Kuala Lumpur, Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — Malaysian authorities have seized a record 30 tons of pangolin and pangolin products in eastern Sabah state on Borneo, the biggest such bust in the country, a wildlife monitoring group said Tuesday.
The monitoring network Traffic said in a statement that Sabah police this month uncovered two major pangolin processing facilities, throwing a spotlight on Sabah's role in the sourcing and trafficking of the endangered scaly mammal.
Sabah police said over the weekend they had seized three refrigerated containers containing 1,800 boxes filled with frozen pangolins, another 572 frozen pangolins in separate freezers, 61 live pangolins and 361 kilograms of pangolin scales. Two bear paws and carcasses of four flying fox were also recovered. A 35-year-old Malaysian man, believed to be a factory manager, has been detained.
The pangolin is said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world, and its scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The scales are made of keratin, the same material in human fingernails. Their meat is also considered a delicacy in China and other Asian countries.
Sabah police chief Omar Mammah said in the statement that initial investigations showed the facility has operated for seven years and that the suspect had bought the pangolins from local illegal hunters for distribution locally and to the neighboring state of Sarawak. He estimated the haul to be worth at least 8.4 million ringgit ($2 million).
Traffic said the whole pangolin bodies found frozen and boxed were likely to have been sold for meat consumption.
"Including this bust, Sabah has been implicated in over 40 tons of pangolin smuggling since August 2017, including 13 tons of African pangolin scales," it said.
It said the seizures came a decade after Sabah authorities discovered logbooks in 2009 kept by another pangolin trafficking ring. It said the logbooks revealed that about 22,200 pangolins were killed and 834.4 kilograms of pangolin scales sourced throughout the state and supplied to the syndicate over 13 months.
There were occasional seizures of live and processed pangolins since then. But a massive seizure of African pangolin scale shipments in 2017 at a Sabah port and at the Kuala Lumpur International airport originating from Sabah has since highlighted Sabah's emerging role as a transit point in the global trafficking of pangolin scales from Africa to Asia, TRAFFIC said.
The latest "seizure and the 2009 discovery confirm that Borneo is still an important source of pangolins for the illegal trade," Traffic communications officer Elizabeth John told the Associated Press.
Kabul, Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — Afghanistan's first president following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country and the collapse in 1992 of Kabul's pro-communist government, Sibghatullah Mujadidi, has died. He was 93.
The white-turbaned and soft-spoken Mujadidi was a mentor to former President Hamid Karzai, who had belonged to his anti-communist resistance group during the 1980's Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Mujadidi's guerrilla group — the U.S.-backed Afghan National Liberation Front — was perhaps the smallest and most moderate of guerrilla groups fighting to oust the former Red Army from Afghanistan.
The Soviet invasion came at the height of the Cold War between America and the former Soviet Union. The last Soviet soldier withdrew from Afghanistan on Feb. 15, 1989, ending a 10-year invasion that had failed to defeat the U.S.-backed anti-communist guerrillas who were known at the time as mujahedeen, or holy warriors.
President Ronald Reagan called the mujahedeen freedom fighters. Some later became the Taliban while others were known as warlords who later turned political leaders in Afghanistan. Some rights activists have accused the warlords of fomenting Afghanistan's post-2001 decline, contributing to the nation's insecurity and widespread corruption.
Following the collapse of the communist government, Mujadidi in 1992 served for two months as Afghanistan's president in line with an agreement signed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, by the leaders of all the mujahedeen groups who had fought the former Soviet Union.
Mujadidi stepped down as he said he would, according to the agreement, but his successor, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was to serve for four months instead hung on to power for four years. The agreement broke down and a brutal war between rival mujahedeen groups engulfed the Afghan capital of Kabul, killing tens of thousands of mostly civilians until the Taliban took power in 1996.
During the Taliban rule, Mujadidi lived outside of Afghanistan and returned to the country following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that drove the Taliban from power. He served as head of the first post-Taliban Loya Jirga, the 2,500-member council of elders or "grand gathering" that eventually crafted Afghanistan's current constitution.
He also briefly served as head of the government High Peace Council tasked with trying to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan's war.
An ethnic Pashtun from Kabul, Mujadidi came from a deeply respected religious family, who often advised former Afghan kings on matters of religion.
"He was always seeking peace and stability for Afghanistan, but he died before he could see his wish fulfilled," said Attaulrahman Salim, deputy head of the peace council. "We are still a country at war."
New Delhi, Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — Seventeen people died in a fire early Tuesday at a hotel in western New Delhi that left at least four others injured, police said.
The fire at the Arpit Palace Hotel has been extinguished, but authorities are still investigating what sparked it, Deputy Police Commissioner Mandeep Singh Randhawa said.
"We have to check the stability of the structure, check every room," Randhawa said.
The hotel is located in Karol Bagh, an area in India's capital city full of shops and budget hotels that is popular with tourists.
Twenty-five fire engines responded to the blaze, which had engulfed all but the ground floor of the five-story hotel, fire officer Vijay Paul said.
About three dozen people were rescued from the hotel, Paul said.
Among those rescued was Sivanand Chand, 43, a hotel guest who was jolted awake around 4 a.m., struggling to breathe.
"When I got out of my room, I could hear 'help, help!' from adjoining rooms," Chand told The Associated Press, adding that he opened the window and saw flames rising very fast.
"In 15 minutes, the whole room was black," he said.
The rescue took about 30 minutes because fire engine ladders could not initially reach Chand's floor, he said.
The injured were taken to hospitals, but their medical conditions were not immediately known.
Istanbul , Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — A military helicopter crashed Monday in a residential area of Istanbul while trying to make an emergency landing, killing four soldiers on board, Turkish officials said.
The UH-1 type helicopter crashed on the grounds of a housing complex in the Cekmekoy district on Istanbul's Asian side, Gov. Ali Yerlikaya told reporters at the site. No one on the ground was hurt.
It was the second UH-1 crash in a residential area in Istanbul in the past three months.
In November, a military helicopter with five soldiers on board crashed during a training mission after hitting the roof of a building in the Sancaktepe neighborhood, also on Istanbul's Asian side.
The four soldiers in Monday's crash were hospitalized with injuries but Yerlikaya later told reporters they did not survive.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The military said it had launched an investigation.
Television images showed emergency services working near the wreckage close to children's swings on a playground and thick smoke rising from the ground.
Seoul, Feb 10 (AP/UNB) — South Korea and the United States struck a new deal Sunday on how much Seoul should pay for the U.S. military presence on its soil, official said, after previous rounds of failed negotiations caused worries about their decades-long alliance.
Last year, South Korea provided about $830 million, roughly 40 percent of the cost of the deployment of 28,500 U.S. soldiers whose presence is meant to deter aggression from North Korea. President Donald Trump has said South Korea should pay more.
The allies had failed to reach a new cost-sharing plan during some 10 rounds of talks. On Sunday, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said the countries signed a new deal. A five-year 2014 deal that covered South Korea's payment last year had expired at the end of 2018.
Some conservatives in South Korea voiced concerns over a weakening alliance with the United States amid a stalemate in negotiations with North Korea to deprive it of its nuclear weapons. They said Trump might use the failed military cost-sharing negotiations as an excuse to pull back some of U.S. troops in South Korea, as a bargaining chip in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump told CBS' "Face the Nation" last Sunday that he has no plans to withdraw troops from South Korea.
Trump announced last week that he will sit down with Kim for a second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam in late February. Their first summit in Singapore last June resulted in Kim's vague commitment to "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a term that his propaganda machine previously used when it argued it would only denuclearize after the U.S. withdraws its troops from South Korea.
The South Korean ministry hasn't immediately revealed the exact amount of money Seoul would pay this year under the new deal.
Yonhap news agency reported that South Korea will provide about 1.04 trillion won ($924 million) in 2019. Yonhap said the U.S. had previously demanded 1.13 trillion won ($1 billion) from South Korea.
The U.S. military arrived in South Korea to disarm Japan, which colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45, following its World War II defeat. Most U.S. troops were withdrawn in 1949 but they returned the next year to fight alongside South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea began paying for the U.S. military deployment in the early 1990s, after rebuilding its war-devastated economy. The big U.S. military presence in South Korea is a symbol of the countries' alliance, forged in blood during the war, but also a source of long-running anti-American sentiments.