Thailand, Jan 11 (AP/UNB) — Gunmen disguised as state security personnel fatally shot four paramilitary volunteers guarding a school in insurgency-wracked southern Thailand, police said.
The attackers approached the armed territorial defense volunteers at the school in Pattani province and shot them dead shortly before noon Thursday, police Lt. Col. Wicha Nupannoi said. They seized four HK33 assault rifles from their victims before fleeing, scattering nails and other material on the road to delay pursuers, he said.
Predominantly Buddhist Thailand's three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat have been plagued by a Muslim separatist insurgency that has claimed the lives of about 7,000 people since 2004, according to the research group Deep South Watch, which monitors the region.
On Tuesday, a bomb outside a school and a car bomb elsewhere exploded in nearby Songkhla province, wounding a 12-year-old student, a security guard for teachers and a police medic. A flurry of similar attacks took place in the last week of December. Several targeted Songkhla, which previously had been largely spared the violence.
"The insurgents consider school officials to be symbolic of the Thai Buddhist state's occupation of Malay Muslim territory," Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "They have frequently targeted security personnel assigned to provide students and teachers safe passage to and from school, or protecting the school grounds."
The attacks have occurred during an effort to revitalize peace talks between the Thai government and some insurgent groups. Analysts say the most militant group, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, is not taking part.
Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan blamed the BRN for Tuesday's bombings. He said the authorities would have to step up efforts to prevent the attacks.
Human Rights Watch also pinned the blame for the region's ongoing violence on the BRN.
The insurgents "attack schools and medical clinics to maim and terrify Buddhist civilians, control the Muslim population, and discredit Thai authorities," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in the statement. "Whatever the rationale, targeting civilians is morally indefensible and a war crime."
Beijing, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly told the leader of his only major ally, China, that he wants to "achieve results" on the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula during a second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The comments, contained in Chinese state media reports Thursday, came a day after Kim left Beijing on his special armored train after a two-day visit to the Chinese capital.
Kim's trip to China — his fourth in the past 10 months — is believed to be an effort to coordinate with Beijing ahead of a possible second summit with Trump. It comes after U.S. and North Korean officials are thought to have met in Vietnam to discuss the site of the summit.
North Korea will "make efforts for the second summit between (North Korean) and U.S. leaders to achieve results that will be welcomed by the international community," Kim was quoted as saying by China's official Xinhua News Agency.
All sides should "jointly push for a comprehensive resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue" and North Korea will "continue sticking to the stance of denuclearization and resolving the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue and consultation," Xinhua quoted Kim as saying.
Kim also said North Korea hopes its "legitimate concerns" will be given due respect, a reference to its desire for security guarantees and a possible peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.
He also credited Chinese President Xi Jinping with helping reduce regional tensions, saying "the Korean Peninsula situation has been easing since last year, and China's important role in this process is obvious to all."
The North's Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim told Xi that the North remains unchanged in its push to seek a negotiated resolution of the nuclear standoff. It said Kim also mentioned unspecified difficulties in improving ties with the United States and moving nuclear diplomacy forward.
Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying that China supports the U.S.-North Korea summits and hopes the two sides "will meet each other halfway." KCNA said Xi accepted an invitation to visit North Korea, although details of when he might go were not given.
It wasn't clear from the reports if Kim was in back in North Korea, but his train presumably would arrive sometime Thursday.
Xi has yet to visit North Korea since taking office in 2012.
Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June for the first-ever leaders' meeting between their nations, but there has been a standoff ever since, with dueling accusations of bad faith.
Kim's Beijing visit was seen as part of an effort to win Chinese support for a reduction of U.N. sanctions imposed over his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The sanctions have severely impacted his country's already ailing economy.
While North Korea hasn't conducted any test launches or detonations in more than a year, it has displayed no real intention of abandoning the programs that are seen as guaranteeing the government's survival.
The trip also came after he expressed frustration in his annual New Year's address over the lack of progress in negotiations with Washington since the Singapore summit, saying that if things don't improve — meaning that if sanctions relief and security guarantees aren't in the offing — North Korea might have to find "a new way" forward.
While Trump says he considers Xi key to enticing Kim into taking concrete steps toward denuclearization, the president's own relationship with his Chinese counterpart has frayed over the U.S.-China trade war.
Officially, at least, China says it considers the tariff battle and North Korea's weapons programs to be entirely separate.
KCNA reported that Kim on Wednesday visited a pharmaceutical plant belonging to Beijing Tongrentang Co. Ltd., where he watched production processes.
It said he met with Xi at the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday after a welcoming ceremony. Later Tuesday, Xi gave a grand banquet for Kim, his wife Ri Sol Ju and other visiting North Korean officials.
At Tuesday's daily Chinese foreign ministry briefing, spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing remains supportive of efforts to end tensions over U.S. demands for a halt to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
"We always believe that, as key parties to the Korean Peninsula issue, it's important for the two sides to maintain contact and we always support their dialogue to achieve positive outcomes," Lu said.
Tuesday was Kim's birthday but there was no word of any official celebration.
Kabul, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — Officials say a wave of Taliban attacks in western and northern Afghanistan the previous day has killed 21 members of the country's security forces.
Jamshed Shahabi, spokesman for the governor in western Badghis province, says the insurgents overran outposts there, killing six policemen.
Council member Shamsul Haq Barekzai in northern Baghlan province says seven members of the local police force were killed there, also on Wednesday.
And in northern Takhar province, council member Ruhollah Raufi says eight policemen were gunned down.
The attacks left another 23 members of the security forces wounded. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for all the attacks.
The insurgents carry out near-daily attacks on Afghan troops, inflicting heavy loses. In response, the government in Kabul no longer releases official casualty figures.
Islamabad, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — The Afghan president's special peace envoy expressed hope Wednesday that the war that has ravaged this country for over 17 years and cost the United States about $1 trillion will end in 2019.
However, Mohammad Omer Daudzai also cautioned there won't be peace until the Taliban, who have held several rounds of talks with Washington's special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, agree to direct talks with the Afghan government.
"We are naming 2019 as a year of peace for Afghanistan," Daudzai summed up his optimism in an interview with The Associated Press
The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with Kabul despite pressure by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and even Pakistan, where Washington says the Taliban leadership is headquartered.
In response, Washington has suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursements to Pakistan under a Coalition Support Fund paid out by the United States to its partners in the war on terror.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his displeasure with Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of harboring militants. Pakistan denies the charge and says its influence over the Taliban is overstated.
Daudzai, who was appointed last month, made his first visit to the region to Islamabad — an indication of Pakistan's significance in finding peace.
Pakistan has "influence" over the Taliban but "forcing" them into talks is unproductive, said Daudzai, urging Islamabad instead to "encourage them to come to the negotiation table, make them realize it is to their benefit."
Daudzai said Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan's "heart and mind is in the right place. We are hopeful. We have received all the right signals."
Trump appears to have grown increasingly frustrated with the Afghan conflict — a war he promised to bring to an end during his 2016 election campaign. Last week, he criticized the U.S. military's performance in Afghanistan saying "I gave our generals all the money they wanted. They didn't do such a great job in Afghanistan."
Trump last week also for the first time publicly stated that the U.S. was in negotiations with the Taliban.
"We're going to do something that's right. We are talking to the Taliban. We're talking to a lot of different people," he said.
Until now, the U.S. State Department has not confirmed direct talks with the Taliban and Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy, has avoided direct reference to the Taliban, saying he has had contacts with all the players in Afghanistan's protracted conflict.
The State Department late Tuesday said Khalilzad has started another tour of the region that will take him to India, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is his first visit since his appointment that did not include Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office and where he has held extensive talks with the religious movement.
Khalilzad's decision to bypass Qatar could reflect his frustration with Taliban officials, following their last meeting in November in the United Arab Emirates.
Daudzai told the AP that Khalilzad had been led to believe by Saudi Arabia that the Taliban would hold direct talks with the Afghan government in the UAE. As a result, Khalilzad asked President Ashraf Ghani to send his representatives. He sent a delegation, including national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib. The subsequent refusal by the Taliban infuriated Ghani, Daudzai said.
The Taliban have stubbornly refused direct talks with Kabul, demanding the U.S first announce a schedule for the withdrawal of foreign troops, as well as prisoner releases and the removal of the Taliban leadership from the U.N. terrorist list.
Pentagon officials earlier this month said they planned to withdraw 7,000 troops from Afghanistan by the summer. Currently, about 14,000 American soldiers are deployed there, mostly to train and advise Afghan security forces and carry out counter-terrorism operations.
Daudzai said the Afghan troops, battered by near-daily Taliban attacks, can survive a U.S. troop withdrawal but would "for some time to come need U.S. air support."
He also warned the U.S. against discussing troop withdrawal in talks with the Taliban that do not include Kabul.
Gauhati, Jan 8 (AP/UNB) — India's lower house of Parliament approved a bill Tuesday that would grant residency and citizenship rights to non-Muslims who entered India illegally, allegedly after fleeing persecution in several neighboring nations, despite protests against the legislation in the populous northeast that brought the region to a near standstill.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh of the ruling Bharitiya Janata Party denied that the Citizenship Amendment bill which he introduced was discriminatory. It would grant rights to Hindus, Jains, Parsi and several other non-Muslim religious groups who migrated illegally from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The bill would provide an exemption to these groups from an Indian law which prohibits naturalization for illegal immigrants.
The initiative is the latest in a BJP campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of general elections set to take place early this year promoting India as a sanctuary for persecuted Hindus globally.
Protesters in Assam set up blockades with burning tires and vandalized two BJP offices, disrupting traffic and business from early in the morning to late afternoon.
Assam police spokesman Mukesh Agarwal said more than 700 demonstrators were arrested. Police used tear gas to disperse crowds.
Protest organizer Samujjal Bhattacharya, a leader of the All Assam Students Union, said the legislation would confer citizenship on the basis of religion, violating India's secular constitution. He also said that providing residency and citizenship rights to migrants from Bangladesh, with which Assam state shares a long open border, would threaten indigenous communities.
"Already, we have a whole lot of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh who entered Assam illegally over the years. Now, the government is trying to make a law seeking to confer citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh. We want all illegal migrants to be detected and deported, irrespective of their religion," Bhattacharya said.
The issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh has spurred periodic public uprisings in Assam since the Indian government granted rights to Bangladeshis who entered the country after winning independence from Pakistan in a 1971 war.
The bill is unlikely to pass the upper house of Parliament, which isn't controlled by the ruling party. However, if it isn't passed, the government could pass an ordinance that wouldn't require lawmakers' approval.
BJP's alliance partner in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad or Assam People's Party, quit the coalition government on Tuesday to protest the bill.
"We have always opposed the entry and presence of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Our party was formed in 1985 with this promise of freeing Assam from illegal migrants from Bangladesh. We therefore cannot remain an ally of the BJP after this move by the Modi government," AGP president Atul Bora said.