Myanmar shadow government’s militia gains popular support to fight military junta

Myanmar shadow government’s militia gains popular support to fight military junta
This handout photo taken on May 7, 2021 shows protesters holding up signs supporting the "People's Defence Force" during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei. (AFP)
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Updated 08 May 2021

Myanmar shadow government’s militia gains popular support to fight military junta

Myanmar shadow government’s militia gains popular support to fight military junta
  • People’s Defense Force is precursor to planned Federal Union Army aimed at bringing together armed anti-junta groups
  • Self-defense groups set up across country in wake of attacks, arrests, night raids by military

YANGON: A newly formed armed militia under Myanmar’s shadow government is gaining the support of community self-defense groups and ethnic armies against the military junta that seized control of the country more than three months ago.

Since the coup on Feb. 1, the junta has killed at least 772 civilians during nationwide protests against the army takeover and violence.

The National Unity Government (NUG), the shadow government of former lawmakers of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) who were ousted by the junta, announced on Wednesday the formation of the People’s Defense Force (PDF), a precursor to the planned Federal Union Army that would bring together all groups involved in armed resistance.

The move has already been welcomed by community self-defense groups which have emerged throughout the country in the wake of constant attacks, arrests, and night raids by the military.

Zayar Win, from one of the self-defense groups in Yangon, told Arab News that in Myanmar’s largest city alone, there would be many hundreds or even thousands of people ready to take up arms.

“They are linked with each other but require leadership. With PDF leadership, I think a strong force would quickly emerge. As long as the regime is in power, there will be endless suffering of people. So, taking the military dictatorship to an end is the first priority,” he said.

Working as a construction engineer in Yangon, he used to operate a philanthropic organization that helped vulnerable groups when the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit the country. In April, the organization stopped its charity work and focused on supporting and fundraising for the anti-junta resistance, including those that produced explosives to attack the military.

“Sadly, we have postponed helping poor people, and shifted our focus to supporting those who are fighting the military,” he added.

Many of the civilians engaged in self-defense groups have been trained by militants from the country’s ethnic groups which also oppose the junta regime.

Sadly, we have postponed helping poor people, and shifted our focus to supporting those who are fighting the military.

Zayar Win

The Karen National Union (KNU), the oldest insurgent group fighting for the greater autonomy of the eastern Karen State that borders Thailand, and the Kachin Independence Army in the northern Kachin State and northeastern Shan State that border China, have been active supporters of anti-junta resistance.

The KNU provides military training and shelter to hundreds of dissidents and protesters who have fled army persecution.

“There are many hundreds of people receiving combat training here,” a spokesperson for the KNU’s Brigade 5 told Arab News on Thursday. “There were also many people who finished training here and returned to their places of origin waiting for this moment. The PDF would be growing very fast.”

While ethnic groups support the formation of the PDF, it is not yet clear if all of them would be willing to fight under one banner, as although opposed to the current regime, ethnic minorities do not entirely trust the shadow government whose members had alienated them when they were in power.

The KNU, however, might be willing to join the fight against the common enemy, the Tatmadaw — the armed forces of Myanmar. Since late March, the group has killed more than 200 government troops in a series of clashes.

The spokesperson said: “I personally view the PDF as the armed group representing the country’s majority Bamar ethnic people. And I personally see no hurdle in unifying the armed groups of different ethnic people to fight against our common enemy, the Tatmadaw.”

But KNU secretary-general, Saw Kwe Htoo Win, on Friday told Arab News: “There are still many issues we have to make clear before making the decision.”

In one ethnic state the decision has already been taken.

Members of the Chinland Defense Force (CDF), who with home-made rifles recently killed dozens of military personnel in the mountainous Chin State bordering India, said they would join the PDF.

“We welcome the formation of the PDF, and we would cooperate with them in fighting against the regime’s forces,” a CDF spokesman told Arab News.

He said that they would also engage with the Federal Union Army when it was formed.

“We, Chin people, just want a peaceful life. Once the revolution is over, we will return to our farmland,” he added.


Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.


Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.


Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry
Updated 14 June 2021

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry
  • SMG Europe, Showsec both criticized in terror attack report, set to be published Thursday
  • Greater Manchester Police, British Transport Police also set for severe criticism in report

LONDON: The owners of Manchester Arena are set to be hit with a series of multimillion-pound lawsuits by victims of the bombing of an Ariana Grande concert at the venue in 2017, with an inquiry report on the attack set to be released this week.

Twenty-two people, mainly young women and girls, were killed when Salman Abedi detonated a bomb in the arena’s foyer, injuring hundreds of others.

His brother Hashem was later jailed for a minimum of 55 years for his role in organizing the attack.

SMG Europe, the owner of the arena, is set to be heavily criticized in the report, due to be published on Thursday, along with the British Transport Police, Greater Manchester Police and Showsec, the company that provided security for the concert.

Showsec is also likely to face lawsuits from survivors and families of the victims for substantial damages.

Sources told the Daily Telegraph that the companies and police forces had all received letters detailing criticisms of them from Sir John Saunders, the inquiry’s chairman, ahead of publication to allow them to respond.

Letters have also been sent to two men — Kyle Lawler and Mohammed Agha — both of whom worked for Showsec at the arena on the night and were alerted to Abedi’s presence by members of the public. 

Another source said: “The actions will be levelled against SMG primarily because ultimately they were the ones legally responsible for protecting the audience.”

The lawsuits against SMG and Showsec could run to tens of millions of pounds, with many survivors of the attack experiencing physical injury as well as long-term mental health issues.

Showsec, the inquiry heard, employed a large and predominantly casual labor force who were poorly trained and on minimum wage.

The company said blame for not stopping the attack predominantly lay with the police and SMG, with whom there had been a “breakdown in communication” over checking the area of the venue, a mezzanine level and CCTV blindspot in which Abedi hid for almost an hour. Both SMG Europe and Showsec declined to comment.

Thursday’s report, focusing on security arrangements at the venue, is the first of three set to be released following the inquiry.

The second will examine the emergency response to the attack, and the third will assess whether it was preventable.

The UK Home Office, meanwhile, is considering proposals for a new law — named after one of the victims, Martyn Hett — to require large hospitality and public venues to put in place protection and protocols to prevent terrorist attacks in future.


Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island
Updated 14 June 2021

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island
  • Good weather encouraging more crossings to Europe, says mayor of Lampedusa
  • More than 500 have died trying to reach Italy, Malta this year, according to UN

ROME: Nearly 1,300 migrants landed during the weekend on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. Most of them were rescued by Italian fishermen from the dinghies they used to make the trip from North Africa.

“The good summer weather is encouraging migrants to attempt the perilous trip to Lampedusa and Europe. One boat is landing here nearly every hour, and the situation is getting worse,” Salvatore Martello, the mayor of Lampedusa, told Arab News.

He said that the identification center on the island is overcrowded, with sanitary measures at risk of being compromised as a result.

“The situation may turn explosive there, so the Coast Guard is moving some of the center’s guests to one of the quarantine ships moored in the waters of Lampedusa,” Martello added.

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, 42 migrants, including four minors and 11 women, landed in Lampedusa.

A spokesman for the Coast Guard in Palermo told Arab News that 60 more people, who were rescued offshore by Italian fishermen, are now on their way to the Island.

Once they arrive, they will have to be dispatched elsewhere, probably to Calabria, as the local center for migrants is full.

“We spotted the boat in the sea while we were fishing. It was a very old one, and it was not stable at all. We decided to stop our work and reach them. You cannot leave people at sea, especially on board those rickety crafts they use to make the trip. A strong wave would be enough to capsize them,” Giovanni Curatolo, captain of the Italian sailing ship Ettore III, told Arab news. 

Another 410 migrants were rescued from seven different boats during the weekend in the Channel of Sicily by the Geo Barents vessel, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières.

The Geo Barents is the only NGO ship still operating off the Libyan coast. In recent days, four more ships — Sea Watch 3, Sea Watch 4, Open Arms and Sea Eye — were subject by the Italian Coast Guard to administrative detention related to bureaucratic issues.

The massive presence of children, most of them unaccompanied, worries the NGOs.

“Their parents entrust them to other migrants in the hope that they will be able to escape persecution and misery. This is the most dramatic aspect of this infinite emergency that has now become ordinary,” Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, archbishop of Agrigento, told Arab News.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said that the Mediterranean had become the “biggest cemetery in Europe,” as he remembered the migrants who died trying to reach the continent.

More than 500 people have died crossing the sea to Italy and Malta between January and mid-May this year, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.


Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election
Updated 14 June 2021

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election
  • Poll: Support has fallen by a tenth under Keir Starmer’s leadership
  • His stance on Kashmir cited as one of the reasons for decline in popularity

LONDON: The UK’s main opposition Labour Party is losing support among British Muslims, a new poll has revealed, amid party fears that it will lose a crucial by-election in northern England next month.

The poll found that support from Muslims has fallen by a tenth under Keir Starmer’s leadership.

With the Batley & Spen by-election looming on the horizon, alarm bells are ringing for Labour strategists, with Starmer’s popularity dropping far behind that of his party among Muslim voters following his stances on Kashmir, Palestine, and a report on internal Islamophobia, The Times reported on Monday.

He was criticized heavily soon after taking the leadership in 2020 when he suggested that Jammu and Kashmir was a constitutional issue to be resolved by India and Pakistan. This was a reversal of Labour’s stance that the region had a right to self-determination.

Starmer is enduring a favorability rating of minus 7 percent among Muslim voters, compared to a 42 percent rating for the party.

His decline in popularity matches a fall in support from Muslims for Labour, which fell by 11 percent between 2019 and 2021. 

The findings of the poll, carried out among 504 voters by Survation for the Labour Muslim Network, will stoke fears among Labour activists that the party faces losing Batley & Spen, where the population is estimated to be 20 percent Muslim.

The party’s fears have been worsened by the presence on the Batley & Spen poll of former Labour MP George Galloway, who has been campaigning heavily in the constituency.