Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from FaithWorld:

Policy adrift over Rohingya, Myanmar’s Muslim boat people

The Rohingyas, a Muslim minority fleeing oppression and hardship in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, have been called one of the most persecuted people on earth. But they have seldom hit the headlines -- until recently, that is. More than 500 Rohingyas are feared to have drowned since early December after being towed out to sea by the Thai military and abandoned in rickety boats. The army has admitted cutting them loose, but said they had food and water and denied sabotaging the engines of the boats. (Photo: Rohingyas in immigration area in soutwestern Thailand, 31 Jan 2009/Sukree Sukplang)

The Rohingyas are becoming a headache for Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia where they have washed up. Indonesian authorities this week rescued 198 Rohingya boat people off the coast of Aceh, after three weeks at sea. Buddhist Thailand and mostly Muslim Indonesia call them economic migrants looking for work at a time when countries in the region, like everywhere else, are in an economic downturn. But human rights groups such as Amnesty International are calling on governments in the region to provide assistance to the Rohingyas and let the UNHCR  have access to them.

Myanmar's generals have a shabby enough record with their Buddhist majority. The brutal suppression of monk-led protests that killed at least 31 people in September 2007 and the continued detention of opposition icon and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi bear witness to that. But their treatment of ethnic minorities, including the Muslim Rohingyas and the Christian Chin people in the mountainous Northwest -- where insurgents have been fighting for autonomy -- have been especially brutal. They are not oppressed because of their faith alone, but their faith and ethnicity make them targets. The military government does not recognise them as one of the country's 130-odd ethnic minorities. They are forbidden from marrying or traveling without permission and have no legal right to own land. (Photo: Thai policeman with Rohingyas at immigration area in southwest Thailand, 31 Jan 2009/Sukree Sukplang)

Twittering from the front-lines

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Who remembers the Google Wars website that was doing the viral rounds a few years back – a mildly amusing, non-scientific snapshot of the search-driven, internet world we live in?

It lives on at www.googlebattle.com where you can enter two search terms, say ‘Lennon vs. McCartney’ or ‘Left vs. Right’, and let the internet pick a winner by the number of search hits each word gets.

New world shapes up off Somalia

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The Somali pirates who released a Saudi supertanker got a $3 million reward, according to their associates. Good money in one of the world’s poorest and most war-blighted corners.But the waters off Somalia are getting ever more crowded with foreign ships trying to stop the pirates. As well as potentially making life more difficult for the hijackers, it has become a real illustration of the much talked about global power shift from West to East in terms of military might as well as economic strength.This raises a question as to whether this will lead to close cooperation, rivalry or something altogether more unpredictable.This week the United States said it planned to launch a specific anti-piracy force, an offshoot of a coalition naval force already in the region since the start of the U.S. “War on Terror” in Afghanistan in 2001.It wasn’t clear just what this would mean in practical terms since U.S. ships were already part of the forces trying to stop the modern day buccaneers, equipped with speedboats and rocket-propelled grenades. It was also unclear which countries would be joining the U.S.-led force rather than operating under their own mandates.The U.S. announcement came two days after Chinese ships started an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. This is the first time Chinese warships have sailed to Africa, barring goodwill visits, since Ming Dynasty eunuch Admiral Zheng commanded an armada 600 years ago.As my colleague Sanjeev Miglani wrote last month, the Chinese deployment was being scrutinised by the strategic community from New Delhi to Washington.The Chinese had actually been catching up to other Asian countries. India already had ships in the region. So did Malaysia, whose navy foiled at least one pirate attack this month. Reasserting its might, Russia had sent a warship after the big surge in piracy in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen. The European Union has a mission there.For Asian countries there is good reason to send warships. This is the main trade route to markets in Europe and their ships have been seized. Attacks on shipping push up insurance rates and force some vessels to use more fuel on the longer, safer route around Africa instead of taking the Suez Canal.But there certainly appears to be evidence too to back up the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends 2025” report late last year that highlighted the relative decline in Washington’s long term influence in the face of the rise of China and India.As well as being a chance for the world’s old and new powers to show their strength in terms of numbers, the anti-piracy operations off Somalia could prove something of a test of effectiveness.While the hardware the navies have will always outclass that of the pirates, the new powers may have an advantage in more robust rules of engagement. That might lead to mistakes, however. In November, India trumpted its success in sinking a pirate “mother ship”. It later turned out that a Thai ship carrying fishing equipment had been sunk while it was being hijacked. Most of the crew were reported lost.There is a lot of sea to cover, one of the reasons why naval forces have had so much difficulty in stopping the hijackings, but the presence of so many navies in the same area at the same time must raise questions over how well they are going to work together.Will this become a model for cooperation in a new world order? Or are there dangers? Might this also end up being a display of how little either East or West can do in the face of attacks by armed groups from a failed state with which nobody from outside seems prepared to come to grips? What do you think?(Picture: Commanding officer of a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser monitors the pirated ship off Somalia REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout)(Picture: Forces from French naval vessel “Jean de Vienne”, seen in this January 4, 2009 photo, capture 19 Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. REUTERS/French Navy/handout)

Is Sri Lanka’s long civil war nearing an end?

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By C. Bryson Hull

Sri Lanka’s army has the Tamil Tigers on the run with a string of convincing military victories. Many people are asking if one of Asia’s longest-running civil wars is near its end after 25 years.

 Sri Lankan tanks patrol near the town of Kilinochchi (REUTERS/Buddhika Weerasingh)

Australia and its neighbours

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With the Rudd Labor government now in power for just over a year, it’s worth looking what at has changed in the country’s foreign policy and its security implications for the region. Is the region, particularly Southeast Asia, ready for Australia’s new advances?

 

Howard’s pragmatism and ‘forward defence’ doctrine over the previous dozen years was unashamedly aimed at garnering an image of being a “considerable power and significant country” (Downer, 2006). Howard’s loyalty to the United States, no-matter-what, was also aimed at banking up some credit with Washington on the security front. Given the concerns of the time over terrorism (in particular the attack on Bali which killed dozens of Australians), one could argue his staunchly pro-American policy was well founded. Moreover, Downer was quite dismissive of past Labor policy on developing a closer relationship with its immediate neighbours. In 2006, he said of Labor: “In effect, they argue for a retreat to regionalism.”

Israel’s “Jewish Division”: Northen Ireland redux?

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By Dan Williams

A Reuters investigation into how the Israeli domestic intelligence service Shin Bet is tackling threats from Jewish ultranationalists has raised intriguing parallels with Britain’s handling of the sectarian “troubles” in Northern Ireland.

Radical Jewish settlers who might turn to violence in a bid to wreck Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking are, increasingly, the quarry of the Shin Bet’s shadowy “Jewish Division”, whose operatives draw on a range of spying and interrogation tactics.

Drugs and guns in Guinea-Bissau

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Members of Guinea-Bissau’s unruly armed forces have blotted the military’s record again with another attack against the country’s political institutions. Early on Sunday, Nov. 23, renegade soldiers, their faces hooded, sprayed the Bissau residence of President Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira with machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire. The president survived unhurt this latest apparent attempt to topple him.

 

But The attack underlined the fragility of the small, cashew nut-exporting West African nation, one of the poorest in the world and a former Portuguese colony which has suffered a history of bloody coups, mutinies and uprisings since it won independence in 1974 after a bush war led by Amilcar Cabral. The assault followed parliamentary elections on Nov. 16 which donors were hoping would restore stability and put in place a new government capable of resisting the serious threat posed by powerful Latin American cocaine-trafficking cartels who use Guinea-Bissau as a staging post to smuggle drugs to Europe.

Asian Contagion Redux

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    The Indonesian rupiah has lost more than a fifth of its value against the dollar so far this year and on Friday hit its weakest point since August 1998. Authorities swooped in to take over an
insolvent Bank Century, the first such takeover since the Asian financial crisis a decade ago.

   Are things in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy really that dire to prompt comparisons with the chaotic events of a decade ago? Today’s financial crisis is draining liquidity from many banks across the world, including in Indonesia.  And as was the case a decade ago, domestic capital is swarming hot on the heels of foreign capital in fleeing Indonesia.

from FaithWorld:

Visiting Israeli settlers in what my GPS calls “unreachable areas”

(Editor's note: Doug Hamilton, one of our most experienced correspondents and lively writers, recently took up a new post in Jerusalem. Here's the back story to his latest feature "A Biblical view of peace high in the Holy Land.")

(Photo:the West Bank Jewish settlement of Psagot, 17 November 2008/Eliana Aponte)

When I began my assignment to Israel & the Palestinian Territories two months ago, I was determined to get out and about and see as much as possible for myself. I wanted to find out up close what life was like for the people who live here -- from the Palestinians lining up obediently to get through intimidating Israeli checkpoints, to the nightlife crowd a world away in chic Tel Aviv, to the Orthodox Jews in 16th century attire in their Jerusalem districts where you dare not drive on the Sabbath, to the Palestinian olive groves and to the settlers on the occupied land of the West Bank.

from FaithWorld:

Bali bombers: martyrs or monsters?

Did the "Bali bombers" end up as martyrs or monsters? That's what many must be wondering after the three young men convicted of the Bali nighclub bombings in October 2002 were executed in the dead of the night last weekend in an orange grove on Java. (Photo: Funeral of bomber Imam Samudra, 11 Nov 2008/Supri)

The run-up to the executions turned into a media circus. The three men from the Jemaah Islamiah group -- Imam Samudra, Mukhlas, and Amrozi -- were interviewed extensively by domestic and foreign media before they faced a firing squad last Sunday. They were defiant to the end, calling for more attacks like the one they perpetrated that killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists. They had, in fact, become media celebrities and the public was fascinated with them. But as monsters or martyrs?

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