INDEPENDENT 2024-07-06 12:08:53


Armed clash fears in the buffer zone between North and South Korea

In Majeong-ri, South Korea, Yoon Seol Hyun proudly claims to run the closest guesthouse to North Korea. Only a bridge, a set of guard posts, and several lines of barbed wire fence separate his village from the demilitarised zone (DMZ) which splits the Korean peninsula in two.

Normally, his hostel offers a peaceful getaway for locals visiting from the nearby capital of Seoul. But tensions between the North and the South have spiked recently and Yoon is worried, with a number of incidents around the DMZ, which is 150 miles long and 2.5 miles wide.

Last month, a number of North Korean soldiers – believed to be between 20 and 30 – briefly crossed the demarcation line on three occasions, retreating after soldiers from the South fired warning shots. Seoul said the incidents were likely accidents. Meanwhile, the North has been sending balloons filled with rubbish over the border, it claims in retaliation for a propaganda campaign by North Korean defectors and activists in the South who regularly send over balloons carrying food, medicine, money and leaflets criticising the North’s leaders.

Yoon worries that if things escalate, both sides of the peninsula will go from trading balloons to trading bullets and bombs instead, and that his village will be the first to be impacted.

“Hostility between South and North is higher,” he says. “This area is close to the border, it is very serious, we worry about that.”

Tasked with monitoring these developments is Major General Ivo Burgener, head of the Swiss delegation to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC). Currently made up of five Swiss and five Swedish soldiers who live inside the DMZ, the NNSC has monitored adherence to the Korean war’s armistice agreement since it was signed in 1953. While this armistice ended hostilities, a peace treaty was never signed and both sides remain technically at war.

Stationed in a hut just metres from the North Korean border, Burgener and the NNSC have a frontline view of how the frozen conflict has developed. Since the start of the year, they have noticed a significant remilitarisation on both sides of the DMZ.

“There are more activities in the DMZ,” Burgener adds, also citing an increase in soldiers, weapons, and construction activity. “The situation is becoming more uncertain.”

With Pyongyang developing its military infrastructure, destroying sections of road, building walls, and planting landmines, explosions from the Northern side now also regularly interrupt the NNSC’s work. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported recently that North Korean soldiers had sustained “multiple casualties” caused by landmines exploding on the Northern side of the DMZ.

“We are seeing more and more militarisation efforts,” explains NNSC operations officer Lieutenant Colonel Livio Raeber. “There is more military equipment inside the DMZ.” Previously unarmed soldiers that face off on either side of the border are now once again armed, and both sides have begun to rebuild formerly decommissioned guard posts.

While the balloons are described by analysts as “low-level provocations,” Burgener points out that they have not helped to de-escalate tensions.

“The possibility of an escalation is higher than before, and this is something that we monitor very closely,” Raeber adds.

“The risk of misunderstandings and unplanned incidents along the DMZ are rising,” says Burgener. In a worst-case scenario, he warned this could lead to “escalation, the outbreak of a conflict”.

At the start of the year, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un branded the South a “principal enemy” and relations on the Korean peninsula are now arguably “at the lowest point in the last five or six years”, said Dr Edward Howell, a Korean Foundation fellow at Chatham House.

Kim’s recent meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, which culminated in the signing of a strategic partnership agreement between the two, has also added to the tension. The guesthouse owner Yoon says that things do not need to be this bad.

In 2018, both sides signed an agreement, aimed at decreasing tensions by partially demilitarising the DMZ, and he was hopeful that the agreement could mitigate the risk of conflict.

“We were very thankful,” he says. “Those times were more peaceful.”

Now, Yoon’s phone buzzes with alerts. Issued by authorities in Seoul, they warn of more incoming balloons and other notes. Yoon sees his responsibility to help maintain peace and he regularly organises events to educate tourists about the area.

And despite living on the frontlines of this frozen conflict, he has no intention of leaving. “This is my hometown,” he says. “I was born in this village, my father, my grandfather was born in this village.”

Six Chinese nationals mining for gold killed in Congo militia attack

Six Chinese citizens were killed and several went missing after a local militia targeted a mining site in the Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities said on Thursday as the central African country continued to be wracked by widespread violence.

At least two and possibly three Congolese soldiers were also killed in the attack, which took place in the gold-rich Djugu territory in Ituri province.

The attack was carried out by a militia called Codeco, or Cooperative for the Development of the Congo, Djugu administrator Ruphin Mapela said.

A Red Cross representative in the region said the militiamen “entered the camp and killed six Chinese nationals and three soldiers”.

“They were killed with bullets,” Dhekana Ernest said, adding that the corpses were taken to the city of Bunia.

An army spokesperson said the soldiers guarding the mining site shot dead at least six of the attackers.

Codeco is one of numerous militias engaged in deadly conflicts over land and mineral resources in eastern Congo.

The UN has accused it of carrying out possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The militia has killed hundreds of civilians in Ituri in recent years and forced thousands to flee their homes, according to the UN.

Codeco has also been blamed for killing many foreigners in the African nation.

Beijing condemned the attack on a “Chinese-funded private enterprise” which it said caused the death and disappearance of several Chinese citizens.

“We urge the DRC to pursue and punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law as soon as possible,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said. Beijing was working with Congolese authorities to locate the missing, she added.

Ms Ning urged Congo’s government to beef up security for Chinese people and enterprises in the country. “Those already in high-risk areas should be evacuated as soon as possible,” she said.

Congo has granted mining concessions to many private Chinese operators that partner with local licence holders, providing funding and machinery and often bringing in Chinese workers.

Death toll mounts as floods in India displace over 2 million people

More than 2.1 million people have been displaced due to floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains in the northeastern Indian state of Assam.

At least six people died this week, taking the death toll from heavy downpours since May to 52, the state disaster management authority said on Thursday.

More than 386,000 people are taking shelter in 515 relief camps set up in the 24 flood-affected districts.

The water levels in the Brahmaputra, one of Asia’s largest rivers, have dropped marginally, but the flood situation remains grim, a state disaster management spokesperson said.

“Western Assam’s Dhubri and northern Assam’s Darrang are the worst-affected districts where 649,000 and 190,000 people have been displaced.”

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the floods were caused mainly by the breaching of eight embankments and rain in the upstream state of Arunachal Pradesh. “No human intervention can stop it,” he said.

The Brahmaputra, which flows 1,280km in Assam state before running through Bangladesh, is one of 13 major rivers flowing above the danger level.

Incessant rainfall this year has made the Brahmaputra, already known for its powerful and unpredictable flow, even more dangerous to live near.

There are more than 2,000 villages settled on islands in the middle of the river.

Animals in the state’s Kaziranga National Park, famed as the home of the one-horned rhino, were moving to higher ground to escape the floods.

At least 31 animals – 30 hog deer and one otter pup – died after flood waters inundated nearly 80 per cent of the reserve.

Forest guards rescued 82 animals, including a baby rhino.

In neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, which borders China, landslides have wiped out several roads.

At least seven districts in the central and eastern parts of the state have been completely cut off by landslides and flash floods.

In Bangladesh, downstream from India, nearly 1.8 million people have been impacted by the floods, the nation’s disaster management agency said.

Fans faint and suffer injuries during India’s T20 World Cup parade

Two people suffered injuries and several fainted as thousands of fans packed the streets of Mumbai for the Indian cricket team’s T20 World Cup victory parade, barely days after a crowd crush at a religious function killed 121 people in northern India.

Several fans also reported trouble breathing as crowds jostled to see the victorious players and the World Cup trophy being paraded in an open-top bus on Thursday night, police said.

The parade left in its wake hundreds of slippers strewn on the roads, collapsed police barricades, damaged vehicles and broken signboards.

The scenes were reminiscent of Tuesday’s devastating stampede in Hathras in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Fans packed Marine Drive, a 3km promenade along the Arabian sea, as the victorious players arrived for a brief roadshow on Thursday evening before heading to the Wankhede stadium for a facilitation ceremony.

The Mumbai police urged commuters to avoid Marine Drive due to the “heavy rush of fans”.

A video showed a policeman carrying a woman who appeared to have fainted as he struggled to make his way out of the crowd.

Rishab Mahesh Yadav, a fan, said he slipped and fell unconscious. “The crowd was swelling. I fell and got choked. I became unconscious and was taken to a nearby hospital, where I received treatment. I feel fine now. The crowd was more than necessary. There was mismanagement. The police were also not alert,” he told news agency ANI.

As skipper Rohit Sharma and his players brandished the World Cup trophy, jubilant fans celebrated by dancing.

The team arrived in Delhi on Thursday, three days after their thrilling final victory against South Africa, ending over a decade-long hunt for silverware.

They were stranded in Barbados as hurricane Beryl passed through the Caribbean nation on Monday, causing high winds and destroying property.

The team met prime minister Narendra Modi in the national capital before heading to Mumbai.

Australian senator resigns over stand on Palestinian statehood

An Australian senator has resigned from prime minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party over its stand on Palestinian statehood.

Fatima Payman, 29, resigned on Thursday, the last day of the parliament session before winter break, and said she was “deeply torn” over the decision.

Ms Payman, the first Afghan-Australian Muslim woman in the parliament, said she continued to believe in the principles of the Labor Party but felt she could see “no middle ground” that would allow her to remain in it.

“On one hand, I have the immense support of the rank and file members, the unionists, the lifelong members, the party volunteers who are calling on me to hang in there and to make change happen internally,” she said during an emotional press conference. “On the other hand, I am pressured to conform to caucus solidarity and toe the party line. My conscience leaves me no choice.”

Ms Payman will now sit on the crossbench as an independent senator.

She was “indefinitely suspended” from the Labor caucus last week after she defied the party and sided with the Greens to call for recognising Palestinian statehood and voted to do so again, according to the ABC.

“Unlike my colleagues, I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of injustice,” she said at the press conference. “My family did not flee a war-torn country to come here as refugees for me to remain silent when I see atrocities inflicted on innocent people.”

Mr Albanese had said Ms Payman was pursuing a “strategy” related to her departure dating back at least a month. She responded that the ruling party was trying to spread that perception because it was upset with her stand.

“This topic on Palestinian recognition, Palestinian liberation is a matter that has impacted everyone with a conscience. It is not just a Jewish versus Muslim issue,” she said.

Ms Payman has alleged “intimidation on many fronts” from her Labor colleagues and an ultimatum from the prime minister, who she claims told her “you either stay and you toe the party line, or you give up the position because you don’t believe in caucus solidarity”.

Mr Albanese has denied the allegation.

Israel launched a brutal ground and air war on Gaza after Hamas attacked southern Israel and killed nearly 1,200 people on 7 October last year.

The Israeli war has killed around 38,000 Palestinians so far, according to Gaza’s health ministry. It has also displaced 90 per cent of the territory’s 2.3 million population, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency, and left them facing starvation.

Earlier on Thursday, pro-Palestinian protesters climbed on the roof of Australia’s parliament in Canberra and unfurled banners with slogans as police locked down the building in the wake of the security breach.

Scientists find brain signal that may help end migraines

Scientists have discovered a new brain pathway that plays a role in triggering headaches, an advance that may lead to new drugs to treat migraine.

About one in 10 people across the world get migraines. A quarter of the patients also experience a sensory disturbance like an aura, which is characterised by light flashes, blind spots, tingling sensations and double vision and may appear five to 60 minutes before the headache.

It has been known that a wave of brain activity suppression is behind migraines but the exact mechanism has remained elusive.

The new study, published in the journal Science, explains how fluid flow in the brain and a spreading wave of signal disruption triggers migraines and induces the aura.

Researchers from the University of Rochester in the US said the findings may serve as a foundation for a new class of migraine drugs.

“These findings provide us with a host of new targets to suppress sensory nerve activation to prevent and treat migraines and strengthen existing therapies,” study co-author Maiken Nedergaard said.

Scientists have known that the aura is caused when there is reduced oxygen levels and impaired blood flow in a section of the brian.

This happens when brain cells are temporarily depolarised due to the diffusion of charged molecules like glutamate and potassium.

This disruption can radiate like a wave, and when it affects the brain’s vision processing centre it causes visual symptoms such as the aura before a coming headache.

Researchers found a new route by which these signals travel.

They hope their discovery of how nerves in this route are activated can lead to new drug targets. “Among the identified molecules are those already associated with migraines, but we didn’t know exactly how and where the migraine inducing action occurred,” Martin Kaag Rasmussen, another author of the study, said.

Scientists hope the newly identified potential drug targets may benefit a large number of patients who do not respond to available migraine therapies.

Nine in 10 people in Gaza displaced since war began, says UN agency

About 90 per cent of the population of Gaza has been displaced at least once since the beginning of the IsraelHamas war, according to a UN humanitarian agency.

About 1.9 million people are believed to be displaced in Gaza, Andrea De Domenico, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Palestinian territories, said.

“We estimate that nine in every 10 people in the Gaza Strip have been internally displaced at least once, if not up to 10 times, unfortunately, since October,” he told reporters, according to AFP.

“Before we were estimating 1.7 (million) but since that number, we had the operation in Rafah, and we had additional displacement from Rafah,” he said.

“Then we also had operations in the north that [have] also moved people,” he added.

Israel launched a brutal ground and air war on Gaza after Hamas attacked southern Israel and killed nearly 1,200 people on 7 October last year.

The Israeli war has killed around 38,000 Palestinians so far, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Mr De Domenico said: “Behind these numbers, there are people … that have fears and grievances. And they had probably dreams and hopes; the less and less, I fear today, unfortunately.

People who in the last nine months have been moved around like pawns in a board game.”

Gaza is “the only place in the world where people cannot find a safe refuge, and can’t leave the front line”, he said, according to Al Jazeera.

Just days ago, Israel’s military ordered a mass evacuation of Palestinians from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. The evacuation order covered the eastern half of Khan Younis as well as a large part of Gaza’s southeastern corner.

“For your safety, you must evacuate immediately to the humanitarian zone,” Army spokesperson Avichay Adraee told residents in a post on X.

The Israeli military’s evacuation order for Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city, affected about 250,000 people, according to the UN.

Palestinians in the area also reported receiving evacuation orders through audio messages from Israeli numbers. ​​“We received a message on our mobile phones” to evacuate, a displaced woman identified as Zeinab Abu Jazar was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “Look at these children, how they walk. We did not find a car to ride in.”

Khan Younis was destroyed in an Israeli assault earlier this year, but large numbers of Palestinians had moved back to escape another offensive in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah.

“It’s an unendurable life,” Anwar Salman, a displaced Palestinian told AP. “If they want to kill us, let them do it. Let them drop a nuclear bomb and finish us. We are fed up. We are tired. We are dying every day.

Earlier, Clive Baldwin, a senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch said in a statement: “Governments supporting Israel and Palestinian armed groups should not only use their leverage to stop further abuses, but also to ensure that victims and survivors receive meaningful reparations.”

The OCHA had also previously stated that the number of “Palestinians from Gaza who have been detained by the Israeli military” since 7 October last year “remains unknown”.

Additional reporting with agencies.

Fire breaks out at a popular mall in India

A fire broke out at a busy mall in India’s national capital region on Friday, leading to chaos as shoppers scampered to safety.

There were no casualties reported. However, the panicked shoppers and showroom employees were all evacuated as a precautionary measure from Logix Mall in Noida, NDTV reported.

Videos and images from the mall showed the corridors filled with thick smoke.

Several fire tenders were rushed to the spot. Upon receiving the alert, the fire department said it promptly dispatched teams to the scene.

The fire is suspected to have been caused by a short circuit. Hindustan Times reported that the fire erupted in an Adidas showroom on the first floor of the mall.

Noida’s chief fire officer Pradeep Chaubey said the mall’s fire alarm alerted local fire departments around 11am on Friday.

At the time, the mall was relatively empty, with mainly security personnel and staff present.

“On reaching here, it was found that a fire had broken out at the Adidas showroom on the first floor. Since it was morning and all showrooms had not yet opened, its shutter was also down. Firefighters used saw cutters to cut open the shutter and entered the showroom to douse the flames,” Mr Chaubey was quoted as saying.

The firefighters reportedly broke the building’s glass panes to allow the smoke to escape.

By 12.30 pm, they had successfully extinguished the fire, but efforts to clear the remaining smoke from the building continued.

“The smoke from the fire has filled the building, and efforts are still on to remove the smoke. The cause of the fire is suspected to be a short circuit,” Mr Chaubey said.

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