Belgium could offer Catalan leader asylum

A man holds a banner reading in Spanish “Puigdemont go to prison” as nationalist activists protest during a mass rally against Catalonia’s declaration of independence, in Barcelona, Spain on Sunday, October 29, 2017. (File photo by AP)
Updated 29 October 2017
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Belgium could offer Catalan leader asylum

BRUSSELS: Belgium could offer asylum to Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, the country’s immigration minister has suggested, as the Spanish political crisis rages.
Puigdemont was officially deposed by Madrid as president of the Calatan region on Friday after its parliament unilaterally declared independence from Spain, and now faces possible criminal charges of rebellion.
Belgian Immigration Minister Theo Francken, a member of the Flemish separatist N-VA party, questioned whether Puigdemont could be sure of a fair trial and said he could be given asylum in Belgium if he asked for it.
“It’s not unrealistic (that Belgium could protect Puigdemont), looking at the current situation,” Francken told Flemish-language broadcaster VTM on Saturday.
“Looking at the repression by Madrid and the jail sentences that are being proposed, the question can be asked whether he still has the chance for an honest court hearing.”
So far there has been no indication that Puidgemont will seek to leave Catalonia, and on Sunday his deputy insisted he “is and will remain” the president of the regional government.
The unprecedented Catalan crisis was triggered by a banned independence referendum on October 1 that was shunned by many, and marred by police violence, after which the regional parliament voted on Friday to declare independence from Spain.
Madrid dissolved the regional government in response and called an election to replace them, while the international community has spurned the independence declaration and united behind Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
There was trenchant support for Madrid from London, Paris, Berlin and the European Union, but Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel — who governs in coalition with the separatist N-VA — gave a more measured response, calling for “a peaceful solution respecting the national and international order.”


US imposes sanctions on Myanmar commander in chief over Rohingya abuses

This file photo taken on July 19, 2018, shows Myanmar's Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, saluting to pay his respects to Myanmar independence hero General Aung San and eight others assassinated in 1947, during a ceremony to mark the 71th anniversary of Martyrs' Day in Yangon. (AFP)
Updated 38 min 17 sec ago
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US imposes sanctions on Myanmar commander in chief over Rohingya abuses

  • A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh
  • A United Nations investigator said this month that Myanmar security forces and insurgents were committing human rights violations against civilians that may amount to fresh war crimes

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday announced sanctions on the Myanmar military’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders it said were responsible for extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims, barring them from entry to the United States.
The steps, which also covered Min Aung Hlaing’s deputy, Soe Win, and two other senior commanders and their families, are the strongest the United States has taken in response to massacres of minority Rohingyas in Myanmar, also known as Burma. It named the two others as Brig. Generals Than Oo and Aung Aung.
“We remain concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo said a recent disclosure that Min Aung Hlaing ordered the release of soldiers convicted of extrajudicial killings at the village of Inn Din during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in 2017 was “one egregious example of the continued and severe lack of accountability for the military and its senior leadership.”
“The Commander-in-Chief released these criminals after only months in prison, while the journalists who told the world about the killings in Inn Din were jailed for more than 500 days,” Pompeo said.
The Inn Din massacre was uncovered by two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who spent more than 16 months behind bars on charges of obtaining state secrets. The two were released in an amnesty on May 6.
The US announcement came on the first day of an international ministerial conference on religious freedom hosted by Pompeo at the State Department that was attended by Rohingya representatives.
“With this announcement, the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military,” said Pompeo, who has been a strong advocate of religious freedom.

“GROSS VIOLATIONS“
“We designated these individuals based on credible information of these commanders’ involvement in gross violations of human rights.”
A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. UN investigators have said that Myanmar’s operation included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson and was executed with “genocidal intent.”
The State Department has so far stopped short of calling the abuses genocide, referring instead to ethic cleansing and a “well-planned and coordinated” campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities.
“He (Pompeo) has not come to the point at which he has decided to make a further determination. Generally our policies are focused on changing behavior, promoting accountability, and we have taken today’s actions with those goals in mind,” a senior State Department official told reporters, asking not to be named.
The military in Myanmar, where Buddhism is the main religion, has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and says its actions were part of a fight against terrorism.
A declaration of genocide by the US government could require Washington to impose even stronger sanctions on Myanmar, a country with which it has competed for influence with regional rival China.
The senior State Department official said Washington hoped the latest steps would strengthen the hand of the civilian government in Myanmar in its effort to amend the constitution to reduce military influence in politics.
“Our hope is that these actions ... will help to further delegitimize the current military leadership, and can help the civilian government gain control of the military,” he said.
The Trump administration had thus far imposed sanctions on four military and police commanders and two army units involved in the abuses against the Rohingya and had been under pressure from US Congress to take tougher steps.
A United Nations investigator said this month that Myanmar security forces and insurgents were committing human rights violations against civilians that may amount to fresh war crimes.