Ethnic group says Myanmar air attack kills 80 at celebration

Ethnic group says Myanmar air attack kills 80 at celebration
Debris are scattered around destroyed wooden structures near Aung Bar Lay Village, Hpakant township, Kachin state in Myanmar Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 25 October 2022

Ethnic group says Myanmar air attack kills 80 at celebration

Ethnic group says Myanmar air attack kills 80 at celebration
  • The reported attack comes three days before Southeast Asian foreign ministers are to hold a special meeting in Indonesia to discuss widening violence in Myanmar

BANGKOK: Air strikes by Myanmar’s military killed as many as 80 people, including singers and musicians, attending an anniversary celebration of the Kachin ethnic minority’s main political organization, members of the group and a rescue worker said Monday.
The reported attack comes three days before Southeast Asian foreign ministers are to hold a special meeting in Indonesia to discuss widening violence in Myanmar.
The number of casualties at Sunday night’s celebration, held by the Kachin Independence Organization in the northern state of Kachin, appeared to be the most in a single air attack since the military seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Initial reports put the death toll at around 60, but later tallies raised it to about 80.
It was impossible to independently confirm details of the incident, though media sympathetic to the Kachin posted videos showing what was said to be the attack’s aftermath, with splintered and flattened wooden structures.
The military government’s information office confirmed in a statement late Monday that there was an attack on what it described as the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army’s 9th Brigade, calling it a “necessary operation” in response to “terrorist” acts carried out by the Kachin group.
It called reports of a high death toll “rumors,” and denied the military had bombed a concert and that singers and audience members were among the dead.
The United Nations’ office in Myanmar said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned and saddened” by reports of the air strikes.
“What would appear to be excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces against unarmed civilians is unacceptable and those responsible must be held to account,” it said.
Envoys representing Western embassies in Myanmar, including the United States, issued a joint statement saying the attack underscores the military regime’s “disregard for its obligation to protect civilians and respect the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.”
Myanmar has been wracked for decades by rebellions by ethnic minorities seeking autonomy, but anti-government resistance increased markedly nationwide with the formation of an armed pro-democracy movement opposing last year’s military takeover.
The Kachin are one of the stronger ethnic rebel groups and are capable of manufacturing some of their own armaments. They also have a loose alliance with the armed militias of the pro-democracy forces that were formed in 2021 in central Myanmar to fight army rule.
Sunday’s celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Kachin Independence Organization, which included a concert, was held at a base also used for military training by the Kachin Independence Army, the KIO’s armed wing. It is located near Aung Bar Lay village in Hpakant township, a remote mountainous area 950 kilometers (600 miles) north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.
Hpakant is the center of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry, from which both the government and the rebels derive revenue.
As many as 80 people were killed and about 100 were injured in Sunday’s attack on the first day of a three-day celebration of the KIO’s founding, a spokesperson for the Kachin Artists Association told The Associated Press by phone. He said he first heard there had been 60 deaths, but was later told by sources close to Kachin Independence Army officials that about 80 people had died.
He said military aircraft dropped four bombs on the celebration at about 8 p.m., according to members of his group who were there. Between 300 and 500 people were in attendance and a Kachin singer and keyboard player were among the dead, said the spokesperson, who asked not to be identified because he feared punishment by the authorities.
Those killed also included Kachin officers and soldiers, musicians, jade mining business owners and other civilians, he said. They also included at least 10 Kachin military and business VIPs sitting in front of the stage, and cooks working backstage, he added.
The Kachin News Group, a media outlet sympathetic to the KIO, reported that an initial search found 58 bodies and that government security forces had blocked the wounded from being treated at hospitals in nearby towns. It reported later that more than 20 more bodies had been recovered, bringing the death toll to about 80.
Col. Naw Bu, a spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Army, said by phone that KIA soldiers, musicians, businesspeople and villagers were among the dead, but he could not confirm a casualty number due to communications problems. He said the deaths were a loss for all Kachin people, and its group would fly the Kachin flag at half-staff.
An emergency services rescue worker who was in Hpakant and also asked for anonymity said he saw three military aircraft making bombing runs over the celebration ground, just a few kilometers (miles) away. He said he was barred by the KIO from entering the area but heard that more than 60 people were killed, including a KIA brigade commander.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-governmental organization that tracks killings and arrests, said Friday that 2,377 civilians have died in crackdowns by the security forces since the army took power. Its figure, however, does not always include people killed in military actions in the countryside.
“We fear this attack is part of a pattern of unlawful aerial attacks by the military which has killed and injured civilians in areas controlled by armed groups,” Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, Hana Young, said in a statement.
“The military has shown ruthless disregard for civilian lives in its escalating campaign against opponents. It is difficult to believe the military did not know of a significant civilian presence at the site of this attack. The military must immediately grant access to medics and humanitarian assistance to those affected by these air strikes and other civilians in need,” Young said.
Cambodia, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, said Sunday that the group’s foreign ministers will hold a special meeting in Indonesia this week to consider the peace process for Myanmar. Myanmar’s generals have all but shunned the group’s previous efforts.
“As officials and leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations prepare to host high-level meetings in the coming weeks, this attack highlights the need to overhaul the approach to the crisis in Myanmar,” Amnesty International said. “ASEAN has to step up and formulate a more robust course of action so that military leaders end this escalating repression.”


US to send Ukraine longer-range bombs in latest turnaround

US to send Ukraine longer-range bombs in latest turnaround
Updated 03 February 2023

US to send Ukraine longer-range bombs in latest turnaround

US to send Ukraine longer-range bombs in latest turnaround
  • The longer-range bombs are the latest advanced system, such as Abrams tanks and the Patriot missile defense system, that the US has eventually agreed to provide Ukraine
  • Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said Kyiv is prepared to offer guarantees to its Western partners that their weapons won’t be used to strike inside Russian territory

WASHINGTON: After months of agonizing, the US has agreed to send longer-range bombs to Ukraine as it prepares to launch a spring offensive to retake territory Russia captured last year, US officials said Thursday, confirming that the new weapons will have roughly double the range of any other offensive weapon provided by America.
The US will provide ground-launched small diameter bombs as part of a $2.17 billion aid package it is expected to announce Friday, several US officials said. The package also for the first time includes equipment to connect all the different air defense systems Western allies have rushed to the battlefield and integrate them into Ukraine’s own air defenses, to help it better defend against Russia’s missile attacks.
For months, US officials have hesitated to send longer-range systems to Ukraine out of concern that they would be used to target inside Russia, escalating the conflict and drawing the US deeper in. The longer-range bombs are the latest advanced system, such as Abrams tanks and the Patriot missile defense system, that the US has eventually agreed to provide Ukraine after initially saying no. US officials, though, have continued to reject Ukraine’s requests for fighter jets.
Ukrainian leaders have urgently pressed for longer-range munitions, and on Thursday officials said the US will send an undisclosed number of the ground-launched, small diameter bombs, which have a range of about 95 miles (150 kilometers). The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the aid package not yet made public.

To date, the longest-range missile provided by the US is about 50 miles (80 kilometers). The funding in the aid package is for longer-term purchases, so it wasn’t clear Thursday how long it will take to get the bomb to the battlefield in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said Thursday the country is prepared to offer guarantees to its Western partners that their weapons won’t be used to strike inside Russian territory, adding that Kyiv needs weapons with a range of up to 300 kilometers ( about 185 miles) to expel the Russian forces.
“If we could strike at a distance of up to 300 kilometers, the Russian army wouldn’t be able to mount a defense and will have to withdraw,” Reznikov said at a meeting with EU officials. “Ukraine is ready to provide any guarantees that your weapons will not be involved in attacks on the Russian territory. We have enough targets in the occupied areas of Ukraine, and we’re prepared to coordinate on (these) targets with our partners.”
The US aid package includes $425 million in ammunition and support equipment that will be pulled from existing Pentagon stockpiles and $1.75 billion in new funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which is used to purchase new weapons from industry.
The assistance initiative, which will pay for the longer-range bombs and the air defense system integration, also funds two HAWK air defense systems, anti-aircraft guns and ammunition, and counter-drone systems.
Since Russia’s invasion last February, Western allies have pledged a myriad of air defense systems to Ukraine to bolster its own Soviet-made S-300 surface-to-air missile defense systems, and the latest aid package aims to provide the capability to integrate them all, which could improve Ukraine’s ability to protect itself against incoming Russian attacks.
The US has pledged medium- to long-range National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, and truck-launched short-range Avenger air defense systems; the Netherlands, Germany and the US are sending Patriot missile defense systems; Germany is sending medium-range IRIS-T air defense systems; and Spain is sending Aspide anti-aircraft air defense systems.
The addition of longer-range bombs to the latest aid package was first reported by Reuters.
Ukraine is still seeking F-16 fighter jets, which US President Joe Biden has opposed sending since the beginning of the war. Asked Monday if his administration was considering sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, Biden responded, “No.”
On Tuesday, the Ukrainian defense minister was asked if Biden’s ‘’no” to F-16s was the final word.
“All types of help first passed through the ‘no’ stage,” Reznikov said. “Which only means ‘no’ at today’s given moment. The second stage is, ‘Let’s talk and study technical possibilities.’ The third stage is, ‘Let’s get your personnel trained.’ And the fourth stage is the transfer (of equipment).”


UK Home Office orders Afghan refugees to uproot families and leave London within a week

UK Home Office orders Afghan refugees to uproot families and leave London within a week
Updated 02 February 2023

UK Home Office orders Afghan refugees to uproot families and leave London within a week

UK Home Office orders Afghan refugees to uproot families and leave London within a week
  • The 40 families have been living in a Kensington hotel for over a year but now must move to North Yorkshire
  • One of the refugees said the British government broke its promise to help find them find homes

LONDON: The UK Home Office has notified hundreds of Afghan refugees who have been living in London for 18 months that they must move 200 miles north to West Yorkshire within a week, the Guardian reported on Thursday.

They are among 9,000 Afghans who are living in temporary accommodation across the UK after fleeing the Taliban. They left their home country as part of Operation Pitting, which was launched in August 2021 to get British nationals and Afghans who had worked and fought alongside UK forces out of the country after the Taliban seized control.

“We will never forget the brave sacrifice made by Afghans who chose to work with us at great risk to themselves,” former Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the time.

Now, the Home Office has told 40 families, including 150 children, who have been living in a hotel in Kensington for over a year that they must move to another hotel in Wetherby, near Leeds.

Some of the refugees, including a former general and translators who assisted British Army troops, told the Guardian that they are refusing to move because their children, who have already experienced great trauma, would now be forced to go through the upheaval of changing schools in the middle of the academic year.

Others have found jobs in London and are worried about giving them up and having to find work in a new location.

Most the Afghans living in the hotel have decided to protest against the relocation plan, one of the refugees told the Guardian.

Hamidullah Khan, a former parliamentary adviser in Kabul who came to the UK with his wife and three sons, said the government has broken a series of promises it made to refugees that it would assist them in finding permanent housing.

“We asked the Home Office, ‘Why do you want to force us out?’ and they say: ‘This hotel is expensive. The Leeds hotel is cheaper.’ But we didn’t choose this hotel or this area to live in, the Home Office did,” Khan said.

“Now we have been here, not out of choice, for 18 months. Our children are going to local schools and, in the middle of the school year, they ask us to leave.”

In Wetherby, meanwhile, some residents said they oppose the decision to move Afghan refugees into a local hotel. One person told the Leeds Live website that the government was acting in an “underhand and secretive” manner.

Under the UK’s Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act, the Home Office is obliged to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children when it makes any immigration decision.”

A Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian that the refugees were told months ago that they would have to move north.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.

“Occasionally, families may be moved from a hotel scheduled for closure to another hotel. In these instances, families are given appropriate notice of a move and are supported by their local authority. We are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,500 Afghan evacuees but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all.”

According to briefings given to local councils, the government aims to move all Afghan refugees into permanent accommodation by the end of the year.


House GOP votes to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from major committee

House GOP votes to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from major committee
Updated 02 February 2023

House GOP votes to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from major committee

House GOP votes to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from major committee
  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was able to solidify Republican support against the Somali-born Muslim woman in the new Congress
  • “My voice will get louder and stronger, and my leadership will be celebrated around the world,” Omar said in a closing speech

WASHINGTON: The Republican-led House voted after raucous debate Thursday to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee, citing her anti-Israel comments.
This comes in a dramatic response after Democrats last session booted far-right GOP lawmakers over incendiary remarks.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was able to solidify Republican support against the Somali-born Muslim woman in the new Congress although some GOP lawmakers had expressed reservations. Removal of lawmakers from House committees was essentially unprecedented until the Democratic ousters two years ago of hard-right Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona.
The 218-211 vote, along party lines, came after a heated, voices-raised debate in which Democrats accused the GOP of targeting Omar based on her race. Omar defended herself on the House floor, asking if anyone was surprised she was being targeted, “because when you push power, power pushes back.” Democratic colleagues hugged and embraced her during the vote.
“My voice will get louder and stronger, and my leadership will be celebrated around the world,” Omar said in a closing speech.
Republicans focused on six statements Omar has made that “under the totality of the circumstances, disqualify her from serving on the Committee of Foreign Affairs,” said Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi, the incoming chairman of the House Ethics Committee.
“All members, both Republicans and Democrats alike who seek to serve on Foreign Affairs, should be held to the highest standard of conduct due to the international sensitivity and national security concerns under the jurisdiction of this committee,” Guest said.
The resolution proposed by Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, a former official in the Trump administration, declared, “Omar’s comments have brought dishonor to the House of Representatives.”
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said Omar has at times “made mistakes” and used antisemitic tropes that were condemned by House Democrats four years ago. But that’s not what Thursday’s vote was about, he said.
“It’s not about accountability, it’s about political revenge,” Jeffries said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, went one step further, saying that the GOP’s action was one of the “disgusting legacies after 9/11,” a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack — “the targeting and racism against Muslim-Americans throughout the United States of America. And this is an extension of that legacy.”
She added, “This is about targeting women of color.”
McCarthy denied the Republican move to oust Omar was a tit-for-tat after the Greene and Gosar removals under Democrats, though he had warned in late 2021 that such a response might be expected if Republicans won back the House majority.
“This is nothing like the last Congress,” he said Thursday. He noted that Omar can remain on other panels, just not Foreign Affairs after her anti-Israel comments.
Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. She is also the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber after floor rules were changed to allow members to wear head coverings for religious reasons.
She quickly generated controversy after entering Congress in 2019 with a pair of tweets that suggested lawmakers who supported Israel were motivated by money.
In the first, she criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote, invoking slang about $100 bills.
Asked on Twitter who she thought was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Omar responded, “AIPAC!”
The comments sparked a public rebuke from then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who made clear that Omar had overstepped.
She soon apologized.
“We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Democrats rallied in a fiery defense of Omar and the experiences she brings to the Congress.
Black, Latino and progressive lawmakers in particular spoke of her unique voice in the House and criticized Republicans for what they called a racist attack.
“Racist gaslighting,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri A “revenge resolution,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the progressive caucus.
“It’s so painful to watch,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, who joined Congress with Omar in 2019 the first two female Muslims elected to the House.
“To Congresswoman Omar, I am so sorry that our country is failing you today through this chamber,” Tlaib said through tears. “You belong on that committee.”
Omar’s previous comments were among several remarks highlighted in the resolutions seeking her removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, argued for excluding Omar from the panel during a recent closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans.
“It’s just that her worldview of Israel is so diametrically opposed to the committee’s,” McCaul told reporters in describing his stance. “I don’t mind having differences of opinion, but this goes beyond that.”
McCarthy has already blocked Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, from rejoining the House Intelligence Committee once the GOP took control of the chamber in January. While appointments to the intelligence panel are the prerogative of the speaker, the action on Omar requires a House vote.
Several Republicans skeptical of removing Omar wanted “due process” for lawmakers who face removal. McCarthy said he told them he would work with Democrats on creating a due process system, but acknowledged it’s still a work in progress.


Norway police ban Qur'an burning protest after Turkiye summons Oslo envoy

Norway police ban Qur'an burning protest after Turkiye summons Oslo envoy
Updated 02 February 2023

Norway police ban Qur'an burning protest after Turkiye summons Oslo envoy

Norway police ban Qur'an burning protest after Turkiye summons Oslo envoy

ANKARA/OSLO: Norwegian police on Thursday banned a planned anti-Islam protest including the burning of a copy of the Qur'an this week for security reasons, hours after the Turkish foreign ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador to complain.
A group of protesters planned to burn a copy of the Qur'an outside the Turkish embassy in Oslo on Friday, police said, echoing similar demonstrations last month in Sweden and Denmark.
“Burning the Qur'an remains a legal way to express political views in Norway. But this event cannot be carried out for security reasons,” Oslo police said in a statement, citing intelligence it had received.
Earlier on Thursday, Ankara strongly condemned the anti-Islam group’s plans, which it said were a “provocative act,” a source from the Turkish foreign ministry said, adding that the ministry had asked for the demonstration to be called off.
Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Turkiye had raised the planned demonstration in a meeting.
“Our ambassador referred to the constitutional right to freedom of expression in Norway, and added that the Norwegian government neither supports nor is involved with the planned demonstration,” said a ministry spokesperson.
The police can only ban a demonstration if there is a danger to the public.
A protest including the burning a copy of Qur'an last month near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm by an anti-immigrant Danish-Swedish politician from the far-right fringe drew strong condemnation from Ankara.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, but faced unexpected objections from Turkiye and have since sought to win its support.
Sweden said on Thursday it would tighten laws covering membership of terrorist organizations.


Philippines gives US more access to military bases as concerns over China grow

Philippines gives US more access to military bases as concerns over China grow
Updated 02 February 2023

Philippines gives US more access to military bases as concerns over China grow

Philippines gives US more access to military bases as concerns over China grow
  • With 4 more locations, US now has access to 9 military sites in Philippines
  • US-Philippine alliance crucial to the stability of Indo-Pacific, defense chiefs say

MANILA: The Philippines has granted the US expanded access to its military bases, their defense chiefs announced on Thursday, providing American forces with a strategic footing at a time of growing tensions over the disputed South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan.

Manila and Washington agreed to accelerate the full implementation of the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement for joint training and exercises, which gives the US entry to four more locations in strategic areas of the Philippines.

The US would now have access to a total of nine military sites in the Southeast Asian country.

The move, announced during US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to the Philippine capital, is aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation to support the Philippines’ defense capabilities and to address pressing security threats in the region, Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez said during their joint news conference.

“We shall continue to work towards maintaining a stable rules-based open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region along with partner countries,” he told reporters.

“We strongly oppose any unilateral action or attempt to disrupt current world order and share the same views that all countries should resolve any issue peacefully and adhere to international law.”

Austin said the expansion will allow US and Philippine forces to operate together more efficiently from key sites across the Philippines.

“America’s commitment to the defense of the Philippines is ironclad,” he added.

“Our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure and helps uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

He and Galvez also discussed ways to address “destabilizing activities” around Philippine waters, including in the South China Sea.

“These efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Austin said, referring to another name of the disputed waters.

With a recent increase of Chinese activity in the area, Manila in December boosted its military presence in the region after reports that China had started taking unoccupied land features within Philippine waters.

The US State Department announced that it was allocating more than $82 million for the infrastructure and investments of the Philippine military sites.

While Austin said that the US was not “seeking permanent basing in the Philippines,” spokesperson of the Philippine Department of National Defense Arsenio Andolong told Arab News the number of joint drills would increase.

“The existing exercises we already have with them will be expanded in terms of scope and number of participants…There will be more troops that will be joining the exercises,” he said.

Though it was signed almost a decade ago, progress on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement stalled during the years of former President Rodrigo Duterte, who distanced the Philippines from the US in favor of Beijing.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June and has since met both US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, appears to be taking a more balanced approach.

In a meeting on Thursday morning, he told Austin that he cannot see a future for his country without its longtime ally.

“The future of the Philippines and, for that matter, the Asia Pacific, will always have to involve the United States,” he said.