Bangkok, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Myanmar's government looks as if it's under siege from an international community concerned about the condition of its nascent democracy, with widespread calls for a genocide tribunal to hold its military to account for the brutal treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority.
But experts say not to expect any change of course from the country's leader, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, even after a fresh round of withering criticism from abroad following Monday's show-trial conviction of two Reuters reporters who helped expose extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya men and boys.
Suu Kyi's motivations are opaque. Even as a revered pro-democracy activist, the Nobel Peace laureate had a reputation for being autocratic, but now her core ideology has come into question.
There is at least a loose consensus that she faces real restrictions on her actions due to the power retained by the military that is enshrined in the constitution it imposed in 2007.
"Aung San Suu Kyi has tried to balance her delicate and antagonistic relationship with the military and her conception of society's needs, perhaps fearing too strident a stance could prompt an overt return to military rule, which is possible under the constitution in certain circumstances," David Steinberg, professor emeritus at Georgetown University, wrote in July in the online magazine The Diplomat.
Other observers are less generous, saying Suu Kyi's seeming impassivity toward the plight of the Rohingya — and hostility toward those wishing to address the issue — undercut the narrative pitting her against the military.
"People tended to think that Aung San Suu Kyi and the military were at odds, and each feared that the other would dislodge them from power," said Khin Zaw Win, a rare outspoken critic of the government who directs the Tampadipa Institute, a Yangon-based capacity-building institution.
He said the conviction of the two Reuters journalists, who were sentenced to seven years in prison, is a reminder that "shows that what they fear in tandem is the world out there finding the truth and seeking to unseat them."
The old saying, "They have to hang together, or they hang separately," describes their situation, he said.
Political realities inside and outside Myanmar suggest there is neither the will nor a way to ensure justice for the Rohingya, 700,000 of whom fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the army. Myanmar denies any large-scale human rights violations and says its actions were a response to surprise attacks by militants in August last year that killed a dozen members of the security forces. Critics charge it was ethnic cleansing.
Those inclined to bring Myanmar to account have few weapons to do so. Despite the recommendation last month of a special U.N. fact-finding commission that top Myanmar commanders be charged with genocide, no trial is likely to be held in the foreseeable future.
It's far from clear that any country would officially push prosecution, and certain that several would seek to frustrate it. Major powers that have never entertained much interest in human rights — China and Russia — also have strategic reasons to cozy up to Myanmar, a well-situated outpost on the Indian Ocean.
"A tribunal at the International Criminal Court, for example, on genocide charges will be difficult to pull off," Murray Hiebert, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., said in an email interview. "Not only isn't Myanmar a member of the ICC, but a case must be brought by a member of the U.N. Security Council. China and Russia have made clear that they would block a case against Myanmar."
The desire to contain China's growing influence in Southeast Asia is a major issue.
"The U.S. and most Western democracies want to avoid pushing Myanmar further in the arms of Beijing," Hiebert said.
Competition with China for geopolitical influence, as well as friendship from regional countries anxious not to rock the boat or jeopardize investments, also limits the threat of unfriendly action.
"I think Myanmar can still count on most Southeast Asian countries as partners, and also India and probably Japan — Japan has been wary of taking a tough stance on the issues related to the Rohingya, for fear of losing strategic influence in Myanmar," said Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for the New York-headquartered Council on Foreign Relations.
Sanctions — the second-line approach to pressuring Myanmar — face the same constraints as pushing for a genocide tribunal, though nations inclined to do so can act unilaterally.
Hiebert noted that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — a stalwart supporter of Suu Kyi in her Nobel Prize-winning days as a freedom fighter against military rule — remains sympathetic to her and is a roadblock to tougher action by Washington.
"I think Myanmar and most of the population will hunker down in the face of more sanctions as they have stood up to most protests over the treatment of the Rohingya over the past year," Hiebert said. "They tell foreign visitors that they have resisted and survived sanctions before. The difference this time, of course, is that most of the population seems to support the military's moves against the Rohingya, while in the past many people seemed to support the sanctions to put pressure on the military to move toward greater democracy."
Manila, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — A Philippine senator who took refuge in the legislature to avoid an arrest order by President Rodrigo Duterte has asked the Supreme Court to declare the move illegal.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV is a fierce critic of Duterte. He told the high court in a petition Thursday that Duterte's proclamation voiding his 2011 amnesty as a former rebel military officer and ordering his arrest is based on "big lies."
The standoff has unraveled while Duterte is on a visit to the Middle East.
The Department of Justice says Duterte voided Trillanes's amnesty because the senator did not file a proper application and admit guilt for his role in past coup attempts. Trillanes showed documents and news reports disproving Duterte's claims.
Seoul, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — North Korea has reiterated its calls for the United States to agree to a declaration to formally end the Korean War, which it says President Donald Trump promised during his June summit with Kim Jong Un.
The column in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Thursday also said the Trump administration must discard its "stubborn" stance that the North must denuclearize first before the United States agrees to a peace treaty.
The article says North Korea has shown "goodwill and generosity" through actions such as returning U.S. war remains and dismantling a nuclear testing ground but that the United States has been failing to respond with corresponding measures to improve relations.
The article came a day after a South Korean presidential delegation visited Pyongyang and set up an inter-Korean summit on Sept. 18-20.
South Korea says it has forwarded a message from President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and he gave Seoul officials a message to deliver to Trump.
South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom says South Korea has Kim's message and will forward it to the United States. The content was not disclosed of either of the messages exchanged by South Korean officials who visited Pyongyang and met with Kim this week.
The spokesman says chief South Korean envoy Chung Eui-yong is to speak to U.S. national security adviser John Bolton on Thursday evening to inform the results of his meeting with Kim.
He says Trump asked South Korean President Moon Jae-in to work as "chief negotiator" to mediate between Washington and Pyongyang during their earlier phone talks.
A South Korean presidential official says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told him he still had faith in U.S. President Donald Trump despite ongoing difficulties in the nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
Chung Eui-yong said Thursday that Kim emphasized during a meeting in Pyongyang on Wednesday that he has not once talked negatively about Trump to anyone including his closest advisers.
Chung says Kim said that he wishes for North Korea and the United States to put an end to their seven decades of hostile relations before the end of Trump's first term.
After their June summit in Singapore, Trump and Kim announced a vague statement about a nuclear-free peninsula without describing when and how it would occur. Post-summit nuclear negotiations were rocky and quickly settled into a stalemate.
A South Korean presidential official says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told him that a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War would not weaken the U.S.-South Korea alliance or lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops in South Korea.
Chung Eui-yong said that Kim agreed to South Korea's stance that an end-of-war declaration would help build trust between the countries as they move forward in the process for denuclearization and stabilizing peace.
U.S. officials have insisted that a peace declaration cannot come before North Korea takes more concrete action toward abandoning its nukes.
While an end-of-war declaration wouldn't imply a legally binding peace treaty, experts say it could create momentum that would make it easier for the North to steer the discussions toward a diplomatic recognition and security concessions.
The Korean War stopped on an armistice and left the Korean Peninsula technically at war.
A South Korean presidential official says a trilateral summit between Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang at the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month is unlikely to happen.
Chung Eui-yong told reporters Thursday that the conditions for such a meeting haven't been created.
South Korea has been pushing for a trilateral meeting, or a four-nation meeting that also includes Beijing, to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. The war stopped on an armistice and left the Korean Peninsula technically at war.
Chung says such a declaration would build trust between the United States and North Korea and help progress in negotiations to dismantle the North's nuclear program. North Korea has also called for an end-of-war declaration, but the U.S. officials have insisted such a declaration cannot come before the North takes more concrete steps toward denuclearization.
South Korea says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said that dismantling work at his main rocket launch site meant the "complete suspension" of all future long-range ballistic missile tests.
Senior South Korean official Chung Eui-yong told reporters Thursday that Kim made the comments while reaffirming his commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula during their meeting in Pyongyang this week.
Since entering talks this year, North Korea has taken several steps such as dismantling parts of its main rocket launch site and closing its nuclear testing site. But U.S. officials say North Korea must take more serious disarmament measures.
Chung cites Kim as saying dismantling at the Tongchang-ri rocket site mean no future long-range missile tests would take place because it's his only long-range rocket testing site.
He says Kim also told him no more nuclear test would be possible in the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site because it has been completely dismantled.
Seoul says the leaders of the two Koreas will meet Sept. 18-20 in Pyongyang to discuss how to achieve the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Senior presidential official Chung Eui-yong told reporters Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also reaffirmed his "firm resolve" to realize denuclearization when he met him in Pyongyang on Wednesday.
Chung's trip came amid deadlocked diplomacy over North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea has taken several steps such as dismantling its nuclear testing site this year, but the U.S. wants it to take more serious disarmament measures.
Chung says Kim's summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in will focus on what specific steps must be taken to realize the denuclearization.
He says the Koreas will hold talks next week to prepare for the summit.
North Korean media have released a declaration from leader Kim Jong Un that reaffirms his commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula amid a growing standoff with the United States.
The statement Thursday from the Korean Central News Agency followed a high-level South Korean delegation's visit to Pyongyang to meet with Kim and to set up a summit later this month between him and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Kim was paraphrased as saying that it was "his will to completely remove the danger of armed conflict and horror of war from the Korean peninsula and turn it into the cradle of peace without nuclear weapons and free from nuclear threat."
Beirut, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — When the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran meet Friday in Tehran, all eyes will be on their diplomacy reaching a last-minute deal to avert a bloodbath in Idlib, Syria's crowded northwestern province and last opposition stronghold.
The three leaders, whose nations are all under U.S. sanctions, have an interest in working together to contain a potentially catastrophic offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces to recapture the province, but Idlib is complicated and they have little common ground when it comes to Syria.
The province and surrounding area is home to about 3 million people — nearly half of them civilians displaced from other parts of Syria — but also an estimated 10,000 hard-core fighters, including al-Qaida-linked militants.
For Russia and Iran, both allies of the Syrian government, retaking Idlib is crucial to complete what they see as a military victory in Syria's civil war after they recaptured nearly all other major towns and cities, largely defeating the rebellion against Assad.
A bloody offensive that creates a massive wave of death and displacement, however, runs counter to their narrative that the situation in Syria is normalizing, and could hurt Russia's longer-term efforts to encourage the return of refugees and get Western countries to invest in Syria's postwar reconstruction.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which supports Syria's rebels, stands to lose the most from an assault on Idlib.
Turkey already hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees and has sealed its borders to newcomers. It has also created zones of control in northern Syria and has several hundred troops deployed at 12 observation posts in Idlib. A government assault creates a nightmare scenario of potentially hundreds of thousands of people, including militants, fleeing toward its border and destabilizing towns and cities in northern Syria under its control.
"I don't think that there is a total solution for Syria on the table, but certainly it is a defining moment," said Sam Heller, a senior analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. He said if Damascus retook Idlib, it would mark its near-total victory over the opposition, but it will likely also bring humanitarian suffering and carnage on a scale not yet seen in the seven-year war.
A lot of expectations hang on the Iran summit bringing together Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.'s Syria envoy, made a personal appeal to Erdogan and Putin to find a "soft solution to this crisis."
"We look to Russia, Turkey, Iran to come with hope to the civilians in Idlib," he said. "There are indeed many more babies than there are terrorists in Idlib. There are a million children."
Friday's meeting in Tehran marks the third time the presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran have met over Syria in less than a year. In the absence of an engaged United States, they have taken it upon themselves to manage Syria's messy civil war, and their previous meetings in Sochi and Ankara established so-called de-escalation zones in several areas, including Idlib, that temporarily reduced violence. All these agreements were later violated as Syrian troops, backed by Russia and Iran, moved to retake those areas after pounding them into submission with airstrikes.
Capitulating rebels and militants from Homs, Aleppo, Ghouta and Daraa were packed in green buses and taken to Idlib, where the war's last showdown is about to unfold. Only this time, there is nowhere left to go, and remaining fighters are more likely to fight until the end.
Speaking to Russian news agencies Wednesday in Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov repeated Russian statements that Idlib is turning into a breeding ground for terrorists and needs to be dealt with accordingly.
He added, however, that Russia "is acting cautiously, selectively and is trying to minimize possible risks for civilians." He added that the Russian and U.S. militaries, as well as diplomats, are still in touch on the situation in Idlib.
"I think the military situation will become clearer after the leaders of the three countries hold talks on Friday," he said.
The meeting takes place against the backdrop of much saber-rattling.
Assad has built up forces around Idlib, vowing to retake the province. Turkey, which backs the rebels in Idlib, is warning against such a move, saying it will be disastrous. Moscow, meanwhile, has moved 10 warships and two submarines off the coast of Syria in a huge show of force.
At the core of Idlib's predicament is the thousands of jihadists entrenched in the province along with the civilians. The al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee remains the dominant force there, and any deal would most likely entail intensified Turkish efforts to oust the militants. Russia is reportedly talking to the group through mediators about dissolving itself.
Instead of a full-scale assault, Russia, Turkey and Iran could agree to a piecemeal approach that would see government forces taking off bites of the province, including cities like Jisr al-Shughour, close to Assad's coastal heartland in Latakia province, and Maaret al-Numan and Khan Sheikhoun, which lie on the M5, a key highway that runs through Syria's major cities.
According to an analysis by the International Crisis Group, one compromise plan could entail ending recurrent rebel drone attacks on Russia's Hmeimeem air base in Latakia by withdrawing the de-escalation zone's protection from specific problem areas, and reopening key highways in return for suspending a government offensive in Idlib to enable Turkey to find a solution to the province's jihadist challenge.
Another approach could be to get Turkey to agree to a government return to parts of Idlib while guaranteeing Turkish interests in northwestern Syria, at least in the short term.
For Turkey, however, the loss of Idlib would represent a humiliating failure that threatens to completely defeat Ankara's interests in Syria.
Can Acun, foreign policy researcher at the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, or SETA, said Turkey will try to push at the summit for any operation in Idlib to be limited, "one that targets only terror and radical groups."
He said Turkey could propose that the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces and other moderate groups in Syria be used "to weaken" the radical groups in Idlib.
Russia, which has seen its ties with Turkey grow amid Ankara's ongoing row with Washington, may be willing to compromise to protect the budding relationship.
Volkan Bozkir, head of the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee and a senior official of Turkey's ruling party, said he was hopeful a political solution would emerge at the meeting.
"They (Turkey, Russia and Iran) are all smart nations," Bozkir said. "I am hopeful that a formula can be reached with diplomatic ways, with smart policies and not through the use of guns."
Salt Lake City, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — A Utah driver who slammed her Tesla into a stopped firetruck at a red light earlier this year while using the vehicle's semi-autonomous function has sued the company, alleging salespeople told her the car would stop on its own in Autopilot mode if something was in its path.
Heather Lommatzsch claimed in the lawsuit filed Tuesday that Tesla salespeople told her in 2016 when she purchased the Model S that she could just touch the steering wheel occasionally while using the Autopilot mode. Lommatzsch, 29, said she tried to brake when she saw the stopped cars, but that the car's brakes did not work.
The accident happened May 11 in the Salt Lake City suburb of South Jordan. Lommatzsch broke her foot and was charged with a misdemeanor traffic citation for failure to keep a proper lookout. The firetruck's driver suffered but was not hospitalized.
Tesla spokesman Dave Arnold said in a statement about the lawsuit that the company "has always been clear that Autopilot doesn't make the car impervious to all accidents."
"When using Autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times," Arnold said.
Arnold stressed that Lommatzsch was cited and that the final police report said she told police she was looking at her phone before the crash. Car data showed Lommatzsch did not touch the steering wheel for 80 seconds before the crash, the report said.
Data taken from her car showed it picked up speed for 3.5 seconds before crashing into the firetruck, the report said. The driver then manually hit the brakes a fraction of a second before the impact.
Police suggested that the car was following another vehicle and dropped its speed to 55 mph (89 kph) to match the leading vehicle. They say the leading vehicle then likely changed lanes and the Tesla automatically sped up to its preset speed of 60 mph (97 kph) without noticing the stopped cars ahead.
Lommatzsch claimed she has suffered serious physical injuries that have deprived her of being able to enjoy life and led to substantial medical bills. She is seeking at least $300,000 in damages.
The Utah crash is one of several Tesla accidents that has brought scrutiny to its Autopilot, the company's semi-autonomous system designed to keep a vehicle centered in its lane at a set distance from cars in front of it. The system also can also guide the cars to change lanes automatically.
All Teslas are equipped with automatic emergency braking, which Tesla says will detect objects and brake to help avoid or lessen impact of a crashes. Tesla warns drivers to pay attention and not to rely on the system entirely.
The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued initial findings about two separate crashes involving Tesla vehicles in which three people died.
The agency found that a Tesla Model S electric car that crashed and burned last month in Florida, killing two teenagers, was traveling 116 mph (187 kph) three seconds before impact and only slowed to 86 mpg (138 kph) as the air bags were inflated.
The agency said that a Tesla Model X SUV using Autopilot accelerated just before crashing into a California freeway barrier in March, killing its driver.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said it is investigating the Utah crash, but the agency did not immediately return an emailed request for an update on that investigation.