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12-18 February 2018 - 16-min

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4 12 - 18 February, 2018 S T World ASEAN renews calls for durable solution to Rohingya crisis outheast Asian foreign ministers renewed calls for a durable solution of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, and affirmed the need to enhance trust to resolve disputes in the South China Sea. Ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations also called for the speedy and safe return of displaced people to Myanmar following an agreement signed between Yangon and Bangladesh in November. They also stressed the need to find a “comprehensive and durable solution” to address the root causes of the conflict but acknowledged there is no quick fix, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said after the informal talks, the ministers’ first meeting under Singapore’s chairmanship. “ASEAN is fully committed to assist the Myanmar government in humanitarian response but ultimately, what we need is a long-term political solution,” he said. The Muslim Rohingya minority has been fleeing persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for decades. Renewed violence last year drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Balakrishnan said some ASEAN ministers voiced concerns over China’s land reclamation Credit : Associated Press (AP) UN experts: Islamic State militants still pose he Islamic State extremist group still poses “a significant and evolving threat around the world” despite recent setbacks in Iraq, Syria and the southern Philippines that forced the militants to relinquish strongholds, U.N. experts said. Their report to the Security Council circulated said IS “has lost its focus on conquering and holding territory” but is continuing “to give prominence to external attacks.” “In future, it will focus primarily on a smaller and more motivated group of individuals willing to fight or conduct attacks,” the experts said. According to the experts, the Islamic State group is now organized “as a global network, with a flat hierarchy and less operational control over its affiliates,” with some members willing to cooperate with al- Qaida networks “to support one another’s attacks.” As a result of the changing threat, the report said the fight against the extremist group is entering a new phase “with more focus on less visible networks of individuals and cells acting with a degree of autonomy.” The experts said in some ways, individual countries and the international community now face “a more difficult challenge,” making it vital to share information on the identity of former fighters, their location and travel plans. They said IS foreign fighters unable to blend into the local population may be trying to leave, making their identification critical. “ISIL has collected travel and identification activities in the South China Sea but they were encouraged by an agreement last year by both sides to start formal negotiations for a code of conduct governing behavior in the disputed area. Asked if talks will begin in Vietnam in March, Balakrishnan declined to say. “The situation in the South China Sea is calmer now. I believe there is shared good faith and good will from both sides to try to make a significant advance this year. And that is why we should be able to start negotiations soon,” he said. He said talks will follow a “mutually agreed timeline,” but declined to elaborate. “Building up trust and getting the sequence right and doing it step by step is more important than doing it in a hasty way because there is an artificial deadline,” he added. Beijing claims nearly all of the sea and has been turning reefs in the disputed area into islands, installing military facilities and equipment in the area. China, Taiwan and four ASEAN member states — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — have overlapping claims in the waterway, which straddles busy international sea lanes and potentially has vast undersea deposits of oil and gas. world threat documents from incoming fighters for potential use in future travel and has obtained several thousand blank Syrian passports,” the experts said. While the numbers have been reported to INTERPOL and are in their database, “member states highlighted that their use by returnees or relocators is possible.” The experts said countries bordering Iraq and Syria have highlighted “continued challenges” in identifying IS foreign fighters seeking to return home or relocate, as well as those on the U.N. sanctions blacklist. The report urged greater use of biometric data, fingerprints and high-quality pictures to identify IS fighters. It noted that the flow of new foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria “has almost come to a halt.” In the past six months, the experts said, governments and organizations at all levels have continued to strengthen cooperation with the private sector on sharing sensitive information on terrorism-financing patterns and suspect individuals. This has enabled “law enforcement authorities to disrupt travel by foreign terrorist fighters, detect terrorists and individuals associated with terrorism networks and bring terrorists to justice,” the report said. “Nonetheless,” it said, “financial intelligence in the possession of entities in the private sector remains underused in many regions of the world.” The experts assessed the threat from extremists from the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, by region: — In the Middle East, following the rout Balakrishnan said the ministers also focused on charting the way forward for the 51-yearold grouping based on Singapore’s chosen theme of “resilience and innovation.” He said they supported Singapore’s proposal to develop ASEAN smart cities that will leverage technology to improve people’s livelihood, and to boost their resilience against terrorism and trans boundary crime. “We want to ensure that all of us continue to invest in our infrastructure and our people, enhance our connectivity and ultimately to secure peace and prosperity” in the region, he added. ASEAN was set up in 1967 as an anticommunist bulwark but attention has shifted in the last two decades toward greater economic integration. Credit : Associated Press (AP) of IS from strongholds in Iraq and Syria “clandestine terror cells remain in some cities, and small ISIL groups are located east of the Euphrates River, in the southwest of the Syrian Arab Republic and in northern Iraq.” While the group’s ability to generate revenue “was considerably weakened” by its losses, falling by more than 90 percent according to one unnamed country, IS may still be able to profit from oil and gas sales, extortion, and control of checkpoints. And the group is still able to send money to its branches “despite heavy military pressure.” — In Africa, unnamed U.N. member states “expressed concern at the resilience of the two separate wings of ISIL operating in Egypt” — in Sinai and on the mainland, where “cells of ISIL sympathizers” have been responsible for attacks against Coptic Christians. U.N. members also noted ISIL’s determination “to rebuild its capabilities in Libya,” where its numbers have been reinforced by fighters from Iraq and Syria. Some members reported “they had arrested foreign terrorist fighters on their way to Libya to join ISIL.” And returning or relocating fighters are likely to use human trafficking and smuggling networks, including in Libya, to evade detection. In West Africa, “the threat posed by ISILrelated groups continued to spread into Mali and neighboring states.” In East Africa, despite ISIL’s expansion and activities being curtailed last year, the group has established underground cells in some regions of Somalia. But the al-Qaida affiliate NEW DELHI TIMES Journalists flee Venezuela over Photo Credit : AP Photo F libel lawsuit our prominent Venezuelan journalists have fled the South American country after being sued by a politically connected businessman over an article alleging irregularities in food sales to President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration. Among them is Joseph Poliszuk, co-founder of website He said that he and three colleagues were sued by Colombian businessman Alex Saab for libel violations that are punishable by up to four years in prison. Poliszuk says the journalists recently left Venezuela at the advice of lawyers. He said they’ll continue working from abroad. The website has received numerous awards and took part in the Panama Papers investigation. Saab is disputing an article published last year linking him to Hong Kong-based company accused of selling food to the government at exorbitant prices. Al-Shabab is determined to ensure that ISIL doesn’t eclipse it in Somalia. — In Europe, “the region remains high on the group’s priority list” for attacks. Foreign fighters from IS “are increasingly using the Internet and social media to communicate with followers in Europe and to support their plans to conduct attacks” including by sending designs for improvised explosive devices. — As for Central and South Asia, fighters relocated from Central Asia have been involved in attacks in Europe, Russia and Turkey over the past two years. “ISIL in Afghanistan continues to mount aggressive attacks, especially in Kabul,” despite being weakened by military operations, and commands between 1,000 and 4,000 fighters in the country. In neighboring Pakistan, “terrorist attacks claimed by ISIL are carried out mainly by members of local groups, with cross-border planning and support from ISIL.” — In Southeast Asia, some members assess ISIL’s loss of Marawi City in the southern Philippines as “a symbolic and propaganda victory” for the extremist group that “could serve as an inspiration for other militants.” The events in Marawi may also have enabled ISIL affiliates “to generate funds through the looting of banks.” In Indonesia, two organizations remain “key ISIL-linked networks,” with Jamaah Ansharut Daulah responsible for more attacks, but Jamaah Ansarul Khilafah is “considered to be a growing threat.” Credit : Associated Press (AP) India’s only International Newspaper

12 - 18 February, 2018 5 World P NEW DELHI TIMES Polish law barring some Holocaust speech signed, referred oland’s president has signed legislation that outlaws blaming Poland as a nation for Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany, defying both criticism from Israel and a warning from the U.S. But in a move that appeared designed to soften the impact of his decision, President Andrzej Duda said he would also ask Poland’s constitutional court to evaluate the bill — leaving open the possibility it could be amended. As written, the legislation calls for prison terms of up to three years for falsely attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to Poland. The law takes effect 14 days after it’s officially published, but it wasn’t immediately clear when that will be. Poland’s authorities have described it as an attempt to protect the country’s reputation from what it believes is confusion about who bears responsibility for Auschwitz and other death camps Nazi Germany set up in occupied Poland. They say it was modeled on anti-defamation laws in many other countries, including laws criminalizing Holocaust denial. The proposed law has fueled a diplomatic crisis with Israel, which fears it would stifle discussion about the Holocaust and enable Poland to whitewash the role of the Poles who killed or denounced Jews during the German occupation of Poland during World War II. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that it would continue to communicate with Poland despite its reservations about the law. It said it hopes Duda’s decision to ask the constitutional court to evaluate the bill will allow both sides to “agree on changes and corrections.” That language seemed more conciliatory than earlier statements, suggesting the sides are seeking compromise. Duda acknowledged there were doubts about the legislation’s intent, leading some observers to interpret his request for a constitutional review as a way to save face while calming the storm. But critics say it was a diversionary tactic. Slawomir Neumann of the centrist Civic Platform party accused Duda of giving in to the pressure of nationalists and anti-Semites and said his signing “deepens the diplomatic crisis.” Neumann, head of the party’s parliamentary caucus, also described the constitutional court as a body without independence that will rule as the governing party wants. The United States also strongly opposed the legislation, warning that it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with both Israel and the U.S. After Duda signed it, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the new law “adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry.” Holocaust scholars and institutions strongly denounced the law as well, arguing that its India’s only International Newspaper unclear wording created the potential for abuse. Polish officials note that a provision in the law exempts historic research and works of art. Photo Credit : AP Photo Polish officials have long argued a Holocaust speech law is needed to fight the use of expressions like “Polish death camps” as shorthand for the German camps in Nazioccupied Poland where Jews and others were exterminated. Secretary of State Tillerson said that while “terms like ‘Polish death camps’ are painful and misleading,” they are best countered through “open debate, scholarship, and education.” Defending the law, Duda said it would not prohibit Holocaust survivors and witnesses from talking about crimes committed by individual Poles. “We do not deny that there were cases of huge wickedness,” he said in a speech. But he said the point of the law is to prevent the Polish nation as a whole from being wrongly accused of institutionalized participation in the Holocaust. He recalled that the Polish government at the time had to go into exile and Polish officials were those who struggled to inform the world that the Germans were putting Jews to death on Polish soil. “No, there was no systemic way in which Poles took part in it,” Duda said. The legislation hasn’t only sparked a bitter dispute with Israel. It also has caused division within Poland, where anti-Semitic rhetoric moved quickly from the political fringes into the mainstream over just a few days. Beata Mazurek, the spokeswoman for the conservative Law and Justice and a deputy parliament speaker, tweeted a quote by a Catholic priest who had said that the Israeli ambassador’s criticism of the bill “made it hard for me to look at Jews with sympathy and kindness.” Many conservative lawmakers and commentators are now accusing Israelis and American Jews of using the issue as a pretext for getting money from Poland for prewar Jewish property seized in the communist era. Jerzy Czerwinski, a senator with the ruling party, said on state radio that he saw a “hidden agenda” in the opposition. “After all, we know that Jewish circles, including American, but mostly the state of Israel, are trying to get restitution of property or at least compensation,” he said. On 5th Feburary, a small group of far-right advocates demonstrated in front of the presidential palace demanding that Duda sign the law. They carried a banner that said, “Take off your yarmulke. Sign the bill.” The bill first was proposed about two years ago, soon after Law and Justice took power in 2015, but hadn’t been an issue of public debate recently. Many people were surprised when lawmakers suddenly approved it on Jan. 26, the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Jan Grabowski, a historian at the University of Ottawa in Canada who studies Polish violence against Jews during the war, called Duda’s signing of the law “further proof that the nationalists now in power in Poland will do anything to cater to the hard, right-wing core of their electorate.” “Unfortunately, it is not only the nationalists but also the whole Polish society which will have to pay the price,” said Grabowski, who is also a member of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw. Credit : Associated Press (AP) Syria: Air defenses respond to Israeli strike near capital S yria said that it has responded to “a new Israeli aggression” after aircraft targeted a military outpost near Damascus. State news agency SANA said air defenses confronted the Israeli planes. A Syrian military statement said the planes were flying over Lebanese territory when they fired missiles at an outpost near the capital. There was no immediate comment from Israel. The report was the second such accusation in less than a month. Syria’s military on Jan. 9 accused Israel of launching missiles targeting military outposts in the area of Qutayfeh, in the Damascus countryside. The military said that attack caused material damage. Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes inside Syria in the course of Syria’s civil war, against what it says are suspected arms shipments believed to be bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, which is fighting alongside Syrian government forces. Credit : Associated Press (AP)