Police bust ‘one of largest’ Channel migrant smuggling networks: Europol

Police bust ‘one of largest’ Channel migrant smuggling networks: Europol
German police assisted by French and Belgian authorities have rolled up “one of the largest migrant smuggling networks” operating in the Channel, arresting 19 suspects in the international operation, Europol said Feb. 22, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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Police bust ‘one of largest’ Channel migrant smuggling networks: Europol

Police bust ‘one of largest’ Channel migrant smuggling networks: Europol
  • The investigation focused on an Iraqi-Kurdish network suspected of smuggling Middle-Eastern and East African irregular migrants from France to the UK
  • “The suspects, all based in Germany, organized the purchase, storage and transportation of inflatable boats,” Europol said

THE HAGUE: German police assisted by French and Belgian authorities have rolled up “one of the largest migrant smuggling networks” operating in the Channel, arresting 19 suspects in the international operation, Europol said Thursday.
“The investigation focused on an Iraqi-Kurdish network suspected of smuggling Middle-Eastern and East African irregular migrants from France to the UK with the use of low quality inflatable boats,” Europe’s policing agency said in a statement.
Police in Germany on Wednesday swooped on 19 homes and nine storage facilities. They seized 12 inflatable boats, 179 life vests, 81 flotation devices for children, 60 air pumps, 11 outboard mounts, 10 engines, almost 60 electronic devices, arms and cash.
A probe into the gang’s activities started in late 2022, identifying the structure and operations of the organization made up of Iraqi and Syrian nationals of Kurdish origin, the Hague-based Europol said.
“The suspects, all based in Germany, organized the purchase, storage and transportation of inflatable boats for their subsequent use to smuggle migrants from the beaches near the French city of Calais toward the UK,” Europol said.
The low-quality boats, made mostly in China and “not suitable nor safe for the transportation of more than 10 individuals,” often carried as many as 50 people.
In total, the investigators have gathered evidence linking at least 55 departures that were facilitated solely by this smuggling network, Europol said, saying the criminals charged between 1,000 and 3,000 euros per migrant “for a place on the dangerous vessel.”


China dismisses EU comments on human rights crackdown

China dismisses EU comments on human rights crackdown
Updated 4 sec ago
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China dismisses EU comments on human rights crackdown

China dismisses EU comments on human rights crackdown
BEIJING/BRUSSELS: China on Tuesday dismissed European Union calls for it to stop alleged human rights violations and said it opposed “double standards” and interference in its internal affairs.
The EU said on Monday after an EU delegation visited Tibet and met with Chinese officials last week that it was concerned about what it called the “very serious” human rights situation in China, in particular in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.
This included a crackdown on human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists in China. The EU urged China to investigate any rights violations and expressed concern about cases of unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, the EU said in a statement.
In response, Chinese officials said the EU should “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights issues.”
Foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian told reporters at a briefing that China was willing to cooperate with the EU on the issue on a basis of equality and mutual respect.
“At the same time, China firmly opposes politicizing the human rights issue and double standards, and opposes imposing one’s own model on others. We are opposed to...engaging in microphone diplomacy in the multilateral arena,” Lin said.
Lin said both sides believed the dialogue was “frank and in-depth,” and said that China was willing to explore further multilateral human rights cooperation in areas including rights of women, children and the disabled.
The EU also raised the case of the detained Swedish citizen Gui Minhai as well as the imprisoned Uyghur intellectuals Ilham Tohti, Gulshan Abbas and Rahile Dawut, the EU statement said.
Chinese #MeToo activist and independent journalist Huang Xueqin was sentenced to five years in prison for subversion on Friday, which supporters called arbitrary and politically motivated.

Court finds four Philippine police guilty in drug war killings

Court finds four Philippine police guilty in drug war killings
Updated 23 min 10 sec ago
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Court finds four Philippine police guilty in drug war killings

Court finds four Philippine police guilty in drug war killings
  • The four low-ranking officers were all sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for the shooting deaths of the two victims
  • The defendants pleaded self-defense, alleging the suspects were armed and had shot at them

MANILA: Four Philippine policemen were found guilty Tuesday of killing a father and son, court officials said, in a rare case of law enforcement officers being prosecuted for taking part in former president Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly drug war.
The four low-ranking officers were all sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for the shooting deaths of the two victims at a Manila slum during an anti-drug police operation in 2016, Manila regional trial court judge Rowena Alejandria said in her written verdict that was read in court Tuesday.
“It must be worthy to note that the accused themselves did not deny their presence and participation in the police operation conducted, the same event where the victims Luis and Gabriel (Domingo) were killed,” Alejandria wrote.
Thousands of drug suspects were killed by police and unknown gunmen in a campaign that became the centerpiece of Duterte’s 2016-2022 rule, a crackdown that critics described as state-sponsored extrajudicial killings and is now a subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Luis Bonifacio’s partner, Mary Ann Domingo, cried on her son’s shoulder as they listened to the verdict on two counts of homicide each being read at the cramped northern Manila courtroom.
Manila policemen Virgilio Cervantes, Arnel de Guzman, Johnston Alacre and Artemio Saguros were also ordered to pay 300,000 pesos ($5,120) each in damages to the victims’ heirs.
The family has alleged more than a dozen police officers took part in the nighttime raid at the northern Manila slum community.
The family insisted the two were not involved in drugs and were unarmed when police opened fire.
The defendants pleaded self-defense, alleging the suspects were armed and had shot at them.
But state prosecutors went with the lesser charge of homicide against only four officers, instead of murder, which involves deliberate intent to kill and which carries a heavier penalty.
Official data shows more than 6,000 people died in police anti-narcotics operations.
But rights groups estimate tens of thousands of mostly poor men have been killed by officers and vigilantes, even without proof they were linked to drugs.
Duterte had openly ordered police to shoot dead suspects during anti-drug operations if officers believed their lives were in danger.
While the crackdown has been widely condemned and sparked an international investigation, only five other policemen have been convicted for killing drug suspects.
Three Manila police officers were convicted in 2018 of murdering a 17-year old boy in 2017. Two other narcotics police officers were found guilty last year for separate killings in 2016 and 2017, the latter victim a South Korean businessman.
Lawyers say most families are too scared to go after their relatives’ killers or do not have the money or time to pursue a case in the Philippines’ creaky judicial system.
The Philippine drug crackdown is being investigated by the International Criminal Court, which said in 2021 that it appeared “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population took place pursuant to or in furtherance of a state policy.”
Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2019, so only cases before that date are covered by the investigation.
President Ferdinand Marcos, who succeeded Duterte, has refused to cooperate in the ICC probe, saying Manila has a functioning judicial system.


Vladimir Putin hails North Korea’s support for Ukraine war ahead of Pyongyang visit

Vladimir Putin hails North Korea’s support for Ukraine war ahead of Pyongyang visit
Updated 50 min 47 sec ago
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Vladimir Putin hails North Korea’s support for Ukraine war ahead of Pyongyang visit

Vladimir Putin hails North Korea’s support for Ukraine war ahead of Pyongyang visit
  • Russian leader scheduled to touch down on Tuesday night for his first trip to the isolated nation in 24 years
  • Moscow and Pyongyang have been allies since North Korea’s founding after World War II

SEOUL: Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed North Korea on Tuesday for “firmly supporting” Moscow’s war in Ukraine ahead of a visit to Pyongyang set to boost defense ties between the two nuclear-armed countries.
Putin is scheduled to touch down on Tuesday night for his first trip to the isolated nation in 24 years, with a confrontation between North and South Korean troops on their shared border highlighting regional security tensions.
Huge banners with a smiling photograph of the Russian leader reading “we ardently welcome President Putin!” were hung from lamp-posts across Pyongyang alongside Russian flags, images in Russian state media showed.
Moscow and Pyongyang have been allies since North Korea’s founding after World War II and have drawn even closer since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 led to the West isolating Putin internationally.
The United States and its allies have accused North Korea of supplying Russia with much-needed arms, including ballistic missiles to use in Ukraine.
The North has denied giving Russia military hardware but, ahead of his trip, Putin thanked Kim Jong Un’s government for helping the war effort.
“We highly appreciate that the DPRK (North Korea) is firmly supporting the special military operations of Russia being conducted in Ukraine,” Putin wrote in an article published by Pyongyang’s state media on Tuesday.
Russia and the North are “now actively developing the many-sided partnership,” Putin wrote.
Both countries are under rafts of UN sanctions — Pyongyang since 2006 over banned nuclear and ballistic missile programs and Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine.
Putin praised North Korea for “defending their interests very effectively despite the US economic pressure, provocation, blackmail and military threats that have lasted for decades.”
He also hailed Moscow and Pyongyang for “maintaining the common line and stand at the UN.”
North Korea said the visit showed bilateral ties “are getting stronger day by day,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported, and would “give fresh vitality to the development of the good-neighborly cooperative relations between the two countries.”
North Korea has described allegations of supplying weapons to Russia as “absurd.”
However, it did thank Russia for using its UN veto in March to effectively end monitoring of sanctions violations just as UN experts were starting to probe alleged arms transfers.
The United States voiced “concern” on Monday about the trip because of the security implications for South Korea as well as Ukraine.
The two Koreas have remained technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict and the border dividing them is one of the most heavily fortified in the world.
“We know North Korean ballistic missiles are still being used to hit Ukrainian targets (and) there could be some reciprocity here that could affect security on the Korean peninsula,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Highlighting those security concerns, South Korea said its troops fired at soldiers from the North who briefly crossed the border on Tuesday then retreated.
The South’s military said it believed the North Korean soldiers accidentally crossed as they were fortifying the border, but said some of them were wounded after detonating land mines.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Putin’s trip showed how he was “dependent” on authoritarian leaders.
“Their closest friends and the biggest supporters of the Russian war effort — war of aggression — (are) North Korea, Iran and China,” Stoltenberg said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged the international community to counter “the lonely bromance” between Putin and Kim by increasing arms supplies to Kyiv.
“The best way to respond to it is to continue strengthening the diplomatic coalition for just and lasting peace in Ukraine and delivering more Patriots and ammunition to Ukraine,” Kuleba said.
North Korea is eager for high-end military technology to advance its nuclear, missile, satellite and nuclear-powered submarine programs, according to experts.
Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said the two leaders would possibly sign a “comprehensive strategic partnership treaty” to outline cooperation on “security issues,” state-run Russian news agencies reported.
North Korea could promise “to provide Russia with continuing supplies of artillery, guided rockets for multiple rocket launchers, and short-range missiles to support Russia’s operations in Ukraine,” Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at RAND Corporation, told Yonhap.
In return, it will want “Russia to provide a variety of advanced technologies,” he said, plus “a substantial flow of Russian oil and food products along with hard currency payments.”


US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea

US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea
Updated 18 June 2024
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US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea

US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea
  • China and the Philippines blame each other for instigating Monday’s hostilities in the Second Thomas Shoal
  • Several incidents have happened in recent months near the shoal which lies less than 370km from the nearest Philippines coast

MANILA: The United States renewed a warning Tuesday that it’s obligated to defend its close treaty ally a day after Filipino navy personnel were injured and their supply boats damaged in one of the most serious confrontations between the Philippines and China in a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, officials said.
China and the Philippines blamed each other for instigating Monday’s hostilities in the Second Thomas Shoal, which has been occupied by a small Filipino navy contingent aboard a grounded warship that’s been closely watched by Chinese coast guard, navy and suspected militia ships in a yearslong territorial standoff. There is fear the disputes, long regarded as an Asian flashpoint, could escalate and pit the United States and China in a larger conflict.
US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell discussed China’s actions with Philippine counterpart, Maria Theresa Lazaro, in a telephone call. Both agreed that China’s “dangerous actions threatened regional peace and stability,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
Campbell reaffirmed that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates Washington and Manila to help defend the other in major conflicts, “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its coast guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” according to Miller.
A Philippine government task force overseeing the territorial disputes condemned what it said were “dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing,” which disrupted a routine effort to transport food, water and other supplies to the Filipinos manning the territorial outpost aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal.
“Despite the illegal, aggressive, and reckless actions by the Chinese maritime forces, our personnel showed restraint and professionalism, refrained from escalating the tension, and carried on with their mission,” the Philippine task force said without elaborating. “Their actions put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats in blatant violation of international law.”
The Chinese coast guard said the Philippines “is entirely responsible for this.” It said a Philippine vessel “ignored China’s repeated solemn warnings … and dangerously approached a Chinese vessel in normal navigation in an unprofessional manner, resulting in a collision.”
Two speedboats — attempting to deliver construction materials and other supplies to a military vessel stationed at the shoal — accompanied the supply ship, according to China’s Foreign Ministry, which described its coast guard’s maneuver as “professional, restrained, reasonable and lawful.”
Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Monday night that his country’s armed forces would resist “China’s dangerous and reckless behavior,” which “contravenes their statements of good faith and decency.”
“We will exert our utmost in order to fulfill our sworn mandate to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty, and sovereign rights,” Teodoro said. “It should now be clear to the international community that China’s actions are the true obstacles to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Several incidents have happened in recent months near the shoal which lies less than 370 kilometers from the nearest Philippines coast and where it maintains the Sierra Madre, which had become encrusted with rust since it was deliberately grounded in 1999 but remains an actively commissioned military vessel, meaning an attack on it could be considered by the Philippines as an act of war.
China has increasingly become assertive in pressing its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, which has led to a rising number of direct conflicts with other countries in the region, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
A new law by China, which took effect Saturday, authorizes its coast guard to seize foreign ships “that illegally enter China’s territorial waters” and to detain foreign crews for up to 60 days. The law renewed a reference to 2021 legislation that says China’s coast guard can fire upon foreign ships if necessary.
At least three coastal governments with claims to the waters — the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan — have said they would not recognize the law. Malaysia and Brunei are also involved in the long-seething territorial disputes, which are regarded as a delicate fault line in the longstanding US-China rivalry in the region.


India to investigate railway collision that killed nine, injured dozens

India to investigate railway collision that killed nine, injured dozens
Updated 18 June 2024
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India to investigate railway collision that killed nine, injured dozens

India to investigate railway collision that killed nine, injured dozens
  • Death toll revised down to nine from 15 after Monday’s accident in the state of West Bengal
  • Freight train driver disregarded a signal, leading to the crash with the Kanchanjunga Express, which had halted near a railway station

KOLKATA, India: India will launch an investigation on Tuesday into a train collision that killed nine people in the state of West Bengal and injured more than 50, a day after a top railway official blamed the incident on driver error.

The death toll was revised down to nine from 15 after Monday’s accident, in which a freight train rammed into a passenger train heading for the state capital of Kolkata from the northeastern state of Tripura.

The investigation by India’s top railway safety official will start on Tuesday, Chetan Kumar Shrivastava, general manager of the Northeast Frontier railway, where the accident happened, told Reuters.

“The inquiry will involve eye-witness accounts, scrutiny of official documents and statements from railway officials, regarding signaling and other mandatory safety issues,” he added.

On Monday, India’s top railway official said the driver of the freight train, who was among the dead, disregarded a signal, leading to the crash with the Kanchanjunga Express, which had halted near a railway station in the district of Darjeeling.

There were 1,400 people aboard, a railway spokesperson said.

But media said an automatic signaling system had not been working from Monday morning, prompting authorities to advise train drivers to proceed slower than usual, in a process known as “paper signals.”

India’s opposition leaders criticized the railway safety record of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, attributing it to negligence.

The incident came a little over a year after about 288 people were killed in one of India’s worst rail crashes in the neighboring state of Odisha, caused by a signaling error.

State-run Indian Railways, notorious for overcrowding, is the world’s fourth largest train network, carrying 13 million people a day, along with nearly 1.5 billion tons of freight in 2022.

In remarks to media on Monday, top railway official Jaya Varma Sinha, who chairs India’s railway board, called for human error to be reduced, adding that an anti-collision system was being set up nationwide.

Partial services resumed on the affected tracks on Tuesday, with some trains diverted and others running slower than usual, railway officials said.