More murders in Philippine drug war: rights group

Philippine Sen. Leila de Lima. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Updated 17 February 2017
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More murders in Philippine drug war: rights group

MANILA: Shadowy assassins are still killing poor Filipinos, despite a police withdrawal from Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly drug war, a rights group said Friday, as Manila filed criminal charges against the president’s top critic.
Duterte ordered the police to step back at the end of January after a seven-month campaign that had left 6,485 people dead, many in unexplained circumstances.
The latest tally given to AFP on Friday showed an extra 146 people had died since the January 31 stand-down was ordered, which rights groups said showed extrajudicial killings were continuing.
“The targets are still the same, as far as we are concerned: people linked to drugs and who live in poor neighborhoods,” Wilnor Papa, campaign official for the Philippine branch of Amnesty International, told AFP.
Papa said unknown assailants were now killing between nine and 10 people daily. This compared with about 30 people a day being killed by police and unknown assailants when officers were still leading the crackdown.
In one new shooting incident covered by an AFP photographer, police found four men dead inside a shanty in northern Manila before dawn on Thursday, in a scene very similar to those covered at the height of the drug war.
Witnesses said unknown suspects broke into the house and started shooting, while three other men were shot dead in separate incidents elsewhere in the same district that night, local police told AFP.
Duterte ordered all police to stop prosecuting his drug war after anti-drug officers kidnapped a South Korean businessman then murdered him inside the national police headquarters as part of an extortion racket, according to an official investigation.
But Duterte promised that the war would continue and more addicts, as well as traffickers, would be killed as he sought to eradicate drugs in society.
Although the anti-drugs campaign is popular among voters, campaigners say it has granted a license to kill to anyone with a grudge and a gun.
But critics are finding it increasingly tough to get a hearing in the Philippines.
On Friday the government filed criminal charges against Senator Leila de Lima, a justice secretary in the previous government and former human rights commissioner who is one of Duterte’s most vocal opponents.
The charges allege she ran a drug trafficking ring using criminals in the country’s largest prison when she was justice secretary.
De Lima said in a statement that the charges, which could land her a 30-year jail term, were solely aimed at silencing her opposition.
“If the loss of my freedom is the price I have to pay for standing up against the butchery of the Duterte regime, then it is a price I am willing to pay,” she said, describing the charges as “false.”
De Lima has not yet been arrested.
In an earlier report, Amnesty said the police were guilty of systemic human rights abuses in the drug war, including shooting dead defenseless people, paying assassins to murder addicts and stealing from those they killed.
It also said police were being paid by their superiors to kill.
Duterte has since ordered the much smaller Drug Enforcement Agency to lead the drug crackdown, with the support of the military.
Derrick Carreon, spokesman for the 1,791-member drug agency, told AFP there had been far fewer killings by authorities since it took charge, without giving figures.
“(But) there is no point in comparing these figures because the police is a much larger organization, capable of conducting more operations,” Carreon said, adding the military had mostly acted as observers so far.
The national police force has 160,000 officers.


Leaders of two Koreas hold surprise meeting as Trump revives summit hopes

Updated 17 min 52 sec ago
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Leaders of two Koreas hold surprise meeting as Trump revives summit hopes

SEOUL/WASHINGTON: South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a surprise meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday in an effort to ensure that a high-stakes summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump takes place successfully, South Korean officials said.
The meeting was the latest dramatic turn in a week of diplomatic flip-flops surrounding the prospects for an unprecedented summit between the United States and North Korea, and the strongest sign yet that the two Korean leaders are trying to keep the on-again off-again summit on track.
Their two hours of talks at the Panmunjom border village came a month after they held the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade at the same venue. At that meeting, they declared they would work toward a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
“The two leaders candidly exchanged views about making the North Korea-US summit a successful one and about implementing the Panmunjom Declaration,” South Korea’s presidential spokesman said in a statement. He did not confirm how the meeting was arranged or which side asked for it.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. But White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said an advance team of White House and US State Department officials would leave for Singapore on schedule this weekend to prepare for a possible summit there.
Reuters reported earlier this week that a US advance team was scheduled to discuss the agenda and logistics for the summit with North Korean officials.
“There is a very strong possibility a US-North Korea summit could be back on very soon,” said Harry Kazianis of the conservative Center for the National Interest think-tank in Washington.
Whether one takes place depends on Kim agreeing to some sort of a realistic and verifiable denuclearization plan, added Kazianis, citing his own Trump administration sources. “If not, no summit. That is what it hinges on,” he said.
TRUMP HAILS “PRODUCTIVE TALKS“
In a letter to Kim on Thursday, Trump had said he was canceling the summit planned for June 12 in Singapore, citing North Korea’s “open hostility.”
But on Friday he indicated the meeting could be salvaged after welcoming a conciliatory statement from Pyongyang.
“We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
In a tweet later, Trump cited “very productive talks” and said that if the summit were reinstated it would likely remain in Singapore on June 12, and that it could be extended if necessary.
A senior White House official told reporters on Thursday that organizing a summit by June 12 could be a challenge, given the amount of dialogue needed to ensure a clear agenda.
“And June 12 is in ... 10 minutes,” the official said.
If the summit is not held, some analysts warn that the prospect of a military confrontation between the two nations would rise, while a successful summit would mark Trump’s biggest foreign policy achievement.
The Trump administration is demanding that North Korea completely and irreversibly shutter its nuclear weapons program. Kim and Trump’s initial decision to meet followed months of war threats and insults between the leaders over the program.
Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests, and has developed a long-range missile that could theoretically hit anywhere in the United States. Experts, however, are doubtful that North Korea possesses a warhead capable of surviving the stresses of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
Video and a photo released by South Korea’s presidential Blue House on Saturday showed Kim hugging Moon and kissing him on the cheek three times as he saw Moon off after their meeting at Tongilgak, the North’s building in the truce village, which lies in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) — the 2.5-mile (4 km) wide buffer that runs along the heavily armed military border.
Video footage also showed Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, greeting Moon as he arrived at Tongilgak and shaking hands, before the South Korean leader entered the building flanked by North Korean military guards.
Moon is the only South Korean leader to have met a North Korean leader twice, both times in the DMZ, which is a symbol of the unending hostilities between the nations after the Korean War ended in 1953 in a truce, not a peace treaty.