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Myanmar is Aiming to Eliminate Free Press, Media Group Says

In just under six months Myanmar has become one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world, with at least 32 currently detained, a media freedom watchdog said Wednesday. 

The targeting of media since the February 1 coup marks a “drastic reversal” of positive inroads made by the Southeast Asian country toward greater freedom of expression since the end of its last period of military rule, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a special report. 

Since Myanmar’s army toppled the elected civilian government and arrested its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, over 900 people have been killed and 5,400 arrested, charged or detained including dozens of journalists, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). 

As well as arrests, authorities have periodically imposed internet blackouts, revoked media licenses and issued warrants for reporters, a move that CPJ says is driving critical reporters underground or into self-imposed exile.

“As of July 1 at least 32 journalists were being held behind bars either on false news related charges or uncharged altogether,” Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, told VOA. “This is repression unlike I think probably we’ve seen anywhere in the world over the last six months. This is a worse situation than China. This is a worse situation than in Turkey.”

Those two countries usually account for the highest numbers of imprisoned journalists, according to CPJ’s census carried out each December. But Crispin said the data on those currently held in Myanmar make the country a close third. For comparison, last December Myanmar had only one journalist in jail.

At the height of the repression in June, CPJ documented at least 45 journalists behind bars. Myanmar later freed some of those. But for those still detained, conditions are dire with reports of torture and overcrowding. 

The CPJ said the full number being held may be higher, with many media organizations reluctant to identify their contributors for fear of reprisals.

“It seems pretty clear that the junta regime is aiming to eliminate free press altogether,” Crispin said, describing the current environment as an “humanitarian crisis for journalists.”

Local media have borne the brunt of repression but international news outlets have been restricted and at least four foreign journalists detained. Three of those—American reporter Nathan Maung, and correspondents from Poland and Japan—were later released. 

But Danny Fenster, the American managing editor for English-language local publication Frontier Myanmar, has been in custody for over 65 days.

Fenster, who is being held in Yangon’s Insein prison, told his lawyer he has the coronavirus but has not been provided with medical assistance. A court hearing scheduled for Wednesday was pushed back and his family have limited contact or updates on his wellbeing. 

The journalist, originally from metro Detroit, had been working in Myanmar for a couple of years. He was arrested on May 24 at Yangon airport, when he tried to fly home for a family visit.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday the Myanmar military’s refusal to respect rights is “flatly unacceptable” and called for the release of those detained.

Shaky record

Media freedom record under Suu Kyi’s elected government was far from flawless. Two Reuters reporters who reported on abuses against the Rohingya Muslim minority were imprisoned for over 500 days. 

But under the junta, CPJ’s Crispin says, Myanmar has used expanded laws around false news and incitement to target journalists as it seeks to “black out the news” of the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners.

“We found that many news outlets that were free to operate under Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government are now effectively operated underground. That means they have to close the bureaus,” he said, adding that many report from safe houses or while on the run. 

American journalist Maung told VOA his team at Kamayut Media knew they could face danger at any time. 

On March 9 around 40 armed soldiers raided their news outlet, and arrested Maung and his colleagues. 

“They interrogated me for the first four days, they didn’t give me water for three days,” Maung told VOA. 

The journalist said his captors kept him handcuffed, blindfolded and in stress positions.

“The first few days when I was being tortured I thought I could be killed anytime,” Maung said.  

His colleague Hanthar Nyien suffered too. CPJ’s report says Nyien was forced to kneel on an ice block, burned with cigarettes, and threatened with rape to force the journalist to hand over the code to unlock his smartphone.

The prison guards later learned that Maung was American, and he was released after 98 days. Nyien remains in custody.

“My body is in the United States but my mind everyday stays with my friends in the prison,” Maung said.

Myanmar’s military council has not directly responded to VOA’s queries on the treatment of detainees, but a spokesperson said the questioning of suspects is “in accordance with the rule and regulations.”

In a seemingly unrelenting crackdown “it’s hard to find positive strength in what’s happening right now in Myanmar for free press,” Crispin said. “They really are trying to erase the opening that allows the free press to take hold.”

But print outlets have pivoted to news shared over Facebook, and citizen journalists are risking arrest, bullets and tear gas to record the actions of the security forces.

A number of journalists have sought sanctuary in neighboring countries including Thailand and India.

“The junta can’t stop the internet, they can’t shut down Facebook…they can’t shut down information,” said one Myanmar reporter. 

The journalist, who is in hiding outside the country, asked for their identity and location to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

“We don’t want to settle here. We want to keep working and reporting for Burma. We’re illegal here. We don’t have any document, so they [the authorities here] can arrest us and deport us back to Burma any day. We have to be low profile and very cautious,” the journalist said.

Crispin urged neighboring countries to provide a safe haven for journalists in hiding.

“It’s our hope that they will be allowed sanctuary in neighboring countries that would make it a little safer for them to report the news,” he said.

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UNAMA Chief: Without Meaningful Negotiations, Taliban Lose Legitimacy

The Taliban will lose the international legitimacy they gained through their negotiations in Doha if the group does not fulfill its obligation to negotiate with the Afghan government for a political settlement to the conflict, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said Wednesday in Kabul. 

“If there is no movement at the negotiating table, and instead human rights abuses and, worse still, atrocities occur in districts they control, the Taliban will not be seen as a viable partner for the international community,” Deborrah Lyons said while addressing a meeting of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB), created in 2006 for coordination between the Afghan government and the international community. 

The Taliban have been officially talking to a team of Afghans that includes government representatives since September last year but there has been little movement in that discussion. 

Earlier this month, a high-level delegation of Afghans led by Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), went to Doha to meet the Taliban negotiation team in an effort to boost the process, with little success. 

The Taliban promised to negotiate with an Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRoA) team, as the Afghan team is called, in a deal it signed with the United States in February 2020 that paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. 

However, only parts of that deal were met. Other parts that included meaningful intra-Afghan negotiations for a political settlement, and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire as a result of that settlement, are yet to materialize. 

On the contrary, the level of violence in Afghanistan has surged since the announcement that foreign troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan. In the last several months, the Taliban have made swift territorial gains and surrounded several cities, even if they have not captured a city yet.   

Lyons said the Taliban had “inherited responsibility” for the areas they have taken over. 

“The world is watching closely how they are acting, especially towards civilian populations, women and minorities,” she said. 

At the meeting attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah, Lyons also pointed to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the wake of the increased violence. 

“Eighteen million Afghans today are facing dire humanitarian needs. That is twice the number of the same category last year. It represents half the country,” she said. 

The crisis, which includes millions of people internally displaced due to violence, has been exacerbated by waves of COVID-19 and a persistent drought. 

According to the U.N., civilian casualties this year are 50% higher, compared to the same period last year. Half of all those killed or wounded are women and children. 

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Haitians Displaced by Gang Violence Face Bleak Future

Haitians displaced by gang incursions into swaths of the capital now live on the sharpest edge of insecurity in the Caribbean country, which is reeling from the assassination of President Jovenel Moise earlier this month. Officials say thousands of people have lost their homes to encroachment by violent gangs into central and southern parts of the city, where urban sprawl envelops more than 2.5 million people.   “I’ve got no future in this country as a young man. I’m in an unstable situation, I can’t build a home, the situation is really critical,” said one youth, staying at a shelter in the Delmas 5 neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Like others who spoke to Reuters at the center, which gives refuge to about 1,800 people, he declined to give his name for fear of reprisals from gangs. Gang violence in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, increasingly marred Moise’s rule before he was shot dead in his official residence on July 7. The government says the attack was carried out by a group of largely Colombian mercenaries, though many questions about who was behind his killing remain. Ariel Henry was formally appointed as prime minister of Haiti last week, calling for unity, stability, and international support. But the gangs are powerful and security institutions are weak. Georges Michel, a Haitian historian, said the gangs can muster a firepower superior to official security forces and are highly mobile, used to deploying guerrillalike tactics to prey on the population and do battle with rival outfits.   “I hope that (the government) finds a way to destroy them because they create terror in all the neighborhood,” he said. Gangs have threatened to occupy the streets to protest the assassination of Moise. One of the most prominent bosses, Jimmy Cherizier, a former cop known as Barbecue, on Monday led hundreds of followers to a commemoration of the dead president.   “We never knew this situation before,” said another youth at the shelter. “This stems from the political crisis.” 

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Biden Administration Wants to Require Businesses to Disclose Ransomware Attacks

The Biden administration is throwing its support behind congressional legislation that would require companies to report major data breaches by hackers, including the ransomware attacks that are increasingly targeting U.S. critical infrastructure.

“The administration strongly supports congressional action to require victim companies to report significant breaches, including ransomware attacks,” Richard Downing, a deputy assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

“In particular, such legislation should require covered entities to notify the federal government about ransomware attacks, cyber incidents that affect critical infrastructure entities, and other breaches that implicate heightened risks to the government, the public or third parties,” Downing said.

The announcement came as members of Congress are advancing more than a dozen bills in response to a recent escalation in ransomware attacks, while the administration has taken a whole-of-government approach to respond to what it sees as a public safety, economic and national security threat.

Emphasizing that information sharing is critical between companies and the government, Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said there is “general bipartisan support” for congressional action in response to the cybersecurity threat.

“And I hope it leads — I think it will — to specific legislation to deal with this,” said Durbin, a Democrat.

Last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021, a bill that would require federal agencies and contractors as well as critical infrastructure operators to notify the government within 24 hours of a cyber breach that “poses a threat to national security.” To encourage information sharing, the bill would grant limited immunity to companies that report a breach.

“We shouldn’t be relying on voluntary reporting to protect our critical infrastructure,” Democratic Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in a statement last week. “We need a routine federal standard so that when vital sectors of our economy are affected by a breach, the full resources of the federal government can be mobilized to respond to and stave off its impact.” 

The bill’s Republican co-sponsors include Senators Marco Rubio, vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, and Susan Collins, a senior member.

Once seen as a financial crime, ransomware attacks have grown in both number and severity over the past year and a half. Testifying before Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the attacks have surged by 300% over the past year. This year alone, Mayorkas said, ransomware attacks have resulted in economic losses of $300 million.

In May, a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, the operator of the largest fuel pipeline in the country, disrupted its operations for several days, setting off fuel shortages and panic buying. In June, meat processor JBS USA said it paid $11 million to cybercriminals following a ransomware attack that disrupted its operations.

Legislative proposals such as the Warner bill seek to address what law enforcement officials have long identified as a major impediment to their ability to respond to a ransomware attack: a reluctance by businesses to notify law enforcement about cyber breaches.

Companies are not currently required to disclose when they have been attacked by ransomware criminals. Fearing loss of operations or reputational harm, most victims choose not to report. The FBI estimates that about 25% to 30% of such incidents get reported, according to Bryan Vorndran, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division.

The FBI has long encouraged victims of ransomware attacks to notify law enforcement, saying such information sharing can help it better understand and respond to the threat. Now, it wants notifications made mandatory.

“Because far too many ransomware incidents go unreported, and because silence benefits ransomware actors the most, we wholeheartedly believe a federal standard is needed to mandate the reporting of certain cyber incidents, including most ransomware incidents,” Vorndran testified.

“The scope and severity of this threat has reached the point where we can no longer rely on voluntary reports alone to learn about incidents,” Vorndran said.

In addition to ransomware attacks above a to-be-determined threshold, Downing said, the Justice Department wants mandatory notifications for two other types of breaches: supply chain attacks that could give outsiders access to critical U.S. infrastructure and government systems, and attacks involving high-value trade secrets related to critical infrastructure.

“Of particular significance, entities should be required to report any ransom demand; the date, time and amount of ransom payments; and addresses where payments were requested to be sent,” Downing said.

While supporting mandatory breach notifications, Downing and other officials opposed calls to make ransom payments illegal. Jeremy Sheridan, an assistant director for the U.S. Secret Service, told lawmakers that banning ransomware payments “would further push any reporting to law enforcement into obscurity.”

Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.


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‘About Time’: Gay Athletes Unleash Rainbow Wave on Olympics

When Olympic diver Tom Daley announced in 2013 that he was dating a man and “couldn’t be happier,” his coming out was an act of courage that, with its rarity, also exposed how the top echelons of sport weren’t seen as a safe space by the vast majority of LGBTQ athletes.

Back then, the number of gay Olympians who felt able and willing to speak openly about their private lives could be counted on a few hands. There’d been just two dozen openly gay Olympians among the more than 10,000 who competed at the 2012 London Games, a reflection of how unrepresentative and anachronistic top-tier sports were just a decade ago and, to a large extent, still are.

Still, at the Tokyo Games, the picture is changing.

A wave of rainbow-colored pride, openness and acceptance is sweeping through Olympic pools, skateparks, halls and fields, with a record number of openly gay competitors in Tokyo. Whereas LGBTQ invisibility used to make Olympic sports seem out of step with the times, Tokyo is shaping up as a watershed for the community and for the Games — now, finally, starting to better reflect human diversity.

“It’s about time that everyone was able to be who they are and celebrated for it,” said U.S. skateboarder Alexis Sablone, one of at least five openly LGBTQ athletes in that sport making its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

“It’s really cool,” Sablone said. “What I hope that means is that even outside of sports, kids are raised not just under the assumption that they are heterosexual.”

The gay website has been tallying the number of publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes in Tokyo. After several updates, its count is now up to 168, including some who petitioned to get on the list. That’s three times the number that Outsports tallied at the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. At the London Games, it counted just 23.

“The massive increase in the number of out athletes reflects the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people in sports and society,” Outsports says.

Daley is also broadcasting that message from Tokyo, his fourth Olympics overall and second since he came out.

After winning gold for Britain with Matty Lee in 10-meter synchronized diving, the 27-year-old reflected on his journey from young misfit who felt “alone and different” to Olympic champion who says he now feels less pressure to perform because he knows that his husband and their son love him regardless.

“I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now you are not alone,” Daley said. “You can achieve anything, and there is a whole lot of your chosen family out here.”

“I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion,” he added. “Because, you know, when I was younger I thought I was never going to be anything or achieve anything because of who I was.”

Still, there’s progress yet to be made.

Among the more than 11,000 athletes competing in Tokyo, there will be others who still feel held back, unable to come out and be themselves. Outsports’ list has few men, reflecting their lack of representation that extends beyond Olympic sports. Finnish Olympian Ari-Pekka Liukkonen is one of the rare openly gay men in his sport, swimming.

“Swimming, it’s still much harder to come out (for) some reason,” he said. “If you need to hide what you are, it’s very hard.”

Only this June did an active player in the NFL — Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib — come out as gay. And only last week did a first player signed to an NHL contract likewise make that milestone announcement. Luke Prokop, a 19-year-old Canadian with the Nashville Predators, now has 189,000 likes for his “I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay” post on Twitter.

The feeling that “there’s still a lot of fight to be done” and that she needed to stand up and be counted in Tokyo is why Elissa Alarie, competing in rugby, contacted Outsports to get herself named on its list. With their permission, she also added three of her Canadian teammates.

“It’s important to be on that list because we are in 2021 and there are still, like, firsts happening. We see them in the men’s professional sports, NFL, and a bunch of other sports,” Alarie said. “Yes, we have come a long way. But the fact that we still have firsts happening means that we need to still work on this.”

Tokyo’s out Olympians are also almost exclusively from Europe, North and South America, and Australia/New Zealand. The only Asians on the Outsports list are Indian sprinter Dutee Chand and skateboarder Margielyn Didal from the Philippines.

That loud silence resonates with Alarie. Growing up in a small town in Quebec, she had no gay role models and “just thought something was wrong with me.”

“To this day, who we are is still illegal in many countries,” she said. “So until it’s safe for people in those countries to come out, I think we need to keep those voices loud and clear.”

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Afghanistan Government Arrests Four Journalists on Propaganda Charges

Four journalists have been arrested on propaganda charges in Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Tuesday.

They were arrested in the city of Kandahar after traveling to the disputed border town of Spin Boldak to interview commanders of the Taliban, which has been clashing with Afghan security forces, according to the Afghan media watchdog known as Nai.

The watchdog said the location of the journalists on Tuesday was unknown.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said the journalists have been charged with spreading propaganda for the Taliban after ignoring a warning from the government’s intelligence agency not to enter the area.

“The government of Afghanistan respects and is extremely committed to freedom of expression, but any propaganda in favor of the terrorist and the enemy, as well as against the interests of the country, is a crime,” interior ministry spokesperson Mirwais Estanikzai said.

Taliban spokesman Mohmmad Naeem denounced the arrests and argued the journalists were simply trying to “follow the events and try to reveal the facts.”

The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee called on the government to release the journalists “as soon as possible and to refer the case to the Media Complaints Commission to ascertain whether any violation has taken place or not.”

International rights group Amnesty International also called for release of the journalists, tweeting it is “concerned” about their detention.

The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee identified the journalists as Bismillah Watandoost, Qudrat Soltani, and Moheb Obaidi, employees of the local radio station Mellat Zhagh, and Sanaullah Siam, a cameraman of the Xinhua News Agency.

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Pakistani, 19, Becomes Youngest Person to Summit K2

A 19-year-old Pakistani has become the youngest person to summit K2, the world’s second highest mountain, the Alpine Club of Pakistan said Tuesday.  

Shehroze Kashif reached the 8,611-meter (28,251 foot) summit at 8:10 a.m. Tuesday.

Kashif, who began climbing in his early teens, scaled the world’s 12th highest mountain, 8,047-meter (26,400 foot) Broad Peak, at the age of 17. In May, he became the youngest Pakistani to scale Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain.  

Several of Pakistan’s youngest climbers have been on K2 in recent days. Sajid Ali Sadpara, who in 2019 became the youngest to climb K2 at the age of 20, is part of an expedition there to find the body of his father, who went missing along with two other climbers in February.

On Monday, sherpas affixing ropes for climbers about 300 meters below an obstacle known as the Bottleneck discovered the bodies of Muhammad Ali Sadpara of Pakistan, Iceland’s John Snorri and Chile’s Juan Pablo Mohr. The same day, Samina Baig, 30, said she was abandoning an attempt to summit the mountain because of dangerous conditions. Baig became the youngest Pakistani woman to scale Mount Everest in 2013.

On Sunday night the body of Scottish climber, Rick Allen, 68, was recovered after he was swept away by an avalanche while attempting to traverse a new route on K2’s southeastern face.

Earlier this month, Kim Hong-bin, 57, a South Korean Paralympian, went missing after falling from the nearby Broad Peak.

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Volunteers Pitch in to Fight Russia’s Raging Forest Fires

The little domed tents of the volunteer firefighters in the clearing of a Siberian forest can be hard to see — even from only a few steps away — because of the choking smoke. Their shovels and saws seem to be tiny tools against the vast blaze, like toy weapons brought to a war.

As of Monday, about 1.88 million hectares (4.6 million acres) of forest were burning in Russia — an area larger than the U.S. state of Connecticut.  

More than 5,000 regular firefighters are involved, but the scale is so large and the area is so enormous that 55% of the fires aren’t being fought at all, according to Avialesookhrana, the agency that oversees the effort.

That means the volunteers, who take time off work and rely on their own money or nongovernmental funds, are a small but important addition to the overwhelmed forces.

“The guys (volunteers) are doing a great job. Their help is significant because the area and distances are quite large, so the more people there are, the more effective our efforts are to control the fires,” said Denis Markov, an instructor at a base for paratrooper firefighters in Tomsk, who is working with some of the volunteers.

The hardest hit area is the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, in the far northeast of Russia, about 5,000 kilometers (3,200 miles) from Moscow. About 85% of all of Russia’s fires are in the republic, and heavy smoke forced a temporary closure of the airport in the regional capital, Yakutsk, a city of about 280,000 people.

As the smoke intensified, Ivan Nikiforov took a leave from his office job in the city — not to escape the bad air but to head into the fires as a volunteer.

“I think it’s important to participate as a volunteer because our republic, our shared land and our forests are burning. This is what we’ll be leaving for our children and our grandchildren,” he said at his group’s encampment in the Gorny Ulus area west of Yakutsk.

Nikiforov and a small contingent of other volunteers dig trenches, chop down trees and set small, controlled fires to try to block the spread.

Volunteers in the area received some support from the nongovernmental agency Sinet-Spark, which provided sleeping bags, gloves and heavy equipment. Alexandra Kozulina, the group’s director of projects, said Sinet-Spark initially had planned to spend its money on information campaigns but decided to provide equipment as the fires worsened.

“I also believe our government should be doing this. I don’t understand why it isn’t happening — whether there isn’t enough money because budgets were cut, or some other reason, but we are doing what is in our power,” she said.

The main problem, many observers say, is that the size of the aerial forest protection agency has been reduced, along with the number of rangers.

“I can personally remember how each district had a branch of Avialesookhrana with 15-20 paratroopers. They constantly made observation flights and put out fires as soon as they started,” said Fedot Tumusov, a member of the Russian parliament from Sakha.  

The 2007 changes that reduced the number of rangers also gave control over timberlands to regional authorities and businesses, eroding centralized monitoring, fueling corruption and contributing to illegal tree-cutting practices that help spawn fires.

Critics also say the law allows authorities to let fires burn in certain areas if the potential damage is considered not worth the cost of containing them. They say this encourages inaction by authorities and slows firefighting efforts, so a blaze that could have been extinguished at a relatively small cost is often allowed to burn uncontrolled.

This year’s fires in Siberia already have emitted more carbon than those in some previous years, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

He said the peat fires that are common in Siberia and many other Russian regions are particularly harmful in terms of emissions because the peat has been absorbing carbon for tens of thousands of years.

“Then it’s releasing all that carbon back into the atmosphere,” Parrington said.  

While pledging adherence to the Paris agreement on climate change, Russian officials often underline the key role played by the country’s forests in slowing down global warming. However, regular fires have the opposite effect, dramatically boosting carbon emissions.

“Everyone emphasizes that we have huge forests, but no one so far has calculated how much our forest fires contribute to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mikhail Kreindlin of Greenpeace Russia.  

It’s too early to tell whether this year’s fires will reach a record-breaking scale, Kreindlin says, noting that the situation in Siberia has been particularly difficult for the past three years. What sets 2021 apart is that Karelia — a small region in northwestern Russia on the border with Finland — also has been engulfed by devastating, unprecedented fires.

As of Monday, Karelia was among the top three regions affected by the fires, according to Avialesookhrana, with 22 of them still active on more than 11,000 hectares (27,180 acres).  

“The fact that Karelia got ablaze so unexpectedly — there were fires there before, but there hasn’t been such massive fires there in many years — shows that in general the situation with the fires in the country is extremely difficult and poorly controlled,” Kreindlin said.

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US Special Envoy for Haiti Faces Criticism After Weekend Meetings With Officials

Some Haitian officials are expressing doubt and criticism about U.S. Special Envoy Daniel Foote’s mission in Haiti after he had meetings over the weekend with National Police Chief Leon Charles and Senate President Joseph Lambert.  “(This is just) one more American official. But to do what?” Senator Patrice Dumont, one of 10 Haitian senators whose parliament terms have not expired, told VOA. “Haiti is an adult and should resolve its own problems.”  FILE – Haitian Senator Patrice Dumont gestures during an interview with Reuters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 15, 2021.Asked by VOA if Haiti should accept American assistance in resolving its political crisis, Dumont responded, “Absolutely not.”  A State Department statement emailed to VOA said Foote will lead “U.S. diplomatic efforts and coordinate the effort of U.S. federal agencies in Haiti from Washington, advise the secretary and acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and coordinate closely with the National Security Council staff on the administration’s efforts to support the Haitian people and Haiti’s democratic institutions in the aftermath of the tragic assassination of (President) Jovenel Moise.”  On Saturday, the national police posted three photos on its official Twitter account showing Charles meeting with Foote, U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison and a police official.  The message did not provide any details about what was discussed during the meeting. It said only that it was in response to a request for assistance made by former Prime Minister Claude Joseph shortly after Moise’s assassination.🔵 Suite à la demande de l’ex- Premier Ministre, Claude Joseph, peu après l’assassinat du Président Jovenel Moïse; pour qu’Haïti bénéficie du support des nations unies, l’ambassadeur Daniel FOOTE envoyé spécial pour Haïti, l’Ambassadeur des États-Unis, Michele J. SISON, (1/4)— PNH (@pnh_officiel) July 24, 2021Lambert also posted on Twitter a photo of his meeting on Sunday with Foote and Sison.”I was invited by Ambassadors Sison and Foote. Our conversation was intense. Our exchanges took into consideration Haiti’s situation, which is currently at an impasse, as well as the urgent need to restore the country’s institutions,” Lambert tweeted.  J’ai été l’invité des ambassadeurs Sison et Foote. Notre conversation a été intense. Nos échanges ont considéré la situation d’Haïti qui est dans l’impasse et l’urgence des actions qui doivent être bonnes pour refaire les institutions de l’État.— Sénateur Joseph Lambert (@josephlambertHT) July 25, 2021Foote is a Foreign Service officer whose experience as a diplomat includes serving twice as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. He also served as U.S. ambassador to Zambia during the Trump administration.  The envoy arrived in Haiti on Friday with a delegation of American officials named by President Joe Biden to represent the United States at the national funeral of Moise. The delegation was evacuated from Haiti after gunfire erupted and angry protesters approached a private compound serving as the site of the funeral.  Pastor Edouard Paultre, who heads the civil society organization National Council of Non-State Actors, said Foote should follow the will of the Haitian people.  “This is a period of extreme distress for our nation, as well as institutional bankruptcy. None of our institutions are able to function properly. It’s in this context that Daniel Foote is arriving in Haiti. But he is also arriving at a time when civil society is collaborating with other sectors of Haiti to search for a solution to the crisis,” Paultre told VOA. “I don’t know what he’s looking for, but he should not be making any unilateral decisions.”  The pastor said he thinks Foote should work with Haitians toward an “inter-Haitian” consensus.  Foote has not yet commented on his meetings with Haitian officials. But two U.S. representatives who traveled with him from Washington to Haiti for the funeral on Friday issued statements about their brief time in the country.  New York Democrat Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. wants to support the Haitian people as they work toward security and a stable government.  “Now is the time for the international community to listen to the voices of the Haitian people and stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they navigate these turbulent times, helping bring about a better future for all of Haiti,” Meeks said in a statement emailed to VOA.  U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican, posted a video message on Twitter that he had recorded on the tarmac at the Cap-Haitien airport. He expressed regret about having to leave so abruptly.  Today I traveled as a part of a Presidential Delegation to attend the funeral of Haitian President Moise. Unfortunately, after nearby gunshots, we had to quickly evacuate. Here’s a short video from #Haiti:— Jeff Fortenberry (@JeffFortenberry) July 23, 2021″I regret that, because it’s a bit undignified, the way we had to leave,” Fortenberry said. “This is an important country, in proximity to America. It’s on our doorstep as we’ve tried to help significantly over the years, and we want to stand in solidarity with the Haitian people as they mourn and suffer.”  Fortenberry expressed hope that the tragedy of Moise’s assassination would lead to redevelopment and hope for Haiti’s people in the future.  Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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