Mexico, June 5 (AP/UNB) — About 400 Central American migrants crossed into Mexico on Tuesday with the aim of reaching the U.S. border to request asylum.
Mexican police looked on as about half the migrants crossed the Suchiate River on inner-tube rafts. The mainly Honduran migrants then walked into the border city of Ciudad Hidalgo to rest in the main plaza.
"The federal police asked us where we were from, or if we had any ties to gangs," said one Honduran, who didn't want to give his name for fear of reprisals.
The other half of the migrants walked over the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala and waited to register at a Mexican immigration office. They included many women and children.
Mexico has been discouraging mass marches along highways, as migrant caravans did in past months.
The border crossing comes after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to slap tariffs on Mexican imports unless Mexico does more to stop the passage of migrants through its territory.
Afghanistan, June 4 (AP/UNB) — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he will visit Pakistan on June 27 to open a new chapter in his country's uneasy relationship with its neighbor and mend ties that are often characterized by mistrust and tit-for-tat accusations.
In his message to mark Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that caps the fasting month of Ramadan, Ghani said he agreed to visit Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan after the two leaders met last week on the sidelines of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Saudi Arabia.
"I hope the visit will be positive," Ghani said.
Kabul routinely accuses Pakistan of harboring its Taliban enemies, yet in recent months Islamabad has lent its support to U.S. efforts to broker an end to Afghanistan's long-running war.
Mexico City, June 4 (AP/UNB) — Mexican officials have copied a page from President Donald Trump's playbook in recent days, taking to Twitter to communicate that they are working flat-out to de-escalate tensions over immigration and avoid punitive tariffs on all Mexican exports to the U.S.
Announcements of meetings in Washington, selfies and carefully crafted messages of optimism for cool-headed discussions are some of the tactics on display in social media to respond to an economic and diplomatic emergency that few anticipated. Trump's threat on Thursday to impose tariffs to pressure Mexico to do more to curb the flow of migrants came the same day that Mexico declared it would begin the process of ratifying the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.
Many are questioning the legality of mixing immigration policy goals with trade retaliation, and U.S. business groups are already considering legal action against the proposed tariff, arguing that the countries both produce for each other and together.
"Almost everyone was caught flat-footed," said Antonio Ortiz-Mena, an international trade consultant based in Washington with the Albright Stonebridge Group who represented Mexico as part of the team that negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement in the early 1990s.
Ortiz-Mena said he spent much of the weekend on phone calls and crafting strategies to advise clients in the U.S.-Mexico supply chain on how to navigate the situation. His advice to Mexican officials would be to stay calm and show good faith by ratifying the USMCA trade deal.
"We're neighbors. We're not going anywhere," Ortiz-Mena said.
Mexico overtook Canada to become the top trade partner for the U.S. in April.
Mexico's message has been consistently friendly. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Mexico won't panic, signing off on a letter to Trump as "your friend" and repeating that his country doesn't want this confrontation, much less a trade war.
But on Monday, his top officials also strove to set some boundaries.
"There is a clear limit to what we can negotiate, and the limit is Mexican dignity," said Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Martha Bárcena, at a news conference in Washington. She added that her country has taken steps to offer migrants visas, and said that "without Mexico's efforts, an additional quarter million migrants could arrive at the U.S. border in 2019."
Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said that any "safe third country" agreement that would require asylum seekers to apply for refuge in Mexico first would be unacceptable for Mexico.
There has also been some expert trolling. Ebrard posted a picture of himself at a Mexican airport Friday waiting to depart for Washington via Houston, with a Huawei-branded cellphone charging station behind him. The subtle implication: If the U.S. pushes Mexico away, China, a geopolitical and economic adversary, could move in to fill that space.
Mexican Economy Minister Graciela Marquez said she would meet with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington on Monday. Ebrard said a delegation he is leading will hold talks Wednesday with one headed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Ebrard said Mexican Agriculture Minister Victor Manuel Villalobos also is to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Sonny Perdue, as tariffs would "severely" affect the U.S. agricultural sector. The objective is for the U.S. to avoid "shooting itself in the foot," Ebrard said.
Mexico is the top export market for U.S. corn and pork, and Mexico supplies one out of three fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States. Tariffs on Mexican agricultural exports are seen raising the cost of avocados, tomatoes and berries for U.S. consumers.
Over the weekend, Mexico's economy minister joined what Mexican Twitter users have dubbed the "Ebrard Selfie Challenge," posting pictures of herself smiling next to the U.S. commerce secretary at the inauguration of El Salvador President Nayib Bukele.
The Mexican strategy of killing with kindness has been met with skepticism and increasingly harsh words from Trump.
"Mexico is sending a big delegation to talk about the Border," Trump tweeted Sunday. "Problem is, they've been 'talking' for 25 years. We want action, not talk."
That followed an earlier tweet in which Trump labelled Mexico an "abuser" that takes but never gives to the U.S. He threatened to lure U.S. companies and jobs back via tariffs unless Mexico stops what he called an "invasion" of drug dealers, cartels, human traffickers, people smugglers and immigrants.
The addition of drugs to the complaint adds another layer of complication to negotiations.
"It's asking the impossible," said Maureen Meyer, director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America, a group that researches and advocates for human rights. "It certainly overlooks how much Mexico is trying to cooperate with the U.S."
Mexican authorities have raided migrant caravans traveling through the country's southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca this year. They have deported thousands of migrants and frustrated thousands more who wait endlessly for permits that would allow them to travel legally through Mexico.
Meyer expects U.S. officials will again push this week for Mexico to sign onto a "Safe Third Country" agreement, which would designate Mexico as an adequate waiting spot for migrants wishing to claim asylum in the U.S. She said Mexico should stand firm and resist because it lacks the financial and human resources to process thousands of refugee cases, even if it were willing to do so.
A complete militarization of Mexican borders is also a very tall order. Just as the Mexican border with the U.S. has proven porous, Mexico's southern border with Guatemala features dense jungle and a river that makes it difficult to patrol.
Over the weekend, The Associated Press witnessed migrants arrive in small batches by raft at Tapachula, a border town in Chiapas. Federal helicopters, boats and police were not patrolling the Suchiate River as they have in the past to halt caravans.
But the AP also has seen a migrant woman and two children pulled from a bus in recent days to be transported to a detention center. Residents of Tapachula are routinely asked to show ID while riding public transportation as officials search for migrants without permission to be in Mexico. There were few migrants in the streets or camping in the public parks of Tapachula.
Those passing through Mexico without transit visas have opted to maintain a low-profile over the past weeks as Mexico seeks to detain and deport more migrants — and to draw attention to those efforts.
The National Migration Institute tweeted a picture Saturday of a plane transporting 64 Cubans back to their country from the Gulf state of Veracruz.
Trump says he will impose a 5% tariff on Mexican goods beginning June 10 as a way to force the government of Mexico to keep mostly Central American migrants from crossing into the U.S. He says that until he is satisfied with Mexico's results, the import tax will be increased five percentage points every month through October, topping out at a total tariff of 25%.
Yet there are no concrete benchmarks for Mexico to prove that it is stemming immigration flows.
Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, said on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump is "deadly serious" about imposing tariffs on imports, adding that "there's no specific target, there's no specific percentage" that Mexico needs to hit.
"They have to get dramatically better and they have to get better quickly," Mulvaney said.
López Obrador said Mexican officials will try to better communicate their immigration efforts in Washington this week. He issued a memo to "the people" of the U.S. on Sunday saying he wishes to remain Trump's friend and professing that Mexicans are their friends, too.
He closed the letter by saying: "Let nothing and nobody separate our beautiful and sacred friendship."
Sudan, June 4 (AP/UNB) — Sudan's ruling military moved to crush the protest movement opposing its grip on power as security forces overran the main sit-in site in the capital Monday, unleashing furious volleys of gunfire, burning down tents and killing at least 35 people, witnesses and protest leaders said.
With the assault, the generals signaled an end of their tolerance of the pro-democracy demonstrators, who for months have been camped outside the military's headquarters as the two sides negotiated over who would run the country after the April ouster of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir.
The head of the military council said early Tuesday that protest leaders shared blame for the violence, accusing them of dragging out negotiations and seeking to keep other sectors of Sudanese society out of an interim government. Gen. Abedel-Fattah Burhan also said that the council was cancelling all its agreement with protest groups and would call elections within seven months.
After their protests succeeded in forcing the military to remove al-Bashir, pro-democracy demonstrators had stayed in the streets, demanding the generals move to the background and allow civilians to lead the transition.
The dispersal of the sit-in now risks escalating violence even further. Scattered by the bloody assault, protesters vowed to keep up their campaign, suspending talks and calling for a general strike and civil disobedience. They urged nighttime marches across the country.
"This is a critical point in our revolution. The military council has chosen escalation and confrontation," said Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals' Association, which has spearheaded the protests.
"Those are criminals who should have been treated like al-Bashir," he said. "Now the situation is either them or us, there is no other way."
Burhan's statement said military leaders would investigate Monday's violence. He didn't mention security forces, but said protests leaders bore blame for the volatile situation, because they have been "extending the negotiations and seeking to exclude other political and security forces" from participating in any transitional government.
The council and protest leaders had made progress during talks in May over an interim Cabinet and legislative body, but they split over the make-up and leadership of a sovereign council that was being discussed to govern Sudan during a three-year transition.
Burhan said the military council would now move to form an interim government to prepare for elections, which he said would be internationally supervised. He said the council was cancelling all its agreements with protest leaders.
Earlier, the military council said in a statement that Monday's violence erupted when security forces tried to clear an area adjacent to the protest camp. It said people being chased by the troops fled into the sit-in site, leading to the shooting deaths and injuries.
Activists said the assault appeared to be a coordinated move, with other forces attacking similar sit-ins in Khartoum's sister city of Omdurman and the eastern city of al-Qadarif.
The attack came on the day before the Eid holiday that ends Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast during daylight hours. Large numbers of troops from the military, police and Rapid Support Forces — an elite unit that during the anti-al-Bashir protests had vowed to protect the sit-in — moved in on the gathering after overnight rains, activists said.
"They are surrounding the sit-in from all directions," one activist, Amal al-Zein, said early in the assault, in which the forces burned tents and arrested those trying to flee.
An Associated Press journalist heard gunshots and explosions, and saw buses and soldiers on foot blocking roads leading to the protest site. In online videos, protesters were seen running and ducking as barrages of gunfire echoed. Smoke rose from tires set ablaze by the protesters.
Demonstrators stood behind low barricades of bricks and dug-up pavement, and some threw stones before being driven back by walls of blue-clad security forces carrying sticks. One video showed police swarming around a protester sprawled on the ground, beating him with sticks. In another video, residents opened their doors to shelter those who ran.
The Sudan Doctors' Committee said the death toll had risen to at least 35 by early Tuesday with the killing of five people in the city's Bahri district. The group said it was difficult to count deaths in areas outside the military complex in Khartoum. Hundreds of people were wounded, many by gunfire, the group said.
Medical personnel and wounded were trapped in clinics as troops overran the area.
"Wounded people are lying on the ground in the reception area as there are not enough beds," said Dr. Azza al-Kamel of the Royal Care hospital.
Hundreds were arrested, said al-Zein and another activist, Hisham Shalabi. Photos posted online showed dozens of men and women lined up on the pavement, sitting or lying face down, under guard by troops.
The assault ended the sit-in at the heart of the movement that echoed the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings — although Sudan's sought to learn from the mistakes of other protesters. Protest leaders insisted the removal of al-Bashir after 30 years in power was not enough. Tens of thousands remained in place in Khartoum and other camps around the country, demanding a fast transition to civilian rule.
The negotiations had imposed a degree of peace. But tensions mounted in recent weeks as the talks yielded little progress. Protesters demanded the military have only limited involvement in a transitional government, but the generals have resisted relinquishing power.
Just over a week ago, Burhan met with his two top allies, the president of Egypt and the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates. Those leaders backed al-Bashir's removal and have given strong support to the military council. They also deeply oppose movements such as those that swept the region in 2011.
After Monday's violence, the Sudanese Professionals' Association called for closing main roads to "paralyze public life" across the country. The Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which has represented protesters in the negotiations, called for toppling the military council and more street protests.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the crackdown and called for authorities to allow an independent investigation, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "There was use of excessive force by the security force on civilians," Dujarric said.
The U.N. human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, expressed alarm at reports that live ammunition was used, including "next to, and even inside, medical facilities."
The embassies of the United States and Britain also expressed concern. Amnesty International urged the U.N. Security Council to consider imposing sanctions on members of Sudan's ruling military council.
The military "has completely destroyed the trust of the Sudanese people and crushed the people's hope for a new era of respect for human rights and respect for the right to protest without fear," said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for East Africa.
United Nations, May 31 (AP/UNB) — The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution Thursday extending an arms embargo and other sanctions against South Sudan over objections from African nations, Russia and China that the measure won't help promote peace.
The U.S.-sponsored resolution received 10 "yes" votes — one more than the minimum required for adoption — and five abstentions from South Africa, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Russia and China.
A fragile peace deal to end a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people was signed in September. But the committee overseeing its implementation says key elements have yet to be put in place.
South Sudan had faced a May 12 deadline for opposition leader Riek Machar to return to the country and once again become President Salva Kiir's deputy. It is the crucial next step in implementing the peace deal, but both South Sudan's government and Machar's opposition requested a six-month extension, which regional ministers approved earlier this month.
Acting U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen expressed disappointment at the lack of African support for renewing the sanctions, stressing that "if there is to be any chance for lasting peace in South Sudan we must stop the flow of weapons used to fuel conflict and terrorize civilians."
He said the Trump administration wants to support African bodies taking leading roles in resolving disputes and conflicts on the continent but "support for this expanded role is difficult to envision if countries in the region are unwilling to support measures that incentivize warring parties to choose peace over war."
South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Jerry Matjila told the council that the regional group IGAD, which has been leading peace efforts in South Sudan along with the African Union, "continues to assert that sanctions are not useful to the political process."
Although progress toward peace has been slow, he said there is a reduction in "political violence" and efforts are under way to implement the September agreement.
"When there is a volatile political process on the table, it should be safeguarded and exempt from external pressure which can aggravate the situation," Matjila said.
Equatorial Guinea's U.N. Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba added that sanctions "are not the right ingredient to motivate those involved to further their efforts to achieve peace."
Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told the council: "We do not share the view that this progress in the South Sudanese settlement was helped by the strengthening last July of sanctions pressure and the introduction of an arms embargo."
He credited regional mediators for the peace deal and progress so far.
But Germany's U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen asked "why should we send additional arms" if key steps in implementing the peace agreement haven't been met.
"The one thing this country doesn't need is additional arms," he said, adding that "human rights are still very dire."
"Germany thinks the money saved on weapons would be much better spent on improving the justice system so that the perpetrators who commit sexual crimes would be brought to justice," Heusgen said.
And he asked, why not have those who want to buy arms spend the money instead on helping to meet South Sudan's massive humanitarian needs?