ASEAN foreign ministers to push for tougher action on Myanmar

ASEAN foreign ministers to push for tougher action on Myanmar
Some ASEAN members, led by Malaysia and the Philippines, want to bar the military regime from sending ministers to all of the bloc’s meetings until there is progress on its five-point plan. (AFP)
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Updated 01 August 2022

ASEAN foreign ministers to push for tougher action on Myanmar

ASEAN foreign ministers to push for tougher action on Myanmar
  • Myanmar has been in chaos since a putsch in February last year
  • Frustrations are growing after the Myanmar junta went ahead with its first executions in decades

PHNOM PENH: Malaysia is set to lead a push for tougher action on Myanmar when a regional bloc of foreign ministers meet this week, as anger mounts at the junta for stonewalling crisis resolution efforts.
The 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — which has spearheaded so far fruitless diplomatic efforts to restore peace — last week condemned the junta’s execution of four prisoners.
Myanmar has been in chaos since a putsch in February last year and the death toll from the military’s brutal crackdown on dissent has passed 2,100, according to a local monitoring group.
Ministers meeting in Phnom Penh from Wednesday are expected to lament the lack of progress on ASEAN’s “five-point consensus” plan, agreed to in April last year, which called for an immediate end to violence and dialogue between the junta and coup opponents.
As well as voicing “deep concern” about recent developments and calling for restraint, the ministers will also demand “concrete actions to effectively and fully implement the Five-Point Consensus,” according to a draft communique obtained by AFP.
After more than a year of no progress on the plan, Malaysia will present a framework for its implementation, even as critics deride the ASEAN as a toothless talking shop.
“The key element of the framework is there must be an end-game. You have to have an end-game. What is the end-game of the five-point consensus?” Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said.
Within the bloc, frustrations are growing after the Myanmar junta went ahead with its first executions in decades despite personal pleas from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Among the four executed were Phyo Zeya Thaw, a rapper-turned-lawmaker from ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party and veteran political activist Kyaw Min Yu — better known as “Jimmy.”
“It shows the junta is making a mockery of the (consensus plan),” Saifuddin wrote in a weekend newspaper article.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan characterized the executions as a “grave setback” to ASEAN’s efforts to resolve the crisis, while Thailand’s foreign ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said the move “aggravates the vexing problems of Myanmar.”
A senior ASEAN diplomat said he does not expect any country to go as far as calling for Myanmar’s expulsion from the bloc.
But some members, led by Malaysia and the Philippines, want to bar the military regime from sending ministers to all ASEAN meetings — including November’s summit — until there is progress on the five-point plan.
“Political appointees of the administration, especially the military administration are not welcome,” the Philippines’ Assistant Foreign Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Daniel Espiritu said.
Myanmar’s top diplomat, Wunna Maung Lwin, has not been invited to Phnom Penh and was also left out of a foreign ministers’ retreat in February, while junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was snubbed at a leaders’ summit last year.
“Even North Korea is welcome at this forum but the Myanmar junta isn’t... it has to be recognized just how isolated Myanmar is, even in its neighborhood,” said Aaron Connelly, a Southeast Asia specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Along with the Ukraine-Russia conflict, ongoing South China Sea tensions will be another hot button issue on the agenda.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will fly in, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov also expected to attend and hold meetings with the ASEAN ministers.
But analysts do not expect a repeat of 2012 when Cambodia — a key Beijing ally — last hosted ASEAN and was accused of siding with China on the disputed sea, resulting in no communique being issued.
“Cambodia has learnt its lesson. It was the first time ASEAN didn’t come up with a joint statement and Cambodia got big blowback from it,” said Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak.
“Hun Sen ... doesn’t want to shoot himself in the foot again.”
China claims most of the sea — with competing territorial assertions from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.


Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project
Updated 17 August 2022

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

DUBAI: Lesotho has inaugurated a $11.2 million water supply project that will supply clean water to five cities in the south African country.

Funded by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), the project aims to sustain water resources and provide clean water sources in Lesotho as well as mitigate effects of drought in the country to ensure water and food security.

The undertaking will see the laying of a 210-kilometer-long pipe network and the construction of 25 pumping stations.

Saudi Arabia, through the SFD, supports developing countries achieve their development goals by providing grants, technical aid as well soft loans and since its inception in 1975 has provided 730 development loans to finance 692 development projects and programs in 84 developing countries.


Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security
Updated 17 August 2022

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security
  • There have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India

NEW DELHI: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India’s capital will be allotted apartments and provided with police protection, a government minister said on Wednesday, signalling a change in the stance toward members of the Muslim minority.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge,” Minister for Housing and Urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter, outlining new provisions for Rohingya refugees in New Delhi.
“India respects & follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Puri said.
Puri did not elaborate on what he said would be “round-the- clock” police protection but there have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has previously tried to send back members of the Muslim minority from predominately Buddhist Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years.


South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show
Updated 17 August 2022

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show
  • Yoon Suk-yeol repeats his willingness to provide phased economic aid to North Korea

SEOUL: Talks with North Korea should not be for political show but contribute to establishing peace, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Wednesday, speaking at a wide-ranging press conference to mark his first 100 days in office.
Yoon repeated his willingness to provide phased economic aid to North Korea if it ended nuclear weapons development and began denuclearization, noting that he had called for a dialogue with Pyongyang since his campaign.
“Any dialogue between the leaders of the South and North, or negotiations between main working-level officials, should not be a political show, but should contribute to establishing substantive peace on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” he said.
The comments were an apparent criticism of a series of summits involving his predecessor Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and then-US President Donald Trump.
Despite those meetings, denuclearization talks stalled in 2019 and North Korea has said it will not trade away its self-defense, though it has called for an end to sanctions. It has been observed preparing for a possible nuclear test, which would be its first since 2017.
South Korea was not in a position to guarantee the North’s security if it gave up its nuclear weapons, but Seoul did not want a forced change in the status quo in the North, Yoon said.
The North’s recent missile tests and nuclear development has revived debate over whether the South should pursue its own nuclear weapons. Yoon said that he was committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and working with the United States to boost its “extended deterrence” for South Korea.
“The NPT should not be abandoned and I will adhere to that until the end,” he said.


Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe
Updated 17 August 2022

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe
  • It’s unclear how much the former New York mayor and attorney for Trump will be willing to say

ATLANTA: Rudy Giuliani is scheduled to appear in an Atlanta courthouse to testify before a special grand jury that is investigating attempts by former President Donald Trump and others to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia.
It’s unclear how much the former New York mayor and attorney for Trump will be willing to say now that his lawyers have been informed he’s a target of the investigation. Questioning will take place behind closed doors Wednesday because the special grand jury proceedings are secret.
Yet Giuliani’s appearance is another high-profile step in a rapidly escalating investigation that has ensnared several Trump allies and brought heightened scrutiny to the desperate and ultimately failed efforts to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election win. It’s one of several investigations into Trump’s actions in office as he lays the groundwork for another run at the White House in 2024.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened her investigation after the disclosure of a remarkable Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. On the call, Trump suggested that Raffensperger could “find” the exact number of votes that would be needed to flip the election results in Georgia.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing. He has described the call as “perfect.”
Willis last month filed petitions to compel testimony from seven Trump associates and advisers. She has also said she’s considering calling Trump himself to testify, and the former president has hired a legal team in Atlanta that includes a prominent criminal defense attorney.
In seeking Giuliani’s testimony, Willis noted that he was both a personal attorney for Trump and a lead attorney for his 2020 campaign.
She recalled in a petition how Giuliani and others appeared at a state Senate committee meeting in late 2020 and presented a video that Giuliani said showed election workers producing “suitcases” of unlawful ballots from unknown sources, outside the view of election poll watchers. The claims of fraud were debunked by Georgia election officials within 24 hours. Yet Giuliani continued to make statements to the public and in subsequent legislative hearings claiming widespread election fraud using the debunked video, Willis noted in her filing.
Two of the election workers seen in the video, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, said they faced relentless harassment online and in person after it was shown at the Dec. 3 Georgia legislative hearing in which Giuliani appeared. At another hearing a week later, Giuliani said the footage showed the women “surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they are vials of heroin or cocaine.” They actually were passing a piece of candy.
Willis wrote in the court filing that Giuliani’s hearing appearance and testimony were “part of a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.”
Willis also wrote in a petition seeking the testimony of attorney Kenneth Chesebro that he worked with Giuliani to coordinate and carry out a plan to have Georgia Republicans serve as fake electors. Those 16 people signed a certificate declaring falsely that Trump had won the 2020 presidential election and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors even though Biden had won the state and a slate of Democratic electors was certified.
Giuliani’s attorneys tried to delay his appearance before the special grand jury, saying he was unable to fly due to heart stent surgery in early July.
But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s overseeing the special grand jury, said during a hearing last week that Giuliani needed to be in Atlanta on Wednesday and could travel by bus, car or train if necessary.
Other Trump allies have also been swept up in the probe. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, received a subpoena ordering him to appear for testimony on Aug. 23. Graham has challenged that subpoena, citing his protections as a member of Congress. A judge on Monday rejected that argument and said he must testify. Graham has said he’ll appeal.
Willis has indicated she is interested in calls between Graham and Raffensberger about the results in Georgia in the weeks after the election.


US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
Updated 17 August 2022

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
  • Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage

LOS ANGELES: Water supplies to some US states and Mexico will be cut to avoid “catastrophic collapse” of the Colorado River, Washington officials said Tuesday, as a historic drought bites.
More than two decades of well below average rainfall have left the river — the lifeblood of the western United States — at critical levels, as human-caused climate change worsens the natural drought cycle.
Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage, and on Tuesday, the federal government said it was stepping in.
“In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the US Interior Department.
Arizona’s allocation from the river will fall by 21 percent in 2023, while Nevada will get eight percent less. Mexico’s allotment will drop by seven percent.
California, the biggest user of the river’s water and the most populous of the western states, will not be affected next year.
The Colorado River rises in the Rocky Mountains and snakes its way through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and northern Mexico, where it empties into the Gulf of California.
It is fed chiefly by snowpack at high altitudes, which melts slowly throughout the warmer months.
But reduced precipitation and the higher temperatures caused by humanity’s unchecked burning of fossil fuels means less snow is falling, and what snow exists, is melting faster.
As a consequence, there is not as much water in the river that supplies tens of millions of people and countless acres of farmland.
The states that use the water have been locked in negotiations over how to slash usage, but missed a Monday deadline to cut a deal, so Washington stepped in.
Officials in upstream states hit out Tuesday at what they saw as an unfair settlement, with California exempted from any cuts.
“It is unacceptable for Arizona to continue to carry a disproportionate burden of reductions for the benefit of others who have not contributed,” said a statement by Tom Buschatzke, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources and Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project.
Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said his department — which oversees US water supplies — was “using every resource available to conserve water and ensure that irrigators, Tribes and adjoining communities receive adequate assistance.”
“The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation,” he said.
“In turn, severe drought conditions exacerbate wildfire risk and ecosystems disruption, increasing the stress on communities and our landscapes.”
The western United States is suffering under a drought that is now in its 23rd year, the worst episode in more than 1,000 years.
That drought has left swathes of the country dry and vulnerable to hotter, faster and more destructive wildfires.
Communities served by the Colorado River, including Los Angeles, have been ordered to save water, with unpopular restrictions in place on outdoor watering.
Those restrictions are unevenly adhered to, with some lawns — especially in the plushest parts of Los Angeles and its surroundings — still remarkably green.