UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday said that warring parties in 11 countries have responded positively to his appeal for a global ceasefire to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, but turning words into peace is enormously difficult, and fighting has escalated in major conflicts including Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.
Guterres called on all governments, groups and people with influence “to urge and pressure combatants around the world to put down their arms,” saying the need is urgent because “the COVID-19 storm” is now coming to all conflict areas.
His appeal 10 days ago was rooted in the recognition that “there should be only one fight in our world today: our shared battle against COVID-19,” Guterres told a briefing at UN headquarters in New York.
The appeal is “resonating” around the world, he said, citing a growing number of endorsements for the ceasefire from 70 countries, civil society, religious leaders including Pope Francis and more than 1 million people in an online petition organized by Avaaz, he said.
Parties to conflicts in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen have also expressed their acceptance, Guterres said.
However, “there are enormous difficulties to implementation, as conflicts have festered for years, distrust is deep, with many spoilers and many suspicions,” he said.
He also warned that “terrorist or extremist groups may take profit from the uncertainty created by the spread of the pandemic.”
“In many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting and some conflicts have even intensified,” he said.
In Yemen, he said that despite support for a ceasefire by the government, Houthi rebels and other parties, “the conflict has spiked.”
In Libya, the warring parties welcomed calls to stop the fighting, “yet clashes have escalated drastically on all front lines, obstructing efforts to effectively respond to COVID-19,” he said.
In Afghanistan, where fighting increased, Guterres said the time has come for the government and the Taliban, who are working on a prisoner exchange, to cease hostilities “as COVID-19 looms over the country.”
In Syria, he said a ceasefire in the last rebel stronghold in northwest Idlib that was negotiated by Russia and Turkey is holding, but a permanent nationwide ceasefire is essential to tackle COVID-19 and help the millions suffering from the conflict.
“There is a chance for peace, but we are far from there,” Guterres said. “We need robust diplomatic efforts to meet these challenges. To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace.”
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