Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning
Protesters play instruments during a land rights demonstration held by members of the Karen indigenous community outside the Government House in Bangkok on February 15, 2021. (AFP)
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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.


Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran
Updated 19 September 2021

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran
  • Ratcliffe said he would be speaking to the new British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Sunday
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government

LONDON: The husband of a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran has called on the new British foreign secretary to ensure his wife’s return is a “top priority.”
Richard Ratcliffe told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that he has given the names of 10 people he accuses of being involved with “hostage-taking” in Iran to Liz Truss ahead of a phone call with her on Sunday. 
“We’ve put in front of the new foreign secretary a file of names, those who are involved in Iran’s hostage-taking across the chain, so those involved in taking people, processing them, giving them judges, those who are involved in treating them badly in prison,” Ratcliffe said. 
“I’ve got a phone call with the foreign secretary today, to be speaking to her two days into the job is a positive sign for sure.
“Partly I just want to hear that this is a top priority and that Nazanin and the others who are being held as bargaining chips will be brought home,” he added.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Iranian media has linked her detention to the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400 million debt to Iran.
“This coming week she (Liz Truss) should be meeting with the new Iranian foreign minister in New York when they’re over for the UN event, so hopefully there will be a positive conversation,” Ratcliffe said.
“Right now I think enough needs to be enough, and it needs to be signaled really clearly to Iran that you can’t use innocent people in this way.
“I’d really like them to be firm, to be brave and make some clear steps,” he added.
Ratcliffe has been campaigning tirelessly to have his wife released from prison and urged former foreign secretary Dominic Raab to take a firmer stand against Iran over the issue.
“One of the key problems I feel these past years is there’s been no cost for the Iranian side to carry on holding Nazanin, to carry on holding others, and so we’ve seen that now there are more British citizens in prison than there were when Nazanin was first taken,” he said.


India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists
Updated 19 September 2021

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists
  • India, which has so far administered 804.3 million vaccine doses, is looking to protect the population and welcome back tourists
  • The death toll rose by 309 to 444,838, the health ministry said on Sunday

NEW DELHI: India on Sunday reported 30,773 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 33.4 million, as it seeks to reopen the country to overseas tourists.
The death toll rose by 309 to 444,838, the health ministry said.
India, which has so far administered 804.3 million vaccine doses, is looking to protect the population and welcome back tourists, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday.
“India’s vaccination drive is not just a safety cover for health but is also a protective shield for livelihood,” Modi told health workers in the tourist state of Goa via video.
“Friends, there’s been very little talk about this, but India has given a lot of priority to its vaccination program in states whose economies are driven by the tourism sector.”


Macron to hold call with US President Biden

Macron to hold call with US President Biden
Updated 19 September 2021

Macron to hold call with US President Biden

Macron to hold call with US President Biden
  • France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancelation of a submarine order

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron will have a call with US President Joe Biden in the next few days, the French government spokesman said on Sunday, amid a diplomatic crisis triggered by Australia’s cancelation of submarine contract with Paris.
France said on Friday it was recalling its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra over a trilateral security deal also involving Britain which sank the multi-billion dollar order for French submarines.
“President Biden asked to speak to the President of the Republic and there will be a telephone discussion in the next few days between President Macron and President Biden,” Gabriel Attal told news channel BFM TV.
France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancelation of a submarine order, Attal said.
The scrapping of the contract, struck in 2016, has caused fury in Paris, which claims not to have been consulted by its allies. The Australian government, however, says it had made clear its concerns for months.
After the initial “shock” of the cancelation, discussions would need to take place over contract clauses, notably compensation for the French side, Attal added.


Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022

Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022
Updated 19 September 2021

Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022

Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022
  • Accepts the nomination of his political allies during the national assembly of the faction he leads
  • Despite his popularity, boxer-senator Pacquiao trails the front-runners in opinion polls

MANILA: Boxing star Manny Pacquiao said on Sunday he will run for president of the Philippines next year, after railing against corruption in government and what he calls President Rodrigo Duterte’s cozy relationship with China.
Pacquiao accepted the nomination of his political allies during the national assembly of the faction he leads in the ruling PDP-Laban Party, days after a rival faction nominated Duterte’s long-time aide, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, as its presidential candidate.
That faction nominated Duterte for vice president, a move that critics called a cynical ploy by Duterte to retain power.
Go declined the nomination, but the rift between the Pacquiao and Duterte factions has escalated.
“I am a fighter, and I will always be a fighter inside and outside the ring,” Pacquiao, 42, a senator, said in a live-streamed speech during the assembly. “I am accepting your nomination as candidate for president of the Republic of the Philippines.”
Pacquiao’s faction has not expressed support for Duterte’s vice presidential bid. Duterte is prohibited by the constitution from running for a second six-year term as president.
One of the greatest boxers of all time and the only man to hold world titles in eight different divisions, Pacquiao was mum about his 26-year professional career.
Despite his popularity, Pacquiao trails the front-runners in opinion polls that have been topped consistently by Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio.
In July, Pacquiao was voted out as PDP-Laban leader, weeks after challenging Duterte over his position on China and record on fighting corruption, but his ouster was rejected by his faction.
Pacquiao, once a close ally of Duterte, had said more than 10 billion pesos ($200 million) in pandemic aid intended for poor families was unaccounted for, adding this was just one discovery in his planned corruption investigation.
His anti-corruption crusade comes as the Senate has opened an investigation into alleged overpricing of medical supplies and equipment purchased under the government’s pandemic response program.
Duterte challenged Pacquiao to name corrupt government offices to prove that the boxer was not just politicking ahead of the election.
Pacquiao countered by warning of jail for corrupt government officials: “Your time is up!”


Blast targets Taliban truck in eastern Afghan city

Blast targets Taliban truck in eastern Afghan city
Updated 19 September 2021

Blast targets Taliban truck in eastern Afghan city

Blast targets Taliban truck in eastern Afghan city
  • At least two people were killed in Jalalabad on Saturday
  • Witnesses told local media that several wounded Taliban fighters were taken to hospital

KABUL: A pickup truck carrying Taliban fighters was the target of a bomb in the Afghan city of Jalalabad Sunday, local media reported, a day after at least two people were killed in a series of blasts in the area.
Witnesses told local media that several wounded Taliban fighters were taken to hospital after the explosion, which one journalist said happened near an interchange for transport to and from the capital, Kabul.
Further details were not immediately available.
At least two people were killed in Jalalabad on Saturday in the first deadly blasts since the last US forces withdrew from Afghanistan on August 30.
The eastern city is the capital of Nangarhar province, the heartland of the Daesh group’s Afghanistan branch.
Although both Daesh and the Taliban are hard-line Sunni Islamist militants, they have differed on the minutiae of religion and strategy. That tussle has led to bloody fighting between the two.