UN peacekeeping chief defends cost of missions

The Associated Press
Sun, 2017-03-26

UNITED NATIONS: UN peacekeeping missions, under threat from budget cuts if Washington’s promise to slash its UN spending goes ahead, are already costing as little as possible, a UN official said Friday.
The comments come after US President Donald Trump this month proposed to cut Washington’s contribution to UN peacekeeping operations — the largest share of funding for the organization’s missions — to 25 percent of their total budget, compared to just under 30 percent today.
“We are doing our utmost to spend as little as possible” and “modernize,” Herve Ladsous, the outgoing head of peacekeeping operations, said during his final news conference after six years in his post.
“We diminished the cost per peacekeeper by 16 percent without a diminution of their quality,” he added, noting that the US-based Rand Corporation think-tank recently calculated that UN-managed operations cost four times less than it would cost a large Western country.
“Sixteen missions and 120,000 men deployed around the world for 0.4 percent of the world’s military expenditure, it’s still very little,” Ladsous said.
“We have always tried to reformat missions, whenever possible, to be as economical as possible,” he added.
“We review mandates, staffing and equipment on a regular basis,” he said, pointing to the closure of missions to Ivory Coast, Liberia and Haiti, which would result in “hundreds of millions of dollars in savings.”
Ladsous is set to be replaced by another French diplomat, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who takes office for a one-year term in April after Ladsous declined an offer to stay on.
Ladsous also criticized what he called a lack of support from members of the UN Security Council who he said are sometimes too lenient toward governments that obstruct the work of peacekeeping missions, including South Sudan’s.
He had recommended an arms embargo against Africa’s newest country, a measure supported by Britain, France and the US but rejected by the Security Council in December thanks to opposition by China and Russia.
Discussed at the council on Thursday, a resolution could still be put to a vote.
The Security Council should also continue the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, its largest — at 19,000 troops — and one of its oldest, Ladsous said. Maintaining the operation at the current force is necessary because of electoral turmoil in the country, he added.

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Tillerson to meet allies as NATO races to save talks

Sun, 2017-03-26

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with NATO members next week in Brussels, officials said Friday, as alliance diplomats struggled to reschedule a key meeting.
The transatlantic alliance’s leading partner threw planning for an April 5 summit of NATO foreign ministers into chaos on Tuesday, when Tillerson revealed he would not be attending.
Faced with the embarrassment of a no-show that would have called President Donald Trump’s commitment to US allies into question, member states decided to try to pick a new date.
But now, US officials say Tillerson will head to Brussels on Friday next week regardless, even though members are still seeking a new date for the talks.
“The Secretary of State will visit NATO in Brussels, Belgium,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, without revealing any details of planned meetings.
In Brussels, NATO officials were also cautious, saying that they hoped to reschedule the full ministerial meeting to Friday but that a decision would not be made before Monday.
“There are ongoing consultations on scheduling among the allies. The dates of ministerial meetings have to be agreed by all 28 allies,” one said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Officials suggested that the complicating factor might be the agenda of Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who might not be able to make it to Brussels on March 31.
On Tuesday, the State Department confirmed that Tillerson would not be able to attend the long-planned April 5 and 6 meeting. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to visit President Donald Trump in the US in early April, and Tillerson would be expected to attend their meetings.
But his office has not confirmed that engagement, and word that Tillerson would stay away from the NATO talks stirred doubt about US commitment to its allies.
NATO member Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has already announced that he expects to meet Tillerson in Ankara on Thursday, March 30.
Toner said Tillerson would also meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the visit, and “discuss the way forward with our campaign to defeat Daesh in Syria and Iraq.”
After almost two months in the job, Tillerson has yet to appoint a deputy or any assistant secretaries, has largely avoided the media and works with a small inner circle of advisers.
The administration, meanwhile, has been scrambling to reaffirm its commitment to US military alliances after Trump called into question their usefulness during the presidential campaign.
Last week, after meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump claimed Germany owes “vast sums of money to NATO and the US,” reviving his charge that allies do not pay their way.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a former Marine general, has declared US support for NATO, and last week Tillerson reaffirmed ties with Asian allies Japan and South Korea.
But Tillerson’s absence from the foreign ministers’ meeting would have been noted with concern, especially by newer East European members on its exposed east flank.
The US has worked with NATO to shore up support for the pro-western government in Kiev after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for a bloody uprising in eastern Ukraine.
Combined with economic sanctions, the deployment of more NATO troops from Western members to frontline Eastern allies in the Baltics and Poland was intended to send a signal to Moscow.
But during his presidential campaign, Trump raised eyebrows by expressing admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and dismissing NATO as “obsolete.”

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Venezuela asks UN help in boosting medicine supplies

Sun, 2017-03-26

CARACAS, Venezuela: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has asked the UN for “help” boosting medicine supplies as he struggles to combat crippling shortages.
“I’ve asked for support from the UN to help treat economic and social injuries that have hit our people caused by the economic war and the sharp fall in petroleum prices,” Maduro said in a televised appearance Friday.
He did not provide any details about the request except to say that the UN has the expertise to normalize the supply and distribution of pharmaceutical drugs in the country.
But just acknowledging that Venezuela needs outside help is a telling sign of how far the nation sitting atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves has fallen under Maduro.
Maduro’s socialist administration prides itself on being a provider of humanitarian aid to poor nations around the world. Even as he called Friday for the UN’s assistance, his aides were hosting a business forum called “Venezuelan Powerhouse” and the military was dispatching two cargo planes of emergency supplies, including some medicine, for victims in Peru of that nation’s worst flooding in two decades.
Opponents say such generosity should be reserved for Venezuelans, who have been suffering from widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation since Maduro was elected in 2013 following the death from cancer of former President Hugo Chavez.
On Friday, the Washington-based Organization of American States, OAS, announced that it would hold an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday to address the situation in Venezuela.
The announcement comes a day after the US and group of 13 other OAS nations called on Venezuela’s government to hold elections and immediately free political prisoners.
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro is pushing to expel Maduro’s government from the group for breaking the country’s democratic order and violating human rights.
Maduro’s government disavowed a landslide loss to the opposition in legislative elections in 2015, and then suspended a recall campaign seeking to force him from office before the 2018 election.
Venezuela’s government has accused the OAS leader was overstepping his authority in an effort to pave the way for an “international intervention” in Venezuela.

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Howard Marks Redux: “There They Go Again” – Why Stock Investors Develop Amnesia

Authored by Johnny Hopkins via The Aquirer’s Multiple blog,

One of our favorite investors at The Acquirer’s Multiple – Stock Screener is Howard Marks.

Howard Marks is Chairman and Co-Founder of Oaktree Capital Management, the world’s biggest distressed-debt investor. He’s known in the investment community for his “Oaktree memos” to clients which detail investment strategies and insight into the economy, and in 2011 he published the book The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor.

One of our favorite memos is his May 2005 piece where Marks discusses why investors develop amnesia when it comes to share-market history. It’s a must read for all investors.

Here’s an excerpt from that memo:

Contributing to . . . euphoria are two further factors little noted in our time or in past times. The first is the extreme brevity of the financial memory.


. . . There can be few fields of human endeavor in which history counts for so little as in the world of finance. Past experience, to the extent that it is part of memory at all, is dismissed as the primitive refuge of those who do not have the insight to appreciate the incredible wonders of the present.


John Kenneth Galbraith – A Short History of Financial Euphoria, Viking, 1990

The above observation has appeared in lots of my memos, second only to Warren Buffett’s reminder that our need for prudence in a given situation is inversely proportional to the amount of prudence being displayed by other investors. Neither of these favorite quotations says much for the average investor: Buffett urges us to adopt behavior that is the opposite of John Q. Investor’s, and Galbraith points out how prone John Q. is to repeating the mistakes of the past.

It may sound cynical, but most outstanding investors – especially members of the “us school” (see “Us and Them,” May 7, 2004) – understand that the path to superior results lies in taking advantage of other people’s mistakes. (The alternative is to think everyone can succeed simultaneously.) It’s when most investors take a trend to excess, or the price of an asset to an extreme, that the few people smart and resolute enough to abstain from herd behavior can make truly exceptional profits.

I think both Buffett’s and Galbraith’s dim views of the average investor are well founded. Although there exist a few rules and reminders that can make it easier to avoid the costliest investing mistakes, most investors rarely heed them.

Investors truly do make the same mistakes over and over. It may be different people doing it each time, and usually they do it in new fields and in connection with new assets, but it is the same behavior. As Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Rarely is the same error repeated in back-to-back years. Usually enough time passes for the repetitive pattern to go unnoticed and for the lessons to be forgotten. Often it’s a new generation repeating the errors of their forefathers. But the patterns are there, if you observe with the benefit of objectivity and a long-term view of history.

Why do the mistakes repeat? That’s a good question, but not much of a mystery. First, few investors have been around long enough to recognize reoccurrence of the errors of twenty or forty years ago. And second, the greed that argues for ignoring “the old rules” easily trumps caution; hope truly does spring eternal. That’s especially true when the good times are rolling. The tendency to ignore the rules invariably reaches its apex in periods when following them has cost people money. It is thus, as Galbraith points out, that those who harp on the lessons of the past are dismissed as old fogies. What are some of the recurring mistakes investors make?


It’s Different This Time – Trends in investing are carried to their greatest (and most punishing) extremes by the belief that something has changed – that rules that applied in the past have been rendered obsolete by new circumstances. (E.g., the traditional standards for reasonable valuations weren’t applicable to shares in tech companies whose products were likely to change the world.)


It Can’t Miss – The fact is, anything can miss. There’s no asset so good or trend so strong that you can’t lose money betting on it. No investment technique is guaranteed to deliver high returns or keep risk low. Smoothly functioning markets don’t permit the combination of high return and low risk to persist – good results bring in buyers who raise prices, lowering future returns and elevating risk. It’ll never be otherwise.


The Explanation Couldn’t Be Simpler – By this I mean to poke some fun at investors’ tendency to fall for stories that seem true on the surface but ignore the workings of markets. The stage was set for some of the greatest debacles by platitudes that were easy to swallow – but too simplistic and, in the end, just plain wrong. These include “For a company with good enough growth prospects, there’s no such thing as too high a price” (1969 and 1999) and “Emerging markets are a sure thing because of the terrific potential for growth in per capita consumption” (1994).


This Tree Will Grow to the Sky – The fact is, no trend will go on unabated forever. Most trends are limited by cycles, which are caused by people’s reaction to developments. Buyers, sellers and competitors respond to trends, altering the current landscape and the future.


The Positives of Today Will Still Be Positives Tomorrow – From time to time, some combination of optimism and greed convinces people that the favorable elements in the current environment – responsible for today’s high asset prices – will stay that way. But (a) things usually turn less rosy, and (b) even before they do, investors take prices to levels that are too high even for today’s positives.


Past Returns Are a Good Guide to Future Returns – The greatest bubbles stem from the belief that high returns in the past foretell high returns in the future. The most successful investors – the longest-term survivors – believe in just the opposite: regression to the mean. The things that have appreciated the most will slow down (or decline), and those that lagged will catch up or move ahead. Instead of being encouraged by months or years of price appreciation, investors should be forewarned.


It’ll Always Beat the Cost of Borrowing – Speculative behavior usually features the belief that assets will always appreciate faster than the rate of interest paid on money borrowed to buy them with. We saw a lot of this in the inflationary 1970s. But for the most part, statements including the words “always” and “never” are usually a sign of trouble ahead.


The Supply/Demand Picture Doesn’t Matter – The relationship between supply and demand determines the price of everything. The higher the demand relative to the supply, the higher the price for a given asset or strategy. And, the higher the price, the lower the prospective return (all else being equal). Why can’t investors remember these two absolute rules?


Higher Risk Means Higher Return – There are times, especially when the prospective returns on low-risk investments appear inadequate, when people reach for more return by going out further on the risk curve. They forget that riskier investments don’t necessarily bring higher returns, just higher projected returns. Forgetting the difference can be fatal.


Anything’s Better Than Cash – Because it entails the least risk, the prospective return on cash invariably is lower than all other investments. But that doesn’t mean it’s the least desirable. There are times when the valuations on other investments are so high that they entail too much risk.


It May Be Too Good to Be True, But I Don’t Want to Miss Out – There’ve been lots of times in my career when people knew something was unlikely to keep working but jumped on the bandwagon anyway. Usually they did so because they thought there was a little bit more left in the trend, or because not being aboard – and watching from the sidelines while others got rich – had become too painful.


If It Stops Working, I’ll Get Out – When people invest despite obvious danger signs, they usually do so under the belief that they’ll be able to get out when the market turns down. They rarely ask how it is that they’ll know to sell before others do, or to whom they’ll sell if everyone else figures it out simultaneously.

As I sit here in 2005, the picture seems “as plain as the nose on your face.” Investors have found new darlings – real estate, private equity, hedge funds and crude oil – to replace the favorites of ancient history (that is 1999) – technology-media-telecom, biotech and venture capital funds. As I read articles about the new favorites, I find myself saying one thing over and over: “There they go again.”

The post Howard Marks Redux: “There They Go Again” – Why Stock Investors Develop Amnesia appeared first on crude-oil.news.

Sunken Sewol lifted onto salvage ship

Sun, 2017-03-26

JINDO: South Korea’s sunken Sewol ferry has been successfully hauled onto a giant heavy lifting ship, officials said Saturday, a step toward returning the vessel to port.
Nearly three years after it went down killing more than 300 people, the wreck was safely placed onto a semi-submersible ship that will finally bring it to shore.
Almost all the victims were schoolchildren and it is thought that nine bodies still unaccounted for may be trapped inside.
“The vessel was successfully loaded onto the semi-submersible as of 4:10 a.m. (1910 GMT),” completing one of the most delicate stages of the salvage operation, said Lee Cheol-Jo, a Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries official in charge of the salvage.
The 145-meter ship was brought to the surface in a complex salvage operation believed to be among the largest recoveries ever of a wreck in one piece.
After being pulled up to the surface by wires lowered from two large barges, a flotilla of powerful tugs towed the wreck toward the semi-submersible.
It was placed over the deck of the semi-submersible, which will then rise throughout the day to expose the hull of the Sewol completely.
“It will take three to five days to prepare the Sewol to be towed to Mokpo,” a large port on the southern coast, some 87 kilometers (54 miles), Lee said.
Once secured on the vessel, it will take a day to reach port.
The Sewol is likely to be docked at Mokpo early April, where the wreck will be searched for bodies.
After the ferry safely leaves the accident site, the ministry said divers will search the waters and seabed for any remains.
Underwater fences have been installed surrounding the area where the Sewol sank.
The salvage came as the third anniversary approached of one of the country’s worst-ever maritime disasters, which dealt a crushing blow to now-ousted President Park Geun-Hye.
Investigations concluded the disaster was largely man-made — the cumulative result of an illegal redesign, an overloaded cargo bay, inexperienced crew and a questionable relationship between the ship operators and state regulators. Several relatives of the dead on Friday watched the much-anticipated operation unfolding from a boat near the site.

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Duterte rebukes EU for ‘idiotic’ drug rehab solution

Sun, 2017-03-26

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hit out at the EU on Friday for hypocrisy after its lawmakers issued a resolution calling for restraint and a rethink in his bloody war on drugs.
Duterte castigated the EU for urging him to focus his campaign on drugs rehabilitation and stood by his security-centered approach to a crackdown that has left thousands of people dead since he took office nine months ago.
He turned angry during a speech to Chinese businessmen, where he praised China for its no-strings-attached loans and aid and said he did not need the EU, or “idiotic” rehabilitation programs that failed to stop addicts committing robbery, rape and murder.
“So we’re getting a relief now from our hardships because a lot of (Chinese) money is coming in. The EU, they communicated to us, and they want a health-based solution for the drugs,” he said.
The EU’s rehabilitation approach, he said, entailed administering drugs like cocaine, marijuana and heroin.
“They want us to build clinics, then instead of arresting, putting them in prisons, just like in other countries, you go there and if you want shabu, they will inject you and give you shabu and you go out,” he said, referring to the methamphetamine used in the Philippines.
“Our people will just go there and consume every chemical until kingdom come, until they are crazy… who will answer for these?“
China said on Friday it was in touch with the Philippines about the possible visit of a Chinese naval ship to the country.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that military exchanges between the two countries were an important part of their relations.
“Following the improvement in bilateral relations, China is willing to willing to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with the Philippines in the relevant area,” Hua told a daily news briefing, when asked if the Chinese navy would visit.
EU lawmakers last week condemned the “many extrajudicial killings” taking place in the Philippines and said the sources of illegal drugs should be targeted, not the consumer. Duterte’s aides accused the EU of meddling.

Communist rebels to revive cease-fire
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said on Saturday that its armed units will declare a unilateral cease-fire no later than March 31, ahead of the resumption of peace talks with the government next month.
The CPP, who’s armed wing, the New People’s Army, has fought a nearly five-decade-long insurgency, expects that the Philippine government will declare a similar unilateral cease-fire as part of an agreement reached during backchannel talks from March 10 to 11, the group said in a statement.
Negotiators from both sides agreed on March 12 to resume formal peace negotiations in The Netherlands from April 2 to 6, a month after an angry Duterte canceled talks after the rebels ambushed soldiers after unilaterally ending a previous cease-fire.
Duterte, in an interview on Saturday with reporters in Bukidnon province in the southern Philippines, said he would consult with the country’s political and security leaders “whether or not it would be good at this time” to resume the government’s unilateral cease-fire.
“I have to consult the (House) Speaker, I have to consult the Senate President, I have to convene the National Security Council, and I have to ask the generals of the army and the police,” he said.

Kidnapped ship captain rescued
Philippine soldiers on Saturday rescued one of two Filipino cargo ship crewmen taken captive just two days ago by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants, a security official said.
The troops recovered Aurelio Agacac, the ship captain, in the remote village of Basakan in the southern Philippine province of Basilan, said Col. Juvymax Uy, commander of the military’s 104th Brigade and Joint Task Force Basilan.
The kidnappers took Agacac and his companion Laurencio Tiro captive from a cargo ship off Basilan on Thursday, only hours after soldiers rescued two Malaysians held for about eight months on a southern island.
Uy said the abductors were forced to abandon Agacac to delay the pursuing troops and evade a firefight.
“The victim looked alright,” he told reporters.
Uy said the soldiers had also captured a wounded suspect during the pursuit who died while being transported to the hospital in Basilan.
Uy did not confirm that the kidnappers were Abu Sayyaf members.

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HK’s new leader to be chosen today

Sun, 2017-03-26

HONG KONG: Pro-democracy activists and hundreds of supporters marched in Hong Kong Saturday ahead of a vote for the city’s next leader which they reject as a sham.
Hong Kong’s next chief executive will be chosen by a pro-China committee on Sunday morning with former deputy leader Carrie Lam widely seen as Beijing’s favorite for the job, but intensely disliked by the democracy camp who view her as a hard-liner.
It is the first leadership vote in the semi-autonomous city since mass rallies in 2014 calling for fully free elections failed to win reform and comes as concern grows that Beijing is increasingly interfering in Hong Kong.
Some of the marchers on Saturday held yellow umbrellas, symbol of the democracy movement, and chanted “Oppose Chinese authorities’ appointment — we should choose our own government!“
The city’s best-known pro-democracy campaigner, Joshua Wong, said he expected more protesters to gather Sunday as committee members cast their votes at the harborfront convention center.
“It will be a nightmare for us if Carrie Lam is elected, but we will still continue to generate more motivation to fight against suppression and the interference of China’s government,” said student Wong, 20, who became the face of the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” protests.
The pro-democracy camp makes up only a quarter of the 1,194-strong election committee, which is drawn from a range of special interest groups, ranging from agriculture to real estate.
Most democrats on the committee have said they will support Lam’s main rival John Tsang, a former finance minister seen as a more moderate establishment figure.
Tsang drew thousands of supporters to his final campaign rally in central Hong Kong Friday night, and is a clear favorite in most public opinion polls.

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Rape reaches ‘epic proportions’ in S. Sudan’s civil war

The Associated Press
Sun, 2017-03-26

MUNDRI, South Sudan: After months of being raped by her rebel captors in the middle of South Sudan’s civil war, the young woman became pregnant. Held in a muddy pit, sometimes chained to other prisoners, she later watched her hair fall out and her weight plummet. But the child was a spark of life.
And so she named him Barack Obama, she explains, now free. “I still have hope,” she says, caressing the baby’s cheek with a finger. “I just don’t even know where to start.”
The slender 23-year-old is one of thousands of rape victims in South Sudan’s three-year-old conflict, which has created one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. Sexual violence has reached “epic proportions,” says the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in South Sudan.
Reported incidents of sexual or gender-based violence rose 60 percent last year. Seventy percent of women sheltering in UN camps in the capital, Juba, had been raped since the conflict began, according to a UN humanitarian survey conducted in December.
Mundri, a city of 47,000 people in Amadi state, has been called the epicenter of the problem. Aid organizations blame it on the recent increase in fighting here between rebels and government troops, the latest shift of the war in an already devastated nation.
The young woman did not expect to become embroiled in South Sudan’s conflict.
“I just came back to visit my home and I lost my dreams,” she said in an interview earlier this month. “If I talk about it, I just cry.”
She had been visiting her family in the summer of 2015, with plans to return to school in the capital, Juba. She never made it back.
Instead, she was abducted by rebels loyal to an opposition group calling itself MTN, after a popular African telephone company. Their catch phrase riffs on the company’s slogan, taunting: “We’re everywhere you go.”
The rebels burst through the door of her mother’s hut, firing their weapons and shouting, she said. They were searching for her uncle, who had been accused of conspiring with government forces.
“They beat my grandfather and aunt and then said if they couldn’t find my uncle they’ll take me instead,” she said. “I told them I’d rather die than go with them.”
But the rebels dragged her into the bush and brought her to their headquarters, where she was charged, tried and convicted for her uncle’s “crimes.”
For the next 16 months, she was forced to live in large, muddy pits infested with snakes, she said. Subsisting on only vegetables, she wasted away.
“I’m not attractive anymore,” she says now, tugging at the waistband of her baggy pants. Shifting around in a plastic chair outside a coffee shop, she shyly adjusted her headscarf, covering what little hair she has left.
She said she was released in December because she became ill.
“They told me to get medicine and then changed their minds and told me to leave and never come back,” she said.

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Saudi Navy ‘sweeping Yemen shores for Houthi mines’

Sun, 2017-03-26

JEDDAH: The Saudi Navy is constantly engaged in mine-sweeping on Yemeni shores, amid warnings over explosives planted by Houthi militias.
Maj. Gen. Ahmed Al-Assiri, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, told Arab News on Saturday that the sweeps of Yemen’s Red Sea coastline are routine.
“We have warned several times of the threat the Houthi-planted mines pose to the international maritime movements,” he said.
Several of the naval mines were found near the southwestern port city of Mokha aimed at targeting international shipping boats.
“Just a few days ago there was an incident where a fishing boat hit a mine off the Yemeni shores. Seven innocent fishermen were killed in this incident. This signifies the threat of these mines which needs to be addressed,” Al-Assiri said.
Forces allied with the internationally-recognized government of Yemen seized control of the strategic Red Sea port near Mokha in January, waging an assault against Houthi militias.
The US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) earlier this month warned of the risk of aquatic mines in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, according to media reports.
A report issued by the ONI warned merchant ships of the dangers of mines set near the Mokha port entrance by Houthis and militias allied to ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
ONI stated that the US Navy will employ all needed efforts to protect the freedom of ships in the strait, it was reported.

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