Australian war hero found complicit in Afghan murders says devastated by ruling, but will not apologize

Australian war hero found complicit in Afghan murders says devastated by ruling, but will not apologize
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith (2R) during a reception for living recipients of the Victoria and George Cross medals, in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace in London on May 16, 2018. (POOL / AFP)
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Updated 15 June 2023
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Australian war hero found complicit in Afghan murders says devastated by ruling, but will not apologize

Australian war hero found complicit in Afghan murders says devastated by ruling, but will not apologize
  • Ben Roberts-Smith remained proud of his actions in Afghanistan, where he served in the SAS on six tours from 2006 to 2012
  • He was found by a civil court to have played a part in the murder of four Afghans, judgment that he disputed as “incorrect”

SYDNEY: Australia’s most decorated war veteran, found by a civil court to have played a part in the murder of four Afghans while serving in Afghanistan, said he was devastated by what he called an “incorrect” judgment and he would not apologize for his actions.

In his first public comments since the court ruling, Ben Roberts-Smith, holder of the Victoria Cross and other top military honors, said he remained proud of his actions in Afghanistan, where he served in the Special Air Service on six tours from 2006 to 2012.
An Australian federal court judge on June 1 dismissed Roberts-Smith’s defamation case against three newspapers for articles accusing him of violating the rules of engagement and killing unarmed Afghans. In his ruling the judge said the newspapers had proven substantial truth in their reporting.
“I’m devastated with the result, it’s a terrible outcome and it’s the incorrect outcome,” Roberts-Smith told television network Nine Entertainment at Perth Airport baggage claim late on Wednesday.
“We haven’t done anything wrong so we won’t be making any apologies,” he added.
Asked if he remained proud of his actions in Afghanistan, Roberts-Smith replied “of course I am.”
The civil court defamation finding required a lower threshold of proof than a criminal court would. Roberts-Smith, 44, whose portrait hangs in the Australian War Memorial, has not been charged with any crimes.
Still, the judgment was embraced by the defendants and representatives of the media and defense industries as a win for public interest journalism and transparency in relation to Australia’s military conduct abroad.
Roberts-Smith was not in court for the judgment, which followed 110 days of hearings spread over a year, and was photographed by media in Bali, Indonesia, at the time. He was more recently photographed in New Zealand, where he caught a flight to Australia.
“We will look at it (the judgment) and consider whether or not we need to file an appeal,” Roberts-Smith said in the brief airport interview. “We’ll just have to work through it and I’ll take the advice as it comes.”
 


Philippines foreign minister urges China: ‘stop harassing us’

Philippines foreign minister urges China: ‘stop harassing us’
Updated 13 sec ago
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Philippines foreign minister urges China: ‘stop harassing us’

Philippines foreign minister urges China: ‘stop harassing us’
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory, brushing aside claims from a host of Southeast Asian nations

MELBOURNE: Philippine foreign minister Enrique Manalo told AFP on Monday that his country wants to solve maritime disputes with China peacefully — but delivered a simple message to Beijing: “stop harassing us.”
Speaking on the sidelines of an ASEAN-Australia summit in Melbourne, Manalo defended his government’s policy of publicizing Chinese maneuvers in contested maritime territory — including the recent passage of warships near Scarborough Shoal.
“It’s merely trying to inform the people of what’s going on,” Manalo said. “And some countries or one country at least has some difficulty with that.”
“But our simple explanation is if you would stop harassing us and, and perhaps performing other actions, there wouldn’t be any news to report.”
China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory, brushing aside claims from a host of Southeast Asian nations.
Scarborough Shoal — a triangular chain of reefs and rocks in the disputed South China Sea — has been a flashpoint between the countries since China seized it from the Philippines in 2012.
Philippine governments have tried to rally international and regional support to their cause — with mixed results.
“The Philippines is committed to a peaceful resolution of disputes through diplomatic means, or peaceful means,” Manalo said, while insisting “this will not be done at the expense of our national interest.”
“We are reaching out to partners in like-minded countries with similar issues and similar concerns.”
But Manalo acknowledged there were was at least a small question mark over support from the Philippines’ most important security partner — the United States.
The two countries are treaty allies, meaning Washington has formally pledged to come to Manila’s defense in the event of a military conflict.
Ask about the November election — which will pit incumbent Joe Biden against Republican firebrand Donal Trump, he said it was a topic of frequent debate behind closed doors.
“Every country in the world is probably thinking of that, of course. The United States is a major, it’s a treaty ally of the Philippines. So obviously, any differences or changes in US policy from existing policies would most likely have some kind of effect.”
“At this stage it’s fairly difficult to assess how it would happen, or what would happen,” he said.
“But all I can say is we are, of course, carefully monitoring the election season in the United States, but I’ve had talks with many of my other colleagues from other countries, and I think everybody is doing the same.”
“So certainly all eyes will be riveted on that election this year.”


Malaysia may renew the search for MH370 a decade after the flight disappeared

Malaysia may renew the search for MH370 a decade after the flight disappeared
Updated 34 min 56 sec ago
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Malaysia may renew the search for MH370 a decade after the flight disappeared

Malaysia may renew the search for MH370 a decade after the flight disappeared
  • “The government is steadfast in our resolve to locate MH370,” Loke told a remembrance event to mark the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of the jet

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia’s government said Sunday it may renew the hunt for MH370 after a US technology firm proposed a fresh search in the southern Indian Ocean where the Malaysia Airlines plane is believed to have crashed a decade ago.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke said Texas-based Ocean Infinity has proposed another “no find, no fee” basis to scour the seabeds, expanding from the site where it first searched in 2018. He said he has invited the company to meet him to evaluate new scientific evidence it has to find the plane’s final resting place.
If the evidence is credible, he said, he will seek Cabinet’s approval to sign a new contract with Ocean Infinity to resume the search.
“The government is steadfast in our resolve to locate MH370,” Loke told a remembrance event to mark the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of the jet. “We really hope the search can find the plane and provide truth to the next-of-kin.”
The Boeing 777 plane carrying 239 people, mostly Chinese nationals, from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, to Beijing, vanished from radar shortly after taking off on March 8, 2014. Satellite data showed the plane deviated from its flight path and was believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
But an expensive multinational government search failed to turn up any clues, although debris washed ashore on the east African coast and Indian Ocean islands. A private search in 2018 by Ocean Infinity also found nothing, but the tragedy sparked moves to bolster aviation safety.
K.S. Nathan, a member of the Voice MH370 group comprising next-of-kin, said Ocean Infinity initially planned a search last year but it was delayed by the delivery of its new fleet of ships and assets. It is now on track to resume the hunt, he said.
Loke declined to reveal the fee proposed by Ocean Infinity if it finds the plane, as this is subject to negotiation. He said financial cost is not an issue and that he doesn’t foresee any hindrances for the search to proceed if all goes well.
Loke’s response sparked tears of joy in some family members at the event held in a mall in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.
“I’m on top of the world,” said Jacquita Gomes, whose flight attendant husband was on the plane. She said she is thankful that she may now have a chance for full closure and say a final goodbye.
“We have been on a roller coaster for the last 10 years. ... If it is not found, I hope that it will continue with another search,” she said.
Family members of passengers from Malaysia, Australia, China and India paid tribute to their loved ones during the event, lighting a candle on stage to remember them.
“No matter if it is 10 years, 20 years or more, as long as we are still alive...we will not cease to press for the truth. We believe the truth will eventually come to light,” said Bai Zhong, from China, whose wife was on the plane.


Canada sanctions six Russians over Navalny death

Canada sanctions six Russians over Navalny death
Updated 42 min 33 sec ago
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Canada sanctions six Russians over Navalny death

Canada sanctions six Russians over Navalny death

OTTAWA: Canada announced new sanctions on Sunday against six Russian officials following the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny last month in an Arctic prison colony.
The sanctions target “senior officials and high-ranking employees of Russia’s prosecution, judicial and correctional services,” a statement by Canada’s foreign affairs department said.
The six people “were involved in the violation of Mr. Navalny’s human rights, his cruel punishment and ultimately, his death,” it said.
“Alongside our partners, Canada will maintain pressure on the Russian government to conduct a full and transparent inquiry into the death of Mr. Navalny,” Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement.
“This increased pressure on the Russian government sends a clear signal that human rights must be unequivocally respected.”
After the death of Alexei Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic, the Canadian government summoned Russia’s ambassador to “demand a full and transparent investigation” into his death.
Navalny died on February 16 in unclear circumstances in a penal colony in the Arctic, where he was serving a 19-year prison sentence for “extremism.” He was 47 years old.
His family and allies have accused the Kremlin of ordering him killed and Western leaders have said Putin is “responsible” for his death.


Hundreds of inmates flee after armed gangs storm Haiti’s main prison, leaving bodies behind

Hundreds of inmates flee after armed gangs storm Haiti’s main prison, leaving bodies behind
Updated 04 March 2024
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Hundreds of inmates flee after armed gangs storm Haiti’s main prison, leaving bodies behind

Hundreds of inmates flee after armed gangs storm Haiti’s main prison, leaving bodies behind
  • Armed gangs attacked the prison facility on Saturday while Haiti's PM is abroad trying to salvage support for a United Nations-backed security force to stabilize the troubled Carribean country

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: Hundreds of inmates fled Haiti’s main prison after armed gangs stormed the facility in an overnight explosion of violence that engulfed much of the capital. At least five people were dead Sunday.

The jailbreak marked a new low in Haiti’s downward spiral of violence and came as gangs step up coordinated attacks in Port-au-Prince, while embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry is abroad trying to salvage support for a United Nations-backed security force to stabilize the country.

Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry gives a public lecture at the United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi, Kenya, on March. 1, 2024, amid gang violence in his troubled Caribbean country. (AP)

Three bodies with gunshot wounds lay at the prison entrance, which was wide open, with no guards in sight. Plastic sandals, clothing and electric fans were strewn across normally overcrowded concrete patios that were eerily empty on Sunday. In another neighborhood, the bloodied corpses of two men with their hands tied behind their backs laid face down as residents walked past roadblocks set up with burning tires.
Haiti’s government urged calm as it sought to find the killers, kidnappers and perpetrators of other violent crimes that it said escaped during the outbreak of violence.
“The National Police is taking all measures to find the escaped prisoners and arrest those responsible for these criminal acts as well as all their accomplices so that public order can be restored,” the Communications Ministry said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
Arnel Remy, a human rights attorney whose nonprofit works inside the prison, said on X that fewer than 100 of the nearly 4,000 inmates remained behind bars. Those choosing to stay included 18 former Colombian soldiers accused of working as mercenaries in the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. On Saturday night, several of the Colombians shared a video pleading for their lives.
“Please, please help us,” one of the men, Francisco Uribe, said in the message widely shared on social media. “They are massacring people indiscriminately inside the cells.”
On Sunday, Uribe told journalists who walked breezily into the normally highly guarded facility “I didn’t flee because I’m innocent.”

Colombian inmates accused in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise talk to journalists inside the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2024. (AP)

In the absence of official information, inmates’ family members rushed to the prison to check on loved ones.
“I don’t know whether my son is alive or not,” said Alexandre Jean as she roamed around the cells looking for any sign of him. “I don’t know what to do.”
The violence Saturday night appeared to be widespread, with several neighborhoods reporting gunfire.
There were reports of a jailbreak at a second Port-au-Prince prison containing around 1,400 inmates. Armed gangs also occupied and vandalized the nation’s top soccer stadium, taking one employee hostage for hours, the nation’s soccer federation said in a statement. Internet service for many residents was down as Haiti’s top mobile network said a fiber optic cable connection was slashed during the rampage.
In the space of less than two weeks, several state institutions have been attacked by the gangs, who are increasingly coordinating their actions and choosing once unthinkable targets like the Central Bank. After gangs opened fire at Haiti’s international airport last week, the US Embassy said it was temporarily halting all official travel to the country. As part of coordinated attacks by gangs, four police officers were killed Thursday.

Police officers battle gangsters trying to take control of Haiti on March 1, 2024. (REUTERS)

The epicenter of the latest violence Saturday night was Haiti’s National Penitentiary, which is holding several gang leaders. Amid the exchange of gunfire, police appealed for assistance.
“They need help,” a union representing police said in a message on social media bearing an “SOS” emoji repeated eight times. “Let’s mobilize the army and the police to prevent the bandits from breaking into the prison.”
The clashes follow violent protests that turned deadlier in recent days as the prime minister went to Kenya to try and salvage a proposed UN-backed security mission in Haiti to be led by the East African country. Henry took over as prime minister following Moise’s assassination and has repeatedly postponed plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, which haven’t happened in almost a decade.
Haiti’s National Police has roughly 9,000 officers to provide security for more than 11 million people, according to the UN. They are routinely overwhelmed and outgunned by gangs, which are estimated to control up to 80 percent of Port-au-Prince.
Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who now runs a gang federation, has claimed responsibility for the surge in attacks. He said the goal was to capture Haiti’s police chief and government ministers and prevent Henry’s return.
The prime minister, a neurosurgeon, has shrugged off calls for his resignation and didn’t comment when asked if he felt it was safe to come home.
 


In blunt remarks, US Vice President Harris calls out Israel over ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza

In blunt remarks, US Vice President Harris calls out Israel over ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza
Updated 04 March 2024
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In blunt remarks, US Vice President Harris calls out Israel over ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza

In blunt remarks, US Vice President Harris calls out Israel over ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza
  • Says Israel must open new border crossings and not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid
  • She also urged Hamas to agree to an immediate six-week ceasefire as Cairo talks begin
  • Israel boycotted the talks after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages that are still alive, according to an Israeli newspaper

CAIRO/RAFAH, Gaza Strip: US Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday demanded Palestinian militant group Hamas agree to an immediate six-week ceasefire while forcefully urging Israel to do more to boost aid deliveries into Gaza, where she said innocent people were suffering a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

In some of the strongest comments by a senior leader of the US government to date on the issue, Harris pressed the Israeli government and outlined specific ways on how more aid can flow into the densely-populated enclave where hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine, following five months of Israel’s military campaign.
“Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire,” Harris said at an event in Selma, Alabama. “There is a deal on the table, and as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal. Let’s get a ceasefire.”
“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act...The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” she said.

On Sunday, a Hamas delegation had arrived in Cairo for the latest round of ceasefire talks, billed by many as the final possible hurdle for a truce, but it was unclear if any progress was made. Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth’s online version reported that Israel boycotted the talks after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages who are still alive.
Washington has insisted the ceasefire deal is close and has been pushing to put in place a truce by the start of Ramadan, a week away. A US official on Saturday said Israel has agreed on a framework deal.
An agreement would bring the first extended truce of the war, which has raged for five months so far with just a week-long pause in November. Dozens of hostages held by Hamas militants would be freed in return for hundreds of Palestinian detainees.
One source briefed on the talks had said on Saturday that Israel could stay away from Cairo unless Hamas first presented its full list of hostages who are still alive. A Palestinian source told Reuters that Hamas had so far rejected that demand.

After the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official told Reuters the deal was “not yet there.” There was no official comment from Israel.
In past negotiations, Hamas has sought to avoid discussing the well-being of individual hostages until after terms for their release are set.
In other diplomatic moves, Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz will meet Harris at the White House on Monday and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Tuesday. US envoy Amos Hochstein will visit Beirut on Monday to pursue efforts to de-escalate the conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border.

“Gunfire and chaos“
The death last week of more than 100 Palestinians approaching an aid truck in Gaza has captured the severe humanitarian crisis in the densely-populated enclave, an incident Harris recalled during her speech.
“We saw hungry, desperate people approach aid trucks simply trying to secure food for their family after weeks of barely any aid reaching northern Gaza and they were met with gunfire and chaos,” Harris said.
Israel said on Sunday its initial review of the incident had found that most of those killed or wounded had died in a stampede. Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israeli troops at the scene initially fired only warning shots, though they later shot at some “looters” who “approached our forces and posed an immediate threat.”

A Palestinian girl carries a child through the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza City on March 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)

Muatasem Salah, a member of the Emergency Committee at the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told Reuters the Israeli account was contradicted by machine gun wounds.
In her comments, Harris laid out specific ways on how the Israeli government can allow more aid into Gaza. “They must open new border crossings. They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid. They must ensure humanitarian personnel, sites and convoys are not targeted, and they must work to restore basic services and promote order in Gaza, so more food, water and fuel can reach those in need.”
Under pressure at home and abroad, the Biden administration on Saturday carried out its first airdrop of aid into the coastal enclave, with a US military transport plane dropping 38,000 meals along Gaza’s Mediterranean coastline.
Critics of airdrops say they have only a limited impact on the suffering, and that it is nearly impossible to ensure supplies do not end up in the hands of militants.
The United States will continue these airdrops, Harris said, and added that Washington was working on a new route by sea to also send aid.
The war was unleashed in October after Hamas fighters stormed through Israeli towns killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, Israeli forces have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.
Swathes of the Gaza Strip have been laid to waste, nearly the entire population has been made homeless, and the United Nations estimates a quarter of Gazans are on the verge of famine.
At a morgue outside a Rafah hospital on Sunday morning, women wept and wailed beside rows of bodies of the Abu Anza family, 14 of whom Gaza health authorities say were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah overnight.
The youngest of the family who were killed were infant twins Wesam and Naaem, the first children of their mother after 11 years of marriage. They were born a few weeks into the Gaza war.
“My heart is gone,” wailed Rania Abu Anza, who also lost her husband in the attack. “I haven’t had enough time with them.”