Philippine rebels declare cease-fire to heed UN chief’s call amid COVID-19 pandemic

Philippine rebels declare cease-fire to heed UN chief’s call amid COVID-19 pandemic
The communist insurgency has raged mostly in the Philippine countryside for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. (AFP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 25 March 2020

Philippine rebels declare cease-fire to heed UN chief’s call amid COVID-19 pandemic

Philippine rebels declare cease-fire to heed UN chief’s call amid COVID-19 pandemic
  • Communist insurgency has raged mostly in the Philippine countryside for more than half a century
  • Government declared a unilateral cease-fire with communist guerrillas last week to focus on fighting the coronavirus outbreak

MANILA: Communist guerrillas in the Philippines said Wednesday they would observe a cease-fire in compliance with the UN chief’s call for a global halt in armed clashes during the coronavirus pandemic.
New People’s Army guerrillas have been ordered to stop assaults and shift to a defensive position from Thursday to April 15, the Communist Party of the Philippines said in a statement.
The rebels said the cease-fire is a “direct response to the call of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global cease-fire between warring parties for the common purpose of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Guterres issued the call on Monday, saying, “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
The communist insurgency has raged mostly in the Philippine countryside for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. The military estimates about 3,500 armed guerrillas remain after battle setbacks, infighting and surrenders reduced their forces in decades of fighting although the rebels claim they have more armed combatants.
The rebels said their cease-fire is unrelated to a similar move by the military and police but said it can foster the possible holding of preliminary talks to resume long-stalled peace negotiations.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral cease-fire with communist guerrillas last week to focus on fighting the coronavirus outbreak that prompted him to place the northern third of the country under a strict quarantine. The rebels are active in the northern region, home to more than 50 million people.
Duterte launched peace talks with the rebels when he took office in mid-2016. But the negotiations, brokered by the Netherlands, eventually bogged down with both sides accusing the other of continuing to carry out attacks.
Although he has often lashed out at the rebels, Duterte has repeatedly signaled he is open to resuming negotiations with them. In December, he sent an envoy to meet communist rebel leaders on self-exile in Europe to discuss the prospects of resuming peace talks.


Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu
Updated 13 June 2021

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu
  • Military commends joint task force efforts to nab ASG’s ‘extremely violent’ Yadah

MANILA: Philippine government forces have killed a notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) commander, blamed for a series of kidnappings for ransom in the southern Philippines, along with three other ASG members during an intense battle on Sunday, officials said.

A report from the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified the ASG commander as Injam Yadah, who was killed in a joint military and police operation in Barangay Alat, Jolo island of Sulu province.

Two of the other slain members were identified as Al-Al Sawadjaan — reportedly the youngest brother of ASG bomb maker Mundi Sawadjaan — and a man known by the alias “Rauf.”

The identity of the third ASG member has yet to be established.

“Based on the report from the ground, combined elements of the military and police conducted a law enforcement operation to serve a warrant of arrest against ASG sub-group leader Injam Yadah ... around 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 13, 2021,” Wesmincom Commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr. said in a statement.

However, after “sensing the presence of troops” in the area, Yadah and his followers opened fire, which “prompted the government forces to retaliate.”

The Joint Task Force–Sulu (JTF) said that all four ASG members were “killed on the spot.”

“We’ve long been on the hunt for Yadah; he has a reputation of being extremely violent — beheading captured innocent civilians and security forces alike. Finally, his hideous acts will now come to a full stop,” a report obtained by Arab News quoted Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, commander of JTF-Sulu, as saying.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Wilfredo Borgonia, Army 35th IB commander, said Yadah was involved in the kidnapping for ransom of several foreign nationals and Filipinos, including the ex-wife and daughter of former Talipao Mayor Tambrin Tulawie in 2018.

“His latest reported activity was the kidnapping of Filipino-American Rex Triplett in Sirawai, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Dr. Moreno in Jolo, in 2020,” Borgonia said, adding that Yadah also played a vital role in the kidnapping of five Indonesian nationals in Malaysia in January 2020.

“These are the kidnap victims rescued in Tawi-Tawi early this year,” Borgonia said.

Meanwhile, Al-Al Sawadjaan, according to Borgonio, was a bomb maker and had been in his early twenties.

“All the forces under JTF-Sulu are doubling their efforts to apprehend Mundi Sawadjaan. His brothers are now dead, and we are optimistic that he will also be neutralized,” Gonzales said.

“When that day comes, we can say that we have achieved total peace in the province. The local government and people here are one with us in this endeavor,” he added.

Operating troops seized an M653 carbine, a .45 caliber pistol, bomb components, and 15 mobile phones from Yadah’s house before detaining his wife, and rescuing their three children.

Since Jan. 2021, 121 ASG members have either been killed, captured or surrendered to government forces in Sulu, according to the military, out of which 18 were killed, 86 surrendered, and 17 were apprehended.

“Congratulations to the troops of JTF-Sulu and our partners for this successful operation,” Vinluan said, adding: “JTF-Sulu continuously implements its all-out campaign to eliminate the remaining ASG personalities in the province.”


India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities
Updated 13 June 2021

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities
  • “The vaccination process is now more convenient,” said Mahendra Chudasma, a 45-year-old man who is visually impaired
  • Despite being a major producer of coronavirus vaccines, India faces a huge task in inoculating its 1.3 billion people

AHMEDABAD: Authorities in an Indian city have organized a special drive-through vaccination camp for disabled people in a bid to address low vaccination rates, especially among more vulnerable members of society.
Organizers of the weekend campaign in Ahmedabad, the biggest city in Gujarat state, aim to vaccinate 500 disabled people, who often struggle to book slots and get access to vaccination centers.
People taking advantage of the offer queued up at the center in vehicles, wheelchairs, and on customised mopeds for their free COVID-19 vaccine shots.
“The vaccination process is now more convenient,” said Mahendra Chudasma, a 45-year-old man who is visually impaired.
“It’s a very nice feeling.”
Despite being a major producer of coronavirus vaccines, India faces a huge task in inoculating its 1.3 billion people, partly due to the logistical difficulties of reaching remote areas and also skepticism about the shots.
People with disabilities often face additional problems of being unable to reach vaccination sites due to a lack of transport or no ramps at the centers for easy access, said Bhushan Punani, general secretary of the Blind People’s Association in Ahmedabad, one of the organizers of the campaign.
Some people have struggled to use a government-mandated smartphone app required to register for shots, he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said it aims to vaccinate all eligible and willing Indians by the end of this year, but only 240 million of the country’s 950 million adults have had at least one shot, according to health data.
India was hit hard by a surge of coronavirus infections in April and May but there are signs the worst could be over.
Authorities on Sunday reported 80,834 new COVID-19 infections over the previous 24 hours, the lowest daily tally in more than two months, according to health ministry data.
There were 3,303 deaths over the same period.


UK firm creates monitor that detects COVID-19 in 15 minutes

UK firm creates monitor that detects COVID-19 in 15 minutes
Updated 13 June 2021

UK firm creates monitor that detects COVID-19 in 15 minutes

UK firm creates monitor that detects COVID-19 in 15 minutes
  • Ceiling-mounted gadget 98-100% accurate after early rounds of testing
  • ‘Covid alarm’ can even detect virus in asymptomatic people

LONDON: A team of British scientists has created a monitor that can detect COVID-19 infections in a room within 15 minutes.

The ceiling-mounted “Covid alarm,” created by Cambridge-based developer Roboscientific, detects chemicals secreted by the skin or found on the breath of people with the virus called “volatile organic compounds,” which scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University said creates an “odor fingerprint” that could be identified by the device with 98-100 percent accuracy.

The scientists, whose work has yet to be peer-reviewed, stressed that more studies are needed, but initial analysis from 54 samples has been enough to prompt funding interest in further testing from the UK Department of Health and Social Care.

The monitor can apparently differentiate between COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases, and can even detect the virus accurately in asymptomatic people, making it even more accurate than polymerase chain reaction tests.

The breakthrough could prove invaluable in the future of testing for COVID-19, and with modification, for other diseases as well.

The device can be installed in all sorts of environments, from schools to hospitals and aircraft cabins, and can send results instantly to computers and mobile phones.

At £5,000 ($7,050) per monitor, it may also prove more economically viable than frequent disposable testing.

Prof. James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM, said trials could be completed by the end of 2021.

“The fact that devices already exist that we can use will really speed this up. These results are really promising, and demonstrate the potential for using this technology as a rapid, non-invasive test with incredible accuracy,” he added.

“If these devices are successfully developed for use in public places, they could be affordably and easily scaled up.”

Roboscientific, which is also developing a handheld monitor for use on individuals and with a results turnaround time of just two minutes, first developed the technology six years ago to detect infections in farm animals.

It proved so accurate that it was able to detect single cases of salmonella or campylobacter in chicken barns of up to 50,000 birds.


Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running

Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running
Updated 13 June 2021

Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running

Partying youths defy Paris police for third night running
  • Officials have urged people to continue respecting social distancing limits as the country emerges from its third COVID-19 lockdown

PARIS: Paris police said Sunday that three people were detained after officers used tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths gathered for a street party in defiance of COVID-19 social distancing limits and an 11:00 p.m. curfew.
The so-called Project X gatherings, a reference to an American film from 2012, on the vast lawns in front of the Invalides war museum on Saturday was the third since Thursday.
Videos on social media showed largely maskless youths surrounding a car and then climbing and jumping on its roof, while others bombarded police vans with bottles.
Other parties were broken up in the Tuileries gardens near the Louvre and on the banks of the Seine River, police said, as people enjoying warm evenings outside found it difficult to respect the coronavirus curfew.
Many bars across the city remained open after 11:00 p.m. over the weekend, the first since the curfew was pushed back from 9:00 p.m. last Wednesday, according to AFP reporters.
“We had our ‘bac’ [high school exit exam] this year and we really needed to let loose,” said Cedric, 17, who came with friends from the nearby 15th district of the capital.
Officials have urged people to continue respecting social distancing limits as the country emerges from its third COVID-19 lockdown.
Since Wednesday, bars and restaurants are allowed to serve patrons indoors for the first time since October, and the government plans to drop the nationwide curfew entirely on June 30.
Health authorities reported 3,972 new cases over the previous 24 hours on Saturday, while the number of patients in intensive care fell to 2,110, far below the peak of nearly 6,000 during the third wave of cases that began in March.
Thirty-four deaths were reported, bringing the French total to 110,407.


Gas explosion in China kills 11, rescue operation ongoing

Gas explosion in China kills 11, rescue operation ongoing
Updated 13 June 2021

Gas explosion in China kills 11, rescue operation ongoing

Gas explosion in China kills 11, rescue operation ongoing
  • Rescue efforts were continuing, a statement by the government in Shiyan city said
BEIJING: At least 11 people were killed and 37 others seriously injured when a gas line explosion ripped through a residential compound in central China’s Hubei province on Sunday, local officials said.
Rescue efforts were continuing, a statement by the government in Shiyan city said, adding at least 144 people were pulled from a badly damaged market building.