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HRW says rebels in Ukraine using forced labor 'punishment brigades'
2014.09.07 04:12:27

Rebel forces in east Ukraine have committed "serious violations of the laws of war" by seizing civilians and forcing them  to work in "punishment brigades" on pain of death, Human Rights Watch has said.

Witnesses in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk told HRW that people were often held for minor infractions such as drinking beer in public and put to work for up to a month, sometimes on checkpoints near the front lines.

Several former captives said the use of "punishment brigades" was widespread and the insurgents had threatened to kill those who did not cooperate.

"Rebels in eastern Ukraine [must] stop forcing people into labor brigades and stop exposing them to dangers of the front lines," said Hugh Williamson, the human rights group's Europe and Central Asia director.

"Both are serious violations of the laws of war," he said in a statement on Saturday.

[AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Key dates of the Ukraine crisis
2014.09.07 04:03:53

Here are key dates in the Ukraine crisis since pro-Russia rebels launched a rebellion in the east of the former Soviet republic in April this year. Rival parties signed a Kremlin-backed ceasefire accord on Friday to halt the bloodshed and it appeared to be largely holding on Saturday despite claims of breaches by both sides.

APRIL
6: Two weeks after Crimea is annexed by Russia, pro-Moscow demonstrators seize government buildings in several cities in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, including Donetsk and Lugansk.
7: Separatists in Donetsk declare an "independent republic".
13: Kiev announces the launch of an "anti-terrorist" operation in the east.

MAY

11: Voters call for independence in referendums in Lugansk and Donetsk that are rejected as illegitimate by Kiev and the West.
25: Ukrainian presidential election is won by Petro Poroshenko with almost 55 percent of the vote.

JUNE
14: Separatists shoot down a Ukrainian transport plane, killing 49 people, the latest in a string of aircraft drownings.
27: Poroshenko signs a delayed association accord with the EU - pulling Ukraine decisively out of Moscow's sphere of influence.

JULY

5-6: Rebels abandon their bastion Slavyansk and move south after a shelling onslaught by resurgent government forces.
17: A Malaysia Airlines plane is shot down in rebel-held territory, killing 298 people on board.
29: The European Union and United States broaden sanctions on Russia, accused of destabilizing eastern Ukraine.

AUGUST

7: Russia retaliates against the Western sanctions, banning most food  imports from the US and the EU.
22: Kiev accuses Russia of staging "a direct invasion" after Moscow sends a controversial aid convoy to Lugansk.
25: Rebels mount a counter-offensive in the southeast, reportedly backed by Russian troops.
26: Poroshenko and Russian leader Vladimir Putin meet in Minsk on the sidelines of an EU summit, without results.
28: Kiev says Russian troops have seized the border town of Novoazovsk, accuses Moscow of a "direct invasion".
NATO puts Russian troop numbers in Ukraine at more than 1,000 and says it has funneled in vast amounts of heavy weaponry but Moscow denies the claims.
29: Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says the government will launch steps to join NATO.
31: Putin calls for the first time for "statehood" status for the east of Ukraine.

SEPTEMBER
1: Ukrainian forces withdraw from Lugansk airport, followed by other pullouts from around rebel-held areas. Kiev accuses Moscow of launching a "great war" that could claim tens of thousands of lives.
3: France suspends delivery of a Mistral-class helicopter carrier to Russia.
Putin unveils a seven-point peace plan for Ukraine after talks with Poroshenko.
4: NATO hosts summit devoted largely to Ukraine crisis.
5: Rival parties sign a 12-point ceasefire in Minsk which takes effect at 1500 GMT. The guns fall silent after heavy fighting in the southeastern port city of Mariupol and bombardments in Donetsk. NATO leaders agree to set up a rapid reaction force. EU agrees on new economic sanctions on Russia.
6: Eastern Ukraine remains calm overall although rival sides accuse the other of ceasefire violations.Russia warns it will respond to any new sanctions.

[AFP]



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Ukraine and Russia agree truce holding
2014.09.07 04:01:47

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said that he and Russian leader Vladimir Putin agree that the ceasefire between Kiev and separatist rebels was largely holding.

"The two heads of state noted (in a phone call) that the ceasefire regime was generally being observed. Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin discussed ways to make the ceasefire hold," the Ukrainian president's office said in a statement, after the rebels and government forces accused the other of some truce violations.



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NATO members have difficulty reaching consensus on Ukraine
2014.09.07 04:00:02

The high-profile NATO summit that ended in Wales in the United Kingdom on Friday is unlikely to yield effective solutions to Ukraine crisis, political analysts have said.

Analysts said that it is difficult for the NATO nations to work out a resolution more "fruitful" than the Readiness Action Plan at the summit.

The Readiness Action Plan was released by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday, and it aims to "provide an effective protection and defense of NATO's allies," according to Rasmussen.

"I wouldn't expect to see too many details at this point, but I think moving forward, so in January or Febuary, you know, as the defense ministers meet and the foreign ministers meet, we're going to see what exactly the foreign ministers and NATO heads of state mean when they say we are looking to deter Russia, we are implementing a readiness action plan,"  said Kathleen Mclnnis, researcher with the London-based Chatham House.

There's a lot of details, in other words, that need to be sorted out and will be sorted out in the coming months.

"There's a lot of details, in other words, that need to be sorted out and will be sorted out in the coming months."

Analysts said that despite that all NATO nations oppose Russia's actions in the Ukraine crisis, however, it is difficult for them to reach consensus on what action would NATO take to deter Russia.

"The strategic view of each country differs depending on their history, on their location, you know, all sorts of different things," said Alexander Nicoll, researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"Different political interests, you have different commercial interests, you know, everybody has a slightly different view of the world."

[Reuters]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | NATO

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Saudi Arabia inaugurates 900km fence along Iraq border
2014.09.07 03:50:52

Saudi Arabia has inaugurated a 900km multi-layered fence along its northern borders, as part of efforts to secure the kingdom's vast desert frontiers against infiltrators and smugglers, state media has said.

King Abdullah announced the launch of the first stage of the border security program, stretching from Hafr al-Batin, near the Iraq-Kuwait border, to the northeast town of Turaif close to Jordan.

The project includes five layers of fencing equipped with watch towers, night-vision cameras and 50 radars.

SPA said it will cut the "number of infiltrators, drug, arms and cattle smugglers to zero."

Relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia have been deeply strained since Riyadh accused outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of creating the conditions for the Islamic State group to emerge by marginalizing its Sunni Arab minority.

[AFP]



Tags: Iraq | Islamic State | Saudi Arabia

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Pro-Russian rebels accused Kiev's forces of breaking a ceasefire
2014.09.07 03:38:00

Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine on Saturday accused Kiev's forces of breaking a ceasefire just hours after it was agreed and vowed to pursue their independence drive in the east.

A leading member of the parliament established by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic said Ukrainian units had launched several missiles toward rebel positions after the truce went into effect at 1500GMT on Friday.



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Iraq welcomes Obama's call for a broad coalition to tackle the Islamic State group
2014.09.07 03:11:26

Iraq has welcomed US President Barack Obama's plan for an international coalition to tackle the Islamic State group, saying it was a "strong message of support" for Baghdad and its fight against the group, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said.

"We welcome that, and we have repeatedly called on our international partners for help and support because this threat is a very deadly threat... not only to the people of Iraq or the region, but to Europe, to America, to NATO," Zebari told the AFP news agency.

"This is basically our fight... but we need the support, our capacity is limited, and we need the support to enhance our capacity," he said.

"Nobody's thinking of any ground troops at this stage, they are calling for air support, for tactical support, for arming the forces on the ground, like the [Kurdish] peshmerga, the Iraqi security forces, and also to provide... intelligence, reconnaissance," he added.

[AFP]



Tags: Iraq | Islamic State | United States | Barack Obama

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Ukraine's national guard head says the cease-fire holding
2014.09.07 03:10:21

The head of Ukraine's national guard says the cease-fire called in the country's rebellious east appears to be holding despite some violations early on.

National Guard Commander Stepan Poltorak was quoted by the Interfax news agency Saturday as saying that although some shooting took place up to about 45 minutes after the cease-fire ``as of this morning there haven't been any violations, either from our side, of course, or from the terrorists.''

Ukraine, Russia and the Kremlin-backed separatists signed the cease-fire deal Friday after five months of bloodshed.

In Donetsk, the largest city controlled by the Russian-backed separatists, the night passed quietly. As of Saturday morning there were no reports of shooting or shelling, the mayor's office said in a statement. Some shelling was heard in Donetsk late Friday afternoon.



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Syrian regime airstrikes
2014.09.07 03:08:43

Syrian regime airstrikes on Deir al-Zor province have killed 3 Islamic State fighters near their headquarters in Al-Mayadin- Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday.



Tags: Syria | Islamic State

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Hundreds attend memorial service for slain US journalist
2014.09.07 02:53:33

Murdered American journalist Steven Sotloff urged his friends and family to live life "to the fullest," in a letter penned during his captivity in Iraq and read at a memorial service in his honor.

Hundreds of mourners paid their last respects to the journalist at a somber and emotional ceremony on Friday, held just days after his beheading by Islamic State fighters.

[AFP]



Tags: Iraq | Islamic State | United States | Syria | Steven Sotloff

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Russia's Foreign Ministry vowed to react
2014.09.07 02:52:21

Russia's Foreign Ministry vowed on Saturday to react if the European Union implements new sanctions against Moscow over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

The EU announced the additional measures late on Friday but said they could be suspended if Moscow withdraws its troops from Ukraine and observes a newly agreed ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

The new sanctions include adding a further 24 people to a list of people barred from entry to the 28-nation bloc and whose assets are frozen. They are due to be implemented on Monday.

"If they (new sanctions) are implemented of course there will be a reaction from our side," the ministry said in a statement.

[Reuters]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | European Union

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Syrian war planes hit a bakery run by Islamic State
2014.09.07 02:51:19

Syrian war planes hit a bakery run by Islamic State in the city of Raqqa, killing at least 35 civilians and 15 Islamic State fighters, in air raids on Saturday, other targets included a major training camp used by the group for a second day running, a group monitoring the war said.

The air strikes on Raqqa, Islamic State's stronghold some 400km northeast of Damascus, also hit a building used as an Islamic court, and another of the group's offices, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.



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US, Iran deny military coordination plans over IS
2014.09.07 02:36:41

The United States and Iran have denied plans for any military coordination in the fight against Islamic State group operating in Iraq and Syria.

"We are not going to coordinate military action or share intelligence with Iran and have no plans to do so," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday, reacting to reports that Tehran had approved such an  arrangement.

Harf said that Washington was "open to engaging" with Iran as it had in the past on select issues, notably on Afghanistan in late 2001, when the two sides worked to put Hamid Karzai into power after the fall of the Taliban.

"But we will not be coordinating our action together," she added.

The BBC reported, citing unnamed sources in Tehran, that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had approved cooperation with the US in the fight against the Islamic State.

In a brief statement on Iranian state media, foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham denied the report. [AFP]



Tags: Iraq | Islamic State | United States | Iran | Syria

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Arab League Foreign Ministers in Cairo
2014.09.07 02:33:51

In a speech to be delivered tomorrow (Sunday), to Arab League Foreign Ministers in Cairo, UNRWA’s Commissioner General, Pierre Krahenbuhl, will ask for 47 million dollars for four weeks emergency work in Gaza.



Tags: Gaza | Israel | Arab League

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Ukraine and pro-Kremlin insurgents
2014.09.07 02:24:53

Ukraine and pro-Kremlin insurgents appeared to be observing a truce on Saturday that could stem five months of bloodshed, but failed to head off fresh Western sanctions against Russia and is unlikely to quell the separatist drive in the east.

The 12-point pact signed on Friday in the Belarussian capital Minsk is the first to be backed by both the Kremlin and Kiev since bands of Russian-speaking militias seized a string of government buildings across Ukraine's industrial heartland in early April.



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Brussels Jewish Museum
2014.09.07 02:23:45

A French journalist held hostage for months by extremists in Syria says one of his abductors was a Frenchman suspected of killing four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum earlier this year.

French magazine Le Point on Saturday quotes its reporter Nicolas Henin as saying he was tortured by Mehdi Nemmouche, a Frenchman who had spent time with extremists in Syria.

Henin was held for a time with American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, both beheaded by extremists from the Islamic State group in recent weeks. He was released in April with other French journalists.

Nemmouche is in custody. The Brussels killing in May crystallized fears of European governments that citizens who join radical fighters in Syria could return to stage attacks at home.



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EU agrees new sanctions on Russia
2014.09.07 02:14:20

The European Union has agreed on a new package of economic sanctions against Russia on Friday, despite a ceasefire between government forces and pro-Kremlin rebels in Ukraine, diplomats said.

A EU diplomat said there was "agreement in principle on new sanctions" and that they would be officially implemented in writing on Monday.

[AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | European Union

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Russian FM says NATO’s statements threaten peace process in Ukraine
2014.09.06 04:09:44

Statements at the NATO summit in Wales on Ukraine’s crisis will inevitably escalate tensions and will threaten peace process in Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

“The essence and the tonality of the statements on Ukraine, along with the announced plans to hold joint war games of the NATO member states and Kiev in that country till the end of 2014, will inevitably escalate tensions, threaten the visible progress in Ukraine’s peace process and facilitate a deepening split among Ukrainians,” the ministry said.

“Moreover, they (the statements) witness NATO’s unconditional support of Kiev’s neo-Nazi and extremist forces, including (nationalist) Right Sector,” it said.

[ITAR-TASS]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | NATO

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Status of rebel-held regions in Ukraine not discussed at Minsk talks-rebels
2014.09.06 04:08:53

All sides showed a commitment to securing peace at talks on the conflict in east Ukraine on Friday, Kiev's envoy said on Friday, but a rebel leader said the status of the breakaway regions in the east was not discussed.

Speaking after talks at which the rebels and Ukraine agreed a ceasefire, Kiev's envoy, former President Leonid Kuchma, said the first delivery of humanitarian aid under the deal would be sent to east Ukraine on Saturday.

A representative of the OSCE security and rights watchdog, which was present at the talks, said the deal also provided for prisoner exchanges and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from fighting areas.

[Reuters]



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UK PM Cameron says proper peace plan needed for Ukraine
2014.09.06 04:08:05

British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the agreement of a ceasefire in Ukraine but said on Friday that EU sanctions would go ahead until a proper peace plan was in place.

Ukrainian government representatives and pro-Russian rebels agreed to declare a ceasefire on Friday at talks in Minsk, the first such breakthrough in the five-month conflict.

"The ceasefire is good news. I think we need to look carefully about whether it is a ceasefire or whether it also includes a commitment ... to make real progress on a proper peace plan," Cameron told reporters at the end of a two-day NATO summit, adding that a partition of Ukraine would not be accepted as part of that plan.

He added: "We should be clear that the sanctions ... will go ahead, they will be put in place but of course if a ceasefire and a proper peace plan is put in place, then of course it will be right to look and see how those sanctions could be removed if proper milestones are reached."

Asked whether Britain and others, who met on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the Islamic State threat, would join the United States in air strikes, Cameron said: "We're not at that stage yet."

[Reuters]



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