UNITED NATIONS -- U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that warring parties in 11 countries have responded positively to his appeal for a global cease-fire to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, but turning words into peace is enormously difficult and fighting has escalated in major conflicts including Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.
He 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.
Guterres told a briefing at U.N. headquarters in New York that 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.”
The U.N. chief said the appeal is “resonating” across the world, citing a growing number of endorsements for the cease-fire 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.
But Guterres said: “There are enormous difficulties to implementation as conflicts have festered for years, distrust is deep, with many spoilers and many suspicions.”
He also warned that “terrorist or extremist groups may take profit from the uncertainty created by the spread of the pandemic.”
The secretary-general said that “in many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting — and some conflicts have even intensified.”
In Yemen, he said that despite support for a cease-fire by the government, Houthi Shiite rebels and many other parties, “the conflict has spiked.”
Guterres said U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths is preparing “to convene the parties to discuss COVID-19 crisis management and a nationwide cease-fire mechanism.”
In Libya, the secretary-general said, the warning 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 urged the U.N.-recognized government that holds the capital of Tripoli and parts of the country’s west and the rival government in the east that supports self-styled Gen. Khalifa Hifter to immediately halt hostilities to allow the coronavirus threat to be addressed.
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, where the first coronavirus deaths have been reported, he said a cease-fire in the last rebel stronghold in northwest Idlib which was negotiated by Russia and Turkey is holding.
But the secretary-general said a permanent nationwide cease-fire is essential to tackle COVID-19 and help the millions suffering from the conflict which is now in its 10th year.
“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.”
The secretary-general’s report came a day after the U.N. General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution recognizing “the unprecedented effects” of the coronavirus pandemic and calling for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat” the COVID-19 disease.
It was the first resolution adopted by the 193-member world body on the pandemic that is sweeping the world and reflects global concern at the fast-rising death toll and number of cases.
Guterres called the resolution “a very important step” showing the world’s very strong commitment to fight against COVID-19 and its consequences.
The secretary-general said he expects to brief the 15-member U.N. Security Council next week at the request of a number of members. The council is likely to have two resolutions to consider, one backed by its 10 elected members and the other by permanent member France.