30 November 2013

Assertive China puts neighbours on guard

As China’s military and economic power grows rapidly, its neighbours, with whom it shares disputed and maritime boundaries, look on warily. China now appears more assertive and ready to use its military clout to enforce its territorial claims, which have little basis historically and scarcely conform to the provisions of international conventions, laws and practices, on the demarcation of land and maritime boundaries. Prime Ministers Wen Jiabao and Manmohan Singh inked an agreement in 2005 embodying ‘Guiding Principles’ to determine the Sino-Indian boundary. It was agreed that ‘the India-China boundary should be along well-defined and easily identifiable natural geographic features’. It was also stipulated that in determining the boundary, the presence of ‘settled populations’ will be taken into account. This made it clear that there would be no change in the status of populated areas.
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Pakistanchooses moderate to take over as army chief

A career infantry officer considered a moderate has been selected asPakistan’s army chief on as the country fights a Taliban insurgency and seeks accord with theUnited Stateson how to stabilise neighbouringAfghanistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that Lieutenant-General Raheel Sharif, brother of a war hero, would take charge of the world’s sixth-largest army, with a formal handover from General Ashfaq Kayani on November 29.

The new army chief is not related to the prime minister.

The announcement comes as tension with arch-rivalIndiaover disputed Kashm

The army chief is arguably the most powerful person inPakistan, with the military having ruled the country for more than half its 66-year history since independence is rising and as theUnited StatesseeksPakistan’s help in bringing peace toAfghanistanahead of the withdrawal of most Western forces there next year.

Nawaz Sharif has declared he wanted to disentangle the military from politics but the military is unlikely to relinquish its hold at such a sensitive time.

‘Nawaz should know that whether it is Raheel Sharif or someone else as army chief, he won’t do the PM’s bidding – he will be driven by the institution first and last,’ said security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.

Raheel Sharif considers the militant threat insidePakistanto be as important as the strategic tussle withIndia, said a retired senior army officer whom Sharif has served under.

‘Sharif has played a big role in convincing the army that the Tehrik-e-TalibanPakistan(TTP) and assorted militants insidePakistanare as big a threat [asIndia],’ the officer said.

Controversy at CHOGM

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting inSri Lankagot off to a controversial start, as the country’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa faced criticism over its human rights record, and several world leaders boycotted the event.

British Prime Minister David Cameron did attend – though he promised to ask some ‘tough questions’ – and became the first foreign leader to visit the northern Tamil-majority city ofJaffnain more than 60 years.

Mr Cameron spoke with displaced people still living in shanties and resettlement camps more than four years after the Sri Lankan civil war ended.

‘The stories I am hearing from the people here are often harrowing,’ Mr Cameron said. ‘This is going to make a very lasting impression on me.’

Mr Cameron met Mr Rajapaksa

Mr Rajapaksa, for his part, defended Sri Lanka’s human rights record, despite an ongoing investigation into torture by state security services and calls for an international probe into alleged war crimes, saying ‘sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen’.after his Jaffna trip and at a press conference urged Sri Lanka to move ‘further and faster’ to address allegations of war crimes, saying the issue would remain high on the international agenda.

The president said his government ended killings in the country by defeating Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.

Chinaasserts control over air zone

Chinahas insisted it has the capacity to enforce its controversial newly-declared air zone over islands disputed withJapan, despiteBeijing’s reluctance to intervene after Am

erican B-52 bombers flouted its rules.

The flight of the giant long-range Stratofortress planes was a clear warning thatWashingtonwould push back against what it considers an aggressive stance byBeijingin the region.

Beijing’s non-confrontational response elicited scorn from some Chinese netizens, who called it weak in the face of defiance, but analysts said it may never have intended to impose the zone by force.

‘The Chinese government has the will and ability to defend our national sovereignty and security,’ foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular press briefing.

‘We also have the ability to exercise effective control over the East Sea Air Defence Identification Zone [ADIZ,’ he said.

The area in the East China Sea i

ncludes Japan-administered islands at the heart of a tense dispute between the two neighbours, known as Senkaku inTokyoand Diaoyu inBeijing.

China’s demand that aircraft submit flight plans when traversing it triggered a storm of diplomatic protest and the Pentagon said the B-52s did not comply.

But in a statement, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said: ‘The Chinese military monitored the entire process, carried out identification in a timely manner, and ascertained the type of US aircraft.’ The statement did not include any expression of regret or anger.

Iran plans to continue building at Arak nuclear site, despite deal

Iransays it will pursue construction at theArakheavy-water reactor, foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has been quoted as saying, despite a deal with world powers to shelve a project they fear could yield plutonium for atomic bombs.

France, one of the six powers th

at negotiated the November 24 interim pact withIranto curb its disputed nuclear programme, said in response to Zarif’s statement thatTehranhad to keep to what was agreed in theGenevatalks.

The uncompleted research reactor emerged as one of several big stumbling blocks in the marathon negotiations, in whichIranagreed to restrain its atomic activities for six months in return for limited sanctions relief. The agreement is intended to buy time for talks on a final settlement of the dispute.

Western powers fearArakcould be a source of plutonium – one of two materials, along with highly enriched uranium, that can be used for the core of a nuclear weapon – once it is operational.Iransays it would produce medical isotopes only.

According to the agreed text,Iransaid it would not make ‘any further advances of its activities’ on theArakreactor, under construction near a western Iranian town

 with that name.

‘Capacity at theAraksite is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there,’ Zarif told parliament in translated comments broadcast onIran’s Press TV.

Guantanamodetainees ‘trained as CIA agents’

A recent report has revealed that, in the early years after the 9/11 attacks, the CIA turned someGuantanamoBayprisoners into double agents, then sent them home to help theUSkill terrorists.

The CIA promised the prisoners freedom, safety for their families and millions of dollars from the agency’s secret accounts, according to the AP news agency, which cited current and formerUS officials.

Officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans. But they deemed it an acceptable and worthwhile risk.

The scheme was carried out in a secret facility known as ‘Penny Lane’, built a few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the prison inGuantanamo Bay,Cuba.

Some of the men who passed throughPenny Lanehelped the CIA find and kill many top al-Qaeda operatives, current and formerUSofficials say. Others stopped providing useful information and the CIA lost touch with them.

When prisoners began streaming intoGuantanamoBayin January 2002, the CIA recognised it as an unprecedented opportunity to identify sources.

‘Of course that would be an objective,’ Emile Nakhleh, a former top CIA analyst who spent time in 2002 assessing detainees but who did not discuss Penny Lane, was quoted as saying. ‘It’s the job of intelligence to recruit sources.’

Al-Qaeda suspected the CIA would attempt a programme like this and its operatives have been very suspicious of formerGuantanamoBaydetainees, intelligence officials and experts said.

Officials said the programme e

nded in 2006, as the flow of detainees toGuantanamoBayslowed to a trickle. The last prisoner arrived there in 2008.

Libyan army fights Islamists in Benghazi

Libya’s army has clashed with Islamist militants in the eastern city ofBenghazi, leaving three soldiers shot dead, security and medical officials said.

Western powers, worried about stability inLibya, have promised more aid to the army to curb former fighters and militants who helped topple veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi two years ago, but have since challenged the OPEC country’s government.

Fighting broke out on Monday November 25 between army special forces and members of militant group Ansar al-Sharia inBenghazi, killing at least nine people before the Islamists retreated from their main base.

Gun battles erupted again in three parts of the port city in the early hours of November 27. They began when members of Ansar al-Sharia threw a grenade at a patrol of special forces, a security official said, though he later retracted this and said it was not clear who was behind the attack.

The security situation inLibya’s second biggest city has sharply deteriorated in the past few months. Islamists run their own checkpoints, and assassinations and bombings happen daily.

Islamist militants, including some from Ansar al-Sharia, had been seen massing outsideBenghazi, where the army was rushing reinforcements in a convoy, residents said. But the militants later left the area and calm returned to the city.

Ansar al-Sharia was blamed for an attack on theUSconsulate inBenghaziin September 2012 when theUSambassador and three other Americans were killed.

Survivors of Bosnian war turn backs on UN

The head of the United Nations tribunal set up 20 years ago to try those behind the bloodshed of Yugoslavia’s breakup are facing protests by survivors angry at what they say is only partial justice.

As Theodor Meron began his keynote speech at a conference inSarajevoto mark two decades of the tribunal’s work, families of victims turned their backs and removed their translation headphones.

A group of activists walked out, carrying a banner that read ‘RIP Justice’. Meron did not react and continued with his speech, in which he said the court rulings were based solely on the law and the evidence available.

The protest reflected deepening dissatisfaction, particularly inBosnia, at the effectiveness of the Hague-based tribunal in seeking justice for the more than 125,000 people killed in the 1990s during the collapse of federalYugoslavia.

It follows the acquittal this year of two former top Serbian security officials and a Serbian general of involvement in war crimes committed inBosniaandCroatia. The verdicts meant noBelgradeofficial has been convicted of crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, which was largely fuelled fromSerbia.

‘This is our way to say that they are rewarding criminals and punishing us yet again,’ said Hatidza Mehmedovic, head of the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ association, who lost her husband and two sons in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the worst mass killing on European soil since World War Two.

The tribunal’s No. 1 indictee, former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, died in his Hague cell while still on trial in 2006.

France to send troops to CAR as threat of chaos looms

Francehas said it will send hundreds of extra troops to the strife-torn Central African Republic (CAR) after the UN warned the country was descending into ‘complete chaos’.

Calls were growing for an international reaction to the violence in CAR amid warnings that the mineral-rich but desperately poor nation was facing a ‘catastrophe of epic proportions’.

Reports have described a litany of horrors in the landlocked, sprawling country, with security forces and militia gangs razing villages, carrying out public execution-style killings and perpetrating widespread rapes.

Francehas proposed a UN Security Council resolution that would authorise international troops to use force in its former colony and on November 26 Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saidPariswould deploy about 1,000 troops to assist a beleaguered African mission.

Le Drian toldEurope1 radio the deployment would be ‘for a short period, in the range of about six months’.

CAR Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye said thatFrancehad talked of adding 800 troops to the 410 French soldiers already based in the capital,Bangui.

Situated in the heart ofAfrica, CAR has struggled with a series of coups and rebel uprisings since independence in 1960.

Syriaregime to attendGenevatalks – but no to power talks

Syriais to send delegates to aGenevapeace conference under President Bashar al-Assad’s orders, but his grip over the war-torn country will not be under discussion, an official has said.

The announcement comes one day after the opposition insisted Assad must not have a role in a future transition, echoing repeated calls by Western powers for the president to step down.

The January 22 peace conference, dubbed ‘Geneva 2’, is aimed at ending the nearly three-year-old civil war, a bloody stalemate which has killed an estimated 120,000 people and driven millions from their homes.

‘Syriaannounces the participation of an official delegation under the orders of (Assad) and the demands of the Syrian people, with the top priority eliminating terrorism,’ a foreign ministry source said, quoted by the officialSANAnews agency.

The source also said the delegation was not going toGenevato hand over power, and that the condition stipulated bySyria’s opposition and the West that Assad must not have a role in the country’s future was out of the question.

‘The official Syrian delegation will not go toGenevato hand over power, but to take part [in talks] along with those who are committed to furthering the interests of the Syrian people and who support a political solution forSyria’s future,’ the source said.

Book launch highlights Bangladesh horrors

New Millennium, a subsidiary of Asian Affairs magazine and The Democracy Forum, launched a new book at the Washington Mayfair Hotel in London on Wednesday November 27.

Written by Dr M A Hasan, who was a medical student in Dhaka in March 1971, Beyond Denial: The Evidence of a Genocide is a harrowing account of the Liberation War in Bangladesh, and how much suffering was generated during the creation of that country.

The event was chaired by Dr William Crawley of the ICS, who highlighted the current relevance of Bangladesh’s war crimes trials. The book’s editor, Tom Deegan, said that the theme of genocide was ‘grievously under-studied in the West’, while the author himself discussed his memories of the war and the atrocities carried out by the Pakistan army against Hindus and nationalist Bengali Muslims.

Several members of the Press attended the launch, including BBC Asian Network, Al Jazeera, the BBC Hindu Service and Reuters.

Strikes & demos in Tunisia

Angry protesters have set fire to the office ofTunisia’s ruling Islamist party in the neglected Gafsa region, as strikes were observed in areas amid rising discontent and political deadlock.

Hundreds of demonstrators attacked the Ennahda party’s headquarters in the poor central region after trying to break into the governor’s office, where they were dispersed by police firing tear gas.

The protesters seized files and furniture from the office and burned them on the road, while preventing firemen from gaining access to the building, and with no immediate sign of the police.

‘The people want the fall of the regime’ and ‘The people of Gafsa are a free people’ were among the slogans chanted.

As in the other regions of Gabes and Siliana, Gafsa ground to a halt as a general strike was called to protest against poverty and lack of development.

Those were driving factors behind the popular uprising nearly three years ago that toppled former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and which continue to plague much of Tunisia, whose sluggish economic recovery has failed to create jobs or spur regional development.

A number of similar protests have resulted in regional offices of Ennahda being attacked, including last month in the towns of Beja and Kef.

Gafsa is a key strategic area because of its phosphate mines but remains among the poorest in Tunisia despite its natural wealth, and witnessed anti-government protests in 2008, under Ben Ali, that were savagely repressed.