Filipino police tighten southern border amid virus variant fears

Philippines’ police and the Maritime Group have been asked to coordinate with local government units to seal the borders from illegal entrants. (Reuters/File)
Philippines’ police and the Maritime Group have been asked to coordinate with local government units to seal the borders from illegal entrants. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 20 July 2021

Filipino police tighten southern border amid virus variant fears

Philippines’ police and the Maritime Group have been asked to coordinate with local government units to seal the borders from illegal entrants. (Reuters/File)
  • Action urged to prevent spike in COVID-19 cases from Indonesia and Malaysia

MANILA: Philippine police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar on Monday ordered officers to intensify intelligence monitoring and patrols along the borders of the Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi (BASULTA) provinces to guard against the delta variant of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“I visited our police personnel in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi to know about the security situation there and check on their welfare amid the continuing threat posed by COVID-19, especially with the delta variant, which is now a serious problem in Indonesia,” Eleazar said in a statement.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) chief added that Sunday’s visit reviewed security measures for preventing the illegal entry of nonresidents, particularly from neighboring countries experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections largely driven by the delta variant.
The Philippines shares its borders with Indonesia and Malaysia in Mindanao, with the porous border in the south reportedly being used for smuggling activities, including “those who want to easily get in and out of the Philippines.”
It is also used as a port of entry and exit by travelers on illegal ferries to parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Eleazar said local policemen in BASULTA exhibited “high morale” as they continue to play a vital role in ensuring safety from both terrorism and the virus.
“Aside from our local forces, I also gave instructions to our regional commanders, particularly the Maritime Group, to beef up border control against those coming from Indonesia and Malaysia,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Action needed to prevent spike in COVID-19 cases from Indonesia and Malaysia, police chief says.

On Wednesday last week, the Philippine government added Indonesia to its list of countries with strict travel restrictions as it continues to experience a record-high number of COVID-19 cases, which health experts attributed to the delta variant.
Eleazar also directed the PNP Administrative Support for COVID-19 Task Force (ASCOTF) to prepare for a “worst-case scenario” after health officials reported 35 delta variant cases from across the country on Friday.
On Monday, the Department of Health (DoH) reported 5,651 new COVID-19 cases in the country, bringing the total to 1,513,396, while the death toll stood at 26,786. There are 47,561 active cases.
The Philippines has fully vaccinated more than 4,708,073 individuals, while 10,388,188 have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the DoH data.
Local police forces and the Maritime Group have also been asked to coordinate with local government units, the coast guard and the military for tighter measures to seal the southern border from illegal entrants.
Meanwhile, Eleazar said a directive had been issued for PNP Lt. Gen. Joselito Vera Cruz, the deputy chief for Administration and concurrent ASCOTF commander, to provide medical equipment and supplies to police officers deployed to the frontlines.
“I have also ordered Police Lt. Gen. Bong Dickson, our Joint Task Force COVID-19 Shield commander, to intensify coordination with local government units in the enforcement of health protocols in our communities,” he added, reiterating the need for the public to observe health protocols strictly.


Myanmar junta seeks international cooperation over COVID-19 crisis

Myanmar junta seeks international cooperation over COVID-19 crisis
Updated 28 July 2021

Myanmar junta seeks international cooperation over COVID-19 crisis

Myanmar junta seeks international cooperation over COVID-19 crisis
  • Junta leader says COVID-19 vaccinations needed to be increased
  • Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar

Myanmar’s military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with the international community to contain the coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a surging wave of infections.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called in a speech for more cooperation on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, including with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and “friendly countries,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
The junta leader said vaccinations needed to be increased, through both donated doses and by developing domestic production, aided by Russia, the newspaper said, adding Myanmar would seek the release of funds from an ASEAN COVID-19 fund.
Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2 percent of its population, according to a Reuters tracker.
There have been desperate efforts by people to find oxygen in many parts of the country. The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after a piped oxygen system failed.
Reuters could not independently confirm the report and the North Okkalapa General Hospital and a health ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,964 cases and 338 deaths reported on Tuesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias.
Last week, prisoners in Yangon staged a protest over what activists said was a major COVID-19 outbreak in the colonial-era Insein jail, where many pro-democracy protesters are being held.
Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar.
The military has appeared wary of outside help in past disasters, particularly if it believes strings are attached, forcing Myanmar’s people to help each other, though a previous junta did allow in aid via ASEAN after the devastating cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Despite Min Aung Hlaing agreeing to an ASEAN peace plan reached in April, the military has shown little sign of following through on it and has instead reiterated its own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy.
The military justified its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of manipulating votes in a November general election to secure a landslide victory. The electoral commission at the time and outside observers rejected the complaints.
But in a further sign of the junta’s tightening grip on power, the military-appointed election commission this week officially annulled the November results, saying the vote was not in line with the constitution and electoral laws, and was not “free and fair,” army-run MRTV network reported.


Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan
Updated 28 July 2021

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan
  • In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s

MOSCOW: Three Armenian soldiers were killed in an exchange of gunfire with Azerbaijan forces, Armenia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday.
In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region, before Russia brokered a cease-fire.


Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit

Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit
Updated 28 July 2021

Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit

Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit
  • Top US diplomat to meet PM Narendra Modi on Wednesday

NEW DELHI: New Delhi is a priority for the US and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first visit to India on Tuesday will provide an opportunity to deepen bilateral ties, explore COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy, and discuss the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, experts said.

“The visit is important in the larger context of the US-India relationship because it shows that there is a consistent engagement with India and India is a priority,” Harsh V. Pant, head of the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), told Arab News.

On Wednesday, Blinken is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

“Both sides will review the robust and multifaceted India-US bilateral relations and potential for consolidating them further,” India’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on July 23, announcing Blinken’s two-day visit.

It added that discussions would focus on “regional and global issues of mutual interest – including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indo-Pacific region, Afghanistan, and cooperation in the UN.”

Analysts said the visit could also lay the groundwork for an in-person summit of the Quad group of countries — comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US — likelyto be held in September and mainly aimed at drawing up measures to counter China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region which, according to Pant, sent out a “larger message” about New Delhi’s role.

“We have seen the US secretary of defense coming to India earlier this year, we have seen (US President Joe) Biden calling the Quad leadership summit early on in his term, and now we have the secretary of state coming to India. I think there is a larger message about the Indo-US relationship and how important America sees India as a partner,” he said.

A virtual summit of the Quad group held in March created a working group on COVID-19 vaccine delivery, with India as the lead manufacturer committing to produce at least a billion vaccine doses by the end of 2022, mainly for southeast Asian and Pacific countries grappling with a spike in infections.

Blinken’s visit could create an opportunity to “bolster the global strategic partnership” between India and the US and focus on ways to support Afghanistan as the Taliban make rapid territorial gains amid a drawdown of US-led foreign troops from the country after 20 years of occupation.

Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation saw India withdraw its staff from its consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif earlier this month.

“There are some apprehensions about the way things are moving in Afghanistan,” Pant added. “Therefore, from India’s perspective, it would be important to get a sense of what the American plan for Afghanistan is.”

Pranay Kotasthane, deputy director at the Takshashila Institution, said India’s primary concern would be to “deny space” in Afghanistan to “Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups” and that there might be some discussions toward this goal.

On Monday, India said that it was also “willing to discuss” its human rights record if Blinken raised it during the bilateral talks.

“India has a plural tradition and multicultural society,” and it is willing to “discuss any human rights issue,” a source in the Indian government, who could not be identified under government policy, told Arab News.

It comes after Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson told reporters in Washington D.C. on Friday that “the human rights and democracy question” would be part of the talks between Indian and US foreign ministers.

Since being elected to office in 2014, Modi and his government have faced allegations of suppressing dissent, pursuing divisive policies to appeal to Hindu voters, and enacting the Citizenship Amendment Law two years ago that Muslims see as discriminatory.

India’s human rights record became even more pronounced after the death in custody of 87-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, who was arrested on charges of supporting ultra-Maoists, while awaiting bail.

Pant said that bringing up the issue for talks reflected the “pressures” that Biden’s administration was under from various US constituencies.

“I think those who deal with India and the US know that historically India is cagey about including outsiders on domestic issues,” he added.


Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning
Updated 28 July 2021

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning
  • “The indigenous Karen in the national park continue to be forcibly evicted and their houses burnt”

BANGKOK: A vast forest complex in Thailand has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, despite the UN’s own experts warning of human rights violations against indigenous people in the area.

The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex in western Thailand is rich in biodiversity, including the critically endangered Siamese crocodile, UNESCO said Monday in its listing announcement.

But it is also home to an indigenous community of ethnic Karen people, who have long accused the Thai government of using violence and harassment to push them off their land.

Thailand had lobbied for years to get World Heritage status for the complex, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha praised UNESCO’s decision, vowing to protect the forest according to “international standards.”

“From now on, the government will ... restore the forest together and promote the livelihood development and human rights of locals,” he said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“Everyone will be part of co-management so they will feel a sense of ownership.”

United Nations experts last week urged the UNESCO committee to defer a decision until independent monitors have visited the area and the concerns about the indigenous people have been addressed.

“This is an important precedent-setting case, and may influence policies on how indigenous peoples’ rights are respected in protected areas across Asia,” the three experts said in a statement released Friday by the office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner.

“The indigenous Karen in the national park continue to be forcibly evicted and their houses burnt.”

They also said the World Heritage nomination process did not have effective participation of indigenous people, calling for indigenous people to be treated as partners in protecting the forest, not threats.

The park’s listing dismayed activist Pongsak Tonnamphet, an indigenous resident of the area.

“The decision was not made based on basic human rights principles ... the minority had no chance to speak,” the 24-year-old told AFP on Tuesday.

The World Heritage Committee did not list the park in 2016 and 2019 because of rights concerns.

The dispute has been simmering for decades.

While many indigenous residents were allegedly driven out of the area, those remaining were not allowed to cultivate the land.

Authorities say their farming activities would damage the forest, but activists argue that traditional farming methods do not harm the environment.

Rights campaigners have accused Thai officials of using harassment and violence to force indigenous people out.

The charred bones of a high-profile ethnic Karen leader were found inside the park in 2019, five years after he disappeared, according to Thai investigators.

Park officials at the time were the last to see him alive, but serious charges including premeditated murder were dropped in early 2020, with authorities citing a lack of evidence.

Ahead of the decision, an indigenous rights group held a protest in front of the environment ministry in Bangkok on Monday, flinging red paint at its signage.

Located near the border with Myanmar, the Kaeng Krachan complex is spread over more than 480,000 hectares, and includes three national parks and a wildlife sanctuary.


Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials
Updated 27 July 2021

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials
  • Boko Haram attack kills five Cameroonian soldiers and a civilian
  • The attack happened during a raid on the military outpost in the country’s far north, local authorities said

YAOUNDE: An attack by Boko Haram killed five Cameroonian soldiers and a civilian, according to a defense ministry statement on state radio Tuesday.
The attack took place on Monday night in the far north of the central African country near the border with Nigeria, where operations by the Islamist group have been on the rise, reported AFP.
Meanwhile, Reuters said the attack happened during a raid on the military outpost in the country’s far north, local authorities said on Tuesday, the second deadly raid in the area in the past week.
An army post in the village of Zigue was attacked at around 9 p.m. (20:00 GMT) on Monday, according to two officials who asked not to be identified.
The attack follows a raid that took place around 50 km (30 miles) north of Zigue on Saturday, which was claimed by Daesh. Eight soldiers were killed in that raid, according to the defense ministry.
Cameroon, alongside neighboring Nigeria and Chad, has been battling the Boko Haram militant group for years, but more recently has clashed with fighters who identify themselves as Daesh West African Province (DWAP).
In the aftermath of the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in May, DWAP has sought to absorb Boko Haram fighters and unify the groups which had hitherto fought one another for control of territory.

With AFP and Reuters.