Cambodia, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — The last surviving leaders of the communist Khmer Rouge regime that brutally ruled Cambodia in the 1970s were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes Friday by an international tribunal.
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were sentenced to life in prison, the same punishment they are already serving after earlier convictions at a previous trial for crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and mass disappearances. Cambodia has no death penalty.
Both men have suggested they were targets of political persecution. Nuon Chea was considered the main ideologist of the Khmer Rouge and the right-hand man of the group's late leader, Pol Pot, while Khieu Samphan served as the head of state, presenting a moderate veneer as the public face for the highly secretive group.
The verdict read aloud in the courtroom by Judge Nil Nonn established that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Vietnamese and Cham minorities. Scholars had debated whether suppression of the Chams, a Muslim ethnic minority whose members had put up a small but futile resistance against the Khmer Rouge, amounted to genocide.
Members of the Cham community were among the large crowd of spectators who attended Friday's session.
The court found Khieu Samphan not guilty of genocide against the Cham, for insuffient evidence, though he was convicted of genocide against the Vietnamese under the principle of joint criminal enterprise, which holds individuals responsible for actions attributed to a group to which they belong.
The Khmer Rouge sought to achieve an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities to establish vast rural communes. Instead their radical policies led to what has been termed "auto-genocide" through starvation, overwork and execution.
The crimes against humanity convictions covered activities at work camps and cooperatives established by the Khmer Rouge. These offenses comprised murder, extermination, deportation, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political, religious and racial grounds, attacks on human dignity, enforced disappearances, forced transfers, forced marriages and rape.
The breaches of the Geneva Convention governing war crimes included willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment.
One of the spectators at Friday's hearing was 65-year-old Sum Rithy, who said he had been jailed for nearly two years under the Khmer Rouge, who accused him of being a spy for the CIA. His life was spared only because he was a skilled mechanic who could maintain engines and generators for his captors.
Rithy said three of his siblings were killed by the Khmer Rouge, also accused of being CIA spies, while his father died of starvation.
"Today, I am very happy that the both Khmer Rouge leaders were sentenced to life in prison. The verdict was fair enough for me and other Cambodian victims," he said. "Last night, I could not sleep because I was afraid that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan could die before this verdict was announced."
Nuon Chea, 92, was brought by ambulance and Khieu Samphan by van to the courthouse from the nearby prison where they are held. The prison and the courthouse were custom built for the use of the tribunal, which is officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC.
Nuon Chea, who suffers heart problems, was allowed to move from the hearing room to a separate holding room. Khieu Samphan, 87, was present for the entire hearing and with the help of two security guards stood as his sentence was read, showing no obvious emotion.
Lawyers for Nuon Chea said they would appeal, and Khieu Samphan was expected to do the same.
In addition to the two, the tribunal in 2010 convicted Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who as head of the Khmer Rouge prison system ran the infamous Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh.
There are fears that politics will thwart the tribunal from undertaking any further prosecutions.
Cambodia's long-serving, autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared he will allow no further case to go forward, claiming they would cause instability. Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge commander who defected when the group was in power and was installed in government after the Khmer Rouge were ousted by a Vietnamese invasion.
Initial work had been done on two more cases involving four middle-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge, but they have been scuttled or bottled up by the tribunal, which is a hybrid court in which Cambodian prosecutors and judges are paired with international counterparts.
The failure to have more extensive proceeding has discomfited some observers, but others point to the tribunal's accomplishments.
"International tribunals are better than the alternative, impunity. They will always be political and fall short of expectations," Alexander Hinton, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of two books about the tribunal, said ahead of Friday's verdicts. "But justice is usually delivered, even if at times, as has been the case with the ECCC, it staggers across the finish line."
South Korea, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the successful test of an unspecified "newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon," state media reported Friday, in an apparent bid to apply pressures on the United States and South Korea amid a stalemated nuclear diplomacy.
It didn't appear to be a nuclear device or a long-range missiles targeting the mainland U.S., a string of which last year had many fearing war before the North turned to engagement and diplomacy early this year. Still, any mention of weapons testing could influence the direction of currently stalled diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang that's meant to rid the North of its nuclear weapons.
The North hasn't publicly tested any weapons since November of last year, but in recent days Pyongyang reportedly expressed anger at U.S.-led international sanctions and ongoing small-scale military drills between South Korea and the United States. Earlier this month, North Korea's Foreign Ministry warned it could bring back its policy of bolstering its nuclear arsenal if it doesn't receive sanctions relief.
"It's a North Korea-style coercive diplomacy. North Korea is saying 'if you don't listen to us, you will face political burdens," said analyst Shin Beomchul of Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
Shin said the weapon North Korea tested could be a missile, artillery, an anti-air gun, a drone or other high-tech conventional weapons systems. Yang Wook, a Seoul-based military expert, said a "tactical weapon" in North Korea refers to "a weapon aimed at striking South Korea including U.S. military bases" in the South so that the North may have tested a short-range missile or a multiple rocket launch system.
Even if the test was a message for Washington and Seoul, Friday's report from the North was noticeably less belligerent than past announcements of weapons tests, and didn't focus on North Korean claims of U.S. and South Korean hostility. Yang said the latest North Korean test won't completely break down nuclear diplomacy though more questions would be raised about how sincere the North is about its commitment to denuclearization.
Asked over the test, the State Department said that U.S. and North Korean officials are talking about implementing the commitments that President Donald Trump and Kim made during their summit in Singapore in June. The summit resulted in North Korea repeating its vague promise to achieve "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Eugene Lee, spokeswoman of South Korea's Unification Ministry, said more analysis is necessary to find what weapon North Korea tested. She declined to comment on Kim's inspection of the weapons test.
It's the first publicly known field inspection of a weapons test by Kim Jong Un since he observed the testing of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in November of last year, according to the Unification Ministry.
The North said the test took place at the Academy of National Defense Science and that Kim couldn't suppress his "passionate joy" at the success of the test. He was described as "so excited to say that another great work was done by the defense scientists and munitions industrial workers to increase the defense capability of the country."
The North said this new, unspecified weapon has been under development for a long time and will help strengthen the combat power of its army.
Last year's string of increasingly powerful weapons tests, many experts believe, put the North on the brink of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can target anywhere in the mainland United States.
Diplomacy has stalled since the U.S.-North Korea summit, with Washington pushing for more action on nuclear disarmament and the North insisting that the U.S. first approve a peace declaration formally ending the Korean War and lift sanctions. Trump and Kim are both interested in another summit, but it's unclear when it might happen.
Magalia, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — Ten years ago, as two wildfires advanced on Paradise, residents jumped into their vehicles to flee and got stuck in gridlock. That led authorities to devise a staggered evacuation plan — one that they used when fire came again last week.
But Paradise's carefully laid plans quickly devolved into a panicked exodus on Nov. 8. Some survivors said that by the time they got warnings, the flames were already extremely close, and they barely escaped with their lives. Others said they received no warnings at all.
Now, with at least 56 people dead and perhaps 300 unaccounted for in the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century, authorities are facing questions of whether they took the right approach.
It's also a lesson for other communities across the West that could be threatened as climate change and overgrown forests contribute to longer, more destructive fire seasons .
Reeny Victoria Breevaart, who lives in Magalia, a forested community of 11,000 people north of Paradise, said she couldn't receive warnings because cellphones weren't working. She also lost electrical power.
Just over an hour after the first evacuation order was issued at 8 a.m., she said, neighbors came to her door to say: "You have to get out of here."
Shari Bernacett, who with her husband managed a mobile home park in Paradise where they also lived, received a text ordering an evacuation. "Within minutes the flames were on top of us," she said.
Bernacett packed two duffel bags while her husband and another neighbor knocked on doors, yelling for people to get out. The couple grabbed their dog and drove through 12-foot (4-meter) flames to escape.
In the aftermath of the disaster, survivors said authorities need to devise a plan to reach residents who can't get a cellphone signal in the hilly terrain or don't have cellphones at all.
In his defense, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said evacuation orders were issued through 5,227 emails, 25,643 phone calls and 5,445 texts, in addition to social media and the use of loudspeakers. As cellphone service went down, authorities went into neighborhoods with bullhorns to tell people to leave, and that saved some lives.
Honea said he was too busy with the emergency and the recovery of human remains to analyze how the evacuation went. But he said it was a big, chaotic, fast-moving situation, and there weren't enough law enforcement officers to go out and warn everyone.
"The fact that we have thousands and thousands of people in shelters would clearly indicate that we were able to notify a significant number of people," the sheriff said.
Some evacuees were staying in tents and cars at a Walmart parking lot and in a nearby field in Chico, though volunteers planning to close the makeshift shelter by Sunday were working to transition people to other locations.
A Sunday closure "gives us enough time to maybe figure something out," said Mike Robertson, an evacuee who arrived there on Monday with his wife and two daughters.
On Thursday, firefighters reported progress in battling the nearly 220-square-mile (570-square-kilometer) blaze. It was 40 percent contained, fire officials said. Crews slowed the flames' advance on populated areas.
California Army National Guard members, wearing white jump suits, looked for human remains in the burned rubble, among more than 450 rescue workers assigned to the task.
President Donald Trump plans to travel to California on Saturday to visit victims of the wildfires burning at both ends of the state. Trump is unpopular in much of Democratic-leaning California but not in Butte County, which he carried by 4 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
The Paradise fire once again underscored shortcomings in warning systems.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in September requiring the development of statewide guidelines for Amber Alert-like warnings. A few Northern California communities are moving to install sirens after some wine country residents complained they didn't receive warnings to evacuate ahead of a deadly wildfire in October 2017 that destroyed 5,300 homes.
In 2008, the pair of wildfires that menaced Paradise destroyed 130 homes. No one was seriously hurt, but the chaos highlighted the need for a plan.
Paradise sits on a ridge between two higher hills, with only one main exit out of town. The best solution seemed to be to order evacuations in phases, so people didn't get trapped.
"Gridlock is always the biggest concern," said William Stewart, a forestry professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Authorities developed an evacuation plan that split the town of 27,000 into zones and called for a staggered exodus. Paradise even conducted a mock evacuation during a morning commute, turning the main thoroughfare into a one-way street out of town.
Last week, when a wind-whipped fire bore down on the town, the sheriff's department attempted an orderly, phased evacuation, instead of blasting a cellphone alert over an entire area.
Phil John, chairman of the Paradise Ridge Fire Safe Council, defended the evacuation plan he helped develop. John said that the wildfire this time was exceptionally fast-moving and hot, and that no plan was going to work perfectly.
When the fire reached the eastern edge of Paradise, six zones were ordered to clear out about 8 a.m. But almost simultaneously, the gusting winds were carrying embers the size of dinner plates across town, and structures were catching fire throughout the city. Less than an hour later, the entire town was ordered evacuated.
"It didn't work perfectly," John said Thursday. "But no one could plan for a fire like that."
Likewise, Stewart, the forestry professor, said the wildfire that hit Paradise disrupted the orderly evacuation plan because it "was moving too fast. All hell broke loose."
Satellite images show half the town on fire less than two hours after the first evacuation order.
Stewart said experts continue to debate how best to issue evacuation orders and no ideal solution has been found.
At the other end of the state, meanwhile, crews continued to gain ground against a blaze of more than 153 square miles (396 square kilometers) that destroyed over 500 structures in Malibu and other Southern California communities. At least three deaths were reported.
Chico, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — Fire refugee Anna Goodnight sat on an overturned shopping cart Thursday in a Walmart parking lot as she ate scrambled eggs and tater tots while her husband drank a Budweiser.
The couple was trying to put a good face on a weeklong ordeal that left them uncertain of the fate of their home and now had them camping next to the store with hundreds of others forced to flee from a deadly Northern California wildfire . But William Goodnight finally lost it and began to cry.
"We're grateful. We're better off than some. I've been holding it together for her," he said, gesturing toward his wife. "I'm just breaking down finally."
With the Goodnights' hometown of Paradise destroyed, thousands of homes gone and untold neighbors dead, uncertainty hangs over survivors like smoke still clouding the sky over Chico. For those who have turned a grassy lot next to the Walmart into an informal campground, the anxiety of what lies ahead is even greater.
They have no roof overhead — just a filament of nylon that provides privacy but little security. It's chilly at night and they wonder what will happen if it rains and where they'll go if the camp closes Sunday, as planned.
"It's cold and scary," said Lilly Batres, 13, one of the few children here, who fled with her family from Magalia and don't know if they have a home to return to. "I feel like people are going to come into our tent."
Word began to spread Thursday that efforts were being made to phase out the camp by gradually removing donated clothing, food and toilets.
"The ultimate goal is to get these people out of tents, out of their cars and into warm shelter, into homes," said Jessica Busick, who was among the first volunteers when she and her husband started serving free food from their Truckaroni food truck last week. "We've always known this isn't a long-term solution."
It's unclear what will be done if people don't leave Sunday, but city officials don't plan to kick them out, said Betsy Totten, a Chico spokeswoman. Totten said volunteers — not the city — had decided to shut down the camp.
Walmart has added security to the location and is concerned about safety there, but it is not asking people to leave, spokeswoman LeMia Jenkins said.
Some, like Batres' family, had arrived after running out of money for a hotel. Others couldn't find a room or weren't allowed to stay at shelters with their dogs or, in the case of Suzanne Kaksonen, her two cockatoos.
Kaksonen couldn't remember how long she had been there, but said it felt like forever.
"I just want to go home," she said. "I don't even care if there's no home. I just want to go back to my dirt, you know, and put a trailer up and clean it up and get going. Sooner the better. I don't want to wait six months. That petrifies me."
Volunteers have shown up to help out and donations poured in. The informal nature of the camp was evident in the mix of order and disarray.
Racks of used clothes ranging from sweaters to plaid flannel shirts and tables covered with neatly organized pairs of boots, sneakers and shoes competed for space with shopping carts full of clothes, garbage bags stuffed with other donations, boxes of books, stuffed animals — yellow, purple and green teddy bears and a menagerie of other fuzzy critters — sitting on the pavement.
A sign tacked to a post says: "Short term help for evacuees. Please take what will help you through the next couple days. Be mindful of other evacuees!"
Food trucks offered free meals and a cook flipped burgers on a grill. There were portable toilets and some people were used the Walmart restrooms.
Someone walking through the camp Thursday offered free medicinal marijuana. Laura Whitaker, an evacuee from Paradise, said that while everyone had been helpful, she heard people were pretending to be evacuees and were selling drugs from tents.
More than 75 tents had popped up in the space since Matthew Flanagan arrived Friday and still more were sleeping in cars.
"We call it Wally World," Flanagan said, a riff off the store name. "When I first got here there was nobody here. And now it's just getting worse and worse and worse. There are more evacuees, more people running out of money for hotels."
Information for contacting the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance was posted on a board that allowed people to write the names of those they believed were missing. Several of those names, including Flanagan's, had the word "Here" written next to them.
Melissa Contant, who drove from the San Francisco area to help out, advised people to register with FEMA as soon as possible and not to reveal too much information about whether they own or rent homes or if they have sufficient food and water, because that could delay aid.
"You're living in a Walmart parking lot — you're not OK," she told Maggie and Michael Crowder.
Michael Crowder, a former sheriff's deputy, had left behind a rental home in Magalia, a Sierra foothills town also ravaged by flames, on his motorcycle with this wife following in a truck with their pit bull, Coco.
They slept several nights in a Burger King parking lot and were running out of money and food when they went to buy a tent at Walmart and discovered the camp.
Tents had sold out, but a pastor and some volunteers showed up with the shelters and blankets and cots. A volunteer pitched a red tent for the Crowders in the dark.
"This is better than Burger King in some ways," Maggie Crowder said. "We were kind of scared to be part of this."
Melley reported from Los Angeles. AP journalist Terence Chea in Chico contributed to this story.
New Delhi, Nov 16 (Xinhua/UNB) - The severe cyclonic storm Gaja Friday morning crossed the Tamil Nadu coast in southern India, triggering gusty winds and torrential rains, officials said.
Gaja made landfall between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam, uprooting trees and damaging roofs of houses.
Officials, however, said there were no report of casualty so far of the cyclone in the affected areas.
According to officials the winds hit the coast with a speed of around 120 kmph.
"The eye of the storm began to make the landfall by 0:30 a.m. (local time) today and took about two hours to move into the land terrain completely," a meteorology department official said.
"It will take a few more hours to get inside the land fully. Therefore, the wind is still persisting in most parts of Nagapattinam district and its adjoining areas."
The severe cyclone according to officials will take several hours to weaken into a cyclone and then into a depression.
"It is set to reach the Arabian sea via mid-western Tamil Nadu and Kerala by tomorrow," the official said.
Reports said 76,290 people were evacuated from low lying areas and sheltered at over 300 relief centres in six districts including Nagapattinam, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram and Tiruvarur.
Authorities have closed educational institutions in several districts on Friday as a precautionary measure.
Officials said disaster response force personnel who have been deployed in the vulnerable district to carry out rescue work were clearing roads of fallen trees.