Saturday, November 16, 2013

Southeast Asian countries share anti-corruption experiences at meeting

The ninth annual South East Asia Parties Against Corruption (SEA-PAC) meeting is going on here Friday with parties sharing experience in fighting corruption in the region.

Around 200 participants including delegates from member countries and representatives from international organizations convened on Thursday for the two-day meeting.

The first day of the meeting saw Myanmar sign a memorandum of understanding to enter SEA-PAC, bringing the number of its member nations to 10.

Lao Deputy Prime Minister Asang Laoly said that the meeting was an important platform that gave participating nations the opportunity to share lessons learned and the best practices for use in combating corruption.

Participants are expected to discuss and explore stricter measures to prevent and fight corruption, state-run daily Vientiane Times reported Friday.

Laoly said corruption was a threat to the security of a nation that hinders development. The Lao government has attached great importance to combating corruption and had introduced a number of laws and regulations in order to stem corruption in the country, he said.

The Lao government has also improved the state administrative structure and the administrative structure of the Government Inspection Authority and Anti-Corruption Authorities in order that they might work more effectively, said Laoly, adding that Laos has been active in activities falling within the scope of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) including a 2011 review of corruption in Croatia.

In 2012, Laos itself was reviewed by Mongolia and Luxembourg. The government Inspection Authority and Anti-Corruption Authorities are working with relevant bodies to implement findings of the review.

Laoly congratulated Myanmar on becoming a member of SEA-PAC. Myanmar's Bureau of Special Investigation Director General Aung Saw Win, head of his country's delegation to the meeting, said that it was"a great honor and pride"to sign the memorandum of understanding on behalf of Myanmar. -Philippines News Agency

China urged to send warships amid Philippine aid anger

China should send warships to aid the typhoon-hit Philippines and counter US and Japanese influence, state-run media said on Friday, as Beijing comes in for criticism for its relatively meagre donation to the stricken nation.

The call came after China said on Thursday it would provide a further US$1.6 million aid to the Philippines, mainly in tents and blankets, following condemnation of its initial response of a US$100,000 government donation, matched by the Chinese Red Cross.

Even the expanded donation was less than that of Swedish furniture group Ikea, whose charitable foundation is giving UN children's agency Unicef US$2.7 million for its relief efforts.

Beijing and Manila are embroiled in a row over disputed islands. But China's Global Times said in an editorial that if the Philippines rejected the warships proposal, that would only "underscore its narrow mind and will be of no loss to China".

An eight-strong flotilla of US vessels, headed by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, has arrived off the Philippines bearing badly needed equipment, supplies and expertise for the thousands left homeless and hungry by one of the strongest storms in history.

Japan is tripling its emergency aid package for the Philippines to more than US$30 million, and plans to send as many as 1,000 troops to the disaster zone -- the largest single relief operation team sent abroad by its de-facto military.

"We believe China should send its warships to the Philippines too," said the Global Times, which is close to the Chinese Communist Party, adding such a move would be "well-intentioned".

Beijing's initial financial response to the disaster was met with disgust, with US magazine Time carrying a report on Wednesday under the headline: "The world's second largest economy off-loads insultingly small change on a storm-battered Philippines."

Michael Valderrama, a columnist with the Sun Star Daily in the Philippines, wrote: "China should realise that this isn't about politics any more -- it's about basic human decency.

"The Philippines and China aren't exactly best buddies, but we're not sworn enemies either," he added.

"If bitter enemies like Pakistan and India or Japan and North Korea can give each other appropriate aid and funding in times of need, then why can't the Chinese just give a little bit more instead of tossing a few dollars at us like we're a beggar that they want to shoo away?"

The territorial dispute over islands in the strategically vital South China Sea -- which Beijing claims almost in its entirety -- has been running for years.

Manila says Chinese vessels have occupied Scarborough Shoal, which it claims itself, since last year, and it is open to question whether it would welcome a Chinese navy presence in its waters.

The US and Japanese militaries' part in the relief efforts is an element of Washington's Asia strategy and may have "more intentions hidden behind the humanitarian aid", the Global Times said in a separate report.

Beijing could send a hospital ship, the Peace Ark, escorted by warships if dispatching its newly commissioned aircraft carrier the Liaoning was "sensitive and premature", said the editorial.

China's foreign ministry disassociated the authorities from Friday's editorial, with spokesman Hong Lei telling reporters at a regular briefing: "The relevant op-ed represents the opinion of the media itself.

"As for in what way and how much (further aid should be provided), China will make relevant decision in accordance with the development of the situation as well as the requirement of the Philippine side," he added.

The Global Times editorial, which was similar in both the paper's English- and Chinese-language editions, said Beijing was cautious about sending troops overseas in the past because of "a lack of capabilities, experience and many other concerns".

But now, it said: "The Chinese military must gradually assume a more forceful role in China's diplomacy.

"There is no need for a stronger China to worry about what we should do if our offer is rejected by the Philippines or if we are criticised by global public opinion due to poor performance," it added. -Channel News Asia

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hong Kong holds fast to sanctions deadline for the Philippines

While offers of aid for the Philippines pour in from around the world following the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan, Hong Kong has vowed to press ahead with sanctions on Manila over a 2010 hostage crisis.

The threat has sparked outrage among some Hong Kongers and the city's Filipino migrant workers, whose homeland is reeling from the impact of the record-breaking typhoon that killed thousands and devastated entire coastal communities.

The United Nations has appealed for US$301 million of aid, with the US and Britain among leading donors and China on Thursday stepping up its initially modest response to dispatch rescue materials worth US$1.6 million.

But the southern Chinese city, a former British colony that is now semi-autonomous, has refused to drop its warning of impending economic sanctions unless the Philippines offers a formal apology for a 2010 hostage crisis.

Eight Hong Kongers were killed and seven others wounded in the incident after negotiations broke down between Philippine authorities and a former police officer who hijacked a Manila tour bus.

Last Tuesday, the city's leader Leung Chun-ying said he will take "necessary actions to apply sanctions" if he does not see concrete steps taken to resolve the issue within a month.

Asked on Wednesday if the disaster would impact on the deadline, Hong Kong's Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said: "At this moment, we don't have this intention."

Lam added that the hostage situation and the devastation in the Philippines caused by Haiyan were "entirely separate issues".

The remarks angered some Hong Kong web users and the city's Filipino community, who number some 150,000.

"I am ashamed to call myself a Hong Konger and I hope the vast majority of Hong Kongers also feel the same, particularly with the government's callous and insensitive attitude on display to the world," a user commented online.

Another named 'shayliu', said: "This government does not serve or represent the general HK population."

Benjamin Panganiban, a director of the Philippine Association of Hong Kong said the remarks were "inappropriate", adding: "After the aftermath of what happened in the typhoon, maybe we can delay that deadline."

The city's unpopular government is under pressure not to upset groups affected by the hostage situation.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has refused to apologise on behalf of the country for the Manila hostage situation, insisting the deaths were primarily caused by the actions of the hostage taker.

The city's lawmakers have mooted a cancellation of its visa-free arrangement for visitors from the Philippines as well as possible trade sanctions.

In a response to the disaster, the Hong Kong government plans to boost its existing reserve for overseas disaster relief from HK$9 million to HK$49 million (US$6.32 million), which aid groups can then apply for. - Channel News Asia

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

World sends emergency relief to battered Philippines

The United States, Australia and the United Nations mobilised emergency aid to the Philippines as the scale of the devastation unleashed by Super Typhoon Haiyan emerged on Monday.

The Pentagon sent Marines and equipment to assist with the relief effort following the typhoon, which may have killed more than 10,000 people in what is feared to be the country's worst natural disaster.

Even Vietnam, despite coping itself with a mass evacuation programme as a weakened Haiyan swung onto its territory, provided emergency aid worth US$100,000 and said it "stands by the Philippine people in this difficult situation".

On the ground, the relief operation was centred on the city of Tacloban on Leyte island, three days after one of the biggest storms in recorded history demolished entire communities across the central Philippines and left countless bodies as well as gnawing desperation in its wake.

Delivering on a promise of quick help from President Barack Obama, about 90 US Marines and sailors based in Japan flew into Tacloban aboard two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, after receiving a bird's eye view of the immense scale of destruction across Leyte.

They brought communication and logistical equipment to support the Philippine armed forces in their relief operation.

"We are gonna move stuff as they direct, as the Philippine government and the armed forces (ask)," Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, the head of the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Expedition Brigade, said in Tacloban.

Kennedy's men were the advance guard of a Marine operation that in total will encompass up to nine C-130s plus four MV-22 Ospreys -- tilt-rotor planes that can operate without runways -- and two P3 Orion aircraft for search and rescue.

"That is what I do, I provide capabilities that are not resident here," Kennedy told reporters.

The Australian government pledged Aus$10 million dollars (US$9.38 million), with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop describing the unfolding tragedy as "absolutely devastating" and on a "massive scale".

The sum includes Aus$4 million towards a UN global appeal and Aus$3 million for Australian non-government organisations. The aid will include tarpaulins, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, water containers and health and hygiene kits.

A team of Australian medics will leave on Wednesday via a C17 military transport plane from Darwin to join disaster experts already on the ground, the government said.

Philippine rescue teams were said to be overwhelmed in their efforts to help those whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed after Haiyan ravaged large swathes of the archipelago on Friday.

Officials were struggling to cope with the scale of death and destruction, with reports of violent looters and scarcity of food, drinking water and shelter.

United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon promised UN humanitarian agencies would "respond rapidly to help people in need".

The UN children's fund UNICEF said a cargo plane carrying 60 tonnes of aid including shelters and medicine would arrive in the Philippines Tuesday, to be followed by deliveries of water purification and sanitation equipment.

Pope Francis led 60,000 people in Sunday prayers for the Philippines, urging the faithful to provide "concrete help" to the largely Roman Catholic country.

Other aid mobilised for the Philippines includes:

-- The European Commission said it would give three million euros (US$4 million) towards the relief efforts.

-- Britain offered an emergency support package worth US$9.6 million. Germany's embassy in Manila said an initial shipment of 23 tonnes of aid was being flown in and German rescue teams were already at work.

-- Japan was on Monday sending a disaster relief and medical team of 25 people, while Malaysia also readied a relief crew and cash aid was offered by Taiwan and Singapore.

-- New Zealand increased its humanitarian relief on Monday, bringing its total to NZ$2.15 million (US$1.78 million), while Canada has promised up to US$5 million to aid organisations.

-- Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said it was sending 200 tonnes of aid including medicine, tents and hygiene kits to arrive mid-week, with the first cargo plane leaving from Dubai on Monday and another from Belgium on Tuesday. -Channel News Asia

Top UN court awards flashpoint temple area to Cambodia

The UN's top court ruled Monday that most of the area around a flashpoint ancient temple on the Thai border belongs to Cambodia and that any Thai security forces there should leave.

The International Court of Justice interpreted a 1962 ruling saying that "Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the promontory of Preah Vihear," Judge Peter Tomka said.

"In consequence Thailand was under an obligation to withdraw from that territory Thai military or police forces or other guards or keepers who were stationed there," Tomka said.

At least 28 people have been killed in outbreaks of violence since 2011 over the ownership of the patch of border land next to the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple.

"It's good enough," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who was at the hearing in The Hague, told reporters after the ruling which nevertheless excluded Cambodian sovereignty over some land, including a place known as Phnom Trap.

"This is a very long decision by the court that we need to study very carefully," he said. "The two countries need to negotiate between themselves."

"Both sides are satisfied with the verdict," said Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, adding that Bangkok and Phnom Penh would discuss further steps in a joint commission.

There were reportedly no celebrations on the streets of Phnom Penh after the verdict, while a demonstrator set fire to a Cambodian flag on a Bangkok street, AFP correspondents reported.

Last year, the ICJ ruled that both countries should withdraw forces from around the ancient Khmer temple, which is perched on a clifftop in Cambodia but is more easily accessed from the Thai side.

Cambodia and Thailand finally pulled hundreds of soldiers from the disputed zone in July 2012, replacing them with police and security guards.

Last place to fall to Khmer Rouge

Tens of thousands of people were displaced in the 2011 fighting, leading Cambodia to ask the ICJ for an interpretation of an original 1962 ruling.

Thailand does not dispute Cambodia's ownership of the temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, but both sides laid claim to an adjacent 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) piece of land.

Access from the Cambodian side was so difficult that in the 1970s it was the last place to fall to the Khmer Rouge regime, and also the communists' last holdout in the 1990s.

Leaders of the two countries appealed for calm before the ruling by 17 international judges which cannot be appealed.

The Cambodian government will try to "avoid to be dragged into confrontation with Thai extremists and increase cooperation and exchange of information between the armies of the two countries at the border," spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP.

"At this time the situation is calm. The cooperation between the troops along the border is good and friendly," he said.

The Cambodian army meanwhile denied local media reports that it had sent military reinforcements to the area.

On her Facebook page Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra vowed Sunday to "consult" with Cambodia after the decision to avoid any conflict, adding her government would make a statement following the verdict.

The ruling, which was broadcast live on Thai television, is fraught with danger for her government, which is already grappling with mass street demonstrations against a controversial political amnesty bill.

The country's opposition is now likely to direct public anger towards Yingluck, whose divisive brother Thaksin is close to Cambodia's strongman premier Hun Sen.

Cambodia has allowed Thaksin -- who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term for corruption -- to hold a number of rallies for his "Red Shirt" supporters on its soil.

There are fears a negative verdict for Thailand will increase anger among hardline nationalists.

In a television appeal last week Hun Sen urged his armed forces to "remain calm and show restraint", adding he had agreed with his Thai counterpart to abide by the ICJ's decision.

The roots of the dispute lie in maps drawn up in 1907 during French colonial rule. -Channel News Asia

Typhoon Haiyan: Philippines declares state of calamity

Destroyed houses hit by Typhoon Haiyan in the town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar province, central Philippines on 11 November 2013

The Philippine President Benigno Aquino has declared a state of national calamity to speed relief efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

In a statement, he said the two worst affected provinces, Leyte and Samar, had suffered massive destruction and loss of life.

Thousands of survivors are still desperately waiting for the aid effort to reach them.

Up to 10,000 people are feared to have been killed.

Tacloban is one of the worst affected cities. The BBC's Jon Donnison, who is there, says there does not yet seem to be an effective operation to get help to those in need.

This is expected to change over the next few days, he says.

Hundreds of thousands more people have been displaced after the high winds and floodwaters destroyed their homes. Damage to roads and airports has delayed the delivery of aid.

One of the most powerful storms on record to make landfall, Haiyan - named "Yolanda" by Filipino authorities - struck the coastal provinces of Leyte and Samar on Friday.

It then headed west, sweeping through six central Philippine islands.


More than nine million people have been affected in the Philippines. Many are now struggling to survive without food, shelter or clean drinking water.

A picture is slowly emerging of the full damage wrought by the storm:

  • The exposed easterly town of Guiuan, Samar province - population 40,000 - is said to be largely destroyed

  • Tacloban, Leyte province, was largely flattened by a massive storm surge and scores of corpses are piled by the roadside, leaving a stench in the air as they rot, say correspondents. Hundreds of people have gathered at the airport desperate for food and water, others trying to get a flight out

  • Disaster worker Dennis Chong told the BBC that assessments in the far north of Cebu province had shown some towns had suffered "80-90% damage"

  • Baco, a city of 35,000 in Oriental Mindoro province, was 80% under water, the UN said.

A huge international relief effort is under way, but rescue workers have struggled to reach areas cut off since the storm.

However, reports from Tacloban say that soldiers have been on the streets distributing food and water to some residents and the US military has sent marines to the city.

The head of the Philippine Red Cross, Richard Gordon, described the situation as "absolute bedlam".

"It's only now that they were able to get in and we're beginning just to bring in the necessary food items... as well as water and other things that they need," he told the BBC.

Jane Cocking, the humanitarian director for Oxfam, said her colleagues witnessed "complete devastation... entire parts of the coastline just disappeared".

A Philippine military spokesman was quoted as saying on Monday that 942 people had died in the typhoon's aftermath, though it is clear the official death toll will rise significantly.

Almost 630,000 people have been reported displaced.

'Unprecedented' storm

Ships washed ashore by the typhoon in Tacloban, Philippines 11 November 2013Some are questioning what more authorities could have done to prepare for this, just the latest in a string of disasters to hit the nation of more than 7,000 islands.

Authorities had evacuated hundreds of thousands of people before the typhoon arrived, but many evacuation centres - schools, churches and government buildings - proved unable to withstand the winds and storm surges.

Haiyan brought sustained winds of 235km/h (147mph), with gusts of 275 km/h (170 mph) and waves as high as 15m (45ft). In some places, as much as 400mm (15.75 inches) of rain fell.

Officials said looting was widespread and order was proving difficult to enforce. Correspondents say many ordinary people are simply scavenging for the food and water needed to survive.

In some areas, the dead are being buried in mass graves.

American military aircraft and ships are being deployed to provide help. Aid is being flown into the only regional international airport at Cebu, with relief efforts focusing on Tacloban.

US President Barack Obama has issued a message saying he was "deeply saddened by the loss of life and extensive damage".

Other countries have also pledged millions of dollars in assistance. Australia has approved $9m in humanitarian aid to the Philippines, while New Zealand has pledged over $1m.

Typhoon Haiyan later made landfall in Vietnam, near the tourist destination of Ha Long Bay, with sustained winds of up to 140 km/h (85mph).

Despite losing much of its strength, the storm still felled trees and damaged buildings, with reports of some casualties.

Some 600,000 people were evacuated in northern provinces of the country. - British Broadcasting Corporation