Saturday, August 10, 2013

Taiwanese fishermen may face poaching charges in the Philippines

While Filipino coast guards face prosecution for the May 9 killing of a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman, his companions during the tragic sea chase may also be made to answer poaching charges.

National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Nonnatus Rojas said a poaching case may be filed against the three companions of Hung Shih-cheng – including his son –  depending on the recommendation of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Rojas said that based on the findings of an NBI fact-finding panel, the tragic sea chase happened within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and that the Coast Guard personnel “validly” exercised their duties.

“It is submitted that the enforcement action commenced by the PCG and the BFAR is in harmony with their mandate to protect the sovereign rights of the country regarding the utilization of the resources with its EEZ,” the NBI said in its 85-page report released on Wednesday.

The NBI said it asked the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) on May 21 to plot on a chart map the coordinates or location of the “cat and mouse” chase off Batanes.

The report said NAMRIA’s chief of Nautical Charting Division Commander Herbert Catapang categorically stated that “as far as their knowledge of the law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), concerning our territorial jurisdiction is concerned, these areas mentioned in the coordinates as plotted in the official nautical chart of NAMRIA are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.”

The digital plotting, the NBI added, was made using systems that are compliant with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) standards and “commonly used in nautical charting.”

“Considering the foregoing discussion and considering, further, that the location of where the shooting incident happened was not disputed by the Taiwanese fishermen, there is no doubt that the same is within the territory of the Republic of the Philippines,” the report said.

Seventeen Coast Guard personnel and three BFAR men were patrolling the Balintang channel on board Philippine patrol craft MSC-3001 when they encountered two Taiwanese fishing vessels.

PCG commanding officer Arnold de la Cruz told investigators the coast guards assumed the Taiwanese were poaching in Philippine waters because they carried no flags.

The Coast Guard vessel, according to the PCG official, steered toward the bigger vessel but the smaller Taiwanese boat “came near their path as if it intended to block their approach to the larger vessel.”

The PCG official said the Taiwanese vessel ignored warnings and even tried to ram the BFAR vessel, prompting the Coast Guard personnel to open fire.

De la Cruz said the shots were intended to disable the vessel.

The NBI said 105 rounds of ammunition had been discharged during the chase.

Facing homicide charges aside from De la Cruz are Petty Officer 2 Richard Fernandez Corpuz, Seaman 2nd Class Nicky Reynold Aurello, and Seamen 1st Class Edrando Quiapo Aguila, Mhelvin Bendo, Andy Gibb Ronario Golfo, Sunny Galang Masangcay, and Henry Baco Solomon.

The PCG submitted videos to prove its claim but the NBI said based on the footage, “the intent to ram is not clear given the perspective offered by the video and the fact that such maneuver could have been intended merely to escape.”

The NBI said the coast guard’s actions, which include the use of high-powered guns and indiscriminate firing, “are indicative of a common design to disregard the rules of engagement.”

“Any sensible and reasonable person is capable of discerning at that point that indiscriminate firing at a small fishing vessel will, in all likelihood, inevitably result not only in the disabling of the watercraft, but also in bodily harm or death,” the NBI explained.

Support vowed

The PCG leadership will stand by its men involved in the shooting, spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said yesterday.

Balilo said the prospect of long prison terms for the eight is hurting the morale of PCG personnel. - The Philippine Star

Vietnamese soldier, son turn up alive in jungle 40 years after they went 'missing'

He was a war refugee who lived like Robinson Crusoe. Except he had a son to keep him company. 

Vietnamese soldier Ho Van Thanh, now 82, disappeared into the jungle with his one-year-old son at the height of the country’s war with the United States 40 years ago, and has just been discovered.

However, a man claiming to be another son has said he has known of his father and brother's jungle hideout for the past 20 years.

Provincial authorities described the father and son’s dwelling place as a house “that looks like a bird’s nest, built from sticks on a big tree around six meters from the ground.”

Thanh and his son, Ho Van Loan, now 41, were found by authorities in the province of Quang Ngai Wednesday at the heart of the forest after a 40 kilometer trek that took several hours, the Vietnamese daily Thanh Nien News reported.

The pair survived by cultivating vegetables and hunting animals using knives, axes and arrows that they made themselves. They also planted sugarcane near their house.

The two men’s rescue after 40 years reportedly shocked the whole village, who thought they were already dead. 

However, a man claiming to be Thanh’s youngest son said in a report quoted by Thanh Nien News that he has known his father and brother were alive for 20 years.

According to the website VnExpress, Ho Van Tri, who was just a few months old when Thanh fled, said he already found the pair with the help of an uncle more than two decades ago but could not persuade them to return home or to their village.

Tri, who said he survived a bombing during the war because he was rescued by a relative, said he has not yet been accepted by his father and brother although he has been bringing them salt and oil every year.  

The US was prompted to launch a war against Vietnam in 1955 due to the American government’s fear of letting communism spread across Asia. The 19-year war, which resulted in the death of more than 4 million Vietnamese civilians and 58,000 US soldiers, ended with the fall of Saigon to the Vietnam People's Army in April 1975.

Jungle rescue

Based on an account by the newspaper Dan Tri, the Bangkok Post reported that the pair was discovered after two people from a nearby village saw their tree house while looking for firewood in the forest.

The villagers alerted the local authorities about the men, who went to the jungle to rescue them.

Local officials found Thanh and Loan clad in pants fashioned from dried tree barks, and later discovered they also made shirts from the same material.

Inside the house, they discovered that Thanh kept his soldier’s trousers and his son’s little red coat neatly folded in a corner.

The Bangkok Post report quoted a local official as saying on the condition of anonymity that although Thanh can communicate a little in the Cor ethnic minority language, his son only knew a few words.

The 82-year old man has been brought to the hospital for medical care since he can barely walk while Loan is under the care of his nephew, Ho Ven Bien.

"My uncle doesn't understand much of what is said to him, and he doesn't want to eat or even drink water," Bien said. - GMA News

Suu Kyi urges progress as thousands mark Myanmar uprising

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi urged further progress on democratic reforms in a speech to thousands on Thursday marking the anniversary of a huge popular uprising in 1988, the largest ever such commemoration.

Some 5,000 people crammed into a convention centre and thousands more watched large television screens outside to witness a landmark ceremony recalling the mass student protests 25 years ago that were brutally crushed by the then-junta.

The event, attended by members of the opposition and ruling parties, diplomats and Buddhist monks, comes amid sweeping changes in Myanmar since the end of outright military dictatorship two years ago.

"Time doesn't wait for us. We have to move forward," opposition leader Suu Kyi told the crowd, listing the tasks still to be completed in the fast-changing nation, including country-wide peace, constitutional reform and rule of law.

"On this 8888 (as the anniversary is known) revolution silver jubilee day, I would like to urge everyone to continue working bravely and in unity for what we have to do for the future of our country," she said, adding that it was a "good sign" that so many people had gathered together to mark the event.

On August 8, 1988 widespread student-led demonstrations against Myanmar's military rulers were brutally suppressed in an army assault in Yangon. But they marked the start of a huge popular uprising against the junta.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country calling for democracy, in protests that came to a brutal end the following month with an army crackdown that killed more than 3,000.

Suu Kyi, who had been living in London but returned to Yangon in 1988 to nurse her sick mother, was quick to take a leading role in the pro-democracy movement, delivering speeches to the masses at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda.

The Nobel laureate, who spent much of the following two decades under house arrest until she was freed just after controversial elections in 2010, is now an MP as part of sweeping reforms under a new quasi-civilian government that came to power in 2011.

Other changes that have seen the country lauded by the international community have included freeing hundreds of political prisoners -- many of whom were jailed for their roles in the 1988 rallies -- and ceasefires with major ethnic rebel groups.

Ko Ko Gyi, a key figure in the 1988 protests and a leader of the 88 Generation activist group, said campaigns to push Myanmar further on the path to democracy should maintain "the spirit" of the student rallies.

"We cannot erase history. The situation of the country today is a result of the 1988 people's movement. Although we have not reached the situation we want, we are at the beginning of the road," he told AFP.

Earlier, hundreds of people watched some 50 campaigners march through downtown Yangon in an unauthorised procession that irked local law enforcers.

Marchers refused to halt when the head of police in the area asked them to stop. Police allowed them to continue, standing aside but taking pictures of those involved.

"I don't think we need to get permission... we do not want to protest, we just want to express our respect. We are just walking," said Tun Tun Oo, a 49-year-old businessman who was a student protester in 1988.

Activists also laid wreaths at Sule Pagoda in the centre of Yangon, which was at the heart of the August 8 crackdown.

Win Min, a former student protester, said the scene in the area 25 years ago was "the worst and most unforgettable of my life".

"We want to show our sorrow for the dead today and to show them we are moving forward to the goal of democracy... we promised them we would continue," he told AFP. - Channel News Asia

China's maritime ambitions making waves in Pacific

China's communist rulers are making waves in the Pacific as they extend their naval strength and reach while Japan and the Philippines bolster their own fleets, increasing the risk of a maritime conflict, analysts say.

Five warships completed China's first circumnavigation of Japan last week in a clear show of force. Other vessels regularly patrol various territories contested by Tokyo and other neighbours -- prompting Japan to summon Beijing's ambassador for a protest on Thursday.

At the same time China's first aircraft carrier is already in service, and top naval commanders have promised it will have more.

"What we are seeing is that China's Communist Party leadership is now trying to leverage its new military capabilities to achieve political-strategic goals," said Rick Fisher, an expert on Asian military affairs with the US-based International Assessment and Strategy Center.

President Xi Jinping has in recent weeks reaffirmed his country's aim of establishing itself as a maritime power.

At the same time Washington, which maintains military bases around the region and has strong ties with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines, intends to "pivot" its attention towards Asia.

Beijing insists that it has no interest in "hegemony" and its intentions are peaceful, but analysts say the threat of conflict is rising.

China's circumnavigation of Japan saw its vessels pass through the Soya strait between Japan and Russia -- on their way to joint exercises in Russia's Peter the Great Bay -- and the Miyako strait near Okinawa.

Of itself the journey is not physically challenging, but in the current context the symbolism was unmistakable.

The state-run China Daily said Beijing's forces had "fragmented" what it called the "first island chain", the land masses stretching from the northern tip of Japan to the Philippines that divide the Chinese mainland from the Pacific.

"By sending patrols through these sensitive maritime choke points China shows its neighbours that it will defend its interests beyond the China Seas, that it seeks to build a true ocean-going navy," said Jonathan Holslag of the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies.

Fisher added that for China, "being acknowledged as a 'superpower' that can deploy large scale force to Africa and Latin America would also be a very significant 'victory'."

China's actions and ambitions are prompting its neighbours to take their own defensive measures.

This week Manila took delivery of a Hamilton-class cutter from the US -- days after announcing a purchase from France -- while Tokyo unveiled its biggest warship since World War II, a helicopter carrier that could be adapted to carry vertical take-off jets.

The development raises the prospect of a potential Asian arms race. "To respond to Japan's light carrier... China can only develop its own real aircraft carriers," the state-run Global Times said on Wednesday.

Beijing's first such vessel, the refitted Soviet-era Liaoning, went into service last autumn, and Song Xue, deputy chief of staff of the navy, said in April that "China will have more than one aircraft carrier".

Its first domestically built carrier may already be under construction at a shipyard near Shanghai, security consultancy IHS Jane's reported this week, based on analyses of satellite photos.

The images appear to show a section of the deck that might serve as the track for an aircraft-launching catapult -- a feature specialists say would let it carry a wider variety of larger planes.

"We know that China has been working on this, but putting it so fast on a carrier is a major step," said Holslag.

Other suggestions are that the images may only be of a practice section intended to help the yard secure a contract to build such a vessel.

Beijing took effective control of the disputed Scarborough shoal just 200 kilometres from the Philippines last year, humiliating Manila, and keeps up nearly daily pressure in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety.

Chinese media have released in recent days photos of tourist ships landing on the Xisha islands, the Chinese name for the Paracels, whose sovereignty is challenged by Vietnam. Taiwan also claims them.

At the same time Beijing's vessels frequently patrol near the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Tokyo, which controls them, and in China as Diaoyu.

"For now the party is content to wage a virtual war of coast guard versus coast guard with Japan," Fisher said. "We can consider this a 'shoving match', no punches yet. But the contest is real and China will push harder and harder against Japan's ships."

Once Beijing has built up its capabilities, he said, "China will be tempted to engineer an 'incident' to justify a small war at sea that it thinks it can 'win'.

"You can be sure that Xi Jinping understands how a very well timed brief, contained and decisively won war can be very good for China," he added. - Channel News Asia

Cambodian election body postpones releasing election results

Cambodia's National Election Committee (NEC) on Friday postponed announcing the temporary election results, which was planned on Aug. 10.

According to its announcement, the NEC said that the results would be released at a later date because it had not completed the investigation into alleged poll irregularities during the election on July 28.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng said Friday that the postponement would give more time to the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and the NEC to negotiate towards the establishment of a joint poll irregularity probe committee.

The initial unofficial results showed that the CPP of Prime Minister Hun Sen won 68 of the 123 parliamentary seats, with the CNRP of recently-pardoned leader Sam Rainsy taking the remaining 55 seats.

But Sam Rainsy rejected the results, claiming serious irregularities, and called for the establishment of a joint investigation committee.

If formed, the committee would comprise the NEC, the CPP and CNRP as members, while national, international or UN officials as observers.

Sar Kheng confirmed Friday that soldiers and armored vehicles have been deployed on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, in order to ensure security and stability as opposition leader Sam Rainsy has repeatedly warned to lead mass protests against the election results. - Philippines News Agency

Thailand's peace process with Muslim insurgents halts

Following continuing violence during the ceasefire agreement in Thailand's Muslim-dominated restive border provinces, an insurgent group finally said it wanted to halt the peace process.

Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the main Muslim militant group that joined the peace talks with the Thai authorities, has announced an indefinite suspension of peace dialogues with the government, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok told media on Thursday.

Under the ceasefire agreement, considered a milestone to tackle the violence which has killed more than 5,000 people, the BRN will try to reduce violence during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, while the Thai authorities would also refrain from any aggressive actions to avoid security problems.

The violence-free month began July 10, and would end on Aug. 18 and cover three southern border provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala and five districts of Songkhla -- Na Thawi, Sadao, Thepa, Chana and Saba Yoi.

Pracha, who is in charge of national security, said the Malaysian facilitator has conveyed the message from the BRN that the peace talks would be halted until Thailand makes a clear stance to the BRN's five-point demand earlier submitted to the Thai delegation.

The demand includes: the Thai government must accept the role of Malaysia as mediator, not just facilitator, the talks will be attended by representatives from members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be allowed to witness the talks, and Thai authority must release all detained insurgent suspects.

The National Security Council (NSC), which has led the Thai security team to the past three rounds of talks with BRN leaders in Kuala Lumpur, will call an urgent meeting with agencies in charge of strategy on southern border provinces next week to discuss the matter, Pracha said.

The deputy premier said the BRN group still stood firm that negotiations would be the best solution to the southern problem.

Without peace dialogues, the government will have to rely solely on military operations, he said, which is not beneficial to the region and could negatively impact the morale of people in the south. He insisted that peace dialogues should continue to helpl end the conflict in a manner acceptable to all parties.

Since the very first day of the peace agreement, bombing ambushes and drive-by shooting have been continuing from time to time in the violence-plagued region.

The event that triggered distrust that ended the peace agreement was the murder of Muslim religious leader Yacob Raimanee in Pattani province. However, the deputy premier said he believed other militant groups, rather than the BRN, were responsible for the crime, noting that the assassination was intended to discredit the peace talks.

More than 5,000 people have been killed and more than 9,000 injured in over 11,000 incidents, about 3.5 incidents a day, in Thailand's Muslim, ethnic-Malay dominated three southern border provinces -- Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla since separatist violence erupted in January 2004, according to Deep South Watch, which monitors the regional violence. - Philippines News Agency

Friday, August 09, 2013

Myanmar pins hopes on Philippines investments

Businessmen in this Southeast Asian country are counting on the entry of Philippine investments here to help move their economy forward.

Dr. Maung Maung Lay Lay, vice-president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry (UMFCCI), which groups 26,000 members and 69 affiliate organizations, said this would be a “win-win situation” for both Myanmar and the Philippines.

Reeling from a half century of military rule, Myanmar has dramatically fallen behind its peers in the region. Its economy grew by an average of five percent in the last five years, picking up only last year with a 6.3 percent clip.

Lay said Myanmar needs foreign investors, including Philippine companies to move the economy forward and help prepare it for the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

Lay noted for instance that the Philippines has one of the cheapest mobile phone systems in the region and welcomed potential investments in the telecommunications sector.

In mining, Lay said their country also needs investments.

“They are our partners. But we also have to make sure they don’t just extract our resources and leave it at that,” he said.

The Philippines, which posted the highest first quarter economic growth in the region at 7.8 percent, has been dubbed by Standard & Poor’s, a credit rating agency, as the new leader in Asean.

In June, President Aquino said after the World Economic Forum for East Asia held here that three Philippine companies, all headed by corporate tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan, are eyeing to invest in the telecommunications, water and sanitation, and energy sectors in Myanmar.

Pangilinan, whose company owns mobile phone giant Smart Communications, announced in April that he is considering teaming up with local partners in Myanmar for a shot at a potentially lucrative market.

“If we want to enter Myanmar’s telecommunications market we have to partner with any of the qualified bidders because we can’t do it on our own,” Pangilinan said, referring to bidders vying for the telecommunications market in Myanmar.

Pangilinan’s other businesses, power utility firm Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and Maynilad Water Services Inc., a water concessionaire, are also open to partnering with Myanmar businessmen for possible joint venture deals.

“We welcome them, indeed. It’s a very warm welcome. We share common goals, common faith and common aspirations. We wish to share together and it will be a win-win for all our countries,” Lay said.

Myanmar President Thein Sein issued the same message back in June when he said his country is seeking the assistance of the Philippine government in the energy and agriculture sectors.

Last year, the two countries agreed to improve bilateral relations in business following a meeting between Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay and Myanmar President Sein on the sidelines of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit. In the area of agriculture, the Philippines agreed to help Myanmar by sharing banana and rice technologies.

The rice industry in Myanmar needs all the help it can get, said Pyae Sone Oo, a rice trader.

Myanmar, which exported 700,000 tons of rice across the border last year based on data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), could benefit from better technology, post-harvest facilities and training of farmers, he said.

Lay said all the investments they can get from regional peers would help them prepare for the AEC, just one and a half years away.

He said that compared to its peers in the region, Myanmar still has a long way to go to catch up.

“We are lightweight compared to the heavyweights in the region. Our fundamentals are not strong. Our banking system is weak,” he said.

“It (the AEC) has made us a bit jittery. We are not ready for the big event there is fear but we can learn from you guys. We look forward to working together,” he said.

The AEC is envisioned to be the goal of regional economic integration by 2015. It hopes to create a single market and production base and a competitive region that is fully integrated into the global economy.

Lay said Myanmar’s transition to an open economy is happening fast. - The Philippine Star

Singapore economy expected to grow 2.5-3.5% this year

Singapore's economic growth forecast for this year is between 2.5 and 3.5 percent.

This is higher than the previous official forecast of between 1 and 3 percent.

In the first half of 2013, Singapore's economy grew by 2 percent.

Revealing the figures in his National Day Message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a world that is changing rapidly and unpredictably, Singapore must reassess its position, review its direction, and refresh strategies to thrive.

Recording his National Day Message at the new Toa Payoh Safra clubhouse, Mr Lee said Singapore has made steady progress in the past year.

Queues for HDB flats have been cleared and Build-To-Order flat prices have stabilised.

In the area of transport, more buses have been added and Singapore is trying out free early-morning MRT rides into the city.

Turning to Singapore's economy, Mr Lee said it is holding steady amidst global uncertainties and Singapore is attracting more quality investments.

Unemployment remains low, but he emphasised that even as Singapore tightened the inflow of foreign workers and immigration, the country must maintain investor confidence and keep Singapore open for business.

Mr Lee said: "The world is changing rapidly and unpredictably. Singapore is changing too. The economy is maturing and our population is ageing. Different groups in society now have more diverse and even conflicting interests. Older Singaporeans worry about healthcare and costs of living. Younger ones aspire to wider education opportunities and more affordable homes. Our road ahead will be different from the road we have travelled."

Mr Lee said the Our Singapore Conversation process has helped people crystallise their aspirations.

He said: "A Singapore which gives its citizens opportunities to succeed and live fulfilling lives. A nation which defines success in many ways, and offers multiple paths to many peaks. A society with safety nets that give people peace of mind. A community where the disadvantaged get help, and those who have done well in turn do more to help others."

The government, said Mr Lee, will set goals and work out plans to realise these aspirations.

The prime minister added that today, Singapore stands tall internationally with many countries admiring it. At the same time, other countries are rapidly progressing and catching up. Mr Lee stressed that Singapore must stay ahead of the competition, and maintain its standing in the world.

To do so, Mr Lee said Singapore must adapt its basic approach to nation building by striking a new balance between the roles of the individual, the community and the state.

Mr Lee added that the government will also play a bigger role to build a fair and just society.

He said: "We will keep avenues to rise wide open to all. We will help those from families with less get off to a good start in life, beginning from pre-school. We will tackle the cost of living, for example healthcare costs, especially for the elderly. We will foster a more equal society, by helping every family afford their own HDB flat, and giving low income workers a better deal through Workfare. In Singapore, everyone will always have a stake in this country, and ample chances to make good in life."

But all this is only possible, Mr Lee said, if Singaporeans are united and not divided by race, social class, or political faction.

He added that Singapore must always have able, honest and committed leaders, who can be trusted to serve Singaporeans, and a good government that thinks and plans ahead, and more importantly feels for the people's concerns and hopes. - Channel News Asia

Security tight as Indonesia celebrates Eid

Tens of millions of Muslims in Indonesia celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday Thursday as fears of fresh attacks at Buddhist sites prompted a security clampdown days after a temple bombing.

The past week has seen an exodus from cities in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, with people taking to cars, boats and planes to head home to their families across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.

Indonesia is one of the first countries in the Islamic world to kick off Eid celebrations, with people ending the fasting month of Ramadan with lavish feasts and by attending services at mosques and taking part in processions.

Muslims in Australia were among the first to celebrate and Afghan President Hamid Karzai is due to deliver an address at Eid prayers in Kabul.

Malaysians also marked Eid on Thursday, with Gulf states expected to follow. Pakistan and North Africa are expected to start festivities on Friday.

While most Indonesians were celebrating, it is an anxious time for the country's minority Buddhists after an attack on a temple in Jakarta on Sunday.

One person was injured when a small bomb exploded at the Ekayana temple as hundreds were praying, an attack motivated by anger at the plight of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Security was stepped up at Buddhist sites, with the number of police and guards at the famed Borobudur temple complex in Central Java doubled to 418, according to temple official Purnomo Siswo Prasetyo.

"Buddhist temples are one of the key locations we are securing," national police spokesman Ronny Sompie told AFP.

More than 140,000 police had been deployed across the country in the past week to guard against attacks at all sites deemed vulnerable, including Buddhist temples, he added.

Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based terrorism expert from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, warned there could be further attacks.

"The problem is that temples are unfortunately an easy target, and young militants have always been opportunistic in their actions," she said.

Anger over the Rohingya has escalated in Indonesia in recent months, with police uncovering a plot to bomb the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta in May and hardliners calling for "jihad in Myanmar" during demonstrations.

Two waves of unrest between Muslims and Buddhists in the Rohingya home state of Rakhine last year left many dead and tens of thousands -- mainly Rohingya -- displaced. - Channel News Asia

Japan summons China envoy over ships near disputed isles

Tokyo summoned Beijing's envoy on Thursday after Chinese government ships entered Japanese territorial waters near islands at the center of a bitter row between the Asian giants.

The Chinese vessels entered the area early Wednesday and left around noon on Thursday, the Japanese coastguard said, the longest incursion since the dispute erupted again last year.

Tokyo issued a protest to acting ambassador Han Zhiqiang over the latest incident, a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.

"The Chinese side argued its... position and said it could not accept Japan's protest," he said.

The incursion was the latest in a series by Chinese government ships in recent months around the Senkaku islands, a potential flashpoint that some observers say could even lead to armed conflict.

Beijing also claims the chain, which it calls the Diaoyus. The East China Sea archipelago is located in rich fishing grounds and is believed to harbor vast natural resources below its seabed.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed coast guard vessels had patrolled waters around the islands and said the patrols were designed to exercise China's sovereignty, the official Xinhua news agency reported late Thursday.

"The Diaoyu island(s) and their affiliated islets are an integral part of Chinese territory and have been since ancient times," Hong was quoted as saying.

The Chinese ships left the area around midday, the Japanese coastguard said, adding that the longest previous stay by Chinese vessels was about 14 hours in February.

"The latest incident marks the longest stay" since last year, a coastguard official told AFP.

The long-running dispute flared again after Japan nationalized some of the disputed chain last September, setting off a diplomatic row and sparking riots across China.

A Chinese boycott of Japanese brands quickly followed, weighing on exports to the key market.

The territorial tensions and maritime skirmishes have all but frozen relations. A survey Thursday found that Chinese and Japanese people hold the least favorable views of each others' countries for almost a decade.

A total of 92.8 percent of Japanese have a bad or relatively bad impression of China, while 90.1 percent of Chinese hold similar feelings towards Japan, according to the poll by the state-run China Daily and Japanese think tank Genron NPO.

On Tuesday Beijing made strong criticism after Japan unveiled its biggest warship since World War II, a $1.2 billion helicopter carrier aimed at playing a major role in disaster and rescue missions, as well as defending sea lanes and Japanese territory.

"We express our concern at Japan's constant expansion of its military equipment. This trend is worthy of high vigilance by Japan's Asian neighbors and the international community," China's defense ministry said.

"Japan should learn from history, adhere to its policy of self-defense and abide by its promise of taking the road of peaceful development."

The comments came as Tokyo considers an overhaul of the pacifist constitution imposed on Japan by the United States after WWII. The prospect stirs strong emotions among Japan's neighbors.

Beijing and Seoul have long maintained that Tokyo has never come to terms with its militaristic past, including the brutal 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

Japan's well-funded and well-equipped military is referred to as the Self-Defense Forces, and is barred from taking aggressive action.

Any move to strengthen the military would require constitutional change, a move that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative administration has been eying since it swept December elections. - GMA News

Myanmar marks 1988 pro-democracy uprising anniversary

Public commemorations have taken place in Myanmar to mark the 25th anniversary of the uprisings which launched the country's pro-democracy movement.

It was the first time the anniversary has been openly commemorated in Rangoon, also known as Yangon.

Hundreds of thousands took part in the protests, which began on 8 August 1988.

But six weeks later at least 3,000 protesters were dead, thousands more were jailed and the military was firmly back in control.

During the 1988 protests, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as the leader of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar also known as Burma.

Ms Suu Kyi, who is now the opposition leader, gave a speech as part of the commemorations.

She arrived to applause and on taking the stage told the audience that in 1988 they had "wanted to build a democratic nation - and this purpose is still not changed and will never be changed".

Paying tribute to the young students who led the demonstrations, she said it was time for Burma to move on.

"Whatever we do we must not take grudges against each other. We will have to heal the wounds the country suffered by showing love and compassion."

'Tacit approval'

Photo exhibitions and performances in mock prison cells were organised to depict events during the uprising and the crackdown that followed.

On Thursday, a small group of activists marched through Rangoon and laid wreaths to honour those who died in the protests, ignoring police orders that they stop.

The marchers did not have official permission to demonstrate in the streets, but police allowed them to continue, taking pictures of those involved, AFP news agency reported.

Win Min, a former student protestor, told AFP that the crackdown was "the worst and most unforgettable [scene] of my life".

"We want to show our sorrow for the dead today and to show them we are moving forward to the goal of democracy... we promised them we would continue," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi at the public commemorationsA ceremony attended by several thousand people, including political leaders, was held at a convention centre in Rangoon.

The current reformist government has tacitly approved this memorial, even though some of the former generals serving in it are implicated in the violence, the BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Rangoon.

A nominally civilian government took power in Myanmar after elections in November 2010 that ended military rule.

The new administration, led by President Thein Sein, has introduced a series of political and economic reforms, including the release of many political prisoners and the easing of media censorship.

Most sanctions against Myanmar have now been relaxed in response to the changes.

Commenting on the anniversary, UK foreign office minister Hugo Swire said: "This anniversary is a chance to remember all those who have struggled for greater democracy in Myanmar, in particular the many who lost their lives in 1988 or spent years in prison because of their beliefs." - British Broadcasting Corporation

Taiwan removes sanction against Philippines after apology

Taiwan lifted its sanctions against the Philippines Thursday after Manila apologised for the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman, an incident which had severely strained relations.

"The government of the Republic of China (Taiwan's official title) announces that the sanction against the Philippines is removed immediately after the Filipino side has displayed apology and goodwill in written statements and action," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The move came after Amadeo R. Perez, chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office which handles relations in the absence of diplomatic ties, flew to Taiwan and offered an "official apology" on behalf of Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

Tensions had risen sharply after the 65-year-old fisherman was shot dead by Filipino coastguards on May 9 in waters near an island in the Philippines' extreme north, which Taiwan also claims as part of its economic zone.

Perez travelled to the small southern port town of Hsiaoliuchiu to meet the family of the dead man, Hung Shih-cheng.

In televised comments, Perez said he wished to convey "the Philippine people's deep regret and apology to the family of Mr Hung Shih-cheng over this unfortunate loss of life of their beloved one".

"May I respectfully present our official letter of apology to the family of Mr Hung on behalf of our president and our people," he told Hung's widow, before giving her the letter and shaking her hands.

Taiwan's foreign ministry said the Hung family and the Filipino government had reached a settlement on compensation, without specifying its content.

It said Manila had also agreed to hold further talks on a proposed fisheries agreement as part of their efforts to avoid another such tragedy while handling disputes.

Taiwan had rejected earlier apologies by Manila as inadequate and imposed a series of sanctions, including a ban on hiring new Filipino workers, an advisory urging Taiwanese not to visit the Philippines and the suspension of trade and academic exchanges.

But diplomatic tensions eased after Philippine authorities said Wednesday they had recommended homicide charges against eight Filipino coastguards for Hung's death.

Perez had previously visited Taiwan in May as a "personal representative" of President Aquino, but his apology was rejected by the Taipei government because he had described Hung's death as "unintended."

The killing caused outrage and protests in Taiwan, with President Ma Ying-
jeou describing it as "cold-blooded murder" as Taipei responded with the sanctions and with navy drills. - Channel News Asia

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Relations with Vietnam a priority for Russia

Relations with Vietnam is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

At the meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart Fung Kwan Thani on Wednesday, Shoigu said: “We consider your country a strategic partner and an long established and reliable friend.”

“Military and political situation in the world and in the Asia Pacific Region is aggravating. The situation in certain volatile spots may escalate and new conflicts may arise,” Russian minister said, adding that “military and military-technical cooperation is of paramount significance.”

Both countries “do their best to intensify military and military-technical cooperation”, Shoigu said. “Personnel training, cooperation between fleets, dialogue regarding strategic defence, exchange of delegations and joint scientific ventures play an important role. Moreover, Vietnam is one of the key importers of Russian weapons,” the minister said.

Talks with the Vietnamese delegation “allow us to sum up the results of the work when the defence ministers met in Hanoi in March. The main agenda is establishing plans for further cooperation”, Shoigu said. - Philippine Information Agency

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

US criticises Vietnam internet control law

Vietnamese internet users

The US has criticised a new internet decree in Vietnam that would restrict online users from discussing current affairs.

The law, announced last week and due to come into force in September, says social media should only be used for "[exchanging] personal information".

The US embassy in Hanoi said it was "deeply concerned" by the decree.

Vietnam has convicted at least 46 activists, including bloggers, for anti-state activity this year.

The law, known as Decree 72, bans the online publication of material that "opposes" the Vietnamese government or "harms national security".

It also specifies that social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook should only be used "to provide and exchange personal information".

In a statement on Tuesday, the US embassy in Hanoi said it was "deeply concerned by the decree's provisions that appear to limit the types of information individuals can share via personal social media accounts and on websites".

"Fundamental freedoms apply online just as they do offline," it said.

Campaign group Reporters Without Borders, which has included Vietnam among its list of "Enemies of the Internet", said: "If [the decree] takes effect, Vietnamese will be permanently deprived of the independent and outspoken information that normally circulates in blogs and forums".

The law would also require foreign internet companies to keep a server inside Vietnam, news agency AP reported.

The Asia Internet Coalition, an industry group that represents companies including Google and Facebook, said in a statement: "In the long term, the decree will stifle innovation and discourage businesses from operating in Vietnam."

Vietnam is a one-party communist state and the authorities maintain a tight grip on the media. - British Broadcasting Corporation

Philippines vows intensified sea patrols

The Philippines promised intensified sea patrols Tuesday as it welcomed the arrival of a second warship from the United States to bolster its defences during a maritime dispute with China.

President Benigno Aquino led the navy in welcoming the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, a Hamilton-class cutter that had been decommissioned by the US coast guard and acquired by Manila.

The ship is berthed at Subic, a former American naval base on the west coast of the main island of Luzon facing the South China Sea where the Philippines has festering territorial disputes with China.

"Now that BRP Alcaraz has arrived, we will surely intensify our patrols in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone," Aquino said in a speech as the US envoy to Manila and other officials cheered.

"It will also boost our capability to counter any threat," he said.

Aquino made no direct reference to China, which has claims in the South China Sea overlapping those of the Philippines and other nations.

The Alcaraz, named after a Filipino commodore and World War II hero who battled Japanese warplanes, is the second warship acquired by the Philippines from its US ally in recent years, significantly upgrading its poorly-equipped military.

The first, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was acquired in 2011 and immediately sent to patrol the country's waters to counter what the government says is increasing militarisation by China of the disputed areas.

In 2012 the Gregorio del Pilar confronted Chinese ships in a tense standoff at Scarborough Shoal, a small outcrop just off the coast near Subic.

The Chinese eventually gained control of the shoal after the Philippines backed down.

The 3,250-ton (2,950-tonne) Alcaraz can withstand strong waves and can stay longer at sea than any of the Philippines' current vessels, allowing for more extensive patrols, the navy said.

The Philippine military is considered one of the weakest in the region and it has been seeking more US aid to boost its capabilities.

The government last week said US military aid to Manila would increase more than 60 percent to 50 million dollars this year, with a possible acquisition of a third naval cutter.

Small numbers of US forces rotate for training in the Philippines, although the defence department has recently said it was in talks with its American counterparts for joint use of Philippine bases.

US Navy P3 Orion surveillance aircraft have also been helping the Philippines gather intelligence on what Manila has said is an increasing Chinese military build-up in the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to its smaller neighbours. The dispute has long been considered a potential flashpoint of conflict in the region.

Subic, along with the nearby Clark air base, were longtime US military facilities, playing key roles from World War II to the Vietnam War and during the Cold War.

The Philippine Senate voted in 1991 to shut down US bases in the country. - Channel News Asia

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Philippines has displaced Indonesia as Asean economic leader -- S&P

The Philippines is now Asean's undisputed economic leader, according to Standard & Poor's (S&P).

“The Philippines, which Standard & Poor's recently upgraded to investment grade, has taken over the Asean growth leadership role from Indonesia,” S&P Asia Pacific chief economist Paul Gruenwald said in a new report released Monday.

Gruenwald said the Philippine economy would grow by 6.9 percent this year, faster than other Asean economies.

According to its forecast, S&P sees Indonesia's gross domestic product (GDP) growing 6.1 percent; Vietnam, 5.3 percent; and Malaysia, 5.3 percent.  The Philippine growth forecast is higher than that for China at 7.3 percent.

A measure of economic performance, GDP is the amount of final goods and services produced in a country.

S&P's forecast for the Philippines' GDP growth this year is at the higher end of the government's target range of 6-7 percent.

The credit rating firm said growth however would slow to 6.1 percent next year before picking up to 6.5 percent in 2015.

Philippine GDP grew 7.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, making it the fastest-growing is Asia.

 “The major Asean economies we cover -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam -- continue to outperform. These economies are more domestically focused than the newly industrialized economies and therefore tend to do better when global growth is sluggish,” Gruenwald said.

For the entire Asean, S&P expects growth of 5.5 percent through 2015.

In making its forecast, S&P expects a rebound in the US economy later this year and in 2014. The Asean forecsat however remains below trend because of flat growth in Europe, which is Asia's biggest trading partner.

Overall, risks to Asia-Pacific growth remain skewed to the downside, S&P said, adding that a slowdown in China will have a ripple effect on Australia, which is the largest supplier of iron, and other economies that export heavily to China.

Two important risk factors are the pace of Chinese investment and real GDP growth, and the strength of the US economic recovery, S&P said. - Interaksyon

Six dead, 26 hurt in Philippines bomb blast

A powerful bomb which was heard kilometres away killed six people Monday in a southern Philippine city where the United States and other governments earlier warned of a terror threat.

The explosive device was placed on a vehicle -- either a motorcycle or a van -- parked on a busy road near a hospital during the afternoon rush hour, said city police chief Senior Superintendent Rolen Balquin.

Cotabato photographer Mark Navales described a blood-spattered road strewn with charred bodies and smouldering vehicle parts.

"I saw three mangled human remains, one of them burnt," he told AFP.

"I have never before seen (the effects of) such a powerful blast in Cotabato."

It was the second bombing to hit Mindanao island in 10 days.

A powerful blast at a restaurant packed with doctors and pharmaceutical salesmen left eight people dead in the city of Cagayan de Oro on July 26.

It was not immediately clear whether the two bombings were linked.

At least 26 others were wounded in Monday's attack, although no group immediately claimed responsibility, Balquin said.

Those killed were motorists passing along Sinsuat Street, the main highway in Cotabato that is lined by commercial establishments.

Among the injured were police officers in a vehicle passing through the area, he said.

The bomb went off as a bulletproof car carrying city administrator Cynthia Gulani-Sayadi was passing by. She escaped unhurt, but two bodyguards following her in a separate van were among the dead.

The attack came a month after the United States, Australia and Canada warned its diplomatic staff against travelling to Cotabato and two other southern cities on Mindanao -- Zamboanga and Davao -- over fresh threats of terrorism.

The nature of the threat was not specified but related to "terrorist and insurgent activities", the US embassy had said.

Insurgents have waged a decades-old rebellion on the island that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives, but the main rebel group is now talking peace with the government.

In Manila national police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Thedore Sindac said investigators were looking at various possible motives, including rivalry among local politicians.

He said it was too early to say whether Sayadi was the target, but it was among the angles being considered.

Asked whether the attack could have been linked to the US terror warning, Sindac said he did not want to speculate.

Cotabato had been attacked by militants in the past, and it is where other armed groups, including kidnappers, operate.

Mujiv Hataman, governor of a regional autonomous area whose office is 800 metres (2,625 feet) away from the blast site, said the explosion rattled his windows and shattered a quiet afternoon.

"That area has always been a busy street, full of traffic. There are a lot of establishments there and people come and go at all hours," he told AFP by telephone.

"The blast was heard kilometres away. It was powerful," he said.

The late-afternoon explosion damaged at least four vehicles and triggered a fire that engulfed a nearby mortuary and a tyre repair shop, he added.

The Cotabato explosion also came just shortly after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway rebel faction, warned of intensified attacks against government targets.

The group split in 2011 split from the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is negotiating peace.

Three of its guerrillas were killed last week near Cotabato in clashes after they fired on an oil tanker and laid two roadside bombs. - Channel News Asia

Monday, August 05, 2013

Anti-government protesters gather in Bangkok

Hundreds of Thai protesters gathered in Bangkok to rally against the government and divisive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra on Sunday amid worries over the potential for fresh unrest in the politically-turbulent country.

Brandishing Thai national flags as well as the yellow emblem of the country's monarchy, demonstrators milled around restaurant carts and memorabilia stalls set up at the protest site in a central Bangkok park.

Organisers of the self-styled "People's Army" rally -- a coalition of ultra-royalist and nationalist groups -- addressed the crowd from a stage, calling for the end of the current government and slamming its self-exiled figurehead Thaksin.

"It is time for Thai people who love the country to unite and become a people's army to overthrow the Thaksin regime," one of the group's key leaders, retired general Preecha Iamsuwan, told the rally.

Despite initial concerns over the potential for unrest in Bangkok, which has suffered several bouts of political violence in recent years, security forces kept a low profile at the event.

Police, who have said they are authorised to use water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets if violence erupts, put the number of demonstrators at 1,500 with up to 4,000 expected by late Sunday.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, on Saturday expressed "worry that the rally could lead to violence".

The Thai government has already invoked a special security law to control the protests, which could go on for several days. More than 1,600 police were deployed on Saturday to protect key government buildings, while thousands more were put on standby.

Thailand has been riven by political tensions since the overthrow of Thaksin, who lives abroad but still draws loyalty among the kingdom's poor, rural working class.

Mass demonstrations, often involving bloodshed, have become a recurrent feature of Thailand's turbulent politics in recent years, with ultra-royalist nationalist "Yellow Shirts" and their pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" foes both taking to the streets.

In 2010, two months of Red Shirt protest against a previous government brought much of Bangkok to a standstill and culminated in a bloody military crackdown. Some 90 people were killed in the unrest, with around 1,900 injured.

Sunday's protesters are targeting a government-backed bill, due to enter parliament on August 7, which proposes an amnesty for those involved in political violence since the coup that toppled Thaksin nearly seven years ago.

Some members of the current protest groups are former Yellow Shirts, but the main Yellow group has declined to support this round of protest.

The bill would scrap charges against protesters involved in incidents from the September 2006 coup until May 2012 -- barring the leaders

"I cannot accept this family anymore. All they do is for their family, not for the people," protester Jarucha Saesuwan, 59, told AFP. "I cannot accept they will forgive people who a court has found guilty."

An attempt to introduce an amnesty bill last year was aborted after Yellow Shirts and ultra-nationalists -- who support the opposition Democrat Party -- rallied outside the legislature.

The Yellows, who boast support from Bangkok elites and elements in the military, helped unseat Thaksin and claimed the scalps of two allied governments in under five years.

Their 2008 rallies paralysed Bangkok's main airports stranding thousands of tourists, but more recent protests by ultra-nationalists have failed to attract large numbers. - Channel News Asia