Saturday, March 02, 2013

Philippines calls on fighters to leave Sabah

Benigno Aquino III, the Philippine president, has urged members of a Muslim royal clan from the southern Philippines who occupied a village in Malaysian state of Sabah three weeks ago to surrender.

At least 10 members of the Royal Sulu Army - as they call themselves - were killed in a gun battle with Malaysian police on Friday. The armed group has asked for a temporary ceasefire to bury its dead.

About 200 members of the clan landed in the coastal village of Lahad Datu in Sabah on February 9 to claim the territory as their own, citing ownership documents from the late 1800s.

President Aquino said they should leave immediately or would face prosecution at home on charges of triggering an armed conflict, but the appeals have been ignored.

In a message to the group on Saturday, Aquino said the clan members should "surrender now without conditions".

"If you have grievances, the path you chose was wrong. The just and, indeed, the only correct thing for you to do is to surrender," Aquino said.

Meanwhile, the bodies of two Malaysian police officers killed in the cross fire have been returned to their families.

Hishammuddin Hussein, the Malaysian home minister and Ismail Omar, the national police chief, were in Sabah on Saturday to oversee security operations.

Omar also urged the Filipinos to turn themselves in, saying "we have no other options but to take the necessary action to detain them".

Malaysian officials declined to say when they might move in or to elaborate on their plans.

The Filipino group is led by a brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the southern Philippine province of Sulu.

Jacel Kiram, a daughter of the sultan, indicated that her uncle, Agbimuddin Kiram, who is still in Lahad Datu, would not surrender.

"The decision remains the same -- they will not return here because honor is above life,'' she told DZBB radio in Manila. "What is life without honour?''

Abraham Idjirani, a spokesman for the sultan, said he and the council of the sultanate still had to study Aquino's statement.-Aljazeera (March 02, 2013 12:41)

China defense spending seen rising as territorial rows deepen

A series of territorial disputes with its neighbors will ensure China boosts defense spending when it reveals this year's military budget ahead of the annual parliamentary sitting next week, security experts say.

After almost three decades of sharply increased military outlays, an increasingly assertive China now has the firepower to challenge rivals claiming strategically important and resource-rich territory in the East China and South China seas.

The Chinese navy, now second in size only to the US fleet in terms of raw numbers, has become a genuine blue-water force and is conducting almost continuous patrols and exercises in these contested waters.

Over the past six months, China's stand-off with Japan over a series of rocky islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China has become more acrimonious.

Beijing is also in dispute with the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia, over territory in the South China Sea.

To pay for these deployments and new hardware in the pipeline, most analysts expect that this year's budget will continue the long-term trend of double-digit percentage increases in annual spending.

"Estimates are still for steady growth," said Ni Lexiong, a military expert at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

"With China's current attitude, it's not going to let itself get bullied by anyone."

Alongside missions to assert sovereignty over disputed territory, the Chinese navy is also deploying naval flotillas to the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia as part of its contribution to UN-authorized anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.

Beijing last month announced the departure of the 14th of these missions since December 2008.

These high-tempo operations are a sharp departure for a military that was largely confined to exercises and training within China's land borders and coastal waters until recent years.

But they impose a new burden on a budget that had largely been devoted to the rapid modernization of military hardware including big orders for new warships, submarines, strike aircraft and missiles.

Beijing last year announced an 11.2 per cent increase in military spending to $106 billion.

However foreign military analysts say much of China's military spending is not included in the published budget.

The Pentagon last year estimated that Beijing's real outlays for 2012 would be between $120 billion and $180 billion.

China's spending is now second only to the United States although the Pentagon is bracing for a sharp drop in outlays as part of government-wide budget cuts, known as a sequester, starting from March 1.

However, China has its own budget woes as senior political and military officials complain of rampant corruption and waste in its 2.3 billion-strong People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The PLA headquarters has issued new rules to tighten spending across a range of areas including construction, procurement, conferences and receptions in a bid to curb waste and corruption, the official Xinhua news agency reported this week.

The new rules, approved by Xi Jinping, China's Communist party leader and chairman of the Central Military Commission, were also intended to redirect spending toward combat readiness, high-technology weaponry and training, Xinhua said.-Interaksyon (March 02, 2013 2:57AM)

Thai tourist industry ‘driving’ elephant smuggling

Smuggling the world’s largest land animal across an international border sounds like a mammoth undertaking, but activists say that does not stop traffickers supplying Asian elephants to Thai tourist attractions.

Unlike their heavily-poached African cousins — whose plight is set to dominate Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) talks in Bangkok next week — Asian elephants do not often make the headlines.

But the species is also under threat, as networks operate a rapacious trade in wild elephants to meet the demands of Thailand’s tourist industry.

Camps and zoos featuring elephants tightrope walking, playing football or performing in painting contests employ almost 4,000 domesticated elephants for the amusement of tourists.

Conservation activists accuse the industry of using illicitly-acquired animals to supplement its legal supply, with wild elephants caught in Myanmar and sold across the border into one of around 150 camps.

“Even the so-called rescue charities are trying to buy elephants,” said John Roberts of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.

Domestic elephants in Thailand — where the pachyderm is a national symbol — have been employed en masse in the tourist trade since they found themselves unemployed in 1989 when logging was banned.

Just 2,000 of the animals remain in the wild.

Prices have exploded with elephants now commanding between 500,000 and two million baht ($17,000 to $67,000) per baby, estimates suggest.

The number of baby elephants “coming into the system” is far higher than would be possible “from actual breeding”, said Roberts, whose group decided to stop buying elephants seven years ago and now has 26 residents.

“I cannot see a way to buy an elephant which doesn’t cause another elephant to be smuggled,” he added.

Between 50 and 100 wild baby or young female elephants are sold from Myanmar each year, according to estimates by British charity Elephant Family.

The group’s head of conservation, Dan Bucknell, told AFP that while some trafficked elephants may be taken elsewhere, the majority enter the Thai market.

“Thailand is certainly a hub,” he said.

Smuggling such a large mammal should in theory require elaborate planning to avoid the police but in reality traffickers just “do it over a normal road”, said wildlife trade researcher Vincent Nijman of Oxford Brookes university.

“Elephants can be in a truck or even walk” across the Thai border in front of complicit customs officers and border guards, he said.

Demand is not only threatening the 4,000 to 5,000 wild elephants in Myanmar, but is also hitting populations in Thailand’s other neighbour Laos.

Young domestic elephants are exported across the border, furthering the decline of a population of around 480 animals, said Gilles Maurer of the group ElephantAsia.

Laos, known as the “land of a million elephants”, only has between 300 and 500 wild pachyderms left and Maurer said that as the domestic population shrinks, “there is a strong risk” that poachers will turn to them.

Last year Thai authorities conducted several raids on elephant camps and seized some 25 animals — 19 remain under their protection.

“It is likely the 19 seized elephants were smuggled wild animals as their paperwork did not match up,” said forest ranger Pradung Jitraon, of Thailand’s National Parks department, who participated in the operation.

Activists have welcomed the initiative but are also calling for broader reforms. “The system now is so weak,” said Petch Manopawitr of the World Wildlife Fund in Thailand.

Thailand needs “more control, more transparent monitoring of the population, of what they do in terms of new born elephants”, he said, calling for a proper database of elephants, using DNA testing or microchips.

Such a system, he added, would allow foreigners to visit elephant camps safe in the knowledge they are not “harming or threatening the wild population”.- Philippine Daily Inquirer (March 02, 2013 12:58PM)

Palace: Philippines may talk to other claimants on Taiwan’s military drill plans in Spratlys

The Philippines may talk to other claimants of the Spratly Islands over Taiwan’s reported plans to stage live-fire drills there, MalacaƱang said Saturday.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office head Ramon Carandang also said they may “deal with that when it happens.”

“Meron tayong diplomatic channels para makipag-usap sa ibaang bansa tungkol sa issue na yan," he said on government-run dzRB radio.

The Philippines and Taiwan are among six claimants to the Spratly Islands, the others being China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

While the Philippines has economic ties with Taiwan, it considers Taiwan a province of China.

Earlier reports quoted Taiwan's coast guard as saying Friday it may stage a live-fire exercise next month in the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sa) group of islands.

The drill will supposedly take place on Taiping Island in the Spratlys between April 9 and 11.

It will involve 40mm artillery and 120mm mortars, both shipped to the island last year to boost Taiwan's defense capability there.-GMA News (March 02, 2013 1:09PM)

Burmese ship eyed in Philippine oil spill

The Philippine Coast Guard on Friday said that the oil spill that reportedly contaminated the shorelines of 11 coastal barangays from La Union up to Ilocos Norte might have come from the sunken Burmese cargo ship MV Arita Bauxite.

But PCG spokesperson Cmdr. Armand Balilo was quick to add that the results of their investigation is not yet conclusive.

He added that the oil samples taken near the site where the ship sank in Bolinao, Pangasinan, matched the oil that was recovered from the oil spill.-Asia News Network (March 02, 2013)

Myanmar to get aid on content rights

Japan will help Myanmar develop a system to increase intellectual property protection, officials said Thursday.

Under a new agreement, the Japan Patent Office will offer advice and expertise to Myanmar to help it create the necessary laws for enhancing intellectual property protection, the officials said.

Japan will also help establish an intellectual property office and accept trainees from Myanmar.

The cooperation was confirmed during a meeting Thursday in the capital Naypyitaw, attended by Japan Patent Office Commissioner Hiroyuki Fukano and Myanmar Science and Technology Minister Ko Ko Oo.-Japan Times (March 02, 2013)

China prisoners from Southeast Asian countries paraded on live TV before execution

Four gang members from Southeast Asian countries were executed in China Friday for the murder of 13 sailors on the Mekong river, after being paraded on live state television.

Naw Kham, a Myanmar drug gang leader, and three of his accomplices faced lethal injection with a mixture of defiance and fear in the broadcast on CCTV which showed them being taken from prison to the execution cite.

The four, along with two other accused, admitted intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking at their trial last year, state news agency Xinhua said, over a raid on two Chinese riverboats in October 2011.

Xinhua described Naw Kham as "the boss of the largest armed drug trafficking gang" on the river which flows through China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, adding that he was nicknamed "the Godfather".

The incident sparked outrage in China, where photographs of the gagged and blindfolded victims circulated online, and the progress of the case has been given prominent coverage in state media.

In the broadcast Naw Kham, 43, smiled slightly before grimacing as a restraining rope was tied around him in the prison in Kunming, in the southern province of Yunnan.

He then emerged into bright sunlight and a bank of television cameras, before being put into a van and driven away.

His fellow inmates, named by state media as Hsang Kham, 61 from Thailand, Yi Lai, 55, stateless, and Zha Xika, 28, from Laos, followed. The two older men looked grim-faced, while the younger convict's features crumpled.

CCTV cut to interviews with police officials outside the prison before returning to a studio discussion on the case. "He's eaten well, he's slept well, he's looking better than when he was arrested," said one of the panel.

Before the conclusion of the programme, which ran for almost two hours, a statement on the Yunnan provincial security bureau's website said all four had been executed.

Interviewed by CCTV earlier this week, Naw Kham said: "I miss my mother. Good people will turn bad in the Golden Triangle, you can't resist the temptation.

"I hope my children will not follow my example. I wish them a good future and hope they will study hard."

Shown a picture of the families of the dead, he said: "I have sent money to the relatives of the victims. Their pains are just like mine, I have children, I want to be with them when I get old.

"I want to live, I don't want to die."

Recent reports in Chinese state media said that officials considered killing him with a drone strike in Myanmar during the hunt but instead decided to capture him alive. In the event he was arrested in Laos and flown to China.-Interaksyon (March 01, 2013 6:30PM)

Friday, March 01, 2013

Sabah Standoff remains unchanged

Three weeks after the standoff between the royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu and the Malaysian forces started, the situations in Sabah remains unchanged despite of numerous reports of imminent attack by security forces.

Both sides show no signs of willingness to retreat. Either of them wants to give up the land they both considered as their own.

Last Friday, February 22, The Philippine Navy has intensified their efforts of patrolling the sea near the disputed island in the southern part of the Philippines. Aside from the six naval vessels and a Philippine Navy Islander aircraft, additional vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard have been sent to the area.

The following day, the Philippine foreign affairs department asked its Malaysian counterpart to extend the deadline that they gave for the Sulu army to leave Sabah. But no official statement has been released by the Malaysian government as they only followed a wait - and - see stance in the ongoing standoff. 

In an effort to ease the tension, the Philippine government has decided to send a humanitarian ship to Sabah to bring home the women and children who are among the sultan’s armed followers. But this become useless as the leaders stopped their supporters to leave Sabah by allegedly giving them a warning shot.

Vice President Jejomar Binay has confirmed that he met with Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to appeal for a peaceful resolution to the standoff in Sabah. In his meeting with the Sultan Vice President Binay said he reiterated his position of the Philippine government and renewed his appeal for sobriety. He emphasized that the parties should exert all effort to arrive at a peaceful resolution.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has also sent a senior diplomat to Kuala Lumpur to coordinate efforts with the Malaysian authorities toward the speedy resolution of the Sabah standoff.

Tension arises last Wednesday, February 27, when six uniformed Malaysian forces have entered the area of Lahad Datu in Sabah. This is after the 4 days extension of the Malaysian Authorities for the followers of the Sultan of Sulu to leave the area.

Meanwhile, after the Malaysian forces dropped leaflets urging the armed Filipinos to surrender, the Philippine Government once again asked the government of Malaysia to extend their deadline for the Sultan of Sulu followers until March 05, 2013 Tuesday.

Until now the government is still waiting for the Malaysian Government’s decision over the standoff in Sabah.- Vic Saure (February 29, 2013 12:02AM)

For more updates follow: Black Pearl News

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Philippine cardinal among 8 candidates to become pope

Filipino cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is among the eight candidates being considered to replace Pope Benedict XVI who is scheduled to formalise his resignation today. 

Tagle is the current archbishop of Manila and was appointed last year as the Catholic Church’s second youngest cardinal. He is the only contender from Asia.

In an Agance France-Press report from the Vatican, Tagle, was included in the list of top contenders who are considered pontiff material, or “papabile.”

The 55-year-old is tipped as an outsider to watch for his dynamism, charisma and stellar rise within the Church so far.

His relative youth stands against him, but he is very popular in Asia and has worked closely with Benedict.

The successor to Benedict XVI will be elected by a conclave in the Sistine Chapel next month where 115 cardinals from around the world are expected.

Following are some of the top contenders to become the next head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics:'



The 72-year-old archbishop of Milan is the top Italian candidate. He is a keen promoter of inter-religious dialogue, particularly between Muslims and Christians.

He is also an expert on bioethics, an issue on which Church teachings are currently lagging behind scientific advances.


Archbishop of Budapest since 2002 and a specialist in canon law who has taught at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, the 60-year-old Hungarian is tipped as another European frontrunner.


The archbishop of Vienna, 68, is a protege of outgoing Benedict XVI and was a favourite for future pope before he called in 2010 for a re-examination of the contentious issue of priest celibacy in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal.

He has also criticised powerful figures in the Vatican for covering up the sex crimes.

Keeping the St. Peter’s chair in the hands of Europeans would help ensure the future of the Church in the increasingly secularised continent.

North America


Canada’s former archbishop of Quebec, 67, Ouellet now heads the influential Congregation of Bishops.

Known for his conservative theological views — very much in line with Benedict’s — Ouellet could be favoured for the pull he may have in the increasingly secularised West. Supporters hope he would also crack down on the unruly curia, the Vatican’s government. He is the head of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, where has a strong following.


Archbishop of New York and a “modernist conservative”, 63-year old Dolan is media savvy — a plus in today’s social media society.

Vatican observers say his strong point lies in heading up a diocese which has been on the front-line in the damaging sex abuse scandal which had rocked the Church, but he has been heavily criticised by abuse victims group for allegedly covering up cases.



The head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the 64-year-old Ghanaian is leading the race to become the Vatican’s first African pope.

He is considered progressive by supporters but his decision to show a recent synod a video criticising Muslims has damaged his chances according to some, who accuse him of lacking key interreligious sensibilities.

Others tipped are Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the 74-year-old Archbishop of Kinshasa in Congo, and Nigerian John Onaiyekan, the 69-year-old Archbishop of Abuja who promotes dialogue with Muslims.

Latin America


The 63-year-old archbishop of Sao Paolo, home to five million faithful in a country that boasts the world’s largest Catholic population, is Latin America’s best hope. Scherer is seen as a moderate conservative with charisma and openness, as well as a good administrator.

The Brazilian of German origin has fought against declining traditional values and is concerned about the growing strength of evangelical churches.

Brazil alone will be represented by five cardinals in the conclave.-Asia News Network (February 28, 2013)

New top diplomats in China signal focus on U.S., Japan, North Korea

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi attends a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart in Moscow February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
China is signaling that it is keen to get on top of troubled ties with the United States, Japan and North Korea with the likely appointment of two officials with deep experience of these countries to its top diplomatic posts.

Current Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, ambassador to Washington from 2001-2005 and a polished English speaker, is tipped to be promoted to state councilor with responsibility for foreign policy, three independent sources said. China has only five such councilors and the post is senior to that of foreign minister.

Yang, 62, will likely be replaced as foreign minister by Wang Yi, China's ambassador to Japan from 2004 to 2007 and a one-time pointman on North Korea. Both will be appointed during March's annual full session of parliament, the sources said.

"Yang Jiechi will be in the driving seat, he knows a lot about Sino-U.S. relations," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a China expert at Hong Kong Baptist University.

"China-Japan is high on the list (too) ... With Shinzo Abe and the LDP back in the saddle in Tokyo, I'm sure they're a bit concerned about the right wing twists of domestic politics and Japanese foreign policy as well."

China has looked warily at the U.S. strategic "pivot" to Asia, fearing it is part of efforts to contain China's rising power, and both countries have fundamental disagreements about everything from human rights to trade.

China and Japan, the world's second-and third-largest economies respectively, have always had problematic ties due to Japan's occupation of parts of China until the end of World War Two. But the relationship deteriorated dramatically last year as a spat flared over ownership of a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.

Despite the rhetoric and fears of a military escalation, China and Japan have been trying to set ties back on track, in an acknowledgement of how crucial economic and investment links are. Japanese-speaking Wang should be able to help in this regard.

"It will be beneficial for handling China-Japan relations since he's been ambassador to Japan and knows Japan well ... It should help diplomacy and communication between both sides," said Huang Dahui, a Japan expert at Beijing's Renmin University.

The urbane Wang, 59, is regarded as a capable, smooth diplomat.

He won plaudits for helping improve relations with Taiwan, the self-ruled island China claims as its own, as head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office. The two have signed a series of landmark economic agreements under his watch since 2008.

The other turbulent area Wang has dealt with close up is North Korea, as China's representative from 2007 to 2008 to six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia aimed at curbing Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

North Korea conducted a third nuclear test on February 12 and is ready to go ahead with a fourth and possibly fifth test. China is the isolated state's only major ally.

However, despite these new senior diplomats, China's foreign policy will continue to be dictated by the party's top leadership.

"On the most important and difficult issues, the real decision makers on foreign policy are the top leaders," said Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University.

"The roles played by the foreign minister and state councilor are fundamentally as advisers. So any fundamental changes in foreign policy would not come from them but from leaders much higher than them."-Reuters (February 28, 2013 3:14AM)

Myanmar weathers storm in quest for SEA Games gold glut

Mention the words "kempo", "vovinam" or "chinlone" and expect an angry response from Southeast Asia's seething sports bosses - if they can remember what they are.

The obscure terms are indigenous sports disciplines and for the few countries that play them, they will offer an unusual amount of medals at this year's Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, at the expense of gymnasts, tennis and beach volleyball players bitter their sports were ditched by hosts Myanmar.

Like Beijing's hosting of the Olympics in 2008, Myanmar is billing the December Games as its coming out party after 49 years of military rule, but dampening celebrations is fierce criticism from competitors who accuse the hosts of cherry-picking sports it plays best.

Meetings of the 11 competing countries have been fraught with arguments, according to some who attended, with deep suspicions that Myanmar has struck deals with certain states and sought to weaken the hand of stronger nations to boost its normally mediocre standing in the medals table.

The 33-sport program, which still has yet to be finalized, features most Olympic favorites like athletics, boxing and swimming, but up to a third of the medals are allotted to martial arts-related events.

Some countries have said the politicking and gamesmanship is making a mockery of Myanmar's first SEA Games since 1969.

"It's ridiculous...whatever sports they want in, they get and the ones they've chosen carry too many medals," said Charoen Wattanasin of Thailand's Olympic Committee.

"This sort of thing shouldn't happen. The charm of the SEA Games has diminished significantly in recent years. The atmosphere used to be cordial, it was like a family."

Sports officials in the Philippines are even more furious and some have made dramatic, but apparently hollow, threats of a boycott. Others said they may instead send a weakened team in protest.

"We believe that there will be 60 medals in these indigenous sports and we'll get a big fat zero in the medal tally, because we're not taking part in any of those," said a Philippine Olympic Committee member, who declined to be named.

"Why should we send a large delegation and spend a lot of money when we are clearly in a disadvantaged position?"

Acrimonous contest

Rivalry is extremely fierce at the biennial Games watched by tens of millions of people. The contest almost always ends in acrimony, with walkouts, protests and allegations of match-fixing, and biased refereeing and blatant cheating commonplace.

The outcry about the little-known sports is because they're only really played by Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Vovinam is a Vietnamese martial art that includes armed and unarmed categories and kempo is a derivative of kung-fu popular in Laos and Cambodia - countries that pose little threat to Myanmar's quest for a top-three finish in the medals chart.

Chinlone has drawn anger since it is only played competitively in Myanmar. It's included under the regional sport of sepak takraw - essentially volleyball using feet - but is quite different, closer to what soccer players call "keepie-up", with no net and points awarded for technique.

But Myanmar is no stranger to criticism having endured decades of international ostracism while ruled from 1962-2011 by generals who rarely caved in to foreign pressure.

Like then, Myanmar says it can, and will, do as it pleases.

"We're just following the SEA Games Charter so there isn't any serious problem," said Thet Lwin, a top sports ministry official.

Myanmar has made some compromises to cool tempers and last month reinstated badminton and table tennis and some events in athletics and aquatics, to appease Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, which have since taken a more conciliatory tone.

"The host country has it right to pick which sports to play, depending on their capability. There's also politicking to it which is normal," Indonesia's Minister for Youth and Sports, Roy Suryo, told Reuters.

The Games will take place in three cities, Yangon, Mandalay and in the new capital Naypyitaw, a vast, sparsely populated city with grandiose buildings. Most venues are newly built, with substantial help from allies like China and Japan.

Chris Chan, secretary general of Singapore's Olympic Council, praised Myanmar for smooth preparations he said were "way ahead" of previous hosts.

Cambodian counterpart Vath Chamroeun called on competing nations to end the dispute and said talk of boycotts would be "undignified", comments echoed by the Olympic Council of Malaysia's secretary general.

"They haven't had the SEA games for over 40 years," Sieh Kok Chi told Bernama news agency.

"They should be given a chance."-GMA News (February 28, 2013 2:37PM)

Philippines' gambling business to surpass Singapore's by 2018

The Philippines’ burgeoning gaming industry may surpass Singapore’s US$5.6-billion gaming market by 2018 on the back of a larger local mass market and likely spillover of foreign high-rollers, foreign bank Credit Suisse said.

In a new equity research dated February 27, “Let the Games Begin,” Credit Suisse initiated coverage of the Philippine gaming sector with a rosy outlook of 28 per cent compounded annual growth rate for the industry over the 2012 to 2018 period.

“We view the Philippines as having a potentially larger domestic market in the high-margin mass segment compared to other Asian gaming hubs on the back of favourable demographics,” the report said, noting that the Philippine population of 97 million was almost three times that of Singapore, Malaysia and Macau combined.

It pointed out that the Philippines also had the fastest growing working age population in emerging Asia, projected to grow more than two per cent annually over the next 10 years. Accelerating wage growth, signs of increased spending power and consumer confidence at near-record highs all point to favourable demand prospects, the report said.

Meanwhile, Credit Suisse also noted that limited hotel capacity and the absence of new casinos elsewhere in the region until 2015 could result in a spillover of foreign VIPs (very important persons) into the Philippines.

The bank initiated coverage of two listed gaming stocks Bloomberry Resorts Corp. and Belle Corp. with “outperform” ratings and respective target prices of 17.50 pesos and 6.50 pesos, respectively.-Asia News Network (February 28, 2013)

Thai govt, rebel group agree to work on peace talks

Thailand's government on Thursday signed its first-ever agreement with a rebel group in its Muslim-majority south, pledging to work toward peace talks aimed at ending a festering insurgency.

The potentially historic deal was signed in Kuala Lumpur between Thai officials and a representative of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional rebel group ahead of a visit to Malaysia by Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yingluck was to meet later in the day with her host, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, for annual talks set to include the nine-year insurgency and the possibility of Malaysia hosting future Thai negotiations with the militants.

There has been a recent spike in attacks along Thailand's border with Muslim-majority Malaysia, where the nine-year insurgency has claimed more than 5,500 lives.

The "general consensus document to launch a dialogue process for peace" was signed by Lieutenant-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary general of Thailand's National Security Council, and Hassan Taib of the BRN.

"Thank Allah we will do our best to solve the problem. We will tell our people to work together to solve the problems," Hassan told reporters after the ceremony.

Hassan was identified as the "chief of the BRN liaison office in Malaysia."

Officials involved in the ceremony otherwise offered little comment on the agreement and a text of the pledge was not handed out.

Barisan Revolusi Nasional, which in Malay means "National Revolutionary Front," is one of several shadowy groups blamed for the unrest in Thailand.

It remains to be seen whether other groups will fall in line behind the BRN.

Prospects for peace have been dogged by the complex make-up of the insurgency and doubts persist over the level of control that older, exiled leaders known to Thai authorities exert over the younger -- and more violent -- fighters on the ground.

On Wednesday, Paradorn said in Bangkok that he hoped peace talks could start "soon," with Malaysia providing the venue.

Thailand's southernmost provinces suffer almost daily gun and bomb attacks by shadowy insurgents fighting for greater autonomy, a demand Thai authorities have rejected.-Interaksyon (February 28, 2013 11:04AM)

South Korea and Indonesia Could Be Strategic Partners in Asian Growth

South Korean president Park Geun-Hye, right, talks with Boediono, Vice President of Indonesia, left, during their meeting at the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday. Park Geun-Hye, the daughter of former president Park Chung-Hee is the first female president of South Korea. (EPA Photo/Chung Sung-Jun)
South Korea could become Indonesia’s closest economic and political partner as the engine of global economic growth shifts to Asia, analysts say.

As the two countries celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, experts are upbeat about the future.
“Under the new president, these relations will continue to flourish,” said Bantarto Bandoro, an international relations expert at Indonesian Defense University. 

“Indonesia can learn from South Korea in its preparation to become a developed country, while South Korea needs Indonesia’s vast market and natural resource potential,” he added.

“South Korea and Indonesia fit each other. I think there are no countries in the region that perfectly match each other more than these two countries.”

At the same time, China and the United States are vying for influence in the region.

Indonesian Vice President Boediono this week attended the inauguration of Park Geun-hye — the first female president of South Korea.

Bantarto said that unlike relations with China or Japan, Indonesia harbored no past grudge with South Korea.

China, for instance, had troubled relations with Indonesia during the New Order era after the Suharto regime accused Beijing of being behind the failed 1965 communist coup. 

Japan at one time occupied Indonesia.

“So, South Korea can speak freely to Indonesia, for instance to help them restrain North Korea, while Indonesia can ask South Korea to invest more and transfer technology to Indonesia,” Bantarto said.

Aleksius Jemadu, dean of Pelita Harapan University’s School of Social and Political Sciences, agreed that relations between Indonesia and South Korea could only intensify regardless of leadership changes. 

He said that as Southeast Asia’s largest economy continued to grow, its influence in the international arena would naturally increase.
Indonesia is South Korea’s eighth-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $30 billion in 2011, up from $20 billion in 2010.
Indonesia is also the biggest Southeast Asian buyer of South Korean military equipment. 

The government in 2011 awarded two contracts to South Korea, one of them to purchase submarines and the other to purchase KAI T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer jets.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and former South Korea President Lee Myung-bak vowed to expand trade to 
$50 billion by 2015 and $100 billion by 2020.

After a 90-minute meeting with Park on Tuesday in Seoul, Boediono said Indonesia and South Korea would achieve a new level in their bilateral relations after four decades of diplomatic ties.

“Both countries can complement one another,” Boediono said. 

“They have what we need and we have what they need,” he added, as quoted by Antara news agency.

Before meeting with Park, Boediono held discussions with several of South Korea’s biggest business leaders, including LG International chief executive Ha Young-bong and Cho Hwan-eik, president and chief executive of Korea Electric Power.-The Jakarta Globe (February 28, 2013)

Japan scrambles fighters to meet China plane

Japan scrambled fighter jets on Thursday to head off a Chinese government plane flying towards disputed islands in the East China Sea, the defence ministry said.

It said the Y-12 propeller plane did not enter airspace around the Tokyo-controlled islands known as the Senkakus, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.

The aircraft headed back towards China after Japan's military planes became airborne, defence officials said, declining to give further details.

The incident came as three Chinese government ships sailed into territorial waters around the islands, Japan's coastguard said.

The three marine surveillance ships entered the 12-nautical-mile territorial zone off Uotsuri island shortly after 7:00 am (2200 GMT Wednesday), the coastguard said in a statement.

It said the trio left the zone after just over two hours.

Thursday's moves were the latest in a series by Chinese government ships since Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain last September, reigniting the dispute.

They also came the day Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking about the islands dispute, cited British former premier Margaret Thatcher and her thoughts on a 1982 war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.- Channel News Asia (February 28, 2013 1759hrs)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Malaysian police enter Sabah standoff village after 'last warning'

Malaysian security forces briefly entered the village in Lahad Datu town where followers of the Sulu sultanate have been holding out for the last two weeks but were driven off, the leader of the group said Wednesday.

Raja Muda (crown prince) Agbimuddin Kiram, said in a radio interview that he was in a meeting when six Malaysian soldiers entered the village of Tanduo.

However, Agbimuddin said, the soldiers retreated when his followers went to meet them.

The incident happened soon after a Malaysian aircraft dropped leaflets on Lahad Datu's Tanduao village containing a “last warning” for Agbimuddin, brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, and his followers to “surrender now.”

The crown prince led close to 200 of the sultanate’s followers to Sabah.

"Anim nagpunta sa area namin (Six of them went to our area) while we were conducting (a) meeting in the house where I'm staying … tapos nakapunta diyan ‘yung kasama namin nag-inform sa’min. ‘Yung mga kawal namin immediately ran. Sabi nila raw anim ang Malaysian soldiers armed with Armalite. ‘Nung nakita sila ay tumakbo (then one of our companions informed us. Our warriors immediately ran. They said there were six Malaysian soldiers armed with Armalite rifles. When they saw our men they ran away)," Agbimuddin said.

The leaflet drop happened around 2 p.m.

Datu Abdil Nasser Kiram, second to the youngest brother of Kiram III, translated excerpts from the message, written in Tausug that Agbimuddin relayed to him.

"This is our last warning to you or you will regret what will happen to you," the leaflets said. "Think of the loved ones you have left behind in the Philippines."

The message also said the leaflets would serve as a safe conduct pass for those who want to leave Sabah.

The leaflets were dropped after Malaysian authorities said they were “set to end” the standoff with the Sulu sultan’s followers, possibly within the next 24 hours, as reported by Malaysian news site The Star.

The possibility came after the sultan rejected calls on Tuesday, including one from President Benigno Aquino III, for him to order his followers home.

In his other text messages to his family in the Philippines, Agbimuddin said he and his group were leaving everything to Allah, do or die, make or break.”

Also, Agbimuddin said the Malaysian soldiers who wento to Tanduao were “either provoking them or testing their strength or capability.”

Malaysia had also given the sultan’s followers three deadlines the last of which expired Tuesday night, to leave.

Asked by The Star if a move against the Sulu sultan’s followers would be made within the next 24 hours, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar replied: “Maybe. We are set to end the standoff.”

The Star also managed to interview the sultan’s brother by phone and quoted him as saying they expected to be attacked but were “ready to defend ourselves, we are not afraid.”

“We are not afraid because we know we are right. This is our land,” he told the Malaysian news outfit.

He also said he would take orders only from his brother the sultan.

The Star reported that Malaysian security forces had deployed “at several strategic locations in and outside the surrounding Feld plantations” on Tuesday and that “government and army medical teams are on standby should the green light be given to deport the Sulu group.”-Interaksyon (February 27, 2013 12:00PM)

Vietnam Reporter Fired After Criticizing Communist Leader

A Vietnamese journalist working for a state-run newspaper has been fired and threatened with prosecution after criticizing a Communist Party leader on his personal website.

Nguyen Dac Kien was let go by the official Family and Society newspaper on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after writing a blog post that took issue with a speech by General-Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

In the nationally televised speech Monday, the general-secretary said those who call for pluralism, a multi-party system and separation of power represent a "deterioration" of Vietnamese society.

Kien's blog post, which went viral , said the leader had "no right" to address the people of Vietnam like this, saying state corruption was the real problem with Vietnam.

The paper, where Kien had worked since 2008, quickly put out a statement saying the reporter had "violated the operating rules" of the publication and had been fired. It warned he will be "held accountable before the law for his words and behavior."

Kien, who is married and has a small child, says he had done nothing wrong, but that he is not surprised by the firing. He says he will continue fighting for democracy in Vietnam and is prepared to face the ramifications of writing the article.

Vietnam is a one-party Communist state that strictly forbids criticism of its leaders. It increasingly has jailed political dissidents and activists who question the party's authority.-Voice of America (February 27, 2013)

Thailand eyes peace talks with southern insurgents

Thailand's national security chief says the country is working to hold peace talks with Muslim insurgents based in neighboring Malaysia who are behind unrest in southern Thailand that has lasted nearly a decade.

Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary general of the National Security Council, says the two countries are working to set up the talks with militant leaders. Malaysia would act as a facilitator, helping to bring the insurgents to the table.

Paradorn says fewer than 1,000 insurgents are living on the Malaysian side of the border.

His comments Wednesday came ahead of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's visit to Kuala Lumpur this week.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in Thailand's three southernmost provinces since an Islamic insurgency erupted in 2004.-The Jakarta Post (February 27, 2013)

Laos to host regional summits in March

Laos will host the 6th CLMV Summit (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) and the 5th ACMECS Summit (Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy) in Vientiane from March 11-13.

The 7th Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Summit, which will be hosted by Vietnam, will also take place in Vientiane at the same time.

Vietnam had originally planned to host this summit last year but decided to postpone the meeting. Vietnam now takes this opportunity to host the summit as regional leaders gather together.

Yesterday, the CLMV Senior Officials' Meeting and the ACMECS Senior Officials' Meeting took place in Vientiane chaired by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Bounkeut Sangsomsak.

Senior officials from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam met to prepare for the CLMV Summit and senior officials from the four countries and Thailand met to discuss the ACMECS Summit.

“Today, officials discussed and exchanged opinions on several matters in preparation for the two summits. Regarding the CLMV, we discussed issues related to connectivity within the four countries and agreed to make full use of the roads we have built for our ultimate benefit, including Road No. 9,” Bounkeut told media yesterday.

“One of the important things is to address our shortcomings, such as practical problems with the one-stop service.

This service is considered very important as it provides quicker results and facilitates the passage of goods and people, contributing to the effective use of the East-West and North-South Economic Corridors as well as other major road links. We have discussed how to address this issue.”

Bounkeut said CLMV senior officials have also discussed tourism cooperation, accepting that tourism in the four countries has grown rapidly over the past few years.

In 2012, the CLMV countries received over 14.8 million international visitors, an increase of more than 19.7 per cent compared to 2011.

The senior officials also touched upon 16 cooperation projects between the CLMV countries. Of the total, eight are underway and some have been completed. The remaining projects will start within the next two years.

They also discussed assistance provided to the CLMV countries by the Japanese government worth US$20 million.

Of this, Laos received funding to finance five projects and to improve services along Road No. 9 in Savannakhet province.

The CLMV Summit is a very important meeting under the Asean framework. The first CLMV Summit was held in November 2004 in Vientiane and saw the adoption of the Vientiane Declaration on enhancing economic cooperation and integration among the member countries.

Currently, the priority areas for cooperation include trade and investment, transportation, industry and energy, human resource development, agriculture, ICT, health, and regional economic integration.

ACMECS is a cooperation framework between Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam to utilise member countries' diverse strengths and to promote balanced development in the sub-region.

The first ACMECS Summit was held in 2003 in Bagan, Myanmar. Currently, eight priority areas of cooperation include facilitation for trade and investment, agriculture, industry and energy, road connectivity, tourism, human resource development, health and the environment.- Asia News Network (February 27, 2013)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Thai PM Yingluck may seek Malaysia's help on insurgency

Thai authorities and separatist rebels could be inching towards talks after nine years of violence and the loss of more than 5,000 lives in Thailand's Muslim-dominated southern provinces bordering Malaysia.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is meeting her Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday and may seek his help to make contact with rebel groups.

"There are insurgent groups operating within Malaysia and Thailand that want to talk to the Thai government," Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of the National Security Council of Thailand (NSC), told Reuters.

"We want Malaysia to facilitate these talks."

The NSC brings together government ministers and officials charged with coordinating security matters with the military. In a 2012 paper it acknowledged a political dimension to the violence and proposed dialogue with the insurgents, but the military, which has a big presence in the south, is lukewarm.

"The military has had regular contact with Malaysia. We are not involved with the meeting on Thursday, because this is a government initiative," Udomchai Thammasarorat, commander of the Fourth Army in southern Thailand, told Reuters.

"Our military strategy is clear and we are making good progress towards resolving the conflict," he said.

Independent analysts see little evidence that the military is winning, despite its success in thwarting an attack on a marine base on February 13 in which 16 insurgents were killed, with no loss of life among the marines.

The rebels have hit back with a string of attacks. Two bombs on Saturday in Narathiwat province, about 1,150 km (715 miles) south of Bangkok, and a drive-by shooting in neighboring Pattani injured five people. An explosion in Pattani's commercial district on February 17 killed two security volunteers.

Yingluck has said she would discuss the southern unrest in Malaysia but government officials are not using the term "peace talks" and some senior ministers are opposed to such an idea.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobumrung ruled out negotiations with the insurgents, saying that "if insurgent groups come to us with conditions, we will not accept them".


The provinces were once part of an independent Malay sultanate before being annexed by Thailand in 1909.

Resistance to Buddhist rule from Bangkok has existed for decades, waning briefly in the 1990s before resurfacing violently in January 2004.

Buddhist monks, teachers and farmers have been singled out as targets in a conflict that has killed 5,300 people, according to Deep South Watch, which monitors the violence.

Thai authorities say the attacks in the south are organized by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) Coordinate, an offshoot of the Patani Malay National Revolutionary Front established in the 1960s to seek greater autonomy.

Some within the military and government remain suspicious of Malaysia, accusing it of providing a refuge for insurgents.

"It's encouraging that the Thai government is working seriously on establishing dialogue. But there are doubts about whether Malaysia can play a productive role as mediator," said Matthew Wheeler, a Southeast Asia analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Najib, facing a general election that has to be held by called by the end of April, could benefit from any move towards a settlement.

"For Najib, an agreement with Thailand could be presented as a major foreign policy achievement to show that the southern crisis can be resolved peacefully," said Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch.-Reuters (February 26, 2013 7:41AM)