By Michael Martina and Manuel Mogato VIENTIANE (Reuters) - Southeast Asian nations overcame days of deadlock on Monday when the Philippines dropped a request for their joint statement to mention a landmark legal ruling on the South China Sea, officials said, after objections from Cambodia. China publicly thanked Cambodia for supporting its stance on maritime disputes, a position which threw the regional block's weekend meeting in the Laos capital of Vientiane into disarray. Competing claims with China in the vital shipping lane are among the most contentious issues for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with its 10 members pulled between their desire to assert their sovereignty while finding common ground and fostering ties with Beijing.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan soared to a record high in the first half of 2016, the UN said on Monday, with children in particular paying a heavy price as insurgents step up fighting and insecurity grows. The UN report, which comes two days after the deadliest attack in Kabul since 2001, cited ground combat between militants and NATO-backed Afghan forces as the leading cause of casualties. Between January and June, 1,601 civilians were killed and 3,565 were wounded -- a four percent increase in casualties compared to the same period last year, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.
Southeast Asian nations Monday ducked direct criticism of China over its claims to the South China Sea, in a diluted statement produced after days of disagreement that gives the superpower a diplomatic victory. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) avoided mention of a ruling by a UN-backed tribunal which had rejected China's claims and infuriated Beijing. Instead, ASEAN repeated that it was "seriously concerned" by "land reclamations and escalation of activities" and called for "self-restraint" in the strategic waterway.