Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Meet the man behind the migrant caravan headed to US

October 24, 2018

Meet Bartolo Fuentes, the Honduran ex-lawmaker who helped launch the 7,000-strong caravan marching toward the United States — on a promise he says he never made.

In September, Fuentes began ­coordinating with groups dispersed throughout Honduras seeking to make the trek north.

The initial number of people involved was about 200.

“No one expected this human avalanche,” Fuentes told the Daily Beast in an interview published Tuesday.

By Marisa Schultz
New York Post

What changed everything was a TV report on HCH — a Honduran news channel.

A woman reportedly part of the caravan told TV anchors of Fuentes’ efforts, and she mentioned “assistance.” The anchors then supposedly said Fuentes would pay migrants’ food and transportation costs — which he denied in an interview.

Still, thousands took a chance, since a human-smuggling “coyote” charges upwards of $7,000 to take someone across the US border.

“After that news program, I started to get hundreds of calls, then it took on a life of its own,” Fuentes said.

“In Honduras, the government wants to minimize why people are leaving — they know they are going to leave and they want to say they are doing so because of lies and the opposition, not the conditions that they created,” he said.

“This is in line with what the United States is saying — that there are false promises being made. And this pro-government news program played into that messaging, trying to say that there is financing when really people just need to get out.”

President Trump has claimed that Democratic politicians are behind the caravan — calling it an “assault” on the United States.

He has threatened to cut off or reduce foreign-aid funding to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for not moving to stop it.

The marchers paused in Mexico Tuesday out of respect for a Honduran migrant who fell from a vehicle Monday and died.

They have reached the Southern Mexican town of Huixtla — 1,200 miles from the Texas border.

Their efforts have inspired others to form caravans and flee Honduras, including one group with roughly 1,000 people.

“Traveling in a group is cheaper and it’s safer,” said Yareli Guillen, a 19-year-old migrant from San Pedro Sula in the new group. “Everything is in God’s hands. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be right back to where I am now.”

Fuentes had been traveling with the larger caravan from Honduras, but was detained when the migrants reached Guatemala and was deported.

“This is a battle,” Fuentes said, “between the government and the ones who want to fight — for the truth and for a better country that people can live in.”

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New US-led sanctions target Iran-Taliban ties

October 23, 2018

The US Treasury and allies in the Gulf took aim at Iran’s support for the Taliban Tuesday with new sanctions against nine individuals from both countries.

The Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) said the sanctions aimed to “expose and disrupt Taliban actors and their Iranian sponsors that seek to undermine the security of the Afghan Government.”

The list included two Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials identified as Mohammad Ebrahim Owhadi and Esma’il Razavi.

© AFP/File | Two Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials have been included in a sanctions list developed by the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center

According to a TFTC statement the two involved in providing training, financial and logistical support to the Taliban.

It said Owhadi arranged a deal in 2017 with a top Taliban official in Aghanistan’s Herat Province in which the Revolutionary Guard would provide military and financial support to the Taliban in return for them attacking government forces in Herat.

Razavi provided similar support to other Taliban groups across the Iran-Afghanistan border, the statement said.

Also named were the Taliban’s deputy shadow governor for Herat, Abdullah Samad Faroqui; Mohammad Daoud Muzzamil. who holds the same position in Helmand province, Naim Barich, who manages Taliban-Iran relations, and three other senior Taliban officials.

The blacklist also included Abdul Aziz, accused of paying the Taliban for protection for his narcotics trafficking and gemstones businesses.

“Iran’s provision of military training, financing, and weapons to the Taliban is yet another example of Tehran’s blatant regional meddling and support for terrorism,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“The United States and our partners will not tolerate the Iranian regime exploiting Afghanistan to further their destabilizing behavior,” he said in the statement.

The sanctions were announced during Terrorist Financing Targeting Center meeting in Riyadh.

Some of those mentioned were already on US and UN sanctions lists.

The Targeting Center was launched in May 2017 and includes the United States, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

AFP

Obama warns against ‘racial’, ‘nationalistic’ politics

September 28, 2018

Former US president Barack Obama warned Friday against rising nationalism as he painted a grim picture of American and global politics on a visit to Barack Obama.

“I’m concerned enough about the international and American trends that I thought it was important to offer my views,” he told entrepreneurs and students in the Danish central city of Kolding.

“When you start seeing our politics driven completely free of facts, when you start seeing a debate that is driven solely on racial or nationalistic impulses, when you start seeing a rejection of science and expertise and logic in politics … we are beyond the sort of politics that will continue our best traditions,” he added.

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Former US President Barack Obama warns against rising nationalism (AFP Photo/Mads Claus Rasmussen)

Relatively discreet since leaving the White House on January 20, 2017, the 44th President of the United States carefully avoided any direct reference to his successor Donald Trump.

“Maybe we got more jolt and more change than we expected in the US,” Obama said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

He expressed concern over a lack of citizen engagement in public life and underlined the importance in the United States, Europe, and in other countries “to affirm the ideals of our constitution.”

Referring to the right-wing populist Law and Justice Party (PiS)’s arrival in power in Poland and the fiercely anti-immigration government in Hungary, Obama said: “there is a shift that has implications for all of Europe.”

“When a population is passive and ill-informed and not paying attention, that’s when there is the greatest danger.”

AFP

Trump Gaining Allies in Trade War Against China

September 19, 2018

Trump pressure on partners pays off as they succumb to the art of the deal

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 9:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 11:19pm
US President Donald Trump has touted the success of trade negotiations with US allies which could leave China exposed in the trade war. Photo: EPA

China risks standing alone against the United States in US President Donald Trump’s trade war, with its allies showing signs of compromise, a former American trade official has warned.

Wendy Cutler, vice-president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and a former deputy US trade representative, made the assessment from the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, northeast China, following sustained pressure from Trump on US allies to compromise in trade negotiations.

Trump has touted the success of negotiations with Mexico to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, while Canada is showing signs it may make concessions in its Nafta talks with the US. In July, meanwhile, the EU and US reached a deal pledging zero tariff and zero barriers on non-car products.

Former deputy US trade representative Wendy Cutler warns China risks standing alone against the US in Donald Trump’s trade war. Photo: Bruce Yan

Despite efforts by South Korea and Japan to diversify trade patterns, Seoul is about to sign a trade deal with Washington in the coming weeks and Tokyo, a close ally, is also on Trump’s agenda in trade talks.

“So with all of these trading partners, it looks like the Trump administration is close to finding a path forward, a way to resolve differences,” Cutler said.

She said she expected the US administration would be able to focus more on China and probably ask its allies to “support the US position on China and to work with the US to urge China to open its market and to reform”.

China’s major trading partners share US concerns about the sluggish progress in opening Chinese markets significantly, as well as heavy state interference in the economy and technology, which may squeeze foreign business out of China.

Observers are bracing for the growing likelihood that the trade dispute may last for some time as both China and the US have refrained from backing down first.

The two countries have engaged in a series of retaliatory moves, imposing 25 per cent tariffs on US$50 billion worth of each other’s imports.

In a further escalation this week, the US announced it would impose 10 per cent tariffs on an additional US$200 billion worth of Chinese products from September 24, with the tariff rate increasing to 25 per cent on January 1 next year unless China makes concessions. China responded by imposing tariffs on US$60 billion worth of US goods.

“We all need to get prepared for a world where there will be significant tariffs in place between the two countries for the foreseeable future,” Cutler said.

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He is reported to be organising a meeting to discuss China’s response to the latest US trade tariffs. Photo: Reuters

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He was reported to be organising a meeting to discuss the response to the latest US tariffs which have fuelled concerns about an already slowing Chinese economy.

There have been suggestions China may go beyond using tariffs, using instruments such as regulatory harassment of US firms operating in China, or even depreciating the yuan and dumping Chinese holdings of US Treasury bonds.

Cutler warned China faced a “conundrum” as such moves could further provoke the Trump administration and add to the difficulties of finding a negotiated solution.

The opening up of the “Made in China 2025” sectors, however, could send a signal to the US about China’s seriousness to resolve the issue, she said.

A former assistant US trade representative speaking on the sidelines at the World Economic Forum said he expected China would move very cautiously to avoid further escalating the situation.

Timothy Stratford, now managing partner in law firm Covington & Burling’s Beijing office, said he believed the Chinese government had come to the conclusion that the Trump administration was very serious about addressing issues stemming from the systemic differences between the two countries.

“Now that this new round of tariffs is being imposed by both sides, the most realistic goal for our countries to focus on next would be to agree on a moratorium on any further sanctions – so that each side has a chance to evaluate the impact of the existing tariffs and consider the best path forward,” he said.

“This would probably require them to agree on a process, agenda, and time frame for negotiations in the systemic issues.”

China Ready To End Trade Tariffs With U.S.

September 19, 2018

Sources in Beijing tell Peace and Freedom that China is prepared to announce a “win” in the trade war.

Without making any concessions or admitting any fault, China will announce its intention of moving forward to secure “free and fair trade” for all from Beijing through Europe and to the United States.

Xi Jinping, who has wisely stayed out of the trade dispute thus far, will be the winner, vowing to abide by WTO rules, end unfair trade practices and agree to international norms on intellectual property.

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Xi’s message masters are already working on his first statement — made to get the attention of the international community and Donald Trump and put in place a cease-fire on tariffs.

Then the negotiating process can begin. And in the arena of negotiations, China believes it has the upper hand over Trump — who also believes he has the upper hand.

With China’s equity markets and currency down, it knows it has to make some changes before more nations outside the U.S. lose interest in China trade and investments.

Already, Europeans are becoming nervous about China’s monster economy and China’s voracious Belt and Road appetite of eating smaller economies and presenting them with a bill for the debt.

Europe knows it cannot stop the Belt and Road but it can be the gateway western hub of all trade with China — if it plays its cards right.

The key is to save face. Xi can blame his Commerce Ministry and Li Keqiang for any past misunderstandings while taking credit for his wisdom in solving a difficult problem.

Donald Trump will take himself for the winner — at least until the results of any agreements which could be years away become clearly known to all.

In the meantime, China can get its markets going again while negotiations with the likes of Steven Mnuchin and Robert Lighthizer get moving in earnest.

China believes it can be the master of it all.

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See also:

Europe Turns Down Chinese Offer For Grand Alliance Against The US

https://peoplestrusttoronto.wordpress.com/2018/07/04/europe-turns-down-chinese-offer-for-grand-alliance-against-the-us/

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Sir Frank Lowy: Australia ‘moving in the wrong direction’

September 14, 2018

Describing himself as a “boat person” Sir Frank Lowy has used the 15th annual address of the think tank he founded in his family’s name, the Lowy Institute, to call for the nation to reject the insularity that is sweeping western politics and embrace immigration, innovation and infrastructure.

“When I established the institute, I made it very clear that it would not be a platform for my own opinions,” he said last night in a speech introduced by the former foreign minister, Julie Bishop.

By Nick O’Malley
Opinion

“I have kept that commitment. Until now.”

In the speech Sir Frank described his memories of being a child refugee at the end of World War II.

Sir Frank Lowy

“As a boy I stood at the doorway of our hiding place in Budapest and watched Russian troops fight house by house to liberate the city and therefore rescue us from certain death.”

“I was also aware back then that Britain and the United States were forces for good in the world.

“I remember huddling around the radio with others, waiting for the chimes of Big Ben to signal the start of the BBC broadcast that would tell us what was happening in Europe.

As a teenager I became a boat person – a refugee – as I made my way to Palestine.

Sir Frank Lowy

“I knew that Britain and the United States were beacons of freedom and democracy at a time when my life – and Western civilisation itself – was at grave risk.

“As a teenager I became a boat person – a refugee – as I made my way to Palestine.”

Sir Frank eventually made his way from Israel to Australia at a time when it was deliberately and rapidly expanding its population and made his fortune with Westfield shopping centres.

Describing Australia as blessed by its social harmony, economy, natural resources and geographic location Sir Frank said, “I look at all this and ask: “Why are we so timid? Why are we so quick to assume that we cannot have an impact?”

Sir Frank said he was an unashamed advocate for a “big Australia”.

“But I note that for the first time in the history of Lowy Institute polling, I am in the minority. In the 2018 [Lowy Institute] Poll, 54 per cent of Australians say the total number of migrants coming to Australia is too high.

“There is a rising crescendo of opinion from columnists and politicians saying we should reduce our immigration intake.

“And in the past year our immigration intake has declined. We have gone from migration targets to migration caps. I think we are moving in the wrong direction.”

Sir Frank argued that despite a “chequered” past that included the white Australia policy, Australia still had the best functioning multicultural society on earth.

For Australia’s remarkable prosperity to continue over the coming years it had to maintain the current massive rate of expenditure in infrastructure, he said.

“You might think this is more idealism. I promise you it is pragmatism. Large scale investment in roads, rail, airports, housing, energy, agriculture and digital infrastructure will make a huge difference to our future.”

Finally Sir Frank argued that while such nation building was difficult, “being prime minister of Australia is even tougher”.

No prime minister can push through the reforms we need if they cannot even finish a term in office.

Sir Frank Lowy

He said that Australian democracy needed to be nurtured with care.

“We need to give the prime minister of the day a chance. If he or she cannot win an election, so be it. But no prime minister can push through the reforms we need if they cannot even finish a term in office.”

Sir Frank’s speech marked the first occasion that he had made the institute’s annual address, which in the past had been delivered by figures including prime ministers John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull, former CIA director David Petraeus, as well as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

https://www.smh.com.au/national/australia-moving-in-the-wrong-direction-says-frank-lowy-20180913-p503m6.html

See also:

Migrant Frank Lowy urges more immigration

https://www.bellingencourier.com.au/story/5645515/migrant-frank-lowy-urges-more-immigration/?cs=9397

Britain’s South China Sea ‘provocation’ puts post-Brexit trade talks at risk, China says

September 7, 2018

Editorial in state-run China Daily says decision to send warship past disputed Paracel Islands could hamper talks on post-EU free-trade deal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2018, 11:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2018, 11:59am

A British Royal Navy warship that sailed close to islands in the South China Sea claimed by China risked hampering any talks about a free-trade agreement after Britain leaves the European Union, a major Chinese state-run newspaper said on Friday.

China and Britain agreed last month to look at the possibility of reaching a “top notch” post-Brexit free-trade deal which, if struck, would be an important political win for Britain’s Conservative government.

“China and the UK had agreed to actively explore the possibility of discussing a free-trade agreement after Brexit. Any act that harms China’s core interests will only put a spanner in the works,” the official China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.

Britain has long courted China for a post-Brexit trade deal and talked up a “golden era” in ties, although any formal talks could not begin until Britain officially leaves the European Union next year and typically take many years to conclude.

The HMS Albion, a 22,000-tonne amphibious warfare vessel, sailed near the Paracel Islands claimed by China last month, Reuters reported on Thursday, prompting an angry reaction from China which called it a “provocation”.

The Paracels are occupied entirely by China but also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which some US$3 trillion of shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Britain does not have any territorial claims in the area.

The China Daily article said Britain was trying to “curry favour” with the United States, which has been pushing for more international participation in freedom of navigation operations in the strategic waterway.

“Now that it is eyeing the US as an economic lifeline after it exits the European Union – the United Kingdom is no doubt eager to seize whatever opportunity it can to get into Washington’s good books,” the English-language newspaper said.

China’s Defence Ministry said in its statement responding to the Royal Navy action that, with the joint efforts of China and Southeast Asian countries, the situation in the South China Sea had stabilised.

“Certain countries from outside the region pay no heed to this, and send military ships and aircraft to the South China Sea to foment trouble, creating problems where none exist, threatening regional peace and stability,” it said.

China has repeatedly denounced what it views as interference from “countries outside the region” in the South China Sea, generally a message to the United States and its allies to stay out of the dispute.

Reuters and SCMP

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/2163159/britains-south-china-sea-provocation-puts-post-brexit-trade

Related:

[China’s seizure of much of the South China Sea was a violation of international law much like Russia’s moves on Crimea and Ukraine]

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

Trump Eyes a Japan Trade Fight

September 7, 2018

In a Thursday phone call, the President sounds courteous and stable, but unfortunately still focused on trade deficits.

President Donald Trump speaks with Republican members of Congress in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday.
President Donald Trump speaks with Republican members of Congress in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday. PHOTO: ALEX EDELMAN/ZUMA PRESS
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People inclined to believe that the President is crazy should pause before accepting such diagnoses from journalists without medical degrees quoting anonymous non-doctors in the federal bureaucracy. But investors hoping for a quick end to the Trump trade debates may have reason to be nervous.

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Fox News

@FoxNews

.@FreemanWSJ: “[@POTUS] is giving us, in what seems a much more disciplined way than the normal politician, a very methodical rollout of his program and it’s working on the economic side.”

Your humble correspondent appeared on the Fox News Channel this morning and gave the President due credit for the outstanding economic results of his tax and regulatory reforms. This prompted a gracious phone call from Mr. Trump in which the President sounded very stable but unfortunately also still very focused on eliminating trade deficits with America’s trading partners.

Such deficits often correlate with a thriving economy like the one we have now. We are buying stuff we need or want from other countries and if it’s more than they choose to buy from us, they use the difference to invest in America. Thank goodness that due to the policies of Mr. Trump and many of his predecessors, the world still loves to invest in the United States.

But the President sees a problem and even if he wraps up negotiations with our friends in North America and Europe, the trade uncertainty won’t necessarily end. It seems that he is still bothered by the terms of U.S. trade with Japan. Mr. Trump described his good relations with the Japanese leadership but then added: “Of course that will end as soon as I tell them how much they have to pay.”

This columnist noted that Mr. Trump’s tax and regulatory reforms have largely solved the competitiveness problem with the U.S. economy and that if he resolved the trade fights with our friends and simply focused on combatting Chinese intellectual property theft, he could rally a large global coalition to demand a solution.

Perhaps the President will be encouraged not to seek new tariffs as he continues to see how well the economy is doing without them. Today the latest National Federation of Independent Business jobs report shows a small-business sector so healthy that it’s biggest problem is finding workers to fill all of the available positions:

Small business plans to create new jobs and job openings hit a 45-year high in August… A survey high of 38 percent of owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period… A record 25 percent of owners cited the difficulty of finding qualified workers as their Single Most Important Business Problem, up two points from last month.

This suggests that America could use more immigrants and here’s hoping that can be the subject of another phone call.

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Mr. Freeman is the co-author of “Borrowed Time,” now available from HarperBusiness.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-eyes-a-japan-trade-fight-1536260141

Nauru blasts ‘insolent’ China for speaking out of turn at meeting — “He was from a big country he wanted to bully us”

September 5, 2018

China’s envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum was “very insolent” and a “bully” for speaking out of turn during a leaders’ meeting, the president of host-nation Nauru said, after an angry exchange made for a tense start to the annual gathering.

Nauru is hosting leaders of 18 Pacific nations, plus delegations from non-member countries including the United States and China, at a time of growing tension and rivalry in a strategically important region with access to swathes of resource-rich ocean.

“The Chinese demanded to be heard when (Tuvalu’s) prime minister was about to speak,” Nauru President Baron Waqa said at a news conference late on Tuesday, after media reported a heated start to the leaders’ closed-door meeting.

Image result for Nauru President Baron Waqa, photos

Baron Waqa, President of Nauru

“He insisted and was very insolent about it, and created a big fuss and held up the meeting of leaders for a good number of minutes when he was only an official. So maybe because he was from a big country he wanted to bully us,” Waqa said.

Nauru and Tuvalu are two of six Pacific countries to have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, another major source of tension with China, which regards Taiwan as a wayward province, to be taken back by force if necessary.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China’s delegation was led by Du Qiwen, its ambassador to Fiji.

Waqa said protocol dictated speaking priority was given to ministers over diplomats.

China has become one of the dominant economic players in the Pacific, spending billions of dollars in trade, investment, aid and tourism in a region that staunch U.S. ally Australia has long regarded as its “back yard”.

Chinese lending to the region has surged from nearly zero to $1.3 billion over the last decade, stoking concern that tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt.

It is also the second-largest bilateral donor in the region, behind Australia. Nauru has no diplomatic relations with China.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters attended the leaders’ meeting, and had told reporters on Tuesday there was no walk-out by China’s delegation, contrary to some reports.

The dispute echoes an incident in 2017 when Chinese delegates were reported to have disrupted the opening remarks at a conference in Australia about conflict diamonds, because a Taiwan delegation was invited.

Separately, Nauru on Wednesday also reinstated the press credentials of a New Zealand journalist who had been briefly held by police for failing to seek permission to meet a refugee sent to Nauru under Australia’s hardline immigration policy.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON and Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY. Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel

Reuters

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Pacific Islands Forum masking human rights abuse – advocate

Behind the scenes of the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru human rights abuses are continuing, a refugee advocate says.

A ward at the RON Hospital on Nauru

A ward at the RON Hospital on Nauru Photo: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said journalists attending the forum needed to look at the bigger picture.

Mr Rintoul said to avoid scutiny, staff working at Australia’s refugee detention centres on the island had been told not to speak to the media.

He said despite the Nauru president’s denial of a mental health crisis among about 900 refugees on the island, they were still committing acts of self harm.

“There’s a woman on Nauru at the moment who’s swallowed a razor blade,” Mr Rintoul said.

“There have been recomendations from doctors on Nauru and in Australia that she can’t be treated on Nauru.

“She needs to be taken off Nauru for that treatment. She was sent home from the RON (Republic of Nauru) hospital last night [and was told] ‘come back when you start vomiting blood’.”

Nauru’s hospital was inadequate and in a poor state compared to facilities prepared for the forum, Mr Rintoul said.

“It’s one of the things the Australian government boasts about, how much money has been spent on the RON hospital. But when you look at photos of the hospital compared to facilities built for the forum you will see where the money has gone,” he said.

The Nauru Civic Centre.

The Nauru Civic Centre. Photo: Refugee Action Coalition

“It’s not just refugees, Nauruan people can’t get the treatment they need at the hospital. We’ve got hundreds of people (refugees) who’ve had to be sent off Nauru to Australia and other countries for medical treatment they can’t get on Nauru.”

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government said it would close the “backdoor route” to Australia – should the government there ever take up its offer of resettling 150 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island, in New Zealand.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters met with his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum yesterday.

Currently New Zealanders can travel freely to, and live in Australia, and the Australian government is concerned this will allow refugees to ultimately settle there.

Mr Peters said he was certain changes could be made in New Zealand to shut that door and ease those concerns.

 

Reuters Journalists Guilty in Myanmar — Sentenced To Seven Years in Prison

September 3, 2018

A Myanmar judge on Monday found two Reuters journalists guilty of breaching a law on state secrets and sentenced them to seven years in prison, in a landmark case seen as a test of progress towards democracy in the Southeast Asian country.

Yangon northern district judge Ye Lwin said Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, breached the colonial-era Official Secrets Act when they collected and obtained confidential documents.

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Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone (3rd from L) and Kyaw Soe Oo (3rd from R) sit beside police officers as they leave a courthouse in Yangon, Myanmar, July 9, 2018. Reuters photo

“The defendants … have breached Official Secrets Act section 3.1.c, and are sentenced to seven years. The time already served by the defendants from December 12 will be taken into consideration,” the judge said.

Press freedom advocates, the United Nations, the European Union and countries including the United States, Canada and Australia had called for the Reuters journalists’ acquittal.

“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere,” Reuters editor in chief Stephen J Adler said in a statement.

“We will not wait while Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo suffer this injustice and will evaluate how to proceed in the coming days, including whether to seek relief in an international forum.”

The reporters had told the court two police officials handed them papers at a north Yangon restaurant moments before other officers arrested them.

One police witness testified the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists to block or punish them for their reporting of a mass killing of Rohingya Muslims.

“I have no fear,” Wa Lone said after the verdict.

“I have not done anything wrong … I believe in justice, democracy and freedom.”

The verdict means Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – who both have young daughters and have not seen their families outside of prison visits and court hearings for nearly nine months – remain behind bars.

Kyaw Soe Oo has a three-year-old daughter and Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to their first child last month.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay has mostly declined to comment throughout the proceedings, saying Myanmar’s courts were independent and the case would be conducted according to the law.

The verdict had been postponed for a week because Judge Ye Lwin was sick. It comes amid mounting pressure on the government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi over a security crackdown sparked by attacks by insurgents from the Rohingya Muslim minority on the security forces in August 2017.

More than 700 000 stateless Rohingya Muslims fled across western Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh, according to UN agencies.

Dozens of reporters from domestic and international media organizations and diplomats were at the court for the verdict.

‘Hammer blow’

US ambassador Scot Marciel said he was sad for the two reporters and also for Myanmar.

“It’s deeply troubling for everybody who has struggled so hard here for media freedom. I think one has to ask will this process increase or decrease the confidence the people of Myanmar have in their justice system,” Marciel told reporters.

“We are disappointed by today’s court decision,” the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, Knut Ostby, said in a statement. “The United Nations has consistently called for the release of the Reuters journalists and urged the authorities to respect their right to pursue freedom of expression and information.”

British ambassador Dan Chugg, speaking on behalf of his government and EU members, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the verdict in a case that had “passed a long shadow” over freedom of expression and the rule of law.

“This has dealt a hammer blow for the rule of law,” Chugg said.

 

The Reuters reporters were arrested on December 12 while investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys and other abuses involving soldiers and police in Inn Din, a village in Rakhine State.

Myanmar has denied allegations of atrocities made by refugees against its security forces, saying it conducted a legitimate counterinsurgency operation against Muslim militants.

But the military acknowledged the killing of the 10 Rohingya men and boys at Inn Din after arresting the Reuters reporters.

A UN mandated fact-finding mission said last week Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and called for top generals to be prosecuted. Myanmar rejected the findings.

The International Criminal Court is considering whether it has jurisdiction over events in Rakhine, while the United States, the European Union and Canada have sanctioned Myanmar military and police officers over the crackdown.

Reuters