Yangon, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called on Myanmar to immediately release two journalists who were sentenced to seven years' imprisonment on charges of possessing state secrets in connection with their reporting on massacres against Rohingya Muslims.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from the Reuters news agency were sentenced Monday in proceedings that were widely decried as unfair. They had reported about the army's brutal counterinsurgency campaign that drove 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. The subject is sensitive in Myanmar because of worldwide condemnation of the military's human rights abuses, which it denies.
Pence on Tuesday tweeted the two should be "commended — not imprisoned — for their work exposing human rights violations & mass killings."
"Freedom of religion & freedom of the press are essential to a strong democracy," he wrote in back-to-back tweets. "We call on the Gov't of Burma to reverse this ruling & release them immediately."
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also urged Myanmar authorities to review their decision, noting with concern the conviction and sentencing of the two.
"The right to freedom of expression and information is a cornerstone of any democracy. It is unacceptable that these journalists were prosecuted for reporting on major human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine state," Guterres' spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in a statement.
The case drew worldwide attention as an example of how democratic reforms in long-isolated Myanmar have stalled under Nobel Peace laurate Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government, which took power in 2016.
Although the military, which ruled Myanmar for a half-century, maintains control of several key ministries, Suu Kyi's rise to government leader had raised hopes for an accelerated transition to full democracy, and her stance on the Rohingya crisis has disappointed many former admirers.
Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon, told reporters that she was saddened and hurt that Suu Kyi had taken a legalistic position in a June interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK by saying that the two reporters were arrested for breaking the Official Secret Act, not because they exposed the army's abuses.
"I am very sad about what she answered because she was the one whom we always admired and respected," Pan Ei Mon said Tuesday.
"We loved and respected her so much," she said. "We feel very sad as our respected person has the wrong opinion about us."
She said that she never expected such a harsh punishment "because everyone knows that they didn't do anything wrong."
The two men testified that they had been framed by the police.
Pan Ei Mon gave birth to the couple's first child in Yangon on Aug. 10, but her husband has not seen their daughter.
"After I gave birth, I continued to keep strong with the hope that my daughter and her father will meet soon. But I felt like my hope was broken after the verdict yesterday. I am hopeless now," she said.
Kyaw Soe Oo's wife, Chit Su, also said she had expected her husband would be coming home. They have a 3-year-old daughter.
"I believed he would be free, he felt the same," she said. "But it didn't happen, I felt like I am a crazy person."
She said she still hopes for mercy from the state. At the same time, she remains proud that her husband did his duty as a journalist.
The lawyers for the journalists told the news conference that they would do whatever they could to get their clients freed. They can file an appeal or ask for a pardon, or hope the reporters could be freed under a general amnesty for prisoners.
Washington, Sep 5 (AP/UNB)— An attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan that killed one American was carried out by a member of the Afghan national police who is now in Afghan government custody, a U.S. official said Tuesday. It was the second so-called insider attack there this summer.
Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Kabul, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the American was killed in eastern Afghanistan by an Afghan policeman. Another U.S. service member was wounded; O'Donnell said that person's wounds are not life-threatening.
On Tuesday evening the Pentagon said the soldier killed was Army Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy A. Bolyard, 42, of Thornton, West Virginia. It said he died of wounds sustained from small arms fire in Logar Province, but it provided no other details about the incident.
Bolyard was assigned to 3rd Squadron, 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, based at Fort Benning, Georgia. His brigade was sent to Afghanistan early this year as part of a revamped American strategy to bolster the Afghan security forces by placing U.S. military advisers with Afghan troops closer to the front lines.
When the Monday attack was announced, the coalition termed it an apparent insider attack. The new U.S. commander of coalition forces, Army Gen. Scott Miller, called the death "a tragic loss for all who knew and all who will now never know him."
O'Donnell said in a telephone interview Tuesday that it now has been "definitely" determined that the attacker was an Afghan policeman. The shooter fled the scene but was apprehended by Afghans, he added.
Separately, the U.S.-led coalition in Kabul announced that a U.S. service member died in a "non-combat incident" Tuesday, also in eastern Afghanistan. That service member's name has not yet been released.
The threat of attacks on U.S. and coalition troops by Afghan soldiers and police is a persistent worry, although such violence is far less common than several years ago. There was an epidemic of attacks in 2012, with dozens of Americans killed and wounded in shootings almost weekly by the very troops the U.S. was fighting alongside. U.S. troops since 2014 have been mainly in an advisory and training roles, rather than combat.
The 2012 rash of killings led to the development of new procedures and precautions by coalition forces, including the use of "guardian angels" — armed U.S. forces keeping watch whenever their fellow soldiers interact with Afghan forces. The reasons for such attacks are often not determined conclusively, but officials have said they sometimes reflect resentment by Afghans of the presence of foreign forces. U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001.
The previous insider attack this summer was against one such U.S. protective soldier, Cpl. Joseph Maciel of South Gate, California. He was killed and two other Americans were wounded in an attack July 7 by an Afghan security force member at an airfield on the military base at Tarin Kowt in southern Uruzgan province, a Taliban hotbed.
Kolkata, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Rescuers using huge cranes, iron cutters and drills worked overnight to clear the wreckage of a highway overpass that collapsed Tuesday in the crowded Indian city of Kolkata. The concrete segment that slammed to the ground killed at least one person and injured another 23, police said Wednesday.
The rescuers did not find anyone trapped in the debris overnight, but a police officer said the clearing operation was continuing Wednesday morning.
A half-dozen vehicles, including a bus, fell with the broken section of concrete, about 100 feet (30 meters) long, in Kolkata's Majerhat neighborhood.
The officer in the police control room said 24 injured people were taken to hospitals. At least one person died, according to an official at the city's Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.
The nearly 50-year-old bridge ran over the Majerhat railroad station but no train was running at the time, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters that several transportation workers may have been in a small office under the overpass when the collapse occurred.
It was the second major road collapse in Kolkata in recent years. In 2016, a section of an unfinished overpass collapsed, killing 26 people. An official report later blamed that collapse on bad design and poor-quality materials.
Tokyo, Sep 5 (AP/UNB)— About 3,000 passengers stranded by a typhoon overnight at an offshore Japanese airport have begun returning by boat and by bus over a partially damaged bridge to the mainland.
Japanese broadcaster NHK showed aerial footage Wednesday morning of the boat and a caravan of buses bringing people back from Kansai International Airport. The airport remains closed.
Typhoon Jebi swept northward across the mid-section of Japan's main island on Tuesday, peeling roofs off buildings, toppling power poles and flooding the airport that serves Osaka, one of Japan's largest cities. Japanese media tallied at least nine deaths.
More than 1 million households remain without power Wednesday morning.
Jebi has been downgraded to a tropical storm and is heading north of Japan.
Seoul, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — A South Korean presidential delegation arrived in North Korea on Wednesday for talks to arrange a summit planned later this month and help rescue faltering nuclear diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang.
It's unclear who the South Korean envoys will meet in the North or whether they will see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before flying back to the South later Wednesday.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in's office said the delegation led by his national security adviser will be carrying a personal letter for Kim. Moon said the envoys are tasked with a crucial role at a "very important time" that could determine the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.
While pushing ahead with summits and inter-Korean engagement, Seoul is trying to persuade Washington and Pyongyang to proceed with peace and denuclearization processes at the same time so they can overcome a growing dispute over the sequencing of the diplomacy.
Seoul also wants a trilateral summit between the countries, or a four-nation meeting that also includes Beijing, to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. The U.N. General Assembly in late September would be an ideal date for Seoul, but many analysts see that possibility as low, considering the complications of the process and how far apart the parties currently are.
U.S. officials have insisted that a peace declaration, which many see as a precursor to the North eventually calling for the removal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, cannot come before North Korea takes more concrete action toward abandoning its nukes. Such steps may include providing an account of the components of its nuclear program, allowing outside inspections and giving up a certain number of its nuclear weapons during the early stages of the negotiations.
While an end-of-war declaration wouldn't imply a legally-binding peace treaty, experts say it could create political momentum that would make it easier for the North to steer the discussions toward a peace regime, diplomatic recognition, economic benefits and security concessions.
The North has accused the United States of making "unilateral and gangster-like" demands on denuclearization and holding back on the end-of-war declaration. North Korea's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday published a lengthy statement on its website saying that an end-of-war declaration would be a necessary trust-building step between the wartime foes that would "manifest the political will to establish the lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."
South Korean officials said an end-of-war declaration will be among the issues discussed in the meetings between the South Korean envoys and North Korean officials.
"Our government believes that an end-of-war declaration is very much needed while we enter a process toward stabilizing peace in the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization," said Chung Eui-yong, Moon's national security adviser and the head of the South Korean delegation to Pyongyang, in a news conference on Tuesday.
"We will continue to put in efforts so that an end-of-war declaration can be reached by the end of the year. We are always maintaining close communication with the United States."
Chung said inter-Korean engagement is a crucial part of the efforts to resolve the nuclear crisis.
"If needed, we should pull forward the negotiations for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with the development in relations between the South and North," he said.
Any progress could depend on whether Moon's envoys are able to coax a stronger verbal commitment from North Korea on denuclearization to help put the nuclear talks between the United States and Pyongyang back on track.
U.S. President Donald Trump called off a planned visit to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month, citing insufficient progress in denuclearization. The resumption of U.S.-North Korea talks sometime before the next inter-Korean summit, which will likely take place in mid-September, could give Moon more to work with when he arrives in Pyongyang.
Considering the difficult circumstances, it's unclear whether Moon's envoys will be able to get anything other than a fixed date for his new summit with Kim.
The two past inter-Korean summits in April and May removed war fears and initiated a global diplomatic push that culminated with a meeting between Kim and Trump in June. But Moon faces tougher challenges heading into his third meeting with Kim with the stalemate in nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington raising fundamental questions about Kim's supposed willingness to abandon his nukes.
Moon has been aggressively pushing engagement with North Korea in past months, but the lack of progress in nuclear talks could mean an end to the inter-Korean detente.
"Now is a very important time for establishing lasting peace in the Korean Peninsula; that's why special envoys are being sent to North Korea," Moon said Monday. "Peace in the Korean Peninsula goes together with the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the government is closely examining and carefully managing the situation."
The Korean War ended with an armistice, leaving the peninsula technically still at war. Moon has made an end-of-war declaration an important premise of his peace agenda with North Korea.