Syria consumes second day of UN debate but Colombia offers hope

With a temporary truce in Syria in tatters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implored all warring parties to lay down their arms.

Published: 21st September 2016 10:01 PM  |   Last Updated: 21st September 2016 10:01 PM   |  A+A-


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. | AP


UNITED NATIONS: With a temporary truce in Syria in tatters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implored all warring parties to lay down their arms as the civil war consumed discussions Wednesday at the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders.

On the International Day of Peace, resurgent Syria violence assumed special significance. In a statement, Ban called on conflicting factions to observe a 24-hour global cease-fire, declaring: "The symbolism of a day without fighting is a crucial reminder that conflict can and must come to an end."

Colombia's peace accord stood out as a bright spot during the second day of speeches at the General Assembly, where leader after leader had their say on intractable problems from global refugee crisis to North Korea's nuclear activities.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos basked in world praise as he formally submitted the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to the Security Council. The treaty will be signed later this month of Cartagena and must be submitted to a nationwide referendum Oct. 2.

Ban commended Santos for his "vision and determination."

"In a time of armed conflicts in many other paces, peace in Colombia sends a powerful message of hope in the world," Ban said.

Santos later devoted his entire General Assembly speech to the peace pact, one of the few leaders whose remarks were filled with optimism.

"A new Colombia greets the international community today," he said. "A Colombia full of hope. A Colombia that, without a war, is ready to reach its highest potential and to be a positive factor in the global context."

At the Security Council, the U.S. and Russia turned once again to diplomacy in an attempt to revive Syria's cease-fire, but tensions between the two world powers tamped down hopes for success. U.S. officials blame Russia for a strike this week on a Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy. Russia denies responsibility.

North Korea's Sept 9 nuclear weapons test was also in focus.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged continued international commitment to a Korean peninsula free of nuclear arms, telling the General Assembly that new efforts were needed to "reach a comprehensive political solution on the Korean nuclear issue."

Beijing has long been North Korea's main source of aid and diplomatic support. But it is showing growing frustration with Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons in defiance of foreign pressure.

The government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un conducted its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9. That raised concern abroad it was moving closer to its goal of a nuclear-armed missile that could one day strike the U.S. mainland.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, meanwhile, railed against Western sanctions, urging the United States, United Kingdom and their allies to abolish them.

The 92-year-old leader said that while his country is "the innocent victim of spiteful sanctions," it cannot implement U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

The U.S. has imposed targeted sanctions against Mugabe and 97 others, citing human rights abuses and evidence of electoral fraud. The EU, Australia and Canada also have imposed similar sanctions.

Amid the somber mood, there was progress on the climate change front.

Ban announced that the Paris Agreement on climate change has topped the required 55 ratifications, even if the countries that have formally joined don't account for the minimum 55 percent of global emissions needed for the deal to enter into force.

Ban said that with 31 more countries handing over their official documents on Wednesday, 60 parties now have ratified the deal representing over 47.5 percent of global emissions.

"We have crossed one of the two thresholds," Ban said. "We need 7.5 percent more."

Urging people everywhere "to become warriors for the plant," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he is confident of reaching the magic number of 55 percent before the next U.N. climate conference, which starts Nov. 7 in Marrakech, Morocco.

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