Saudi Arabia and Russia among 37 states backing China’s Xinjiang policy

FILE PHOTO: People hold signs protesting China's treatment of the Uighur people, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia, Russia and 35 other states have written to the United Nations supporting China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters on Friday, in contrast to strong Western criticism.

China has been accused of detaining a million Muslims and persecuting ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, and 22 ambassadors signed a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council this week criticizing its policies.

But the letter supporting China commended what it called China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.

“Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers,” the letter said.

The letter said security had returned to Xinjiang and the fundamental human rights of people of all ethnic groups there had been safeguarded. It added there had been no terrorist attack there for three years and people enjoyed a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment and security.

As well as Saudi Arabia and Russia, the letter was signed by ambassadors from many African countries, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Belarus, Myanmar, the Philippines, Syria, Pakistan, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Beijing has denied any human rights violations in the region and Chinese Ambassador Xu Chen, speaking at the close of the Council’s three-week session on Friday, said China highly appreciated the support it had received from the signatories.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Frances Kerry)

Iran says it has breached 2015 nuclear deal’s stockpile limit

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sits for an interview with Reuters in New York, New York, U.S. April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Parisa Hafezi and Francois Murphy

DUBAI/VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has breached the limit of its enriched uranium stockpile set in a 2015 deal with major powers, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday, according to the ISNA news agency, defying a warning by European co-signatories to stick to the deal despite U.S. sanctions.

Zarif confirmed that Iran had exceeded the relevant limit of 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), but Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran’s steps to decrease its commitments to the nuclear deal were “reversible”.

The International Atomic Energy agency (IAEA) said that its inspectors were verifying whether Iran had accumulated more enriched uranium than allowed.

“Our inspectors are on the ground and they will report to headquarters as soon as the LEU (low-enriched uranium) stockpile has been verified, a spokesman for the U.N. agency said.

Enriching uranium to a low level of 3.6% fissile material is the first step in a process that could eventually allow Iran to amass enough highly-enriched uranium to build a nuclear warhead.

Last Wednesday, the IAEA verified that Iran had roughly 200 kg of low-enriched uranium, just below the deal’s 202.8 kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency’s work told Reuters. A quantity of 300 kg of UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) corresponds to 202.8 kg of LEU.

After talks on Friday in Vienna, Iran said European countries had offered too little in the way of trade assistance to persuade it to back off from its plan to breach the limit, a riposte to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last year to quit the deal and reimpose economic sanctions.

Mousavi urged them on Monday to step up their efforts. “Time is running out for them to save the deal,” state TV quoted him as saying.

The deal between Iran and six world powers lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear work aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

ISRAEL WORRIED

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, including generating power. Its regional adversary Israel, which Iran does not recognize, says the program presents it with an existential threat.

Joseph Cohen, head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, urged the international community to stop Iran from “stepping up enrichment”.

“Just imagine what will happen if the material stockpiled by the Iranians becomes fissionable, at military enrichment grade, and then an actual bomb,” he told the Herzliya security conference before Zarif’s announcement.

“The Middle East, and then the entire world, will be a different place. Therefore, the world must not allow this to happen.”

In May, Washington piled pressure on Tehran by ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil, and tensions have been growing in the Gulf ever since.

Washington has dispatched extra forces to the Middle East, and U.S. fighter jets came within minutes of conducting air strikes on Iran last month after Tehran downed an unmanned American drone.

In a speech on Monday broadcast on state TV, Iranian Zarif said: “Iran will never yield to pressure from the United States … If they want to talk to Iran, they should show respect …

“Never threaten an Iranian … Iran has always resisted pressure, and has responded with respect when respected.”

Trump has called for negotiations with Iran with “no preconditions”, but Tehran has ruled out talks until the United States returns to the nuclear pact and drops its sanctions.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Francois Murphy in Vienna, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

U.N. official urges China not to deport North Korean escapees, who could face torture

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana speaks during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – China should not repatriate the increasing number of North Korean escapees it has arrested in recent months, because severe punishment faces those sent home, a U.N. human rights investigator said on Friday.

At least 30, if not more, North Korean escapees have been rounded up in raids across China since mid-April, families and activist groups told Reuters this month, in what activists have called a “severe” crackdown.

At the time, the Chinese foreign ministry told Reuters it was not aware of any arrests. Activists and lawyers say there is no sign yet that the North Koreans have been deported.

“Information suggests China may have recently strengthened the search for North Korean escapees in collaboration with the government of North Korea,” said Tomas Ojea Quintana, a U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea.

“Repatriated North Koreans are at great risk of serious human rights violations, including torture,” Quintana told reporters in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

“The government of North Korea criminalizes those who cross the border irregularly.”

Quintana said he had raised concerns over the fate of North Korean escapees detained in China, and discussed the issue with South Korean officials during his trip to Seoul.

Escapees may face particularly severe punishment, including being sent to political prison camps, if they intended to defect to South Korea or if they were helped by Christian groups, he said.

Quintana displayed an old lock that he had been given by a boy who escaped from North Korea.

“He gave me this lock as a symbol of the need to open up the country,” Quintana said.

The United Nations has previously raised concern over North Korea’s continued use of political prison camps, and Quintana said people “live in fear of being sent to them”.

The North Korean government plays a role in exacerbating the country’s food shortages, he added.

North Korean officials have adopted “failing economic and agricultural policies”, including central rationing systems plagued by shortcomings and discriminatory allocation, he said.

Climate conditions, infertile land, and the negative impact of sanctions had contributed to food insecurity, Quintana said.

“At the same time the government is not developing conditions where people can securely access food through markets without being criminalized.”

He said he supported the reopening of the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea, which was a joint economic project with South Korea that has been shut down for several years.

The jobs provided to North Koreans at the factories there improved employees’ lives and as a human rights matter, the project should be reopened, Quintana said.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Four million Venezuelans have fled crisis: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan migrants walk along a trail into Brazil, in the border city of Pacaraima, Brazil, April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – Four million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have fled an economic and political crisis in their homeland, all but 700,000 of them since the end of 2015, U.N. aid agencies said on Friday.

The “alarming” figure highlights the urgent need to support host countries, mainly in Latin America – led by Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina – the U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a joint statement issued in Geneva.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Doctors go underground as Syrian government attacks rebel northwest

A general view of the Syrian town of Atimah, Idlib province, seen in this picture taken from Reyhanli, Hatay province, Turkey October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Amina Ismail

BEIRUT (Reuters) – In part of northern Syria’s last rebel enclave, doctors have pulled back into cave shelters to treat the wounded and protect their patients from a government offensive that has hit health centers and hospitals.

The assault began in late April with air strikes, barrel bombs and shelling against the southern flank of the enclave, centered on Idlib province and nominally under the protection of a Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreed more than eight months ago. Limited ground advances have additionally taken place this week.

“The makeshift hospitals are very primitive,” Osama al-Shami, a 36-year-old doctor, told Reuters from the area. “We can barely save lives with the equipment we have and many of the injured die because of the lack of resources and equipment.”

The insurgents, dominated by the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham, describe the offensive as an invasion while the government accuses the rebels of violating the deal.

President Bashar al-Assad has sworn to take back every inch of Syria and the enclave including Idlib is the last big bastion of the rebellion that flared against him 2011.

The United Nations said last year that half of the region’s 3 million inhabitants had fled their homes, and the bombing has now caused a new wave of displacement.

More than 150,000 had left since April 29, The U.N. said on Tuesday, with bombs falling on over 50 villages, destroying at least 10 schools and hitting at least 12 health centers.

Under the bombs, medics are turning back to tactics used at other times in the eight-year war, moving patients into shelters under buildings or hacked into the ground. Some are opening up their houses as temporary health centers, said one surgeon.

But they are getting overwhelmed and Shami said several wounded children had died in his arms.

“One of them was a nine-year-old child who had a head and a chest injury and was severely bleeding. We tried to resuscitate him but he died within 15 minutes. There are no blood banks nearby or an equipped operating theater,” he said.

FRENCH, BRITISH CONCERNS

A war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that, in the latest escalation of fighting and bombardments, 188 people including 85 civilians had been killed since April 30.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday he had “grave concerns” over the escalation of violence in Syria including the strikes on hospitals.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the offensive a “flagrant violation of the ceasefire agreement”.

Backed by Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, Assad has retaken most of Syria.

U.S.-backed Kurdish forces hold the country’s northeast quarter, while control of the northwest is divided between jihadist groups and rebel factions supported by Turkey.

The current government offensive is focused on the southern flank of the rebel enclave.

On Wednesday, the Syrian army advanced into the town of Kafr Nabouda, rebels and a military media unit run by Assad’s ally Hezbollah reported.

The Observatory said fighters of Tahrir al-Sham – an incarnation of the former al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front – launched a suicide attack against the army, detonating a bomb in an armored vehicle.

Rebels said heavy fighting continued at the town – close to where Shami is running his makeshift clinic – while the Hezbollah media unit said the army had gained complete control of it.

(Reporting By Amina Ismail, writing by Angus McDowall; editing by John Stonestreet)

North Korea faces food crisis after poor harvest, U.N. says

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean farmer walks through a village in an area damaged by summer floods and typhoons in South Hwanghae province September 30, 2011. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Four in ten North Koreans are chronically short of food and further cuts to already minimal rations are expected after the worst harvest in a decade, the United Nations said on Friday.

Official rations are down to 300 grammes – under 11 ounces – per person per day, the lowest ever for this time of year, the U.N. said following a food security assessment it carried out at Pyongyang’s request from March 29 to April 12.

It found that 10.1 million people were suffering from severe food insecurity, “meaning they do not have enough food till the next harvest,” U.N. World Food Program spokesman Herve Verhoosel said.

North Korea’s population is around 25.2 million, according to its Central Bureau of Statistics, the report said.

Verhoosel said the word “famine” was not being used in the current crisis, but it might come to that in a few months or years. “The situation is very serious today – that’s a fact.”

The country suffered a famine in the mid-1990s believed to have killed as many as 3 million people.

For its assessment the WFP, one of only a few aid agencies with access to the country, gained widespread entry to farms, households, nurseries and food distribution centers.

Verhoosel blamed a combination of dry spells, heat waves and flooding for the new crisis, which the U.S. State Department said was the government’s fault.

“The DPRK regime continues to exploit, starve, and neglect its own people in order to advance its unlawful nuclear and weapons program,” a Department spokeswoman said, adding that it could meet its people’s needs if it redirected state funds.

After a second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump failed to produce a deal to end the program in return for sanctions relief, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set a year-end deadline for Washington to show more flexibility.

North Korea has for years relied on regular supplies of U.N. food aid.

Its agricultural output of 4.9 million tonnes was the lowest since 2008-2009, leading to a food deficit of 1.36 million tonnes in the 2018/2019 marketing year, the WPF report said.

Prospects for the 2019 early season crops of wheat and barley were worrisome. “The effects of repeated climate shocks are compounded by shortages of fuel, fertilizer and spare parts crucial for farming,” Verhoosel said.

The WFP plans to make another assessment during July and August.

(Reporting by Tom Miles, additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; editing by John Stonestreet)

Putin-Kim summit sends message to U.S. but sanctions relief elusive for North Korea

FILE PHOTO: A combination of file photos shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a wreath laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam March 2, 2019 and Russia's President Vladimir Putin looking during a joint news conference with South African President Jacob Zuma after their meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Krasnodar region, Russia, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/Pool/Maxim Shipenkov/Pool/File Photo

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time this week at a symbolic summit hoping to project himself as a serious world player but likely to come away without the relief he seeks from crushing sanctions.

After his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump ended without an agreement two months ago, Kim’s meeting with Putin serves as a reminder to Washington that he has other options in the region backing his leadership.

But while Kim is likely to seek more assistance from one of his country’s two main backers, Russia will be limited in what it can provide and the summit will focus more on demonstrating camaraderie than new investment or aid, analysts said.

“When Kim meets Putin, he is going to ask for economic assistance and unilateral sanctions relaxation. Moscow is unlikely to grant his wishes,” said Artyom Lukin, a professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.

That school’s campus is seen to be the summit venue, according to South Korean media which reported the presence of Kim’s top aides there making preparations for the event.

“Being a veto-holding U.N. Security Council member, Moscow can hardly afford to undermine its authority even for the sake of friendship with Kim,” Lukin said.

SANCTIONS RELIEF

While Russia says it fully enforces the sanctions that it voted to impose, it has joined China in calling for loosening punishment for North Korea in recognition of steps taken in limiting its weapons testing.

“Steps by the DPRK towards gradual disarmament should be followed by the easing of sanctions,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a Security Council meeting late last year, using the initials of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Washington has accused Russia of “cheating” on sanctions and said it has evidence of “consistent and wide-ranging Russian violations”.

In February, Reuters reported a Russian tanker violated international trade sanctions by transferring fuel to a North Korean vessel at sea at least four times between October 2017 and May 2018.

One Russian lawmaker told Interfax news agency last week that North Korea had asked Moscow to allow its laborers to continue to work in Russia despite sanctions requiring their expulsion by the end of this year.

“One particularly sore area for Kim is the issue of North Korean laborers working in Russia,” said Anthony Rinna, a specialist in Korea-Russia relations at Sino-NK, a website that analyses the region.

“Kim will probably be seeking some wiggle-room from Russia, although Moscow will be hard-pressed to accommodate Kim given its desire to portray a responsible image in the world.”

The United States has said it believed Pyongyang was earning more than $500 million a year from nearly 100,000 workers abroad, including 30,000 in Russia.

According to unpublished reports by Moscow to the United Nations Security Council, Russia sent home nearly two-thirds of its North Korean workers during 2018.

The report, reviewed by Reuters, said in 2018 the number of North Koreans with work permits in Russia fell to about 11,500.

LONG TIES

Russia-North Korea relations withered after the Soviet demise, with the loss of support from Moscow often cited as one factor that lead to a 1990s famine that killed hundreds of thousands of North Koreans.

Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, worked to renew ties after Putin first became president in 1999. He visited Russia three times before his sudden death in 2011.

Russia could agreed on some limited projects like a vehicle bridge connecting the two countries across the Tumangan River, or provide more humanitarian aid, Lukin said.

Earlier this year, Russia sent more than 2,000 tons of wheat to North Korea through the World Food Program. Russian lawmakers have suggested Moscow could send as much as 50,000 tons of wheat to North Korea.

According to the United Nations, Russia has continued to sell significant amounts of oil to North Korea, though still officially under sanctions caps.

North Korea’s state media said in March officials met in Moscow to sign an agreement “to boost high-level contact and exchange in the political field (and) actively promote cooperation in the fields of economy and humanitarianism.”

While Moscow is unlikely to risk its authority at the United Nations by overtly breaching sanctions, Putin could promise not to support any additional sanctions, Lukin said.

“Kim can expect a friendly reception here and probably some chance of getting political and economic support from Putin.”

(Reporting by Josh Smith, additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow.; Editing by Jack Kim and Lincoln Feast.)

Bowing to U.S. demands, U.N. to remove phrase seen as code for abortion on sexual violence in conflict

Amal Clooney and Nadia Murad listen to Denis Mukwege speaking at the United Nations Security Council during a meeting about sexual violence in conflict in New York, New York, U.S., April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A U.S. threat to veto U.N. Security Council action on sexual violence in conflict was averted on Tuesday after a long-agreed phrase was removed because President Donald Trump’s administration sees it as code for abortion, diplomats said.

A German-drafted resolution was adopted after a reference was cut referring to the need for U.N. bodies and donors to give timely “sexual and reproductive health” assistance to survivors of sexual violence in conflict.

The U.S. veto threat was the latest in a string of policy reversals that some U.N. diplomats say has been driven by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, a conservative Christian who staunchly opposes abortion rights.

Pence was not involved in directing U.S. diplomats during the negotiations, a White House aide said, but added that the adopted text “ended up in a place that is closer in line with the White House’s priorities.”

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen did not speak after the council vote.

After the vote French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told the 15-member body: “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict – and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant – should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

The language promoting sexual and reproductive health is long-agreed internationally, including in resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 2009 and 2013 and several resolutions adopted annually by the 193-member General Assembly.

The text adopted on Tuesday simply reaffirms the council’s commitment to the 2009 and 2013 resolutions. A reference to the work of the International Criminal Court in fighting the most serious crimes against women and girls was also watered-down to win over Washington, which is not a member of the institution.

RUSSIA, CHINA ABSTAIN

Before the vote, Cohen told the Security Council: “None of us can turn our backs on this issue.”

“It requires the engagement of all member states and of the United Nations to support the efforts of those fighting to protect women, provide accountability, and support survivors,” Cohen said.

Thirteen council members voted in favor of the resolution, while Russia and China abstained over a number of concerns – including a German push for expanded U.N. monitoring of sexual violence in conflict – and even circulated their own rival draft text, which they did not put to a vote.

“Please do not even try to paint us as opponents of the fight against sexual violence in conflict. Our stance on this issue remains firm and unyielding, this scourge has to be eliminated,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.

The council voted after hearing briefings from Nobel Peace Prize winners Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was held as a sex slave by Islamic State militants, Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, who treats rape victims, Libyan rights activist Inas Miloud, and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

The Trump administration cut U.S. funding in 2017 for the U.N. Population Fund because it “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The United Nations said that was an inaccurate perception.

In 2018 the administration unsuccessfully tried to remove language on sexual and reproductive health from several General Assembly resolutions, then failed in a similar campaign last month during the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington’; Editing by Susan Thomas and Howard Goller)

Mortars land on Tripoli suburb as two-week battle rages on

Members of Libyan internationally recognised government forces look for cover during the fighting with Eastern forces at Al-Swani area in Tripoli, Libya April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

By Hani Amara and Ahmed Elumami

AL-SUANI, Libya (Reuters) – Mortars crashed down on a suburb of Tripoli on Thursday, almost hitting a clinic and adding to people’s suffering after two weeks of an offensive by eastern troops on the Libyan capital, which is held by an internationally recognized government.

The shelling came a day after seven people were killed when Grad rockets hit a densely populated district of Tripoli, which the eastern Libyan forces of commander Khalifa Haftar have been trying to take, deepening the chaos that has plagued the oil-producing nation since 2011.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) of Benghazi-based Haftar has become bogged down in the southern suburbs of the capital.

In al-Suani, a southwestern suburb, Reuters reporters saw two mortars almost hitting a clinic. The fighting has killed 205 people, including 18 civilians, and wounded 913 since the start of the campaign, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

Locals blamed Haftar’s forces for the shelling, saying the rockets had been fired from the direction of his positions south of the capital.

“We say to the United Nations and the Security Council: listen. Listen to the bombing… Rockets are coming down on us. For this reason, please find a solution for us,” said Youssef Salem, a displaced man from al-Suani.

The LNA has denied shelling residential areas.

The Tripoli government issued arrest warrants for Haftar and other top eastern officials, blaming them for Wednesday’s shelling.

Eastern officials have already issued arrest warrants for Tripoli premier Fayez al-Serraj and other western officials as there is no sign of a political solution or even of a ceasefire.

Foreign powers are worried but unable to present a united front over the latest flare-up in the cycle of anarchy and warfare that has gripped Libya since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

The internationally recognized interior ministry accused France of supporting Haftar and said it would halt security cooperation with Paris.

“Any dealings with the French side in bilateral security agreements” will halt, the Tripoli-based interior ministry said in a statement.

A French presidential source said in response to the accusation that France supported the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and that Emmanuel Macron’s legitimate interlocutor was Serraj, with whom he spoke on Monday and reaffirmed that.

The French government was not immediately available for comment.

France has helped train Serraj’s presidential guard and in October 2013 signed a deal between a consultancy of the French interior ministry and the Libyan interior ministry to train 1,000 police.

Most recently in February, France provided the Tripoli government with six patrol boats for its coastline.

Paris has given Haftar support in the past, however, viewing him as the best bet to end the chaos that has reigned since a NATO-backed rebellion to end Gaddafi’s murderous four-decade rule.

Italy, with considerable oil interests in the OPEC member, supports the Tripoli government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and was furious with French reluctance to back a recent European Union resolution urging Haftar to halt his advance.

The conflict threatens to disrupt oil flows, foment migration across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, and allow jihadists to exploit the chaos.

Haftar enjoys the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, who view him as an anchor to restore stability and combat Islamist militants.

His forces came under attack on Thursday by an armed group at the Tamanhint base near the main southern city of Sabha.

The LNA managed to expel the attack, which killed two of its soldiers, an eastern official said. But it exposed a vulnerability as Haftar has moved much of its forces north.

The identity of the attackers was not immediately clear.

The LNA force seized earlier this year the south and its two oilfields, although tribesmen with flexible loyalties remain strong in the sparsely populated desert region.

On the weekend, the LNA dispatched a unit to the eastern oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider to prepare for a possible attack there.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli, Ahmed Elumami, Ulf Laessing, John Irish and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson)

U.N. urges resolving fate of 2,500 foreign children at Syria camp

Women stand in line to get fuel at al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – A senior United Nations relief official called on governments on Thursday to help resolve the fate of 2,500 foreign children being held among 75,000 people at al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria after fleeing Islamic State’s last stronghold.

“Children should be treated first and foremost as victims. Any solutions must be decided on the basis of the best interest of the child,” Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told a Geneva briefing.

Solutions must be found “irrespective of children’s age, sex or any perceived family affiliation”, he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones)