Myanmar arrests MP after Rakhine riot

Rakhine State residents protest after a local gathering in Mrauk U celebrating an ancient Buddhist Arakan kingdom turned violent and many were killed and injured, in Sittwe, Myanmar Jan. 17, 2018.(Reuters)
Updated 18 January 2018
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Myanmar arrests MP after Rakhine riot

YANGON: Myanmar police on Thursday arrested a prominent Rakhine Buddhist MP for allegedly provoking ethnic violence, state media and his party said, after a deadly riot highlighted simmering tensions in the troubled state.
The arrest came after seven people were killed and a dozen injured when police opened fire on a crowd of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists trying to seize a government office late Tuesday.
The violence erupted as anger boiled over after the cancelation of a local ceremony in Mrauk U, a town just a few dozen kilometers from the epicenter of a military crackdown against the country’s Rohingya Muslim community.
State-backed media reported that charges have been filed against lower house MP Aye Maung following a speech on Monday in which the nationalist politican attacked the government for thinking the Rakhine are “slaves” and said it was the “right time” for the community to launch an armed struggle.
“Dr. Aye Maung was arrested and taken from his house about 1:00 p.m. (0630 GMT) this afternoon,” Arakan National Party general secretary Tun Aung Kyaw, told AFP.
Arakan is another name for Rakhine.
Police have blamed the protesters for starting Tuesday’s violence by throwing stones, barging into an administrative office and hoisting the Rakhine State flag.
Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her condolences and has pledged to “probe the incident.”
Aye Maung, the first MP to be arrested since Myanmar’s military-backed constitution was adopted in 2008, was charged under the Unlawful Associations act, which carries a maximum sentence of three years.
The violence prompted an ethnic Rakhine rebel group in the state to promise “serious” retaliation for the deaths of the protesters.
Unlike the Rohingya Muslims, the Rakhine are recognized by the government as an ethnic group but are often marginalized under a system that favors the dominant Bamar (Burmese).
Rakhine mobs stand accused of aiding the military in using murder, rape and arson against the Rohingya — 655,000 of whom have fled to Bangladesh since August — in violence the UN and US have condemned as ethnic cleansing.
Tuesday’s riot came on the same day that a heavily-criticized repatriation agreement was signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh to start sending the refugees back.
Observers are now concerned the conflict could now enter a new phase.
“There’s a risk this could become a lightning rod for Rakhine grievances and the situation could escalate,” political analyst Richard Horsey told AFP.


Further Taliban assaults likely in weeks ahead — US Defense chief Mattis

Updated 17 August 2018
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Further Taliban assaults likely in weeks ahead — US Defense chief Mattis

  • The Taliban had six objectives in and around the city of Ghazni and failed to seize any of them
  • Some Taliban fighters were still holed up in houses in the city ‘trying to get resupplied’

BOGOTA, Colombia: The Taliban is likely to keep up its recent surge of violence in advance of scheduled parliamentary elections in October but Western-backed Afghan defenses will not break, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday.
In his most detailed comments on the Taliban’s assault on the eastern city of Ghazni since it began Aug. 10, Mattis said the Taliban had six objectives in and around the city and failed to seize any of them. He would not specify the six sites.
In Ghazni, provincial police chief Farid Mashal said Thursday that roads were being cleared of mines planted by Taliban who temporarily held entire neighborhoods of the city that they had besieged. The fighting continued for five days with more than 100 members of the Afghan National Security forces killed and 20 civilians. Scores of Taliban were also killed, according to Afghan officials.
Mattis said some Taliban fighters were still holed up in houses in the city “trying to get resupplied.” He said businesses are reopening, and overall, “it’s much more stable” in Ghazni, showing that the Taliban have fallen short.
“They have not endeared themselves, obviously, to the population of Ghazni,” Mattis said. “They use terror. They use bombs because they can’t win with ballots.”
The Taliban operation followed a familiar pattern, Mattis said in remarks to reporters flying with him Thursday evening to Bogota, Colombia, where he was winding up a weeklong tour of South America.
The insurgents likely were trying to gain leverage in advance of an expected cease fire offer by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, he said. And they likely were hoping to sow fear in advance of the October elections, he added.
“They achieved a degree of disquiet,” he said, but nothing more.
“So, we’ll continue to see this sort of thing,” he said, even though the Taliban lack the strength to hold territory they seize for brief periods. “They will never hold against the Afghan army.”
The Afghan war has been stalemated for years. The Taliban lack the popular support to prevail, although they benefit from sanctuary in Pakistan. Afghan government forces, on the other hand, are too weak to decisively break the insurgents even as they develop under US and NATO training and advising.
Mattis has said he believes the Afghan security forces are gaining momentum and can wear down the Taliban to the point where the insurgents would choose to talk peace. So far that approach has not produced a breakthrough.
Next week will mark one year since President Donald Trump announced a revised war strategy for Afghanistan, declaring there would be no time limit on US support for the war and making a renewed push for peace negotiations.