Toronto, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — More than 100 academics and former diplomats are calling on China to release two Canadians who have been detained in apparent retaliation for the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive in Canada.
The letter by a wide array of China experts from around the world is addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping. It says the arrests of the two Canadians sends a worrisome signal to those who work in policy and research in China.
China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.
Meng is the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant Huawei and the daughter of its founder. The U.S. wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei's business dealings in Iran.
The letter, released Monday, notes Kovrig is a former diplomat who was working as an expert on Asia for the International Crisis Group think tank. It notes that Spavor devoted his time to building relationships between North Korea and China, Canada and United States.
It praises Kovrig and Spavor as bridge-builders between China and the world and said their arrests make writers "more cautious" about travelling to China.
"Meetings and exchanges are the foundation of serious research and diplomacy around the world, including for Chinese scholars and diplomats," the letter says. "Kovrig and Spavor's detentions send a message that this kind of constructive work is unwelcome and even risky in China."
The letter said the arrests will lead to "less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground. Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result."
More than 20 diplomats from seven countries and more than 100 scholars and academics from 19 countries signed.
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, signed the letter and noted it comes as Canada is working to rally international support for the case.
"It will be noticed in Beijing and I hope that it will make clear for them that the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are not only a China-Canada problem but it's also having an impact on the image of and reputation of China," Saint-Jacques said. "It's an impressive list."
The signatories include former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Chris Patten, former British governor of Hong Kong. Two former U.S. ambassadors to China, Gary Locke and Winston Lord, also signed.
David Mulroney, another former Canadian ambassador to China, said the letter is significant because it shows the international breadth of support for the two men.
"This isn't simply a Canada-China dispute," Mulroney said. "A lot of serious people, including many who have spent years working in China, are worried about how it is closing itself off, and punishing those who seek to understand and interpret it for others."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he encourages friends and allies around the world to point out that all countries should stand up for the rule of law.
Marawi, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — Muslims in the southern Philippines voted Monday in a referendum on a new autonomous region that seeks to end nearly half a century of unrest, in what their leaders are touting as the best alternative to a new wave of Islamic State group-inspired militants.
The vote caps a tumultuous peace effort by the government in Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main rebel group, to seal a deal that was signed in 2014 but languished in the Philippine Congress until it was finally approved last year. Bloodshed including the siege of Marawi city by IS-linked militants and other bombings and attacks in the south threatened to derail it.
Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro rebels, has repeatedly said that the creation of a viable Muslim autonomous region is the best antidote to about half a dozen smaller IS-linked radical groups that remain a threat in Mindanao, the homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation.
"We can roughly conclude that all these splinter groups are a result of the frustration with the peace process," Murad said in July, when President Rodrigo Duterte signed the legislation creating the new region, called Bangsamoro.
Under the deal, the rebels gave up their goal of an independent state in exchange for broad autonomy, although they originally wanted a federal unit with more powers. Their 30,000 to 40,000 fighters are to be demobilized. Murad has appealed to the international community to contribute to a trust fund to be used to finance the insurgents' transition from decades of waging one of Asia's longest rebellions.
People remaining in battle-scarred Marawi voted in schools set up as voting centers, and evacuees voted in Saguiaran, with some hoping peace would mean they could get their homes and lives back in the city where military troops stand guard at checkpoints and homes are filled with bullet holes.
"We believe that this plebiscite will be the key to peaceful life," said teacher Gehariariah Daroninbang, who was voting "yes" and said while the deal was not assured to be perfect, it was "near to perfect."
Centuries of conquest — first by Spanish and American colonial forces that had ruled the Philippine archipelago followed by Filipino Christian settlers — have gradually turned Muslims into a minority group in Mindanao, triggering conflict over land, resources and sharing of political power. Uprisings seeking self-rule have been brutally suppressed, feeding more resentment. Insecurity is fueled by proliferation of weapons and armed groups that have resorted to ransom kidnappings and extortion for survival, such as the brutal Abu Sayyaf, which is not part of any peace process.
Bangsamoro replaces an existing poverty-wracked autonomous region with a larger, better-funded and more powerful entity. An annual grant, estimated at $1.3 billion, is to be set aside to bolster development.
Western governments have welcomed the autonomy pact. They worry that small numbers of IS-linked militants from the Middle East and Southeast Asia could forge an alliance with Filipino insurgents and turn the south into a breeding ground for extremists.
In 2017, Philippine troops backed by U.S. and Australian surveillance aircraft routed the militants who occupied Marawi for five months in battles that left more than 1,200 people, mostly Islamic fighters, dead and the mosque-studded city in ruins. Overall, the conflict has left about 150,000 people dead over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich but underdeveloped southern region that is the country's poorest.
The Commission on Elections said it has printed 2.1 million ballots for the plebiscite. Results are expected no later than Jan. 26. If the measure is approved, a second referendum on Feb. 6 will ask residents of Lanao del Norte province and seven towns in North Cotabato province with a sizeable Muslim population to decide whether they want to join the new region as well.
Possible pitfalls include petitions to the Supreme Court to strike down the autonomy deal.
Kabul, Jan 21 (AP/UNB) — A coordinated Taliban assault on a military base and police training center in eastern Afghanistan on Monday morning killed at least 12 and wounded over 30 people, provincial officials said.
Salem Asgherkhail, head of the area's public health department, said that most of those killed in the attack in Maidan Wardak province were military personnel. Some of the wounded were taken to provincial hospitals for treatment while the more serious cases were sent to the capital, Kabul.
Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the interior minister, said a suicide car bomber struck the base first, followed by insurgents who opened fire at the Afghan forces. At least two Taliban fighters were killed by Afghan troops, he added.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement to the media.
The attack was the latest in near-daily assaults by the Taliban who now hold sway in almost half of Afghanistan. The violence comes despite stepped-up efforts by the United States to find a negotiated end to the country's 17-year war.
Dhaka, Jan 20 (UNB) - At least 48 people have died and 1,173 have tested positive for swine flu since the beginning of the year in a western Indian state popular with foreigners, according to authorities.
The highly contagious H1N1 virus that spreads from human-to-human killed around 1,100 people and infected 15,000 across the country last year, reports NDTV.
"The health minister has already issued directions for conducting door-to-door screening for patients," said a spokesperson of the medical and health department of Rajasthan.
India’s capital New Delhi has reported 168 cases until January 13, according to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Swine flu cases generally spike in the winter months of December and January in the west and north of the country including in Rajasthan and in New Delhi.
The state government has issued a high alert. Leaves of doctors and paramedical staff in the state were cancelled earlier. The Rajasthan government claims that it has made arrangements for medicines required to cure patients of swine flu.
A global pandemic alert for swine flu was declared by the World Health Organization in 2009 after early outbreaks in North America spread rapidly around the world.
Since late 2010, swine flu has been classified as a seasonal influenza virus.
Symptoms include fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and runny nose, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea, according to the WHO.
Naypyitaw, Jan 18 (AP/UNB) — Myanmar's military announced Friday that the Arakan Army, a Buddhist rebel group in Rakhine state, has been classified a terrorist organization after mounting a flurry of recent attacks.
The state earlier was the site of a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the military against the Muslim Rohingya minority, causing more than 700,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
Military officers said at a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that leader Aung San Suu Kyi ordered security forces to launch the offensive against the Arakan Army.
The insurgent group, which seeks autonomy from the central government, killed 13 police officers and wounded nine in attacks on Jan. 4. The moves to counter the rebels were decided at a Jan. 7 meeting at Myanmar's presidential offices, the officers said.
Suu Kyi "said the Arakan Army is just a terrorist group and instructed us to defeat them effectively, quickly and clearly," Maj. Gen. Nyi Nyi Tun, vice chairman of the Myanmar Military Information Committee, told reporters. A terrorist designation criminalizes a group and bans all communication with them.
He said Suu Kyi suggested that if she did not order the military to attack the Arakan Army, the international community would accuse her of religious prejudice for attacking the Muslim guerrillas of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army but not Buddhist rebels who committed similar actions with similar goals.
The military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar has been accused of ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, against the Muslim Rohingya. Its counterinsurgency campaign was triggered when a group of Rohingya guerrillas attacked security outposts in August 2017.
The officers said the military clashed with the Arakan Army 15 times in 2015, 26 times in 2016, 56 times in 2017 and 61 times in 2018, while the rebels also planted some mines. They said there have been at least eight armed encounters this year. The guerrillas are known to have trained in areas controlled by other ethnic rebel forces, especially in Kachin state.
The Arakan Army, founded in 2009, is estimated to have several thousand well-armed and organized uniformed members, in contrast to the ragtag and virtually dormant Rohingya guerrillas.
Myanmar's military in December announced cease-fires in five areas where ethnic rebellions are active, but did not include Rakhine state because it had information that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army planned attacks, the officers said.
Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said he believed that the fighting with the Arakan Army would not interfere with plans to repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.