UN Security Council Fails to Find Consensus on Venezuela Crisis

The U.N. Security Council failed to agree Thursday on either a U.S. or Russian proposal to find a way forward on the Venezuelan crisis.

The 15-nation council voted on two draft resolutions. The U.S. text had the support of the majority of the council members but was blocked by Russia and China, while a Russian draft garnered only four positive votes.

The U.S. text stressed the need to “prevent further deterioration” of the humanitarian situation and to allow unhindered access for the delivery of aid throughout the country.

The government of disputed President Nicolas Maduro has refused to recognize that there is a humanitarian crisis in the country and is not permitting aid from the United States to enter the country, saying it is a pretext for a U.S. military invasion.

The American draft also expressed “deep concern” that the May 2018 presidential elections that gave the incumbent Maduro a second six-year term were “neither free nor fair” and called for a political process leading to new elections. It also showed support for the “peaceful” restoration of democracy and rule of law.

“Regrettably, by voting against this resolution, some members of this council continue to shield Maduro and his cronies, and prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people,” said U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams.

“Regardless of the results of today’s vote, this resolution shows that democracies around the world, and especially in Latin America, are mobilizing behind interim President [Juan] Guaido,” he said of the National Assembly leader who declared himself interim president Jan. 23.

Russian response 

The Russian resolution called for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but added that Maduro needed to approve aid deliveries. The Russian text also expressed “concern over the threats to use force” against Venezuela.

Moscow’s envoy said Washington’s proposal was an effort to “escalate tensions and to implement their scenario for an unconstitutional change of government.” Vassily Nebenzia warned that the focus on the humanitarian situation was merely “a smoke screen.”  

“We are seriously concerned at the fact that today’s meeting may be exploited as a step for preparations of a real — not humanitarian —intervention as a pretext for external intervention as a result of the alleged inability of the Security Council to resolve the situation in Venezuela,” Nebenzia said.

Last Saturday, troops and Maduro supporters blocked the entry of trucks carrying food and medical supplies in violent clashes at Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil. Four people were killed, and dozens were injured.

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy said that Saturday’s violence was an “international incident,” not a domestic one, and he asserted that all was well in his country.

“Venezuela today is completely at peace, a peace preserved by the constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro, who is in full exercise of his legal powers and who guarantees the protection of national territory, as well as the well-being of the Venezuelan people and effective control over the country,” Ambassador Samuel Moncada said. “Let me repeat: There is no type of violence in Venezuela. If there are threats against peace, those threats come from abroad.” 

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UN Security Council Fails to Find Consensus on Venezuela Crisis

The U.N. Security Council failed to agree Thursday on either a U.S. or Russian proposal to find a way forward on the Venezuelan crisis.

The 15-nation council voted on two draft resolutions. The U.S. text had the support of the majority of the council members but was blocked by Russia and China, while a Russian draft garnered only four positive votes.

The U.S. text stressed the need to “prevent further deterioration” of the humanitarian situation and to allow unhindered access for the delivery of aid throughout the country.

The government of disputed President Nicolas Maduro has refused to recognize that there is a humanitarian crisis in the country and is not permitting aid from the United States to enter the country, saying it is a pretext for a U.S. military invasion.

The American draft also expressed “deep concern” that the May 2018 presidential elections that gave the incumbent Maduro a second six-year term were “neither free nor fair” and called for a political process leading to new elections. It also showed support for the “peaceful” restoration of democracy and rule of law.

“Regrettably, by voting against this resolution, some members of this council continue to shield Maduro and his cronies, and prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people,” said U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams.

“Regardless of the results of today’s vote, this resolution shows that democracies around the world, and especially in Latin America, are mobilizing behind interim President [Juan] Guaido,” he said of the National Assembly leader who declared himself interim president Jan. 23.

Russian response 

The Russian resolution called for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but added that Maduro needed to approve aid deliveries. The Russian text also expressed “concern over the threats to use force” against Venezuela.

Moscow’s envoy said Washington’s proposal was an effort to “escalate tensions and to implement their scenario for an unconstitutional change of government.” Vassily Nebenzia warned that the focus on the humanitarian situation was merely “a smoke screen.”  

“We are seriously concerned at the fact that today’s meeting may be exploited as a step for preparations of a real — not humanitarian —intervention as a pretext for external intervention as a result of the alleged inability of the Security Council to resolve the situation in Venezuela,” Nebenzia said.

Last Saturday, troops and Maduro supporters blocked the entry of trucks carrying food and medical supplies in violent clashes at Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil. Four people were killed, and dozens were injured.

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy said that Saturday’s violence was an “international incident,” not a domestic one, and he asserted that all was well in his country.

“Venezuela today is completely at peace, a peace preserved by the constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro, who is in full exercise of his legal powers and who guarantees the protection of national territory, as well as the well-being of the Venezuelan people and effective control over the country,” Ambassador Samuel Moncada said. “Let me repeat: There is no type of violence in Venezuela. If there are threats against peace, those threats come from abroad.” 

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Trump’s Defense of Kim in US Student’s Death Riles Some Lawmakers

U.S. lawmakers expressed anger Thursday about President Donald Trump’s defense of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who claimed he knew nothing about the alleged torture of a jailed U.S. college student who later died.

Otto Warmbier, charged with stealing a propaganda poster during an organized tour, was sentenced to 15 years at hard labor in North Korea in March 2016. 

Freed 15 months later, Warmbier, in a comatose state, died shortly after he was brought back to the United States.

Trump, speaking after his summit meeting with Kim in Hanoi, said Kim told him he felt “very badly about it” and that “he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word. … He knew the case very well, but he knew it later. … I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen. Those prisons are rough — they’re rough places, and bad things happen.” 

Several members of Congress said they had a hard time believing not only that Kim had no knowledge of the Warmbier case, but also that Trump had more faith in Kim than in his own intelligence agencies.

‘Very gullible’

“I think the president is very gullible in this regard. He seems to have a very odd affinity toward dictators,” Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii told VOA, while Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, also a Democrat, said Trump’s attempt to “exonerate” Kim was “abysmal.”

“This is a guy who is the maximum leader and when there are Americans in custody there, Kim Jong Un knows how important that is,” Kaine said. 

 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said there was “something wrong” with Trump for choosing to believe “thugs.”

But Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said what Trump says in public about Kim might be different from what he privately feels.

“He may very well be saying that so that he can continue a dialogue with North Korea rather than creating another area in which that becomes an item of discussion,” Rounds said to VOA.

There has been no comment from Warmbier’s parents, who were Trump’s guests at the 2018 State of the Union address, when he condemned the “depraved character” of the North Korean state and blamed its “dictatorship” for Warmbier’s injuries and death.

It is still unclear what caused Warmbier to fall into a coma while imprisoned in North Korea, but his parents say he was tortured.

A U.S. federal judge in November ordered North Korea to pay more than $500 million in damages to Warmbier’s family, but it is highly unlikely they will ever see the money. 

 

VOA’s Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill contributed to this report. 

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Two Suicide Bombs Claim at Least 15 in Mogadishu

Two suicide car bombs exploded in Mogadishu on Thursday evening, killing at least 15 people, a Somali official told VOA.

The first explosion occurred just after the 8 p.m. local time when a vehicle loaded with explosives were detonated on one of the capital’s busiest streets, Maka Al-Mukarama Road.

Eyewitnesses said dozens of people were sitting outside hotels and restaurants in the area when the bomb exploded.

Journalist Abdishakur Mohamed Mohamoud was sitting outside a coffee shop when it occurred.

“Before the explosion, a street trader saw a parked vehicle with emergency lights on, we suspected the car is exploding, we started to run and then the same car exploded,” Mohamoud told VOA. “It was a huge explosion (heard) throughout the city.”

Mohamoud said saw 13 dead bodies when he returned to the site of the explosion to help some of the wounded. He said among the dead was a well-known imam who used to lead prayers on Maka Al-Mukarama Road for people who could not reach mosques.

An hour after the explosion, a second one occurred outside another hotel near the busy K4 junction in Mogadishu. There was no confirmation of casualties from the second explosion.

Security officials also reported the sound of gunshots and detonated grenades in buildings near the site of the first explosion. A security official, who asked not to be named, told VOA Somali that several al-Shabab fighters are holed up in the building.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack. The group also claimed that they carried out a complex attack on Hotel Maka Al-Mukarama.

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Two Suicide Bombs Claim at Least 15 in Mogadishu

Two suicide car bombs exploded in Mogadishu on Thursday evening, killing at least 15 people, a Somali official told VOA.

The first explosion occurred just after the 8 p.m. local time when a vehicle loaded with explosives were detonated on one of the capital’s busiest streets, Maka Al-Mukarama Road.

Eyewitnesses said dozens of people were sitting outside hotels and restaurants in the area when the bomb exploded.

Journalist Abdishakur Mohamed Mohamoud was sitting outside a coffee shop when it occurred.

“Before the explosion, a street trader saw a parked vehicle with emergency lights on, we suspected the car is exploding, we started to run and then the same car exploded,” Mohamoud told VOA. “It was a huge explosion (heard) throughout the city.”

Mohamoud said saw 13 dead bodies when he returned to the site of the explosion to help some of the wounded. He said among the dead was a well-known imam who used to lead prayers on Maka Al-Mukarama Road for people who could not reach mosques.

An hour after the explosion, a second one occurred outside another hotel near the busy K4 junction in Mogadishu. There was no confirmation of casualties from the second explosion.

Security officials also reported the sound of gunshots and detonated grenades in buildings near the site of the first explosion. A security official, who asked not to be named, told VOA Somali that several al-Shabab fighters are holed up in the building.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack. The group also claimed that they carried out a complex attack on Hotel Maka Al-Mukarama.

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Catholic Bishops Express Doubt Over South Sudan Peace Implementation

The bishops of the Catholic Church in South Sudan are expressing concern about the future of South Sudan’s peace agreement, signed last year.

The bishops said in a statement Thursday they welcomed the agreement as a step forward.

“However, the concrete situation on the ground demonstrates that it is not addressing the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan,” they said.

The bishops said human rights abuses continue with impunity, including murder, rape, widespread sexual violence, looting and occupation of civilian land and property in South Sudan.

“There is no will or commitment for peace among many of our leaders, hate speech and propaganda abound, and there is a thirst for revenge among our communities,” the bishops said.

The statement said many of the committees and commissions mandated by the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, (R-ARCSS), have not been set up or are late in getting started.

President Salva Kiir’s government, the main rebel group led by former vice president Riek Machar and most other armed groups signed the peace deal designed to end South Sudan’s five-year civil war. 

However, Angelina Teny, the chairperson of the strategic defense security board, a body tasked with security arrangements, said not much has been achieved.

Rebel forces were supposed to be gathered on bases before being integrated into the national army.

“That is the prerequisite for the formation of the TGONU (Transitional Government of National Unity),” she noted. But the process has yet to begin, only two months before the “transitional” period defined in the peace deal begins.

Church recommendations

South Sudanese Catholic Church leaders said one of the key drivers of the current conflict is the number of states and their boundaries.

Kiir redrew South Sudan’s map five years ago, increasing the number of states.

“The consequences of not settling the controversial issue of the 32 states before the onset of the transitional period, and of not fully consulting the people on the ground, are too grave to ignored,” the bishops said.

The church made 17 recommendations to the South Sudan government, stressing the need for an inclusive approach to the search for peace in South Sudan.

“While we thank the (regional bloc) IGAD for its efforts, we note that the government of South Sudan is a member of IGAD and that other IGAD members have their own national interests. It thus becomes difficult for IGAD to act as a truly impartial mediator,” the statement said.

Official’s response

South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuie Lueth reacted angrily to the bishops’ statement.

“I am sorry and disappointed to hear such comments from a renowned religious sect,” he said Thursday. “I am saying this because it is our strongest belief that the agreement addresses all the concerns of the people of South Sudan. It is fighting corruption. It is for reform. It is for democratic transfer of power, and it is for all the things for which everybody has been yearning.”

The information minister is on a tour of the Bahr el Gahzal area with Kiir to drum up support for the peace agreement.

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Catholic Bishops Express Doubt Over South Sudan Peace Implementation

The bishops of the Catholic Church in South Sudan are expressing concern about the future of South Sudan’s peace agreement, signed last year.

The bishops said in a statement Thursday they welcomed the agreement as a step forward.

“However, the concrete situation on the ground demonstrates that it is not addressing the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan,” they said.

The bishops said human rights abuses continue with impunity, including murder, rape, widespread sexual violence, looting and occupation of civilian land and property in South Sudan.

“There is no will or commitment for peace among many of our leaders, hate speech and propaganda abound, and there is a thirst for revenge among our communities,” the bishops said.

The statement said many of the committees and commissions mandated by the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, (R-ARCSS), have not been set up or are late in getting started.

President Salva Kiir’s government, the main rebel group led by former vice president Riek Machar and most other armed groups signed the peace deal designed to end South Sudan’s five-year civil war. 

However, Angelina Teny, the chairperson of the strategic defense security board, a body tasked with security arrangements, said not much has been achieved.

Rebel forces were supposed to be gathered on bases before being integrated into the national army.

“That is the prerequisite for the formation of the TGONU (Transitional Government of National Unity),” she noted. But the process has yet to begin, only two months before the “transitional” period defined in the peace deal begins.

Church recommendations

South Sudanese Catholic Church leaders said one of the key drivers of the current conflict is the number of states and their boundaries.

Kiir redrew South Sudan’s map five years ago, increasing the number of states.

“The consequences of not settling the controversial issue of the 32 states before the onset of the transitional period, and of not fully consulting the people on the ground, are too grave to ignored,” the bishops said.

The church made 17 recommendations to the South Sudan government, stressing the need for an inclusive approach to the search for peace in South Sudan.

“While we thank the (regional bloc) IGAD for its efforts, we note that the government of South Sudan is a member of IGAD and that other IGAD members have their own national interests. It thus becomes difficult for IGAD to act as a truly impartial mediator,” the statement said.

Official’s response

South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuie Lueth reacted angrily to the bishops’ statement.

“I am sorry and disappointed to hear such comments from a renowned religious sect,” he said Thursday. “I am saying this because it is our strongest belief that the agreement addresses all the concerns of the people of South Sudan. It is fighting corruption. It is for reform. It is for democratic transfer of power, and it is for all the things for which everybody has been yearning.”

The information minister is on a tour of the Bahr el Gahzal area with Kiir to drum up support for the peace agreement.

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Trump, Kim Summit Ends With No Agreement 

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended their summit Thursday earlier than planned, skipping a scheduled lunch and signing ceremony.

“No agreement was reached at this time, but their respective teams look forward to meeting in the future,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

She called the two days of meetings in Hanoi, Vietnam “very good and constructive.”

Trump is to give a press conference before flying home.

​Earlier optimism

Earlier in the day, both Trump and Kim expressed optimism for their discussions about North Korea’s nuclear program.

Kim left open the possibility of denuclearization, saying in response to a reporter’s question, “If I’m not willing to do that, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

When asked if he is willing to take concrete steps toward denuclearization, Kim said that is what was under discussion.

Trump said he thinks the relationship between the two sides is better than it has ever been.

“I think no matter what happens we’re going to ultimately have a deal that’s really good for Chairman Kim and his country and for us. I think ultimately that’s what’s going to happen,” Trump said.

Patience, lowered expectations

At the start of their talks Thursday, Trump expressed a position of patience when it comes to the nuclear talks with North Korea.

“What’s important is we get it right,” he said.

Trump predicted longterm “fantastic success” when it comes to North Korea, saying the country will be “an economic powerhouse.”

While some U.S. officials attempted to lower expectations for the outcome of the second summit, Trump was under pressure to extract something beyond the vague commitment made by Kim last June in Singapore on pledging to give up his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in exchange for a lifting of crushing international sanctions on the impoverished country.

The Singapore summit was hailed as a historical event as Washington and Pyongyang have never had diplomatic relations. When Trump took office there were fears of a renewed war with North Korea as the U.S. president threatened to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on the northeast Asian country in response to its threats against the United States and its allies.

During their talks Thursday, both Trump and Kim also expressed a favorable view of the possibility of North Korea allowing the United States to open an office in Pyongyang.

“It’s actually not a bad idea,” Trump said, after the prospect was raised by a reporter.

“I think that’s something which is welcomeable,” Kim said.

​Some US skepticism

U.S. intelligence officials remain skeptical that Pyongyang intends to follow through on Kim’s Singapore pledge to denuclearize.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a congressional panel last month that North Korea “has halted its provocative behavior” by refraining from missile tests and nuclear tests for more than a year. “As well, Kim Jong Un continues to demonstrate openness to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Despite the end to testing, Coats cautioned that “we currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its (weapons of mass destruction) capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities.”

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