Geneva, Aug 27 (AP/UNB) — Investigators working for the U.N.'s top human rights body said Monday that top Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims.
The call, accompanying a first report by the investigators, amounts to some of the strongest language yet from U.N. officials who have denounced alleged human rights violations in Myanmar since a bloody crackdown began last August.
The three-member "fact-finding mission" working under a mandate from the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council meticulously assembled hundreds of accounts by expatriate Rohingya, satellite footage and other information to assemble the report.
The U.N.-backed Human Rights Council created the mission six months before a rebel attack on security posts set off the crackdown that drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
Through hundreds of interviews with expatriate Rohingya and use of satellite footage, the team compiled accounts of crimes including gang rape, the torching of hundreds of villages, enslavement, and killings of children — some before their eyes of their own parents. The team was not granted access to Myanmar and has decried a lack of cooperation or even response from the government, which received an early copy of the report.
The team cited a "conservative" estimate that some 10,000 people were killed in the violence, but outside investigators have had no access to the affected regions — making a precise accounting elusive, if not impossible.
Above all, the investigators said the situation in Myanmar should be referred to the International Criminal Court, and if not, to a special tribunal. Last week, Myanmar's government rejected any cooperation with the ICC, to which it is not a party. China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto power over whether the issue will be brought before the ICC, has been reticent about condemning Myanmar's government during the crisis.
U.N. officials and human rights watchers have for months pointed to evidence of genocide in Myanmar, and the United States late last year said that "ethnic cleansing" was occurring in Myanmar. But few experts have studied the issue as in-depth and in such an official way as the fact-finding team, with a mandate from a body that has Myanmar's approval: The country is among the 47 members of the Human Rights Council.
The United Nations does not apply the word "genocide" lightly. The fact-finding team's assessment suggests the crimes against the Rohingya could meet the strict legal definition — which was last met over crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda nearly a quarter-century ago.
Human rights watchers say determining "genocidal intent" is perhaps the most difficult criteria to meet: In essence, it's the task of assessing the mindsets of perpetrators to determine if ethnicity, race, religion or another attribute had motivated them.
"The crimes in Rakhine state, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts," the report said, alluding to a region of Myanmar that is home for many Rohingya.
Adding into their assessment: The extreme brutality of the crimes; "hate rhetoric" and specific speech by perpetrators and military commanders; policies of exclusion against Rohingya people; an "oppressive context;" and the "level of organization indicating a plan for destruction."
The investigators cited six Myanmar military leaders by name as "priority subjects" for possible prosecution, led by the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing. A longer list of names is to be kept in the office of the U.N. human rights chief for possible use in future judicial proceedings. The United States and European Union have already slapped sanctions on some Myanmar military leaders, though Min Aung Hlaing is not among them.
The authors called for the creation of a special body, or "mechanism," to keep watch on the still-evolving human rights situation in Myanmar. They said the United Nations' own role in the country since 2011 should be reviewed to see if the world body did all it could to prevent such a crisis. They also faulted Aung San Suu Kyi for not using her role as head of Myanmar's government, nor her "moral authority" — she is a Nobel peace prize laureate — to stop the events in embattled Rakhine state.
New Delhi, Aug 16 (AP/UNB) — India's top leaders and politicians are visiting the New Delhi hospital where doctors say former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is in critical condition after a prolonged illness.
Ninety-three-year-old Vajpayee has been hospitalized for more than two months after being admitted for treatment of a kidney infection and chest congestion. He suffered a stroke in 2009.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited him Wednesday night and Vice-President Venkiah Naidu on Thursday.
Vajpayee, a Hindu nationalist from the Bharatiya Janata Party, ordered nuclear weapons tests in 1988 that stoked fears of atomic war with rival Pakistan. But he later launched a groundbreaking peace process with Islamabad.
He served three times as India's prime minister; for 13 days in 1996, for 11 months from 1998 to 1999, and then from 1998 to 2004.
Dhaka, Aug 14 (UNB) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said Myanmar must accept Rohingyas because they are their citizens as they have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Mahathir blasted Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya Muslims and said he was "very disappointed" with leader Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to halt oppression of the group.
"It’s grossly unjust to do what they’ve done, killing people, mass murder, that's not the way civilized nations behave," Associated Press (AP) reported quoting the Malaysian Prime Minister.
During an interview on Monday with The AP, he commented on lopsided China-backed projects, treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, the South China Sea furor, a water treaty with Singapore and the country's financial mess.
AX CHINA-BACKED PROJECTS
Days before heading to Beijing for his first visit since his stunning electoral victory three months ago, Mahathir said Malaysia does not need a Chinese-backed $20 billion East Coast Rail Link and two energy pipelines worth $2.3 billion. The projects have been suspended pending renegotiation.
"We don't think they are viable. So, if we can, we would like to just drop the projects," Mahathir said.
If scrapping the projects altogether is not doable, Malaysia will need to put them on hold until the future, "where perhaps the need will arise," he added. Some of that money has already been paid and could be difficult to recoup.
STOP MILITARISING SOUTH CHINA SEA
Mahathir cautioned against further militarising the disputed South China Sea by reiterating his call for warships not to be permanently stationed there, warning it could cause an unhealthy "arms race."
"We’re all for ships, even warships, passing through, but not stationed here," he said. "It’s a warning to everyone. Don't create tension unnecessarily."
China claims much of the sea as its own and has built up several manmade islands and equipped them with runways, hangers, radar installations and missile stations to bolster its claim. It has accused the US, which routinely deploys warships and aircraft to the sea, of meddling in a purely Asian dispute. Chinese ships also patrol the sea.
STAYING OUT OF SAUDI CONFLICT
Mahathir said Malaysia wants to maintain a neutral stance and not be dragged into the Middle East conflict. His government has shut a Saudi-backed anti-terrorism centre launched last year and plans to withdraw Malaysian troops from the kingdom.
"Saudi Arabia is at war. We don't want to be involved in any foreign war... we won’t be accused of helping any aggressive wars," he said, citing strikes by a Saudi-led coalition on Yemen and Saudi's conflict with Qatar.
FAIR TRIAL FOR NAJIB
Mahathir said the government will ensure a fair trial for former leader Najib Razak, who faces trial on multiple charges related to the alleged multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.
"We promise that there’ll be no vengeance but the law will take its own course.... He’ll get a fair trial in this country," Mahathir said. But he added: "Najib is the main culprit. The world knows that Najib stole money."
Mahathir said fixing Malaysia's finances remains the key priority of the government, which will mark its 100 days in office this week.
"There may be a need for us to sell government assets to raise money to pay debts. That is the extent of Najib's wrongdoing," he said. This could include selling stakes in government-linked businesses and property, with a priority given to Malaysians,” he said.
SINGAPORE WATER DEAL
Mahathir said the price of raw water sold to Singapore should be increased by more than 10 fold. Under a decades-old water deal that expires in 2061, Malaysia sells raw water to Singapore at 3 sen ($0.0073) per thousand gallons and buys treated water at 50 sen ($0.12) per thousand gallons.
"Today 3 sen can buy nothing. I think every treaty needs to be revised because the cost of living changes," he said. "It won't make a dent in their finances just to give us a little bit of the money they’re making from us."
Southern Johor state sells raw water to another state at 30 sen ($0.073) per thousand gallons and that's a "charitable" price for a domestic deal, he said. "For a foreign country, we need to get more than that," Mahathir added, but declined to say what price Malaysia is seeking.
Mahathir, who has been accused of anti-Semitic views, said he was not against Jews but was criticizing their wrongdoing.
"There’s one race that cannot be criticised. If you are anti-Semitic, it seems almost as if you are a criminal ... anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things," Mahathir said.
"When somebody does wrong, I don't care how big they are. They may be powerful countries but if they do something wrong, I exercise my right of free speech. They criticize me, why can't I criticize them?" he said.
NO PERSONALITY CULT
Mahathir, the world's oldest elected leader at 93, said he doesn't care how history will judge him.
"Frankly, I don't care. I won't be around," he laughed. "When I’m dead, it doesn't matter anymore."
Mahathir said there are no roads, schools or buildings named after him in Malaysia except for a rare scholarship in his name.
"I don't allow a personality cult," he said. "If I want to be remembered, I can paint the whole country with my name. I don't care if people remember me or not."
Putrajaya, Aug 13 (AP/UNB) — Malaysia's prime minister said Monday he will seek to cancel multibillion-dollar Chinese-backed infrastructure projects that were signed by his predecessor as his government works to dig itself out of debt, and he blasted Myanmar's treatment of its Rohingya minority as "grossly unjust."
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press days before the 93-year-old leader heads to Beijing for his first visit there since returning to power in an electoral upset three months ago.
Mahathir said he wants to maintain good relations with China and welcomes its investment, so long as the projects benefit Malaysia.
But he took his toughest stance yet on Chinese-backed energy pipelines and a rail project along peninsular Malaysia's eastern coast struck by his predecessor Najib Razak, who faces trial on multiple charges related to the alleged multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.
"We don't think we need those two projects. We don't think they are viable. So if we can, we would like to just drop the projects," he said.
During his time in office, Najib drew Malaysia closer to China, which sees the multiethnic Southeast Asian country as a key part of its ambitious One Belt, One Road global trade initiative. The former prime minister reached deals for the 688-kilometer (430-mile) East Coast Rail Link and the two gas pipelines in 2016.
Malaysia's new government has already suspended work on the projects, being built by Chinese state-backed companies, and called for drastic cuts in their ballooning cost, which it estimates at more than $22 billion. Some of that money has already been paid and could be difficult to recoup.
If scrapping the projects altogether isn't doable, Malaysia will need to at least put them on hold until the future, "where perhaps the need will arise," Mahathir said.
Mahathir also urged China to respect the free movement of ships throughout the South China Sea, where China and multiple Southeast Asian nations including Malaysia have competing claims on islands and reefs — along with the rich fishing grounds and potential fossil fuel deposits around them.
China claims much of the sea as its own and has built up several man-made islands equipped them with runways, hangers, radar and missile stations to bolster its claim. It has accused the U.S., which routinely deploys aircraft carriers, other warships and aircraft to the sea, of meddling in a purely Asian dispute. Chinese ships also patrol the sea.
Mahathir cautioned against further militarizing the disputed body of water by reiterating his call for warships to not be permanently stationed there.
"We are all for ships, even warships, passing through, but not stationed here," he said. "It is a warning to everyone. Don't create tension unnecessarily."
Salt, Aug 12 (AP/UNB) — Jordanian search teams pulled the bodies of three suspected militants from the rubble of their hideout, a government official said Sunday, hours after assailants opened fire and set off explosions that killed four members of the security forces trying to storm the building.
The clash late Saturday was among the deadliest between suspected militants and Jordanian security forces in recent years. It raised new concerns about attempts by domestic and foreign militants to carry out attacks and destabilize the pro-Western kingdom.
Jordan has played a key role in an international military coalition that helped push back the extremist group Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
The chain of events in Jordan began Friday when assailants detonated a homemade bomb under a police car guarding a music festival in the predominantly Christian town of Fuheis, west of the capital, Amman. The blast killed a police officer.
King Abdullah II on Sunday denounced the "cowardly act of terrorism" and said Jordan would respond with "force and determination to eradicate terrorism and its criminal gangs."
The kingdom's security forces have cracked down on suspected Islamic militants in recent years, but a series of fatal attacks, including on security installations, have highlighted Jordan's continued vulnerability.
Jordanian authorities did not say Sunday what motivated the Fuheis attackers, and there was no claim of responsibility.
Security forces chasing the suspects in the Fuheis attack zeroed in on a multi-story building in the nearby town of Salt on Saturday and attempted to storm it. The suspects holed up inside opened fire and set off powerful explosions, officials said. A wing of the building collapsed.
In initial statements late Saturday, government spokeswoman Jumana Ghuneimat said three members of the security forces were killed. She said Sunday that a fourth officer had died and that the bodies of three suspects were pulled from the rubble. Five suspects are in custody.
The Hala Akhbar news website, linked to Jordan's military, said the suspects are Jordanians and that the cell had planned to attack security installations and other sensitive targets. The site said the suspects had been armed with explosives, grenades and other weapons.
Jordan has been a target of Islamic State attacks in recent years.
In June 2016, a cross-border car bombing launched from Syria killed seven Jordanian border guards. In December 2016, a shootout at a crusader castle in the southern town of Karak left 14 people dead, including seven members of the security forces, four militants and three civilians.
Jordan is considered an important security ally, particularly by the United States and Israel, which view any signs of unrest there with concern.
The kingdom has cracked down on suspected militants in recent years, imposing prison terms of several years for suspected sympathizers, including those expressing support for militant ideologies on social media.
At the same time, hopelessness and alienation among some of the kingdom's young people, driven by high youth unemployment, have provided fertile ground for recruitment by militant groups.