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South Korea finds likely war remains during border demining

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…As North Korean general says country seeking ‘stable peace’***

Sixty-five years after he died in a battle, the dog tag and possibly remains of a South Korean sergeant were finally recovered from a front line where the rival Koreas have only begun clearing mines, Seoul officials said Thursday.

The two Koreas began removing mines from one of the heaviest Korean War battle sites at their border on Oct. 1 before starting their first joint searches for war remains. The joint searches were among a package of agreements the Koreas’ defense ministers struck on the sidelines of their leaders’ summit last month.

Earlier this week, South Korean troops found what they believe are two sets of human remains in the first such discovery since the demining work began. A bayonet, bullets and a South Korean army identification tag with the name “Pak Je Kwon” were also found along with the bones, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a release.

The ministry said military records show Pak was a sergeant first class who died in a battle there in 1953 in the final weeks of the 1950-53 Korean War. Pak has two surviving sisters and authorities will take their DNA samples to find out if parts of the bones belong to him, according to the ministry release.

During a media visit to the site Thursday, South Korean soldiers wrapped a piece of bone in white paper and put it into a wooden box. They later wrapped the box with a national flag, placed it on a small table and offered a shot of liquor before they paid a silent tribute.

“Sgt. 1st Class Pak Je Kwon has come back to us. It’s been 65 years since he died in battle. Now, we can offer up a shot of soju (Korean liquor)” to him, South Korean President Moon Jae-in tweeted. “There shouldn’t be any more war dead on our land and cases of finding their remains 65 years after their deaths.”

The area, known as Arrowhead Hill, is where South Korean and U.S.-led U.N. troops repelled a series of Chinese attacks to secure a strategically important hilltop position. South Korea said the remains of an estimated 300 South Korean, French and U.S. soldiers are believed to be in the area. The remains of a large number of Chinese and North Korean soldiers are also likely there.

Under their September deals, the two Koreas are to continue demining work at the Arrowhead Hill until Nov. 30. They plan a seven-month joint excavation for war remains next year.

The two Koreas are separately taking steps to disarm their only shared border village of Panmunjom in a different section of the Demilitarized Zone. They’ve completed removing mines and aim to withdraw weapons and guard posts this week. The September deals also require the Koreas to establish buffer zones along the border and withdraw some of the guard posts in other front-line areas.

The deals invited strong conservative criticism in South Korea that Moon’s government made too many concessions that would eventually weaken the country’s military strength at a time when North Korea’s nuclear threats remain unchanged. Moon, a liberal who wants greater ties with North Korea, has facilitated a series of high-profile U.S.-North Korean talks, including Kim’s summit with President Donald Trump, to address a standoff over Kim’s nuclear program.

Since the war’s end, the Koreas remain split along the 248-kilometer (155-mile) -long border, called the DMZ. An estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near the DMZ, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.

The Korean War left millions dead or missing, and Seoul officials believe the remains of about 10,000 South Korean soldiers alone are still inside the DMZ.

In the meantime, a top North Korean general said Thursday that his country seeks a “stable peace” and wants to turn the Korean Peninsula into “the cradle of peace and prosperity,” furthering a departure from the bellicose language of the past.

Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, Col. Gen. Kim Hyong Ryong, told a defense forum in Beijing that Pyongyang wanted to “contribute to the security of Asia and the globe.”

“It is our unwavering stand to lead the current state of tension … into stable peace and turn the Korean Peninsula that was once the hottest spot in the globe into the cradle of peace and prosperity,” Kim told participants at the opening session of the Xiangshan Forum hosted by China.

Kim said North Korea was following through on agreements reached with South Korea and the U.S., including the consensus reached with U.S. President Donald Trump at a June summit in Singapore.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has this year taken some steps to ease tensions, including dismantling a nuclear testing site. However, the United States and its allies are reluctant to ease sanctions pressure unless the country takes significant disarmament steps.

While the Singapore declaration has been criticized as vague, tensions along the North and South Korean border have dropped, as witnessed by a joint effort to remove mines from one of the heaviest Korean War battle sites at their border.

That is among a package of agreements the Koreas’ defense ministers struck on the sidelines of their leaders’ summit last month.

Kim Hyong Ryong met Thursday with South Korean Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk at the forum. During their 10-minute encounter, the two reconfirmed their countries’ plans to quickly carry out the agreements reached last month, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Trump raised hopes at the United Nations last month that a second summit with Kim Jong Un could occur “quite soon,” striking a conciliatory tone one year after he used his debut at the U.N. to deride the autocrat as “Little Rocket Man” and threaten to “totally destroy North Korea.” Pyongyang responded with its own insults and renewed threats of retaliation for any attacks.

Also addressing Thursday’s forum, Chinese Defense Minister We Fenghe lashed out at the U.S. over a recent speech by Vice President Mike Pence accusing China of seeking to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections.

“The Chinese side expresses strong condemnation and firm opposition. We strongly urge the U.S. to correct its wrongful statement and refrain from harming bilateral relations,” Wei said.

Pence’s speech came amid what many are calling the most marked deterioration of China-U.S. ties since the end of the Cold War.

Both sides have imposed increased tariffs on billions of dollars of imports, sparked by U.S. accusations of unfair Chinese trading practices and demands by Beijing that foreign firms hand over technology as part of a plan to make China a global leader in areas such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

Wei also reiterated China’s warnings over support for Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that it claims as its own territory. While the U.S. has no formal ties with Taiwan in deference to China’s demands, it retains strong diplomatic and military relations with Taipei and recently approved a major arms package to bolster its defenses against a threatened Chinese attack.

“The Taiwan question concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Wei said, calling that “a matter of our core interests.”

“It is extremely dangerous to repeatedly challenge China’s bottom line on this question,” he said. “If anyone ever tries to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will take resolute action, and we will pay whatever price that has to be paid.”

Wei also touched on recent frictions with the U.S. over the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety despite counterclaims from multiple other nations.

Destroyers of the two navies came perilously close to colliding late last month and the former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe warned Wednesday that it’s very likely the United States will be at war with China in 15 years.

Wei said U.S. actions in the crucial waterway through which $5 trillion in annual trade passes were “provocative and will only aggravate tensions.”

“The islands in the South China Sea have long been China’s territory. They’re the legacy of our ancestors, and we can’t afford to lose a single inch of them,” Wei said.

The Xiangshan Forum is a multilateral defense meeting that Beijing has promoted in an effort to boost its regional influence. Organizers said more than 500 representatives from 67 countries and seven organizations were attending the three-day gathering.

ABC

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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’

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The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin

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Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel

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A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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