Gauhati, July 30 (AP/UNB — India on Monday released a final draft of a list of its citizens in the northeastern state of Assam, leaving some 4 million people on edge to prove their Indian nationality.
India says hundreds of thousands of people have illegally entered the country from neighboring Bangladesh over decades and settled down in the northeast. Bangladesh rejects the claim.
The application process for inclusion in India's national register started in 2015. Of 32.9 million applicants, the names of 28.9 million have been approved and included in the draft, Sailesh, India's registrar general, told reporters in Gauhati, the capital of Assam state.
Sailesh, who uses one name, said more than 4 million left out can file appeals by Sept. 30 and prove their Indian nationality by providing documents. Until then, no one will be declared an illegal migrant.
"Adequate and ample scope will be given to people for making objections. No genuine Indian citizen should have any fear," said Sailesh.
Allegations of illegal movement of people from India's porous border with Bangladesh have triggered sectarian tensions between the state's indigenous population and Bengali-speaking Muslims. Hundreds of Bengali-speaking Muslims whose nationality is suspect are living in half a dozen detention camps in Assam state.
People were asked to provide documents proving that they or their family members lived in India before March 24, 1971, but excluded those who arrived during and after the 1971 war leading to Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan.
The final national register containing the names of only Indian nationals after weeding out illegal migrants will be published after the disputed claims are settled.
"Nowhere else in India have we carried out such an exercise to have a list of (Indian) nationals," said National Register of Citizens Coordinator Prateek Hajela.
Washington, July 28 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday for "fulfilling a promise" to return the remains of U.S. soldiers missing from the Korean War, as a U.S. military plane made a rare trip into North Korea to retrieve 55 cases said to contain remains.
Close to 7,700 U.S. soldiers remain unaccounted for from the 1950-53 Korean War, and about 5,300 of those were lost in North Korea.
North Korea's move signals a positive step in Trump's diplomacy with Pyongyang, and may restart efforts to send U.S. teams into the country to search for additional war dead.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis cautioned that the transfer of remains "is separate" from what has so far been troubled efforts to negotiate the complete denuclearization of North Korea. But he said it was a step in the right direction following the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.
"This is obviously a gesture of carrying forward what they agreed to in Singapore and we take it as such," Mattis told reporters Friday. "We also look at it as a first step of a restarted process. So we do want to explore additional efforts to bring others home."
Despite soaring rhetoric about denuclearization before the Singapore meeting, the summit ended with only a vague aspirational goal for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when and how that would occur.
Subsequent talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean officials got off to a rocky start earlier this month, with the North accusing the Americans of making "unilateral and gangster-like" demands on denuclearization. On Wednesday, Pompeo said a great deal of work remains ahead of a North Korea denuclearization deal, but he declined to provide any timeline.
Trump, addressing reporters on the South Lawn, said Vice President Mike Pence would greet the families and the remains of the soldiers.
"We have many others coming, but I want to thank Chairman Kim in front of the media for fulfilling a promise that he made to me, and I'm sure that he will continue to fulfill that promise as they search and search and search," Trump said.
"These incredible American heroes will soon lay at rest on sacred American soil," he added.
Pence, the son of a Korean War combat veteran, said in a statement that he will participate in the ceremony when the remains arrive in the U.S. United Nations Command said the remains will be flown to Hawaii immediately after a full honors ceremony in Seoul on Wednesday.
"It is deeply humbling to be part of this historic moment," Pence said. "We will never forget the sacrifices these brave service members and their families made for our nation and our freedoms."
Early Friday morning in Korea, a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane made a rare trip into North Korea to retrieve 55 cases of what are believed to be remains from the Korean War. The aircraft then flew from Wonsan to Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, near the South Korean capital of Seoul.
At the air base, U.S. servicemen and a military honor guard lined up on the tarmac to receive the remains, which were carried in boxes covered in blue U.N. flags. Officials in North Korea had no comment on the handover, which came on the 65th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.
Once the cases arrive in Hawaii, a series of forensic examinations will be done to determine if the remains are human and if the dead were American or allied troops killed in the conflict.
Mattis underscored that looming question, saying "we don't know who's in those boxes." But he said the gesture is important for families of the fallen, which could include any of the allies that also fought in the war.
"We have families that when they got the telegram, have never had closure," Mattis said. "They've never gone out and had the body returned."
More than 36,000 U.S. troops died in the conflict, including those listed as missing in action.
The repatriation of remains could be followed by stronger North Korean demands for fast-tracked discussions to formally end the war, which was stopped with an armistice and not a peace treaty. South Korea's Defense Ministry also said the North agreed to general-level military talks next week at a border village to discuss reducing tensions across the countries' heavily armed border.
The remains are believed to be some of the more than 200 that North Korea has held in storage for some time, and were likely recovered from land during farming or construction. The vast majority of the war dead, however, have yet to be located and retrieved from cemeteries and battlefields across the countryside.
Efforts to recover American war dead had been stalled for more than a decade because of a standoff over North Korea's nuclear program and a previous U.S. claim that security arrangements for its personnel working in the North were insufficient.
From 1996 to 2005, joint U.S.-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations that collected 229 sets of American remains. The last time North Korea turned over remains was in 2007, when Bill Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and New Mexico governor, secured the return of six sets.
Washington has said Pyongyang wouldn't get sanctions relief and significant security and economic rewards unless it firmly commits to a process of completely and verifiably eliminating its nuclear weapons. There are lingering doubts about whether Kim would ever agree to fully relinquish his nukes, which he may see as a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurance the United States could offer.
Islamabad, Jul 27 (AP/UNB) — Former cricket star Imran Khan declared victory Thursday in Pakistan's parliamentary election and vowed to run the country "as it has never before been run" by fighting corruption, seeking regional cooperation and forging a new relationship with the U.S. that was not "one-sided."
TV stations reported Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, maintained a commanding lead from Wednesday's balloting. But his leading rival, Shahbaz Sharif, rejected the outcome, citing allegations of vote-rigging.
Pakistan's election commission struggled with technical problems and had to revert to a manual count, delaying the announcement of final results until Friday. That left unclear whether the PTI will have a simple majority in the National Assembly or have to form a coalition government.
But that didn't stop the 65-year-old Khan from proclaiming his triumph in an address to the nation, in which he pledged to create an Islamic welfare state to provide education and employment for the poor to fulfill a campaign promise to create 10 million jobs.
"Today in front of you, in front of the people of Pakistan, I pledge I will run Pakistan in such a way as it has never before been run," Khan said, vowing to wipe out corruption, strengthen institutions he called dysfunctional and regain national pride by developing international relationships based on respect and equality.
While Khan appeared casual and conciliatory in his speech, his words were laced with passion. He said the United States treats Pakistan like a mercenary, giving it billions of dollars to fight the war on terrorism in a region beset with militant extremists.
"Unfortunately, so far our relations were one-sided. America thinks that it gives Pakistan money to fight for them. Because of this Pakistan suffered a lot," said Khan, who has been critical of the U.S.-led conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
He offered nothing to suggest an improvement in Pakistan's already testy relationship with Washington since President Donald Trump's tweets in January that accused Islamabad of taking U.S. aid and returning only lies and deceit.
Seeking good relations with his neighbors, Khan addressed Pakistan's rival, India. The two nuclear powers have had a long-running conflict over the disputed region of Kashmir.
"Take one step toward us and we will take two steps toward you," he said in a peace offering while still decrying widespread human rights abuses in Kashmir.
Khan also advocated an open border policy with Afghanistan, even suggesting the two countries embrace a "European Union" type relationship. The plan seems unlikely, with Pakistan's military already building hundreds of border outposts and an accompanying fence along its western frontier with Afghanistan despite often-violent opposition from Kabul.
Khan focused on what he wanted to do for the poor in Pakistan and his vision of a country that bowed to no one, where everyone was equal under the law and taxes were paid by the rich to fund services for the less fortunate.
His campaign message of a new Pakistan seemed to resonate with young voters in a country where 64 percent of its 200 million people are under 30.
Khan said the elections were the most transparent and promised to investigate every complaint of irregularity that his opponents presented.
"It is thanks to God (that) we won and we were successful," he said.
More than a dozen TV channels projected the PTI would win as many as 119 seats of the 270 National Assembly seats that were contested, although the broadcasters did not disclose their methodology. The rest of the 342-seat parliament includes seats reserved for women and minorities. Voting for two seats was postponed after one candidate died during the campaign and another was disqualified.
Although rights groups and minorities expressed worries ahead of the voting about radical religious groups taking part, moderate voices seemed to have prevailed: None of the 265 candidates fielded by the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba won. That includes the son of co-founder and U.S.-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head.
The candidates campaigned under the little known Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek party because Lashkar-e-Taiba is banned.
Even if Khan's party wins a simple majority, he would need to wait until the president convenes the parliament to swear in the new lawmakers — traditionally within a week.
He also faces opposition over the result from Sharif. He heads the Pakistan Muslim League, the party of his older brother, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in prison on corruption charges. TV projections give his party barely 61 seats.
The younger Sharif tweeted that "our democratic process has been pushed back by decades," adding that "had the public mandate been delivered in a fair manner, we would have accepted it happily."
Complaints also emerged from the independent Human Rights Commission, which issued a statement saying that women were not allowed to vote in some areas.
In other areas, it said, "polling staff appeared to be biased toward a certain party," without elaborating. In the days before the election, leading rights activist I.A. Rehman called the campaign "the dirtiest" in Pakistan's bumpy journey toward sustained democracy.
Analysts have expressed concern that disgruntled losers could create instability for the incoming government, which must deal with a crumbling economy, crippling debt and a raging militancy.
The voting was marred by a suicide bombing in the southwestern city of Quetta, the Baluchistan provincial capital, that killed 31 people as they waited to vote. A bombing in the same province earlier this month killed 149 people, including a candidate for office. Baluchistan has been roiled by relentless attacks, both by the province's secessionists and Sunni militants who have killed hundreds of Shiites there.
The election marked only the second time in Pakistan's 71-year history that one civilian government has handed power to another.
There were widespread concerns during the campaign about manipulation by the military, which has directly or indirectly ruled Pakistan for most of its existence. The military had deployed 350,000 troops at the 85,000 polling stations.
In a tweet, Pakistan's military spokesman Gen. Asif Ghafoor called allegations of interference "malicious propaganda."
Manila, Jul 27 (AP/UNB) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has signed legislation creating a new Muslim autonomous region aimed at settling nearly half a century of Muslim unrest in the south, where troops crushed an attempt last year by Islamic State group-linked militants to turn a city into a stronghold.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque and another key aide, Bong Go, told reporters without elaborating late Thursday that Duterte signed the bill creating the region, to be called Bangsamoro. The autonomy deal, which has been negotiated for more than two decades under four presidents, was ratified earlier this week by both chambers of Congress.
"This is to announce that the president has just signed the BOL into law," Roque said in a cellphone message, referring to the Bangsamoro organic law.
It's the latest significant attempt by the government to end Muslim fighting that has left more than 120,000 people dead and hampered development in the country's most destitute regions. The deal was negotiated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the south, although about half a dozen smaller IS-linked radical groups remain a threat in the region, the homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation.
Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro rebel front, told a news conference Tuesday that 30,000 to 40,000 armed fighters would be "decommissioned" if the autonomy deal is fully enforced. The disarming would be done in batches based on compliance with the accord, with the final 40 percent of the guerrillas turning over their weapons once there is full compliance.
Murad added that six of the largest guerrilla camps in the south were already being converted into "productive civilian communities" to help the insurgents return to normal life.
Murad 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.
"We will decommission our forces, the entire forces," Murad said. He declined to immediately cite the number of weapons that "will be put beyond use."
The military has estimated the Moro rebel group's size at a much lower 11,000 fighters.
The Bangsamoro replaces an existing poverty- and conflict-wracked autonomous region and is to be larger, better-funded and more powerful. An annual grant, estimated at 60 billion to 70 billion pesos ($1.1 billion to $1.3 billion), is to be set aside to bolster development in the new region.
Murad's guerrilla force is the second in the south to drop a demand for a separate Muslim state in exchange for autonomy. The Moro National Liberation Front forged a 1996 peace deal with the government that led to the current five-province Muslim autonomous region, which has largely been regarded as a failure.
Western governments have welcomed the autonomy pacts. They worry that small numbers of Islamic State group-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.
Murad said it's crucial for the peace agreement to be fully enforced, citing how earlier failed attempts prompted some guerrillas to break away and form more hard-line groups like the Abu Sayyaf, a brutal group listed by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization.
Hundreds of militants, including those who broke off from Murad's force, were among black flag-waving fighters who swore allegiance to the Islamic State group and laid siege to the southern Islamic city of Marawi last year. Troops backed by U.S. and Australian surveillance aircraft routed the militants after five months of airstrikes and ground assaults that left more than 1,200 people, mostly Islamic fighters, dead and the mosque-studded city in ruins.
"We can roughly conclude that all these splinter groups are a result of the frustration with the peace process," Murad said.
Islamabad, July 27 (AP/UNB) — With Pakistani election officials declaring the party of Imran Khan to be the winner of parliamentary balloting, the former cricket star turned Friday to forming a coalition government, since the party did not get an outright majority.
That will mean finding allies and cutting deals in Pakistan's rough-and-tumble politics — a task made even more difficult by Khan's first address to the nation on Thursday in which he took an uncompromising stand against a culture of corruption and big money.
Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, won 116 of 269 contested seats in the National Assembly, while his nearest rival, Shahbaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, won 64 seats, the Election Commission said after two days of tedious vote-counting from Wednesday's balloting.
Sharif, the younger brother of jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had earlier rejected the results, charging widespread fraud and manipulation. He was met with representatives of other losing parties to decide on a protest strategy.
Khan's opponents and human rights groups say he won because of widespread fraud and massive manipulation. They allege involvement of Pakistan's powerful military and its intelligence agency known by the acronym ISI. Khan has dismissed the allegations, calling the election the most transparent in the country's 71-year history, which has been dominated by military interference, either directly or indirectly.
A European Union team monitored the balloting and its leader Michael Gahler said, "Overall, the election results are credible."
But the monitors criticized the campaign, saying it was marred by intimidation of some candidates, an effort to undermine the former ruling party and media self-censorship.
"Our overall assessment of the election process is that it is not as good as in 2013," Gahler said.
Third place in the National Assembly went to the left-of-center Pakistan People's party with 39 seats.
Smaller parties and independent candidates won the rest of the seats. The Election Commission said vote counting was also still underway in 12 remote areas, offering Khan a possibility of more seats but still not an outright majority.
There will likely be days of negotiation before the makeup of Pakistan's National Assembly and four provincial parliaments are clear and Khan can begin implementing his agenda.
The maneuvering will be watched closely by Pakistan's neighbors as well as regional powers such as China, Russia and the United States. Khan has been critical of the US military involvement in Afghanistan and drone strikes against militants in Pakistan.
Fawad Chaudhry, spokesman for Khan's party, said efforts were already underway to form a coalition, looking to both independents and allies.
In his speech, the 65-year-old Khan vowed to wipe out corruption, strengthen institutions he called dysfunctional and regain national pride by developing international relationships based on respect and equality. He also wants to establish an Islamic welfare state to ensure Pakistan's many poor have a chance at progress.
Adding an uncertain political element, Sharif's PML-N party won 127 of 297 seats in the regional parliament in Punjab, the country's largest province with 60 percent of Pakistan's 200 million people. Khan's PTI took 117 seats, giving neither an outright majority and forcing both to try to form a coalition government. If Khan wants to implement his sweeping agenda, the PTI will need to control the Punjab parliament.
Khan's party won a big majority in the conservative Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, while the Pakistan People's Party, led by Bilawal Bhutto, the son of slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, won the most seats in southern Sindh's provincial legislature. Pakistan's largest city of Karachi and the country's financial hub is the capital of Sindh province.
Restive Baluchistan province, which is troubled by militant violence, was won by a mix of small parties that will have to form a coalition t