Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore pushed for a harder stance against Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing at a “tense” meeting that decided to exclude him from a regional summit this month, four people with knowledge of the talks said.
Southeast Asian ministers were divided between sticking to a tradition of non-interference and the need to retain credibility by sanctioning the coup leader, who has led a bloody crackdown on dissent since seizing power from Myanmar’s civilian government on Feb. 1, the sources said.
In the end it was the chair Brunei, with majority backing, that chose to keep him from attending the virtual Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit set for Oct 26 to 28, and invite instead a “non-political representative” from Myanmar.
The decision broke with ASEAN’s decades-long policy of engagement and non-interference in the affairs of member nations.
“The mood in the meeting had never been more tense,” said one of the people with knowledge of the discussions.
“If you asked me if ASEAN would do something like this a year ago, I would have said it would never happen,” said a regional diplomat. “ASEAN is changing.”
Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Twitter the outcome of the meeting was a “difficult but necessary decision to uphold ASEAN’s credibility”.
Philippines Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said before the meeting that the bloc could no longer afford to take a neutral stance on Myanmar, adding that if it relented, “our credibility as a real regional organization disappears … We’re a bunch of guys who always agree with each other on the worthless things”.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry and a spokesperson for Indonesia’s foreign ministry declined to comment.
The 10-member ASEAN also includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
International pressure has been mounting on ASEAN for a harder line against Myanmar’s failure to take agreed steps to end violence, allow humanitarian access and start dialogue with its opponents.
The grouping’s perceived ineptitude has sparked outrage in Myanmar, with some anti-junta protesters burning the bloc’s flag.
Since overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, detaining her and most of her allies and ending a decade of tentative democracy, Myanmar’s military has killed more than 1,000 people and arrested thousands in a bid to crush resistance, monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says.
Fighting has flared nationwide between junta troops and hastily assembled pro-democracy armed groups.
In a televised address on Monday, making his first remarks since the snub, Min Aung Hlaing defended the military’s actions, saying it was seeking to restore order and ASEAN should take note of violence out by its opponents, before announcing an amnesty for thousands of political prisoners. [L1N2RE08M]
Earlier, a spokesman blamed ASEAN’s decision on “foreign intervention”, saying the United States and representatives of the European Union had pressured other members of the grouping.
CREDIBILITY AT STAKE
For decades, Myanmar’s military has been a thorny issue for the regional bloc, as previous ruling juntas came under fire for brutally crushing pro-democracy movements.
Friday’s decision came after weeks of failed diplomacy over the crisis and days after plans were scrapped for a visit to Myanmar by ASEAN’s special envoy Erywan Yusof when the junta denied him a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, citing the criminal charges she faces.
These include violating the official secrets act.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore first floated the idea of sidelining the junta head at a meeting this month of ASEAN foreign ministers, said the regional diplomat, as a tactic to win access to Suu Kyi, who is being held at an unknown location.
Two of the sources said there were fears that Min Aung Hlaing’s presence would deter other global leaders from attending the larger East Asia Summit, set for a few days after the ASEAN summit.
Last week, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres postponed a call with Southeast Asian ministers to avoid being in the same online room as a Myanmar military representative.
“The threats to disengage weren’t made, at least explicitly, but there was anxiety on the part of member states that it would begin to affect ASEAN’s credibility in a broader sense,” said Aaron Connelly, a Southeast Asia researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The regional leaders discussed on Friday requests to attend the summit from Myanmar’s parallel civilian government, the National Unity Government, which two sources said has been in quiet talks with Indonesia, among other nations, but stopped short.
The selection of a “non-political representative” now falls to the junta, which is likely to choose someone seen as comparatively neutral but tied to the regime, three of the sources said.
But the decision to sideline Min Aung Hlaing represents “the most severe sanction that any ASEAN member state has ever been dealt by the organisation,” said Connelly.
People regionwide have “lost faith and hope in the mechanism of ASEAN to protect its own community members,” said Fuadi Pitsuwan, a fellow at Chiang Mai University’s School of Public Policy.
It might be time to “re-evaluate” the non-interference principle, he added.
“Let’s see if this would kick start another round of this existential deliberation and whether it would end differently.”
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng, Karen Lema, and Shoon Naing; Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
First cases of COVID-19 discovered in Canadian wildlife – CTV News
The first cases of COVID-19 in Canadian wildlife have been discovered in three white-tailed deer, a press release from Environment and Climate Change Canada reports.
The National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease confirmed the detections on Nov. 29 but the deer were sampled between Nov. 6 to 8 in the Estrie region of Quebec. The deer showed no evidence of clinical signs of disease and were “all apparently healthy.”
“As this is the first detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife in Canada, information on the impacts and spread of the virus in wild deer populations is currently limited,” the press release states.
“The finding emphasizes the importance of ongoing surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife to increase our understanding about SARS-CoV-2 on the human-animal interface.”
The World Organisation for Animal Health was notified about the discovery on Dec. 1.
The department is urging added precaution – like wearing a well-fitted mask – when exposed to “respiratory tissues and fluids from deer.”
The virus has been found in multiple animal species globally including farmed mink, cats, dogs, ferrets, and zoo animals such as tigers, lions, gorillas, cougars, otters and others.
“Recent reports in the United States have revealed evidence of spillover of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to wild white-tailed deer, with subsequent spread of the virus among deer. There has been no known transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from deer to humans at this time,” the release reads.
U.N. seeks record $41 billion for aid to hotspots led by Afghanistan, Ethiopia
The United Nations appealed on Thursday for a record $41 billion to provide life-saving assistance next year to 183 million people worldwide caught up in conflict and poverty, led by a tripling of its programme in Afghanistan.
Famine remains a “terrifying prospect” for 45 million people living in 43 countries, as extreme weather caused by climate change shrinks food supplies, the U.N. said in the annual appeal, which reflected a 17% rise in annual funding needs.
“The drivers of needs are ones which are familiar to all of us. Tragically, it includes protracted conflicts, political instability, failing economies … the climate crisis, not a new crisis, but one which urges more attention and of course the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters.
In a report to donors, the world body said: “Without sustained and immediate action, 2022 could be catastrophic.”
Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Sudan are the five major crises requiring the most funding, topped by $4.5 billion sought for Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where “needs are skyrocketing”, it said.
In Afghanistan, more than 24 million people require life-saving assistance, a dramatic increase driven by political tumult, repeated economic shocks, and severe food insecurity caused by the worst drought in 27 years.
“We are in the business in the U.N. of trying to urgently establish with support from the World Bank as well as the U.N. system, a currency swap initiative which will allow liquidity to go into the economy,” Griffiths said.
“The absence of cash in Afghanistan is a major impediment to any delivery of services,” he said. “I am hoping that we get it up and running before the end of this month.”
In Ethiopia, where a year-old conflict between government and Tigrayan forces has spread into the Amhara and Afar regions, thousands have been displaced, while fighting, drought and locusts push more to the brink, the U.N. said.
Nearly 26 million Ethiopians require aid, including more than 9 million who depend on food rations, including 5 million in Tigray, amid rising malnutrition rates, it said.
“Ethiopia is the most alarming probably almost certainly in terms of immediate emergency need,” Griffiths said, adding that 400,000 people had been deemed at risk of famine already in May.
Noting that heavy fighting continued, with government forces battling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front forces who have moved closer to the capital Addis Ababa, he added: “But capacity to respond to an imploded Ethiopia is almost impossible to imagine.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Richard Pullin)
Doug Ford applauds new COVID-19 travel restrictions, says more discussions with feds to be held – Globalnews.ca
Ontario Premier Doug Ford thanked the federal government for implementing new travel restrictions in a bid to stop the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and said more discussions will be held about possibly expanding new testing rules to travellers from the United States.
Ford made the remarks at an unrelated press conference in Mississauga Wednesday morning.
Several Omicron variant cases have already been confirmed in Ontario, and Ford said while it is a “cause for concern” it is “not cause for panic.”
“Every day we hold off more cases entering our country, the more time we have to learn and prepare,” Ford said.
“So the best thing we can do right now is fortify our borders. Our best defence is keeping the variant out of our country. We welcome the actions from the federal government and I want to thank the feds for taking action to date.
“We implored them last week to act quickly and be decisive on the borders and they did.”
In a statement last Friday, Ford called on the federal government to enact travel bans on “countries of concern” and the feds followed through just hours later.
On Tuesday, they expanded that ban to three additional countries.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said foreign nationals from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt who have been to those countries over the past two weeks will not be able to enter Canada. This added to the seven other African countries barred by Canada on Friday: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria added to Canada‘s travel ban amid more restrictions
Canadians and permanent residents, as well as all those who have the right to return to Canada, who have transited through these countries over the past two weeks, will have to quarantine, be tested at the airport, and await their test results before exiting quarantine, Duclos said.
It was also announced that all air travellers entering Canada — excluding those coming from the United States — would have to get tested when they arrive and isolate until they receive a negative result. That measure applies to all travellers, regardless of vaccination status.
Duclos said Wednesday that it will take time to implement the new measure.
In his statement last week, Ford also called for point-of-arrival testing to be put in place.
He also said he advised the province’s chief medical officer and Public Health Ontario to “immediately implement expanded surveillance” and update planning to “ensure we are ready for any outcome.”
The Omicron variant has now been detected in many countries around the world, including, as of Wednesday, the United States.
Ford was asked if he would support expanding the new testing rules to those arriving from the States.
“I would always support anything that can be cautious to prevent this variant coming into our country. So, again we’ll have a discussion with the federal government. That’s their jurisdiction, it’s not ours,” Ford said.
“They work collaboratively with all the provinces and territories and I’m always for going the cautious route as I think people have seen over the last 20 months.”
The premier added that “it doesn’t take much to get a test at the airport.”
Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Wednesday that it’s too early to say whether Canada’s latest requirement to test arriving air travellers will be extended to include those coming from the United States.
“We need to be prepared and ready if we need to adjust that decision to include travellers from the U.S. We haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.
When asked what provincial measures are being considered in response to the Omicron variant, Ford said they will make sure there is expanded testing capacity and contact tracing.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said there is still much that isn’t known about the variant, including how effective vaccines are against it.
She said the province is “continuing with all of our precautions” and said it’s important to keep border restrictions in place until more is known about the variant.
Elliott also said more information will be released in the coming days “with respect to age categories” on booster shots.
— With files from Saba Aziz and The Canadian Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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