Australian freed in Myanmar amnesty lands in Melbourne

A detained Australian adviser to Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, getting vaccinated against the Covid-19 coronavirus in Insein prison in Yangon. (AFP file photo)
A detained Australian adviser to Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, getting vaccinated against the Covid-19 coronavirus in Insein prison in Yangon. (AFP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 19 November 2022

Australian freed in Myanmar amnesty lands in Melbourne

Australian freed in Myanmar amnesty lands in Melbourne
  • Turnell was arrested a few days after the army seized power from Suu Kyi’s elected government in February last year, ending a decade of tentative democracy

An Australian adviser to deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi returned home on Friday, Australia’s foreign minister said, a day after he was released from detention by the Southeast Asian nation’s military junta in a mass amnesty.
The plane carrying Sean Turnell, an economist who had worked with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, touched down in Melbourne just before noon on Friday, according to state broadcaster ABC.
Turnell travelled from Myanmar to Bangkok before boarding a flight to Australia.
Turnell was arrested a few days after the army seized power from Suu Kyi’s elected government in February last year, ending a decade of tentative democracy.

FASTFACT

Sean Turnell was arrested a few days after the army seized power from Aung Suu Kyi’s elected government in February last year.

In September, he was sentenced to three years in prison for violating the official secrets act and immigration law, charges he denied.
“His return will be an enormous relief to his family, friends and many supporters in Australia and across the region,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement on Friday.
“The Australian government remains deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, and we will continue to advocate for the release of the remaining political prisoners.”
Turnell was among almost 6,000 prisoners released to mark Myanmar’s national day on Thursday, who also included a former British ambassador, a Japanese filmmaker and a US citizen.
Turnell’s wife Ha Vu said she was “over the moon and speechless” in a post on social media.
“When Sean was asked by a Myanmar official upon his departure ‘do you hate Myanmar now?’,” wrote Ha Vu, “Sean said ‘I never hate Myanmar, I love the people of Myanmar, and it’s always like that.’”
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is in Bangkok for the APEC summit, spoke with Turnell on Thursday and said “he was in amazingly good spirits.”
He also thanked the prime ministers of Cambodia and Thailand for urging the military junta to release Turnell.

 


Blinken postpones China trip over ‘unacceptable’ Chinese spy balloon

Blinken postpones China trip over ‘unacceptable’ Chinese spy balloon
Updated 10 sec ago

Blinken postpones China trip over ‘unacceptable’ Chinese spy balloon

Blinken postpones China trip over ‘unacceptable’ Chinese spy balloon
  • Jean-Pierre said the US administration was aware of China’s statement “but the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. It is unacceptable this occurred”

WASHINGTON/BEIJING: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a visit to China that had been expected to start on Friday after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was tracked flying across the United States in what Washington called a “clear violation” of US sovereignty.
The Pentagon said on Thursday it was tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States. Officials said military leaders considered shooting it down over Montana on Wednesday but eventually recommended against this to President Joe Biden because of the safety risk from debris.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden was briefed on the balloon flight on Tuesday and there was an administration “consensus that it was not appropriate to travel to the People’s Republic of China at this time.”
China on Friday expressed regret that an “airship” used for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes had strayed into US airspace.
Jean-Pierre said the US administration was aware of China’s statement “but the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. It is unacceptable this occurred.”
On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon had changed course and was floating eastward at about 60,000 feet (18,300 meters) above the central United States and demonstrating a capability to maneuver. He said it would likely be over the country for a few more days.
Commercial forecaster AccuWeather said the balloon would potentially leave United States into the Atlantic on Saturday evening. Mike Rounds, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Fox News it would be good to recover the balloon “one way or another” to see “if it was designed to actually collect data or if it was designed to test our response capabilities.”
The Pentagon’s disclosure about the balloon’s maneuverability directly challenges China’s assertion about it being blown off course.
At a news conference with South Korea’s visiting foreign minister on Friday, Blinken said he had told Wang Yi, director of China’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, that the incident on the eve of his trip was an “irresponsible act” by China, but Washington remained committed to engagement and he would visit when conditions allowed.
Blinken said he would not put a date on when he might go to China and the focus was on resolving the current incident. “The first step is ... getting the surveillance asset, out of our air space,” he said, adding that Washington would maintain open lines of communication with China.
The Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said the balloon should never have been allowed in US airspace and could have been shot down over water.
“I am calling on the Biden administration to quickly take steps to remove the Chinese spy balloon from US airspace,” he said in a statement.
LOST OPPORTUNITY?
A White House official said the administration had briefed staff of the so-called Gang of 8, which brings together Republican and Democratic leaders from the Senate and House, on Thursday afternoon.
The official said such balloon surveillance activity had “been observed over the past several years, including in the prior administration – we have kept Congress briefed on this issue.”
The postponing of Blinken’s trip, which had been agreed to in November by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a blow to those who saw it as an overdue opportunity to stabilize an increasingly fractious relationship. The last visit by a US secretary of state was in 2017.
China is keen for a stable US relationship so it can focus on its economy, battered by the now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and neglected by foreign investors alarmed by what they see as a return of state intervention in the market.
In recent months Chinese leader Xi has met with world leaders, seeking to re-establish ties and settle disagreements.
Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for Asia under former President Barack Obama, said he did not see a strategic rationale for canceling the trip and stressed the importance of maintaining high-level engagement with China.
“In as much as the US has much bigger fish to fry with the Chinese than a surveillance balloon, the Biden team may be inclined to pick up where they left off after a decent interval,” he said.
Sino-US relations have soured significantly in recent years, particularly following then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, which prompted dramatic Chinese military drills near the self-ruled island.
LIMITED INTELLIGENCE VALUE
The Pentagon’s Ryder told reporters on Thursday the balloon was at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and did not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. One US official added it was assessed to have “limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective.”
Another official said on Thursday the flight path would carry the balloon over a number of sensitive sites, but did not give details. Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana is home to 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
Ryder declined on Friday to say where precisely the balloon was, but as he spoke, the National Weather Service in Kansas City said on Twitter it had received multiple reports across northwestern Missouri of a large balloon.
China has often complained about surveillance by the United States, including its deployment of ships or planes near Chinese military exercises.

 


Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success

Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success
Updated 04 February 2023

Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success

Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success
  • Bangladeshi government asks Kingdom to supply oil on deferred payment basis
  • Request follows IMF approval of $4.7bn stabilization package for South Asian nation

DHAKA: After securing a stabilization package from the International Monetary Fund this week, Bangladesh has asked Saudi Arabia for extended credit on oil supplies, in a move that experts say would further help its economy get back on track.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen met Riyadh’s Ambassador to Dhaka, Essa Al-Duhailan, earlier this week. The foreign ministry said after the meeting that Momen had asked the Kingdom to consider supplying crude and refined oil “on a deferred payment basis” to help Bangladesh meet its energy needs.

The request came shortly after the IMF approved a $4.7 billion loan for Bangladesh.

HIGHLIGHT

Request follows IMF approval of $4.7bn stabilization package for South Asian nation.

“Bangladesh is now passing through a period of constrained foreign exchange reserves and is having difficulty in terms of opening LCs (letters of credit) and also in terms of paying for our imports,” Prof. Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Dhaka, told Arab News on Friday.

“If we can get Saudi oil on a deferred payment basis, it will ease up Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves and help Bangladesh in terms of purchasing other necessary imports which require instantaneous payment.”

The IMF’s Extended Credit Facility and Extended Fund Facility package approved for Bangladesh on Jan. 30 are likely to boost the country’s outlook among its creditors, including Saudi Arabia, and demonstrate its capacity to pay back.

Unlike other regional countries, such as crisis-hit Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Bangladesh did not ask the fund for a bailout loan. The approved arrangements are a stabilization package to fund structural reform, ensure balance-of-payment stability, and a stable and sustainable economic position.

“The IMF granting of $4.7 billion will be helpful in providing positive signals to our development partners that the fundamentals of the Bangladeshi economy remain strong, and that Bangladesh is also ready to take up reforms,” Rahman said.

“From that perspective, it will also be helpful in projecting to Saudi Arabia that while we are asking for deferred payment, the Bangladeshi economy will be able to sustain good foreign reserves and when the negotiated time comes, we will be able to pay.”

Besides taking the pressure off its dollar reserves, the extended credit on oil supplies would also help Bangladesh with energy security. The South Asian nation, which is dependent on imported liquefied natural gas, has been struggling with an energy crisis in recent months.

Since mid-July, the government has been resorting to daily power cuts amid high global prices driven up by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Industries that do not receive sufficient power to run their operations have been forced to remain idle for several hours a day. In early October, about 80 percent of Bangladesh’s 168 million people were left without electricity after a grid failure caused by fuel shortages to over a third of the country’s gas-powered units.

Saudi Arabia supplies more than half of Bangladesh’s crude imports.

“We are bringing in oil, which is our regular, normal import, because our transport sector is fully dependent on this oil, and also partially our production,” said Prof. Mohammad Tamim, dean of chemical and material engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

Importing energy and ensuring its uninterrupted supply are crucial to keeping the Bangladeshi economy afloat and helping it stabilize while other reforms requested by the IMF are implemented to fix structural problems.

“There is a lot of pressure in terms of importing energy products, so it’s very important that we keep supplying oil so that there is no disruption in economic activity,” Tamim said.

“Deferred payment will definitely help Bangladesh in tackling the dollar crunch now.”


Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown
Updated 03 February 2023

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown
  • 31.8 percent of women in Assam were married before the legal age
  • Police expect to arrest about 8,000 during week-long drive

NEW DELHI: Police in India’s northeaster state of Assam arrested hundreds of people on Friday in a crackdown on those marrying or arranging marriages with children.
The minimum legal age for Indians to marry is 18 for women and 21 for men, but the practice of child marriage remains widespread in parts of the country, especially Assam. According to India’s latest National Family Health Survey, 31.8 percent of women in the state were married before the legal age, compared with the national average of 23.3 percent.
In some districts of Assam, more than half of married women were married before 18.
The crackdown on child marriage was approved by the Assam government late last month to tackle the practice and increasing numbers of child pregnancies.
“We have arrested 1,793 people till 8 a.m. this morning,” Prasanta Kumar Bhuiyan, Assam’s inspector general of police, told Arab News.
“The crackdown will continue for one week and people are being detained under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.”
He estimated that another 6,000 suspects would be arrested in the coming days.
The state’s chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said on Friday that he had requested the police to act with “zero tolerance against the unpardonable and heinous crime on women.”
Activists said welcomed the operation.
“The basis for this drive is the increasing infant mortality rate and mother mortality rate among young children,” said Miguel Das, who runs the Assam-based Utsah Child Rights Organization.
Das said however that law enforcement should not be the only response.
“There should be socio-economic welfare measures to address the deep-seated problem prevalent among all the demographics in the state,” he said, adding that the drive should also include the rehabilitation of married children and initiatives to prevent the practice.
The UN estimates that India is home to around 223 million child brides — the largest number of any country in the world.
“Early marriage causes lots of imbalance in the society and leads to high population growth and illiteracy among the young generation,” said Azizur Rahman, former president of All Assam Minority Students’ Union.
“I support the government’s crackdown and hope the large-scale arrests will send a message to the people.”


Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland
Updated 03 February 2023

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland
  • Lawyers for the plaintiffs said Kosiah's actions were "widespread and systematic" against a civilian population
  • A verdict by the three-judge panel is expected within months

GENEVA: The appeal hearings of a former Liberian rebel commander convicted of war crimes were set to conclude on Friday in a trial that was broadened in its final stages to include crimes against humanity for the first time in Switzerland.
Alieu Kosiah, who fought in the 1990s against then-President Charles Taylor’s army, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June 2021 for rape, murder and cannibalism in one of the first trials for war crimes committed in the West African country.
During the three weeks of appeal hearings at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, the defendant sought to overturn the lower court’s ruling, arguing at length that he was not present when the crimes were committed. Kosiah’s lawyer denied the charges and said he was a minor when first recruited.
But lawyers for the plaintiffs said Kosiah’s actions were “widespread and systematic” against a civilian population.
“We feel strongly that these crimes are the epitome of crimes against humanity,” said Alain Werner, a Swiss lawyer and director of Civitas Maxima, an NGO that represents war crimes victims and is acting on behalf of some of the plaintiffs.
A verdict by the three-judge panel is expected within months. If Kosiah is found guilty of crimes against humanity, this could extend his sentence to life.
The hearings were often laden with emotion, with some Liberian witnesses and victims confronting Kosiah for the first time since the country’s civil wars. They all asked for anonymity because of the risk of reprisals back home where former warlords still hold prominent roles.
In one poignant moment, a former child soldier under Kosiah acknowledged him with a military salute in the court room and then broke down and was too upset to testify.
In another, a witness who had been held as a sex slave by a soldier described how Kosiah had stabbed one of the Liberian plaintiffs present in the back. “Many people in the courtroom were crying. It was very emotional, even 30 years later,” said Zena Wakim, one of the prosecution lawyers.
No trials have taken place in Liberia for its back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 that became infamous for their brutality and degradation, with marauding child soldiers and combatants high on drugs.
In an indication of the importance of the trial to the Liberian plaintiffs, one of them who says she was raped by Kosiah, named a recently born baby “Justice.”
“I want him in jail,” she told Reuters on the opening day of the appeal trial on Jan. 11.


Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder
Updated 03 February 2023

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder
  • In 2018 and 2020, Manila banned worker deployment to the Gulf state after murder cases
  • Philippine president says government will review bilateral labor agreement with Kuwait

MANILA: The Philippines is tightening rules for the deployment of workers to Kuwait after the brutal murder of a migrant Filipino worker last month sent shockwaves across the Southeast Asian nation.
The charred body of the 35-year-old maid, Jullebee Ranara, was found abandoned in a desert in late January and repatriated to the Philippines last week. Kuwaiti police have since arrested and charged the 17-year-old son of her employer over the killing.
Ranara was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers living in Kuwait. Most are women employed as domestic helpers.
After Ranara’s murder, the Philippine Migrant Workers Office in Kuwait suspended the accreditation of new recruitment agencies in the Gulf country, while President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced on Monday that the Philippine government is scheduling meetings with Kuwaiti authorities to review the bilateral labor agreement to “see if there are any weaknesses in the agreement that allowed this (murder) to happen” and provide more protection to overseas Filipino workers.
“The Philippine government’s priority is to seek justice for our deceased compatriot,” Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Eduardo Jose De Vega told Arab News on Thursday.
“The Department of Migrant Workers is reviewing the records of the currently accredited agencies and is imposing stricter rules for deployment in the meantime.”
Ranara’s murder is not the first such incident in Kuwait to shock the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipino domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment.
The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers. In May 2019, Filipino maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another employee, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured to death by her employer. The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to death.
The Philippine government is not considering another ban, despite calls from Filipinos outraged by the recent gruesome killing.
According to migrant work expert Emmanuel Geslani, a ban “may result in more harm than good” by leading to human trafficking.
“Any deployment ban always leads workers to illegal recruitment syndicates enticing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) eager to find work in the oil-rich country of Kuwait,” he told Arab News.
“OFWs who are victims of human trafficking will be devoid of the protection of the Migrant Workers Office and the labor agreement forged by both countries.”