Sunday, March 09, 2014

Asian states search for missing Malaysia Airlines jet

A multinational team is searching the sea off south Vietnam, in the hope of finding a Malaysia Airlines flight that has been missing for 24 hours.

A Vietnamese search plane saw two possible oil slicks in the area, although there was no confirmation they were related to the disappearance.

Flight MH370 had 239 people on board, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

Two-thirds of the passengers were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

It has been reported that two passengers who were listed on the plane's manifest - an Italian and an Austrian - were not actually on the flight.

They both reportedly had their passports stolen in Thailand.

Asked whether terrorism was suspected as a reason for the plane's disappearance, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said: "We are looking at all possibilities, but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks."

A senior US official told NBC News: "We are aware of the reporting on the two stolen passports. We have not determined a nexus to terrorism yet, although it's still very early, and that's by no means definitive."

US help

Flight MH370 vanished at 17:30 GMT Friday (01:30 local time Saturday).

The plane reportedly went off the radar south of Vietnam, and according to Malaysian Airlines, it last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.

Distraught relatives and loved ones of those on board are being given assistance at both the arrival and departure airports.

Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the focus was on helping the families of those missing. He said that 80% of the families had been contacted.

The passengers were of 14 different nationalities, Mr Yahya said.

Among them were 153 Chinese nationals, 38 Malaysians, seven people from Indonesia and six from Australia.

Malaysia and Vietnam have both sent planes and naval vessels to search for the missing flight, and the US is sending the USS Pinckney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, which could be in the area within 24 hours.

Territorial disputes over the South China Sea were set aside temporarily as China dispatched two maritime rescue ships and the Philippines deployed three air force planes and three navy patrol ships. 

Singapore is also involved, while Vietnam sent aircraft and ships and asked fishermen in the area to report any suspected sign of the missing plane.

"In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues," said Lt Gen Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military's Western Command.

The pilot was Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981, Mr Yahya said.

Friends and relatives expecting to meet passengers from the flight in Beijing were instructed to go to a nearby hotel where officials were meant to be on hand to provide support.

"They should have told us something before now," a visibly distressed man in his thirties told AFP news agency at the hotel.

"They are useless," another young man said of the airline. "I don't know why they haven't released any information."

In Kuala Lumpur, Hamid Ramlan, a 56-year-old police officer, said his daughter and son-in-law had been on the flight for an intended holiday in Beijing.

"My wife is crying," he said. "Everyone is sad. My house has become a place of mourning. This is Allah's will. We have to accept it."

Malaysia's national carrier is one of Asia's largest, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily to some 80 destinations worldwide.

The route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing has become more and more popular as Malaysia and China increase trade, says the BBC's Jennifer Pak in Kuala Lumpur.

The Boeing 777 had not had a fatal crash in its 20-year history until an Asiana plane came down at San Francisco airport in July of last year.

Three teenage girls from China died in that incident.

Aviation expert David Learmount told the BBC that passenger planes today "are incredibly reliable and you do not get some sudden structural failure in flight - it just doesn't happen". -British Broadcasting Corporation

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Philippines says China fired water cannon at disputed shoal

The Philippines' military chief on Monday accused China's coastguard of firing water cannon at Filipino fishermen for the first time to drive them away from a disputed sea shoal.

General Emmanuel Bautista said Chinese vessels fired cannon on January 27 near Scarborough Shoal -- the subject of a bitter territorial row in the strategically important South China Sea.

"The Chinese coastguard tried to drive away Filipino fishing vessels to the extent of using water cannon," Bautista told a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

He did not say if anyone was hurt and added that China continues to maintain an armed coastguard and other vessels at the shoal.

Chinese embassy spokesmen could not be contacted for comment.

Scarborough Shoal lies 220 kilometres (135 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon. It is about 650 kilometres from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.

In April 2012, the Philippines and China had a tense standoff which ended with the former retreating from the shoal -- a rich fishing area.

China has occupied the shoal as part of its claim to most of the South China Sea including waters near the coasts of its neighbours.

The Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to parts of the sea, and the rivalries have been a source of tension for decades.

The South China Sea is one of the world's most important waterways as it is home to vital shipping lanes and is believed to sit atop lucrative deposits of natural resources.

Last year, Manila asked a United Nations arbitration tribunal to rule on the validity of China's claim to most of the sea, but Beijing has refused to be part of the process.

"We continue to give primacy to its (the dispute's) peaceful resolution principally through international arbitration," Bautista said.

"All our actions are in support to that. We remain hopeful that the issue can be resolved peacefully and result in peace and stability in the region."

He added too that "our resolve to perform our mandate as protectors of the people and the state and of our national territory" had not been weakened.

"We will continue to perform that mandate with whatever we've got," he said, adding that the country was in the first phase of modernising its poorly-equipped armed forces. -Channel News Asia

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Indonesia considers options to replace decommissioned fighter jet

Indonesia is considering to procure warplanes to replace its F-5 Tiger multirole fighter jets that are about to be decommissioned due to their very long service periods, an official said here Tuesday.

"There have been many options we have been considering whether they would be Russian, American, European," said Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro in his office here.

The minister said fighter jets put under considerations were those with higher capability than the F-5 Tiger planes that have already been 30 years in service with Indonesian air forces.

"I expect that the replacement fighter jets have the capability to carry long-haul missiles," the minister said on the sidelines of a meeting attended by top brasses of the country's military.

Indonesia bought 12 F-5 Tiger multirole fighter jets from Northrop, the United States, in early 1980s.

Purnomo expected a swift decision in opting for the most eligible fighter jet so that procurement on those replacement planes can be conducted during the second strategic plans (Renstra) program period from 2015 to 2020.

Indonesian Air Forces Commander Marshall Ida Bagus Putu Dunia said in the event that the air forces is expecting to operate 16 fighter jets, or one squadron, of the replacement planes.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Military Commander General Moeldoko said that the military has considered fighter jets consisted of Russian-made Sukhoi 35, American-made F-15 and F-16 and another fighter jet from Sweden. -Philippines News Agency

Philippines military to expand counter-terrorism unit

The Philippine government is to triple the size of a special forces military unit that operates against Islamist militants responsible for deadly bombings and kidnappings of Westerners, officials said on Tuesday.

The Light Reaction Battalion is to be built up to regiment size, Philippine Army chief Lieutenant-General Noel Coballes said, an increase from about 500 soldiers to as many as 1,500.

"We have seen how effective they are, so we are strengthening the unit in terms of anti-terrorism. From a battalion we'll increase it to a regiment," he said.

The unit is fighting the Abu Sayyaf, a group of several hundred Islamist militants who are behind the country's deadliest attacks as well as kidnappings of Western targets.

Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the battalion had taken substantial casualties during a three-week battle against gunmen in the southern port of Zamboanga in September last year.

The gunmen are followers of former rebel leader Nur Misuari, who went into hiding as hundreds of his men infiltrated Zamboanga to oppose a proposed peace treaty between the Philippine government and a rival Muslim guerrilla faction.

The fighting left more than 240 people dead and displaced about 116,000 people as entire districts of the city of nearly a million people went up in flames.

"As you have seen, we lost a number of our men in the Zamboanga incident, which led to a shortage that needed to be addressed," Gazmin said.

Neither official gave a timetable, but armed forces spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala said the unit would be bulked up within the year.

"Based on what happened in Zamboanga, our military leadership saw a need to increase the strength of the Light Reaction Battalion to be able to address contingencies anywhere in the country," Zagala told AFP.

The United States has trained and equipped the battalion since 2002, to help its Asian ally fight the Islamist militants in the south of the mainly Catholic nation.-Channel News Asia

Monday, January 06, 2014

Myanmar makes full preparation to host ASEAN meetings

Myanmar is making full preparation to host various meetings during its one-year term as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

These meetings in Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan  totaled more than 300,  including summits, ministerial meetings and senior officials meetings, according to official sources.

Plans have been drawn to host the first regional summit attended by more than 15,000 representatives from home and abroad.

The country has also prepared accommodation, security, transportation and information for the regional meetings.

The State Guest House will offer 1,848 rooms with a capacity of some 3,000 guests,  and 77 hotels in Nay Pyi Taw can offer 4,000 rooms.

To show its readiness, Myanmar opened the Myanmar International Convention Center (MICC), the venue for the regional summits and other meetings, in the new capital on Saturday.

As ASEAN chair, Myanmar will take a leading role in implementing priorities of the ASEAN roadmap as part of it efforts to establish the ASEAN Community.

It will also have to lay down the ASEAN Vision for beyond 2015.

According to schedule, Myanmar will first host the 62nd ASEAN Coordination Committee on Investment in Nay Pyi Taw next weekend.

Dozens of investment officers from ASEAN member nations and host Myanmar will discuss at the two-day meeting on Jan. 10-11 matters related to amending the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Treaty, amendment of unpermitted accounts included in the treaty and ongoing work programs in implementing the treaty.

The committee is tasked with promoting investment in the region, smoothing and relaxing rules and regulation and encouraging further flow of investment from regional countries.

The committee is also a leading supervisory body for the implementation of investment commitment and cooperation among ASEAN and dialogue partner countries.

The committee meeting will be followed by the first Myanmar- host ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (AMM) Retreat on Jan. 15-18 in Bagan, Mandalay region.

Taking over from Brunei, Myanmar started to assume the chairmanship of the bloc on Jan. 1, 2014.

ASEAN adopted its Vision-2020 in 1997 and is striving for establishing ASEAN Community in 2015. ASEAN is playing a leading role not only for regional integration but also for East Asia Summit, ASEAN+3 Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting.

Myanmar became an ASEAN member in 1997.

ASEAN comprises  Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. - The Philippine Star