US Senate revives migration plan
The US Senate has voted to revive discussion of a wide-ranging plan for immigration reform.The bill is supported by President George W Bush, who has said the issue is at the top of his domestic agenda.
The legislation would bring in tighter border controls but offer 12m illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
The bill faltered in the Senate earlier this month when it failed to win the backing of enough Republicans to move to a final vote.
Senators on Tuesday voted 64-35 to resume debate on the compromise legislation, which was put together by both Republican and Democratic leaders and the White House.
However, it faces a bumpy ride in the next few days as its backers try to push it through before Friday, when the Senate will break for a week-long recess, correspondents say.
Senate leaders have added an extra $4.4bn (£2.2bn) funding for border security in an attempt to overcome Republican opposition.
Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the sponsors of the bill, said the compromise measure “may not be perfect, but it is the best opportunity we have to do something significant and substantial”.
However, Republican Senator Jim DeMint warned the legislation would continue to face stiff opposition from some senators, many of whom are under pressure from conservative voters to block its progress.
“The momentum against this bill is growing all across the country,” he said.
Mr Bush responded with a personal appeal to his party to back the legislation, attending a Republican policymakers’ luncheon on Capitol Hill to press his point.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s vote to resume debate, he urged Congress not to miss a “historic opportunity” to reform a system that was not working.
The deadlock followed a series of amendments to the proposed bill, which undermined the fragile bipartisan compromise.
Illegal immigration is among voters’ top concerns and is set to be a key issue in the 2008 presidential poll.
Under the proposed Senate bill, illegal immigrants would be able to seek a new “Z visa” – which would allow them to stay in the country but must be renewed every two years – after paying a $5,000 (£2,530) fine.
To get the Z visa, they would have to pass a background check, remain employed and receive a tamperproof identity card.
They could ultimately be placed on the path to permanent residency – a process that could take several years.
The bill also set out a “points system” that emphasises immigrants’ education, language and job skills over family connections in awarding green cards.
But these measures would not come into force until 18,000 new border guards are deployed, the fence with Mexico reinforced and hi-tech surveillance put in place.
Some critics have labelled it an “amnesty” for those who have illegally entered the US.
Others have argued that its guest worker programme threatens US workers, or that it will create an underclass of cheap foreign labourers.
Burma’s military regime arrested 352 drug traffickers, including 74 women, and confiscated more than 90 kilograms of opium and 630,000 stimulant drug tablets in May, the state-run The New Light of Myanmar reported on Friday. The army, police and customs department filed 238 drug-related cases in one month, the newspaper reported. The drugs seized included heroin, morphine, marijuana, ephedrine, caffeine, buprenorphine, and chemical and stimulant powders. The regime frequently burns confiscated narcotics to show the world it is suppressing drug trafficking. Burma is considered to be the second-biggest opium producer after Afghanistan.
A bipartisan bill was introduced Thursday that would extend sanctions against Burma because of the human rights record of the junta that runs the Southeast Asian country.
Called the “Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act,” the bill was introduced by the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and Democratic Sen Dianne Feinstein.The sanctions include a ban on imports from Burma and visa restrictions on members of the junta. Unless extended, they expire on July 26. McConnell, a leading Senate voice against the generals, said the sanctions will be lifted only after the rulers change their policies.Uppermost of changes required, he said, is unconditional release of more than 1,000 political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She has spent most of the last 17 years in prison or under house arrest, and her political party, the National League for Democracy, which won elections in 1990 but was barred from taking power, remains banned. (AP)
Filipino workers overseas sent home US $1.2 billion in April, up 32.6 percent from the same month last year, the central bank said Friday. The bank credited the rise in remittances—which have been fueling the local economy for years—to more workers using formal bank channels to send money home and to an increase in higher-paying jobs. Remittances in the first four months of the year totaled $4.7 billion, up 26.1 percent from the same period in 2006, and on track to meet the central bank’s target of $13.5 billion for 2007. Last year, about 8 million Filipinos workers abroad sent home a record $12.8 billion. Commercial banks have been working on new technologies for remittances, including Internet, online and phone banking. In May, Malaysia’s top mobile phone operator Maxis Communications Bhd announced an agreement with the Philippines’ Globe Telecom Inc that allows Filipino workers in Malaysia to send money home by mobile phone. The bulk of Philippine workers abroad are in the US and the Middle East. (AP)
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Indonesia is confident annual brush fires that release tons of greenhouse gases and send thick haze over neighboring nations will be dramatically reduced this year, the forestry minister said Thursday. Regular patrols and helicopter surveillance over the worst affected areas of Sumatra island and the Indonesian-side of Borneo have meant much fewer farmers and plantation owners are now setting land clearing fires, said MS Kaban. The fires typically being in earnest when the dry season begins, scheduled for next month. “With the involvement of local officials … and the police and military I am certain that in 2007 there will be a drastic reduction” in fires, said Kaban after meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta.
The annual smog has caused health problems and losses amounting to billions of dollars from lost tourism revenue and flight delays in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand since 1997, when they first began. Indonesia has the third-most forest cover of any tropical country, but between 2000 and 2005 lost around 1.8 million hectares (4.5 million acres) of forest due to logging, agriculture and forest fires, according to figures from the environmental group Greenpeace. The country is the third-highest emitter of carbon dioxide worldwide mostly due to the fires, scientists say. (AP)
Vietnam may start teaching Japanese in public schools because trade between the two nations is booming and demand for language training continues to grow. English is the most commonly taught foreign language Vietnamese public schools. French, Chinese and Russian is also taught. But a pilot Japanese program in the Hanoi schools has proved so popular that the Ministry of Education and Training wants to introduce the language in schools across the country, a ministry official said Thursday. Dang Huynh Mai, the vice minister of education, said the ministry will ask Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to approve the plan soon. “Demand for Japanese classes is growing as the two countries expand trade and investment as well as tourism,” Mai said. Japan is one of Vietnam’s top trade and investment partners. Two-way trade between the nations grew by 17 percent last year, reaching US $10 billion. (AP)
Ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra denied reports that he bought a HK $210 million (US $27 million) townhouse on Hong Kong’s exclusive Peak neighborhood, his lawyer said Thursday. Thaksin’s lawyer and de facto spokesman Noppadol Pattama told The Associated Press that the report in The Standard newspaper in Hong Kong was inaccurate, adding that Thaksin had no reason to purchase a house in the Chinese territory. The newspaper on Wednesday quoted three unidentified sources close to the deal as saying Thaksin bought the 5,100 sq foot (474 sq meter) property, called “House 1 at Severn 8.” However, the buyer’s name was not made public. “I have checked with his family and found that the report is untrue. We have no idea why the paper cooked up this story,” Noppadol said in a telephone interview.
Thaksin was ousted in a military coup last September and has not returned to Thailand since, heeding warnings that he is not welcome until after a general election planned for this December. The military and government say they fear Thaksin may cause political instability. Since the coup, Thaksin has split his time between a home in London and traveling around Asia, including several visits to Hong Kong. (AP)
Visiting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday welcomed a set of rules approved by judges for the UN-backed genocide trials of Khmer Rouge leaders in his Southeast Asian nation. His remarks came a day after Cambodian and foreign judges announced rules paving the way for the tribunal to begin investigating Khmer Rouge leaders for the mass killings during their 1975-79 communist rule. Hun Sen himself was a former junior Khmer Rouge member who defected from the group before it was overthrown in 1979. He arrived in Japan on Tuesday for a four-day official visit to promote bilateral ties and investment in Cambodia. The two countries were to sign an agreement on trade and investment later Thursday after a summit meeting between Hun Sen and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Kyodo News agency said that the bilateral pact is aimed at protecting companies investing in each other’s countries as well as providing more transparency for investment rules. (AP)
The younger brother of celebrated British chef Gordon Ramsay went on trial for heroin possession Thursday and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted, court officials said. Ronald Ramsay, 39, spat and cursed journalists before a prosecutor at the Denpasar District Court set out the case, saying police who searched him outside a supermarket on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali in February found 100 milligrams of the drug in his pocket. Defense attorney Erwin Siregar said his client would plead guilty and had letters from doctors stating he is a heroin addict. The drugs were for personal use, not distribution, he said. Ronald’s drug problems and attempts to kick heroin have been widely covered by British tabloid newspapers. He was escorted into the courtroom in handcuffs, and followed the proceedings via an interpreter. Under Indonesia’s tough drug laws Ramsay could face a maximum 10-year jail sentence, although penalties are generally less for possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use.(AP)
Singapore said Thursday it is providing up to 350,000 Singapore dollars (US $227,000) in funds to boost development in the city-state of casual computer games for the global market. Major casual game publishers such as Seattle-based Big Fish Games Inc, PlayFirst Inc. of San Francisco, and Encore, a subsidiary of New Hope, Minn.-based video game maker Navarre Corp., will advise local teams on their concepts, the Media Development Authority said in a statement. Up to 10 computer development teams with winning proposals will receive S $35,000 (US $22,700) each in funding for projects, the statement said. The teams are each expected to produce a playable demo by January.
Casual games are simple, one-player puzzles that can be played on desktop computers, gaming consoles, cell phones or hand-held computers. It takes less than a minute to understand the rules, structure and plot. The games often revolve around spelling, trivia, arithmetic or geometry. Singapore’s government has been trying to diversify its economy toward the service as well as the arts and media industries, amid competition from lower-cost economies like China and Vietnam. (AP)
An Indonesian man died of bird flu after eating sick chickens, a leading health official said Thursday, raising the national death toll to 80. Multiple blood tests confirmed the 28-year-old had the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus, said Bayu Krisnamurthi, the head of the country’s bird flu commission. He was hospitalized on June 9 with high fever, cough and headache and died three days later. Avian influenza has infected 100 people in Indonesia since it first hit poultry Asian stocks in late 2003, making it the hardest hit country in the world. (AP)
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Thawat Sunthrachan, director of the Disease Control Department of Thailand’s Ministry of Health, confirmed a Medecins Sans Frontiere report on two Burmese refugees who have contracted a highly resistant strain of Tuberculosis. The strain, called extensively Drugs Resistant Tuberculosis, is highly resistant to traditional drug treatments, especially first- and second-line drugs. Treatment options for XDR-TB patients are severely limited. Thawat said one of the Burmese patients was discovered in a refugee camp near Mae Sot in Thailand’s Tak Province. The second, a Burmese migrant worker, has yet to be found. Last year the World Health Organization identified three cases of XDR-TB in Thailand—all Burmese—according to a report on Wednesday in the Thai language newspaper Post Today.
Seven Singaporeans, including a prominent philanthropist, have been held by Indonesian authorities for the past two weeks after their yacht allegedly strayed into Indonesian waters, a newspaper said Wednesday. The group was being held on board their Sea Shaw yacht at a naval port in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, on Borneo island, The Straits Times newspaper reported. Among those detained is Vee King Shaw, the yacht’s owner and a nephew of Hong Kong entertainment mogul Run Run Shaw, who founded the famous Chinese movie studio Shaw Brothers with his siblings, the paper said. Vee King Shaw sits on the council of the Shaw Foundation in Singapore, one of city-state’s largest philanthropic organizations. The group had set off on a scuba diving trip in late May and were believed to have strayed into Indonesian waters off the coast of West Kalimantan’s provincial capital of Pontianak when they were intercepted by Indonesian naval officers, the report said. Shaw’s secretary declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press. Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement it was aware of the case. “We are in touch with the Singaporeans involved and will render them the necessary consular assistance,” it said. Indonesian officials were not immediately available to comment. (AP)
Many Muslim countries are ill-equipped to tackle a bird flu outbreak because of insufficient financial resources and the public’s lack of awareness about the disease, a UN health official said Wednesday. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, whose 57-member nations comprise nearly one-third of the world’s population, should take a more pro-active role in helping countries that are not adequately prepared, said Hassan el Bushra of the World Health Organization. The health official suggested the OIC facilitate programs such as the production of bird flu vaccines and anti-viral drugs. El Bushra, the WHO’s adviser for communicable disease surveillance and response in the eastern Mediterranean region told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of OIC health ministers and officials that Muslim countries that are of the most immediate concern are the ones where there have been human cases of bird flu such as Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey. El Bushra said Indonesia was the biggest challenge, especially as many people do not understand the need to cull all the poultry in the village after some birds are found to be infected with H5N1. In Indonesia, and other relatively poor, developing countries, poultry is a crucial part of their cultural lifestyles and economic livelihoods, El Bushra said. “They need a lot of education. It is a matter first of all of changing the mentality of the people to really understand the disease,” he said. Bird flu has killed at least 190 people since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in 2003, with 79 deaths in hardest-hit Indonesia, according to the World Health Organization. (AP)
Thai Police on Wednesday found the head of a man believed to be one of three Buddhists killed the previous day in a village known for Islamic militancy in Thailand’s strife-torn south. In other violence linked to the continuing separatist insurgency in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south, two separate bombs killed one soldier and wounded another nine, police said. on Tuesday, police found the bodies of three men, including one without a head, in Samakkee village of Narathiwat province, 800 kilometers (500 miles), south of Bangkok, Police Lt-Col Thanaphol Meechai said. The three salesmen, somehow, got around roadblocks and drove their pickup truck into the village where their bodies were found late Tuesday. The head of the unidentified man was found in the same village Wednesday. The beheading was the 10th this year, and one of 25 since violence in Thailand’s southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat flared anew in early 2004. In other violence Wednesday, one soldier was killed and one wounded when suspected insurgents triggered a bomb while their unit was on patrol in Tungyangdaeng district of Pattani province, 750 kilometers (470 miles) south of Bangkok, police Lt Kritsana Sirising said. Another roadside bomb Wednesday wounded eight soldiers in Yarang district of Pattani province, police Lt Pipat Suwanarak said. More than 2,300 people have been killed since January 2004 in the three provinces, which are the only Muslim-dominated areas in the Buddhist-majority country. (AP)
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Chronicles and pronouncements of Thailand’s king—the world’s longest-serving monarch and a godlike figure to many—will soon be trumpeted online. More than 60,000 searchable pages on King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 61-year reign will be on the Internet in time for his 80th birthday on December 5, officials said Monday. The archives will be in the Thai language, with English in some parts. The free site will include speeches, photographs and official documents related to the king, Queen Sirikit and other royal family members from 1934 through this year, said Rungruang Limchoopatipa, an official of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. The ministry is cooperating with the Office of the King’s Principal Private Secretary to create the digital royal archives. Given most Thais’ intense reverence for the king—and the country’s tough laws against insulting the monarchy—the archive is not expected to include any negative aspects of the reign, nor any accounts of the constitutional monarch being involved in politics behind-the-scenes. Under lese majeste laws, anyone defaming the monarchy faces up to 15 years in prison. Thai authorities blocked access to the popular video Web site YouTube in April, after a clip surfaced showing likenesses of Bhumibol defaced by graffiti, and with feet dangling in front of his image—a major taboo in Thai culture, where feet are considered the lowest, most unclean body part. (AP)
The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, or EGAT, is considering a US $6 billion investment for two nuclear plants, a Thai newspaper reported Tuesday. The investment would be in line with Thailand’s power development plan, which calls for the generation of 4,000 megawatts by nuclear generating plants, The Nation said. The plants would require an investment of around $1.5 million per megawatt, said Kraisri Karnasutra, governor of EGAT, Monday at a forum in Bangkok. At the same forum, Thai Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand said Thailand needs nuclear power because it is overdependent on natural gas for power generation. Thailand’s National Energy Policy Council, or NEPC, approved in April the Power Development Plan for 2011-2021, which calls for the addition of 31,790 megawatts of new generating capacity for Thailand, according to Dow Jones Newswires. The plan includes the building of nuclear power plants with a combined capacity of 4,000 megawatts by 2020-2021. (AP)
A UN committee is expected to rule on Cambodia’s request for “World Heritage” status for a well-known 11th century temple during a meeting later this month, an official said Tuesday. Cambodia began seeking the status five years ago for Preah Vihear temple from World Heritage, a committee of the UN cultural organization UNESCO. Such status encourages conservation and usually helps attract funds for preservation, in addition to raising the tourism profile of the site. The committee will decide on the Cambodian bid during its meeting in New Zealand that is scheduled to start June 23, said UNESCO director in Cambodia Teruo Jinnai. “It’s now up to the committee. You have to wait,” he said. The temple deserves to be given World Heritage status, he said, because of its unique historical and cultural value.
Preah Vihear temple is located on the top of a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, about 245 kilometers (150 miles) north of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. It is more easily accessible from Thailand, however. The two countries have been at loggerheads in the past over ownership of the temple, which was held by Thailand until the International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962. The World Heritage list currently includes Cambodia’s Angkor archaeological site, where the famed Angkor Wat temple, the country’s main tourist attraction, is situated. (AP)
Vietnam’s first bird flu patient in 18 months has fully recovered, but more outbreaks among poultry are likely nationwide, officials and state-controlled media reported Tuesday. The 30-year-old man from northern Vinh Phuc province was discharged from Bach Mai hospital Monday where he had been treated for nearly a month, said hospital director Tran Thuy Hanh. A second bird flu victim who was hospitalized in late May is still being treated at the Hospital of Tropical Diseases. Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat warned that more outbreaks could occur among poultry. Sixteen provinces have been hit since early May, killing or forcing the slaughter of more than 100,000 birds, Tuesday’s Saigon Giai Phong (Liberated Saigon) newspaper reported. Phat blamed the latest outbreaks on virus-carrying waterfowl and the local authorities’ failure to fight it aggressively, it said. Bird flu has killed at least 190 people since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in 2003, 42 of them in Vietnam, according to the World Health Organization. The virus remains difficult for people to catch, but experts fear it could eventually mutate to a form that spreads more easily between humans, sparking a global pandemic that could kill millions. (AP)
The Malacca Strait remains vulnerable to a terrorist strike that would send political and economic shock waves worldwide, Malaysia’s police chief said Tuesday. Militants could storm a ship, hijack one carrying hazardous material or use a vessel as a weapon to hit port and land facilities, Inspector General of Police Musa Hassan told law and shipping officials from more than 30 countries at an ocean security conference. Maritime terrorism is a “threat which is real and possible that is lurking in the straits,” Musa said. “The straits must be kept open and safe, and the prime responsibility is with the three littoral states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.”
The 900-kilometer-long (550-mile-long) strait between peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia’s Sumatra island has been notorious in the past for robberies by sea pirates, who can hide amid narrow channels, shallow reefs and thousands of tiny islands. Pirate attacks in the waterway _ through which half the world’s oil trade and a third of global commerce pass _ have declined in the past three years after Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore introduced coordinated security patrols. There were 11 attacks last year, down from 12 in 2005 and 38 in 2004. (AP)
More than 80 pro-democracy Burmese activists on Tuesday gathered in front of the Russian and Chinese embassies in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to protest the two countries’ support of Burma’s ruling military regime and to urge them to put pressure on the government to release detained pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung Kyaw Moe, vice chairman of the Democratic Federation of Burma (Malaysia) and one of the protesters, said the group gathered for about 15 minutes and sent letters to the two embassies outlining their concerns. Aung Kyaw Moe said Russia and China should stop their economic and military support of Burma’s ruling generals and that the two nations should stop looking only at what benefits they can derive from Burma. In December 2006, Russia and China joined in vetoing a US and British-sponsored resolution on Burma at the UN Security Council.
A Zambian woman appeared in a Singapore court Tuesday, accused of trafficking more than 14 kilograms (31 pounds) of marijuana—at least 28 times the amount that draws a mandatory death sentence by hanging. Daka Guinea, 21, was arrested April 9 after she was allegedly caught handing the drugs over to a Ghanaian man, Chijioke Stephen Obioha, 29, at a budget hotel in an eastern Singapore red-light district. Obioha also appeared in court Tuesday to face three drug charges, but details on his case were not immediately available. Singapore has some of the world’s toughest and most thoroughly enforced drug laws, with a mandatory death sentence for trafficking more than 15 grams (0.53 ounces) of heroin or 500 grams (17.64 ounces) of marijuana. Guinea has been in contact with her family and Zambian consular officials—including Keli Walubita, High Commissioner to Singapore and former Zambian Foreign Minister—who has visited the woman in jail, her lawyers Shashi Nathan and Anand Nalachandran said outside the courtroom. A pretrial court session is set for June 26. The Southeast Asian city-state executed two African men, one Nigerian and the other stateless, on heroin trafficking charges in January despite clemency pleas by Nigeria’s president, the United Nations and human rights groups. Human rights group Amnesty International has said Singapore has the world’s highest per capita execution rate. Singapore leaders say the tough system has saved the small, prosperous island nation from the drug scourge plaguing some of its neighboring countries. (AP)
Monday, June 11, 2007
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday angrily denied reported comments by a retired Thai general that some Cambodian Muslims were fanning an Islamic insurgency in southern Thailand. “Now it is sad that Cambodian Muslims are being suspected of being terrorists. This is very grave. Cambodia is not a sanctuary for launching any attacks on Thailand,”Hun Sen said at a ground breaking ceremony for a Chinese-funded bridge over the Tonle Sap river, 30 kilometers north of Phnom Penh. He appeared to speak directly to a Thai embassy official at the ceremony.
Retired Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong, now a security affairs adviser to Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, reportedly said Friday that some Cambodian Muslims were part of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terror network and had been involved in the insurgency in southern Thailand. He called for increased intelligence cooperation between the two countries to try to stop the alleged infiltration, the Bangkok Post reported at the weekend. Wattanachai, when contacted by phone Tuesday, defended his comments that some Muslims in Cambodia were linked to the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI. “The Cambodian government cannot deny that there are JI networks in their country, because Cambodian authorities have recently arrested JI members in Batambang,” he told The Associated Press. “But I never said that Cambodian Muslims are linked to JI here, I merely said that thousands of Cambodians, up to seven or eight thousand, have departed Cambodia to go to work in Malaysia. But they disappear (in the south of Thailand) and never return home. I merely suspect that these Cambodians are linked to JI,” Wattanachai said.
Thailand’s southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have been seized by a separatist rebellion that has led to more than 2,300 deaths in the past three years. The three provinces form the only Muslim-dominated area in the Buddhist-majority country. (AP)
Four suspected members of the al-Qaida-linked militant group Jemaah Islamiyah were arrested in weekend raids, including a top aide to Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist, Abu Dujana, police said Monday. The men were being questioned in Central Java province, said police spokesman Sisno Adiwinoto, though he provided few other details. Dujana’s right hand man, Yusron Ahmahmud, was shot in the leg while trying to escape an anti-terror squad in Kebarongan village, Adiwinoto had said Sunday. The three other suspects were also members of Jemaah Islamiyah, the police spokesman said Monday. Adiwinoto said Dujana, who replaced Abu Rusdan as head of the terror network four years ago, was the main target of anti-terror operations. The Afghan-trained militant is fluent in Arabic and is said to have direct ties with al-Qaida.
The militant group is blamed for a string of deadly bombings in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Twin nightclub bombings on Bali island in 2002, blasts in Jakarta at the JW Marriott Hotel and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2003 and 2004, and the 2005 restaurant bombings on Bali together killed more than 240 people, many of them foreign tourists. (AP)
Chickens infected by bird flu in Indonesia are now mostly symptom-free, confounding efforts to fight the virus in the world’s hardest hit country, an Agriculture Ministry official said Monday. “It’s really giving us a headache,” said Musni Suatmodjo, the director of animal health. “Chickens are testing positive for the H5N1 virus, but they are staying healthy” making it difficult to identify which are infected.
Bird flu has killed at least 189 people since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in 2003, 79 of them in Indonesia, according to the World Health Organization. The virus remains difficult for people to catch, but experts fear it could eventually mutate to a form that spreads more easily between humans, sparking a global pandemic that could kill millions.
John Weaver, of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, noted that several researchers have said many infected chickens appear to be surviving in Indonesia, triggering questions about whether the virus may have become less pathogenic.
“It’s a very important question,” he said on the sidelines of an international bird flu conference in the capital Jakarta. “But we haven’t yet answered it.” (AP)
Three Buddhist teachers were killed in two separate attacks in restive southern Thailand Monday, police said, blaming the shootings on Muslim rebels. Two female teachers were killed when suspected Muslim insurgents launched a rare daytime raid on a school, police Lt Watcharin Tancharoenrat said. More than 200 students were in the Sakor elementary school in Sisakhon district of Narathiwat province, 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of Bangkok, when the attackers struck around lunchtime. The acting head teacher Yupaporn Sengwat and an unnamed colleague were killed. In a separate attack Monday afternoon in Rangae district also in Narathiwat province, Sommai Laochareonsuk, 56, a Buddhist teacher at Sejah school, was killed when he was driving his motorcycle home, Police Lt-Col Chalerm Yingkong said. Sommai died on the scene after a gunman on the back of motorcycle shot him. Police also blamed Muslim rebels for the attack on Sommai. (AP)
Government employees in a Malaysian state are being monitored by security cameras to keep them from slacking off at work or vanishing for long tea breaks, a news report said Monday. Sixteen closed-circuit television cameras were installed recently to improve security in northeastern Terengganu state’s main government administrative complex, but they serve an additional purpose of keeping tabs on some 1,000 workers there, Terengganu State Secretary Mokhtar Nong told The Star newspaper. “We would know if they are adhering to office etiquette or playing truant, and we can also gauge if they are disciplined at work,” Mokhtar said, adding that another 26 cameras will be set up soon.
Mokhtar and Terengganu Chief Minister Idris Jusoh were among those with access to the surveillance tapes, The Star said. Officials and workers interviewed by the newspaper praised the measure. State Communications Unit deputy director Ruslan Abdul Rahman was quoted as saying the decision was “a brilliant idea,” stressing that workers should “accept the move in a positive manner as this will actually encourage them to excel further.” Abdul Mubin Ismail, who works in the youth and sports department, told The Star that the move was “not to pinpoint our errors but to mold us into becoming more responsible.” He added that the surveillance could also curb office politics and sexual harassment.(AP)
Eleven detained HIV/AIDs patients in Burma were released on Friday three days after they were detained in Rangoon’s Weibagi Hospital, a contagious disease hospital. The patients were detained in the hospital following their demonstrations calling for the release of a prominent HIV/AIDS activist, Phyu Phyu Thin, who was arrested earlier by authorities. Phyu Phyu Thin worked to help about 30 HIV/AIDS patients and had been detained since May 21. The released patients earlier had participated in prayer vigils at pagodas in Rangoon for her release. According to Yazar, an HIV/AIDS activist, the released patients will continue their prayer vigils calling for Phyu Phyu Thin’s release.
Friday, June 08, 2007
The Canadian House of Commons on Wednesday voted unanimously to call on Burma’s military government to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Minister of Parliament Larry Bagnell, chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of Burma who introduced the motion in the House of Commons, said in a press statement issued by PFOB that he was pleased the vote was unanimous. “This may be a small step towards democracy in Burma,” Bagnell said in the statement. “But it is a step, nonetheless, and Canada will continue to do what it can to see that it happens.” Ottawa-based PFOB was founded in 2006 to support democratic reform and human rights in Burma, and comprises 28 members and senators from all parties in the Canadian Parliament. Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s main opposition party National League for Democracy, has been under house arrest for 11 of the last 17 years.
People traveling to Singapore will soon be required to have their face electronically scanned at immigration checkpoints amid efforts to boost security, a newspaper said Friday. Nearly 1,000 computers at all of the island-nation’s ports, land borders and airports, will be installed with face-recognition technology over the next year, The Straits Times newspaper said, citing government documents tendering for suppliers of the system. The face-matching system will be used together with the fingerprint scanners currently in operation, the report said. The biometric system would process more than 250,000 face scans daily when fully operational.
Biometric technology translates patterns in a person’s fingerprints, irises, face, voice or other characteristics into digital information that can be stored on a chip or machine-readable strip. When travelers stand in front of face-recognition cameras, a computer checks whether the patterns it detects match those in the passport. Singapore’s immigration authorities confirmed in a statement that the government had issued a tender for a face-recognition system to be deployed at checkpoints, but declined to give details on the implementation of the system as it is in its early stages.
Several other countries, including the US and Australia have already implemented biometric scanners at some checkpoints. (AP)
Malaysian police have arrested more than 1,300 people since they launched a crackdown on criminal gangs on Borneo island two months ago, a senior police officer said Friday. Police acted on public tip-offs and intelligence to arrest the suspects—including some foreigners—who were allegedly involved in prostitution, gambling, rioting, extortion, criminal intimidation and violence in Sarawak state on Borneo island, said Christopher Wan Soo Kee, director of the Federal Crime Investigations. The operation began after increasingly strident complaints from Sarawak residents about gangs terrorizing and extorting them and controlling trade, including the prices of such daily necessities as eggs. Of the 1,310 people arrested, almost 680 have been charged with various offenses including gangster-related activities, Wan said. The others are under investigation. Eight people have also been detained under the Emergency Ordinance, which allows for detention without trial, Wan said. He said that the operation would continue until all gang members had been caught, and that police are also investigating gangs’ alleged links to politicians and businessmen. (AP)
Bird flu is killing more than 80 percent of its victims in hardest-hit Indonesia, a senior official said, partly because people refuse to believe the virus poses a serious threat. “Often it’s purely a case of ignorance,” said Bayu Krisnamurthi, head of the country’s bird flu commission, adding that it also can take up to five days for patients in rural areas to be diagnosed and sent to a bird flu-reference hospital. This is often too late to save them, he said. Krisnamurthi said in comments seen Friday that a public awareness campaign had been successful, reaching the bulk of the country’s 240 million people, but less than 15 percent believe they or their families are at risk. That has resulted in a greater fatality rate, he said, noting that when bird flu first jumped from chickens to people in Indonesia two years ago, 75 percent of those who fell ill died, compared to 86 percent today.The H5N1 virus has killed at least 189 people and sickened 121 more worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in 2003, according to the World Health Organization. Indonesia accounts for 79 of those deaths and 20 illnesses. (AP)
Five Malaysians with flu-like symptoms were in a hospital isolation ward Friday as a precaution for bird flu, the health minister said, after the country’s first reported outbreak of H5N1 among birds in more than a year. The four males and one female, ages 11 months to 35 years, were in stable condition and under observation after coming to Sungai Buloh Hospital on their own accord to seek treatment, said a statement from Health Minister Chua Soi Lek. Chua stressed that so far, including the five patients, “no case that meets the definition of avian influenza infection among humans has been detected.” The statement did not specify whether the patients were being tested for bird flu. Other ministry officials said they could not immediately comment, and hospital authorities handling the matter could not immediately be contacted.
Veterinary officials said Tuesday that concerns about bird flu emerged after tests on 60 birds that died last week in Sungai Buloh, near Malaysia’s commercial capital, Kuala Lumpur, confirmed they had the H5N1 bird flu virus. Since then, health authorities have visited 4,556 villagers in 742 homes in the area to look for anyone suffering symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or breathing difficulties, Chua said. However, he said 17 people with mild fevers have been ordered to remain at home until health officials, who will check on them periodically, give them clearance to leave. Officials have said they need to analyze the case further to determine the origin of the virus, and have stressed that the outbreak was an isolated incident. (AP)
Rail service resumed in restive southern Thailand on Friday, four days after suspected insurgents sabotaged tracks causing a train to derail in Pattani province, the State Railway of Thailand said. About half the usual number of passengers used trains in Pattani and nearby Yala and Narathiwat provinces on Friday, despite an increased police and army presence at stations and junctions along the tracks, said Thanongsak Phongprasert, the railway’s southern office director. Train services in the three southernmost provinces were suspended Monday after suspected insurgents sabotaged tracks in Pattani, derailing a train and wounding nine of the train’s hundreds of passengers.
On Wednesday, soldiers discovered that bolts and sections of rail track had been removed in two districts in Yala. Separately, arsonists burned a government school to the ground in Yala’s Krong Pinang district Thursday night, said police Lt Narasak Chiangsuk, blaming suspected Muslim insurgents. Thailand’s Muslim-dominated southern provinces have been wracked by an Islamic insurgency since early 2004, leading to the deaths of more than 2,200 people. (AP)
Thursday, June 07, 2007
The US ambassador to the Philippines handed over a US $10 million reward Thursday to four Filipino informants whose tip led to the killing of the country’s two top terror suspects, the US Embassy said. It was the largest reward given so far by Washington in a campaign to wipe out al-Qaida-linked militants in the southern Philippines, where the US military has been training and advising Filipino troops. The US promised a reward of up to $5 million each for Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani, who was slain in a September clash on southern Jolo island, and his presumed successor, Abu Sulaiman, who was killed on Jolo in January. “Information provided by the brave Filipino citizens recognized today was instrumental in assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines to track down and locate these two terrorist leaders,” the embassy said in a statement. (AP)
Police blamed Islamic insurgents for the killing of a Muslim policeman at a crowded outdoor market and the torching of several government offices and schools in restive southern Thailand on Thursday. The policeman, Suriya Malaimal, was walking toward his motorcycle, parked at a market in Narathiwat’s Rue So district, when at least six gunmen approached him and shot him at point-blank range more than ten times, said police Lt Banlae Chuvet. Shoppers fled in panic as the shots were fired and the attackers, who stole the victim’s gun, disappeared in a van and on motorcycles, Banlae said, adding that Suriya was in uniform and did not draw his gun. “Initial investigations show he was killed by Muslim insurgents,” Banlae said, adding that the attack in the market was meant to cause fear and panic among civilians in the area.
Also Thursday, in neighboring Pattani province, arsonists torched two government schools and three government offices including two health clinics in Sai Buri district, said police Lt Kumron Yodrak. Kumron blamed Muslim insurgents for the arson attacks, saying the militants believe the government is trying to indoctrinate students with un-Islamic values at public schools. Teachers in southern Thailand are regularly attacked by suspected insurgents. Separately, a roadside bomb exploded, injuring two policemen who had been deployed to protect teachers as they traveled to school in the Muang district of Yala province, police Lt Poompetch Pipatpetpoom, adding that the blast was triggered by a mobile phone. (AP)
Police chiefs from Southeast Asian nations signed an agreement with Interpol to boost international cooperation within the policing community, Singaporean authorities said. The agreement, inked at the end of an annual meeting of Asean police chiefs in Singapore on Wednesday, gives regional police members access to Interpol’s database, said a statement released by the Singapore Police.
Interpol would also assist Asean law enforcement agencies in building their crisis management capabilities to manage “large-scale disruptive events” such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters over the next year, the statement said. The police chiefs signed a joint statement to commit members to cooperate on security concerns such as illicit drug trafficking, transnational fraud and terrorism, and also separately agreed to adopt a framework to combat the prevalence of Internet crime in the region, the statement said.
Asean leaders agreed earlier this year to establish a terrorism database that would include a list of the region’s most-wanted terror suspects. The project would be one of the first products of an anti-terrorism accord signed in January by Asean leaders. (AP)
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
An air force fighter jet crashed into the sea during a training exercise in southern Vietnam and its two pilots were missing, military officials and state-controlled media said Wednesday. The pilots lost control of the aging Czech-made L39 jet during the exercise Tuesday and it plummeted into the sea off southern Ninh Thuan province, said a provincial military officer who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media. There was no indication that the pilots ejected from the plane before it crashed, he added. Authorities were searching for the plane and the pilots, he said. The weather was clear at the time of the accident, the officer said. The VnExpress news Web site reported that a technical problem with the jet may have caused the crash.
Ninh Thuan is 350 kilometers (220 miles) northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. Last year, three Russian-made fighter jets crashed in separate accidents in Vietnam. No casualties were reported in those incidents. (AP)
Japanese government decided to assist emergency relief materials requested by Burmese government to the victims of a storm which fell in the surrounding areas of Sittwe in western Arakan State last month. The statement released Tuesday by Japanese government said its donation is amount to 10 million yen (US $82,575) and it includes urgent needy materials such as blankets, tents and portable jerry cans. More than 10,000 local residents were affected by the storm. About 2,000 houses were destroyed. 14 people were killed and 15 missing.
About 140 Burmese illegal migrants have been arrested in the last month by authorities in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, according to a Burmese refugee organization. The government-backed People’s Volunteer Corps, known as Rela, has launched a crackdown on illegal migrants, not only from Burma but also from other regional countries, said Thura Aung, a member of the Alliance of Burma Refugees based in Kuala Lumpur. He said that more than 80 Burmese women and children were arrested and sent to a detention center of Langat. The children in the center do not have sufficiently nutritious food, he said. Thura Aung said his organization has spoken with representatives of the UNHCR, seeking its help in trying to obtain the release of the detainees. The group also sent letters to a local human rights group and the Malaysian prime minister. Most of the Burmese arrested in the crackdown have registered with the UN and hold its identify card, said Thura Aung.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that there is still uncertainty about the commercial viability of Cambodian offshore oil deposits, qualifying his earlier optimism over their potential. Hun Sen spoke during a ceremony to begin construction of a Chinese-funded bridge at a village about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the capital Phnom Penh. Hun Sen said that he is fed up with that point of view, and that “it is better to think about how to maintain growth of the current economy.” In a statement issued Tuesday at the end of a mission to Cambodia Tuesday, an International Monetary Fund delegation warned that there is still much uncertainty about whether Cambodia will become a significant oil producer. The IMF said it would be “imprudent” for the government to undertake any large commercial borrowing or begin any major oil infrastructure projects “given the substantial uncertainty still surrounding the level of reserves and the timing of production.”
In February, Hun Sen raised hopes of a brighter future for his impoverished nation when he said Cambodia expects to begin tapping oil revenues in 2010.China is among several countries that have lined up for opportunities to explore oil off the coast of Sihanoukville, in Cambodia’s southwest. US energy giant Chevron Corp discovered oil in 2005 off the Cambodian coast, 145 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Sihanoukville. The company found oil in four wells in an area called Block A, and plans to drill 10 more wells by the end of 2007. (AP)
A court in Hanoi sentenced a Vietnamese journalist to three years in prison for blackmailing two local companies, the judge said Wednesday. Nguyen Hung Son, 38, a reporter for Dien Dan Doanh Nghiep (Enterprise Forum), a publication of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was convicted of “extortion of property” at the one-day trial Tuesday, presiding Judge Ngo Thi Yen said. Yen said Son was caught receiving US $10,000 from a representative of one of the transport companies at a cafe in Hanoi last September. She said the reporter had threatened to reveal alleged tax evasion by the two transport companies, based in Hai Duong province near Hanoi, if they failed to pay him. Son has 15 days to appeal his sentence. The newspaper said Son had been an employee for about 10 years.
Journalists are not commonly convicted of corruption. However, government agencies and companies often give out envelopes containing money to local journalists during news briefings to ensure favorable coverage. Vietnam has more than 500 media organizations, all of which are under government control. (AP)
The virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu has been detected outside Kuala Lumpur, one year after the country was declared free of the disease, the government said Wednesday. The Department of Veterinary Services said bird flu was detected in Kampung Paya Jaras Hilir village in Selangor state, which surrounds Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s main city.
Authorities have started culling chickens and fowl in that village and three nearby villages, the department said in a statement. Malaysia was officially declared free of bird flu in June 2006, three months after the last outbreak of the H5N1 strain was detected in chickens in a northern village. The statement said 60 birds were reported to have died Saturday, and tests Tuesday confirmed they had H5N1 virus. Health officials are monitoring the area and the virus seems to have been contained, the statement said, adding it was an isolated incident and not a cause for concern. Bird flu has killed at least 188 people since H5N1 started ravaging Asian poultry flocks in late 2003, according to the World Health Organization. There have been no fatalities in Malaysia. (AP)
Singapore has banned three types of China-made toothpaste after tests showed they contained a poisonous chemical that has also raised concerns in other countries. The city-state tested all toothpaste manufactured in China in response to recent concerns elsewhere that the products may be tainted with diethylene glycol, a Health Sciences Authority statement said Tuesday. The chemical is a thickening agent used in antifreeze and also as a low-cost, but frequently deadly, substitute for glycerin, commonly used in medicines.
The health authority found that three kinds of toothpaste sold in Singapore—”Hei Mei,” “Hei Mei Calcium” and “Maxam”—contained between 0.8 percent and 3.9 percent of the chemical, and ordered the companies to pull the items off the shelves. “The presence of an undeclared ingredient like (diethylene glycol) raises questions on the quality of these products,” the statement said. It did not say how many tubes were seized, and calls to the agency rang unanswered Wednesday. The ban by Singapore’s health authorities follows reports of contamination in several countries, including Panama, where diethylene glycol was blamed for the deaths of 51 people after they took tainted cold medicine.
China has admitted it was the source of the deadly chemical, but insists it had originally been labeled as being for industrial use only. Officials in Panama and several other Latin American countries have removed tens of thousands of tubes of Chinese-made toothpaste from stores amid concerns that they contain diethylene glycol. In the US, authorities have warned consumers to avoid using toothpaste made in China. (AP)
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet is expected to visit the United States on June 22, despite mounting concerns in Washington about the communist nation’s recent crackdown on dissidents. A US Embassy official said Tuesday that Washington has extended a formal invitation to Triet, who would be the first Vietnamese head of state to visit Washington since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. Triet’s visit has been expected since US President George W Bush visited Vietnam for a regional meeting last November. Negotiators are still working out the details of the visit, but are planning for a June 22 arrival, according to the official, who demanded anonymity in accordance with embassy practice. Bush met last month with Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activists who are pressing Vietnam to allow independent political parties, and Washington has expressed dismay over recent arrests of dissidents. But even as the US has criticized Vietnam’s human rights record, the relationship between the two nations has grown closer in recent years. They implemented a wide-ranging trade agreement in 2001, and since then two-way trade has been booming, reaching nearly US $10 billion last year. The former foes have also exchanged regular high-level visits in recent years. Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Vietnam in June last year, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice came to Hanoi in November 2006. Former Vietnamese Defense Minister Pham Van Tra visited the United States in 2003, and in June 2005 Phan Van Khai became the first Vietnamese prime minister to visit Washington. (AP)
Authorities have discovered a mass grave containing the remains of 13 communist soldiers killed during the Vietnam War, an official said Tuesday. The remains were believed to belong to communist commandos who were killed while attacking an American military station in October 1968, said Mai Anh Phi, vice chairman of the district People’s Committee. It took a dozen soldiers three days to recover the remains in Dai Loc District in Quang Nam province, about 850 kilometers (530 miles) south of Hanoi, Phi said. The remains, none of which was identified, will be buried at a district military cemetery later this week, he said. Local authorities had tried unsuccessfully many times in the past to recover the remains, until they were tipped off recently by a former translator at the US military station, he said. Phi quoted the translator as saying the communist soldiers were bulldozed into the grave after they were killed while attacking the station. About 1 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans were killed in wars against France and the United States, which ended in 1975. In addition to the dead, the government says some 3 million Vietnamese remain missing. (AP)
East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta praised a much-criticized commission probing the violence that accompanied his nation’s break from Indonesian rule in 1999, saying Tuesday it could be a model for other nations. The body has no powers to recommend prosecution for those it finds responsible for the bloodshed after the territory voted to end 24 years of Indonesian occupation in a UN-sponsored independence ballot. Ramos-Horta said the East Timorese and Indonesians sitting on the “Commission of Truth and Friendship” were working with courage and honesty. “I believe that it will satisfy the people of both sides, and it will set a precedent for other countries to deal with similar situations,” he said on a trip to Indonesia, his first overseas visit since becoming president last month. Up to 1,000 people were killed in a rampage by Indonesian troops and their militia proxies during and after East Timor’s vote for independence.
UN-backed prosecutors in East Timor have indicted several Indonesian generals for atrocities, but Jakarta has refused to hand them over. Under intense international pressure, Indonesia put 17 officers on trial in 2000 and 2001, but all were found not guilty. Ramos-Horta and other East Timorese leaders have refused to push Indonesia for justice, saying that building better ties with its giant neighbor would better serve the interests of its 900,000 mostly poor people. Local and international rights groups have criticized the ongoing commission, calling it a whitewash intended to exonerate criminals and perpetuate a culture of impunity. They are demanding an international tribunal be set up to try those responsible. (AP)
A serious outbreak of dengue fever is keeping health workers and clinics busy in northern Thailand. Ten thousand patients have been treated in the first five months of 2007, and 10 have died. The outbreak is particularly serious in areas of Chiang Rai province bordering Burma’s Shan State. Surin Summanaphan, of Chiang Rai’s Public Health Department, said efforts by Thai health authorities to combat the outbreak are made difficult by the reluctance of many ethnic minority people to seek medical treatment because they lack official identity documents. The simple living conditions of many communities also hamper efforts to control disease-carrying mosquitos.
Police cracked down on a drug syndicate in northern Malaysia, arresting five suspects and seizing nearly 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of marijuana, an official said Tuesday. Authorities detained five Malaysian men and found the drugs, worth at least 700,000 ringgit (US $207,000), in two raids in northern Penang state Saturday, said state Deputy Police Chief Othman Harun. The drugs were stashed in a cowshed and in a car near a condominium, Othman said. He said the crackdown followed investigations into the group’s activities over the last year. Othman said police were probing the origin of the drugs, because marijuana is typically not grown in Malaysia. (AP)
Monday, June 04, 2007
Military-ruled Burma is preparing for its first nationwide census in more than two decades, using upgraded computer systems, a local newspaper said. Since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1948, Burma has conducted two national censuses, in 1973 and 1983. In recent years, population estimates have been based on partial surveys and population growth rates. The country is currently estimated to have 57 million people. Burma will need an official census if the military-ruled country holds a referendum to adopt a new constitution. The junta has been working on a draft constitution for more than 13 years, saying the document is one steppingstone on the way to democracy. Critics say the process is a sham. The Myanmar Times newspaper said Sunday the Immigration and Population Department is receiving monetary and technical assistance from the UN Population Fund in preparing for the census. The project includes installation of new geographic information system software, intensive training for staff, and a high-speed communications network. (AP)
A court in northern Vietnam sentenced two people to death and seven others to life in prison for heroin trafficking, a court official said Monday. Those sentenced were members of a heroin ring that smuggled two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of heroin from Laos to Vietnam last year, said Pham Van Nam, an official from Dien Bien People’s Court.
Convicted of leading the ring and sentenced to death were Luong Van Phong, 25, and Lo Van Tinh, 31. The court jailed seven others for life and sentenced 12 more to jail terms ranging from one to 20 years in prison, Nam said. All of the defendants were from Dien Bien province, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) northwest of Hanoi. Vietnam has some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Possessing, trading or trafficking more than 600 grams (1.3 pounds) of heroin or 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of opium is punishable by death or life in prison. (AP)
A passenger train derailed Monday after saboteurs loosened a section of track in insurgency-plagued southern Thailand, injuring nine people, an official said. A 3-meter (10-foot) section of rails was unscrewed, sending the northbound train off the tracks, said Montakan Srivilas, a spokesman for the State Railways of Thailand. He said Muslim rebels were believed responsible. The train, carrying about 200 passengers, derailed about 750 kilometers (470 miles) south of Bangkok in Pattani province’s Kok Pho district, Montakan said. Pattani is one of three provinces in southern Thailand in which a Muslim separatist insurgency has raged since early 2004. More than 2,200 people have perished since then in almost daily shootings and bombings. (AP)
Philippine troops defused a powerful bomb found in a packed bus in a southern town on Monday, after the US Embassy warned that terrorists might carry out attacks in bus terminals, officials said Monday. The bomb—black powder stuffed in a pitcher with steel fragments for deadlier effect—was hidden in a backpack on a bus where it was hastily abandoned by two men late Sunday in southern Maguindanao’s Talitay town, regional army spokesman Lt-Col Julieto Ando said. Panicking passengers grabbed the bag and hurled it outside the bus. Police and army experts later defused the bomb, which was attached to a timer and batteries but was not yet set to explode, Ando said. A police investigation was under way to determine whether the foiled bombing was planned by al-Qaida-linked militants, or linked to lingering political wrangling following May 14 congressional and local elections, he said. The volatile Maguindanao region, where Muslim guerrillas and political warlords hold sway, was hit by bombings and gun attacks because of intense political rivalries during the balloting.
Talitay is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the towns of Kidapawan and Makilala in North Cotabato province, where the U.S. Embassy warned over the weekend that terrorists may set off bombs in bus terminals and public markets in the next several days. It called on US citizens to “exercise extreme caution” in central Mindanao—home to a decades-old Muslim separatist rebellion and al-Qaida-linked militants. Seven people were killed and 44 wounded in bomb blasts in Kidapawan and two other southern towns in early January. In October, eight were killed and 22 wounded in an explosion in Makilala. (AP)
Friday, June 01, 2007
Burmese Energy Minister Holds Talks with Russians
Russia’s Ambassador to Burma, Dr Mikhail M Geladze, and the Vice-President of Russia’s Raznoimport Holding Co., Maxim Ogorodnikov, had talks on Thursday in Naypyidaw with Burma’s Energy Minister, Brig-Gen Lun Thi.Observers believe the talks centered on Burma’s natural gas reserves. Russian oil companies have become increasingly interested in the exploration of natural gas in Burma. Two Russian oil companies, Silver Wave Sputnik Petroleum Company and Silver Wave Energy, recently reached an agreement with state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise to conduct test drillings in Burma’s north-western Sagaing Division.
Cambodia Lashes Out at UN Human Rights Envoy
Cambodia has lashed out at a senior U.N. envoy for alleging the government is committing systematic human rights abuses against its own citizens. Yash Ghai, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for human rights in Cambodia, made the allegations in a report he presented to the government, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement received Friday. The allegations are “far from reflecting the reality” and “unacceptable,” said the statement, which was dated Thursday. However, the statement did not appear to dispute that human rights abuses exist, as it said Ghai’s report noted only “negative aspects of the human rights situation in Cambodia.” The statement said Interior Minister Sar Kheng raised his objections during his meeting with Ghai on Thursday. Sar Kheng was the only senior government official who agreed to see Ghai, whose three-day visit ended Thursday. Ghai was in Cambodia to try to elicit official comments on a report he will be submitting to the Human Rights Commission next month. He had also asked for a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, but did not get one. Last year, Hun Sen angrily described Ghai as “totally deranged” after the UN envoy criticized the prime minister for concentrating too much power in his own hands, and the government for its poor human rights record. (AP)
Bird Flu Spreads to 13th Vietnam Province
Bird flu has spread to another province in central Vietnam, bringing the total number of provinces with fresh outbreaks to 13, a government official said Friday. Bird flu killed about 300 unvaccinated ducks on a farm in Quang Nam province, and tests confirmed they were infected with the deadly H5N1 virus strain, said Pham Ngoc Anh, director of Quang Nam Department of Animal Health. Authorities have destroyed the farm’s remaining 400 ducks and disinfected the site. The virus has spread rapidly in 12 other provinces and is killing more birds, a government Web site said Thursday. Vietnam has 64 provinces.
Last week Vietnam confirmed its first human case of bird flu in 18 months. Doctors at Bach Mai hospital said the patient’s condition is improving, but were not sure when he will be released. At least 42 people have died of bird flu in Vietnam, though no deaths have been reported since November 2005. The recent wave of outbreaks has killed or led to the slaughter of more than 50,000 birds. (AP)
Malaysia’s Islamic Opposition Gears Up for Elections
Malaysia’s Islamic opposition party unleashed an unusually scathing attack against Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Friday, accusing him of pretending to be a pious Muslim leader and of ignoring corruption that besets the country. The criticism by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party or PAS, the country’s biggest opposition group, marked a new push in its campaign to prevent Abdullah’s ruling coalition from achieving another landslide victory in national elections, widely expected by early 2008. PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang , speaking to more than 1,000 cheering party officials, said the government has denied—but failed to disprove—the opposition’s growing allegations of graft, such as claims that the Defense Ministry paid massive commissions to middlemen in the purchase of Russian aircraft and French submarines. Abdullah “has not seen all this, or perhaps he has fallen asleep,” Abdul Hadi said in the party’s northeastern stronghold of Kelantan, Malaysia’s sole opposition-ruled state. “Our nation is ruled by thieves in (Muslim clothes) and robbers who show off religious credentials with the brand of Islamic Hadhari.” Senior PAS leaders have generally tried to refrain from personal attacks against their political rivals, fearing that such strategies might seem unbecoming of devout religious officials.
The Islamic party is the chief rival of Abdullah’s United Malays National Organization, which is at the helm of the National Front multiethnic coalition that has led Malaysia since 1957. UMNO has 3.2 million members, while PAS claims to have 800,000. UMNO and PAS both vie for the support of ethnic Malay Muslims, who comprise nearly 60 percent of a population that also includes ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities who follow mainly Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. Abdullah’s National Front routed the opposition in the last general elections in 2004, winning more than 90 percent of the seats in Parliament. PAS suffered major losses amid fears among moderate Muslims and religious minorities over the party’s ambitions of creating a style of hard-line governance that prescribes punishments such as amputation for thieves. (AP)
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News Briefs (May 2007)
Friday, June 15, 2007
New York-based Human Rights Group in a statement on Friday condemned attacks on schools and the killing of teachers by militant separatists that have disrupted the educational system in Thailand’s three predominantly Muslim southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. More than 300 government schools in Narathiwat Province were closed following the shooting deaths of two female teachers in their school library and an attack at Ban Jehke School that left another teacher with six gunshot wounds to the head and body. “Insurgents are terrorizing teachers and schools, which they consider symbols of the Thai state,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. “These attacks are grave crimes and cannot be justified by any cause.” In other violence, militants burned 11 schools in Raman District in Yala Province on June 13, apparently in retaliation for the murder of a respected Muslim religious teacher the previous day, which sparked mass protests.
The statement urged the Thai government to take appropriate steps to ensure the security of schools but expressed concern about vigilantism inspired by authorities who encourage the local Buddhist Thai population to defend itself against insurgents. “Insurgents are attempting to close down all government schools,” Adams said. “Their campaign of terror strikes a serious blow to public education in the southern border provinces, which already retain the lowest test scores in Thailand.” According to HRW, the new generation of separatist militants in the South, calling themselves Patani Freedom Fighters (pejuang kemerdekaan Patani, or pejuang), has been responsible for 75 deaths and 91 injuries of teachers since January 2004. They have also burned 194 schools in the same period.
Burma is disappointed that the United States has described the country in a report as a major center for human trafficking, a senior official said, adding that the charge was politically motivated. In an annual global report released Wednesday, the US State Department placed Burma in Tier 3, the worst category for human trafficking, saying it had not fully complied with the minimum standards for fighting trafficking and was not making significant efforts to do so. Burma adopted a National Plan of Action in 1997 to fight human trafficking and introduced an anti-human trafficking law in September 2005 that imposes a maximum penalty of death, he said. The law also calls for victims of trafficking to be protected and aided. “The US report is unjust and very unsatisfactory. The report belittled not only our efforts but also undermined the activities of other agencies working with Myanmar [Burma] to tackle human trafficking,” police Col Sit Aye, head of the department of transnational crime, told The Associated Press. Sit Aye said. He said that due to cooperation between Burma and neighboring countries, 270 people involved in human trafficking had been arrested and prosecuted between September 2005 and April 2007, while 428 trafficking victims, mostly women, had been rescued. (AP)
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Nearly half the residents of Indonesia’s remote Papua province have never heard of HIV/AIDS despite the virus’ prevalence there being 15 times the national average, a new internationally funded research report shows. The lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is a major contributor to the burgeoning epidemic in Indonesia’s easternmost region, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday. The report urges more money be spent on education programs and condom availability. The report, which is due to be published later this week, mapped the spread of the disease in Papua, one of the most remote and poorest regions in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago home to some 235 million people. The study was funded by the World Bank, the US government and US nonprofit Family Health International.
Researchers found HIV infection rates in Papua were as high as 3.2 percent in mountainous areas, compared to 1.8 percent in easily accessible low-lying areas, indicating a higher risk in isolated farming communities where education is poorest.
Researchers found 48 percent of Papuans were unaware of HIV/AIDS. That figure rose to 74 percent of those who did not attend or complete elementary school. HIV prevalence reached 5.6 percent among non-circumcised men in Papua, compared to 1 percent among the circumcised, reinforcing findings of previous international studies that found circumcision reduces the risk of catching the virus. (AP)
Burma’s National League for Democracy has sent a letter to the ruling military government requesting a meeting with its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the party’s spokesman said Saturday. The National League for Democracy has not seen Suu Kyi in more than three years. NLD chairman Aung Shwe sent the letter to the junta last Thursday, party spokesman Nyan Win said in a telephone interview. “A lawyer and party chairman have to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to obtain power of attorney from her to submit an appeal against the extension of her restriction,” Nyan Win said. Suu Kyi, 62, has spent more than 11 of the past 18 years in detention, and has been continuously detained the past four years, most of it confined to her house in Rangoon. Last May her house arrest was extended for one more year. (AP)
Malaysian authorities arrested a Thai police officer on Monday for suspected human trafficking, according to the DPA news agency. Quoting Malaysia’s northern Kedah State Police Chief Syed Ismail Syed Azizan, the report said the 34-year-old man, who was dressed in full police uniform, was stopped by Malaysian police on Sunday as he was driving through the express lane at the border. Authorities found two women, aged 35 and 45, hidden in the car boot of the suspect. Both women are believed to be Burmese, according to the report. Malaysian police also seized a pistol and 10 rounds of ammunition found inside the glove compartment. Syed Ismail said the arrest was probably the first case where a Thai police officer in full uniform was detained for suspected human trafficking.
A chartered plane flying Monday between two popular tourist destinations in Cambodia has crashed, with at least 20 people on board feared killed, an aviation official said. The plane, a Russian-made AN-24, was flying from Siem Reap—where the famous Angkor Wat temple complex is located—to Sihanoukville, a coastal city with access to beaches, said Him Sarun, Cabinet chief for the Secretariat of Civil Aviation. An official at Siem Reap airport said 13 of the passengers were from South Korea, three were Czech, one was Russian and five were Cambodian. Their names were not available. The official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the plane carried a crew of five Cambodians. The plane belonged to a small Cambodian airline called PMT Air, which began flying from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville in January. The airport official said contact with the plane was lost at 10:50 a.m., five minutes before it was due to land. Him Sarun said the crash site had not yet been located by rescue teams. (AP)
A government radio broadcaster was fatally shot on a southern island Monday, the latest victim in a string of killings of journalists in the Philippines. Vicente Sumalpong died of gunshot wounds in a hospital in the southernmost province of Tawi Tawi after two gunmen on a motorbike fired at him while he was picking up a colleague to take her to work, said Vema Antham, who worked with Sumalpong at Radyo ng Bayan. John Manalili, deputy director of the Bureau of Broadcast Services, urged police and the military to promptly investigate the killing.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration has been criticized at home and abroad for a rising number of unsolved killings of left-wing activists, government critics and journalists. According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, 52 reporters have been killed since 2001. (AP)
Authorities in central Vietnam have discovered a mass grave containing the remains of 17 people believed to have been communist soldiers killed during the Vietnam War, an official said Monday. The excavation work is continuing and authorities believe as many as several hundred former communist commandos might be buried at the site in Vinh Dien town, in Quang Nam Province. Local authorities were told about the site by several former communist soldiers, said Nguyen Van Hong, chairman of the Vinh Dien People’s Committee. Quang Nam is in central Vietnam, some 850 km (530 miles) south of Hanoi. Excavation started on June 20 and some 40 militiamen and villagers are still digging at the 400 sq meter (4,304 sq feet) site, he said. Hong said authorities recently interviewed a former communist soldier who told them about the site and said he had been forced to bury the bodies there by US-backed South Vietnamese troops in 1971.
The remains, none of which were identified, will be buried in a military cemetery later this week, Hong said. An estimated 58,000 Americans and 3 million Vietnamese were killed in the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. (AP)
Malaysia will return nearly 400 smuggled, rare tortoises to their native India this week, an official said Monday, in a case that highlights concerns about illegal trade in exotic animals. The Indian Star tortoises have been in Malaysia since late April after authorities at Kuala Lumpur International Airport discovered them in the luggage of an Indian citizen, who has since been deported to his home country, said Haidar Khan, a senior official in Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks. There were 404 tortoises in the luggage, but only 385 survived their ordeal, Haidar said. The tortoises, indigenous to South Asia, are listed by the international conservation body CITES as at risk of becoming endangered unless trade is strictly regulated. They are prized by collectors for the distinctive star patterns on their shells.
However, they are not formally protected under Malaysia’s environmental laws, so the man who smuggled the tortoises could not be prosecuted in Malaysia, Haidar said. He was believed to have been planning to supply them to Malaysian pet stores. This was the third foiled smuggling attempt of Indian star tortoises in recent years, Haidar said. More than 1,000 such tortoises were seized in 2003 and 2005, and all were returned to India. Loretta Ann Soosayraj, a Malaysian wildlife conservation activist, said Malaysia should establish laws to protect freshwater tortoises, which are popular in pet stores. An Indian star tortoise usually sells for 50 ringgit (US $14) in Malaysia. (AP)
Friday, June 22, 2007
Indonesia has demanded access to 76 of its citizens seized at a plastics factory in the United States, saying it wants to make sure they get legal assistance, a Foreign Ministry official said Friday. “They have overstayed their visas and allegedly violated the US immigration law,” the ministry’s spokesman Kristiarto Legowo said. “We want to make sure that, as suspects, their rights are protected.”
He said the Indonesian workers were among 81 suspected illegal immigrants arrested Tuesday at Iridium Industries Inc. in the US state of Pennsylvania, and are going through proceedings for eventual deportation. Legowo said the raid at the company was part of the US immigration agency’s effort to combat employment of unauthorized immigrants. He urged Indonesian citizens living in the United States to obey the laws.
Burma’s military regime arrested 352 drug traffickers, including 74 women, and confiscated more than 90 kilograms of opium and 630,000 stimulant drug tablets in May, the state-run The New Light of Myanmar reported on Friday. The army, police and customs department filed 238 drug-related cases in one month, the newspaper reported. The drugs seized included heroin, morphine, marijuana, ephedrine, caffeine, buprenorphine, and chemical and stimulant powders. The regime frequently burns confiscated narcotics to show the world it is suppressing drug trafficking. Burma is considered to be the second-biggest opium producer after Afghanistan.
The Philippine Justice Department dropped a coup charge Friday against a former army colonel and a re-elected senator in May 14 elections, who was allegedly linked to a short-lived 2003 mutiny to topple President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said there was no evidence to suggest Gregorio Gringo Honasan was directly involved in the mutiny. He had been indicted for instigating about 300 junior officers to take up arms and demand Arroyo’s resignation for alleged corruption.
The officers briefly occupied the ritzy Oakwood apartment-hotel and a mall complex in Makati, Manila’s financial district. They surrendered peacefully hours later. Gonzalez said the dropping of the charges would not affect the case against Honasan’s co-accused, former navy officer Antonio Trillanes, who also won a Senate seat while in military detention for the 2003 mutiny. Unlike Honasan, who met with Arroyo last month to plead his case and who promised not to wage any more coup attempts, Trillanes has called for Arroyo’s ouster and said he would like to see her impeached. (AP)
Monday, June 25, 2007
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, arrived in Rangoon on Monday for his first official visit to Burma to investigate the use of child soldiers in conflict areas. Diplomats see the visit as a hopeful sign that Burma’s military government may be more inclined to engage the international community on the issue of child soldiers than in previous years. The visit comes as the UN is reevaluating its role in Burma. Coomaraswamy will meet acting Prime Minister General Thein Sein during his visit and has also reportedly asked to meet other senior government officials, military commanders, representatives from civil society organizations as well as children living in conflict areas. For more than 20 years, Burma has been heavily criticized by human rights groups for recruiting child soldiers, some as young as 12.
Australian Immigration Process Offers Hope, Long Wait
By Sai Awn Tai/Sydney
June 28, 2007
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Tamla Gaw, 50, a Karen refugee from Burma arrived in Sydney with his family in January 2006 after spending 15 years in two refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border.
In 2002, Tamla Gaw applied to immigrate to Australia and even though the process took two years, he never lost hope that he would find a better life there and no longer live in fear.
For Tamla Gaw, a two-year wait seemed trivial compared to the 33 years he spent living under the repressive Burmese regime, followed by 15 years of living in refugee camps.
“I’d finally found a good future path, especially for my family,” said Tamla Gaw, who grew up at Nyaung Lay Pin in Pegu Division in Burma. The area is located in the middle of a war zone between the Burmese military regime, also known as the State Peace and Development Council, and the Karen National Union.
A nursery school teacher, Tamla Gaw was often forced by the SPDC to perform unpaid labor building roads and carrying ammunition across battlefields.
He had no future in Burma. After several days of traveling on foot without food, he arrived at the Bawnaw refugee camp at Thai-Burmese border in September 1991.
“It was very hard to find vegetables and fruit because travel outside the camp was not permitted,” Tamla Gaw said.
In April 1995, the Bawnaw camp was burned down when the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army attacked it with the support of the Burmese regime. The DKBA is a KNU breakaway group.
Tamla Gaw moved to the Mae La refugee camp where he met his future wife, Crystal Gaw, 38, at the Karen Education Department where they both worked as school teachers.
Tamla and Crystal Gaw’s stories are not unique except for the fact that not many Burmese refugees ever make it to Australia.
Government statistics show only 205 Burmese refugees arrived in Australia in 2004-05.
The policy was modified in 2006 when then Federal Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, visited the Mae La refugee camp and learned that among the 45,000 refugees in the camp, thousands had lived there for decades in poor conditions.
A short time later, Australia agreed to accept 900 refugees from Burma each year, and the figure rose to 1,500 for 2007.
However, Australian immigration policy requires refugees to wait for as long as three years before actually arriving on Australian soil.
By comparison, refugees accepted by the US, Canada, New Zealand and some European countries can apply and arrive in their new home country within three to four months.
Burmese refugees are asking why the delay?
Saw Lwin Oo, the general secretary of the Australian Karen Organisation based in Sydney, says one reason is the large number of selection categories, which demand rechecking a refugee’s background even though they may have already been recognized and granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner of Refugees.
The Australian resettlement procedure also requires that health conditions are checked to ensure refugees to meet the criteria of Australian law.
The US and many European countries—unlike Australia— accept refugees who are HIV/AIDS positive or who suffer from other serious medical conditions.
The Australian process has another downside, says Professor Thann Naing, the chairman of the Burmese Community Welfare Group.
US and European countries get the talented and skilled refugees because Australia’s selection procedures are more restrictive and take longer, says Thann Naing, who is based at Macquaire University.
But regardless of the barriers, refugees who finally arrive in Australia are ready to work hard and are full of hope for the future.
One big plus for refugees once they legitimately enter Australia is the full assistance available from both government and community organisations.
In New South Wales, for example, the Australian Centre for Language provides services to refugee families when they first arrive and help with access to Centrelink, healthcare and language schools.
Burmese refugees in Sydney also receive assistance from their own community organisations such as the Burmese Community Welfare Group and the Australian Karen Organisation.
But even with help, refugees face difficulties integrating into a new environment, a new culture and a new language, and it can take years to adjust.
Even so, Tamla Gaw has a dream. He wants to be a good teacher in Australia.
“It will take me about five years to be a teacher here,” he said. “I know it is hard, but I will work hard on it.” Gaw is now studying English for Employment at Liverpool TAFE.
His two sons, Kaw Gayday Gaw, 8, and Kaw Kamu Gaw, 5, who were born and grew up in the Mae La camp are even more important because they represent a new generation, Tamla Gaw said.
“We have to make sure that we look after them very well as they have more potential than us,” he said.
|“Free Suu Kyi” Campaigners Released
By Htet Aung
June 28, 2007
Fifty one pro-democracy activists arrested during a prayer campaign in May for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi were freed on Wednesday night, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy announced on Thursday.
The authorities continue to hold one detained woman, the HIV/AIDS activist Phyu Phyu Thin, who has been staging a hunger strike, spokesman Myint Thein told The Irrawaddy by phone.
“The NLD calls for the immediate release of Phyu Phyu Thin, who should receive health care from her family,” Myint Thein said. “We [the NLD], together with her family, are seriously concerned about her health.”
The US State Department, meanwhile, issued a statement on Wednesday calling for her immediate release. “The United States calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Phyu Phyu Thin (and) others recently detained while praying at pagodas,” US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in the statement.
Nay Htun, 22, who lives in Prome, Pegu Division, came to Rangoon on a business trip and joined the campaigners praying for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release. He said he would continue to campaign for the NLD leader’s release from house arrest. “I also have to do more for truth and freedom because of my detention experience.”
Nay Htun said he and other detained activists had been treated well.
Another released activist, Oh Wai, said the police, and even their commander, had shown “understanding and sympathy for what we are doing. Their lives are so poor, but they all help us as much as they can despite their poor living conditions.”