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AFP
March 24, 2020

UN chief calls for ‘global ceasefire’ amid pandemic

World

AFP
March 24, 2020

UNITED NATIONS, United States: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed on Monday for an "immediate global ceasefire" to protect vulnerable civilians in conflict zones from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war," he said in a brief speech at UN headquarters in New York, mentioning no country by name. "That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world."

Syria has reported its first case of the COVID-19 virus, in a country already torn by 10 years of war, and other cases have emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

Experts and diplomats expect the virus to wreak havoc in countries in conflict, which often are very poor and with fragile health care systems.

"It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives," Guterres said. "Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes." Doing so, he said, was crucial for opening corridors to deliver life-saving aid.

"End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now," he said. After Guterres’ call last week for a global response to the pandemic, which he said has put "millions" of lives at risk, the UN is expected to unveil on Wednesday a detailed worldwide plan of humanitarian relief with the creation of a fund dedicated to the international fight against the virus.

Meanwhile, the EU on Monday urged the international community to send humanitarian aid to Iran to help its coronavirus fight, arguing that such steps would not breach US sanctions. The bloc is preparing to send 20 million euros’ ($21.5 million) worth of humanitarian aid to Iran, where new coronavirus has killed more than 1,800 people, making it one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said Brussels would support requests for help made by Iran and Venezuela -- also heavily sanctioned -- to the International Monetary Fund. "We are going to support this request because these countries are in a very difficult situation mainly due to the US sanctions that prevent them from having income by selling their oil," Borrell said after talks with EU foreign ministers.

Tehran and Caracas are both under swingeing US sanctions aimed at starving their regimes of income, but Borrell said that shipments of food, medicine and medical equipment should not be affected.

"This has to be reaffirmed because many believe that if they participate in this kind of humanitarian trade they can be sanctioned," he said.

"This is not the case but it has to be reaffirmed in order for everybody to understand that they can participate in this kind of humanitarian help."

The EU and US have been at loggerheads over Iran since President Donald Trump abruptly withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. European countries have battled to save the accord, arguing it is the best way to prevent Tehran acquiring the bomb.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signalled on Twitter that Washington was unreceptive to the Islamic republic’s first-ever request for a loan from the IMF, where America effectively holds a veto. He accused the regime of funding "terror abroad" and accused the Iranian leadership of lying about the pandemic, after Tehran rejected a US offer of aid.