Monday, May 16, 2011

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

UN special envoy to Myanmar meets Aung San Suu Kyi despite objections

May 12, 2011, 13:48 GMT 

Yangon - The United Nations special envoy to Myanmar met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday on an official visit that has been criticised by human rights groups as part of the military-run government's new 'charm offensive.'
After his talks with Suu Kyi, Vijay Nambiar described his visit as 'encouraging,' but cautioned that its outcome 'depends on the government's reaction.'
Myanmar held a general election on November 7 which brought the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party to power led by President Thein Sein, a former general.
'The UN and Nambiar should not allow his visit to be misused by the government to shore up its credibility on human rights in the absence of meaningful progress,' said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The New York based human rights group had urged UN envoy to push for the freeing of 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar jails.
'He raised the issue of the political prisoners but the government didn't respond clearly,' Suu Kyi told a press conference after her meeting with Nambiar.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special envoy was in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw on Wednesday where he met Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and other officials but was not granted an audience with Thein Sein.
Over the weekend, Thein Sein pushed for Myanmar to host the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in 2014 in Jakarta. The proposal was widely condemned by human rights groups.
'The chairmanship is not important,' Suu Kyi said of the bid. 'The most important thing is reforms within the country.'
Pearson warned that Myanmar's new regime was 'on a desperate charm offensive to convince the world it's a rights-respecting democracy, despite all evidence to the contrary.'
Thursday's meeting was Nambiar's first face-to-face encounter with Suu Kyi, the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was released from six years of house detention on November 13. She has spent about 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest.
The UN special envoy last visited Myanmar five months ago, after the November polls.
The election was generally criticized by Western democracies since it excluded Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The NLD won an election in 1990 but was blocked from assuming power by the junta.
The NLD boycotted the November polls after the military passed regulations that would have forced them to expel Suu Kyi from their party in order to contest the elections.

Two Myanmar refugees on murder rap

Thursday, May 12th, 2011 11:13:00
KUALA LUMPUR: Two Myanmar refugees were charged on Tuesday with the murder of another Myanmar refugee.
The suspects, Salai Zaw Ki, 27, and Pan Hung, 22, had allegedly murdered Peng Thung on April 27 between 12.30am and 3.20am at Lot 526, Batu 6, Jalan Cheras.
Both suspects were arrested later that same day.
All three had worked as construction workers and no plea was recorded when the charge was made at the magistrate's court here yesterday.
Magistrate Siti Shakirah Mohtaruddin set July 11 for next mention and for a translator to be present.
Both suspects were unrepresented.

Purnomo Yusgiantoro: ASEAN Needs Common Security Standards

Jimmy Hitipeuw | Kamis, 12 Mei 2011

Reuters A man shows a gold bar to costumers during the ASEAN Jewellery Expo in Jakarta May 5, 2011. Indonesias gross domestic product expanded 6.5 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, in line with expectations and driven by strong consumption and investment in Southeast Asias biggest economy.
JAKARTA, - Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said ASEAN absolutely needs common security standards to create regional stability in support of its member states’ economic growth and bargaining power in global forums.
Purnomo made the remark at a meeting with editors-in-chief here on Wednesday. The meeting was called to explain the agenda of an ASEAN Defence Ministerial Meeting (ADMM) scheduled for May 19 in Jakarta.
The meeting is part of the activities carried out by Indonesia as the current chair of ASEAN. It also serves as the implementation of ASEAN three pillars which put emphasis on development of political, security and economic sectors in the quest for an ASEAN community by 2015.
In essence, the meeting would focus on efforts to create a more stable and peaceful region, he said. "We will focus on practical cooperation such as exchange of regional cooperation, settlement of dispute in the South China Sea, maritime security by realizing code of conduct among ASEAN member states in a clear manner."
Also in the agenda of the meeting would be counter-terrorism programs, informal meetings among defence and military top officials to settle a wide range of problems in the region by observing the ASEAN Charter, he said.
ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

--- ---

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Libya: Nato doesn't know if Col Gaddafi is dead or alive

Nato has admitted that it doesn't know if Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is dead or alive. 

Nato doesn't know if Muammar Gaddafi is dead or alive
Colonel Muamar Gaddafi Photo: REUTERS
A spokesman for Nato said its air strikes on Tripoli were not aimed at killing him.
"All Nato targets are military targets, which means that the targets we've been hitting are command and control bunkers," Claudio Gabellini said.
"Nato is not targeting individuals."
Asked about the whereabouts of Gaddafi, who has not been seen in public since he reportedly escaped an air strike on April 30 that killed his son, Mr Gabellini said: "We don't have any evidence. We don't know what Gaddafi is doing right now.
"And I tell you the truth we're not really interested in what he is doing,"
While the Libyan government insists that Gaddafi is in mourning for his son and will make an appearance in public soon, his absence has led to rumours that he died in the attack, the Guardian reports.
At least two NATO bombs struck the family compound on April 30 while Gaddafi was there, although his supporters said that he had survived "unhurt".
However, he did not attend the funeral of his son Saif al-Arab and three grandchildren who were also reportedly killed in the attack.
Officials blamed security fears for keeping him away and accused Nato of trying to assassinate him.
An FCO spokesman said: "We don't comment on rumour and speculation."
Nato officials, who began the campaign in March, have stepped up the pace of air strikes in Tripoli in recent weeks, aimed at what they described as the regime's military command and communications centres.

---The Telegraph---

Statement From the Family of Osama bin Laden

Statement from the family of Sheikh Osama bin Laden
I Omar Ossama Binladin and my brothers the lawful children and heirs of the Ossama Binladin (OBL) have noted wide coverage of the news of the death of our father, but we are not convinced on the available evidence in the absence of dead body, photographs, and video evidence that our natural father is dead. Therefore, with this press statement, we seek such conclusive evidence to believe the stories published in relation to 2 May 2011 operation Geronimo as declared by the President of United States Barrack Hussein Obama in his speech that he authorized the said operation and killing of OBL and later confirmed his death.
If OBL has been killed in that operation as President of United States has claimed then we are just in questioning as per media reports that why an unarmed man was not arrested and tried in a court of law so that truth is revealed to the people of the world. If he has been summarily executed then, we question the propriety of such assassination where not only international law has been blatantly violated but USA has set a very different example whereby right to have a fair trial, and presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a court of law has been sacrificed on which western society is built and is standing when a trial of OBL was possible for any wrongdoing as that of Iraqi President Sadam Hussein and Serbian President Slobodan Miloševic'. We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems and crime's adjudication as Justice must be seen to be done.
It is also unworthy of the special forces to shoot unarmed female family members of Binladen killing a female and that of one of his son.
Most importantly, when it is a common knowledge that OBL's family is residing at one place outside KSA, why they were not contacted to receive his dead body. His sudden and un witnessed burial at sea has deprived the family of performing religious rights of a Muslim man.
Finally, now that the operation is concluded we wish the Government of Pakistan to release and hand over all minors of the family and all the family members are reunited at one place and are repatriated to their country of origin, especially female members of the family to avoid further oppression and we seek international support to that effect.
Without agreeing to the ways of OBL as to how he professed, believed and operated, We Omar Ossama Binladin, and my brothers, the lawful children of the Ossama Binladin (OBL) herewith demand an inquiry under UNO to reach to the accuracy of the facts as stated by United States into the fundamental question as to why our father was not arrested and tried but summarily executed without a court of law. We are putting these questions to the United Nations, OIC, President of United States that a necessary evidence is presented to the family in private and or public to make us believe what they claim, and all the remaining family members are repatriated and united after necessary initial investigation.
In making this statement, we want to remind the world that Omar Ossam Binladin, the fourth-born son of our father, always disagreed with our father regarding any violence and always sent messages to our father, that he must change his ways and that no civilians should be attacked under any circumstances.  Despite the difficulty of publicly disagreeing with our father, he never hesitated to condemn any violent attacks made by anyone, and expressed sorrow for the victims of any and all attacks.  As he condemned our father, we now condemn the president of the United States for ordering the execution of unarmed men and women.
Failure to answer these questions will force us to go to International forum for justice such as International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice and UN must take notice of the violation of international law and assist us to have answers for which we are lawful in seeking them. A panel of eminent British and international lawyers is being constituted and a necessary action may be taken if no answers are furnished within 30 days of this statement.

---The New York Times---

Top UN official visits Myanmar

YANGON - A TOP aide to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has arrived in Myanmar on an official visit to meet members of the country's newly elected government and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The three-day visit by Vijay Nambiar is the first by a top UN diplomat since a nominally civilian government took over from the ruling junta in March.
Officials said Mr Nambiar was scheduled to meet high-ranking government officials on Wednesday in the remote capital of Naypyitaw.
He was expected to meet Suu Kyi on Thursday in Yangon. The Nobel laureate was released from house arrest after the elections, which her party boycotted.
Critics say Myanmar's election was a charade to ensure continued military domination. -- AP

Report: Asia fails to stop illegal bear bile trade

In this Oct. 2, 2010 photo released by TRAFFIC ... 

Asiatic Black Bear cub

In this Oct. 2, 2010 photo released by TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, an Asiatic Black Bear cub watches from its cage at a bear bile farm in Hanoi, Vietnam. Asian countries are failing to stem the illegal cross-border trade of bear bile amid robust demand for folk remedies harvested from the live animals, an anti-smuggling group said Wednesday, May 11, 2011.
(AP Photo/TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, M. Silverberg)
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Asian countries are failing to stem the illegal cross-border trade of bear bile amid growing demand for folk remedies harvested from the live animals, an anti-smuggling group said Wednesday.
The trafficking of bile-based traditional medicine is a key threat to the region's bears, especially Asiatic black bears whose numbers in the wild have declined to as few as 25,000 in recent years, partly because of poaching, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia said in a report.
Digestive juice drained from the gall bladders of live bears has been used for centuries across Asia to treat ailments ranging from sore throats and muscle aches to epilepsy and hemorrhoids.
"The demand for bile is one of the greatest drivers behind (the illegal bear parts) trade and must be reduced if bear conservation efforts are to succeed," said TRAFFIC official Kaitlyn-Elizabeth Foley.
Researchers found bile pills, powders and ointments in more than 50 percent of traditional medicine shops they visited in mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam over the past year, TRAFFIC's report said.
More than 30 percent of such businesses in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand also sold those products, it said. Other countries, such as Cambodia, Laos and Singapore, had stores selling them but to a lesser extent.
All the territories had a significant amount of bile products that the stores claimed originated from other countries, especially China, TRAFFIC said.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species forbids the cross-border trade of bear bile.
In other signs of smuggling, Hong Kong's shops sold bile pills believed to be from Japan, South Korea had products from Russian wild bears and Myanmar had whole bear gall bladders from Laos, the report said.
Bile products come from farms in various nations where thousands of captive bears are legally used for bile extraction. Those products are supposed to be sold only in the country of origin.
TRAFFIC urged Asian authorities to step up enforcement by shutting down medicine outlets that offer bear parts from other nations. It also called for strong penalties against people caught illegally collecting or transporting bear parts.
Over the years, wildlife activists have also voiced concerns that bile collection can cause agony and slow death for bears. Legal methods of bile extraction involve making a permanent hole in a bear's abdomen, but some farms are believed to use more painful measures such as illegally inserting metal catheters and rubber tubes into the bears.
Many farms also do not have captive breeding programs, raising fears that they rely on bears snatched from the wild.

Oil drilling to begin in Burma’s eco-sensitive Hukaung Valley

Tuesday, 10 May 2011 17:24 Thomas Maung Shwe (Mizzima)

(News Analysis) – Endangered tigers and local villagers are threatened by an oil-drilling venture due to start in a remote area of Burma’s northern Kachin State.

The Hukaung valley is home to rare tigers and other endangered species including leopards, Himalayan bears and elephants. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society
The Hukaung valley is home to rare tigers and other endangered species including leopards, Himalayan bears and elephants. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society
A Singapore-based joint venture firm Silver Wave Exploration & Production announced last week that it will soon begin drilling for oil on land that includes the ecologically sensitive Hukaung Valley in Kachin state.

Environmentalists and opposition activists worry Silver Wave’s exploitation of the 19,066-sq km block of land could wipe out endangered animals and kick people off their land.

The Hukaung valley, also spelt Hukawang, is home to rare tigers and other endangered species including leopards, Himalayan bears and elephants.

Activists have expressed concern that local villagers and farmers will be driven off their land and made homeless by Silver Wave’s operations.

In 2001, the Burmese military regime in collaboration with the American NGO Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) established the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve. Local residents were given no opportunity for input and many critics from Burma’s democratic opposition worried that the reserve was a bogus ploy by the military regime to get foreign funds.  The critics also charged that a key backer of the project WCS’s former director of science and exploration, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, was woefully naïve for working with the Burmese regime and praising the generals. 

Tigers in the wild are said to number a mere 3,000 worldwide, according to WCS.

In 2004, the reserve’s total area expanded to include the entire valley of 21,890 square kilometers, creating what was heralded as the largest tiger reserve in the world.  Since the reserve’s expansion, the Burmese regime has encouraged logging, gold mining, large scale farms and the building of factories inside what is supposed to be a tiger and nature reserve. 

According to a report in the Business Times of Singapore, Silver Wave Exploration & Production was formed recently as a joint venture between Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd, another Singaporean firm, BFI Holding Pte Ltd, and two firms from Japan, Star Field Corporation and Star Holding Corporation. 

A press release issued by BFI Holdings on April 18 stated that Silver Wave Exploration’s drilling programme in the Hukaung valley will begin this year and have a budget of US$ 100 million.  The press release also indicated that Silver Wave exploration ‘has acquired all licence rights for exploration and production oil-prospecting acquisitions at Block B (B 2)’ which Silver Wave energy had previously received from state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). 

The BFI press release said that Block B2 is located in the Hukaung Valley, although several previous MOGE reports including a detailed map made for an Asia Development Bank conference in 2008 placed B2 further south in an area of Northern Sagain Division called Zebyutaung-Nandaw (also spelt Zeebyutaung) in Pinlebu Township.  The 2008  MOGE report listed the Hukaung block as PSC-A.  The reason for the discrepancy remains unclear.

The red star marks the area of the Hukaung Valley wildlife reserve.
The red star marks the area of the Hukaung Valley wildlife reserve.
Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd while based in Singapore is owned by Burmese businessman Min Min Aung (also known as Minn Minn Oung) and is part of his Silver Wave Trading group, a conglomerate known for having close ties to Burma’s generals.

Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd has been active in both offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration in Burma since at least 2006.  Min Min Aung previously joined forces with government officials from the Russian republic of Kalmykia to form Silver Wave Sputnik Petroleum Pte incorporated in Singapore.

Burmese state media reported in March 2007 that Silver Wave Sputnik and Silver Wave Energy signed an agreement with state-owned MOGE to explore for oil in the Hukaung Valley. Boris Chedyrov, the Kalmykia Republic’s  Minister for Energy, attended a March 2007 ceremony with Min Min Aung and Burmese government officials. 

In September 2008, The New Light of Myanmar reported that MOGE had signed a deal with Russian firm Nobel Oil of the Russian Federation to allow for oil and gas exploration in the Hukaung and U-ru regions. It appears that Nobel Oil let their licenses for these areas expire without renewing them. 

Junta land grab in Hukaung Valley makes thousands homeless

According to a report produced by the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) in August of last year, since 2006 the Yuzana Corporation has with the support of central government authorities expropriated more than 809 square km (200,000 acres) of land in the Hukaung valley from local Kachin villagers.

KDNG reports that hundreds of families have been displaced by Yuzana’s land acquisition. As with many other such state approved land grabs in Burma, the displaced families were not adequately compensated and many were forced to say they were moved ‘willingly’.

Yuzana has planted large plantations of cassava root and sugar cane on the contested land.  Instead of hiring local people for the massive plantation farms, Yuzana has imported workers belonging to the Burman majority from the south of the country. 

Reports from the area indicate that the Yuzana’s operations have created intense resentment among the remaining Kachin residents of the Hukaung Valley. The Burmese military is reportedly giving the Yuzana employees military training to deal with unhappy local residents. Yuzana is headed by Htay Myint, a real estate tycoon said to be close to Burma’s generals. 

Water transport protocol with Myanmar soon

Bss, Dhaka

The government is to sign an Inland Water Transport Protocol (IWTP) agreement with Myanmar to increase connectivity aimed at boosting Dhaka-Yangon trade, a source in the Ministry of Shipping said yesterday.

“We are now at the final stage of signing a river transport protocol agreement with Myanmar. This will be Bangladesh's second river protocol agreement after India,” said M Alauddin, joint secretary of the ministry.

Waterway is a low cost transport mode compared to other ones as Tk 4.50 is required for per kilometre transport cost by road while it costs only Tk 0.98 for waterway, according to a World Bank (WB) report titled 'Revival of Inland Water Transport: Option and Strategies'.

Alauddin said 25 non-conventional Bangladeshi ships will be able to transport goods through the Myanmar rivers under the planned agreement while the same number of Myanmar ships would be plying the Bangladesh rivers.

The government has already formed a joint shipping committee with 11 members each from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The committee would have representatives from the Ministries of Commerce, Home and Shipping, National Board of Revenue (NBR), Bangladesh Cargo Owners' Association (BCOA), Bangladesh Coastal Ships Association (BCSA) and private bodies, said Alauddin, also convener of the committee.

The committee will visit Myanmar on May 17 to conduct a physical survey to identify suitable ports where Bangladeshi ships to be anchored, he said, adding that a Myanmar delegation would also visit Bangladesh later.

The official said Bangladeshi ships would transport various goods mainly cement and medicines while ships from Myanmar would carry rice and wood. The protocol may be three-year term, he added.

Alauddin said Dhaka-Yangon proposed such a river transport protocol in 2002.

Bangladesh has the Inland Water Transport Protocol signed in 1972 which is being renewed every two years under the article-8 of Bangladesh-India trade treaty.

Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni at the 13th Bangladesh India Myanmar Sri Lanka Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMST- EC) ministerial meeting underlined the importance of direct road, waterways and railway links between the two neighbouring countries.

The bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Myanmar has been taking place under the General Trade Agreement and Border Trade Agreement, signed in 1973 and 1994 respectively.

Dhaka exported goods and commodities worth US$ 9.17 million to Yangon in 2008-09, while its import during the period was US $66.65 million, according to Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).

--- The Daily Star ---

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Likely Malay plan refugees are Christian Burmese, and already assess

Rowan Callick From: The Australian May 10, 2011

THE 4000 refugees likely to come to Australia under the Malaysian solution are mainly Christians.
There are 93,000 asylum-seekers and proven refugees in Malaysia, most of them living in the Klang Valley in and around the capital Kuala Lumpur.
They are not being held in camps, but are living in poor, largely rented, accommodation "in the community" while they await either assessment by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or, if already assessed as refugees, await placement in another country.
The UNHCR is helping them with training, and to get work, so that they can look after themselves as far as possible. They are free within Malaysia's borders, but mostly lack travel documents to go beyond.
Malaysia's high commissioner to Canberra, Salman Ahmad, said on Sunday that although his country was not a signatory to the UN refugee convention refugees in Malaysia were treated with respect and dignity. He said that while the 800 asylum-seekers to be sent from Australia under the plan would not be placed in detention they would be contactable and monitored by authorities.

Small numbers of asylum-seekers or refugees in Malaysia have come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka, almost all by plane.
But 92 per cent of them are from Burma. Most of these people have come overland through Thailand with the assistance of people-smugglers.
About 73,000 of them have already been assessed by the UNHCR as refugees, and are awaiting resettlement in third countries, with the alternatives being to return voluntarily to a Burma now run by a civilian government or to become "locally integrated" -- a less likely outcome.
They have escaped Burma for a range of reasons, including constant warfare between the army and hill tribes, and the persecution of regime opponents. They come from many areas of Burmese society, however, the biggest groups represented are Christian Chin (about 36,000), Muslim Rohingya (20,400), Burmese Muslims (9400), Mon (3900) and Kachin (3400).
Amnesty International Australia's refugee spokesman Graham Thom said yesterday that though they lived in the community they had no legal status so were frequently rounded up as part of regular clampdowns on the two million illegal foreign workers believed to be in Malaysia, alongside the two million legally in the country.
That was how asylum-seekers came to be in detention centres, where conditions had been condemned by Amnesty.
"Refugees are copping it every day. Once they are arrested, their documents are often disregarded or destroyed, and they are charged with being illegal and are caned," Mr Thom said.
"Refugee families live in fear that their children may go to the shops and not come back" -- and it was hard for the already stretched UNHCR to find them.

Chiang Rai shaken by Burma quake

Residents of Mae Sai district in the northern province of Chiang Rai were early this morning shaken by a 4.6 magnitude earthquake with the epicentre reported in nearby Burma.
People living on the third and fourth floor of buildings in the district felt three separate tremors,  starting about 4.16am, said Boontham Thipprasong, president of the Mae Sai district Chamber of Commerce.
The recent repeated earthquakes centred in Burma were worrying local residents, he said.
Adisorn Fungkahchorn, head of the earthquake section of the Meteorological Department’s northern centre, said  the epicentre of the latest quake in Burma was only about 45km distant from Mae Sai.
Other nearby districts in the province might also have experienced the quake, he said.

---Bangkok Post---

Jordan’s king to meet with Obama and Britain’s PM Cameron for talks on Mideast turmoil

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s royal palace says King Abdullah II will hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama next Tuesday in Washington.
A statement says the talks at the White House will focus on the uprisings that have engulfed the Mideast. His visit to Washington will be preceded by a meeting in London this Thursday with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Tuesday’s statement said the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli talks will also figure high in Abdullah’s discussions.
Abdullah has faced protests demanding that he loosen his absolute control over the kingdom. However, they have not demanded his removal.

US Paper 'Sorry' Over Bin Laden Raid Photo

A US newspaper has apologised for doctoring a photograph of senior White House staff watching the Osama bin Laden mission by editing out the women in the room, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Der Zeitung newspaper (R)
The women in the room were edited out of the photograph

The original photo, showing Mrs Clinton and President Barack Obama in the Situation Room, has made the front pages of newspapers throughout the world.
The New York-based Yiddish newspaper Der Tzitung explained in a statement it has a long-standing editorial policy to never publish photographs of women, which it says is in keeping with the "laws of modesty" of its Orthodox Jewish readership.
"The readership of the Tzitung believe that women should be appreciated for who they are and what they do, not for what they look like, and the Jewish laws of modesty are an expression of respect for women, not the opposite," the statement said.
The picture, taken by a White House photographer on May 1, shows the US president and his national security team seemingly transfixed as they watch the mission to kill the al Qaeda leader.
We should not have published the altered picture, and we have conveyed our regrets and apologies to the White House and to the State Department
Apology by the editor of Yiddish newspaper Der Tzitung
Mrs Clinton is seen in the foreground, seated, with one hand clasped to her mouth.
But in Der Tzitung's version, there is no trace of her - she is replaced by the digitally reconstituted left shoulder of deputy national security advisor Denis McDonough, whom she had obscured in the original photo.
Audrey Tomason, the director for counterterrorism and the only other woman in the picture, was also removed from the image.
The White House distributed the photograph with the standard proviso that it not be "manipulated in any way."
Der Tzitung, which means "The Newspaper" in Yiddish, said its photo editor, "in his haste", did not read the proviso.
"The guy got carried away in the euphoria of the victory and he wanted to show what he could do in Photoshop," the paper's editor Albert Friedman said.
President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the national security team receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House May 1, 2011.
The situation room was full of people during the raid
Mrs Clinton was, however, mentioned prominently in the text of the story.
"In retrospect, we apologise for any misunderstanding that this might have caused," the paper's statement said.
"We should not have published the altered picture, and we have conveyed our regrets and apologies to the White House and to the State Department."
The newspaper added that it respected Mrs Clinton for her "unique capabilities, talents and compassion for all" and that she had served public office with "great distinction."

read more: Sky News

NATO jets pound Tripoli as fighting intensifies

Migrants arrive on the tiny island of Lampedusa, Italy, Sunday, May 8, 2011. Italian police and coast guard officials rescued some 400 illegal migrants coming from Libya whose boat was tossed against rocks near port in southern Italy after the steering malfunctioned, officials said. (AP Photo/Francesco Malavolta)

TRIPOLI, Libya - NATO warplanes struck Tripoli early Tuesday in the heaviest bombing of the Libyan capital in weeks, hours after an uptick in fighting between rebels and Muammar Qaddafi's forces on a long deadlocked front line in the country's east.
NATO struck at least four sites in Tripoli, setting off crackling explosions that thundered through the city overnight. One strike hit a building that local residents said was used by a military intelligence agency. Another targeted a government building that officials said was sometimes used by parliament members.
Complete coverage: Anger in the Arab World
It was not immediately clear what the other two strikes hit, but one of them sent plumes of smoke over Tripoli. Libyan officials would not say what that strike hit but the smoke appeared to come from the sprawling compound housing members of Qaddafi's family.
Between explosions, an aircraft dropped burning flares. Some residents responded by raking the sky with gunfire and beeping their horns.
The Tripoli bombing came just hours after heavy fighting was reported Monday on the eastern front, south of Ajdabiya, a rebel-held town about 90 miles south of Benghazi, the rebel headquarters in the east.
Libyan woman who claimed rape escapes Tunisia
Hundreds of rebels gathered at a checkpoint outside Ajdabiya on Monday afternoon, when an AP photographer counted about 100 pickup trucks coming back from the front, each carrying four or five fighters and some with mounted submachine guns.
The rebels, firing their weapons into the air as they shouted and danced, said they had been told that NATO was going to launch air strikes on Qaddafi's forces and they had been ordered to withdraw temporarily from the front.
No overall casualty figures were available. Two ambulances came to the local hospital, and doctors said they carried the bodies of four rebels.
U.N.: Ship with 600 reported sunk off Libya
The cobbled-together rebel army — comprised of some deserters from Qaddafi's forces and many civilians — has been bogged down for weeks in the area around Ajdabiya, unable to move on to the oil town of Brega. The rebels say their weapons cannot reach more than about 12 miles while Qaddafi's forces can fire rockets and shells up to twice that distance. Brega has an oil terminal and Libya's second-largest hydrocarbon complex.
Rebel pleas for heavier arms from abroad have not met any response, although NATO is carrying out air strikes on regime forces as many countries intensify their call for Qaddafi — Libya's autocratic ruler for 42 years — to leave power.
Shortages choke Tripoli as sanctions take hold
The rebels now control most of eastern Libya, and Qaddafi most of the west, including the capital, Tripoli. Exceptions in the west include pockets of embattled rebel-held towns along the border with Tunisia, and Misrata on the coast.
Also Monday, Qaddafi's forces shelled a northern Misrata neighborhood where many families from the besieged city center have fled to, said Abdel Salam, who identified himself as a resident-turned-fighter. He said NATO air strikes hit targets on the city's southern edges, one of the areas where government forces have been concentrated after rebels pushed them back.
The fighting was threatening the port area, the city's only lifeline, preventing some aid ships from docking, Abdel Salam said. A ship carrying medical supplies and baby food was able to dock in Misrata on Monday, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
It was the first ship to arrive since Wednesday, when Qaddafi's forces fired a barrage of rockets into the port as the International Organization of Migration was evacuating nearly 1,000 people, mainly African migrant workers.
On Saturday, a rocket attack set the city's main fuel depot ablaze, destroying the main supply for vehicles, ships and generators powering hospitals and other key sites in a city darkened by electricity cuts.
The ICRC said it would use the chartered ship as a floating platform as its team works to reduce the danger of unexploded weapons on the streets of Misrata, visit prisoners detained by the rebels and help reunite families that lost contact when the city center was bombed.
The ship brought in 8,000 jars of baby food as well as urgently needed surgical instruments and medical dressings.
The ship docked safely though Qaddafi's forces were seen dropping mines into the port on Saturday from a white helicopter painted with a red cross, according to rebel spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga and Misrata residents.
The ICRC said it was concerned by those allegations of "a serious misuse of the emblem" designated by the Geneva Conventions to be used solely by people providing medical or other humanitarian aid.
A civilian spokesman for the rebels in Misrata, lawyer Abdulbaset Abumzirig, said Sunday that 30 to 40 people are injured daily and 10 to 15 are being killed by the bombardment. The city has been under siege for two months, and local doctors say the total death toll is more than 1,000.
In Tripoli, government escorts did not allow reporters to come near the site of one building that was hit in the NATO air attack early Tuesday. Local residents said the several-story building, which had buckled from the bombing, was used by a military intelligence agency.
Reporters were shown damage done to a nearby hospital where some windows were smashed and some ceiling vents fell to the ground. A hospital physician, Dr. Mustafa Rahim, said one child was badly injured but would not allow reporters to see him, saying the four-year-old boy was in intensive care.
Another strike targeted a building that two employees said was used by parliament members and housed a library for research into Qaddafi's writings. It was the second time the building had been targeted in the past week, they said.
A hole was punched into what appeared to be its basement and thick blocks of concrete were reduced to dusty rubble.
The handsome pastel-colored building was built by Italians when they ruled Libya in the 1920s. The building, which once served as Italy's naval headquarters, was considered an iconic Tripoli site.
It was not immediately clear what the other strikes targeted. Reporters may not leave their Tripoli hotel without government escorts.
Meanwhile, the U.N. humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, asked all sides in the fighting for a pause in hostilities to allow food, water, medical supplies and other aid to be delivered to needy populations.
She told the Security Council the pause would also allow humanitarian workers to evacuate people from other countries who still remain in Libya and would give civilians a respite.

Abhisit gives hope to stateless Thais


Abhisit gives hope to stateless Thais thumbnail
Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva speaks to reporters outside the ASEAN summit in Jakarta (Reuters)
Thousands of Thai nationals who for more than a century lived a quasi-legal existence in Burma’s border regions could be officially recognised as Thai citizens, following a recent cabinet meeting of the Abhisit administration.
The ‘stateless’ Thais in question refer to the thousands who ended up on the Burmese side of the border following the joint Thai-British demarcation in 1868. The agreement saw an area running from northern Karenni state in Burma to the southern tip of Tenasserim division, opposite Thailand’s Ranong, designated as British territory.
Although recognised by neither Burma nor Thailand, many began crossing over to Thailand several decades ago. Some were granted hill-tribe residency permits by the Thai government, while around 30,000 now live in Ranong. Some 10,000 are thought to still be in Burma.
The recent meeting voted unanimously to award them full Thai citizenship, but according to Daruni Paisalpanitkul of the Stateless Watch for Research and Development Institute of Thailand (SWIT), this may never be realised, with parliament set to be dissolved and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva likely to leave office in July.
Surapong Kongjantuek, a stateless persons advocate at the Lawyers Council of Thailand, added that it would be up to the new government to reignite the proposal.
A resident in Kawthaung, the southernmost town in Burma, which lies opposite Ranong, told DVB that what people generally referred to as the town’s Shan population were in fact Thai.
“There has been a population of Thais living here for generations – they make up about 30 percent of the population in Kawthaung,” he said.
Burma became a province of British India in 1885, at a time when the British empire was carving up much of the Southern and East Asia region. Although surrounded by British-owned Malay and Burma, Thailand remained independent.
Attempts at citizenship verification for the stateless Thais have been going on for years, with the Committee to amend the Thailand Citizenship Act formed to act on behalf of those displaced by the colonial demarcation.
 ---Bangkok Post---

Top UN official to visit Burma

Top UN envoy, Vijay Nambiar (pictured), will visit Myanmar this week for the first time since the dissolution of the junta and the appointment of a nominally civilian government, an official said Tuesday.

A top UN envoy will visit Burma this week for the first time since the dissolution of the junta and the appointment of a nominally civilian government, an official said Tuesday.

Vijay Nambiar, the chief of staff to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was expected to meet government figures and opposition figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
He met Suu Kyi shortly after her release from house arrest on a visit in November, during which he also urged the government to address concerns over the election earlier that month, which was widely dismissed as a sham.
"Mr Nambiar will come to Burma this week. He's likely to meet with government officials and the opposition as well as with political parties," the Burma official told AFP, declining to be named.
Official sources in Naypyidaw said new President Thein Sein was not scheduled to meet with Nambiar, but foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin would meet him on Wednesday in the capital.
The envoy was set to meet some political parties in Rangoon on Friday, including the National Democratic Force (NDF), a breakaway party from the NLD.
"Our party chairman Dr Than Nyein will go there. We have no idea yet what we have to discuss," said Khin Maung Swe, an NDF leader.
Burma's junta, the State Peace and Development Council, was disbanded at the end of March following the November polls, which were marred by the absence of Suu Kyi and complaints of cheating and intimidation.
The NLD won the previous vote in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.

---Bangkok Post---

Coal transport plan scrapped

CHIANG RAI : A lignite mining company has scrapped a plan to transport 5,200 tonnes of coal daily from Burma through Mae Fa Luang and Mae Chan districts after fierce local protests.
Saraburi Coal Co representative Pakon Ruamthong told authorities of the decision in a meeting yesterday.
The company tried in vain for two years to convince residents to allow the transportation of the imported coal.
The company planned to use up to 200 six and 10-wheel trucks a day to take lignite from the Mong Kok mine in the eastern Shan State via Ban Mong Kao Lang in Mae Fa Luang and use tambon Pa Sang in Mae Chan as a transit point.
The lignite was to be supplied to cement producing plants in Saraburi.
Protesters, including former beauty queen Preeyanuch Parnpradub, who has a house in Pa Sang, were worried the lignite would pollute the air and water enroute.
The company, an affiliate of Italthai Public Co, had proposed covering the coal in the trucks with canvas and limiting the trucks' speed to 25 kilometres per hour as they pass through communities.
Mr Pakon said the firm will now ask Burmese authorities to allow the lignite to be transported via the town of Tachilek, opposite Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai, instead.

--- Bangkok Post ---

Myanmar president's Indonesia visit further strengthens bilateral relations

May 10, 2011

The state visit of Myanmar President U Thein Sein to Indonesia, which ended on Monday, has further strengthened the two countries' bilateral friendship and cooperation, observers said here on Tuesday.

During his visit, Thein Sein had comprehensive discussions with his Indonesian counterpart Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on strengthening and promotion of existing bilateral friendship and cooperation, close relations with member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and active participation in international and regional organizations including the United Nations, continued participation in world affairs based on the five principles of peaceful existence and continued cooperation in various sectors as trade partners in pursuit of Myanmar's economic development.

The two countries' delegations, respectively led by Thein Sein and Susilo, also held talks separately with other Indonesia officials.

Indonesian president Susilo underlined Thein Sein's visit as paving the way for creating opportunities to strengthen bilateral relations and boost bilateral cooperation.

He suggested to promote exchange of visits at all levels as part of efforts for maintaining bilateral friendship, expressing Indonesia's firm support for Myanmar's democratization process as part of efforts for political and security cooperation.

Hailing Myanmar's efforts for national unity and perpetuation of national sovereignty, he said that the two countries has aimed a trade volume of 500 million U.S. dollars, anticipating to invest in development projects in Myanmar which he described as having possessed economic prospects.

He also expressed welcome of Thein Sein's suggestion and idea as well as national reconsolidation efforts.

He invited Myanmar to take part in an ASEAN exhibition to promote ASEAN community relations, the proposal of which will be submitted to ASEAN Summit in Bali scheduled for in November.

At the bilateral talks, Myanmar president U Thein Sein expressed Myanmar's belief that the relations and cooperation between the two countries would contribute not only to bilateral interest but also regional peace and development.

He cited January 2011 economic data as saying that the amount of investment of 12 Indonesian companies have made Indonesia take the 10th position among foreign investors in Myanmar, appealing for promotion of both state and private sectors' investment in the country.

He also urged boosting of cooperation in the tourism sector, saying that both countries have historic cultural heritage, beautiful scenery and beaches, adding that plans are underway to launch Yangon-Singapore-Jakarta flights which will be finalized at the second meeting of the joint commission for bilateral cooperation to be held in Myanmar at this year-end.

Noting system change in Myanmar, he invited Indonesian investment in Myanmar's various sectors such as agriculture, mining and oil and gas.

Thein Sein's state visit to Indonesia represented his first overseas trip in a month after he became the president on March 30.

Indonesia is Myanmar's fourth largest trading partner among ASEAN members after Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, having a bilateral trade with Myanmar standing 173.68 million U.S. dollars in the fiscal year of 2009-10. Indonesia's exports to Myanmar amounted to 136.76 million dollars, while its imports from Myanmar valued at 36.92 million dollars, according to Myanmar official statistics.

Meanwhile, Indonesia's investment in Myanmar has so far reached over 241.49 million dollars since late 1988 when Myanmar opened to such investment, standing the 10th among Myanmar's foreign investors.

During his visit in Indonesia, Thein Sein also attended the 18th ASEAN Summit in the weekend.

Source: Xinhua

Laos to Ask Ch. Karnchang to Finance Mekong River Hydropower Dam Review

Bloomberg Markets Magazine
Laos will ask Bangkok-based Ch. Karnchang Pcl to pay for a review of a $3.8 billion hydropower dam on the Mekong River after downstream countries called for a delay to further study environmental concerns.
The Thai-financed Xayaburi hydropower plant is the first of about 10 dams the government plans to build on the mainstream Mekong, which runs from China’s Tibetan plateau through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Laos agreed last month to delay the dam temporarily.
“We are just discussing the process and then requesting the developer to finance the additional review,” Daovong Phonekeo, deputy director general of Laos’s Department of Electricity, said by phone today from Vientiane, the capital. “We are delaying the project, but not permanently,” he said.
Laos wants the study to counter criticism from Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand that the project may disrupt fish catches and rice production downstream. Ch. Karnchang’s shares fell 2.4 percent to 8.05 baht as of the lunch break, set for its lowest close since March 21.
The cost of the review “depends on how many experts we have to hire” and should take “something like” six to 12 months to complete, Daovong said. Vietnam recommended last month that all planned hydropower projects on the Mekong be delayed for a decade.
“It will not take 10 years” to complete the study, Daovong said.

No Request

Ch. Karnchang, Thailand’s third-biggest construction company by market value, owns a 57 percent stake in the 115 billion baht ($3.8 billion) project. The company hasn’t received a request from Laos to finance the review, Supamas Trivisvavet, an executive vice president, said by phone today.
“At this moment, we haven’t heard,” she said. “But I think it’s the Laos government acquiring the independent consultant to do the review.”
The Mekong and its tributaries provide food, water and transportation to about 60 million people in those four countries. A technical review last month by the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission found that the dam may lead to the extinction of species like the Mekong giant catfish.
“Gaps in knowledge” mean the full extent of the downstream impact on fisheries is hard to estimate, it said.
Laos wants its own study to verify the findings of the commission’s work, which served as the basis for riparian countries to object to the dam, Daovong said.

Thai Demand

Thailand agreed in December to buy 95 percent of the electricity from the plant, which will have a capacity of 1,285 megawatts. PTT Pcl (PTT), Thailand’s biggest energy company, has a 25 percent stake in the project, while Bangkok-based Electricity Generating Pcl (EGCO) owns 12.5 percent, according to company filings.
China has already built four hydropower dams on the Mekong, completing the first one in 1993 without consulting its downstream neighbors. It plans to build four more as part of efforts to almost double its hydropower capacity to at least 300 gigawatts by 2020.
Southeast Asia’s smallest economy aims to use its resources to boost incomes for its 6 million citizens who comprise Asia’s youngest population. Hydropower and mining projects are set to underpin gross domestic product growth that may reach 7.7 percent this year, the Asian Development Bank said in an April 7 report.

UN special envoy to visit Myanmar

Yangon - United Nations special envoy to Myanmar Vijay Nambiar is to visit the country this week, a government official said Tuesday.
'Nambiar will visit here on Thursday,' an official who requested anonymity told the German Press Agency dpa. 'He will stay in Myanmar for three or four days and is scheduled to meet both government and opposition figures.'
Nambiar is expected to meet Myanmar's new president, Thein Sein, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to the official.
It would be Nambiar's first meeting with Suu Kyi, who was only released from six years of house detention on November 13. She has spent about 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest.
The UN special envoy last visited Myanmar five months ago, following the November 7 general election which brought the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party to power.
The polls were generally slammed by Western democracies as a sham, since they excluded democracy heroine Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. An election in 1990 was won by the NLD but they were blocked from assuming power by the ruling junta.
The NLD boycotted the November polls after the military passed regulations that would have forced them to drop Suu Kyi from their party in order to contest the elections.

Burma’s New President Is No Moderate

by David Scott Mathieson

May 9, 2011

The Asean summit that starts on Saturday is a debut for Burma's new President Thein Sein and the now ostensibly civilian, but still tightly military-controlled government formed on March 30.
Since the elections of Nov. 2010 and the release of dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, many governments in Asia and the West have intensified their search for moderates in Burma's new military-parliamentary complex, in order to increase engagement with the government. Thein Sein's inaugural speech is being lauded as a blueprint for a new moderate government, with his emphasis on tackling corruption, promoting the role of the media, and emphasizing health and education. But these are just words; there has been no discernible improvement in the human rights situation of Burma at all since the elections, no release of political prisoners, no letup in fighting in ethnic conflict zones or granting basic freedoms to Burma's 59 million citizens.
It is thus disquieting to hear many informed observers on Burma refer to Thein Sein as "Mr Clean." Without questioning the commentators' standards of hygiene, it is safe to say that the former Lt. Gen. Thein Sein is actually a ruthless loyalist with a well-established past in command positions during some of Burma's darker and most corrupt periods.
It is a matter of public record that Thein Sein was the commander of the Triangle Region Military Command from 1997 to 2001. This is the area infamously known as the Golden Triangle, long a redoubt of drug lords and warring ethnic and Communist armies. During his tenure, there was a decline in opium and heroin production in his area of operations, but there are two main reasons for this - neither necessarily due to a firm commitment to drug eradication.
First, Afghanistan heroin production was booming at the end of the 1990s, so Burmese syndicates such as the massive United Wa State Army couldn't compete on global markets because of the more labor-intensive production of opium in Burma, and overwhelming new supply. Second, the main drug producers were actually branching into massive methamphetamine production, which was proving easier to manufacture, supply, and sell. The UWSA's central narco-financier, Wei Hsueh-kang, has been under indictment by the United States since 1998, with a $2 million price tag on his head (eight other senior leaders were indicted in 2005).
Neighboring Thailand paid the highest price for the surge in meth exports, which was the main catalyst for then-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's murderous domestic "war on drugs" in 2003. The new town of Mong Yawn close to the Thai border was the lynchpin in the UWSA's strategy to increase drug supply into Thailand. To help Mong Yawn grow, the UWSA forcibly relocated nearly 100,000 civilians from northern Shan State from 1999 to 2001, ostensibly to break their dependence on opium cultivation. As the Lahu National Development Organization (an ethnic community development NGO from Burma), and numerous Western and Thai journalists who covered the operation reported, in this draconian transmigration hundreds are suspected to have died from abuses and disease, including an anthrax outbreak. I lived in this area in 2003, with ethnic Shan, Lahu and Akha refugees, who could see their seized land on the other side of the valley, occupied by relocated ethnic Wa, guarded by UWSA and Burmese army camps. Thein Sein's headquarters in the town of Kengtung was right in the middle of this nearly year-long relocation.
What Thein Sein's specific role was in the Mong Yawn project is not known, but he could not have been unaware of it, nor could he have been unwitting to the explosion of drug money in his area of operations. At the time, senior Thai army commanders claimed that Thein Sein not only knew the drug plants were there, but was actively protecting them: then Third Army Commander Lt. Gen. Wattanachai Chaimuenwong and Thai army commander Gen. Surayud Chulanont raised this fact on a regular basis, during frequent border skirmishes between Burmese and Thai forces during this period due to massive drug smuggling being protected by units within Thein Sein's command area. According to Bertil Lintner, a noted expert on the regional drug trade, and numerous academics and researchers on Burma's military such as Mary Callahan, Burma's regional commanders have long been suspected to be sitting on top of a corrupt patronage system that maintains order through regulating rackets and illicit trade, not interdicting them.
Thein Sein's recent past suggests no grounds for optimism either. Following his stint in the Golden Triangle, Thein Sein was the military adjutant general and then secretary no. 1 of the ruling State Peace and Development Council. He has since been a senior member of the regime, including serving as prime minister when scores of protesters were killed on the streets of Rangoon in a peaceful uprising in September 2007. He was in charge of the government when Western relief agencies were denied access to Burma following the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Instead of giving priority to aid for the sick and injured, the government focused on its sham constitutional referendum that is the blueprint for continued authoritarian rule. Perhaps most disturbing, since he became prime minister in 2007, the number of political prisoners doubled to more than 2,200.
The search for "pragmatists over hard-liners" within the ruling elite has been a central fault-line in the speculative trade of Burmese political analysis for years. Many Western journalists, academics, aid workers and diplomats believed former Prime Minister and military intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt was the pragmatic player who was negotiating between his intelligence faction, Suu Kyi and the West to broker a deal for democratic reforms. This apocryphal glasnost was ruptured in October 2004 when Khin Nyunt and his intelligence clique, more than 800 officers, were rounded up by the so-called hard-liners. Most are in prison or under house arrest.
It remains unclear why Khin Nyunt was considered to be a moderate given his long years of ruthless repression of the opposition, widespread use of torture against dissidents and lucrative cease-fire deals with drug lords. Perhaps it was because he would talk about possible reform with outsiders, yet his vision was of a Burma no longer ostracized by the rest of the world, not a free and democratic country. The Burmese academic Kyaw Yin Hlaing in a recent article disputed the view of Khin Nyuint as a clandestine liberal: "He was only liberal to the extent that being liberal served his interest."
Since the November 2010 elections, most Asian and some Western countries have adopted a "glass half-full" view of Burma, seeing the release of Suu Kyi as a key concession and searching for avenues of enhanced interaction. Pragmatic policy makers may well subscribe to this Ouija-board political analysis, but in the absence of hard evidence of the new government's sincerity to engage in reforms, including improving the rights situation, they should also take a glance at the ruthless past of these fledgling faux-democrats.
Admitting that many of Burma's power-holders have a brutal past does not suggest that the rest of the world doesn't have to deal with them: Asean and its dialogue partners must increase engagement on a number of fronts. However, engagement is best approached with some basic principles in hand and a clear view of whom you are dealing with, not who you would like them to be.
David Scott Mathieson is a senior researcher in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Australia rejects criticism of asylum seeker plan

Australia rejects criticism of asylum seeker ... 

Asylum seekers staging protest

File photo shows asylum seekers staging a protest at Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney. Australia has rejected criticism of its plan to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia for processing, insisting it is not a return to a disputed policy of banishing boat people to poor Pacific nations.
(AFP/File/Greg Wood)
SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia on Monday rejected criticism of its plan to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia for processing, insisting it was not a return to a disputed policy of banishing boat people to poor neighbours.
It also cited the fact that it was taking in 4,000 refugees in exchange as evidence that the deal announced on Saturday would deter asylum seekers as part of a plan it hopes will lead to a regional solution to people smuggling.
But the arrangement was slammed by human rights groups who drew comparisons with the "Pacific Solution" of Australia's previous right-wing government, under which boat people were sent to Pacific island detention centres.
"I don't think it looks anything like that at all," Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan told reporters in Canberra.
He insisted the plan was a regional solution under the Bali framework on tackling people smuggling and would involve the UN refugee agency, which was not involved in former prime minister John Howard's Pacific Solution.
"Nothing would contrast more than that with the previous approach of the previous government," Swan said as the government defended its decision.
Rights groups say Malaysia, which has not ratified the United Nations Refugee Convention, has a poor record in its treatment of asylum seekers.
The plan has been compared in the media with the Pacific Solution, which was branded as "inhumane" by human rights groups before it was repealed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard's centre-left Labor Party in 2007.
Under that policy, asylum seekers were transferred to detention centres on the tiny state of Nauru and Manus island in Papua New Guinea, which Gillard's government is now in talks with over reviving its detention centre.
The 4,000 people who will move to Australia from Malaysia, many of whom have reportedly fled military-run Myanmar, have been deemed to be refugees by the United Nations for resettlement.
"Malaysia has very clearly indicated that asylum seekers will be treated with dignity and respect," Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told ABC Radio on Monday.
"If people think that the situation for asylum seekers in Malaysia is difficult, they should endorse the fact that Australia is taking 4,000."
Lawyers for Liberty, a Malaysia-based rights and law reform group, also urged Canberra to abandon the deal, saying it was shocked Australia planned to "outsource" its international duty to refugees.
"Malaysia has a horrendous track record -- infamous for its ill and brutal treatment of refugees and other undocumented migrants and has been consistently ranked as one of the world's worst place for refugees to be in," it said.
The group said that refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia were treated as undocumented migrants and subjected to harsh laws and policies and often lived in poverty.
An armada of asylum seeker boats arriving on the Australian coast from Asia in recent years has become a sensitive political issue for Gillard's government, which has been accused of not doing enough to deter them.

The True Spirit of Jihad

by Sarah Ahmad

"The believers are those only who believe in Allah and His Messenger, then they doubt not, and struggle hard with their wealth and their lives in the way of Allah. Such are the truthful ones" (49:15).
Jihad is an Islamic institution that is widely misunderstood. The non-Muslims fearfully regard it as an Islamic practice that aims to wage 'Holy War' against all disbelievers, to convert them to Islam or to kill them. To the common western mind, the word 'Jihad' is synonymous with 'terrorism' and Islam is a 'militant' religion. One of the allegations against the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement is that he abrogated the doctrine of jihad. In my speech, I will attempt to present the real meaning of jihad in Islam, as taught by the Holy Quran and practiced by the Holy Prophet Muhammad and his Companions, and revived in this age by the Promised Messiah.
The word 'jihad' is derived from the root 'jahd' or 'juhd' whose meaning is given by Imam Raghib as ability, exertion or power and 'jihad' and 'mujahida' mean the exerting of one's power in repelling the enemy. He then goes on to say:

"Jihad is of three kinds; viz., the carrying out of a struggle against : 1. a visible enemy, 2. the devil, 3. one's self (nafs)."
Thus, in a broader sense, jihad means striving to the utmost extent of one's ability and power by exerting oneself spiritually in the way of Allah and doing one's best to preach the message of Islam to others. This is the jihad that a Muslim can carry out for Islam throughout his life. When used in the narrower sense of fighting against a visible enemy, jihad means fighting only in self-defense, when the initiative of attack is taken by the other party.
Let us consider the sense in which the word is used in the Quran. Verse 69 of Chapter 29 (The Spider), which is an early Makkan revelation, reads as follows:

"And those who strive hard (the word used is jahadu) for Us, We shall certainly guide them in our ways, and Allah is surely with the doers of good."
A similar injunction occurs in 22:78 :
"And strive hard for Allah with due striving".
The jihad referred to here is clearly jihad bil nafs -- the spiritual exertion to curb one's lower desires and evil inclinations and to try to increase in the doing of good in order to attain nearness to Allah. I believe this form of jihad against one's own self is perhaps the most difficult of all. It would have been easy enough if jihad had only meant the defence of Islam by fighting against an enemy bent upon the extermination of the Muslims when the occasion so demanded; but to be constantly engaged in fighting against one's inner demons, to guard against all sorts of temptations and greed and never to allow oneself to weaken for a moment lest one be overcome is by far more arduous a struggle. Yet when a believer sincerely tries to purify his soul and asks help from his Creator, he finds Him nigh and God guides him in his efforts.
Let us now take a look at the Quranic injunction of jihad-bil-saif or jihad with the sword, which is the most commonly understood meaning of jihad. Consider the circumstances under which the first permission to fight is given to the faithful. The Muslims had patiently borne the most ruthless persecution at the hands of the Quraish for thirteen years in Makkah. The flight to Madinah, however, had further fanned the fire of the wrath of the Quraish since the Muslims were now out of their reach. With individual persecution no longer possible, they now planned the extinction of the Muslims as a nation. They would either annihilate the Muslims or compel them to return to unbelief. In these circumstances came the earliest permission to fight, in verses 39 and 40 of chapter 22, which read:

"Permission (to fight) is given to those on whom war is made, because they are oppressed. And surely Allah is able to assist them - Those who are driven from their homes without a just cause except that they say: Our Lord is Allah. And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, in which Allah's name is much remembered, would have been pulled down. And surely Allah will help him who helps His cause".
Indeed, war with such a pure motive as to establish the principle of religious liberty was truly a jihad, a struggle carried on simply with the object that truth may prosper and that freedom of conscience may be maintained.
The second verse giving the Muslims permission to fight runs as follows:

"And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, and be not aggressive; surely Allah loves not the aggressors" (2:190).
Here again the condition is plainly laid down that the Muslims shall not be the first to attack. They had to fight - it had now become a duty - but only against those who fought against them; aggression was expressly prohibited. The words fi sabili-llah (in the way of Allah) are misinterpreted by most Western writers as meaning for the propagation of Islam, when nothing could be further from the truth since the Muslims were not fighting to force Islam on others, rather they were being fought to force them to renounce their faith. Moreover, verse 256 of chapter 2, which says :

"There is no compulsion in religion"
was revealed after the permission for war had been given, and it is therefore certain that fighting had no connection with the preaching of religion.
The fifth verse of chapter 9 of the Quran is mistakenly called by some people "the verse of the sword", as if it inculcated the indiscriminate massacre of all idolators or unbelievers. The misconception is due to the fact that the words are taken out of their context and a significance is forced on them which the context cannot bear. The words of the fifth verse are:

"So when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolators wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful".
It is asserted that this verse offers to the disbelievers the alternative of the sword or the Quran. Nothing is farther from the truth. As the title of this chapter and the opening verses show, the Muslims are granted 'Immunity' from their obligations with such of the idolatrous tribes as had repeatedly broken their engagements with the Muslims and repeatedly dealt telling blows to the Muslims whenever they had an opportunity of doing so. The injunction in the fifth verse to wage war is clearly against these idolators who repeatedly violated their agreements with the Muslims, while clear exceptions are made with regard to those idolatrous tribes who adhered to their treaties and those who sought the protection of the Muslims. The latter were to be conveyed the message of Islam but in case they did not accept it, they were to be safely conveyed to their homes. This clearly shows that the reason why the Muslims were fight against the idolators, as mentioned in v. 5, was not because they were idolators but because they repeatedly violated the trust of the Muslims and invited them to war.
Nowhere does the Quran give the Muslims permission to enter on an unprovoked war against the whole world. Conditions are also laid down as to when war should cease. Says verse 193 of Chapter 2 (The Cow) :

"And fight with them until there is no more persecution, and religion should be only for Allah".
The words 'religion should be only for Allah' are sometimes misinterpreted as meaning that all people should accept Islam. This misconception, however, is soon dispelled upon comparison with another verse which carries very similar words.

"And fight with them until there is no more persecution and all religions are for Allah" (8:39).
This clearly shows that both the expressions 'religion should be only for Allah' and 'all religions are for Allah' carry the same significance, namely that religion is a matter between man and his God, in which nobody has a right to interfere. This teaching was supported by the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who gave full religious liberty to a people who had been subjugated in war. A well-known example is the occasion of the conquest of Makkah.
Far from being a militant creed, Islam is such a peace-loving religion that the Muslims are enjoined to accept peace even in the middle of war if the enemy so desires:

"And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it and trust in Allah; surely He is the Hearer, the Knower. And if they intend to deceive thee - then surely Allah is sufficient for thee" (8:61, 62).
Over here, peace is even recommended when the enemy's sincerity may be doubtful, and there was good cause to doubt the intentions of the Arab tribes who attached no value to their agreements. Yet the Prophet was always ready to make peace even, as on the occasion of the Hudaibiya truce, taking the position of the defeated party - although he had never been defeated on the battlefield - and accepting terms which his own Companions looked upon as humiliating to Islam. Such remained the practice of the Prophet throughout his life and he never led an aggressive attack. The last of his expeditions was that of Tabuk in 9 A.H., in which he led an army of 30,000 against the Romans. But when he found on reaching the frontier, after a very hot and tedious journey, that the Romans did not contemplate an offensive, he returned without attacking them.
Emphasis by the Ahmadiyya Movement on the point that the sword had nothing to do with the propagation of Islam has led many people to believe that Ahmadiyyat has abrogated the doctrine of Jihad. This charge is absolutely baseless. Unlike other Muslims who generally consider some of the Quranic verses to have been abrogated by others, the Ahmadis firmly believe in every single word of the Quran. When the doctrine of jihad forms a part of the Quran, how could the Ahmadis adjudge it as being abrogated? It is true that Ahmadiyyat did not agree with the significance that jihad had come to hold, viz. that fighting against all disbelievers was a 'holy war'. This abhorrent picture was drawn by Christian missionaries in order to create hatred against Islam among the people. The Western domination in the world helped in the spread of this view. In India the Arya Samaj helped the Christians in propagating such calumnies against Islam. On the other hand, the Muslims themselves did not mend matters by eagerly awaiting the advent of a Mahdi who would wield the sword for the spread of Islam, and by believing that the killing of an unbeliever was a jihad that entitled the perpetrator to be called a ghazi. It was concerning this concept of jihad that the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement said in one of his poetic verses:

'Put the idea of jihad out of your minds, O friends;
War and killing in the name of religion are now forbidden'
Hazrat Mirza Sahib made it clear that fighting in Islam was allowed only in self-defense or to establish religious freedom. Since the British rule in India allowed full liberty of religion and conscience and there was peace and justice under their reign where before there had been lawlessness and anarchy, there was simply no reason to take up arms against the government and to do so would amount to rebellion and not jihad. Thus, Hazrat Mirza Sahib addressed the Muslim world in an Arabic letter and said:
"There is not the least doubt that the conditions laid down for jihad are not to be met with at the present time and in this country; so it is illegal for the Muslims to fight for religion and to kill anyone who rejects the Sacred Law, for God has made clear the illegality of jihad when there is peace and security." (Tohfa-i-Golarwiya, Supplement, p.30)
[Note by Webmaster: Go here for a detailed treatment of the subject of Jihad and Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.]
Note the words, at the present time and in this country; this clearly shows that jihad may be legal in another country in which exist the necessary conditions laid down in the Quran, or even here when the conditions have changed. Hazrat Mirza Sahib was not alone in praising the British rule; all the writers of that time considered it their duty to give vent to similar expressions of loyalty and thankfulness. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who occupies a much venerated position among the Muslims of the Subcontinent, wrote in exactly the same strain as did Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement directed the attention of the Muslims towards the greatest jihad of all, as Allah says in the Quran:

"So obey not the disbelievers, and strive against them a mighty striving with it" (25:52).
Every exertion to spread the Truth is, according to this verse, a jihad; nay, it is called jihad kabir - the Great Jihad. The personal pronoun 'it' in the verse unquestionably refers to the Quran. Thus the greatest jihad which a Muslim can carry on is by means of the Quran. This verse is well-known to every Ahmadi for it was this jihad-bil-Quran in which the Founder of our Movement remained engaged throughout his life and this was the mission that he entrusted to his jamaat. I read a fine description of our mission that I would like to share with you. Jihad bil Quran, for the propagation of Islam, was the great jihad of the Makkan life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, when the permission to fight had not been given. As we all know, the Makkan period of his life was the manifestation of his name Ahmad. Thus, it is jihad with the Quran for which the Ahmadiyya Movement stands today. As jihad with the sword stands in need of a strong and loyal army, so is a strong and loyal jamaat needed for the carrying on of jihad with the Quran and it is for this purpose that an oath of allegience is taken. When a person takes a pledge to do something, his determination is not shaken by happenings in times of trial. The keywords of our pledge are 'I will hold religion above the world', which mean that all those who enter the Movement should be willing to sacrifice their all for the sake of Islam. The formation of an organization and the taking of a pledge is thus in accordance with the need for the great mission of jihad bil Quran, which Ahmadiyyat is to carry out in the world.
Allah says in the Holy Quran:

"O you who believe, shall I lead you to a merchandise which will deliver you from a painful chastisement? You should believe in Allah and His Messenger, and strive hard in Allah's way with you wealth and your lives. That is better for you, did you but know! He will forgive you your sins, and cause you to enter Gardens wherein rivers flow, and goodly dwellings in Gardens of perpetuity - that is the mighty achievement - and yet another (blessing) that you love: help from Allah and victory near at hand; and give good news to the believers." (61:10-13)
May Allah have mercy on us all, and give us the strength to fight against our own selves to overcome our weaknesses, and to fulfil our duty in carrying out the Great Jihad entrusted to us. Ameen.