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Monitor The Strategic Trends


The Magog Invasion




The ancient people called Magog are commonly believed to have been the ancestors of the Russian nation. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of an invasion of Israel by Russia, which has not yet been fulfilled. What could cause Russia to come against the tiny nation of Israel -- which has no oil and no real strategic value? This question has puzzled Bible scholars for centuries. However, recent developments in the Middle East have for the first time in history lent credence to this long-awaited prophecy.


Behold a Red Horse



Price R 249.00



•What does the Bible say about “wars”?
•How can the classic literature of centuries ago impact todays (and tomorrow’s) tactics and strategies?
•Which technologies are predicted in the Bible? Which ones have yet to be witnessed?
•In what ways have the economies of scale in violence been reversed?
•What is the threat assessment and risk analysis pending today?
•In what ways can a country be regarded as a “one-bomb target”?
•What are the likely implications of trans-humanism in the quests for the “Super-Soldier”?
•How could electromagnetic pulses emerge to become the “Great Equalizer”?
•Where is the safest place to be?
 Dr. Chuck Missler, an honor graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, with an international background including three decade’s experience in the board rooms of the defense industry, reviews the major Biblical references to warfare, the trends in modern weapons technology, and some of the current preparations for war among the major powers.

Behold a White Horse



Price R 249.00




The final world dictator seeking global domination will also be an “Assyrian” who is here characterized by a bow, riding a white horse. It is interesting how many confuse this counterfeit with the rider of the white horse in Revelation 19. In chapter 6, however, this rider is among some very bad company!
 “Behold a White Horse” explores the career of the first of these “Four Horsemen” who seems to have at least 33 titles in the Old Testament and 13 in the New Testament and the common term “AntiChrist” really isn’t one of them. We also explore the only physical description of him in the Scripture!
 • Why is he a “mistaken identity”?
 • How do we know this is NOT the Christ?
 • What is the precedent condition(s) for his appearance?
 • What is the precedent condition for the unsealing of the Seven Sealed Book? What is the Seven Sealed Book?
 • Is his “bow” a pun? How? Why?
 • How can he “go forth to conquer” if he is a “peace maker”?
 • Is the Church on the earth at this time? How do we know?
 • Is He alive today? How do we know?
 • How can he be the “Seed of the Serpent”?
 Join Chuck Missler as he looks at the first of the Five Horsemen.


This briefing pack contains 2 hours of teaching


1 Disc

2 MP3












US wants Mosul offensive on IS in April-May

‎20 ‎February "‎2015", ‏‎10:00:50 AMGo to full article
Smoke billows after an US air strike near the Mosul dam, Iraq's largest, on the Tigris river, on August 17, 2014The US wants Iraq to launch its offensive to retake the strategic northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State group in April or May, military officials said. Mosul is believed to be held by 1,000-2,000 IS fighters and 20,000-25,000 Iraqi troops are needed to carry out the offensive, an official with US Central Command said on Thursday. US-led coalition aircraft have recently focused air strikes in the area of Mosul and Kurdish forces have made inroads on the ground nearby. Kurdish peshmerga forces have also launched successful offensives against IS-held roads near Mosul, which is in the north of the country.




Nuclear Weapons, Proliferation and Policy Doctrine



US sees 'activity' at N. Korea nuke sites: US official

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) March 23, 2017 - The US military has observed activity in North Korea that suggests Pyongyang may be gearing up for another nuclear test, a US official said Thursday.

"At the sites where we watch tests, we see a level of activity that's similar to what they've done before other tests," the defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Fox News reported earlier on Thursday that North Korea is in the final stages of readying for another nuclear test, possibly within the coming days.

North Korea may have dug new tunnels around the Punggye-ri test site in the northeast of the country, Fox said, citing a US official.

It also reported that the US Air Force has deployed a special surveillance plane used to take air samples after nuclear tests.

The Air Force declined to comment on the report.

North Korea is on a quest to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and staged two nuclear tests and multiple missile launches last year.

Hit by a string of United Nations sanctions since it first tested a nuclear device in 2006, Pyongyang has insisted it will continue.

North Korea attempted another missile test that failed on Wednesday, according to the United States and South Korea.

UN Security Council condemns latest N.Korea missile tests
United Nations, United States (AFP) March 23, 2017 - The UN Security Council on Thursday "strongly condemned" recent North Korean missile and ballistic missile engine tests, denouncing Pyongyang's "increasingly destabilizing behavior."

The condemnation came as the US military said on Thursday that it has observed activity in North Korea that suggests Pyongyang may be gearing up for another nuclear test.

"The launch and engine test are in grave violation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's international obligations," the council said in a statement.

"The members of the Security Council expressed serious concern over the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's increasingly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance of the Security Council," it added.

North Korea is on a quest to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and staged two nuclear tests and multiple missile launches last year.

Hit by a string of United Nations sanctions since it first tested a nuclear device in 2006, Pyongyang has insisted it will continue its program.

North Korea attempted another missile test that failed on Wednesday, according to the United States and South Korea, two weeks after Pyongyang launched four rockets in what it called a drill for an attack on American bases in Japan.

On Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un personally oversaw and hailed a "successful" test of what Pyongyang said was a new rocket engine -- which can be easily repurposed for use in missiles.

The Security Council's statement said the members "emphasized the vital importance of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea showing sincere commitment to denuclearization and stressed the importance of working to reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula and beyond."



China's ZTE pleads guilty to violating US sanctions on Iran, N.Korea

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) March 23, 2017 - Chinese telecom giant ZTE has pleaded guilty in a US court to violating US export controls by selling goods to Iran and North Korea over several years.

The move is the final step in the case's resolution which the US government announced March 7 in which it slapped $1.2 billion in fines on the company, the largest criminal penalty in US history in an export control case, although there have been larger fines involving financial firms.

ZTE pleaded guilty to conspiring to unlawfully export, obstruction of justice and making a false statement, the US Justice Department said Wednesday.

The company will immediately pay $892 million, while another $300 million in penalties are suspended for seven years.

From January 2010 to March 2016, the company shipped $32 million in US cellular network equipment to Iran, and made 283 shipments of cell phones to North Korea, with the full knowledge of the highest levels of company management, officials said.

ZTE used third-party companies to hide the export of US components to the sanctioned countries, and then hid the information by "sanitizing databases" with information on the sales; deleting of emails of those employees involved in the scrubbing of records; and requiring employees with information about the illegal exports to sign non-disclosure agreements.

The five-year US government investigation into ZTE's actions violating restrictions on exports to sanctioned countries was first revealed in March 2016.

Export privileges for ZTE -- China's largest publicly traded telecom company, and the fourth largest in the world -- are subject to denial for seven years if any aspect of this deal is not met.



North Korea fails in new missile test: Seoul

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) March 22, 2017 - A new North Korean missile test failed on Wednesday, the South and US said, two weeks after Pyongyang launched four rockets in what it called a drill for an attack on American bases in Japan.

The nuclear-armed North is under several sets of United Nations sanctions over its atomic and ballistic missile programmes.

It is on a quest to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with an atomic warhead, and staged two nuclear tests and multiple missile launches last year.

The North fired one missile from an air base in the eastern port of Wonsan Wednesday morning, but the launch "is believed to have failed", Seoul's defence ministry said in a statement, adding it was analysing what type of missile was involved.

The US military said the missile exploded shortly after launch.

"US Pacific Command detected what we assess was a failed North Korean missile launch attempt... in the vicinity of Kalma. A missile appears to have exploded within seconds of launch," said spokesman David Benham.

Earlier this month Pyongyang launched a flight of four ballistic missiles, with three landing provocatively close to Japan in what the North described as practice for attacks on US military bases in Japan.

On Sunday, its leader Kim Jong-Un personally oversaw and hailed a "successful" test of what Pyongyang said was a new rocket engine -- which can be easily repurposed for use in missiles.

Seoul said that experiment showed "meaningful progress" in the North's missile capabilities.

The developments come as Seoul and Washington hold large-scale annual joint military exercises that always infuriate Pyongyang, which sees them as a rehearsal for invasion.

Analysts' opinions are varied on how advanced the North's missile technologies are but many agree that Pyongyang has made significant progress in recent years.

- 'Option on the table' -

Sunday's engine test was apparently timed to coincide with a recent Asia trip by new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who warned that regional tensions had reached a "dangerous level".

Washington would drop the "failed" approach of "strategic patience" with Pyongyang, Tillerson said, warning that US military action was an "option on the table" if necessary -- a sharp divergence from China's insistence on a diplomatic approach to its neighbour, which it has long protected.

This week the North's state news agency KCNA boasted that Tillerson had "admitted the failure" of US policy to denuclearise the nation.

Pyongyang insists that it needs nuclear weapons for self-defence against "hostile enemies" including the South and its ally the US.

But it has yet to test an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of flying across the Pacific Ocean.

The country's long-range Musudan device has a theoretical range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres (1,500 and 2,500 miles). The lower estimate covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases in Guam.

The missile was tested eight times last year -- but only one of those was successful, with the others exploding in mid-air shortly after launch.

A Musudan launched in June last year flew 400 kilometres off the east coast of the peninsula and was hailed by Kim as proof of the North's ability to strike US bases across the "Pacific operation theatre".

The New York Times reported earlier this month that under former president Barack Obama the US stepped up cyber attacks against North Korea to try to sabotage its missiles before launch or just as they lift off.





U.S., South Korea to conduct naval exercises

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Mar 20, 2017 - Naval forces from the United States and South Korea are preparing to conduct a series of training exercises, the U.S. Department of Defense announced.

The exercises will aim to improve regional security and interoperability between the two forces. South Korean navy officials say the event is necessary to prepare both parties to respond to North Korean aggression.

"This defensive exercise focuses on enhancing the interoperability between the [South Korean] and U.S. navies and helps both navies maintain a combined defense posture to protect [South Korea] from future North Korean unprovoked acts of aggression," South Korea's Rear Adm. Choi Sung-Mok explained.

The U.S. and South Korea regularly collaborate on military training events, including carrier group exercises in the waters around the Korean peninsula.

Assets joining the event include guided missile destroyers, maritime patrol aircraft and reconnaissance platforms. The drills will focus on anti-submarine warfare, communication and air defense capabilities.

The upcoming military training event was announced as U.S. and Chinese representatives met to discuss how to approach North Korea's aggressive behavior, including Pyongyang's ambitious nuclear missile program.

The two parties also discussed the controversial U.S. deployment of THAAD missile defense systems to South Korea.



Swedish parliament holds first war game in 20 years

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Stockholm (AFP) March 21, 2017 - The Swedish parliament has held its first war game in 20 years in response to worries over global politics, its speaker said Tuesday, as tensions with Russia rise.

A delegation of 50 lawmakers -- which would have the power to replace parliament in the event of the threat of war or an outright conflict -- held the drill on Monday at an unknown location, said speaker Urban Ahlin, declining to give details on what the manoeuvre involved.

"These are secret were exposed to pressure," Ahlin told AFP on Tuesday. "It went really well."

The delegation is made up of politicians from the left-wing, centre-right and far-right parties.

A non-NATO member, Sweden has not seen armed conflict on its territory in two centuries.

The drill has been planned since 2014, but Ahlin said an increasingly hostile situation in the world and in the region also prompted the exercise.

"The worsened (global) environment also has a significance," he said, adding that the drill would have been postponed if Sweden deemed the world and region safe.

The last time lawmakers held such an exercise was in 1997.

"If everything had been great then people would have said we can wait for a few more years," Ahlin said.

"Unfortunately, we see a direction in which countries are boosting their weaponry," he added, without naming any countries.

Sweden this month announced plans to bring back conscription this year -- seven years after abandoning it -- to respond to global security challenges including Russia's assertive behaviour in the Baltic Sea region.

"We are in a context where Russia has annexed Crimea," Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said at the time of the announcement, adding: "They are doing more exercises in our immediate vicinity."

The Swedish military's budget has been slashed over the past two decades as its mission was revamped to focus more on peacekeeping operations abroad and less on domestic defence.

Russia has repeatedly warned Sweden and neighbouring Finland against joining NATO, an issue regularly debated in both countries.



North Korea's parliament to hold rare meeting: KCNA

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) March 22, 2017 - North Korea will hold a rare parliamentary session next month, state media reported Wednesday, as regional tensions intensify following the nuclear-armed state's recent missile tests.

The country's legislative body meets only once or twice a year, mostly for day-long sessions to rubber-stamp budgets or other decisions deemed necessary by the ruling Workers' Party.

The last meeting was held in June 2016 when North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was elected chairman of a new, supreme governing commission -- underlining his absolute control over every aspect of state policy.

"The fifth session of the 13th Supreme People's Assembly will be convened in Pyongyang on April 11," the official KCNA news agency said.

As usual it gave no other details, including the session's agenda. Such meetings are carefully monitored by observers for any changes to economic policy or a reshuffle of high-ranking officials.

The upcoming session comes against the backdrop of rising international alarm over Pyongyang's military ambitions.

The impoverished North carried out a series of missile launches and nuclear tests last year, and earlier this month it fired four rockets in what it described as practise for an attack on US military bases in Japan.

Seoul has meanwhile blamed Pyongyang for the death of Kim Jong-Un's half-brother, who was poisoned with the lethal nerve agent VX in a brazen Cold War-style assassination on February 13 at a Kuala Lumpur airport.

The murder and subsequent row with Malaysia over the handling of the body and several North Korean suspects has sent diplomatic friction between the two soaring.

On Sunday, Kim also personally oversaw and hailed a "successful" test of a powerful new rocket engine, which can be easily repurposed for use in missiles.

The test was apparently timed to coincide with a recent Asia trip by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who warned that regional tension had reached a "dangerous level".



North Korea nuclear programme in 'new phase': IAEA

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) March 21, 2017 - North Korea's uranium enrichment facility has doubled in size over the last few years, the UN's atomic watchdog chief has warned, as global tensions grow over Pyongyang's burgeoning nuclear weapons programme.

Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told the Wall Street Journal that the isolated state's nuclear capacities are being ramped up.

"The situation is very bad... It has gone into a new phase," Amano said, in the report published Monday. "All of the indications point to the fact that North Korea is making progress, as they declared."

International alarm over Pyongyang's military ambitions has risen after a series of missile launches and nuclear tests last year, and earlier this month it fired four rockets in what it described as practice for an attack on United States military bases in Japan.

The North, which also tested a powerful new rocket engine at the weekend to coincide with a trip to Asia by US Secretary State Rex Tillerson, has long coveted a missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead.

Pyongyang has rapidly expanded its facilities for enriching uranium and plutonium production in recent years, Amano told the Journal, expressing doubt over the potential for a diplomatic solution.

During his visit to South Korea last week, Tillerson declared Washington would drop the "failed" approach of "strategic patience" with Pyongyang and warned that US military action was possible.

That marked a sharp divergence from China's insistence on a diplomatic approach to its neighbour, which it has long protected.

In January, South Korea said the North had enough plutonium to make 10 nuclear bombs, as well as a "considerable" ability to produce weapons based on highly-enriched uranium.

The North has boosted plutonium supplies by reactivating its once-mothballed nuclear reactor in Yongbyon.



Israeli nuclear whistleblower says state hounding him

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) March 20, 2017 - Nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu argued Monday Israel was unnecessarily hounding him 12 years after he was freed from prison, as he appeared in court over breaches of his release terms.

The 62-year-old former nuclear technician was jailed in 1986 for disclosing the inner workings of Israel's Dimona nuclear plant to Britain's Sunday Times newspaper.

He spent more than 10 years of his sentence in solitary confinement.

Israel is the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, refusing to confirm or deny that it has such weapons.

Upon his release in 2004, Vanunu was slapped with a series of restraining orders, forbidding him from travel, contact with foreigners or speaking to media.

He has twice been jailed for breaking those orders.

In January, Vanunu was convicted of meeting with two US nationals in Jerusalem in 2013 without having permission to do so.

Monday's appearance was a sentencing hearing over that conviction.

His lawyer told the court it was a chat lasting "minutes" in a coffee shop with doctors visiting Israel.

He was cleared of two other charges, one of which related to an interview he gave to Israel's Channel 2 television in 2015.

"I left prison and they put me in another prison," he told Jerusalem magistrates court. "I performed my punishment and they keep on punishing me."

The court did not pass sentence or set a date for sentencing, but Judge Yaron Mientkavich said he would consider ordering him to perform community service.

Vanunu told AFP outside the courtroom that he had been confident that he was not returning behind bars.

"I knew there was no chance I would be going back to prison because they didn't find me guilty on all the charges," he said.

He added that more than 30 years after he worked in the nuclear plant he had no more to reveal to anybody.

"All the nuclear secrets have gone," he said in English. "I don't have any nuclear secrets, and everything is on the internet."

"After 18 years in prison it's enough and more... they should let me go. All what I want is freedom, that's all."

Israel has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or to allow international surveillance of its Dimona plant in the Negev desert of southern Israel.



Xi, Tillerson seek stronger ties as N. Korea hails rocket progress

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 19, 2017 - Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged in talks Sunday to work to strengthen a relationship strained by disputes over North Korea and trade.

Xi met Tillerson in Beijing just hours after nuclear-armed North Korea tested the US-China relationship anew by announcing a provocative rocket engine trial, and with delicate negotiations under way for a Xi summit with President Donald Trump.

Xi told Tillerson that he and Trump had resolved in a phone call last month "to make joint efforts to advance China-US cooperation, and we believe that we can make sure the relationship will move ahead in a constructive fashion in the new era."

"I'm confident that as long as we can do this the relationship can surely move in the right direction," Xi said.

En route to Beijing, Tillerson visited US allies Japan and South Korea where he declared Washington would drop the "failed" approach of "strategic patience" with Pyongyang -- adding that US military action against the North was possible.

That marked a sharp break with China, which favours careful diplomacy over heated rhetoric.

Relations have also been strained by China's fierce opposition to a US missile defence system being rolled out in South Korea and Trump's Twitter accusation on Friday that China was not doing enough to control Pyongyang, its neighbour and historic ally.

Trump has also repeatedly accused China of unfair trade practices.

But Tillerson has made nice while in Beijing.

"We know that through further dialogue we will achieve a greater understanding that will lead to a ... strengthening of the ties between China and the United States and set the tone for our future relationship of cooperation," he told Xi.

Earlier Sunday North Korean state media said the isolated regime had tested a powerful engine hailed by leader Kim Jong-Un as a "new birth" for its rocket industry, which experts view as cover for developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

- Rocket 'rebirth' -

The announcement's timing appeared intended to sour Tillerson's China visit.

On Saturday Tillerson said after talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that tensions on the Korean peninsula had reached a "dangerous level".

Tillerson and Wang pledged to work together to denuclearise Kim's rogue regime, but offered no clear way forward.

Wang, however, chided Tillerson over his recent tough talk, saying "we hope all parties, including our friends from the United States, can size up the situation in a cool-headed" fashion.

It was not clear whether Xi and Tillerson discussed North Korea.

The North's state news agency KCNA said Kim oversaw the rocket engine test and "emphasised that the whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries" -- a possible veiled warning to Pyongyang's adversaries.

Ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun splashed photos across its front page showing a beaming, baton-wielding Kim looking on as flames roared out of the engine.

State TV also showed Kim meeting soldiers and scientists at the site and hugging and giving a piggy-back to an aged soldier who appeared to be bursting into tears in joy.

KCNA said the new engine could be used to launch satellites, but rockets are easily repurposed to carry warheads.

North Korea is banned by the international community from pursuing nuclear and missile programmes but has defiantly ploughed ahead.

It staged its two latest nuclear tests last year and recently fired off missiles which it described as practice for an attack on US bases in Japan.

Kim said the successful engine test signified "a new birth" of North Korea's rocket industry.

- Summit in the works -

Xi met Tillerson as the two sides haggle behind closed doors over a summit with Trump, a frequent China critic.

A successful meeting could be crucial in setting the tone for the relationship between the world's two largest economies in coming years.

Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity have told AFP that Trump has tentatively agreed to host Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in early April.

But they said the plan was running up against differences over North Korea, what "deliverables" can emerge, and anger over leaks about the planning.

It remained unclear whether Tillerson's apparently cordial Beijing visit would now pave the way.

Tillerson mentioned "the opportunity for a visit in the future" but otherwise gave no further details. He left China without speaking to media.

Coverage of the low-profile trip has been complicated by the decision to travel without the usual press pack -- a break with a half-century of tradition.

Instead, Tillerson angered US and foreign correspondents accredited to cover the State Department by travelling with just one journalist -- from a little-known conservative publication called the Independent Journal Review.



US, China to cooperate on 'dangerous' N.Korea situation

‎Yesterday, ‎March ‎24, ‎2017, ‏‎12:53:36 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 18, 2017 - The US and China pledged on Saturday to work together in addressing the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear programme, as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned regional tensions had reached a "dangerous level."

The language from Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart after talks in Beijing was notably conciliatory after a run-up in which US President Donald Trump accused China of doing nothing to control its rogue neighbour while Beijing blamed Washington for fuelling hostilities.

"I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions in the peninsula are quite high right now and that things have reached a rather dangerous level," Tillerson said after talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

"We will work together to see if we cannot bring the government in Pyongyang to a place where they want to make a different course, make a course correction, and move away from the development of nuclear weapons."

Tillerson arrived in Beijing earlier Saturday after visits to US allies Japan and South Korea where he said the US would no longer observe the "failed" approach of patient diplomacy, warning that American military action against the North was an option "on the table."

But Tillerson refrained from further tough talk in his joint appearance with Wang, who appeared to chide the US diplomat over his rhetoric this week.

"We hope all parties including our friends from the United States could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision," Wang said.

Neither side indicated any concrete next steps, and Tillerson did not explicitly back Beijing's calls for negotiations with North Korea, which Washington has rejected.

- Twitter blast -

In a Friday Twitter blast, Trump had accused Beijing of failing to use its leverage as North Korea's key diplomatic and trade partner.

"North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been 'playing' the United States for years. China has done little to help!" Trump said.

The hardened US stance followed two North Korean nuclear tests last year and recent missile launches that Pyongyang described as practice for an attack on US bases in Japan.

Beijing is reluctant to squeeze the unpredictable North, now led by Kim Jong-Un, too hard lest it trigger a confrontation or messy regime collapse.

China, however, has accused Washington of escalating tensions by holding military exercises with its ally Seoul and deploying an anti-missile system in South Korea.

Beijing wants to resume multi-lateral diplomatic negotiations with North Korea on dismantling its nukes -- which UN resolutions bar it from having. Various rounds of such talks in years past failed to deter Pyongyang.

"We both hope to find ways to restart talks and do not give up hope for peace," Wang said.

China has criticised the US get-tough approach, saying diplomacy was the "only feasible option" and challenging the Trump administration to propose a clear alternative.

- Summit looms -

One reason for the amicable tone Saturday may be that delicate negotiations are under way for President Xi Jinping's first summit with Trump next month in the United States.

Trump has been a frequent China critic, and the encounter could be crucial to setting the tone in the big-power relationship.

Tillerson was expected to meet Xi on Sunday morning.

Beijing shares US concerns over Pyongyang but has been accused of not fully enforcing UN sanctions.

But it took one of its toughest steps yet in February, halting all imports of North Korean coal -- a key source of income for the impoverished state -- for the rest of this year.

Wang Dong, a North Korea expert at Peking University, said it was wrong to think Beijing can control the unpredictable and head-strong Pyongyang.

"It is unreasonable for the United States to accuse China of doing nothing on the DPRK (North Korea)," Wang said.

"This is an extremely complex and sensitive issue. There is no one magic formula."

The Obama administration had ruled out diplomatic engagement until Pyongyang fully committed to denuclearisation.

North Korea insists it needs nuclear weapons for defense. It conducted its first underground atomic test in 2006, triggering global condemnation. Four more followed.

There was no immediate reaction from North Korea but the country's top newspaper Rodong Sinmun carried a commentary Saturday threatening to launch a devastating nuclear attack if the US takes military action.

"Should the US government continue putting pressure on us, efforts to seek a new exit (in the nuclear impasse) would be lost forever," it sai

Pentagon options for military action on N. Korea
Washington (AFP) March 17, 2017 - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says diplomacy has failed and military action against nuclear-armed North Korea is an "option on the table," and President Donald Trump insists a long-range nuke from Pyongyang "won't happen."

While war with North Korea may be unlikely for now, Pentagon planners and private analysts have given deep thought to how US military intervention with the reclusive country would play out.

Hint: There are no easy options, and the risks are enormous.

- Surgical vs. all-in -

Preemptive military action against North Korea would mean the United States and its allies won't wait until a North Korean nuclear ballistic missile is launched, even though dense defense networks could likely shoot one down.

So first question would be whether to go all in -- a la Iraq -- and push for regime change, or whether to limit intervention to surgical strikes on nuclear program targets.

Stratfor, a US private intelligence firm that recently published a paper looking at possible Pentagon options, said Washington does not want a long-term intervention in North Korea, meaning "levels of violence would be limited."

A broader military campaign would risk full-scale war, and Pyongyang would inevitably be forewarned, making it more likely it would carry out its own preemptive strikes.

Bruce Klingner, who formerly worked for the CIA and now specializes in Korean and Japanese affairs for the Heritage Foundation think tank, warned that any preemptive allied strikes or missile shoot-downs should only occur in the event of an imminent North Korean attack.

- War hardware -

The United States has an "ironclad" alliance with South Korea and has stationed thousands of troops there since the end of the Korean War, with about 28,000 currently based in the South.

The two countries are also currently running joint military drills called the Foal Eagle exercises.

A strike on the North would likely come via US stealth bombers, which can penetrate deep into enemy territory without leaving a significant radar trail.

While North Korea has good air defenses, these would be no match for stealth planes like the B-2 bomber, the F-22 fighter and, eventually, the F-35.

America also has ships and submarines in the region, so firing cruise missiles from unexpected locations is also an option.

- What to strike -

B-2 stealth bombers carrying Massive Ordnance Penetrator bombs and other armaments could easily incapacitate North Korea's known nuclear production sites and weapons storage facilities.

Stratfor says an initial wave of bombing could be followed up by a massive barrage of F-22 strikes and cruise missiles that would focus on wiping out North Korea's weapons delivery vehicles.

Pyongyang has about 200 of the so-called Transporter Erector Launchers (TELs) dotted around the country.

But destroying Pyongyang's obvious military targets does little to prevent North Korea delivering a nuclear device through other means -- perhaps via a civilian fishing boat -- that would be detonated by a suicide operative.

- The North's response -

Leader Kim Jong-Un is well aware he has limited -- but powerful -- options when it comes to retaliation.

An all-out attack on South Korea, Japan and US military bases would most likely bring about a massive international response and hasten the end of his regime.

But even a limited response would be devastating.

North Korea has amassed artillery units along its border with South Korea.

The capital, Seoul, is only about 35 miles (55 kilometers) away and some of the canons could rain shells onto the city of 10 million.

Even limited shelling and rocket fire would likely lead to mass casualties.

But that would end badly for the North, said Stratfor analyst Sim Tack, who co-authored the report.

It would put "the United States and its allies into a position where they have no choice but to come in and try and destroy the entire military capability of North Korea," Tack told AFP.

- Unknowns -

Stratfor warns the US and its allies lack perfect intelligence on North Korea, so they would not be certain they had destroyed all nuclear devices and delivery vehicles.

"The longer the North Korean program evolves, the more this becomes a reality," the Stratfor report states.

"Realistically, absent the use of nuclear weapons or the invasion and occupation of North Korea, the United States and its allies are already at a point where they cannot guarantee the complete removal of the threat of a North Korean nuclear attack."

Another big unknown is China.

Beijing likes having North Korea as a buffer between itself and US-allied South Korea, but also has shown signs of impatience over North Korea's continued nuclear testing.



US, Japan conduct test of joint missile

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Feb 6, 2017 - The United States and Japan have conducted the first interception of a ballistic missile target using a jointly built system, amid heightened tensions over North Korea's missile program.

The two nations have been working together since 2006 to develop a variant of the Standard Missile-3, a ship-launched missile that operates as part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.

Friday's test off Kauai in Hawaii saw the Standard Missile-3 "Block IIA" successfully hit its target in space, the US Missile Defense Agency said.

According to the MDA, America has so far spent about $2.2 billion on the system and Japan about $1 billion.

"We are both deeply concerned about North Korea's capabilities, and we are constantly working to improve our defense capabilities," MDA spokesman Chris Johnson said Monday.

"It makes sense for the US and Japan to share some of that burden."

Mitsubishi and Raytheon both make parts of the missiles, which are assembled in the United States, and which are designed to defeat medium- and intermediate-range missiles.

The test occurred as Pentagon chief Jim Mattis was in East Asia on his first overseas trip as defense secretary.

He said Friday that any nuclear attack by North Korea would trigger an "effective and overwhelming" response, as he sought to reassure Asian allies rattled by President Donald Trump's isolationist rhetoric.

South Korea is working with the United States to install another system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, this year to prevent against any missiles from the North.



N. Korea fires ballistic missile in challenge to Trump: Seoul

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Feb 12, 2017 - North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday, drawing a strong rebuke from US President Donald Trump who vowed "100 percent" support for key ally Japan at a press conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The missile, the first test since Trump became president, was launched around 7:55 am (2255 GMT Saturday) from Banghyon air base in the western province of North Pyongan, and flew east towards the Sea of Japan (East Sea), the South Korean defence ministry said.

It flew about 500 kilometres (310 miles) before falling into the sea, a ministry spokesman said, adding the exact type of missile had yet to be identified.

"Today's missile launch... is aimed at drawing global attention to the North by boasting its nuclear and missile capabilities", the ministry said in a statement.

"It is also believed that it was an armed provocation to test the response from the new US administration under President Trump," it added.

Trump responded with an assurance to visiting Japanese Prime Minister Abe that Washington was committed to the security of its key Asian ally.

"I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent," Trump said, without elaborating further.

Abe denounced the launch as "absolutely intolerable" while top government spokesman Yoshihide Suge told reporters in Tokyo that it was "clearly a provocation to Japan and the region".

North Korea is barred under UN resolutions from any use of ballistic missile technology but six sets of UN sanctions since Pyongyang's first nuclear test in 2006 have failed to halt its drive for what it insists are defensive weapons.

'Clear provocation'
Last year the country conducted numerous tests and launches in its quest to develop a nuclear weapons system capable of hitting the US mainland.

A South Korean army official quoted by Yonhap news agency ruled out the possibility of a long-range missile test, describing the device as an upgraded version of the North's short-range Rodong missile.

Seoul-based academic Yang Moo-Jin said the latest test was "a celebratory launch" to mark the February 16 birthday of Kim Jong-Il, former ruler and father of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un.

Pyongyang often celebrates key anniversaries involving current and former leaders with missile launches, Yang, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told AFP.

South Korea's acting president Hwang Gyo-Ahn vowed a "corresponding punishment" in response to the launch, which came on the heels of a visit to Seoul by new US Defense Secretary James Mattis last week.

Mattis had warned Pyongyang that any nuclear attack would be met with an "effective and overwhelming" response.

In January leader Kim Jong-Un boasted that Pyongyang was in the "final stages" of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in an apparent attempt to pressure the incoming US president. Trump shot back on Twitter, saying "It won't happen."

James Char, senior analyst at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore, said the launch was Pyongyang's "way of showing characteristic defiance against... Trump".

Test for Trump
Washington has repeatedly vowed that it will never accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed nation and the latest launch poses a test for Trump, who will need the help of Beijing, Pyongyang's closest ally, to deal with the reclusive state.

Relations between the two superpowers have thawed in recent days after Trump reaffirmed Washington's "One China" policy in what he described as a "very warm" telephone conversation with President Xi Jinping.

The US leader pledged to honour a decades-old position that effectively acknowledges Taiwan is not separate from China -- a policy that Trump had suggested a few weeks ago he might jettison, angering Beijing.

"The recent Trump-Xi phone call would be considered an important platform from which the two powers will move forward," Char said.

Analysts are divided over how close Pyongyang is to realising its full nuclear ambitions, especially as it has never successfully test-fired an ICBM.

But all agree it has made enormous strides in that direction since Kim took over after the death of his father in December 2011.



U.S. Air Force test-launches Minuteman III missile

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Feb 10, 2017 - U.S. Air Force personnel from bases in Minot, N.D., and Vandenberg, Calif., completed a test launch with an unarmed Minuteman III missile.

The Minuteman is an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, capable of carrying nuclear warheads. U.S. Air Force officials say the operational launch was conducted to verify the missile's capability as a nuclear deterrent.

Prior to the launch, the missile was taken from a silo at Minot AFB and reassembled at Vandenberg. The launch was conducted by Airmen from the 91st Missile Wing.

The ICBM was fitted with a re-entry vehicle, and traveled approximately 2,200 miles to a test range near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The Minuteman III is operated by the Air Force Global Strike Command as an part of an effort to discourage the use of nuclear weapons against the United States. The Air Force says it has 450 Minuteman III missiles in its arsenal.

The Boeing-built weapon weighs over 79,000 pounds, has an effective range of 5,218 nautical miles, and reaches speeds of approximately 15,000 miles-per-hour.



Iran's Rouhani says military power 'purely defensive'

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) Feb 9, 2017 - President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday Iran's military power was "purely defensive", after tensions with the United States over its missile programme and a nuclear deal soared following Donald Trump's inauguration.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has showed that it doesn't intend to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries," Rouhani told foreign diplomats in Tehran, according to the ISNA news agency.

"Our military power is purely defensive," he was quoted as saying.

The comments from Rouhani, a moderate expected to run for re-election later this year, come after the war of words between Iran and the US spiked following Tehran's announcement of a ballistic missile test and Trump's controversial travel ban.

"At the current time, we must not allow some to create an unhealthy climate by conjuring illusions," Rouhani said, quoted by ISNA.

The new US president in his first weeks in office issued an executive order banning travel to the US for nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran.

He has criticised the landmark nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers -- including the US -- and warned Iran last week it was "playing with fire" following the Islamic republic's missile test on January 29 and military drills last week.

The White House on Friday raised the stakes in the increasingly tense stand-off by slapping fresh sanctions on Tehran's weapons procurement network.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday that Trump's behaviour showed "the real face of America", long a leading adversary of Tehran.

Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan on Thursday rubbished a report by US cable channel Fox News the day before that alleged Iran had launched a new ballistic missile, Iran's IRNA news agency reported.



French MPs clear way for payouts to atomic test victims

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Paris (AFP) Feb 9, 2017 - More than 50 years after France began conducting dozens of nuclear tests in the South Pacific, the French parliament on Thursday significantly eased the criteria for islanders who suffered health effects to be compensated.

The upper house Senate is expected to follow suit next Tuesday, scrapping barriers to compensation that deemed most claimants to have been at "insignificant risk" of developing a radiation-induced illness.

Around 150,000 civilian and military personnel took part in 210 nuclear tests carried out by France between 1960 and 1996 in the Pacific and the Sahara desert. Thousands of them later developed serious health problems.

Only around 20 of approximately 1,000 people who filed complaints against France have received compensation.

Ahead of Thursday's vote, Tahitian MP Maina Sage said extending compensation to other sufferers would "finally appease somewhat (the) deep trauma" caused by a "state (that) operated with full awareness of the consequences".

The Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls saw 193 nuclear tests over three decades until then-president Jacques Chirac called a halt to the programme in the 1990s.

France long denied its responsibility for the health and environmental impacts out of fear the admission would weaken its nuclear programme during the Cold War.

It was only in 2010 that France passed a law authorising compensation for military veterans and civilians whose cancer could be attributed to the test programme.

During a visit to French Polynesia in February 2016, President Francois Hollande acknowledged the deleterious effects on health and the environment and pledged to revamp the compensation process.

Hollande also said France would provide financial assistance to the oncology department of Tahiti's hospital, in line with demands from local politicians.

Starting this year, France will pay more than 90 million euros ($96 million) a year to boost the facilities.

It was above the Fangataufa atoll that France launched its first H-bomb in August 1968.

French Polynesia, with a population of about 280,000, is one of three French territories in the Pacific.



Poland wants US or European nuclear umbrella: Kaczynski

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Warsaw (AFP) Feb 8, 2017 - The powerful head of Poland's ruling party wants his country to be "included" in the US nuclear defence system, according to an interview published Wednesday.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski told the Gazeta Polska daily that Warsaw "should work for the inclusion of Poland in the American nuclear defence system", which "would be the optimal solution".

But Kaczynski also called for Europe to become a "nuclear superpower", in a separate interview published Tuesday by Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily, as Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Warsaw.

Under NATO's Article 5 collective defence agreement, the US nuclear umbrella already protects NATO allies including Poland as well as Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Kaczynski, who is regarded as Poland's most powerful decision-maker despite holding no formal governmental post, did not elaborate how his proposed arrangement would be different from the existing Article 5 security guarantee.

His comments come amid uncertainty in eastern NATO allies like Poland stoked by US President Donald Trump's seemingly pro-Moscow stance coupled with critical pronouncements on NATO.

Trump has called the alliance "obsolete" in terms of fighting terrorism, but of "fundamental importance" to transatlantic security.

Kaczynski told Germany's FAZ he "would welcome" a European nuclear umbrella.

"Europe would become a superpower. One or two nuclear submarines would not be enough," Kaczynski told the FAZ, referring to Britain's ageing fleet of nuclear-armed submarines.

Greatly reduced after the end of the Cold War, the US nuclear arsenal in Europe includes around 200 tactical weapons stationed in Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.



S. Korean theme park in China halted amid missile tension

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Feb 8, 2017 - A South Korean conglomerate has been forced by Chinese authorities to suspend a multi-billion-dollar theme park project, as tensions grow over the deployment of a US missile defence system.

The plan by Seoul and Washington to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in response to threats from North Korea has drawn fire from China, which fears it will undermine its own ballistic capabilities.

Seoul has earmarked a golf course in the southern county of Seongju owned by the Lotte Group, a food, retail and hotel operator that is South Korea's fifth-largest conglomerate, for the THAAD system. It has offered it a plot of military-owned land east of the capital in exchange.

But Lotte has significant business interests in China and has deferred a decision on whether to accept the deal.

Its Chinese projects include a sprawling three-trillion-won ($2.6 billion), 160,000-square-metre complex involving a theme park, shopping malls and a hotel in the northeastern city of Shenyang.

It was forced to stop construction in November after Chinese regulators took issue with some of its safety measures, a group spokeswoman told AFP Wednesday.

The company was not aware of any political motive behind the move, she added.

"Many people talk about potential link with the THAAD deployment over the construction suspension, but we don't know about such things," she said.

Beijing has in recent months slapped a series of measures seen by Seoul as economic retaliation over THAAD, including cancellation of visits by many South Korean celebrities popular in China.

Many South Korean firms have suffered falling sales in China due to tightened customs screening of imports from the country, while Chinese tourist numbers have fallen, according to media reports.

But when US Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Seoul last week he and acting president Hwang Kyo-Ahn vowed to push ahead with the deployment as planned this year.



North Korea Plans to Continue Satellite Launches Despite UN Objections

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (Sputnik) Feb 08, 2017 - North Korea intends to continue launching satellites, despite UN Security Council sanctions and resolutions. According to the newspaper Rodong Sinmun, the country will continue to launch satellites when and where its leadership determines. On February 7, 2016, North Korea put a satellite into orbit, violating UN Security Council resolutions. The move is considered threatening since the international community believes the North could use its rocket technology to develop ballistic nuclear missiles.

Pyongyang has successfully conducted five nuclear tests, including two in 2016, and has frequently made statements about the advancement of its nuclear program. In January, the North Korean Foreign Ministry announced that the country was ready to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) "anytime and anywhere."

Satellite Data Shows North Korea Tightening Security At Missile Launch Site
North Korea has beefed up security at its Sohae satellite launch station, causing some US analysts to believe that the country is preparing to test ballistic-missile technology currently banned by the United Nations.

An analysis by Joseph Bermudez, a North Korean military affairs expert, published by 38 North, a US-based website monitoring activities in the DPRK, used satellite images to confirm extensions to the station's outer and inner security perimeters.

38 North's summary stated, "While the upgrades are likely tied to the master construction plan, they may also indicate that the launch facility could soon be occupied by NADA and KPA scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel. Upgraded security may also reflect a growing North Korean concern of intelligence collection by foreign governments using defectors from the area or outside agents to infiltrate and collect information."

Bermudez's report suggested that these extensions began in 2011, and described new guard positions and fences that had been added to areas where before there were only simple patrol paths.

"Today, the outer security perimeter is [about 17 miles] long, encompassing [nearly 11 square miles] and 12 villages," he said, adding, "The inner security perimeter is [about 12 miles] long, encompassing [nearly 6 square miles] and the Sohae launch facility proper."

The UN Security council has decried the DPRK's ballistic missile launches, describing them as "grave violations" of the organization's ban on such activity, and advised member states to pass further sanctions against Pyongyang.

After the DPRK launched a missile from a submarine on August 24, the Japanese Foreign Ministry released a statement criticizing Pyongyang saying, "[The US and Japan] agreed that North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine on August 24 is unacceptable, and confirmed their intention to continue to stay in close cooperation on the Issue of North Korea, including at the platform of the UN Security Council."

The European Council tightened sanctions on North Korea in January, after Pyongyang claimed that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. The Council stated, "Considering that the actions of the DPRK constitute a grave threat to international peace and security in the region and beyond, the EU decided to further expand its restrictive measures targeting the DPRK's nuclear, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes."

Photos show progress at the Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site where the bomb was said to have been detonated.

Sohae, located in the northwestern territory of Tongchang-ri, was the site of a successful long-range rocket launch in February, in which a satellite was put into orbit. This led to a controversial agreement between the US and South Korea to construct the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD), as a preemptive step to protecting the peninsula from North Korean aggression.

Source: Sputnik News



N. Korea nuclear attack would trigger 'overwhelming response': Mattis

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 3, 2017 -

Any nuclear attack by North Korea would trigger an "effective and overwhelming" response, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said Friday as he sought to reassure Asian allies rattled by President Donald Trump's isolationist rhetoric.

Mattis spoke in the South Korean capital of Seoul on the first overseas tour by a senior Trump administration official as concerns rise about the direction of US policy in the region under the protectionist and fiery leader.

He arrived in Tokyo later in the day for a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and is set to hold talks with Japanese defence minister Tomomi Inada on Saturday.

South Korea has enjoyed US security protection since the 1950-53 Korean War, but on the campaign trail, Trump threatened to withdraw US forces from it and Japan if they do not step up their financial support.

Some 28,500 US troops are based in South Korea to defend it against the nuclear-armed North, and 47,000 in Japan.

Pyongyang was continuing to "engage in threatening rhetoric and behaviour", said Mattis, who first came to the South in 1972 as a 21-year-old lieutenant in the US military.

"Any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming," Mattis told reporters ahead of a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Han Min-Koo.

He was in Seoul to "underscore America's priority commitment to our bilateral alliance" and make clear the administration's "full commitment" to defending South Korea's democracy," he said.

Han added that the alliance "reaffirms its firm will and strength to remain unwavering against all challenges and adversaries".

North Korea carried out two atomic tests and a series of missile launches last year, and casts a heavy security shadow over the region.

Leader Kim Jong-Un said in his closely-watched New Year speech that Pyongyang was in the "final stages" of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, prompting Trump to tweet: "It won't happen!"

Ahead of his departure for Japan, Mattis laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Seoul National Cemetery, where he met several hundred supporters and Korean War veterans waving American flags and pictures of Trump.

- 'Top priority' -

On Thursday Mattis and South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn agreed to push through with the deployment of a US missile defence system strongly opposed by China.

The two confirmed that they will go ahead with the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the South this year as planned.

Beijing fears it will undermine its own ballistic capabilities, weakening its nuclear deterrent. It has repeatedly condemned the move as destabilising regional security, and imposed measures seen as economic retaliation in South Korea.

The dispute makes it harder to convince Beijing -- the North's most important diplomatic protector and main source of aid and trade -- to act against its neighbour, analysts say.

"Deepening tensions between China and the US adds to the North's strategic value in the eyes of China," Lee Ji-Yong, a professor at South Korea's government-financed Institute for Foreign Affairs and Security told AFP.

"It will make more difficult for the US to persuade China to cooperate in pressuring the North to give up its nuclear arsenal."

Mattis' visits to South Korea and Japan, he added, were "a message that the Trump administration is giving top priority to ensuring security on the Korean peninsula against North Korea's nuclear sabre-rattling and the US is a reliable security partner in the region".

Japan's Abe -- who is scheduled to meet Trump next week in Washington -- told lawmakers he intends to press Mattis about "the significance of the Japan-US alliance".

Mattis' tour comes as relations between the US and countries such as Mexico and Australia get off to a rocky start.

The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that Trump ripped into his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull during a call last week, with the US president apparently fuming at a refugee accord he called "dumb" and cutting the conversation short.

Australia is a close US ally, and one of the so-called "Five Eyes" countries with which the US routinely shares sensitive intelligence.

Trump has meanwhile angered Mexicans by ordering the construction of a massive border wall and vowing to make their country pay for it.



US, S. Korea to 'strengthen' defenses against N. Korea

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:01 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 30, 2017 - US President Donald Trump and South Korea's Acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn vowed Sunday to "strengthen" their joint defense capabilities against the belligerent North, the White House said.

"President Trump reiterated our ironclad commitment to defend the ROK, including through the provision of extended deterrence, using the full range of military capabilities," the White House said in a statement, using an acronym for the South's formal name.

"The two leaders agreed to take steps to strengthen joint defense capabilities to defend against the North Korean threat."

Pentagon chief James Mattis is due to travel to South Korea on Wednesday and Japan on Friday on his first trip as defense secretary.

The trip comes amid worries in the two long-standing American allies about the direction of US policy in their region under President Donald Trump.

During his campaign, Trump threatened to withdraw US forces from the two countries if they did not step up their financial support for their defense.

But the White House insisted that the trip "reflects the close friendship between our two countries and demonstrates the importance of the US-ROK alliance."

Seoul and Washington agreed last year to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the South after a string of North Korean nuclear and missile tests -- prompting strong objections from China, which fears it will undermine its own ballistic capabilities.

Earlier this month, Hwang warned that North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities are accelerating at an "unprecedented" pace, as he called for the "swift" deployment of the anti-missile system.

Within South Korea, voices opposing the THAAD installation have grown louder, with some opposition candidates pledging to scrap the agreement if they win a presidential election due this year.

The plan has also angered Beijing, which has imposed a string of measures seen in the South as economic retaliation, including effectively barring K-pop stars from performing on the mainland and not authorizing South Korean airlines to operate charter flights between the countries.



Say Hello to China's ICBMs

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
Beijing (Sputnik) Jan 30, 2017 - China's alleged deployment of a DF-41 strategic ballistic missile brigade to Heilongjiang province, bordering Russia, triggered a fascinating spectacle; how to spin - or not to spin - what necessarily represents a milestone in Russia-China's strategic partnership.

The Global Times stressed Hong Kong and Taiwan media interpreted pictures of the DF-41 were taken in Heilongjiang, admitting there was no official confirmation from Beijing while hoping the "strategic edge" would soon be confirmed.

Russian media was way more explicit, with military analyst Konstantin Sivkov stressing that the DF-41, as positioned, would not be able to target Russia's Far East and most of Eastern Siberia; and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noting that "if the reports prove correct, the military build-up in China is not perceived as a threat to our country."

Of course not. The Russia-China strategic partnership, which, as I argued, needs to be broken according to Trump's shadow foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger's strategy, is a very serious business. If there were indeed a deployment, Russian intelligence would have been fully aware. Peskov's response also pre-empted the notion this might represent a Chinese response to potential US-Russia negotiations over nuclear disarmament.

Still, all of the above did not prevent the Chinese Foreign Ministry to issue an attempt at a non-denial denial, describing the alleged deployment as "speculation and crude guesses".

Go West, young missile
The timing of the alleged deployment, with Team Trump doubling down on anti-Chinese rhetoric on their war of positioning geared to extract further trade concessions, may indeed betray a very graphic Beijing message.

The DF-41, a three-stage solid-propellant missile, with a range of up to 15,000 km and capable of delivering up to 10 MIRVed nuclear warheads, is one of the most sophisticated - and secret - ICBMS on earth.

Virtually everything about it is classified. Positioning in Heilongjiang, near the city of Daqing, close to the Russian border, implies a huge "dead zone" around it. So call it a mix of nuclear deterrence and a "message" to the ultimate target - the West Coast of the United States.

This propels the matter to an even more serious sphere than a possible upcoming crisis in the South China Sea, where the Pentagon, under the pretext of "freedom of navigation", is obsessed in maintaining "access", Trump or no Trump.

If there ever were an attempted American blockade in the South China Sea, it would be easy to take out the Chinese-developed islands/islets/rocks/shoals. But far from easy to grapple with the Chinese response; submarines with "carrier killer" missiles able to take out anything the US Navy may come up with.

Islands/islets/rocks/shoals in the South China Sea have no inherent strategic significance for the US. What their upgrading - the Beltway would say "militarization" - does represent is China's progressive attempt to eventually deny access to the US Navy.

Enter the "messenger" DF-41. The technical reasons why Russia does not see the DF-41 as a threat are simple - and may unveil the rationale behind the alleged deployment.

Beijing has been able to deploy its predecessor, the DF-31 - which is able to target Russia - for more than a decade now. And a simple analysis of distance and trajectory reveals that Heilongjiang province is the optimum location for the DF-41 to target the whole of the continental US.

It's virtually guaranteed that an official Chinese confirmation of the DF-41 deployment will accelerate a nuclear arms race, involving all players from Russia, China and the US to India and Pakistan and even North Korea.

But more than this, it will be yet another lethal blow to the Beltway's master strategy - first deployed by Dr. Zbig "Grand Chessboard" Brzezinski - of trying to prevent the emergence of any peer competitor, or worse, an alliance of peer competitors such as Russia-China.

Just at the start of the Trump era, the new reality could not be more striking. Not long ago, it was "say hello to Russia-China". Now it's "say hello to China's ICBMs."

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

Source: Sputnik News



Iran warns US not to 'create new tensions' over missiles

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) Jan 31, 2017 - Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday warned the United States against "creating new tensions" with Tehran over ballistic missile tests.

"We hope that Iran's defence programme is not used by the new US administration... as a pretext to create new tensions," Zarif said in a televised press conference with visiting French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault.

The UN Security Council is due to hold emergency talks called by Washington on Tuesday on Iran's recent test-firing of a medium-range missile, which Tehran has not confirmed.

Zarif said Washington -- under former president Barack Obama -- and Paris had "repeatedly confirmed" that Iran's missiles are not part of a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers.

Iran says its missiles do not breach United Nations resolutions because they are for defence purposes and not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

"We have always declared that we will never use our weapons against others except in our defence," Zarif said.

Ayrault said France had expressed its concerns over the missile tests.

"France has expressed its concern at Iran's continuation of its ballistic missile tests on several occasions," he said.

He said the continued tests are "contrary to the spirit" of the Security Council resolution which enshrined a landmark July 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, and "hamper the process of restoring the confidence established by the Vienna agreement."

The two top diplomats also criticised Trump's recent executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, among them Iran, from entering the US for 90 days.

Zarif slammed the new administration's "shameful act of denying entry to people holding legal visas for that country which suffers from a poor international status", referring to the United States.

Ayrault had said after arriving in Tehran on Monday night that it would be "common sense" for Trump to scrap the travel ban.

UN Security Council to hold urgent talks on Iran missile test
United Nations, United States (AFP) Jan 31, 2017 - The UN Security Council will hold urgent talks Tuesday on Iran's test-firing of a medium-range missile, diplomats said.

The United States requested the emergency consultations after the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations called for council action.

"In light of Iran's January 29 launch of a medium-range ballistic missile, the United States has requested urgent consultations of the Security Council," the US mission said in a statement.

The talks on Iran will follow a meeting on Syria scheduled for 10:00 am (1500 GMT).

Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon said the missile test violated UN resolutions that bar Iran from launching ballistic missiles that could have a nuclear capability.

"The international community must not bury its head in the sand in the face of this Iranian aggression," said Danon.

"The Security Council members must act immediately in response to these Iranian actions which endanger not only Israel, but the entire Middle East."

It was the first request for council consultations made by the United States since new US Ambassador Nikki Haley took office.

US President Donald Trump has promised to strengthen ties with Israel and has sharply criticized the Iran nuclear deal that led to a lifting of international sanctions against Tehran.

Trump is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15.

A Security Council resolution adopted a few days after the 2015 nuclear agreement bars Iran from developing missiles "designed to carry nuclear warheads."

Iran has said its missiles would never carry a nuclear warhead as it has no plans to develop atomic weapons, but military officials have insisted on expanding the country's missile program.

Britain, France and the United States have sought council action over Iranian missiles launches last year, but Russia and China opposed discussion of possible sanctions that they argued would jeopardize the hard-fought nuclear deal.

The deal reached with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States imposed curbs on Iran's nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions.



Trump, Saudi king back 'rigorously' enforcing Iran nuclear deal

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 30, 2017 - President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman want to "rigorously" enforce the Iran nuclear deal, the White House said Sunday, despite the US leader's long opposition to the agreement.

The pair, in a phone conversation, also spoke of the need to address Iran's "destabilizing regional activities," fight the spread of "radical Islamic terrorism" and establish safe zones in war-ravaged Syria and Yemen, the White House statement read.

No further details were provided about those plans.

The official Saudi Press Agency early on Monday confirmed that Trump had called Salman.

It made no mention of Iran but said the views of the two leaders "were identical" on issues discussed during the call, including "confronting those who seek to undermine security and stability in the region and interfere in the internal affairs of other states."

Riyadh regularly accuses Tehran of regional interference.

SPA said Trump and Salman also agreed on "formulating the appropriate mechanisms" for countering "terrorism" and extremism.

Trump opposed the nuclear agreement signed by Israel's arch-foe Iran and world powers, including the United States, in 2015 and has said he wants to undo it.

Some of his key nominees have adopted an openly anti-Iran stance, including secretary of state candidate Rex Tillerson, who is seeking a complete revision of the accord.

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that there were many ways of "undoing" the Iran nuclear deal and that he would discuss that with Trump.

But before he left office, former president Barack Obama warned against rowing back the pact, emphasizing its "significant and concrete results."

The deal places curbs on Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Tehran is a major foe of both Washington and Riyadh. The Sunni majority Saudi kingdom is engaged in a power struggle with the Shiite country for dominance in the region.

Salman and Trump invited each other to visit their respective capitals, the Saudi Press Agency said.

"The two leaders agreed to schedule the visits in the coming period", it said.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have a decades-old relationship based on the exchange of American security for Saudi oil.

But ties between Riyadh and Washington became increasingly frayed during the eight-year administration of former president Barack Obama.

Saudi leaders felt Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and other regional conflicts.

Riyadh's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has said he expects the Trump administration to be more engaged in the Middle East, and the world in general, while "rebuilding" relationships with allies.

Trump and King Salman "agreed on the importance of rigorously enforcing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and of addressing Iran's destabilizing regional activities," the White House said.

Trump also spoke by telephone with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, committing to "further strengthen cooperation on fighting radical Islamic terrorism," the White House said.

It said the pair also discussed establishing safe zones for refugees displaced by conflict in the region, and the crown prince "agreed to support this initiative."



Charles Stark Draper Lab tapped for Trident guidance system production

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Jan 27, 2017 - The U.S. Navy has awarded Charles Stark Draper Laboratory with a $53 million contract for Trident D5 MK 6 guidance system production.

Under the contract, the company will perform several services for the submarine-launched ballistic missile including failure verification, testing, repairs, recertification of inertial measurement units electronic assemblies, and electronic modules.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the work will be performed in Minneapolis, Minn.; Clearwater, Fla.; Cambridge, Mass.; and Pittsfield, Mass. The work is expected to be complete by the end of January 2021.

Charles Stark Draper Laboratory received $45.6 million in Fiscal 2017 weapons procurement funds at the time of the contract award in addition to $7.8 million in funds from Britain. The Strategic Systems Programs in Washington, D.C., is listed as the contracting activity.

The Trident II D5 is a submarine-launched ballistic missile developed by Lockheed Martin. The missile was first deployed in 1990 to replace the Polaris, Poseidon, and Trident I C4 programs, and remains in service in the United States and Britain.



Netanyahu expects Trump to end Iran silence

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) Jan 26, 2017 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he was hopeful the election of US President Donald Trump would end the world's "deafening silence" on Iranian aggression.

Speaking to dozens of diplomats from around the world ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu warned that Iranian officials were pushing for the extermination of Jews.

"The greatest danger we face, of the hatred of the Jewish people and the Jewish state, comes from the east, from Iran," he said.

The country's leaders routinely call "to wipe out every Israeli," he added, but the international community's response is a "deafening silence".

"I believe it will change because I spoke a few days ago to President Trump and he spoke about the Iranian aggression, he spoke about Iran's commitment to destroy Israel, he spoke about the nature of this nuclear agreement and the danger it poses."

Trump opposed the nuclear agreement signed by Israel's arch-foe Iran and world powers, including the United States, in 2015 and has said he wants to undo it.

Netanyahu was also strongly against the agreement, arguing it would not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and that the lifting of sanctions would allow the country to finance proxy militants in the Middle East.

However, some in Israel's defence establishment have reportedly told Netanyahu he should not push Trump to undo the agreement since Iran was so far in compliance and lifting it could have unpredictable consequences.

Also at Thursday's event, Netanyahu told the diplomats there was growing anti-Semitism in Europe.

"It is true that governments have shown responsibility, on the whole, in taking this up," he said.

"But it is also true that this hatred is bubbling, coming out of the cracks."

He however did not mention the outburst in anti-Semitism linked to Trump supporters in the United States during the billionaire businessman's presidential campaign.

Trump's nominee for US ambassador to Israel David Freidman, a hardline Israel supporter and defender of settlements in the occupied West Bank, did not appear to be in attendance on Thursday.



Symbolic 'Doomsday Clock' moves closer to midnight

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 26, 2017 - Comments by US President Donald Trump on nuclear weapons and climate change have helped make the world less safe, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned Thursday, moving its symbolic "Doomsday Clock" 30 seconds closer to midnight.

The clock -- which serves as a metaphor for how close humanity is to destroying the planet -- was last changed in 2015, from five to three minutes before midnight.

It is now set at two and a half minutes to midnight, amid concerns about "a rise in strident nationalism worldwide, President Donald Trump's comments on nuclear arms and climate issues, a darkening global security landscape that is colored by increasingly sophisticated technology, and a growing disregard for scientific expertise," said a statement by the group of scientists and intellectuals, including 15 Nobel laureates.

Trump has made contradictory statements about climate change, at times calling it a hoax and other times saying he would keep an open mind about it.

On the nuclear issue, Trump said in December that the US must build up its nuclear arsenal.

Responding to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow needs to strengthen its own nuclear force, Trump responded with a tweet: "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

"The Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than it has ever been in the lifetime of almost everyone in this room," Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Bulletin's board of sponsors, told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington.

"The last time it was closer was 63 years ago in 1953 after the then Soviet Union exploded its first hydrogen bomb, creating the modern arms race," he added.

"More than that, this is the first time that the words and stated policies of one or two people placed in high positions have so impacted on our perception of the existential threats we believe the world faces," he said, alluding to Trump and Putin.

- Imperiling democracy -

Krauss cited intelligence reports that accuse Russia of interfering with the US presidential campaign to favor Trump's victory as symbolic of the "deeper global threat" posed by cybertechnology.

"The question of whether the fabric of democracy may be imperiled by reducing faith in both the integrity of election and the very information on which an informed public can base their voting becomes suspect," said Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University.

He also said the bulletin "is extremely concerned about the willingness of governments -- including the current US administration -- to ignore or discount some science or evidence during their decision-making process."

Last year, the warmest year in modern times due to human-driven climate change, world leaders "actually increased the threat of nuclear war and unchecked climate change through a variety of provocative statements and actions including careless rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons," said Krauss.

An amid escalating rhetoric on the nuclear front, he called on Russia and the United States, which possess the large majority of the world's nuclear weapons, to focus in the coming year on reducing their arsenals.

"President Trump and President Putin, who claim great respect for each other, can choose to act together as statesmen or act as petulant children risking our future," he said.

"Regardless, these issues are too important to be left in the hands of a few men. We therefore call upon all people to speak out and send a loud message to your leaders that you will not allow them to needlessly threaten your future and the future of your children."

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, Krauss and another bulletin scientist, David Titley, wrote that Trump was a key factor in their decision.

"Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person," they wrote.

"But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter."

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947. It has changed 19 times since then, ranging from two minutes to midnight in 1953 to 17 minutes before midnight in 1991.



Days of N. Korea's Kim are numbered: defector

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Jan 25, 2017 - The North Korean regime is on an inexorable decline towards collapse, with its people increasingly disillusioned but its nuclear ambitions undimmed, a top defector said Wednesday.

"I'm sure and I can say that Kim Jong-Un's days are numbered," said Thae Yong-Ho, who fled his post as North Korea's deputy ambassador to Britain in August.

In his first press conference for foreign correspondents, held under tight security, Thae said he was sure that more of his fellow countrymen would follow suit since North Korea was "on a downward path".

The elite were "turning their backs" on leader Kim Jong-Un, he said, adding: "The traditional structures of North Korean systems are crumbling."

Nuclear-armed North Korea has been ruled by the Kim dynasty since its foundation in 1948. It is subject to United Nations Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes and is accused by the West of widespread human rights abuses.

Thae is among the highest-ranking defectors from the North for years. He said he had begun to waver as his diplomatic role granted him access to outside information.

His disillusionment turned to despair after Kim, who inherited power from his late father Kim Jong-Il five years ago, began ruthlessly purging officials, he added.

Kim had his own uncle and one-time political mentor Jang Song-Thaek executed in late 2013 on an array of charges, including treason and corruption.

Kim was installed as chairman of the State Affairs Commission -- a new supreme governing body -- in June, a month after his Workers' Party held its first congress in 36 years in what was widely seen as his coronation.

North Korean diplomats are generally compelled to leave one of their children behind in Pyongyang when they are dispatched abroad, but Thae was able to take both his sons, now aged 19 and 26, to London -- easing his preparations to defect.

"The Kim Jong-Un regime abuses love between parents and children to control North Korean diplomats," he said.

After Thae's defection the North's state media denounced him as "human scum" and accused him of embezzling state funds, raping a minor and spying for South Korea in exchange for money.

Pyongyang carried out two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches in 2016 and Thae said Kim was planning to "complete" its atomic development by the end of this year to take advantage of leadership transitions in South Korea and the United States.

"The only way to resolve the issue of North's nuclear threats is the elimination of Kim Jong-Un's regime," he said.

He called for continued international sanctions on Pyongyang and publicity campaigns to spread external information in the North and encourage its citizens into "popular uprisings".

Some tentative economic reforms have been put into effect in the North, but "those further down the food chain are finding life much tougher", Thae said.

Once "unthinkable" acts of low-level dissent or criticism were becoming more frequent.



China must expand nuclear arsenal in response to Trump: newspaper

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Jan 24, 2017 - China must strengthen its nuclear arsenal to "force the US to respect it" in response to the stance of new US President Donald Trump, a leading newspaper said Tuesday.

The comments in the Global Times, a popular paper known for its inflammatory rhetoric and hawkish views, came just days after President Xi Jinping called for the eventual global elimination of atomic weapons.

In recent days, Chinese social media has carried pictures purporting to show an advanced intercontinental ballistic missile system deployed in the northeast.

The Dongfeng-41 is reportedly a nuclear road-mobile missile thought to have a payload of 10-12 warheads and a range of 14,000 kilometres (8,700 miles), according to the Global Times.

The paper, a subsidiary of the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, plays to nationalist sentiment and is often believed to channel hardline views within the government.

The Global Times said some media claimed the People's Liberation Army leaked the photos as a warning to Trump.

"They think this is Beijing's response to Trump's provocative remarks on China," it added.

The US president, who took office Friday, has rattled Beijing with tough talk on trade and national security.

On Monday White House spokesman Sean Spicer warned China the US would "defend" American and international interests in the disputed South China Sea, where China has built a series of artificial islands capable of military use.

"If those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, yeah, we'll make sure we defend international interests from being taken over by one country," he said.

Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said last week China's access to the islands might be blocked -- raising the prospect of a military confrontation.

China lays claim to a vast stretch of the waterway within a so-called "nine dash line," including waters claimed by several of its neighbours.

The Global Times said Trump had called repeatedly for a US nuclear arms build-up.

"Even Washington feels that its naval forces and nuclear strength are lacking, so how can China be content with its current nuclear strength when it is viewed by the US as its biggest potential opponent?" it asked.

The paper said China's nuclear forces "must be so strong that no country would dare launch a military showdown" with it.

"China must procure a level of strategic military strength that will force the US to respect it."

The comments were in marked contrast to Xi's speech at the United Nations days earlier.

"Nuclear weapons should be completely prohibited and destroyed over time to make the world free of nuclear weapons," Xi said.

China has been a nuclear power since 1964.

The PLA has been flexing its muscles since Trump's election, showing off upgraded combat aircraft and new fighters. The country's only aircraft carrier entered the Taiwan Strait this month in a symbolic show of strength.

On Monday the PLA navy announced it had commissioned its fifth "carrier killer" guided-missile destroyer and delivered it to the North Sea Fleet.

The system is believed to be designed to deter the US Navy, which has the world's largest number of carriers.



UK govt accused of covering up failed nuclear missile test

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
London (AFP) Jan 22, 2017 - The British government was accused on Sunday of covering up a failed test of its nuclear weapons deterrent last year, just weeks before lawmakers voted to renew the system.

Prime Minister Theresa May refused to say whether she knew about the reported malfunction of an unarmed missile when she urged MPs to support updating the Trident nuclear system.

The Sunday Times newspaper, citing a senior naval source, claimed that the Trident II D5 missile failed after being launched from a British submarine off the coast of Florida in June.

The cause of the failure is top secret but the source suggested the missile may have veered off in the wrong direction towards the United States.

"There was a major panic at the highest level of government and the military after the first test of our nuclear deterrent in four years ended in disastrous failure," the source told the paper.

"Ultimately Downing Street decided to cover up the failed test. If the information was made public, they knew how damaging it would be to the credibility of our nuclear deterrent."

The malfunction came just weeks before the House of Commons was asked on July 18 to approve the replacement of the ageing submarines that carry Britain's nuclear arsenal.

May was not prime minister at the time of the test, but she took office shortly before the vote and successfully appealed to lawmakers to approve the 41 billion pounds (47 billion euro, $50.7 billion) project.

In a BBC interview on Sunday, she sidestepped questions about whether she knew about the malfunction when she made her statement to MPs.

"What we were talking about is whether or not we should renew Trident," she said.

"I have absolute faith in our Trident missiles," she continued, adding that tests take place "regularly".

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longstanding opponent of nuclear weapons, said it was a "pretty catastrophic error" for a missile to go in the wrong direction.

A government spokesman confirmed the Royal Navy conducted a routine test launch of an unarmed missile last June from HMS Vengeance, one of Britain's four nuclear-armed submarines.

It was "part of an operation which is designed to certify the submarine and its crew", he said.

"Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified, allowing Vengeance to return into service. We have absolute confidence in our independent nuclear deterrent," he said.

Britain is one of only three nuclear-armed NATO nations, along with the United States and France.



UK minister defends 'failed' Trident missile test

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:38:37 PMGo to full article
London (AFP) Jan 23, 2017 - Britain hit back on Monday against reports of a failed test of its nuclear weapons deterrent last year when an unarmed missile reportedly misfired, possibly in the direction of the United States.

"Contrary to reports in the weekend press, HMS Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested," Defence Minister Michael Fallon told lawmakers, responding to the Sunday Times article.

"We do not comment on the detail of submarine operations," Fallon said, adding: "The capability and effectiveness of the UK's independent nuclear deterrent is not in doubt."

The main opposition Labour Party accused the government of a "lack of transparency".

The Scottish National Party, which opposes the nuclear deterrent, said it was "outrageous" that members of parliament had not been informed.

The Sunday Times, citing a senior naval source, claimed that the Trident II D5 missile failed after being launched from a British submarine off the coast of Florida in June.

The source suggested the missile may have veered off in the wrong direction towards the United States instead of the intended target off the west coast of Africa.

The malfunction came just weeks before the House of Commons was asked on July 18 to approve the replacement of the ageing submarines that carry Britain's nuclear arsenal.

Theresa May was not prime minister at the time of the test, but she took office shortly before the vote and successfully appealed to MPs to approve the 41 billion pounds (47 billion euro, $50.7 billion) project.

In a BBC interview on Sunday, she sidestepped questions about whether she knew about the malfunction when she made her statement to MPs.

A Downing Street spokeswoman told reporters on Monday that May had been briefed about the test.




News About Wars On Planet Earth



Russia using Iran airspace for Syria raids: official

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) Feb 11, 2017 - Russian warplanes are using Iran's airspace to carry out airstrikes in Syria, an Iranian official said Saturday.

"The fact that they (Russian bombers) use Iranian airspace continues because we have total strategic cooperation with Russia," Admiral Ali Shamkhani told the Fars news agency.

Shamkhani is secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Tehran's coordinator of political, security and military actions with Russia.

"The use of Iranian airspace by Russian aircraft is made subject to a joint decision, taking into account the need... to fight terrorism," he told the IRNA news agency.

He said Russian planes had not recently needed to land in Iran for re-supply.

Russian fighter bombers first used an Iranian military base in August 2016 to attack jihadist positions in Syria.

Iran and Russia are closely cooperating in Syria and provide political, financial and military backing to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Tehran has sent military advisors and "volunteer" fighters to support the Syrian military in its fight against rebel and jihadist groups.

Russia, Turkey differ over botched Syria strike
Moscow (AFP) Feb 10, 2017 - The Kremlin said Friday that Turkey had provided Russian forces with the target location for an air strike in Syria that accidentally killed three Turkish troops, but Ankara gave a different version of events.

"The situation is obvious, unfortunately. Our military while launching strikes on terrorists followed coordinates that were given to us by our Turkish partners," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Along with the three killed, 11 Turkish soldiers were wounded when Thursday's strike -- which was meant to target jihadists -- hit a building where the troops were deployed, according to the Turkish army.

Peskov said the "causes of the incident are clear. There is no debate."

He said there had been a communications failure, adding: "There should not have been Turkish soldiers within the limits of these coordinates. That's why these strikes took place."

But the Turkish military said communications had been in full operation and that the army had provided its Russian counterpart with the location of its units ahead of the incident.

"The Russian armed forces attache in Ankara was invited to the chief of staff headquarters and provided by hand with the coordinates" of the Turkish units at around 20:11 GMT on Wednesday, the military said in a statement on its website.

The coordinates of the Turkish troops were also shared with personnel at the Hmeimim airbase in Syria, Moscow's main outpost for its bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad, Ankara added.

The Turkish military said it regularly shared information with Russian counterparts on Syria operations as part of an agreement reached by the two countries on January 12 to "prevent units from harming each other".

"Our units hit by the (Russian) plane on February 9 have been located on the same spot for approximately 10 days," the military said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his condolences in a telephone conversation with Turkish leader Tayyip Recip Erdogan.

The Kremlin said the leaders agreed after the incident to "enhance military coordination in the course of the operation in Syria against the Islamic State fighters and other extremist organisations".

Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Moscow supporting the Assad regime but Ankara pushing for the president's ouster.

The two countries had a ferocious falling-out after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian plane on the Syrian border in November 2015, but have since mended ties and begun cooperation over Syria.

They secured a deal to evacuate Syrians from Aleppo after Russia-backed regime forces retook the city, and have joined forces against the Islamic State group around Al-Bab.



Philippine communist leader seeks renewed peace talks

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Feb 10, 2017 - The leader of the Philippines' communist insurgency has called on President Rodrigo Duterte to revive collapsed peace talks as his rebels launched new attacks.

On Saturday, Duterte angrily scrapped talks with communist insurgents aimed at ending their decades-long conflict after both the government and the rebels called off unilateral ceasefires.

"Even if the armed conflict between the armed forces of the two parties has resumed, peace negotiations can and must continue," Jose Maria Sison, rebel leader and Communist Party of the Philippines founder, said in a statement issued from exile in the Netherlands late Thursday.

Sison, a former university instructor of Duterte, asked him to "encourage and allow back-channelling efforts to clarify misunderstandings and solve immediately the current problem".

On Thursday communist rebels killed a man, kidnapped a policeman and another man, and burned construction equipment in the southern island of Mindanao, a military report said.

They also burned a mining company's trucks in a northern mountain region.

Duterte, a self-described socialist who once boasted of his links to the communist rebels, had jump-started the 30-year-old peace process, initially vowing to end over four decades of fighting.

The president released captured rebel leaders and both sides had called separate ceasefires to pave the way for peace talks overseas.

But Duterte called off the peace talks after communist attacks left four soldiers dead last week.

Duterte has since called for the arrest of the rebel leaders he released as clashes between the 4,000-strong communist New People's Army and government forces have increased.

"There should have been a measure of restraint in his reaction in order to preserve the (government-communist) peace process," Sison said in the statement posted on his Facebook page.

There was no immediate response from the government.

The communist insurgency in the poverty-stricken country began in 1968 and is one of the longest running in the world. It has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, according to the military.





Syria rebels, govt invited to talks next week: Kazakhstan

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Almaty, Kazakhstan (AFP) Feb 11, 2017 - Kazakhstan's foreign ministry announced Saturday that Syrian government officials and armed rebels are being invited to peace talks to be held next week in its capital Astana.

"It is planned to hold the latest high-level meeting within the Astana process on resolving the situation in Syria on February 15 and 16," the ministry said in a statement.

It added that those invited include "the Syrian government" and "representatives of the Syrian armed opposition," as well as UN envoy Staffan de Mistura and US observers.

The talks are being brokered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's allies Russia and Iran and rebel backer Turkey, which are all key players in the conflict.

They follow a meeting in Astana last month that ended without a breakthrough in the nearly six-year conflict, in which more than 310,000 people have died.

Those talks were expected to see the first face-to-face negotiations between the regime and the armed opposition since the conflict erupted in 2011.

The rebels refused to meet directly. However, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed that the rebels should take part in UN-led peace talks opening in Geneva on February 20.

The next round of Astana talks will discuss observance of the ceasefire and stabilisation measures for specific areas and other "practical steps" ahead of the talks in Geneva, Kazakhstan said.



Russia air strike 'accidentally' kills 3 Turkish troops in Syria

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Istanbul (AFP) Feb 9, 2017 - Three Turkish soldiers were "accidentally" killed and 11 wounded on Thursday when a Russian air strike targeting jihadists in Syria hit a building where the troops were deployed, the Turkish army said.

With Moscow and Ankara cooperating ever more closely on Syria, President Vladimir Putin quickly reached out to Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to express condolences and promise better future coordination.

The Russian plane had been seeking to hit targets of Islamic State (IS) jihadists but "by accident three of our heroic soldiers were martyred when a building was bombed where our units were," the Turkish army said in a statement.

It said that of the 11 injured, one was badly wounded.

Putin contacted Erdogan to express his "sadness and condolences," it added.

"Russian officials have said that the incident was an accident," the army said, adding an investigation is being carried out by both sides.

In Moscow, the Kremlin said Putin had offered Erdogan his condolences and that the leaders had "agreed to enhance military coordination" in the fight against IS in Syria.

It said the incident took place in the flashpoint IS-held town of Al-Bab where both countries have been conducting air strikes.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian strike took place on Thursday morning due to a "lack of agreement of coordinates during strikes by the Russian air force."

- Fight for Al-Bab -

Both sides appeared keen to move on from the incident, as was the case when an off-duty Turkish policeman shot dead Russia's ambassador to Ankara Andrei Karlov on December 19 in a crime that shocked both countries.

Then, Ankara allowed Russian investigators to work in Turkey and also gave the slain ambassador the honour of a ceremony on the tarmac of Ankara airport before his corpse was airlifted back to Russia.

The Russian defence ministry said Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar had in a call "agreed on closer coordination of joint actions".

Turkey had on August 24 began an unprecedented campaign inside Syria against IS and Kurdish militia which initially made rapid progress but has become mired in a deadly fight for the IS held town of Al-Bab since December.

The incident came with new CIA chief Mike Pompeo in Ankara for talks with Turkish officials on issues including Syria, on his first foreign visit since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.

The fight for Al-Bab has been by far the bloodiest yet of Turkey's incursion inside Syria but the authorities have vowed to press on until its capture despite a mounting casualty toll.

Before Thursday's casualties were reported, the Dogan news agency said 66 Turkish soldiers have now been killed in the Syria operation since it began in August, mostly in attacks by IS.

- Revival in ties -

Turkey and Russia have been on sharply opposing sides in the Syria conflict, with Moscow supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad but Ankara pushing for his ouster as the key to peace.

Relations reached a dangerous low in November 2015 when Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian fighter jet over the Syrian border.

But a normalisation deal was reached over the summer and the two sides have been working ever more closely over the Syrian conflict.

They secured a deal to evacuate Syrians from Aleppo after the city was retaken by Assad backed by his Russian allies.

The two sides have since backed a process in the Kazakh capital Astana to search for peace to end the almost six-year civil war in Syria.

And Russian jets have on occasion carried out air strikes in Al-Bab in support of the operation.

Separate operations by Turkey and Assad's forces, backed by Moscow, has trapped the jihadists inside Al-Bab which has been besieged since Monday when Syrian forces cut off a road leading into the town.

There has been concerns of the risk of accidental contact in the busy skies above Syria although these have usually surrounded Turkey and Syrian regime forces.

Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Wednesday Turkey had been coordinating with Russia to avoid any risk of contact with the Syrian regime forces.



Two Palestinians killed in Egypt after rocket fire on Israel: Hamas

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) Feb 9, 2017 - An Israeli air strike killed two Palestinians on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza early Thursday following rocket fire from the area into Israel, the territory's Islamist rulers Hamas said.

Israel denied it had carried out any strikes over the border into Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula in response to the rockets, which caused no casualties.

The spokesman of Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry, Ashraf al-Qudra, named the two men killed as Hossam al-Sufi, 24, and Mohammed al-Aqra, 38.

Their deaths came just hours after a volley of rockets fired from the Sinai targeted the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat, a rare assault from Egypt, which is one of just two Arab states that have signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Three rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome air defence system and a fourth fell short of the town.

The Sinai is a stronghold of jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group who have waged a long-running insurgency against the Egyptian security forces but attacks on Israel are rare.

In the past, a labyrinth of smuggling tunnels linked the Sinai with Gaza. But since the 2013 overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi after a single year in power, Egyptian authorities have moved to destroy them and have set up a wide no-go zone on the Gaza border.

Qudra said five people were also wounded in what he said was an Israeli strike.

Israeli army chief spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said: "Military officials denied Israel Defence Force involvement in the reported strike."

Under the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, there are restrictions on military deployments on the Sinai border monitored by international peacekeepers.

But since the jihadists launched their deadly insurgency in the wake of Morsi's ouster, Egypt has poured troops and police into the peninsula with the blessing of Israel and Western governments.

Hundreds of Egyptian security personnel have been killed, particularly in the north Sinai near the Gaza border.

There have been periodic attacks into Israel.

In 2011, assailants who came from the Sinai killed eight Israelis in a triple ambush north of Eilat. Pursuing Israeli forces killed seven attackers and five Egyptian police.

In 2013, four jihadists were killed by an Egyptian air strike as they were about to fire a rocket at Israel, according to the Egyptian military.

And in 2014, two patrolling Israeli soldiers were wounded by unidentified men who fired an anti-tank weapon from the Sinai during an attempted drug-smuggling operation, according to the Israeli military.

In 2015, rockets fired from Sinai hit southern Israel without causing casualties. IS claimed responsibility.



Victim of Colombia's ELN rebels paints his pain

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Cali, Colombia (AFP) Feb 9, 2017 - Juan Daniel Otoya was 10 years old when ELN guerrillas burst into the church in western Colombia where he was attending mass with his family and kidnapped 180 people.

Today, the leftist guerrillas -- the last active rebel group in Colombia -- are in peace talks with the government to end a 53-year conflict that has claimed 260,000 lives.

Otoya, meanwhile, is a 28-year-old artist who has dedicated himself to painting giant pictures of the violence perpetrated by the ELN, or National Liberation Army.

It is, he says, an important reminder of the country's bloody history as it seeks to achieve lasting peace.

It is also a form of therapy for his own terrifying childhood experience of the war.

"I am traumatized, and I decided I was going to talk about it," he told AFP.

"Victims of the conflict have long remained silent.... For me, capturing all that in a painting has been a way to get it out."

It was an ordinary Sunday in 1999 when Otoya and his family were kidnapped.

As they sat through mass at La Maria Catholic church in the city of Cali, some 20 soldiers rushed inside and said they had to evacuate the building because of a bomb.

But the "soldiers" were actually ELN rebels in disguise.

They seized 180 hostages -- one of the largest kidnappings in the history of a group that has funded itself with ransom payments.

Otoya was released almost immediately since he was so young.

But his parents and brother were held captive for six months, released only after the family paid a ransom.

Otoya lived with an uncle while they were in captivity.

It was then that he turned to painting.

"What I remember most is my mom's face -- a face I can't shake from my memory, a face of anguish at leaving me all alone," he said.

With a realistic yet dreamlike style, Otoya paints giant canvases measuring two by two meters (yards), reproducing news photographs of the La Maria kidnapping.

Painting the "atrocious act," he says, is a way to heal the wounds of "hate and powerlessness."

Achieving peace, he says, will be "a long, hard job."

But, he adds, "Let's hope it's possible."



Israel police battle ultra-Orthodox draft objectors

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) Feb 8, 2017 - Israeli police battled hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting against conscription, arresting nearly 50 people overnight, a police spokesman said on Wednesday.

"There were 48 or 49 arrested across the country," Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Police "take zero tolerance toward violent riots" a statement said.

Police said at least three officers were injured by stones thrown by the protesters and a police photograph showed one officer bleeding from the face.

Another policeman was taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder from scuffles with the rioters.

Police said the biggest incident was in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighbourhood, where hundreds of rioters blocked thoroughfares, stoned police and set refuse bins ablaze.

There were similar confrontations in the town of Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem; in ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak, adjacent to Tel Aviv, and in the southern town of Ashdod, Rosenfeld said.

The protests were apparently triggered by the earlier arrest of a young ultra-Orthodox man who refused to report to an army recruiting post to register for his compulsory three-year service.

Many ultra-Orthodox oppose military service for their young men because they believe it exposes them to influences and temptations not found in the insular world of prayer and religious study.

They see the spiritual life as no less an act of service to the Jewish state than serving in the military.

Full-time seminary students can claim exemption or deferral from the draft but they must sign on at the enlistment office in order to qualify.

Some refuse to cooperate with any part of the process as a matter of principle and are then arrested as draft-dodgers.

Military service is obligatory for Jewish Israelis after they turn 18 -- three years for men and two for women.

Ultra-Orthodox women do not serve.



Colombia opens talks with ELN rebels

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Sangolqui, Ecuador (AFP) Feb 8, 2017 - Peace negotiators from the Colombian government and the ELN, the country's last active rebel group, got down to business behind closed doors in their first day of talks Wednesday, seeking to end a half-century conflict.

President Juan Manuel Santos's government is trying to reach a deal to bring "complete peace" to Colombia, after sealing a historic accord with the country's largest rebel group, the FARC, in November.

"We're going to negotiate seriously and quickly," the government's chief negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo, wrote on Twitter before the talks began.

"We hope the ELN understands that these are times of peace. And that it will have the foresight not to jump off the peace train," he said.

Neither side spoke to journalists as they arrived under police escort Wednesday morning at the Jesuit retreat where the first round of talks is being held outside the Ecuadoran capital Quito.

In an opening ceremony Tuesday, Restrepo said the initial talks would focus on two themes: humanitarian issues and trust-building measures.

He insisted the ELN renounce ransom kidnappings, one of its main funding sources. Failure to do so would make it "very difficult to advance," he warned.

The ELN's chief negotiator, Pablo Beltran, for his part called on the government to "take responsibility" for its actions during the conflict -- saying the rebels were ready to do the same.

The Cold War-era conflict, which has killed more than 260,000 people and left 60,000 missing, is the last major armed conflict in the Americas.

Colombia, South America's third economy and the world's biggest cocaine producer, has been torn since the 1960s by fighting that has drawn in multiple leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries, drug gangs and the army.

November's landmark peace accord with the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, leaves the ELN, or National Liberation Army, as the last active guerrilla insurgency.

It has an estimated 1,500 fighters.

- World watching -

Colombia has drawn world attention as a rare good news story as it has closed in on peace, first with the FARC and now the ELN.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the European Union and the Organization of American States all sent messages of encouragement.

Guterres welcomed the talks and urged "serious and productive discussions that lead promptly to a reduction of all forms of violence," his spokesman said in a statement.

The EU called on both sides to "intensify their efforts... to reach a full accord."

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro meanwhile called the ELN talks a "new impetus of hope."

The talks come after three years of secret negotiations and an embarrassing false start in October, when the ELN refused to release its most high-profile hostage, the ex-lawmaker Odin Sanchez.

A flurry of behind-the-scenes negotiations followed, leading to Sanchez's release on Thursday in exchange for two ELN prisoners.

In a further goodwill gesture on Monday, the ELN released a soldier captured two weeks earlier.

But experts warn the ELN will be a tougher negotiating partner than the FARC.

And elections in 2018 to decide Santos's successor threaten to complicate matters.

Santos has staked his presidency on the peace process, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in October for his efforts.

But he faces ongoing resistance from conservative opponents who accuse him of granting impunity to rebels guilty of war crimes.

The debate looms large over next year's elections.

Negotiators are unlikely to reach a final deal before Santos leaves office, said Frederic Masse, a political scientist at the Universidad Externado in Bogota.

"The objective, then, will be to advance far enough that there's no turning back for the next government," he said.



Telling stories of wartime childhood in Bosnian museum

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Sarajevo (AFP) Feb 8, 2017 - Ballet slippers, tinned food and drawings by a sister killed from shelling are found among the objects in a new Sarajevo museum used to tell stories of life during Bosnia's war through the eyes of children.

An unfinished letter, kept safe by a young Bosnian woman for 20 years, was started by her mother who perished when their apartment was shelled in the Balkan country's 1992-1995 civil war.

To obtain such personal and treasured possessions, "you have to create trust," said Jasenko Halilovic, the 28-year-old founder of the newly opened War Childhood Museum.

During Bosnia's inter-ethnic conflict nearly 3,400 children were killed, including 1,500 in the capital Sarajevo. The city was besieged for 44 months by Belgrade-backed Bosnian Serb forces, who launched shells and sniper fire from the surrounding mountains.

Sarajevo still bears the scars, from the bullet holes in buildings to curved monuments in a city centre square engraved with the names of hundreds of children who lost their lives.

Among them was 17-year-old Aida, hit by artillery shells at the entrance to her family's home. She loved to draw Disney characters, including Minnie Mouse with a tear sliding down her cheek. Her sister Selma donated the sketches to the museum.

- 'Message against war' -

Some of the collection is less tragic but equally poignant. Mela Softic donated the ballet slippers she would dance in as a way to "disconnect from reality".

When she put on the ballet shoes and played some classical music, "I was no longer in war, in Sarajevo, but in a fairy tale," she recalled.

Softic, now 32, believes the museum is "the best place possible" for her cherished mementoes of that time in her life.

The collection consists of around 4,000 objects, accompanied by short texts, and those on display will be rotated so that the exhibition is renewed, said Selma Tanovic, a 36-year-old anthropologist and head of research.

Along with photos and diaries detailing the day-to-day drama, the dozens of exhibits now on display include a hat pierced with shrapnel, a makeshift stove, stuffed animals, a television and a bicycle.

"We do not mean, of course, to minimise the trauma that children have suffered," Tanovic said.

"But we want to emphasise the resistance of children, the way they overcame the cruel conditions of their childhood."

All the stories are meant to convey "a strong message against war," she said.

- Art of survival -

Filip Andronik, who was 11 when war broke out, turned his months sheltering in the basement of his building into an exercise in the art of the survival.

When his family received their first supplies of tinned meat, provided by aid workers, he decided to keep the empty packaging to joke about once the war was over.

"But the war continued, and so did the humanitarian aid," said Andronik, now a comedian and comic book writer.

He collected more than 2,000 pieces of packaging from wartime food and toiletries.

"I handed over my entire collection to the War Childhood Museum."

Halilovic, who has also compiled a book of children's wartime testimonies, wants to make the museum a platform for "dialogue and reconciliation" in Bosnia, which remains deeply divided along ethnic lines of Bosniak Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

- 'Common to all of us' -

The new museum mostly displays belongings of children from Sarajevo, a predominantly Muslim city, but Halilovic also wants to tell the stories of youngsters caught up in different sides of the conflict.

He is now looking for objects from places such as Banja Luka in the north, the capital of Bosnian Serbs, and the southern city of Mostar, divided between ethnic Croats and Muslims.

"I think it's a wonderful idea to tell the stories of children in all the cities... regardless of which side they grew up on," said Emina Omanovic, who donated her red bicycle to the museum.

"It's something common to all of us, the children who grew up during the war."





Colombia seeks 'complete peace' at ELN talks

‎Yesterday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017, ‏‎5:56:50 AMGo to full article
Quito (AFP) Feb 7, 2017 - Colombia opens peace talks Tuesday with its last active rebel group, the ELN, seeking to replicate its historic accord with the FARC guerrillas and deliver "complete peace" after 53 years of war.

But experts warn the ELN will be a tougher negotiating partner than the FARC, and say no deal is likely before President Juan Manuel Santos -- the man who has staked his presidency on ending the conflict -- leaves office next year.

Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in October, was nevertheless full of optimism heading into the talks.

"This conflict is over," he said Thursday.

"The public phase of negotiations between the Colombian government and the ELN... will enable us to achieve complete peace."

The Cold War-era conflict, which has killed more than 260,000 people and left 60,000 missing, is the last major armed conflict in the Americas.

Colombia, South America's third economy and the world's biggest cocaine producer, has been torn since the 1960s by fighting that has drawn in multiple leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries, drug gangs and the army.

Last November's landmark peace accord with the oldest and largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), after four years of talks leaves the National Liberation Army (ELN) as the last active guerrilla insurgency.

It has an estimated 1,500 fighters, mostly in the north and west.

- 'More fundamentalist' than FARC -

The talks in the Ecuadoran capital Quito come after three years of secret negotiations and an embarrassing false start last in October, when the ELN refused to release their most high-profile hostage: ex-lawmaker Odin Sanchez.

A flurry of behind-the-scenes negotiations followed, leading to Sanchez's release on Thursday in exchange for two ELN prisoners.

In a further goodwill gesture on Monday, the ELN released a soldier they had captured two weeks earlier.

But there will be more bumps in the road, warned Frederic Masse, an expert on the conflict at the Universidad Externado in Bogota.

"The ELN has more fundamentalist demands than the FARC," he said.

"They want much deeper social change."

A prominent ELN commander warned ahead of the talks that the rebels would not back down on the thorny question of land rights for the rural poor -- one of the main issues in the conflict.

"As long as the necessities that were at the root of this insurgency exist, we will have to keep fighting," Danilo Hernandez, commander of the Resistencia Cimarron guerrilla front, told AFP in an interview.

- Complications: kidnappings, elections -

The talks are due to open at 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) at the Hacienda Cashapamba, a Jesuit retreat some 30 kilometers (20 miles) outside Quito.

The chief negotiators for the government and the ELN, Juan Camilo Restrepo and Pablo Beltran, will officially open the peace process before some 150 guests, plus journalists from around the world.

Negotiators will then get down to business on Wednesday, behind closed doors.

Despite Monday's hostage release, the issue of kidnappings remains a touchy subject.

Unlike the FARC, "the ELN has still not renounced kidnapping," long a source of revenue for both rebel groups, said Kyle Johnson of the International Crisis Group.

"They might kidnap someone else in the future and we'll be back in the same difficulties."

Elections in 2018 to decide Santos's successor also threaten to complicate matters.

The peace process faces ongoing resistance from conservative opponents who accuse Santos of granting impunity to rebels guilty of war crimes.

Santos had to tweak the initial FARC accord after voters narrowly rejected it in a referendum last October -- a major embarrassment for the government.

The slightly revised version was ratified in Congress, where Santos enjoys a majority.

A new poll found Tuesday that Colombians are growing less optimistic on the chances for peace. Polling firm Datexco, which interviewed 900 people nationwide on the prospects for peace, found 51.7 percent were optimistic, down from 67.4 percent in October.



UN report slams Saudi-led coalition over Yemen targets

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) Jan 30, 2017 - A UN investigation of 10 air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has concluded that most of the attacks did not involve legitimate military targets and may amount to war crimes, according to a report obtained by AFP on Monday.

A UN panel of experts also said in the report that Yemen's Huthi rebels had tortured and ill-treated detainees in violations that could also amount to war crimes.

The panel investigated 10 air strikes between March and October last year that killed at least 292 civilians, including at least 100 women and children.

"In 8 of the 10 investigations, the panel found no evidence that the air strikes had targeted legitimate military objectives," said the report sent to the Security Council on Friday.

"For all 10 investigations, the panel considers it almost certain that the coalition did not meet international humanitarian law requirements of proportionality and precautions in attack."

"The panel considers that some of the attacks may amount to war crimes."

The Saudi-led coalition launched its air campaign in Yemen in March 2015 to support Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and push back the rebels who seized Sanaa and other parts of the country.

The panel said the violations by the Saudi-led air campaign "are sufficiently widespread to reflect either an ineffective targeting process or a broader policy of attrition against civilian infrastructure."

- Warning to allies -

About 10,000 civilians have died in the war, according to UN officials, who rank the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as among the world's worst.

The bombing campaign "while devastating to Yemeni infrastructure and civilians, has failed to dent the political will of the Huthi-Saleh alliance to continue the conflict," the report said.

The Huthis are allied with forces loyal to Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is on a UN sanctions blacklist.

The panel warned that those supporting the coalition may also face UN sanctions.

Led by Saudi Arabia, the coalition includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates with some support from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan.

The United States is offering support to logistical and intelligence activities, but the report said officers from Britain, France and Malaysia were also working at the coalition's Riyadh headquarters.

"All coalition states and their allies also have an obligation to take appropriate measure to ensure respect for international humanitarian law by the coalition," said the experts.

Saudi Arabia has rejected accusations of deliberately targeting civilians in Yemen and charges that Iran is arming the Huthis to expand its influence in the region, a claim denied by Tehran.

The experts said they had "not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any direct large-scale supply of arms" from Iran to the Huthis, but that there were "indications" that Iran-made anti-tank guided weapons were supplied to the rebels.



Air raids kill 10 Syrian civilians near IS-held Al-Bab: monitor

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
Beirut (AFP) Jan 28, 2017 - Air strikes killed 10 civilians including seven children in areas near a town held by the Islamic State group in north Syria on Saturday, a monitor said.

The strikes came as regime forces had advanced to within seven kilometres (four miles) of the jihadist group's bastion of Al-Bab, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Observatory said regime airstrikes killed a child in Tadif on Saturday, while Turkish air raids left nine civilians dead including six children in Al-Uraima and Bezaa.

President Bashar al-Assad's fighters have advanced towards Al-Bab from the southwest, seizing three villages since late Friday, the Observatory said.

Turkish forces, meanwhile, have gathered to the north of the town, the Britain-based monitor said.

Al-Bab has come under heavy assault in recent weeks, with Turkish, Russian and Syrian warplanes carrying out strikes in or around the town.

Turkish forces regularly carry out air strikes in support of a ground operation they launched in Syria last August targeting both IS and Kurdish fighters.

Several this month have been joint operations with Russia.

Turkish officials say the utmost is done to avoid causing civilian casualties, and have denied claims that civilians have been killed in previous raids.

The Observatory has also reported that 10 civilians were killed on Friday in Turkish air strikes and shelling in the area.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday that the latest round of raids had killed 22 IS "terrorists".

IS is not included in a fragile nationwide ceasefire in force since December 30 that led to peace talks jointly organised by Turkey, Russia and Iran in Kazakhstan this week.

Ankara has backed rebels since the conflict began with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in March 2011.

Moscow and Tehran have supported the government.

The Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria for its information, says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.

France has dropped twice as many bombs on IS as in Libya: airforce chief
On An Airbase In Jordan, Jordan (AFP) Jan 30, 2017 - French warplanes have used twice as much firepower against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq as in the campaign to oust Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Andre Lanata.

In an interview with AFP, Lanata said Mirage jets taking off from bases in Jordan and United Arab Emirates had dropped 1,800 bombs since France joined the US-led anti-IS coalition in 2014.

The total figure, including strikes carried out by planes taking off from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, stood at 2,300, he said.

"That's twice as many as in Libya in 2011 and four times more than in the Serval and Barkhane operations (against jihadist groups in the Sahel)", Lanata said during a weekend visit to a base used by French forces in Jordan.

France, which has been targeted by a wave of jihadist attacks, ratcheted up its strikes against IS after the Paris massacre of November 2015 which was claimed by the group.

The coalition is currently focusing its strikes on the Iraqi city of Mosul -- which is being fought over by Iraqi forces and IS -- as well as the jihadists' Syrian stronghold of Raqa.

Lanata said the air campaign -- the bulk of which is being shouldered by the US, with France and Britain playing the main support roles -- was straining resources.

"I'm having a hard time (recruiting and retaining personnel) in a number of positions, from plane mechanics to intelligence officers, image analysts and base defenders."

"We also have historical capacity shortcomings," he said, pointing to aerial refuelling tankers "that are on average 55 years old" as well as a shortage of drones and other surveillance devices.



New Russia-Turkey air strikes in Syria: army

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) Jan 26, 2017 - Russian and Turkish warplanes carried out new air strikes in Syria Thursday, targeting positions of the Islamic State jihadists in the town of Al-Bab in the Aleppo region, Russia's army said Thursday.

"On January 26, the Russian and Turkish air forces conducted another joint air operation against the Islamic State group in the town of Al-Bab," the army said in a statement.

The operation involved Russia's Su-24M bombers and Su-35S fighter planes along with Turkey's F-16 and F-4 fighter jets, the army statement said.

The Russian planes "destroyed three command and communication centres and several fortified positions," it added.

Moscow and Ankara had already carried out air strikes against IS in Al-Bab on January 18 and 21, after signing an accord earlier this month to coordonate their air campaign against "terrorist targets" in Syria.

In all, 58 IS targets had been destroyed in the joint air raids, the Russian army said.

Syrian rebel backer Turkey and Damascus regime ally Russia, along with Iran, sponsored two days of Syrian peace negotiations this week between the two sides in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

The talks wrapped up on Tuesday without any tangible progress in finding a political solution to the conflict, which has claimed 310,000 lives since it started in 2011.



HRW urges Lebanon to end military trials of civilians

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
Beirut (AFP) Jan 26, 2017 - Lebanon tried hundreds of civilians in military courts last year, including children, Human Rights Watch said Thursday, urging an end to a practice it said undermines fair trial rights.

The rights group said Lebanese civilians can end up in military courts for any interaction with security services or their employees.

The courts are under the defence ministry's jurisdiction and conduct closed sessions, and their judges are often military officers who are not required to have any legal training.

"It has become abundantly clear that civilians cannot get a fair trial in Lebanon's military courts," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

"Military courts have no business trying civilians, and Lebanon should end this troubling practice."

The group said hundreds of civilians were tried before military courts in 2016, but a precise figure was not available.

The Union for Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon said the figure included 355 children.

HRW said it had received reports that defendants were being tortured during military interrogations and forced confessions, including from children, were being used as evidence.

And it said the courts "have used their broad jurisdiction to intimidate or retaliate against individuals for political reasons and to stamp out dissent".

Among those facing trial before military courts are activists arrested in 2015 for protesting government inaction over a waste collection crisis.

Fourteen protesters face up to three years in prison during a trial scheduled for later this month.

HRW urged Lebanon to open military courts up to public observers, and noted that international law prohibits the use of military courts for civilians when ordinary courts are still functioning.

"The least Lebanon can do is ensure that its citizens aren't being sentenced in secret by a specialised court behind closed doors," Fakih said.



Syria strikes kill 11 fleeing IS town: monitor

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
Beirut (AFP) Jan 24, 2017 - At least 11 people, including two children, were killed Tuesday in Syrian government air strikes as they fled a northern town held by the Islamic State group, a monitor said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported 12 civilians and 15 IS fighters were killed in air strikes and shelling in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

The monitor said the group of 11 were fleeing the embattled IS-held town of Al-Bab, near the northern border with Turkey, when they were hit in a government air strike.

The dead included at least 10 civilians, among them two children, but the identity of the 11th person killed was unclear.

The strike hit the group as they reached the nearby village of Qasr al-Bureij, also under IS control, the Observatory said.

Al-Bab in the northern province of Aleppo has come under heavy assault in recent weeks, with Turkish, Russian and Syrian warplanes carrying out strikes in or around the town.

IS is also fighting fierce battles in Deir Ezzor city, which the jihadist group has besieged since early 2015.

It already controlled half the city, but has made further advances in recent days, prompting fierce fighting and heavy air strikes by both Syria and its Russian ally.

The Observatory said air strikes by Syrian and Russian warplanes killed 12 civilians and 15 IS fighters, but the toll could rise further.

Deir Ezzor is the capital of the oil-rich province of the same name which borders Iraq.

The fighting has forced the World Food Programme to suspend air drops of aid to besieged civilians in the city, and the UN has warned food supplies could run out within weeks.

More than 310,00 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests that were met with a regime crackdown.

A truce brokered by Russia and rebel backer Turkey has been in place since December 30, but it excludes IS.



Firebrand Iraq cleric warns US on Israel embassy move

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
Najaf, Iraq (AFP) Jan 24, 2017 - Moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a declaration of war on Islam, influential Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said Tuesday.

"Transferring the US embassy to Jerusalem would be a public and more-explicit-than-ever declaration of war against Islam," he said in a statement.

In a break with previous administrations, new US President Donald Trump has pledged to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocate the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Sadr, a firebrand Shiite cleric whose militia once fought US occupation forces in Iraq, called for the "formation of a special division to liberate Jerusalem were the decision to be implemented."

Sadr said the Cairo-based Arab League as well as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the world's main pan-Islamic body, should take a decisive stand on the issue or dissolve themselves.

The Najaf-based cleric also called "for the immediate closure of the US embassy in Iraq" should Washington go ahead with its promised embassy transfer in Israel.

Sadr supporters protesting against the lack of services and widespread corruption in the Iraqi state stormed the so-called "Green Zone" in Baghdad twice last year.

The protesters entered the parliament buildings and the prime minister's office but did not attempt anything against the US embassy there, which is Washington's largest foreign mission.

The United States works with Iraq on a range of issues, notably with military backing for the Iraqi offensive to retake large parts of the country seized by the Islamic State group.

The final status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel considers Jerusalem -- including the eastern Palestinian sector it annexed in 1980 -- as its indivisible capital. The Palestinians want to make east Jerusalem the capital of their future state.

The White House on Sunday appeared to play down suggestions that a move was imminent, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying: "We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject."



Nearly 70 killed in fresh Yemen fighting

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
Aden (AFP) Jan 22, 2017 - Air strikes and heavy clashes between rebel and pro-government forces in Yemen had killed at least 66 people in 24 hours, medics and security sources said Sunday.

Air raids by a Saudi-led coalition and fighting near the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait killed at least 52 fighters among Shiite Huthi rebels and allied troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the sources said.

Fourteen members of pro-government forces were also killed.

The rebels took their dead to a military hospital in Hodeida, a major western port city they control, a medical source told AFP.

The hospital received 14 dead on Saturday and 38 on Sunday, as well as 55 wounded rebels, the source said.

On the pro-government side, 14 soldiers were killed and 22 wounded, according to medics in the southern port city of Aden where President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government is based.

Coalition warplanes and Apache attack helicopters have been pounding rebels for several days in support of pro-Hadi forces attempting to retake the Red Sea city of Mokha, military sources said.

Pro-Hadi forces launched the vast offensive on January 7 to retake the region overlooking the Bab al-Mandab strait, a key maritime route connecting the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

By Sunday, loyalist forces were within 10 kilometres (six miles) of Mokha, they said, but the offensive has been slowed by mines laid by rebel forces.



Regime strikes kill nine civilians in Syria: monitor

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
Beirut (AFP) Jan 22, 2017 - Three regime air strikes on rebel-held areas in the central Syrian province of Homs on Sunday killed nine civilians, six of them children, a monitoring group said.

Two strikes hit the village of Taldo in the Houla region, killing eight civilians including five children, said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

A third strike targeted the nearby village of Kafrhala, also in the Houla region, and killed a child, said the head of the Britain-based monitoring group.

Rebel fighters, including Islamists, hold large parts of the northern Homs countryside where Sunday's strikes took place.

Houla was the scene of a May 2012 massacre when 108 people were killed, according to the United Nations, which said at the time that fewer than 20 died from artillery and tank fire and the rest were summarily executed.

Homs was at the forefront of the anti-government protests which erupted across Syria in March 2011, at the start of what has become a fully fledged war involving an array of local and foreign players.

The conflict has killed more than 310,000 people since it started, and more than four million Syrians have fled their homes.

On Monday, rebels and government representatives will for the first time sit around a negotiating table in the Kazakh capital Astana, for peace talks brokered by regime allies Russia and Iran and rebel backer Turkey.



Saudi-led air strikes kill 29 Yemen rebels

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
Aden (AFP) Jan 20, 2017 - Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen's Red Sea coast have killed at least 29 rebels over the past 24 hours, military sources said on Friday.

The strikes hit two military camps, an ammunition depot and an arms transporter in Hodeida province, the sources said. Around 20 fighters and renegade troops were also wounded.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 in support of beleaguered President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

But despite its massively superior firepower, the rebels and their allies still control the capital Sanaa and much of the central and northern highlands as well as the Red Sea coast.

Pro-government forces launched a major offensive earlier this month aimed at ousting the rebels from Dhubab district at the southern end of the 450 kilometre (280 mile) long coastline.



Colombia warned over violence during peace process

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎31, ‎2017, ‏‎12:39:43 PMGo to full article
Bogota (AFP) Jan 20, 2017 - Colombia's state ombudsman Friday urged authorities to protect civilians from violence between FARC rebels and renegade fighters deserting the force in protest at its peace accord with the government.

The FARC is preparing to demobilize under the accord but said its members had clashed with a breakaway group opposed to the agreement.

The unrest threatens to disrupt the FARC and government efforts to end their half-century-old conflict.

Ombudsman Carlos Alfonso Negret said various incidents had been reported in the south which posed a threat to civilians.

He said a woman was killed when regular FARC forces attacked a group led by a renegade commander.

The FARC earlier reported a clash last week in which it said one member of the breakaway group was killed.

The government warned in a statement that those involved in fighting at this stage in the peace process will not be covered by an amnesty included in the peace deal.



Syria's Assad vows to retake key area near Damascus

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Damascus (AFP) Jan 10, 2017 - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to retake an area that supplies Damascus with water and rejected any negotiations on his departure at upcoming talks in Kazakhstan.

Millions of people have been without water for weeks after fighting damaged key infrastructure in the Wadi Barada region outside Damascus that is the main water source for the capital.

The government says former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, known previously as Al-Nusra Front, is present in Wadi Barada, and blames rebels there for cutting water to Damascus since December 22.

"The role of the Syrian Army is to liberate that area in order to prevent those terrorists from using that water in order to suffocate the capital," Assad told French media in an interview aired Monday.

Assad's forces have been battling rebels in Wadi Barada for weeks and the fighting has continued despite the start on December 30 of a nationwide ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey.

Assad said the ceasefire was being "breached on a daily basis" and mainly around Damascus "because the terrorists occupy the main source of water" in Wadi Barada.

He said "more than five million civilians have been deprived of water for the last three weeks" as a result of the fighting.

The United Nations says 5.5 million people in and around Damascus are without water.

Assad said that Fateh al-Sham is "occupying" the Wadi Barada region, 15 kilometres (10 miles) northwest of the capital.

But rebels deny that the jihadists are in the area and say the water supply was severed after government strikes hit pumping facilities.

Assad also insisted that the ceasefire does not include Fateh al-Sham or its formidable rival, the Islamic State group (IS).

Regime forces and fighters from Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah on Monday clashed with rebels and some Fateh Al-Sham jihadists in the Wadi Barada area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Also Monday, the Observatory said IS had blown up a natural gas plant that supplied one-third of Syria's electricity.

"In the past 48 hours, IS blew up the Hayyan gas plant in eastern Homs province, putting it totally out of order," said the Britain-based group that tracks the country's civil war using sources on the ground.

A source at the Syrian oil ministry confirmed the explosion to AFP.

The plant had already ceased to operate one month ago, after the advance of the jihadists in the central region of Palmyra.

- Russia 'serious' about talks -

Assad meanwhile rejected any negotiations towards his departure from power at talks set to be held in late January in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

"My position is related to the constitution, and the constitution is very clear about the mechanism in which you can bring a president or get rid of a president," he said.

"So, if they (the opposition) want to discuss this point, they have to discuss the constitution, and the constitution is not owned by the government or the president or by the opposition.

"It should be owned by the Syrian people, so you need a referendum," he said.

The Astana talks, organised by regime allies Russia and Iran and rebel backer Turkey, aim to pave the way towards an end to a nearly six-year war that has killed 310,000 people and displaced millions.

Assad has said Syrian forces are on their way to victory after they recaptured the northern city of Aleppo on December 22 with support from Moscow and Tehran.

Opposition negotiator Basma Khodmani said: "This time the Russians are serious and determined. They want to get out of the conflict. They have gone as far as it was in their interest to go on the military front."

"They can't obtain a total victory as it would take years. They now want a political solution and this Astana meeting to be credible."

Since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011, Syria's uprising has evolved into a complex war involving many players.

On Sunday, commandos from the US-led coalition battling IS raided a village held by the jihadists in eastern Syria, the Observatory and the Pentagon said.

The operation was "focused on ISIL leadership," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.

The Observatory said at least 25 jihadists were killed in the two-hour raid on the village of Al-Kubar in the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, but Davis called the number "grossly exaggerated".



US-led raid on IS leaders in Syria 'successful': Pentagon

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 9, 2017 - US special operations troops carried out a "successful" raid in Syria against leaders of the Islamic State group in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

The operation was "focused on ISIL leadership" and was conducted by a US special operations unit tasked with tracking down top jihadist operatives, Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.

Davis said, however, that reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent monitor, that 25 jihadists had died in the raid were "grossly exaggerated."

He said the raids were carried out by the "Expeditionary Targeting Force" (ETF), an elite unit deployed to Iraq.

This kind of raid is aimed at eliminating jihadists as well as intelligence-gathering to conduct further operations, Davis said.

According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed coalition of Arab and Kurdish forces, at least four helicopters, including Apache attack helicopters, were used in the operation.

A commander of the SDF said the attack targeted vehicles driven by senior IS fighters coming from Raqa, killing several and capturing other. Davis denied that prisoners were taken, saying there was "no detention from this operation."

A Syrian army official said military radars had detected the operation but could not identify the nationality of the aircraft.

The United States has been leading a campaign against IS in Syria since September 2014.

Deir Ezzor is Syria's second biggest province after Homs. Since early 2015, jihadists have besieged the provincial capital, also called Deir Ezzor, home to some 200,000 people.

According to the Observatory, the raids killed 14 IS members traveling on a bus and 11 in a firefight when a water facility was targeted.



Cyprus future in the balance as new peace talks begin

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Geneva (AFP) Jan 9, 2017 - Rival Cypriot leaders resumed UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva on Monday billed as a historic opportunity to end decades of conflict on the divided island, but the outcome is far from certain.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who have negotiated for more than 18 months in the run-up to the talks, arrived separately at UN headquarters in Geneva before sitting down for talks.

The two leaders, who have been among the most outspoken proponents of a deal, smiled at the cameras before settling around a large table with their extensive delegations and delving into the thorny talks.

The two sides are set to meet for three days in Geneva, and should on Wednesday provide maps of their proposals for the internal boundaries of a future bi-zonal federation on the eastern Mediterranean island.

If that goes to plan, they will be joined from Thursday by the leaders of the island's three guarantor powers -- former colonial ruler Britain, Greece and Turkey.

But both sides acknowledge key issues still need to be thrashed out, with the prospects of solving one of the world's longest-running geopolitical disputes remaining murky.

The United Nations has pulled out all the stops in its bid for a deal, eyeing the best chance of a settlement in more than a decade.

"It is a real possibility that 2017 will be the year when the Cypriots, themselves, freely decide to turn the page of history," said UN envoy Espen Barth Eide, who welcomed the two leaders along with the UN's Geneva chief Michael Moeller.

- 'Tough week' ahead -

But some experts believe the Geneva talks are a disaster waiting to happen because of deep divisions on core issues such as property, territorial adjustments and security.

Leaving for Geneva on Sunday, Akinci described the talks as a "crossroads".

"We are not at a point where Geneva will mark the final conclusion. We need to be cautious," he said.

"We are expecting a tough week."

Anastasiades tweeted that he was heading to Geneva "with hope, confidence and unity" after earlier striking a note of caution, warning of "significant differences on substantive issues fundamental to a Cyprus solution".

Cyprus, home to around one million people, has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the island in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

Nine years later, Turkish Cypriot leaders declared a breakaway state in the north which is recognised only by Ankara.

The years of communal violence, which culminated in the Turkish invasion, saw tens of thousands from both sides flee their homes -- and they remain displaced to this day.

- Crunch issues -

It has always been agreed that some of the territory currently controlled by the Turkish Cypriots will be ceded to Greek Cypriot control in any peace deal.

Just how much and which land they should give up has hampered four decades of talks.

The issue is vital because the two leaders have pledged to put any deal to the vote in their respective communities.

In 2004, a majority of Turkish Cypriots backed a UN reunification plan but it was overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots.

Cyprus then joined the European Union, although EU legislation is suspended in the north until a settlement is reached.

The sides also remain far apart on how many Greek Cypriots should be able to return to homes they fled in 1974, with Akinci determined to minimise the number of Turkish Cypriots who would be displaced for a second time.

And there are differences over security arrangements, with Anastasiades wanting Turkish troops to leave the island but Akinci determined to keep a military presence.

Akinci also insists on a rotating presidency with a Turkish Cypriot elected every two years -- a proposal unpopular among Greek Cypriots.




Russia starts scaling down Syria military deployment

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) Jan 6, 2017 - Russia's military on Friday said it has begun scaling back its deployment to Syria, with Moscow's sole aircraft carrier ordered to leave the conflict zone first.

"In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander of the Russian armed forces Vladimir Putin, the Russian defence ministry is beginning the reduction of the armed deployment to Syria," military chief Valery Gerasimov said in televised comments.

Gerasimov gave the command for the naval group headed by aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov -- which also includes the nuclear-powered Pyotr Veliky battlecruiser and the Severomorsk destroyer -- to begin preparations immediately to return to its home port in the Arctic Circle.

"The tasks set for the aircraft carrier group during its military mission have been fulfilled," added Russia's main commander in Syria, Andrei Kartapolov.

Aircraft on board the carrier conducted some 420 sorties and hit 1,252 "terrorist" targets during the two months that it was involved in the Syria mission, Kartapolov said.

He insisted that Russia still had sufficient air defence capabilities in Syria thanks to its S-300 and S-400 systems deployed in the war-torn country.

The Kuznetsov arrived off Syria in November as Russia boosted its firepower on land and in the Mediterranean to support regime forces targeting the second city of Aleppo.

During its deployment to Syria, the Soviet-built Kuznetsov suffered a series of embarrassing accidents, with military analysts questioning the tactical importance of the ageing vessel.

Troops loyal to Russia's ally Bashar al-Assad finally ousted rebels from Aleppo last month in their biggest victory in more than five years of fighting, paving the way for the Kremlin to launch a fresh push for a political solution to the conflict.

Russian President Putin ordered a reduction in his forces in Syria on December 29, as he announced a ceasefire between government and rebel forces that has since dampened down the fighting.

Russia, along with Turkey and Iran, are currently pushing for peace talks to be held later this month in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.

Moscow launched its bombing campaign in Syria in September 2015, helping to turn the tide in favour of Assad's ailing forces.

Putin had already announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces in March 2016, but Moscow later ramped up its presence again as fighting increased.





Iraq PM says Turkish troop problem solved soon

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Baghdad (AFP) Jan 7, 2017 - Iraq and Turkey's prime ministers held talks Saturday in Baghdad which both said reflected progress in resolving a bitter row over the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said at a joint press conference after meeting Turkey's Binali Yildirim that the issue would be solved soon.

"The prime minister and the delegation accompanying him confirmed that this issue will be solved in a satisfactory manner soon," he said.

Turkey has for some time maintained troops at a base near Bashiqa, a town just northeast of Mosul, and reinforcements dispatched there in 2015 led to a deterioration in relations between the two neighbours.

Baghdad has accused Turkey of violating its sovereignty but Ankara has insisted rebels from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are based in northern Iraq should be dealt with.

Yildirim on Saturday said Abadi had provided such assurances.

"This is very important for us. We were very pleased with this and it shows in the best way what we can do in the fight against terror," he told reporters.

The PKK, a Turkish organisation, and its local allies control key areas in the Sinjar region, which lies between Mosul and Syria, south of the Turkish border.

Ankara has blamed a number of recent deadly attacks in Turkey on the PKK and has hinted it would not hesitate to cross the border to hunt down the Kurdish separatists.

- Mosul battle -

Abadi said he had a deal with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region for its forces to establish control over the Sinjar area.

"It should be under the full control of Iraqi forces and any outside forces are not allowed to control this area," Abadi said.

Yildirim said his government was committed to respecting and supporting Iraq's sovereignty.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi forces on October 17 launched a broad offensive, the country's largest in years, to retake Mosul from the Islamic State jihadist group.

The Turkish troops based outside Bashiqa, which was recaptured from IS in November 2016, have offered some artillery support but largely stayed out of the battle.

Ankara has insisted Mosul must keep its Sunni Arab Muslim majority which it had before IS took over the city from woefully unprepared Iraqi troops in 2014.

Yildirim suggested that Turkey would pull its troops out of Bashiqa once the battle for Mosul is over.

While Abadi has said a victory in Mosul could take three more months, many observers argue the timetable is optimistic.

Exactly which Iraqi forces secure the city will also be significant, with Turkey particularly wary of Shiite-dominated militias loyal to Tehran attempting to gain a foothold in northern Iraq.



Coalition strike kills senior IS leader in Syria: US

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 6, 2017 - The US-based coalition has killed a senior Islamic State group facilitator in an air strike in the extremists' self-proclaimed capital of Raqa, the US military command in the region said Friday.

CENTCOM identified the target as Mahmud al-Isawi, an IS operative who managed instructions and finances for IS leaders and provided propaganda and intelligence support.

He was killed on December 31, making him the 16th significant member of the network's external operations killed last year.

The longtime IS member provided to the group's media and intelligence in Fallujah prior to his move to Raqa.

He also facilitated transregional travel with other IS operators and had what CENTCOM dubbed a "close working and personal relationship" with Abd al-Basit al-Iraqi, emir of the group's Middle East attack network who was slain in a coalition air strike on November 2.

"His death, combined with the recent successive deaths of other ISIL leaders plotting terrorist attacks, has degraded ISIL's trans-regional attack and facilitation network, and is forcing ISIL to increase their focus on internal security," CENTCOM said.

"The coalition will continue to track and eliminate ISIL terrorists who plot and conduct attacks against coalition nations and our allies, wherever they are hiding."

Syria has been wracked by a devastating civil war for nearly six years that has killed more than 312,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.



Historic Cyprus peace in balance at Geneva talks

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Nicosia (AFP) Jan 8, 2017 - Rival Cypriot leaders hold UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva from Monday billed as a historic opportunity to end decades of division on the island but the outcome is far from certain.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades have held more than 18 months of negotiations in the run-up to the crunch talks but both men acknowledge that key issues remain to be thrashed out.

The United Nations has pulled out all the stops to get a deal over the line, eyeing the best chance of a settlement in more than a decade.

"It is a real possibility that 2017 will be the year when the Cypriots, themselves, freely decide to turn the page of history," UN envoy Espen Barth Eide said in a New Year's message.

But some analysts believe that Geneva is a disaster waiting to happen because of the deep divisions between the two sides on core issues such as property, territorial adjustments and security.

"I will be surprised if there is a comprehensive agreement given the difficulties," Andreas Theophanous, head of the Cyprus Centre for European and International Affairs, told AFP.

Leaving for the talks on Sunday, the Turkish Cypriot leader told reporters that they marked a "crossroads" and it was vital to "achieve positive results and not just meet up".

"We are not at a point where Geneva will mark the final conclusion. We need to be cautious," Akinci said.

"We are not pessimistic but we shouldn't assume everything is done and dusted. We are expecting a tough week."

- 'Significant differences' -

As he left the island, Anastasiades, who heads the island's internationally recognised government, tweeted that he was heading to the talks "with hope, confidence and unity."

But earlier this week, he too struck a note of caution, warning of "significant differences on substantive issues fundamental to a Cyprus solution".

The island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

Nine years later, Turkish Cypriot leaders declared a breakaway state in the north which is recognised only by Ankara.

The years of communal violence, which culminated in the Turkish invasion, saw tens of thousands from both sides flee their homes -- and they remain displaced to this day.

It has always been agreed that some of the territory currently controlled by the Turkish Cypriots will be ceded to Greek Cypriot control in any peace deal.

Just how much and which land they should give up has hampered four decades of peace talks.

The issue is vital because any deal the two leaders reach will have to be put to the vote in their respective communities.

In 2004, a majority of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of a UN reunification plan but it was overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots.

The two sides have undertaken to provide maps on Wednesday of their proposals for the internal boundaries of a future bizonal federation.

If that goes to plan, they will be joined from Thursday by the leaders of the island's three guarantor powers -- former colonial ruler Britain, Greece and Turkey.

"I expect neither a success nor a failure but the beginning of a series of final round talks under the participation of the guarantor powers with 'observers' invited from the EU and Security Council," said Hubert Faustmann, professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in a phone call on Saturday that the Geneva talks were a "real opportunity" to end the island's division.

But there are differences over future security arrangements with Anastasiades wanting the tens of thousands of Turkish troops on the island to leave but Akinci demanding a continued Turkish military presence.

Akinci also insists on a rotating presidency for the future federation -- a proposal unpopular among Greek Cypriots.

Analyst Theophanous said the most likely outcome of the Geneva talks would be an agreement to continue negotiations in Nicosia.

"It will be an ongoing process but this has been going on for so many years," he said.



Scars haunt Colombian rebels as they disarm

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Vegaez, Colombia (AFP) Jan 5, 2017 - Jair's missing right leg reminds him of many things: the heavy price he paid for fighting in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the pain he inflicted on others.

The 25-year-old guerrilla came of age in the FARC, which he believed was fighting to create a more just Colombia.

Now, the Marxist rebels are gathering in disarmament camps after reaching a peace deal to end the half-century conflict.

Preparing to disarm has given Jair a chance to think about how the violence has shaped his life.

Six years ago, he was pursuing an enemy soldier in the country's northwest when he stepped on a land mine.

Blown through the air, he landed 15 meters (yards) away, covered in blood and wearing nothing but his underwear, even though he had been dressed in combat fatigues just seconds before.

"It's very hard when you've never been taught how to live after losing a leg," he told AFP at a FARC camp in the jungle along the Arquia river, in the northwest.

The camp sits near one of the demobilization zones where the rebels are now due to surrender their weapons, in a process overseen by the United Nations.

Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, the handsome Jair seems like any other 20-something from the waist up.

But he feels ashamed when civilians see his "ugly scar," he said.

"We're at peace, but obviously this thing happened to you during the war. It's a reminder you're left with," he said.

- War among the poor -

A native of Colombia's Caribbean coast, Jair joined the FARC because he believed in their fight for social justice in a country with an ugly history of exploiting its impoverished masses.

But he struggles with the destruction his own actions wrought on other people's lives.

"It weighs on me, because it's a war between poor people. We're killing each other," he said.

The Colombian conflict, which grew out of a crushed peasant uprising in the 1960s, has drawn in not only the army and the FARC, but several other leftist rebel groups as well as drug gangs and right-wing paramilitary units funded by wealthy landowners.

It has killed more than 260,000 people and left 60,000 missing.

- Moving on? -

Mileidy, 19, also struggles with the scars left by the conflict.

A year ago, army air strikes hit the camp where the teenage guerrilla and her comrades were hiding out.

Shrapnel tore into her legs and right arm. She still has metal fragments lodged in her body.

"It feels like an electric current that just keeps growing. It really hurts," said the rebel.

She said she had no regrets about her role in the conflict.

"They (the army and paramilitaries) were shooting to kill. So how could we feel bad about capturing and killing them?" she said with a severe gaze.

But now, "we're in a peace process. You have to make friends with them," she said.

"Nobody likes war," said Sebastian, a guerrilla who lost his right eye in a 1998 skirmish with paramilitary fighters who according to the FARC had been killing peasant farmers.

He was 19 years old at the time.

"Combat isn't good, but sometimes you have to do it," he said, still dressed in the camouflage uniform he has worn for more than 20 years.

"But now there won't be any more battles. We have to forgive."

- Contested peace accord -

It remains to be seen how ready Colombian society is to forgive the FARC, however.

Over the decades the rebels have themselves wrought terror with massacres, kidnappings and revenge killings.

Last October, voters rejected the peace deal after opponents vehemently condemned the concessions made to the FARC, which will become a political party.

The opposition campaign argued that President Juan Manuel Santos gave the rebels seats in Congress when he should have jailed them for war crimes.

Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize five days later, sent his negotiators to work out a revised deal with the FARC.

The second time around, he had it ratified in Congress.

Critics complain the final deal still grants the FARC impunity and was never put to a popular vote.



US ready to help Turkish forces in Syria

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 4, 2017 - The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group is prepared to support Turkish forces battling the fighters in northern Syria, a US military official said Wednesday.

Turkey has asked for such assistance from the coalition but none has been forthcoming so far.

Colonel John Dorrian, speaking via video conference from Baghdad, said support will be offered.

"I can confirm for you that those discussions have been happening and the Turks are aware of some of the things that might be in store," Dorrian said, declining to provide further details.

Turkish forces have been engaged for several weeks in deadly fighting against the Islamic State group to retake the Syrian city of Al-Bab.

But despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's requests, coalition planes have not been deployed to directly help the Turks.

Coalition aircraft did make a show of force last week near Al-Bab at the request of Turkish forces but did not fire any weapons.

The coalition criticizes Turkey for launching the offensive unilaterally without first reaching an agreement with its partners.

The Americans supported the first part of the Turkish offensive in Syria in mid-2016.

Neither the coalition nor Turkey have said why the coalition stopped supporting Turkish forces in Syria as they did at the start of the Turkish offensive in August.

But US officials have suggested they are concerned that the Turks, after the conquest of Al-Bab, might attack the Kurdish-led Arab-Kurdish coalition of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The United States sees the SDF as their most effective ally in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. The SDF is currently leading the first part of the offensive against Raqa, the self-proclaimed IS capital in Syria.

The United States is walking a thin line in these discussions with Turkey, as Ankara it is a key ally of the coalition, allowing it to use the Turkish air base at Incirlik for attacks against jihadists.



Cyprus peace opportunity: use it or lose it, says UN envoy

‎Tuesday, ‎January ‎10, ‎2017, ‏‎4:04:57 AMGo to full article
Athens (AFP) Jan 4, 2017 - The UN's envoy for Cyprus on Wednesday warned parties in the divided island's peace talks that they had to seize a golden opportunity for reunification.

"The choice now is very much about using this opportunity, or losing it," Espen Barth Eide said after talks in Athens with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.

"We are of course only planning for success, but I think we have to be frank... the inability to solve it this time will not mean that we have another chance in three months... one year or five years, we don't know," the Norwegian said.

Cypriot President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci are to meet in Geneva from January 9 after negotiations broke down last month.

If all goes well, they will be joined on January 12 by the guarantor powers of Cyprus -- Britain, which is the former colonial power, Greece and Turkey.

The envoy said he had a "clear sense" that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras would attend, as will new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Athens last month had hoped to facilitate the talks with a direct meeting between Tsipras and Erdogan, but this prospect now seems less likely.

The five-way talks will be "open-ended" to give negotiators ample time, said Eide, who is special advisor on Cyprus to the UN secretary general.

"We have deliberately not said when it ends... we go there with the ambition of finding a solution, or at least a framework for a solution," Eide said.

"It is not going to be easy... a lot of work has to be done to reconcile the established opening positions," Eide said.

But, he added, "the possibilities are higher than they ever were."

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the island in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

The Republic of Cyprus is an internationally-recognised EU member state, while the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognised by Turkey.

It is hoped the outline of a peace deal can be reached in Geneva after 19 months of UN brokered talks between the rival Cypriot leaders.

Adding the guarantor powers to the mix has only complicated the process, Eide hinted on Wednesday.

"We have the strong feeling that if it was only up to the Cypriots, this problem (would) be solved," he said.

But he stressed that success would send a major signal to a divided Europe and a war-torn Middle East.

The two sides remain far apart on several issues, including how many Greek Cypriots could return to homes they fled in 1974 and future security arrangements.

Eide said security and guarantees were the "key outstanding questions".

"This will be the main focus of the conference next week," he said.

Anastasiades wants all Turkish troops to withdraw but Akinci is determined to keep some on the island.


Aleppo City landmarks
Nickname(s): Ash-Shahbaa
Aleppo is located in Syria
Location in Syria
Coordinates: 36°13′N 37°10′E


Baalbek, also known as Baalbeck (Arabic: بعلبك‎ / ALA-LC: Baʻalbak, Lebanese pronunciation: [ˈbʕalbak]) is a town in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon situated east of the Litani River. It is famous for its exquisitely detailed yet monumentally scaled temple ruins of the Roman period, when Baalbek, then known as Heliopolis (Greek: Ἡλιούπολις), was one of the largest sanctuaries in the empire. It is Lebanon's greatest Roman treasure, and it can be counted among the wonders of the ancient world, containing some of the largest and best preserved Roman ruins.

Towering high above the Beqaa plain, their monumental proportions proclaimed the power and wealth of Imperial Rome. The gods worshiped there, the triad of Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus, were grafted onto the indigenous deities of Hadad, Atargatis and a young male god of fertility. Local influences are seen in the planning and layout of the temples, which vary from the classic Roman design.

Baalbek is home to the annual Baalbeck International Festival. The town is about 85 km (53 mi) northeast of Beirut and about 75 km (47 mi) north of Damascus. It has a population of approximately 72,000, mostly Shia Muslims - the Shi'ite movement of Hezbollah operates a hospital in the town.




Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek
Baalbek is located in Lebanon
Location in Lebanon
Coordinates: 34°0′25″N 36°12′14″E




Temple of Venus, Baalbek, 1891







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