New Delhi, Mar 14 (AP/UNB) — Indian and Pakistani officials are meeting amid easing of tensions to discuss opening a visa-free border crossing to allow pilgrims to easily visit a Sikh shrine close to the border with Pakistan.
India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar says the talks have started after a Pakistani delegation crossed over to the Indian side on Thursday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal is heading the Pakistani delegation.
Tensions flared last month after a suicide attack killed 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. The Indian air force launched an airstrike inside Pakistan, saying it was targeting militants it blamed for the bombing.
Pakistan retaliated and said it shot down two Indian air force planes. One pilot was captured and later released. Tensions have eased since.
Shah Alam, Mar 14 (AP/UNB) — Malaysia's attorney-general ordered the murder case to proceed against a Vietnamese woman accused in the killing of the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader, prosecutors said in court Thursday.
Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad gave no explanation for the refusal to drop the murder charge against Doan Thi Huong, who is the only suspect in custody after the stunning decision Monday to drop the case against Indonesian Siti Aisyah.
The decision to move forward with Huong's case was slammed by both her lawyer and Vietnam's ambassador, who had hoped she would be given the same leniency as Aisyah.
Ambassador Le Quy Quynh said he was "very disappointed" with the decision. He said Vietnam's justice minister had written to the Malaysian attorney-general seeking Huong's release and that Vietnam would keep lobbying Malaysia to free her.
"We will request Malaysia to have fair judgment and release her as soon as possible," he said.
Huong's lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik was more blunt, telling the court the decision was "perverse." He said prosecutors were being unfair to Huong as her case was similar to Aisyah.
"Very obviously, there is discrimination. The AG favored one party to the other," Teh said.
Huong and Aisyah were accused of smearing the toxic VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam's face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. They have said they thought they were taking part in a harmless prank for a TV show.
They were the only people in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed. Both women were charged separately but the charge against them is the same: That they had colluded with the four North Korean suspects to murder Kim.
A High Court judge last August had found there was enough evidence to infer that Aisyah, Huong and the four North Koreans engaged in a "well-planned conspiracy" to kill Kim.
Lawyers for the women argued that they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and that the prosecution failed to show the women had any intention to kill. Intent to kill is crucial to a murder charge under Malaysian law.
Huong's lawyer sought a deferment of the trial Thursday, saying she was unwell and needed medical treatment. He said Huong only slept an hour a night since Aisyah's release and was not in a position to testify.
When asked by the judge if she was unwell, Huong stood in the dock and said she suffered from tension and stress.
"I have no idea what is going on," a tired and pale-looking Huong, who was wrapped in a red headscarf and a coat, said through an interpreter.
The judge agreed to postpone the trial until April 1 but warned there should be no more delay. The defense phase of the trial was to have begun Monday.
Huong was sobbing as she spoke to Vietnamese Embassy officials after Thursday's court hearing ended.
In Huong's village in Vietnam, her family was crestfallen.
"I had hoped for good news today, but unfortunately there is none. I'm very sad and disappointed. I had hoped my daughter would be freed like the Indonesian woman," said her 66-year-old father Doan Van Thanh.
He said he believes his daughter is innocent and told her to "stay calm and hope for the best outcome."
Huong's stepmother, Nguyen Thi Vy, was in tears as she slammed the court's decision.
"It's so unfair. They were together, did the same thing," she said.
Huong could face a death sentence if she is convicted.
Naran Singh, another lawyer for Huong, said it was very rare for the attorney-general to drop a murder case after the judge had called for their defense. He urged the attorney-general to be transparent and explain why he dropped the case against Aisyah but not Huong.
During the prosecution phase of the trial, expert witnesses testified that acute VX poisoning caused Kim's death and the nerve agent was detected on his face, in his eyes and on his clothing. The witnesses said traces of VX were found on both women's clothes as well as on Huong's fingernails.
Analysts have said the case against Aisyah appeared weaker since there was no video evidence of her accosting Kim at the airport. There was security camera footage of Huong.
Prosecutors have contended the women were trained assassins who knew they were handling poison because they carefully held out their hands away from their bodies and went to separate restrooms to wash their hands afterward.
The defense phase of the trial is expected to shift the focus onto the absent North Koreans. Defense lawyers have said the women were hired to play pranks on strangers and had done several such pranks before the attack on Kim. Prosecutors have also said the VX was supplied by the North Korean suspects.
Airport security footage played during the women's trial showed all four of the men at the airport during the attack, discarding their belongings and changing their outfits later. They were then seen meeting a North Korean Embassy official and an Air Koryo official before flying out of the country.
On Malaysia's request, Interpol has issued arrest warrant for the four men, who are believed to be back in Pyongyang, but North Korea is not a member of the organization.
Kabul, Mar 13 (AP/UNB) — An Afghan journalist who has long received death threats was seriously wounded in a bombing in the country's south, while in the western province of Farah, the Taliban stormed an army checkpoint and killed 10 soldiers, officials said Wednesday.
Also in Farah, a local official was gunned down outside his home on Wednesday, a councilman said.
The attacks were the latest violence in war-torn Afghanistan even as the Taliban and the U.S. concluded another round of negotiations held in Qatar, with both sides reporting progress in the talks.
Radio and TV journalist Nesar Ahmad Ahmadi was wounded when a sticky bomb attached to his car exploded as he was heading to work in Helmand province. Omar Zwak, the governor's spokesman, said the attack happened on Tuesday in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.
Ahmadi had a leg wound and was transferred to Kabul for further treatment, the spokesman said. He runs the Sabahoon radio station and is also a reporter for Sabahoon TV in Helmand.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Helmand, the Taliban heartland.
Afghan journalists are often targeted in attacks. In January, the Afghan Journalist Safety Committee said in its annual report that it had recorded a total of 121 cases of violence against journalists and media workers in 2018. It also said 17 journalists and media workers were killed last year, once again placing Afghanistan as the world's most dangerous country for journalists.
The International Federation of Journalists and its Afghan affiliate condemned the attack on Ahmadi in Helmand and called for an immediate investigation.
In the attack in western Farah province, the Taliban stormed an army checkpoint along the main highway in Gulistan district on Tuesday, killing 10 soldiers, said Abdul Samad Salehi, a member of the provincial council.
Reinforcements were sent and the area was retaken and brought under control but five or six other troops remain missing, Salehi added. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in Farah.
On Wednesday, also in Farah, Mohammad Salim Farahi was shot and killed near his home in the provincial capital, Farah city. He was an engineer and the head of the public works department, said Salehi.
Despite intensified negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban to end the 17-year was in Afghanistan, the insurgents have been carrying out near-daily attacks across the country, mainly targeting the government and security forces and causing staggering casualties.
The nearly two weeks of talks in Qatar produced two draft agreements between the Taliban and the U.S. government on a "withdrawal timeline and effective counterterrorism measures," American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrote on Twitter.
The Taliban also issued a statement, saying "progress was achieved" on both of those issues. However, the Taliban have consistently refused to talk with the government in Kabul, describing it as a U.S. puppet.
The talks concluded late Tuesday. It wasn't immediately clear when the next round of talks would take place.
Seoul, Mar 12 (AP/UNB) — North Korea must not use a possible rocket launch as leverage in negotiations with the U.S, a South Korean presidential adviser said Tuesday, saying such a move could be "catastrophic" for global diplomacy on its nuclear program.
U.S.-based websites recently released satellite photographs indicating North Korea has restored structures at its long-range rocket launch facility that it dismantled last year at the start of diplomacy with the United States. Other satellite imageries show increased vehicle activities at a separate North Korean facility used to manufacture missiles, and rockets for satellite launches.
Some experts say these suggest North Korea may be assembling a long-range rocket to carry out a banned satellite launch in the wake of last month's North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi that ended without any agreement.
Moon Chung-in, a retired university professor who is now a special adviser to President Moon Jae-in, told a panel discussion that North Korea using a rocket launch or other nuclear activities as leverage in negotiations would be a "bad move."
Moon Chung-in said such a North Korean move could eventually cause a "catastrophic" consequence or a "big disaster" in the U.S.-North Korea diplomacy. "I wonder if North Korea should avoid" such an action, Moon said.
He said both North Korea and the U.S. must restrain themselves to keep diplomacy alive and start unofficial contacts to resume talks. He said the Hanoi summit showed how "difficult" and "painful" it would be to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
The Hanoi summit fell apart due to disputes over how much sanctions reliefs North Korea could win in return for limited nuclear disarmament steps. Washington and Pyongyang accuse each other of causing the summit's breakdown, but both sides have avoided harsh criticism against each other and expressed hopes for future negotiations. No official meeting between the countries has yet to be publicly scheduled.
The Feb. 27-28 summit was the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump since they met for the first time in Singapore last June.
United Nations, Mar 12 (AP/UNB) — U.N. experts say they are investigating possible violations of United Nations sanctions on North Korea in about 20 countries, from alleged clandestine nuclear procurement in China to arms brokering in Syria and military cooperation with Iran, Libya and Sudan.
The expert panel's 66-page report to the Security Council, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, also detailed the appearance in North Korea of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, Mercedes-Benz limousines and Lexus LX 570 all-wheel drive luxury vehicles in violation of a ban on luxury goods.
And it noted a trend in North Korea's evasion of financial sanctions "of using cyberattacks to illegally force the transfer of funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges."
The report's executive summary, which was obtained in early February, said North Korea's nuclear and missile programs "remain intact" and its leaders are dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent "decapitation" strikes.
The full report said "the Yongbyon nuclear complex remained active," noting that satellite imagery through November showed excavation of water channels and construction of a new building near the reactors' water discharge facilities. Satellite imagery also "indicates possible operation of the radiochemical laboratory and associated steam plant," it said.
The panel said it continues monitoring uranium concentration plants and mining sites in the country.
It also has "surveyed, confirmed and reported ballistic missile activity sites and found evidence of a consistent trend" by North Korea "to disperse its assembly, storage and testing locations," the report said.
In addition to using civilian facilities, the panel said North Korea is using "previously idle or sprawling military-industrial sites as launch locations" — some close to, and some up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the assembly or storage sites.
As examples of this trend, it cited the test launch of Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Panghyon aircraft factory on July 4, 2017, and a launch from Mupyong-ni 24 days after that. It said Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport, the country's largest civil-military airfield, was used to launch Hwasong-12 missiles on Aug. 29 and Sept. 15 of that year.
As for trade sanctions, the experts said they continue to investigate two Chinese companies on the U.N. sanctions blacklist — Namchogang Trading Corp. and Namhung Trading Corp. — and associated front companies and their representatives "for nuclear procurement activities."
The panel said it is also currently surveying the world's manufacturers of nuclear "choke point" items such as "pressure transducers," focusing on their end-use delivery verification methods.
The experts said they also were continuing "multiple investigations into prohibited activities" between North Korea and the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.
These include Syrian nationals reported to be engaged in arms brokering on behalf of North Korea "to a range of Middle Eastern and African states, reportedly offering conventional arms and, in some cases, ballistic missiles, to armed groups in Yemen and Libya," the panel said. They also include North Koreans working for sanctioned "entities" and for Syrian defense factories, it said.
The experts said a country, which they didn't identify, had informed them that Iran "was one of the two most lucrative markets" for North Korean military cooperation and that both the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. and Green Pine Associated Corp. offices in the country "are active." The unnamed country also indicated that North Koreans in Iran were being used as cash couriers, the report said.
The Iranian government replied to the panel that the only North Koreans in the country were diplomats, and they have not violated U.N. sanctions, the report said.
The panel said it is continuing investigations into "multiple attempts at military cooperation" between North Korea and various Libyan authorities and sanctioned "entities" and foreign nationals working on their behalf.
The experts said they are also continuing investigations into military cooperation projects between North Korea and Sudan, including information on activities involving a Syrian arms trafficker and technology for "anti-tank and man-portable air defense systems."