China reclaiming more land in Spratlys: Philippine officials

Updated 06 June 2014
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China reclaiming more land in Spratlys: Philippine officials

MANILA: China has been reclaiming more land to bolster its military presence in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, where its increasing assertion of its territorial claims has brought it into standoffs with its neighbors, Philippine officials said Thursday.
The Philippines protested in April after discovering that Chinese dredging ships had reclaimed a large patch of land in Johnson Reef in the Spratlys that it could use to build a military outpost or an airstrip far from the Chinese mainland.
President Benigno Aquino III said Thursday that he was bothered after seeing surveillance photos of ships capable of reclaiming land in the vicinity of two other Chinese-occupied reefs in the Spratlys called Cuarteron and Gaven.
“We are again bothered that there seems to be development in other areas within the disputed seas,” Aquino said at a news conference.
When asked whether reclamation of land was underway in the two Chinese-controlled reefs, Aquino did not give a clear reply, but two military officials told The Associated Press that government surveillance had monitored land reclamation activities in Cuarteron and Gaven.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping territorial claims in the Spratlys, a group of mostly barren islands, reefs and atolls that are believed to be sitting atop oil and natural gas deposits. They also straddle the world’s most-traversed sea lanes.
Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines occupied separate islands in the remote archipelago decades ago. China later stepped up efforts to take control of uninhabited submerged reefs by reclaiming land and constructing buildings on them that resembled military outposts.
China’s spats with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea have particularly flared, with the most serious confrontation erupting when Beijing deployed an oil rig on May 1 in waters that Hanoi claims were within its exclusive economic zone. That zone refers to the 230-mile (370-kilometer) stretch of sea in which a coastal country has an exclusive right to fish and exploit undersea gas and oil deposits under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China’s oil rig deployment ignited violent protests in Vietnam that killed at least two Chinese. Chinese and Vietnamese ships continue to be locked in a tense standoff around the oil rig, occasionally ramming each other.
Chinese government ships have also been in a standoff since May 2013 with a small contingent of Filipino marines stationed on a grounded Philippine navy ship at the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys. The Chinese ships have repeatedly attempted to block Philippine ships delivering fresh batches of marines and food supply to the shoal, sparking tense chases.


Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

Updated 22 min 7 sec ago
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Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

  • The Gomez family gather for funeral of a husband and wife and their three sons
  • They were brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine

COLOMBO: The dark wooden coffins, sitting side by side, attested to one family’s unspeakable grief.
The Gomez family gathered Tuesday to say a final farewell to five loved ones — a son, a daughter-in-law and three young grandsons — brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine.
“All family, all generation, is lost,” said Joseph Gomez, the family patriarch, as tears welled in his eyes. Dozens of family members and neighbors were gathered in his simple home, where the sound of hymns sung by mourners gently wafted in the background and candles flickered beside three coffins. The bodies of two grandsons have yet to be recovered.
Across Sri Lanka, Tuesday was a national day of mourning as families began to lay to rest the more than 320 victims of the bomb blasts that struck a half-dozen churches and hotels in the island nation.
For the Gomez family, the loss was unfathomable: A 33-year-old son, Berlington Joseph, the young man’s 31-year-old wife Chandrika Arumugam, and their three boys, 9-year-old Bevon, 6-year-old Clavon and baby Avon, who would have turned 1 next week. A funeral card with a photo of the family clutched in his hands, the elder Gomez wailed: “I can’t bear this on me, I can’t bear this.”
“My eldest son, my eldest son,” he sobbed as he laid bouquets of red roses and brightly colored daisies on the largest coffin. Next to it was a tiny coffin, a photo of little Avon tucked into a wooden frame nearby.
The coffins, draped with long white tassels, were then carried to a Colombo cemetery and lowered into side-by-side graves.
At St. Joseph’s Shrine, dozens of mourners gathered outside, lighting candles and praying in unison for the victims of Sunday’s blasts as heavily armed soldiers stood guard.
At St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, a funeral service was held Tuesday for victims killed there as they worshipped, led by Cardinal Malcom Ranjith. The church was heavily guarded by hundreds of army, air force and police troops, and soldiers were deployed every 15 feet along the streets of the city some 20 miles north of Colombo.
Throughout the country, people observed a three-minute silence for the victims of the near-simultaneous attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels, and three other related blasts, the deadliest violence to strike Sri Lanka in a decade.
The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attack on National Towheed Jamaar, a little-known local extremist group, and on Tuesday, the Daesh group also claimed responsibility, though it provided no proof it was involved and has made unsubstantiated claims in the past.