Malaysia to resume MH370 hunt five years on

A relative carries copies of the official report on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in Beijing on August 3, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2019
0

Malaysia to resume MH370 hunt five years on

  • Ocean Infinity mounted a “no cure, no fee” search for the plane in the southern Indian Ocean in January 2018
  • But search ended in May without any clue on where it could have crashed

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s transport minister said Sunday that the government is open to new proposals from US technology firm Ocean Infinity or any other companies to resume the hunt for Flight 370, as families of passengers marked the fifth anniversary of the jet’s mysterious disappearance.
Ocean Infinity mounted a “no cure, no fee” search for the plane in the southern Indian Ocean in January 2018 that ended in May without any clue on where it could have crashed. But the company’s CEO, Oliver Plunkett, said in a video shown at the public remembrance event at a mall near Kuala Lumpur that the company hopes to resume the hunt with better technology it obtained in the past year.
The Ocean Infinity mission came a year after an official search by Malaysia, Australia and China ended in futility.
Plunkett said his company has better technology now after successfully locating an Argentinian submarine in November, a year after it went missing. He said the firm is still reviewing all possible data on Flight 370 and thinking about how it can revive its failed mission.
“We haven’t given up hope ... We hope we can continue the search in due course,” Plunkett said.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke said it’s been frustrating that the two searches failed to produce any clues and that he “welcomes credible leads and also concrete proposals to resume the search.”
He told reporters later Sunday that the government is “waiting for specific proposals, in particular from Ocean Infinity.” He brushed off suggestions of offering rewards to find the plane, but said the government is willing to discuss proposals from any companies prepared to resume the search.
“There must be a proposal from a specific company ... we cannot just be out there without credible leads. That’s the most practical thing to do,” Loke said.
The plane vanished with 239 people on board on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Confirmed debris that washed ashore in the western Indian Ocean helped narrow the search area where Ocean Infinity focused, but it failed to uncover any evidence.
A Malaysian-led independent investigation report released last July showed lapses in the government’s response and raised the possibility of “intervention by a third party.”
Investigators, however, said the cause of the disappearance cannot be determined until the wreckage and the plane’s black boxes are found. The report reiterated Malaysia’s assertion that the plane was deliberately diverted and flown for over seven hours after severing communications.
But it said there was no evidence of abnormal behavior or stress in the two pilots that could lead them to hijack the plane. All the other passengers were also cleared by police and had no pilot training.
Voice 370, a support group for next-of-kin, expressed hope that the new government that won a general election in May last year will do more to encourage search missions and seek new clues.
The group’s spokeswoman, Grace Nathan, urged the government to set aside up to $70 million — the amount it agreed to pay Ocean Infinity had it found the plane — to encourage exploration companies to take on “no cure, no fee” missions so that Flight 370’s passengers will not have died in vain.
“It is a wound that cannot heal” if there is no closure, Nathan said.
Another family member, K.S. Narendran from India, said the burden is on the government to be proactive and not wait for credible evidence to fall on its lap. He said there has been no government effort to find more debris on African beaches and Indian Ocean islands, where scattered pieces of the Boeing 777 have been found.
During the remembrance event, family members lit candles and sang songs in tribute to their loved ones. Relatives and supporters wore light blue T-shirts that read, “It’s not history, it’s the future. Fly safely,” as they reminded the government that the mystery must be solved to ensure aviation safety.


US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

Rescuers carry a man who was injured in an attack on a restaurant by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, October 1, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 March 2019
0

US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

  • The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians

WASHINGTON: There is credible evidence that US military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties.
US Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible.
The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.
The report came the same day that a Somali intelligence official and two local residents said a US drone strike on Monday killed civilians.
The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians. The official was not authorized to talk with the media and did so on condition of anonymity.
Residents concurred with the official’s assessment.
Mohamed Siyad, an elder in Lanta Buro, a village near the farming town of Afgoye, Somalia, told The Associated Press that four civilians including employees of a telecom company were killed.
“They were known to us — they had nothing to do with Al-Shabab,” he said by phone.
Another resident, Abdiaziz Hajji, said that the drone destroyed the vehicle. “Bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” he said. “They were innocent civilians killed by Americans for no reason. They always get away with such horrible mistakes.”
In a rare move, US Africa Command on Tuesday mentioned those possible casualties in a press release about the strike and said officials will look into the incident. But, more broadly, US defense officials said casualty allegations in Somalia are questionable because Al-Shabab militants make false claims or force local citizens to do the same.
Amnesty International, however, said it analyzed satellite imagery and other data, and interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of five specific airstrikes detailed in the report. The report concludes that there is “credible evidence” that the US was responsible for four of the airstrikes, and that it’s plausible the US conducted the fifth strike. It said 14 civilians were killed and eight injured in the strikes.
“Amnesty International’s research points to a failure by the US and Somali governments to adequately investigate allegations of civilian casualties resulting from US operations in Somalia,” the report said, adding that the US doesn’t have a good process for survivors or victims’ families to self-report losses.
US Africa Command said it looked at the five strikes and concluded there were no civilian casualties. In the fifth case the command said there were no US strikes in that area on that day.
The group’s report and Defense Department officials also agreed that the strikes usually take place in hostile areas controlled by Al-Shabab militants. And those conditions, the report said, “prevented Amnesty International organization from conducting on-site investigations and severely limited the organization’s ability to freely gather testimonial and physical evidence.”
US defense officials told reporters that American troops were on the ground at strike locations in a very limited number of cases. Even in those instances, they said, US troops ordered strikes to protect local Somali forces they were accompanying, and there was little opportunity to investigate possible civilian casualties at that moment.
Still, the rights group concluded that the US military’s insistence that there have been zero civilian deaths is wrong.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smoke screen for impunity,” said Brian Castner, a senior adviser at Amnesty International.
US officials countered that they have access to information not readily available to nonmilitary organizations, including observations from people on the ground at the site and post-strike intelligence gathering from various electronic systems. Those systems can include overhead surveillance and data collected through cyber operations and other intercepted communications and electronic signals.
The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
They said the US rigorously assesses targets in advance to make sure no civilians will be hurt or killed.
The officials noted that Kenya and Ethiopia also conduct airstrikes in the region, but provided no details. There are 500 to 600 US troops in Somalia at any time.
The pace of US airstrikes in Somalia has escalated during the Trump administration, from 47 in all of 2018 to 28 already this year. So far more than 230 militants have been killed in 2019, compared to 338 killed in all of 2018.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump approved greater authorities for military operations against Al-Shabab, allowing increased strikes in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces.
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who heads Africa Command, told reporters in a recent interview that Al-Shabab controls about 25 percent of the country and the key effort is to help the government regain control of its land.
“The intention is to keep the pressure on that network,” he said.
He said there are three categories of strikes: ones to target senior Al-Shabab leaders, ones to take out training camps or involve Daesh militants in the north, and ones aimed at helping the government increase security and regain control of the country. He said the last group involves the most strikes.