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UN chief: Pandemic threatens peace and risks new conflicts

United Nations: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic not only threatens gains in fighting global poverty and building peace but risks exacerbating existing conflicts and generating new ones.

The UN chief told a Security Council meeting on the challenge of sustaining peace during the pandemic that his March 23 call for an immediate cease-fire in conflicts around the world to tackle the Coronavirus led a number of warring parties to take steps to de-escalate and stop fighting.

Yet, regrettably, in many instances, the pandemic did not move the parties to suspend hostilities or agree to a permanent ceasefire, Guterres said.

His predecessor as secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, told the council: It is truly astonishing that in response to this pandemic, the world has placed billions of people under lock-down, closed international borders, suspended trade and migration, and temporarily shut down a whole variety of industries but has not managed to suspend armed conflicts.

Ban criticised the UN Security Council for wasting valuable months in arguments over the details of the text and not adopting a resolution until July 1 demanding an immediate cessation of hostilities in key conflicts including Syria, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan and Congo to tackle COVID-19.

This has weakened the message that this council needs to send to all warring parties: now is the time to confront our common enemy, Ban said.

And he said delayed council action further aggravated the current volatile global security situations. The impact of COVID-19 on conflict-affected settings has been much worse than initially thought, said Ban, who is a co-chair of the group of prominent world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela known as The Elders.

He pointed to health and humanitarian ramifications, social cohesion, governance, the rule of law and threats to multilateralism which are jeopardizing ongoing efforts to sustain peace, or may even cause a reversal in hard-won peace and security gains to date.

While governments try to confront the pandemic, some groups have seen an opportunity to ramp up violence, Ban said, citing as examples Boko Haram and other militants in Nigeria, growing mob violence in Congo and murders by drug cartels in Mexico.

He also warned that the economic impacts of the pandemic will be both long-lasting and severe, with ripple effects for many fragile and conflict-affected states.

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