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UN chief appeals for cease-fires, warns pandemic wins wars

TANZANIA – The United Nations chief is appealing for cease-fires in the world’s major conflicts, from Yemen and Libya to Afghanistan and Nagorno-Karabakh, warning that if fighting continues “the only winner is the pandemic.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was renewing his March 23 call for an immediate halt to all conflicts to tackle the coronavirus crisis and to spotlight the most serious global hotspots ahead of Saturday’s 75th anniversary of the entry into force of the U.N. Charter, which officially established the United Nations and is celebrated as U.N. Day.

“We need a massive support of the international community,” he said. “We need a massive support of all those who have an influence on the parties to the conflict to stop all those more dramatic situations of conflict until the end of the year.”

Guterres said his initial appeal won support from 180 U.N. member states, more than 800 civil society organizations, “and 20 armed groups that at least adopted some temporary truces."

“But we still have a number of situations where the spoilers or the mistrust that existed has not allowed the cease-fire to materialize,” he said.

The secretary-general pointed to the newest conflict, between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces since a 1994 war.

“In the last two weeks, COVID cases have doubled in Armenia and increased 80 percent in Azerbaijan,” he said in Wednesday’s AP interview. “Armenia is not winning. Azerbaijan is not winning. But COVID is winning. We need to stop.”

Guterres said the same holds true for the conflicts in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Africa’s Sahel region and elsewhere.

“I’m here to appeal to all of them to understand that there’s no way to win any war,” he said. “The only way is to join efforts for cease-fires, political talks and to defeat COVID. If not, the only winner is the pandemic.”

Guterres noted that initiatives by Russia and France have failed to halt fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh which began about four weeks ago.

“Let’s make sure” that after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s separate meetings with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington on Friday “there is a cease-fire,” he said.

The secretary-general said there are also “some good signals,” pointing to cease-fires holding in Syria, Ukraine, Sudan and South Sudan, “so there are reasons to be optimistic.”

“In Libya, there is not a declared cease-fire but there is a standstill -- the fighting has stopped,” he said. “And in Yemen, we are making a huge diplomatic effort to bring the parties together to come to a joint declaration with a cease-fire,” confidence-building measures in economic and social areas, and a re-start of political talks.

On the other hand, Guterres said, Afghanistan has seen an intensification of combat, but “at least peace talks have started.”

In Africa, while the Central African Republic is also “doing well,” he said “the most dramatic cases are the ones where terrorist organizations ... do not respect any kind of appeal for cease-fire” and are taking advantage of the pandemic to intensify their actions.

Guterres said he’s very worried, for example, with what’s happening in the Sahel, the Lake Chad area, eastern Congo and Mozambique “where terrorist groups are intensifying their actions.”

Appealing for massive global support to achieve cease-fires, the secretary-general said the often-divided U.N. Security Council has come together on Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan and Armenia-Azerbaijan.

With the most important powers united, Guterres said, “what we need now is to make sure that the smaller spoilers do not undermine peace.”

The U.N. chief said that with global power relations less clear, “a number of small and medium-size actors started to get much more active in creating conflicts or in supporting parties to the conflict."

Guterres said his hope is that the unity of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- on key conflicts “will help us put pressure on those that are still not yet convinced that there is no way that anyone can win a war.”

And he stressed again: “The only way is to stop the war, start the political process and not let the COVID become the only winner.”