Southeast Asia boosts fight against ‘real and present’ militant threat

ASEAN defense ministers pose for a group photograph during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) security summit in Singapore on October 18, 2018. (AFP / ROSLAN RAHMAN)
Updated 20 October 2018
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Southeast Asia boosts fight against ‘real and present’ militant threat

  • The forum delegates agreed to share real-time intelligence that can immediately be acted upon
  • The weekend security meeting was attended by defense ministers of the 10-member ASEAN, as well as the US, China, Australia, India and Russia

SINGAPORE: Southeast Asian nations seeking to combat the threat of militancy have agreed to share intelligence, Singapore’s defense minister said Saturday, as he warned of a “real and present” danger to the region.
More than a year after Daesh-linked fighters seized the southern Philippine city of Marawi, the terrorist threat is as potent as ever, said Ng Eng Hen after hosting a meeting of defense ministers.
“Unfortunately even as the situation in Iraq and Syria improves, we are expecting more foreign fighters to come this way,” he added.
Ng said all 18 ministers at the gathering in Singapore, from Southeast Asia and key partners outside the region, viewed “terrorism as a real and present threat.”
The Southeast Asian delegates adopted an information-sharing platform called “Our Eyes” that will be used to share real-time intelligence that can immediately be acted upon, the minister added.
This came after the countries realized that they had underestimated the threat before the attack on Marawi, where the rebuilding effort could cost around $1 billion, he said.
Proposed by Indonesia, the platform is based on an intelligence-sharing alliance set up by the United States, Britain and three other countries after World War II to monitor the former Soviet Union.
The weekend security meeting was attended by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and their counterparts from countries including China, Australia, India and Russia.
In last year’s assault on Marawi, hundreds of armed militants backed by foreign Daesh fighters attacked and took control of the largely Muslim city in a bid to establish a base in Southeast Asia.
Philippine troops, supported by sophisticated surveillance planes from the United States, dislodged the militants after five months of heavy fighting that left more than 1,000 people dead and the city in ruins.
Militants from other Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia, were involved in the fighting.
Those at the meeting “felt that this must never happen again to any city within ASEAN,” Ng said.


China factory blast death toll jumps to 64, man rescued after 40 hours

An aerial view shows a chemical plant after an explosion in Yancheng in China's eastern Jiangsu province early on March 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 14 min 28 sec ago
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China factory blast death toll jumps to 64, man rescued after 40 hours

  • The blast occurred on Thursday at the Chenjiagang Industrial Park in the city of Yancheng, in Jiangsu province
  • The company produces more than 30 organic chemical compounds, some of which are highly flammable

BEIJING: The death toll in a chemical plant explosion in China rose to 64 Saturday but rescuers found a survivor among more than two dozen still missing in the debris of one of the country’s worst industrial accidents in recent years.

Thursday’s explosion in the eastern city of Yancheng injured hundreds and flattened an industrial park.

The local fire brigade pulled a man in his 40s from the rubble of the destroyed chemical plant around dawn on Saturday, according to a statement on the city government’s official Weibo account.

He was taken to hospital for treatment, the statement said, without giving further detail of his status or injuries.

Rescuers are looking for 28 people who are still missing, Yancheng mayor Cao Lubao said in the statement.

“The identities of the dead and the missing are being confirmed through interviews with family members, home visits and DNA tests,” Cao said.

More than 600 people have received medical treatment following the blast, according to the city government.

Among them, 21 are critically injured and 73 are seriously injured, the statement said.

The explosion toppled several buildings in the industrial park and caused a huge fire that raged through the night, while rescuers scrambled to find survivors in the plant’s wreckage.

Hundreds of rescuers were dispatched to the scene, local authorities said, and some 4,000 people have been evacuated from the blast site.

The force of the explosion — which was so powerful that it apparently triggered a small earthquake — blew out windows and dented metal garage doors of buildings as far as four kilometers from the site.

Nearby residents — many of them elderly — were seen sweeping up glass, and in some cases appeared to have abandoned their homes entirely.

The city government said some 89 houses were damaged beyond repair and families were resettled after demolishing those structures.

The government said it was also repairing blown-in doors and windows in 10 school buildings near the site so that all schools in the area can resume classes Monday.

Local authorities investigating the cause of the accident said an unspecified number of people were taken into police custody on Friday.

The facility involved in the explosion belonged to Tianjiayi Chemical, a firm with 195 employees established in 2007 that mainly produces raw chemical materials including anisole, a highly flammable compound.

Tianjiayi Chemical has a history of violating environmental regulations, according to online records from Yancheng city’s environment and ecology bureau.

In 2015 and 2017, the firm was fined for violating rules on solid and water waste management.

Several residents told AFP they were concerned about pollution from the industrial accident.

“We don’t have drinkable water here,” one 60-year-old woman surnamed Xiang said. “Why hasn’t the government sent us some water?“

According to a report released Friday by Jiangsu province’s ecology and environment department, several rivers near the blast site are contaminated with chemicals, including chloroform and dichloromethane.

But the city government said Saturday that “continuous environmental monitoring data show that pollution indicators are within the normal range, and the drinking water... is not affected.”

Authorities said they had also dammed a tributary to the nearby Xinfeng River to prevent any “outflow of sewage from the chemical industrial park.”

An aerial view of the blast area showed a large swathe of destruction in the industrial park, where multiple fires had raged.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze Friday after battling raging flames through the night. Three chemical tanks and five other areas had been on fire.

Deadly industrial accidents are common in China, where safety regulations are often poorly enforced.

In November, a gas leak at a plant in the northern Chinese city of Zhangjiakou, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, killed 24 people and injured 21 others.

In 2015, China saw one of its worst industrial accidents when giant chemical blasts in the northern port city of Tianjin killed at least 165 people.