Suu Kyi-led commission in denial over Rohingya persecution

Thu, 2017-01-05

YANGON: A commission probing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on Wednesday denied security forces have carried out a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya, days after a video emerged showing police beating civilians from the Muslim minority. 
Tens of thousands of Rohingya — a group loathed by many among Myanmar’s Buddhist majority — have fled a military operation in the northwestern state, launched after deadly attacks on police posts in October.
Dozens have died in the crackdown, while escapees now in neighboring Bangladesh have claimed they suffered rape, arson, murder and torture at the hands of police or soldiers.
Myanmar’s government, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has said the allegations are invented and has resisted mounting international pressure to protect the minority.
A state-appointed commission set up to investigate the violence released its interim report on Wednesday, dismissing claims troops and police have embarked on a campaign to force the Rohingya out of the country.
Its interim findings come days after the government detained multiple police officers over a video showing policemen beating and kicking Rohingya villagers.
The footage, shot by one of officers, has sparked outrage and undermined the government’s blanket denials that soldiers and police have carried out rights abuses.
The size of the “Bengali” population, mosques and religious buildings in the unrest-hit area “are proof that there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution,” it said in a statement carried in state media.
Myanmar refuses to recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic minorities, instead describing them as Bengalis — or illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh — even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.
The commission also found “insufficient evidence” of rape but added it was still looking into claims security forces committed arson, illegal arrests and torture of the Rohingya.
Meanwhile, a top Malaysian counter-terrorism official said that Myanmar is facing a growing danger of attacks by foreign supporters of Daesh recruited from Southeast Asian networks in support of Rohingya.
Malaysian authorities have detained a suspected Daesh follower planning to head to Myanmar to carry out attacks, the head of the Malaysian police counter-terrorism division, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, said in an interview.
The suspect, an Indonesian whom he did not identify, was detained in Malaysia last month. The suspect was scheduled to be charged on Wednesday for possession of materials linked to terrorist groups, which carries a seven-year jail term or fine, Ayob Khan said.
More militants are likely to try to follow his lead in support of the Rohingya cause, Ayob Khan said.
“He was planning to perform jihad in Myanmar, fighting against the Myanmar government for this Rohingya group in Rakhine State,” Ayob Khan said.

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India detains 6 for New Year’s Eve molestations

Thu, 2017-01-05

NEW DELHI: Police in the southern Indian city of Bangalore detained at least six suspects Wednesday after several women said they were groped and molested during New Year’s Eve celebrations in the city that is the country’s information technology hub.
City police first denied that any sexual harassment had taken place during the late-night celebrations. But on Wednesday, police officer Hemant Nimbalkar said at least six men were detained after several video clips of women being attacked by groups of men spread on social media.
The incident highlights the persistent violence against women in India despite tougher laws against sexual assault imposed after the December 2012 death of a young woman who was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi.
One senior state government minister said the New Year’s incidents took place because the women were acting like Westerners, implying that their attire had provoked the attacks.
The police had earlier said that no one had come forward to file a complaint about the incidents.
Since then, at least one woman has come forward to speak of how she was molested on Saturday night. Others have said that they saw women being molested or groped, and that revelers were making lewd remarks, even as the state government said that more than 1,500 police personnel had been deployed to control the crowds.
The young woman who came forward, Chaitali Wasnick, told NDTV news channel that she was heading home at around 1:30 a.m. when two men approached her, making her suspicious. “So I just moved aside, I let them pass,” she said, adding that one man began to grope her. As Bangalore newspapers published images of several women who allegedly had been groped or attacked, the state’s Home Minister G. Parameshwara criticized young women for “copying the Westerners, not only in their mindset, but even in their dressing.”
“These kind of things do happen,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

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Alleged torture of 10-year-old shocks Pakistan

Thu, 2017-01-05

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has asked the police to look into allegations that a 10-year-old girl working as a maid was tortured by her employers, an influential judge and his wife.
The case has shocked many in Pakistan after disturbing photographs of the girl, purporting to show her badly beaten and bruised, circulated on social media.
Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Wednesday requested police also check reports the girl’s parents told a local court they have “forgiven” the judge and his wife and reached a settlement with them.
Children in Pakistan often work as servants in homes of wealthier people and in shops and are frequently subjected to violence.
19 injured in bombing
A Pakistani police official says a roadside bomb has struck a vehicle carrying police in the country’s northwest, wounding four officers and 15 passers-by.
Local police official Mohammad Nawaz said Wednesday’s attack took place in the city of Dera Ismail Khan, a gateway to Pakistan’s troubled tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. Pakistan’s Army has carried out several operations against local and foreign militants in the country’s tribal regions in recent years.
The army says it has cleared over 90 percent of the region from insurgents, who once had a strong presence there.

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12 kids wounded in China kindergarten knife attack

Thu, 2017-01-05

BEIJING: A man armed with a kitchen knife stabbed 11 children at a kindergarten in southern China on Wednesday, seriously wounding three, state media reported, the latest such attack in recent years.
The man entered the school in the southern Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region mid-afternoon, claiming he was there to pick up his son, the official Xinhua news agency quoted local police as saying.
The attacker allegedly climbed a wall to enter the facility, broadcaster CCTV said on social media, adding that an investigation was underway.
Three children were seriously injured and have been sent to hospital for treatment according to Xinhua. The man is in police custody.
Knife attacks are not uncommon in China.
In February, a knife-wielding assailant wounded 10 children in Haikou, in the southern island province of Hainan, before committing suicide.
In 2014 state media reported that a man stabbed three children and a teacher to death and wounded several others in a rampage at a primary school that refused to enrol his daughter.
That followed a March 2013 incident in which a man killed two relatives and then slashed 11 people, including six children, outside a school in China’s commercial hub Shanghai.
The events have forced authorities to increase security around schools and led to calls for more research into the root causes of such acts.
Violent crime has been on the rise in China in recent decades as the nation’s economy has boomed and the gap between rich and poor has expanded rapidly.

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Britain picks career diplomat as new EU envoy: source

Agence France Presse
Wed, 2017-01-04

LONDON: Britain on Wednesday picked career diplomat Tim Barrow to replace its ambassador to the European Union, who unexpectedly resigned just weeks before Brexit negotiations are due to start, a government source told AFP.
Barrow, the former ambassador to Moscow who has previously served in Brussels, replaces Ivan Rogers who resigned on Tuesday with an e-mail which criticized London’s approach to leaving the bloc following the shock referendum result in June.
During a 30-year diplomatic career Barrow has twice served in Brussels at UKRep, the office which represents Britain in negotiations in the EU, and has also been posted to Kiev as British ambassador.
The appointment was welcomed by Tom Fletcher, Britain’s former ambassador to Lebanon.
“Great news. Tenacious, human, expert, connected, thick skinned enough not to worry about nutters, and will avoid poison in the chalice,” he wrote on Twitter.
Charles Grant, director for the Center for European Reform, also viewed the appointment positively.
“Good that Tim Barrow will replace Ivan Rogers at UKREP. He is expert on EU (&Russia) & will be respected by its governments and institutions,” he tweeted.
Barrow will begin his new post at a crucial time for relations between Brussels and London, as British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to kick-start negotiations to quit the EU by the end of March.
Barrow’s predecessor faced criticism last month when he said it would take 10 years for Britain to conclude a trade deal with the EU.
In a resignation note to staff Rogers said London lacked multilateral negotiating experience and urged colleagues to continue providing their expertise even when unwelcome.
“I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power,” he wrote.
The appointment of Barrow as his replacement is expected to disappoint anti-EU campaigners, who had hoped a strong pro-Brexit candidate would be posted to Brussels.

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Indonesia says military acted alone to suspend cooperation with Australia

Wed, 2017-01-04

JAKARTA/SYDNEY: Indonesia’s military acted alone when it suspended cooperation with Australia’s armed forces last week, Indonesian officials said on Wednesday, after what media described as insulting teaching materials were found at a base in Western Australia.
A spokesman for Indonesian President Joko Widodo said there had been no discussion of the suspension with the president and the issue had been exaggerated.
“This was not a decision of the president,” spokesman Johan Budi told Reuters.
Ties with Australia were “just fine,” said Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, adding that he only learned about the matter on Wednesday.
“We need to look at this properly first, not just from one side,” he added.
Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said only some activities had been “postponed.”
Military cooperation between the two countries, which ranges from counterterrorism cooperation to border protection, was suspended for “technical reasons,” a spokesman for the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) told Reuters.
“All forms of cooperation have been suspended,” Major General Wuryanto said.
“There are technical matters that need to be discussed,” Wuryanto said, referring to the training material seen at an Australian military base, but he declined to elaborate.
It was “highly likely” cooperation would resume once those issues were resolved, Wuryanto said.
Concerns were raised by an Indonesian military officer late last year about some teaching materials and remarks at an army language training facility in Australia, said Payne.
“As a result, some interaction between the two defense organizations has been postponed until the matter is resolved. Cooperation in other areas is continuing,” she said.
A spokesman for Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry did not answer telephone calls or respond to a written request for comment.

Indonesia last suspended military ties with Australia in 2013 over revelations that Australian spies had tapped the mobile telephone of then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Australia stopped joint training exercises with Indonesia’s Kopassus special forces after accusations of abuses by the unit in East Timor in 1999, as the territory prepared for independence three years later.
Jakarta and Canberra resumed military ties, saying cooperation on counterterrorism became imperative after the 2002 bombing of two nightclubs on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
With ties gradually warming, the first joint training exercise on Australian soil since 1995 was staged in the northern city of Darwin in September last year.
But relations again became strained after an Indonesian special forces trainer saw training material that insulted the country’s founding principles of “Pancasila,” which include belief in god, the unity of Indonesia, social justice and democracy, Indonesian newspaper Kompas said.
The suspension of cooperation took effect in a Dec. 29 telegram sent by Indonesian military chief Gatot Nurmantyo, it added.
Australian media said the offensive material was found at Campbell Barracks in Perth, but officials at the army base declined to answer questions when contacted by Reuters.
The offices of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop declined to comment.
The suspension of military ties was met with skepticism by many analysts, who expect the relationship to be quickly mended.
A suspension could threaten Australia’s controversial policy of turning back asylum seekers, said Greg Barton, a professor of global Islamic politics at Deakin University, but he doubted intelligence sharing would stop.
“Everyone acknowledges that the threat of an attack is the highest it has ever been,” he added.
Visiting Jakarta in October, Bishop said it was “utterly essential” for Australia and Indonesia to share information and work closely to guard citizens against terrorism.
Unrest in Jakarta forced Widodo to postpone a trip to Australia planned for November that had aimed to discuss defense ties, among other subjects.

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Sweden urges UN Security Council to produce results in 2017

Wed, 2017-01-04

UNITED NATIONS: Sweden’s UN ambassador urged members of the often divided UN Security Council on Tuesday to make a New Year’s resolution: Try to find common ground and produce results in 2017 that improve global peace and security.
Olof Skoog, the council president for January, said he also urged members of the UN’s most powerful body to look beyond their national interests and “deal with each other in a respectful way … because I think it’s been missing sometimes.”
He said some people may think “this is a typical naive Swedish way” of becoming a council member for the first time in 20 years, or as “a little bit of motherhood and apple pie.”
But Skoog said people look at the Security Council as the main body protecting them from conflicts, humanitarian crises and violations of international humanitarian law, “all of which are at a low right now.”
Nonetheless, he said there is momentum following the council’s adoption of resolutions in the last two weeks condemning Israeli settlements and supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the conflict in Syria and jumpstart peace negotiations — issues the council has long been divided over.
He said there is also momentum with the arrival of new Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was unanimously recommended for the UN’s top job by the council and has a “united UN behind him,” which is very important.
“We have to make the best of the momentum that may exist now,” Skoog said.
Guterres, in the first minute of the new year after taking over as UN chief from Ban Ki-moon, urged all people in the world to make a New Year’s resolution: “Let us resolve to put peace first.”
Skoog said that during talks with Guterres on Tuesday the secretary-general expressed “his very strong wish to build a trustful and active relationship with the Security Council … in line with putting peace at the center of his mission.”
The Swedish ambassador said that when he proposed his New Year’s resolution to the 14 other council ambassadors over breakfast Tuesday “no one contested it, and there were nods around the table, and I’ve had several appreciative comments by most of them afterward.”
Skoog said he believes most countries, including Russia and China, are working to avoid conflict situations like Syria, Libya, Yemen, Congo and other hotspots.
He expressed hope that the Security Council can “build trust” with the new secretary-general so they can work together to prevent conflicts.

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Massachusetts triple murderer’s lawyer pleads for life

Wed, 2017-01-04

BOSTON: An attorney for a Massachusetts drifter who killed three men in a series of attacks in 2001, refining his murder methods as he went, asked a federal jury on Wednesday to spare his client’s life and sentence him to spend the rest of his years in prison.
The admitted triple murderer, Gary Lee Sampson, 57, could be the second person sentenced to death by a federal jury in Massachusetts in two years, a rarity in a state whose laws do not allow the death penalty.
Sampson pleaded guilty to killing two men, aged 69 and 19, in Massachusetts after hailing them as a hitchhiker and taking them to secluded wooded areas where he tied them up before stabbing them to death. He later strangled a third man, 58, in New Hampshire.
Defense attorney Michael Burt asked the jury to consider that killing Sampson would not undo his crimes.
“If we could take away all that harm by executing Mr. Sampson, I would be the first to do that by injecting that poison into his veins,” Burt said. A sentence of life in prison without possibility of release, the sole alternative, he said, would “punish him in a very severe way.”
In a police tape played to the jury, Sampson told his interrogator that he changed his murder method for his last victim, the caretaker of a home on Lake Winnipesaukee, because “I didn’t want no more blood on me.”
Assistant US Attorney Zachary Hafer showed the jury the pocketknife Sampson used in the killings, as well as photos of his victims before and after their slayings.
“Three kind, caring souls, seemingly unconnected to each other in any way but brought together in the most unimaginably tragic way, brought together by the pure heinousness and cruelty of that man,” Hafer said, pointing to Sampson.
Sampson was sentenced to death in 2004, but a judge in 2011 overturned that sentence after learning that one of the jurors had lied about her history as a victim of domestic violence.
During the two-month trial, Sampson’s lawyers argued that the jury should spare him due to his history as a victim of abuse as a child, mental illness and traumatic brain injuries.
Sampson’s victims were Philip McCloskey, 69, Jonathan Rizzo, 19, and Robert Whitney, 58.
After the last slaying, Sampson recounted on the police interrogation tape, “I cooked some breakfast while he was dead in the bathroom.”

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Moscow offers arms to Manila

Thu, 2017-01-05

MANILA: Russia is ready to supply the Philippines with sophisticated weapons including aircraft and submarines and aims to become a close friend of the traditional US ally as it diversifies its foreign ties, Russia’s ambassador said on Wednesday.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has thrown the future of Philippine-US relations into question with angry outbursts against the former colonial power and some scaling back of military ties while taking steps to boost ties with China and Russia.
Illustrating the transformation of Philippine foreign relations since Duterte took office in June, two Russian warships are on four-day visit to Manila this week, the first official navy-to-navy contact between the two countries.
Russian Ambassador Igor Anatolyevich Khovaev took the opportunity to hold a news conference on board the anti-submarine vessel Admiral Tributs.
He said he understood that the Philippines was intent on diversifying its foreign partners.
“It’s not a choice between these partners and those ones. Diversification means preserving and keeping old traditional partners and getting new ones. So Russia is ready to become a new reliable partner and close friend of the Philippines,” he said.
“We don’t interfere with your relations with your traditional partners and your traditional partners should respect the interest of the Philippines and Russia.”
The Russian Navy visit comes less than a month after Duterte sent his foreign and defense ministers to Moscow to discuss arms deals after a US senator said he would block the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines due to concern about a rising death toll in a war on drugs launched by Duterte.
Khovaev said Russia had a range of weapons to offer.
“We are ready to supply small arms and light weapons, some aeroplanes, helicopters, submarines and many, many other weapons. Sophisticated weapons. Not the second-hand ones,” Khovaev said.
“Russia has a lot to offer but everything will be done in full compliance with international law.”
He said it was too early to talk about the scope of military cooperation but, in a clear reference to the United States, said old allies should not worry.
“Your traditional partners should not be concerned about the military ties … If they are concerned, it means they need to get rid of clichés,” he said.
Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, head of the Flotilla of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet, said on Tuesday Russia wanted to hold maritime exercises with the Philippines to help combat terrorism and piracy.
The United States and the Philippines have been holding naval exercises annually but Duterte has decided to reduce the number of exercises and to move naval drills away from the disputed South China Sea, to reassure China, which is suspicious of US military movements in the disputed waters.

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Malaysia floods force 23,000 to leave homes

Thu, 2017-01-05

KUALA LUMPUR: Floods in two northeast Malaysian states have now forced almost 23,000 people from their homes and extra relief centers have been opened, rescue officials said Wednesday.
Seasonal flooding hits Malaysia’s east coast states every year and regularly results in mass evacuations.
The latest round has forced authorities to evacuate 10,038 residents from Kelantan and 12,910 people from neighboring Terengganu, officials said.
Heavy rain in the past five days has also caused 101 schools to be closed. Many roads are impassable and train services to some destinations in Kelantan have been suspended. But no deaths have so far been reported in the two states.
Che Adam Abdul Rahman, civil department force chief in Terengganu, told AFP the number of evacuees rose sharply to 12,910 from 4,352 the previous day.
They are being housed in 139 relief centers that provide food, drinks and medical aid, he said.
“It is still raining heavily. Some 30 village roads are closed and water levels at some places are about one meter deep and we are using boats to evacuate villagers,” he said.
In Kelantan, which suffered massive floods and major destruction of homes and infrastructure in December 2014, 10,038 people have been displaced by flooding.
The figure rose from 4,906 Tuesday, said Zainuddin Hussin, the chief of the state’s civil department force.
Zainuddin said 74 relief centers are operating in Kelantan but rainfall was scattered and many rivers were no longer overflowing their banks.
Malaysia’s worst flooding in decades in 2014 forced some 118,000 people to flee.
Prime Minister Najib Razak came under fire after photos showed him golfing with US President Barack Obama during the emergency.
With a snap general election expected this year, Najib will visit Terengganu and Kelantan on Saturday to oversee the evacuations, his aide said.
Votes from the two states will be crucial for the ruling United Malays National Organization.
Floods have also struck 10 villages in Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo island due to heavy rain, the official Bernama news agency reported.

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