the U.S. because her daughters had applied for political asylum.
The NYPD says there's no known nexus between the sisters' death and the Saudi government.
Washington, Oct 31 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump says the right to citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil "will be ended one way or the other."
As Trump considers an executive action to curtail what he terms "so-called Birthright Citizenship," he tweets that "It is not covered by the 14th Amendment."
He added Wednesday: "Many legal scholars agree" with his interpretation.
In fact, House Speaker Paul Ryan and scholars widely pan the idea that Trump could unilaterally change the rules on who is a citizen. And it's highly questionable whether an act of Congress could do it, either.
Trump has discussed the issue before and reinjected it into the political conversation just days before the 2018 midterms as he looks to energize his base.
Mexico, Oct 31 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of Central American migrants in a caravan traveling through Mexico planned to rest at least a day or longer in the southern city of Juchitan beginning Wednesday, hoping to organize mass transport northward after days of hard walking in tropical temperatures that have left them about 900 miles from the nearest U.S. border crossing.
A second, smaller group, of 1,000 or so migrants who forced their way into Mexico on Monday was trailing some 250 miles back, stopping for the night in the city of Tapachula.
At a Tuesday evening assembly, participants in the bigger group named a committee to negotiate with Mexican authorities over a possible "bridge plan" that could leapfrog them to the Mexico's capital by bus. There was no indication from officials whether the request to transport the perhaps 4,000 people remaining in the group would be granted.
Starting out in Honduras more than two weeks ago, the caravan migrants have spent their nights camping out in the main squares of small cities in the southern states of Chiapas and now Oaxaca. But a deadly earthquake last year destroyed Juchitan's central market, prompting it to be provisionally moved to the main square — meaning there was no room for them there.
Instead they spent the night on a municipal-owned lot on the outskirts of town where a high ceiling sheltered a cement floor. Outside the structure many more bedded down on blankets or cardboard sheets in the grass, with some lashing tarps to the foliage for rudimentary shelter.
Full tanks of water were set up for people to be able to bathe, and a large video screen showed soccer programming and then cartoons for the kids.
The two groups combined represent just a few days' worth of the average flow of migrants to the United States. Similar caravans have occurred regularly over the years, passing largely unnoticed, but the new ones have become a hot-button political issue amid an unprecedented pushback from U.S. President Donald Trump.
With just a week to U.S. midterm elections, the Pentagon has announced it will deploy 5,200 troops to the Southwest border, and Trump has continued to tweet and speak about the migrants. On Monday he said he wants to build tent cities to house asylum seekers, and Tuesday he floated the possibility of ending the constitutional right to U.S. citizenship for babies born in the country to noncitizens. Experts widely dismissed the idea that the president could unilaterally change the rules on who is a citizen and said it's highly questionable whether an act of Congress could do it, either.
"According to what they say, we are not going to be very welcome at the border," Honduran migrant Levin Guillen said when asked about Trump. "But we are going to try."
Guillen, a 23-year-old farmer from Corinto, Honduras, said he had been getting threats back home from the same people who killed his father 18 years ago. He has been on his own since his mother died four years ago, and he hopes to reach an aunt who lives in Los Angeles and have a chance to work and live in peace.
"We just want to a way to get to our final goal, which is the border," he said.
Worn down from long miles of walking and frustrated by the slow progress, many migrants have been dropping out and returning home or applying for protected status in Mexico. The initial group is already significantly diminished from its estimated peak at over 7,000-strong. A caravan in the spring ultimately fizzled to just about 200 people who reached the U.S. border at San Diego.
Deputy foreign ministers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico met Tuesday and agreed to coordinate "special attention" for the caravans, guaranteeing human rights, humanitarian assistance and "a safe, orderly and regular migration" in accordance with each country's laws.
Mexico's Interior Department said two Hondurans who requested entry were identified as having arrest warrants back home, one drug-related and the other for suspected homicide. They were deported. The department said in a statement that the men were part of "the migrant caravan," but did not say which group or specify when they were detained at checkpoints in the southern state of Chiapas.
Echoing their countrymen in the initial caravan, Hondurans in the second group talked of fleeing poverty and gang violence in one of the world's deadliest countries by homicide rates. They said asylum in the United States is their primary goal, but some expressed openness to applying for protected status in Mexico if that doesn't work out.
"Continue on to the United States, that is the first objective," said Carlos Enrique Carcamo, a 50-year-old boat mechanic. "But if that's not possible, well, permission here in Mexico to work or stay here."
Gerbert Hinestrosa, a 54-year-old traveling with his wife and teenage son, said he realizes it will be hard to achieve his dream of reaching the U.S.
"Right now I feel good," he said. "We have barely started, but I think it is going to be very difficult."