Denials of British attack ‘increasingly absurd’ — Johnson

Police don protective coveralls with breathing equipment on the grounds of a cement plant in the village of Durrington, near Salisbury, southern England on Monday, as investigations in connection with an apparent nerve agent attack in the city on March 4 continue. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2018
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Denials of British attack ‘increasingly absurd’ — Johnson

BRUSSEL: Britain’s foreign minister said on Monday that Russian denials of responsibility over a nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent in England were “increasingly absurd.”
Boris Johnson, who briefed fellow European Union ministers in Brussels on Monday, also won renewed support from the bloc, though diplomats cautioned there was no immediate prospect of fresh economic sanctions on Russia.
“The Russian denial is increasingly absurd,” Johnson told reporters as he arrived for the regular monthly meeting, which came a day after Vladimir Putin was re-elected for another six-year term as Russia’s president.
“This is a classic Russian strategy ... They’re not fooling anybody anymore,” Johnson said.
“There is scarcely a country around the table here in Brussels that has not been affected in recent years by some kind of malign or disruptive Russian behavior.”
Russia denies any involvement in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in what was the first known offensive use of nerve gas in Europe since World War Two.
Moscow on Saturday announced the expulsion of 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to Britain’s decision last week to expel the same number of Russian diplomats from London.
On Sunday, Johnson accused Russia of stockpiling the deadly Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok used to poison the Skripals, a charge Moscow denies. They were found unconscious on a bench in the English city of Salisbury on March 4 and remain in a critical condition in hospital.
On arrival at the Brussels meeting on Monday, Germany’s new foreign minister, Heiko Maas, expressed his support for Britain. Later, all 28 EU foreign ministers issued a joint statement on the attack, expressing “unqualified solidarity.”
“The European Union takes extremely seriously the UK government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible,” the statement said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom rejected an allegation by the Russian Foreign Ministry that the nerve agent used in Salisbury might have come from Sweden.
“This is just ridiculous and totally unfounded,” Wallstrom said. “I think they are trying to divert the real issues here.”
While there is no prospect of further sanctions on Russia being agreed on Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May will have an opportunity to present her case for any such measures at an EU summit on Thursday, or call for others to expel diplomats.
“We need to put pressure on Russia to take part in a real enquiry about the attack,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told reporters.


Indonesian fishermen return home after release from Philippines militants

Updated 20 September 2018
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Indonesian fishermen return home after release from Philippines militants

  • With the release of the trio, all Indonesians abducted by Filipino militants before 2018 have been released
  • Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines wil boost security cooperation in the Sulu Sea, which is a busy maritime area for fishing boats and cargo vessels transporting coal from Indonesia to the Philippines

JAKARTA: After 20 months being held hostage by militants in the southern Philippines, three Indonesian fishermen were finally reunited on Wednesday with their respective families at the Foreign Ministry.

Vice Foreign Minister A.M. Fachir handed them over from the government to their respective family representatives in a ceremony which was held without media presence.
 
"The condition on the field was getting more difficult. But we made the most of our contacts and assets on the field, and with the Philippines government support we were able to get them released,” Fachir said in a statement from the ministry. .
 
Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the Foreign Ministry’s director for protection of Indonesians abroad, said the handover was held in private because “it was not a cause for celebration.”
 
“We are grateful for their release, but we still have two Indonesians who were abducted on Sept. 11 and we don’t want to hurt their families’ feeling,” Iqbal said.
 
The three fishermen are Hamdan bin Saleng, Sudarling bin Samansunga, and Subandi bin Sattu, who hail from Selayar and Bulukumba in South Sulawesi province. They were freed from their captors on Friday in Sulu province on the southern Philippines.
 
Rudi Wahyudin, a representative of Sattu’s family, said the family members were devastated during the 20 months Sattu was held hostage but they tried to keep their hopes up by keeping in touch with the foreign ministry to get updates of efforts to release him and his fellow fishermen.
 
“It’s normal for people in our village in Bulukumba to migrate and work abroad. Now his wife has asked Sattu to quit working overseas and find another job close to home instead,” Wahyudin said.
 
Indonesian ambassador to the Philippines, Sinyo Harry Sarundajang said the military attache and he flew to Zamboanga City to pick up the three men, after the embassy received information of their release from the West Mindanao Command.
 
“We thank President Duterte and the Philippines government for their attention and cooperation on this matter. It was a long and delicate process to release them and we had to be very careful because we didn’t want anyone to become victim in the process,” Sarundajang said at the press conference.    
 
According to the ambassador, the three men were moved and had to island-hopped to various small islands on the Sulu archipelago as their captors were avoiding the Philippine military operation.
 
The three men were working as crew members in a Malaysian fishing boat when they were abducted in the waters of Sabah in Malaysia on Jan 2017.
 
Iqbal said there are about 6,000 Indonesians working in fishing vessels in Sabah. Since 2016, there has been 34 Indonesian citizens who were kidnapped by armed militants in the southern Philippines and 13 of them were fishermen who were abducted from their vessels in the waters of Sabah.
 
With the release of the trio, all Indonesians abducted by Filipino militants before 2018 have been released.
 
“We are now working to release the two fishermen who were abducted on Sep 11. We have expressed our concerns to the Malaysian authority on the lack of security on their waters,” Iqbal said.
 
He added that Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines would boost security cooperation in the Sulu Sea between the three countries, which is a busy maritime area for fishing boats and cargo vessels transporting coal from Indonesia to the Philippines.
 
The three neighboring countries agreed in May 2016 to launch joint patrols in the area following a series of hijacking and kidnapping of Indonesian vessels and crew members. The initial maritime patrol was launched in June 2017 and was beefed up with air patrols in Oct 2017.