Ecuador spied on Assange at London embassy: report

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy London on February 5, 2016. (REUTERS File Photo)
Updated 17 May 2018
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Ecuador spied on Assange at London embassy: report

  • The spying started after Julian Assange hacked the Ecuadorean Embassy's computers.
  • It estimated the budget spent on the operation, referred to initially as “Operation Guest” and later “Operation Hotel” at $5.0 million (4.2 million euros).

LONDON: Ecuador spied on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its London embassy where he has been living since 2012, initially to support him but things changed after he hacked the mission’s computers, the Guardian reported Wednesday.
The newspaper said Ecuador employed an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police at the embassy in London’s luxury Knightsbridge area.
It estimated the budget spent on the operation, referred to initially as “Operation Guest” and later “Operation Hotel” at $5.0 million (4.2 million euros).
The snooping was initially intended to protect Assange from the risk of being taken away by British police but later became a full-blown spying operation.
The operation had the support of then Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa, the paper reported, adding that it has since been wound down under the country’s new leader Lenin Moreno who took power last year.
The security team recorded Assange’s daily activities and his interactions with embassy staff and visitors, including fellow hackers, activists and lawyers.
They stayed in a rented flat near the embassy at a cost of £2,800 a month, the paper said.
The paper also cited documents showing that Assange hacked the communications system within the embassy and had his own satellite Internet access.
“By penetrating the embassy’s firewall, Assange was able to access and intercept the official and personal communications of staff,” the paper said.
WikiLeaks denied Assange had hacked the network.
Ecuador has moved to shut off Internet access for Assange in recent months by installing a jammer to prevent him from accessing email and has restricted the number of visitors he can receive.
Assange took refuge in the diplomatic mission in 2012 after a British judge ruled he should be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault there.
Assange claims the accusations were politically motivated and could lead to him being extradited to the United States to face imprisonment over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010.
Sweden dropped its investigation last year, but British authorities say they still want to arrest him for breaching his bail conditions.
Ecuador in December made Assange an Ecuadoran citizen and unsuccessfully tried to register him as a diplomat with immunity as part of its efforts to have him leave the embassy without risk of being detained.


Six dead in fire at Rohingya camp in Myanmar

Updated 48 min 57 sec ago
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Six dead in fire at Rohingya camp in Myanmar

  • The UN Human Rights Council has accused top Myanmar generals of genocide over the bloody campaign, allegations the country strongly denies.
  • Myanmar has vowed to close nearly 20 of the camps around Sittwe in the coming months.

YANGON, Myanmar: Six Rohingya were killed early Friday after a blaze tore through an overcrowded camp for the persecuted minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the local fire service said.
Global attention has focused on the 720,000 Rohingya Muslims forced from the state’s north into Bangladesh last year by a brutal military crackdown.
The UN Human Rights Council has accused top Myanmar generals of genocide over the bloody campaign, allegations the country strongly denies.
But less visible are the 129,000 Rohingya confined to squalid camps further south near the capital Sittwe following an earlier bout of violence in 2012.
Hundreds were killed that year in riots between Rakhine Buddhists and the stateless minority, who were corralled into destitute camps away from their former neighbors.
The conflagration in Ohndaw Chay camp, which houses some 4,000 Rohingya and lies 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Sittwe, started just before midnight and lasted several hours, fire department official Han Soe told AFP.
“Six people, one man and five women were killed,” he said, adding that 15 communal longhouses were also destroyed in the blaze thought to have been started in a kitchen accident.
“We were able to bring the fire under control about 1:10 am this morning and had put it out completely by around 3 am,” he said.
A total of 822 people were left without shelter, local media reported.
Conditions in the camps are dire and Rohingya trapped there have virtually no access to health care, education and work, relying on food handouts from aid agencies to survive.
Access into the camps is also tightly controlled, effectively cutting their inhabitants off from the outside world and leaving their plight largely forgotten.
Fires in the camps are common because of “severe” overcrowding, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Many camp residents have built makeshift extensions to their shelters to create more space for their families. So when a fire breaks out, it is more likely to spread quickly,” said OCHA spokesman Pierre Peron.
Hla Win, a Rohingya man from a nearby camp, told AFP that fire trucks were slow to arrive along the dilapidated roads from Sittwe and the lack of water also hampered efforts to extinguish the blaze.
“We have no ponds near the camps,” he said. “That’s why the fire destroyed so much.”
Myanmar has vowed to close nearly 20 of the camps around Sittwe in the coming months.
Rights groups say the move will achieve little without ending movement restrictions or granting Rohingya a pathway to citizenship.