Vietnam Is Becoming Asia’s Most Aggressive Maritime Nation After China  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ASIA FOREIGN AFFAIRS, FORBES)

 

Asia #ForeignAffairs

Vietnam Is Becoming Asia’s Most Aggressive Maritime Nation After China

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Activists chant anti-China slogans during a rally in Hanoi on March 14, 2016, to mark the anniversary of a 1988 battle in the Spratly Islands, a rare act of protest over an issue that has come to dog relations between Hanoi and Beijing. (HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

China has stoked many of Asia’s maritime sovereignty disputes by reclaiming land to build artificial islands and, in some cases, adding military infrastructure to those islands. To rub in the message that it has the more power than anyone else in the widely disputed, 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea, the Beijing government glibly sails coast guard ships around the exclusive ocean economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Off its east coast, China routinely passes boats through a tract of sea disputed with, and controlled by Japan.

But let’s linger on another country for a second – Vietnam.

A fisherman and his son try to fix the roof of their boat on Thuan Phuoc port in prior to the next fishing trip on August 30, 2016 in Danang, Vietnam. (AFP/Getty image)

The country with a 3,444 kilometer-long coastline shows every sign of being Asia’s second most expansion-minded maritime power after China.

Here’s the evidence:

  • Last year the American Center for Strategic & International Studies said Vietnam had landfilled more South China Sea islets than China itself, though China’s method was probably more destructive. It holds 21 tiny islets in the Spratly archipelago, more than any of its regional rivals.
  • This year Vietnam renewed a deal with the overseas subsidiary of state-owned Indian oil firm ONGC to explore for fossil fuels under the ocean floor. Beijing will likely bristle at this move because it too claims waters off the Vietnamese east coast as part of its position that 95% of the whole sea is Chinese, but Vietnam has not backed down. In any case, India is Vietnam’s new best friend — to wit its call in July to step up a year-old partnership.
  • Vietnamese fishing boats, a large share of the 1.72 million that trawl the South China Sea, have been sent off by other coastal states and as far off as Indonesia and Thailand, scholars who follow the maritime dispute say. Two Vietnamese fishermen turned up dead 34 kilometers from the Philippines last month in what’s believed to be an incident involving an official vessel from Manila. Fish were 10% of Vietnam’s export revenues as of a decade ago, the University of British Columbia says in this study. “Fish stocks in Vietnam have been depleted, so they have to venture further away to continue their business,” says Le Hong Hiep, a fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. “As they venture further away it’s easier for them to get into other countries’ waters and they commit illegal fishing.”
  • Vietnam protests when Taiwan makes its presence felt on Taiping Island. Although Taiping is the largest feature in the South China Sea’s Spratly archipelago, Taiwan has little clout in the bigger sovereignty dispute and has even used its Taiping facilities to help Vietnamese fishermen in distress. But the Vietnamese foreign ministry formally protested at least once in 2016 and again in March this year when Taiwan had a live-fire military drill. “They said Taiwan’s activities violated its sovereignty,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the College of International Affairs at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “Whenever Taiwan makes a move, Vietnam always protests. It’s been like that all along. Vietnam is pretty assertive.”
  • China has to watch it, too. China is using economic incentives to get along with other South China Sea states but things keep going wrong with Vietnam. In June, a senior Chinese military official cut short his visit to Vietnam as the host was looking for oil in disputed waters, and in August foreign ministers from the two countries cancelled a meeting – presumably over their maritime disputes — on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations event.

Vietnam’s maritime muscle makes a lot of sense. The country of 93 million people is on the move economically, dependent on the sea. Nationalism is growing, too, and citizens believe the government should gun hard for its claims.

In Philippines The Government Says Your Life Is Worth $20.00

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

What’s the Value of Human Rights? According to the Philippines House of Representatives, $20.

Youth protest against drug-related extrajudicial killings. Source: Anakbayan. Used with permission

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez have voted to give 1,000 pesos (20 US dollars) to the 2018 budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a constitutional body tasked to ensure that the state is upholding various human rights laws and treaties.

Around 112 lawmakers joined the house speaker in the vote to render the agency practically useless in performing its mandate. The CHR has been consistently voicing its concern over the excesses of Duterte’s “war on drugs,” which has already killed 13,000 drug suspects.

The CHR was created by the 1987 Philippine Constitution to prevent a repeat of the massive human rights abuse committed under the 21-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Duterte has repeatedly said he looks up to the former strongman whom he allowed to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in 2016.

The meager budget is all but the latest blow from the Duterte administration, which has deemed the CHR as a nuisance to its campaign to fight illegal drugs.

But the CHR is not alone in condemning the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug personalities. Aside from the political opposition, church groups, and various civil society organizations, Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs” has also earned the disapproval of the international community such as the European Union and the UN Commission on Human Rights.

During a media interview, Speaker Alvarez explained the reasons why the majority decided to defund the CHR:

I see no reason for this government to fund [CHR]. You prefer to protect the rights of criminals instead of the victims.

Commission on Human Rights logo

Responding to the criticism of some Congress members, the CHR clarifiedits official duty:

We regret that despite continued clarifications on our mandate, they have wrongly perceived our role as combative rather than a collaborative effort to bolster Philippine democracy by ensuring that all public officials are honest in the performance of their duties and adhere to universally accepted principles of human rights.

The CHR said it will continue to perform its mandate even with the small funding:

Despite these circumstances, we will not turn our backs on our Constitutional duty to render justice for all and give everyone their due. The concern for human rights is beyond partisanship or disagreement. We shall seek means to move forward and navigate through the hurdles mindful of our oath to serve the people and the Republic—because it is what is right and what is needed of the times.

After the media reported the 1,000-peso budget of the CHR, Filipinos quickly took to social media to express their outrage.

Ted, a young professional, criticized the government on Facebook:

The 1000-peso CHR budget means the government is crap and has no regard for human rights.

Facebook user Kim Tanhui urged fellow Filipinos to stop tolerating human rights abuses:

EVERY person’s rights as a human must be protected, whichever official, candidate, or party he or she may be supporting.

This is about the public tolerating this blatant disregard for human rights and morality, which unfortunately, has become the norm during the recent months. Wake up, people! This is your government telling you that your human rights is worth only P 1,000. This is your government rendering the CHR, the body which was designated to protect you from government abuses, powerless.

Twitter user @DonyaJemimah did some quick number crunching to highlight how much Duterte’s allies have valued human rights:

1K = CHR’S BUDGET (HUMAN RIGHTS)
1K = 103M FILIPINOS = 0.000009 EACH

APPARENTLY, 1 VFRESH CANDY IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN OUR HUMAN RIGHTS 🙄

Even United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, posted her dismay:

Reprehensible and unconscionable:  Congress slash annual budget of Commission for Human Rights to 20 USD @UNHumanRights

Even some supporters of the president expressed their shocked by the brazen move of the Lower House. With the Lower House essentially done with their part of the budget process, the ball is now with their counterparts in the Senate, the upper chamber of the Philippine Congress whose members are able to move with more flexibility away from the president’s line as they enjoy a broader and nationwide constituency. Some senators have already committed to restoring the CHR’s original proposed budget of 678 million pesos ($13.2 million) once they resume their budget deliberations.

Will this outrage be sustained and help opposition senators in giving the CHR a more appropriate budget? How will the Duterte administration maneuver to ensure the CHR is rendered useless with its $20 budget? With activists and various cause-oriented groups gearing up for a big gathering this coming September 21 to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, which ushered in massive human rights abuses by the Marcos dictatorship, this move by the Duterte administration will certainly be not forgotten.

China Is Playing The U.S. And The World For Fools Over North Korea And Putin And Iran Are Assisting

 

 

The President of China, Mr. Xi Jinping and his Communist Party leadership are playing the U.S. Government and the rest of the world for ignorant fools concerning North Korea’s little fat boy with the stupid haircut. This week there was a meeting in Manila, the capital of the Philippines of the Asian countries and a huge part of the conversations were about how the governments of China and their Ally North Korea are a huge danger to all of Asia and to the rest of the world. Also this week the U.N. Security Council voted 15-0 to increase sanctions on North Korea because of their missile program. China and Russia voted for the sanctions against North Korea yet I find it very difficult to believe anything that the leadership in China or Russia have to say. It is said that North Korea exports about three billion dollars of products each year, mostly raw materials. These new sanctions is said to chop off about one billion of that three billion cash influx to the North Korean Regime. This income goes to the State, meaning it goes to Kim Jong Un who in turn spends most of that cash on his military and his missile program. The new sanctions did not include the oil that China and Russia sell to North Korea. The U.N. says that almost all of the oil sold to North Korea by China and Russia are on an  ‘IOU’ basis.

 

Now I would like to speak with you about why I say that China is playing the U.S. and the rest of the world for fools. It is no secret that the leaders of China and Russia have no love loss for the Western Nations and especially for the U.S.. Only and idiot (Donald Trump) would believe that these folks are our friends as Mr. Trump has said of Mr. Jinping and he seems to have a love affair with Mr. Putin. For those who pay attention you should notice that the mobile launching vehicles are the property of China. One should also notice that the rockets now being fired by North Korea look exactly like China’s rockets. The free worlds security agencies say they are surprised at the rapid advancement of North Korea’s missile program, it is obvious that they are getting help from another government and it is pretty obvious who that country is. The more the U.S. engages with North Korea the less the world focuses on the atrocities and the aggressiveness of China and Russia. The countries of Asia are worried about the aggressiveness of China as the Summit in Manila laid bare. North Korea was bumped to the number two concern to these Countries. If the world does not reign in the Communist Leadership of China they will soon totally dominate all of Asia, and that does include India and the leaders of India know this. Mr. Putin had better not trust the Chinese governments hunger for land but honestly I do not believe that Mr. Putin is that big of a fool as he knows well the methods that one larger country takes over another country while saying it belonged to them anyway.

 

For those who were paying attention to this sort of thing, North Korea’s #2 Official is currently on a ten-day visit to Tehran Iran. These two Countries have two total different ideologies concerning how they look at the world. Iran’s it based in total religious hatred of everyone whom is not a devout Shiite Islamic, North Korea is all about the hatred inside the brain of their crazy little fat boy with the horrible haircut. China is quickly positioning themselves to be the worlds biggest most powerful military led country in all of Asia and the Pacific theater .  Kim Jong Un has always had the desire to make the whole Korean Peninsula into one Korea with himself as the Ruler. If China, North Korea and to a smaller extent Russia could run the U.S. Military out of that region all of the other smaller countries will fall to China’s domination and many of the Asian Countries realize it. Unfortunately there are some countries leaders in the region who are being bought by China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ project like Cambodia and the Philippines. Sri Lanka is a Nation who excepted the ‘help’ from China to help build up their infrastructure with Chinese loans at high interest rates and now China is demanding repayment before the construction is even finished as the economic benefits have not yet started to flow in. Countries will lose their own right to rule themselves because of this pariah in Beijing. All a person has to do is to pay attention to the realities on the ground, it does not take a genius to figure these things out and the Lord knows the U.S. does not have a genius in the Oval Office.

Vietnam Urges Stronger Stand Against China At ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTAN DAILY TIMES)

 

MANILA: Vietnam urged other Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, as a tense regional security forum began Saturday with North Korea also under fire over its nuclear program.

Ahead of the launch of the annual gathering of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Vietnam made a bold play against China with a raft of suggested changes to a planned joint communique.

It set the stage for what was expected to be a fiery few days of diplomacy in the Philippine capital, with the top diplomats from China, the United States, Russia and North Korea set to join their ASEAN and other Asia-Pacific counterparts for security talks from Sunday.

The meetings will take place as the United Nations Security Council votes this weekend on a US-drafted resolution to toughen sanctions against North Korea to punish the isolated regime for its missile and nuclear tests. The United States said it would also seek to build unified pressure on the North at the Manila event — known as the ASEAN Regional Forum — and Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Pyongyang would receive a strong message.

But on the South China Sea dispute — one of Asia’s other top powder keg issues — there was far less consensus with Vietnam resisting efforts by the Philippines to placate Beijing, diplomats told AFP.

Vietnam on Friday night sought to insert tough language against China in an ASEAN statement that was scheduled to be released after the Southeast Asian ministers wrapped up their own talks on Saturday.

According to a copy of a draft obtained by AFP, Vietnam lobbied for ASEAN to express serious concern over “construction” in the sea, in reference to China’s ramped up artificial island building in the disputed waters in recent years.

Vietnam also wanted ASEAN to insist in the statement that a planned code of conduct for the sea with China be “legally binding”, which Beijing opposes.

The lobbying occurred when the ASEAN foreign ministers held unscheduled and informal talks late on Friday night.

“The discussions were really hard. Vietnam is on its own to have stronger language on the South China Sea. Cambodia and Philippines are not keen to reflect that,” one diplomat involved in the talks told AFP.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, including waters approaching the coasts of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

China has in recent years expanded its presence in the sea by building the artificial islands, which are capable of holding military bases.

Alongside Vietnam, the Philippines used to be the most vocal critic of Beijing’s expansionism.

But, under President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines has sought to downplay the dispute with China in return for billions of dollars in Chinese investments and aid.

China has in recent years also successfully lobbied other ASEAN nations, particularly Cambodia, to support its diplomatic maneuvering in the dispute.

At the ASEAN opening ceremony on Saturday morning, Cayetano confirmed there had been strong debates on Friday.

“You have to excuse my voice as, my colleagues, we kept each other up until almost midnight last night. In the true ASEAN way we were able to passionately argue our national interest,” Cayetano said.

Various diplomats said that Vietnam was likely to lose its battle to insert the strong language against China, with the Philippines as host of the talks wielding greater influence.

ASEAN is set to this weekend endorse a framework for a code of conduct with China, which is meant to pave the way for more concrete action.

 

 

Published in Daily Times, August 6th 2017.

China’s tough stance on India dispute raising concern across Southeast Asia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST UNDER DIPLOMACY AND DEFENSE)

 

China’s tough stance on India dispute raising concern across Southeast Asia, analysts say

Beijing’s handling of protracted conflict in Himalayas has had a spillover effect in the region and fueled suspicion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2017, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2017, 11:15pm
Catherine Wong

 

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The protracted border dispute between China and India in the Himalayas has created a “spillover effect” as China’s neighbours become unsettled by its tough handling of the escalating conflict between the two Asian giants, foreign policy experts have said.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Indian counterpart Smt. Sushma Swaraj are scheduled to attend the Asian foreign ministers’ meeting in Manila later this week. And while the North Korean nuclear crisis and South China Sea disputes are expected to dominate the meeting, analysts will also be keeping a close eye on how members of the 10-nation group interact with China and India.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations generally regards a robust Indian presence in the region as a useful deterrent against China, which has been increasingly assertive in its approach to handling territorial issues, as has been the case in the Himalayas.

China and India last week held their first substantial talks since the dispute broke out more than a month ago in the Dolklam region, where the pair shares a border with Bhutan. Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi met Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in Beijing, though neither showed any signs of backing down and tensions remain high.

Also last week, China’s defense ministry issued its strongest warning yet to India, with a spokesman saying Beijing had stepped up its deployment along the unmarked border and would protect its sovereignty “at all costs”.

Richard Javad Heydarian, a political scientist at the Manila-based De La Salle University, said the stand-off in Doklam had a “spillover effect” by fueling suspicion among countries that are caught in separate territorial disputes with China.

“People are asking, if China is really peaceful, why are there so many countries having disputes with China?” he said.

Such sentiment may create fertile ground for Southeast Asian countries to leverage China’s influence with engagement with India.

Vietnam’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Pham Binh Minh, has called on India to play a greater role in the region and to partner with Southeast Asian countries on strategic security and promoting freedom of navigation in South China Sea.

A few days after Minh spoke, Vietnam granted Indian Oil firm ONGC Videsh a two-year extension on its plan to explore a Vietnamese oil block in an area of the South China Sea contested by China and Vietnam.

Analysts said recent developments have wide strategic implications – pointing to how Asia is increasingly defined by the China-India rivalry and the renewed tensions between the two Asian giants.

Nisha Desai Biswal, former US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, was quoted by Indian media PTI as saying that China needs to acknowledge that “there is growing strategic and security capability across Asia” and that “India is a force to be reckoned with”.

Wang Yi on Tuesday backed Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s idea of forming joint energy ventures in the disputed South China Sea, warning that unilateral action could cause problems and damage both sides.

Duterte on Monday said a partner had been found to develop oil fields and exploration, and exploitation would restart this year.

However, analysts warn that India’s strong position in the standoff has strengthened the hawkish voices in the Philippines who seize opportunities to criticise Duterte’s détente policy towards China and “push forward the narrative that the Philippines needs to be careful on how to approach China and its territorial expansion”, Heydarian said.

Under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Act East” policy, India in recent years has formed strategic partnerships with Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and Northeast Asian countries including Japan and South Korea.

During the “India-Asian Delhi Dialogue IX” early this month, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said New Delhi remained committed to enhancing maritime cooperation with Asian as well as upholding freedom of navigation and respect for international law in the region.

Heydarian suggests that India’s upgrading of its strategic partnership with Asian and increasing its strategic presence in the South China Sea could be a way of pushing back against China.

Even a non-claimant Southeast Asian state such as Thailand “would see the benefit of China being challenged in the South Asia theatre”, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an international relations scholar at Bangkok-based Chulalongkorn University.

“India’s standing up to China can only be a boon for Southeast Asian countries even when they don’t say so openly,” he said, “Any major power keeping China in check can only yield geopolitical benefits to Southeast Asia as the region is wary of China’s growing assertiveness.”

But Pongsudhirak also said that India, a “latecomer to Southeast Asia’s geopolitics”, still lacks strategic depth in terms of military reach and economic wherewithal. “But in combination with other middle powers like Japan, India can have a significant impact in Southeast Asia’s power dynamics,” he said.

Despite Southeast Asian countries’ welcoming attitude, India has remained cautious towards more strongly engaging with the region, observers said.

“Southeast Asia is a natural extension of India’s security horizons in light of its growth as a regional power,” said Rajesh Manohar Basrur, a South Asia specialist with Nanyang Technological University.

Basrur said that while competition with China is a major driver of India’s engagement with Southeast Asia, India’s commitment to the region remains limited with measures amounting to no more than “symbolic acts such as military exercises, [to] generate a strategic environment aimed at building up political-psychological pressure on [China].”

Sourabh Gupta, a senior specialist at the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington, said that as India tries to limit fallout from its Doklam intervention, it will not want to expand the theatre of conflict or widen the geography of competition in the short-term.

“But I can foresee India making a qualitatively greater effort, albeit quietly, to build up Vietnam’s naval and law enforcement capacity to confront and deter Chinese assertiveness,” he said.

Gupta also warned that the situation in the South China Sea could lapse into even further conflict.

“India and China have a fairly rich menu of boundary management protocols which effectively translate into engagements between very lightly armed personnel from either side when a standoff breaks out,” he said.

“That is different from the situation in the South and East China Sea where engagement protocols are still very rudimentary and could see sharp Escalator spirals.”

‘I can’t go out’: Texting for help from Islamist-occupied Philippines city

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

‘I can’t go out’: Texting for help from Islamist-occupied Philippines city

By Simon Lewis and Manuel Mogato | MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES

Trapped in a war zone, Carmalia Baunto’s husband, Nixon, had been trying for weeks to stay alive as Islamist guerrillas and Philippine government forces battled for control of Marawi City.

With the fighting raging around him, Nixon texted and called throughout, until just over a week ago when the messages stopped abruptly, leaving his wife praying that it was just his cellphone battery that had died.

“I’m OK, but I can’t go out. The house is safe,” the 41-year-old hardware store owner had told his wife in a message from their home inside the southern Philippines city.

He heard gunbattles in the street, he wrote, and hid from black-clad fighters who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State and have occupied the city’s commercial district for a month.

On June 14, at 9:59 a.m., Nixon texted to ask Carmalia to buy him more credit for his phone, which she did.

Then the messages stopped, and his phone stopped ringing.

“I’ve had sleepless nights since then,” Carmalia, 42, told Reuters at Marawi’s government compound, where she has been sleeping in a mosque while awaiting word of her husband.

The couple and their children were out of town when fighting erupted in Marawi on May 23, but Nixon went in the next day to check on their home and got trapped. Like most of the city’s residents, the family is Muslim.

Officials estimate 300 to 500 people are still trapped inside Marawi, fearful of militants accused of using civilians as human shields as much as of government airstrikes and starvation.

Some families have sent messages saying they have resorted to eating blankets or cardboard dipped in water to keep hunger at bay.

The Philippine military has said it is in the final stages of its operation to oust the insurgents, whose ranks contain local militants and foreign, battle-hardened fighters from Islamic State’s campaigns in Syria and Iraq.

The fighters have put up tough resistance, exploiting the city’s narrow streets, thick concrete walls and basements, and harassing troops with sniper fire and Molotov cocktails.

Philippines military aircraft – with technical assistance from U.S. special forces – have pummeled the city with 500-pound bombs, raising fears about the safety of civilians unable to get out.

In the early stages of the conflict, many people were texting and calling in their whereabouts.

Their best hope of getting out lies with a “peace corridor” initiative of President Rodrigo Duterte.

It comprises Philippine army officers and their former adversaries, fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a peace deal with the government in 2014.

The team says it has helped to evacuate 270 people since it was set up on June 4. It has also delivered supplies to those who remain behind.

Others have escaped by making their own way across the city, dodging sniper fire, to cross the Banggolo bridge over the Agus river and reach the government-controlled area.

BATTERIES RUN DOWN

But there is no power and water in the city. Phone batteries have now largely run down and the team has no way to contact most of those inside, including Nixon Baunto. He had used two phones, his wife said, and the power must have run out in both.

Families visiting the evacuation team’s office on Wednesday provided 15 new names of loved ones they say are trapped in the city, according to Wendell Orbeso, a director at the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Later, the team received a text saying 10 or more people were hiding out in a grocery store.

“We don’t exactly know how many people are still there,” Orbeso told Reuters at the office in a government building now mostly used to house evacuees.

The locations of the beleaguered civilians are passed to military commanders in the hope that soldiers can rescue them.

After flushing militants from the city’s neighborhoods, troops have moved house-to-house, watching out for booby traps that include cooking gas cylinders rigged to explode, Gen. Ramiro Manuel Rey told reporters in Marawi on Wednesday.

Carmalia has been told the army is close to clearing the militants from the area around her home, she said.

Nixon was too scared to leave the house, she said. He believed he would likely be captured by the militants or mistaken for a fighter and shot by the military, he told her.

He had survived by collecting and drinking rainwater.

Earlier in the siege, Nixon ventured out to a mosque, where he reported seeing more than 100 civilians sheltering, including women and children nursing gunshot wounds, he told his wife.

“He could not take the shooting, the bombing and the fear of stray bullets,” she said, so he returned home, further from the epicenter of the battle.

“I pray to Allah every day, every night, every hour for this war to end so my family can be reunited,” Carmalia said, wiping tears from her eyes.

She was desperate to have her husband back for the Eid al-Fitr festival this weekend, she said. “If he’s not back, I have no interest in celebrating.”

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Blasts Rock Besieged Marawi … Philippines Celebrates Independence Day

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Blasts Rock Besieged Marawi … Philippines Celebrates Independence Day

An abandoned hospital window is seen full of bullet holes in Marawi City

Marawi (Philippines)-On his Facebook profile page Omarkhayam Romato Maute describes himself as a “Walking Time-Bomb.”

When a band of militants led by Omarkhayam and one of his brothers overran a town in the southern Philippines on May 23, festooning its alleyways with the black banners of ISIS, the Facebook description seemed appropriate.

Governments across Southeast Asia had been bracing for the time when ISIS, on a back foot in Iraq and Syria, would look to establish a ‘caliphate’ in Southeast Asia and become a terrifying threat to the region.

“The Middle East seems a long way away but it is not. This is a problem which is amidst us,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Australian radio on Saturday as the battle to re-take Marawi neared the end of the third week, with a death toll of nearly 200. “It is a clear and present danger.”

Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute grew up with several other brothers and sisters in Marawi, a Muslim-majority town in a country where over 90 percent of the population is Christian.

Marawi is, historically, the center of Islam on Mindanao, a sprawling island where violent resistance to authority has been a tradition since the era of Spanish colonialism, spurred in recent decades by poverty and the neglect of successive governments.

As teenagers in the 1990s, the brothers seemed like ordinary young men, said a neighbor of the Maute family: they studied English and the Qur’an, and played basketball in the streets.

“We still wonder why they fell to ISIS,” said the neighbor, who was once an extremist himself and surrendered to the government.

“They are good people, religious. When someone gets to memorize the Qur’an, it’s unlikely for them to do wrong. But this is what happened to the brothers.”

In the early 2000s, Omarkhayam and Abdullah studied in Egypt and Jordan, respectively, where they became fluent in Arabic.

Omarkhayam went to al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he met the daughter of a conservative Indonesian Islamic cleric. After they married, the couple returned to Indonesia. There, Omarkhayam taught at his father-in-law’s school, and in 2011 he settled back in Mindanao.

It may have been then, and not when he was in the Middle East, that Omarkhayam was radicalized.

In Cairo “none of his fellow students saw him as having any radical tendencies at all,” Jakarta-based anti-terrorism expert Sidney Jones wrote in a 2016 report.

Little is known about Abdullah’s life after he went to Jordan, and it is not clear when he returned to Lanao del Sur, the Mindanao province that includes Marawi.

Intelligence sources said there are seven brothers and one half-brother in the family, all but one of whom joined the battle for Marawi.

The Mautes were a monied family in a close-knit tribal society where respect, honor and the Qur’an are paramount.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said the ‘Maranao’ clan, to which the Mautes belong, has a matriarchal tradition, and so their mother played a central role.

He said Farhana Maute, who according to the neighbor had furniture and used-car businesses, helped finance the group, and she drove recruitment and radicalization of local youths.

On Friday, she was stopped outside Marawi in a vehicle loaded with firearms and explosives and taken into custody. It was a major blow for the militants, according to Herrera, as she had been the “heart of the Maute organization.”
A day previously, the brothers’ father, an engineer, was arrested in Davao City, 250 km (155 miles) away.

When the Marawi siege began, several hundred militants were involved, including men from nations as far away as Morocco and Yemen. But most of the marauders, who took civilians as human shields and torched the town cathedral, were from four local groups allied to ISIS, and in the lead were the Maute, military officials said.

According to Jones, the Maute group has “the smartest, best-educated and most sophisticated members” of all the pro-ISIS outfits in the Philippines.

Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a local civic leader who knows some of the Maute’s extended family, said the brothers rely heavily on social media to recruit young followers and spread their “rigid and authoritarian” ideology.

The leader of the ISIS himself ordered the siege of Marawi City, which has been ravaged by prolonged clashes between government forces and Maute militants for the past three weeks, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday.

Speaking to reporters in Cagayan de Oro City, Duterte said ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “specifically ordered the conduct of terrorist activities in the Philippines.”

For his part, Foreign Affairs Minister Allan Peter Cayetano said in an independence day speech in Manila that the militants’ had planned to take over at least two or three cities in Mindanao.

Their plot was foiled because troops made a preemptive raid on Marawi to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf group and ISIS’s “emir” of Southeast Asia.

“We want to coordinate very well with Indonesia and Malaysia so they won’t also suffer in the hands of extremists,” he said.

“But the president knew at the start of his term that, as the allies become more successful in Syria and Iraq, ISIS will be looking for a land base, and Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will be a potential target to them.”

Washington said at the weekend it was providing support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to clear the militants from pockets of Marawi. Manila said this was technical assistance and there were no US “boots on the ground”.

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US Special Operations Forces are assisting the Philippine military in its battle against ISIS

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

US Special Operations Forces are assisting the Philippine military in its battle against ISIS-affiliated fighters, the US Embassy in Manila said Saturday.

The forces have been deployed at the request of thePhilippine government, the embassy said.
The Philippine armed forces have been fighting the ISIS-linked Maute militants for control of the city of Marawi in the southern Mindanao region.
Dozens of Philippine troops and militants have been reported killed in fighting, including more than a dozen marines Friday.
Both the US Embassy and the Pentagon said they couldn’t give specifics on the nature of the American support for “security reasons.”
The Pentagon noted that US Special Operations Forces “have been providing support and assistance in the southern Philippines for many years, at the request of several different Filipino administrations.”
The number of troops there ranges between 50 to 100 at any given time, the Pentagon said.
“As we have in the past, we routinely consult with our Filipino partners at senior levels to support the Duterte administration’s counterterrorism efforts,” the embassy said, referring to President Rodrigo Duterte.
“The United States is a proud ally of the Philippines, and we will continue to work with the Philippines to address shared threats to the peace and security of our countries, including on counterterrorism issues.”

A ‘temporary setback’

At least 13 Philippine marines were killed and 40 others wounded Friday during fighting with Maute militants in Marawi, the Philippine military said Saturday.
The fatalities occurred during a clearing operation over a 14-hour period.

&quot;Save Marawi City&quot; T-shirts are sold in Manila to help victims of the fighting.

The deaths bring the toll in the three-week Marawi campaign to 58 Philippine troops and at least 140 extremist militants, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.
“This temporary setback has not diminished our resolve a bit,” said Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, a military spokesman.
“It instead primed up our determination to continue our prudent advances to neutralize the enemy, save the innocent lives trapped in the fight, and set the conditions for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi.”

Fighting the militants’ message online

The fight against the Maute militants is proceeding on social media as well as the ground.
The Philippine military has called on Facebook to close 63 accounts linked to Maute militants engaged in the fighting.
At a press conference Friday in Marawi, Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said the military had uncovered accounts used by militants that focus on “spreading propaganda messaging and misinformation.”
Without confirming the request from the Philippines, a Facebook spokesman said the company has “well-established law enforcement channels for governments to contact us about emergencies.”
He said that Facebook removes any account tied to “groups or people that engage in terrorist activity, or posts that express support for terrorism.”
The request to Facebook comes just before the military’s goal of liberating Marawi by June 12 — the country’s Independence Day.
The government is also using TV to counter the militants’ message.
The state-run People’s Television Network aired a program Friday called “Countering Violent Extremism.
It explored the root cause of such extremism and offered suggestions on how to confront radicalization.
The government said it is preparing infrastructure repairs in Marawi once the region is cleared.
“We assure you that the President is deeply concerned for the city, the region and the island’s well-being and is very hands-on to ensure that normalcy will be restored at the soonest possible time and serve people’s aspirations for a comfortable life for all,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said, speaking on a radio program.

Philippines: Islamic Murderers Seize Marawi City: This Should Be A Wake up Call To SE Asia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Tom Allard | MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES

At the beginning of the battle that has raged for the past 12 days in Marawi City at the southern end of the Philippines, dozens of Islamist militants stormed its prison, overwhelming the guards.

“They said ‘surrender the Christians’,” said Faridah P. Ali, an assistant director of the regional prison authority. “We only had one Christian staff member so we put him with the inmates so he wouldn’t be noticed,” he said.

Fighters from the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), menaced the guards and shouted at prisoners: but no one gave up the Christian man. “When they freed the inmates, he got free,” said Ali.

It was a brief moment of cheer, but over the next few hours the militants took control of most of the city, attacked the police station and stole weapons and ammunition, and set up roadblocks and positioned snipers on buildings at key approaches. The assault has already led to the death of almost 180 people and the vast majority of Marawi’s population of about 200,000 has fled.

The seizing of the city by Maute and its allies on the island of Mindanao is the biggest warning yet that the Islamic State is building a base in Southeast Asia and bringing the brutal tactics seen in Iraq and Syria in recent years to the region.

Defense and other government officials from within the region told Reuters evidence is mounting that this was a sophisticated plot to bring forces from different groups who support the Islamic State together to take control of Marawi.

The presence of foreigners – intelligence sources say the fighters have included militants from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Chechnya and Morocco – alongside locals in Marawi, has particularly alarmed security officials.

For some time, governments in Southeast Asia have been worried about what happens when battle-hardened Islamic State fighters from their countries return home as the group loses ground in the Middle East, and now they have added concerns about the region becoming a magnet for foreign jihadis.

“If we do nothing, they get a foothold in this region,” said Hishammuddin Hussein, the defence minister of neighboring Malaysia.

Defense and military officials in the Philippines said that all four of the country’s pro-Islamic State groups sent fighters to Marawi with the intention of establishing the city as a Southeast Asian ‘wilayat’ – or governorate – for the radical group.

Mindanao – roiled for decades by Islamic separatists, communist rebels, and warlords – was fertile ground for Islamic State’s ideology to take root. This is the one region in this largely Catholic country to have a significant Muslim minority and Marawi itself is predominantly Muslim.

It is difficult for governments to prevent militants from getting to Mindanao from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia through waters that have often been lawless and plagued by pirates.

The Combating Terrorism Center, a West Point, New York-based think tank, said in a report this week that Islamic State is leveraging militant groups in Southeast Asia to solidify and expand its presence in the region. The key will be how well it manages relations with the region’s jihadi old guard, CTC said.

COMMANDER FIRED

The Maute group’s attack is the biggest challenge faced by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte since coming to power last June. He has declared martial law in Mindanao, which is his political base.

His defense forces were caught off guard by the assault and have had difficulty in regaining control of the city – on Saturday they were still struggling to wipe out pockets of resistance.

On Monday, Brigadier-General Nixon Fortes, the commander of the army brigade in Marawi, was sacked.

An army spokesman said this was unrelated to the battle. But a military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Friday that Fortes was dismissed because not all his forces were in the city when the rebels began their rampage, even though military intelligence had indicated that Islamist militants were amassing there.

The assault came just months after security forces attacked the mountain lair of Isnilon Hapilon, a long-time leader of Abu Sayyaf, or “Father of the Sword”, a notorious Islamist militant group known for kidnapping.

He swore allegiance to Islamic State in 2014, and quickly got other groups to join him. Most important among them was the Maute group, run by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute from a well-known family in Marawi.

In a video that surfaced last June, a Syria-based leader of the group urged followers in the region to join Hapilon if they could not travel to the Middle East. Hapilon was named IS leader in Southeast Asia last year.

The Philippines military said Hapilon was likely wounded in the raids but managed to escape to Marawi, where he joined up with the Maute group.

According to a statement on a social media group used by Maute fighters, the group wants to cleanse Marawi of Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, and polytheists – who believe in more than one God. It also wants to ban betting, karaoke and so-called “relationship dating.”

MOUNTAIN LAIRS

Some officials said Philippines security forces became complacent about the threat from IS after the January raids.

“We did not notice they have slipped into Marawi because we are focusing on their mountain lairs,” Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters.

Over the past few months, Philippine and Indonesian intelligence sources said, Hapilon’s forces were swelled by foreign fighters and new recruits within Marawi. Many of the outsiders came to Marawi using the cover of an Islamic prayer festival in the city last month, said Philippines military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera.

Lorenzana said that Hapilon brought 50-100 fighters to join Maute’s 250-300 men, while two other groups, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters  and the Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines, together brought at least 40 militants with them.

On May 23, four days before the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, they launched their attack when Philippine forces made an abortive attempt to capture Hapilon inside Marawi.

After the military retreated in the face of a phalanx of armed guards, about 400 militants quickly fanned out across the city, riding trucks mounted with 50-calibre machine guns and armed with rocket-propelled grenades and high-powered rifles.

Within hours, they attacked the jail and nearby police station, seizing weapons and ammunition, according to accounts from residents.

The Dansalan College, a Protestant institution, and the Catholic Cathedral of Maria Auxiliadora, were both razed, and a priest and about a dozen other parishioners captured. They remain hostages.

A Shi’ite mosque was also destroyed, and a statue of Jose Rizal, the Philippines hero of the uprising against Spanish rule, was beheaded.

SNIPERS ON ROOFTOPS

Herrera said the attack had the hallmarks of a professional military operation. “There was a huge, grand plan to seize the whole of Marawi,” he said.

After the initial battle, IS flags flew across the city and masked fighters roamed the streets proclaiming Marawi was theirs, using loud-hailers to urge residents to join them and handing out weapons to those who took up the offer, according to residents.

The military brought in helicopters to fire rockets at militant positions as ground troops began to retake key bridges and buildings, though some residents this has also led to the deaths of civilians.

“ISIS people were running on the street, running away from them. They were bombing them in the street (but) it hit our house and the mosque. Many other houses too,” said Amerah Dagalangit, a pregnant 29-year-old in an evacuation center near Marawi.

“Many people died when the bomb exploded,” she said, adding that a Muslim priest and children were among the victims.

Military officials said they had not received any report of the incident. Reuters could not independently verify the account.

The military has said 20 civilians have been killed in the fighting and that all were at the hands of the militants. It also says 120 rebels and 38 members of the security forces have been killed, including 10 soldiers who died from friendly fire in an airstrike.

“PEOPLE WILL GET KILLED”

Officials in neighboring Indonesia worry that even if the Filipinos successfully take back Marawi in coming days, the threat will still remain high.

“We worry they will come over here,” said one Indonesian counter-terrorism official, noting that Mindanao wasn’t very far from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

More than 2,000 people remain trapped in the center of Marawi, with no electricity and little food and water. Some are pinned down by the crossfire between the military and the militants, while others fear they will be intercepted by the militants as they flee, according to residents.

The bodies of eight laborers who had been shot in the head were found in a ravine outside Marawi last Sunday. The police said they had been stopped by the militants while escaping the city.

There will most likely be more civilian casualties in retaking the city, the military said.

“We are expecting that people will get starved, people will get hurt, people will get killed,” said Herrera, the military spokesman. “In these types of operations, you can’t get 100 per cent no collateral damage.”

(With Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Martin Howell)

Philippines: Gunman Murders At Least 36 In Marriott In Manila

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Manolo Serapio Jr and Neil Jerome Morales | MANILA

A gunman burst into a casino in the Philippine capital Manila on Friday, firing shots, setting gaming tables alight and killing at least 36 people, all suffocating in thick smoke, in what officials believe was a botched robbery.

There was no evidence linking the attack at the Resorts World Manila entertainment complex to fighting between government troops and Islamist militants in the country’s south, said Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.

“All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual,” Abella told a news conference. “Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to do harm or shoot anyone.”

The gunman killed himself in his hotel room after being shot and wounded by resort security, police and Resorts World management said. A second “person of interest” who was in the casino at the time was cooperating with the investigation, police said.

Most of the dead suffocated in the chaos. Fire bureau spokesman Ian Manalo said many guests and staff had tried to hide from the gunfire rather than get out of the building when attack began shortly after midnight (1600 GMT) and fell victim to the choking smoke.

Oscar Albayalde, chief of the capital’s police office, said those who died were in the casino’s main gaming area.

“What caused their deaths is the thick smoke,” he told reporters. “The room was carpeted and of course the tables, highly combustible.”

A Resorts World Manila official said the dead included 22 guests.

DEATH IN ROOM 510

At dawn, the body of the suspected gunman was found in a hotel room in the smoldering complex, which is close to Ninoy Aquino International Airport and an air force base, police said.

A injured policeman is seen at the entrance of a hotel after a shooting incident inside Resorts World Manila in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

“He burned himself inside the hotel room 510,” national police chief Ronald dela Rosa told a news conference. “He lay down on the bed, covered himself in a thick blanket and apparently doused himself in gasoline.”

Resorts World Manila Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly said casino security guards had shot and wounded the gunman – armed with what authorities described as a “baby armalite” – during the attack.

“Severe loss of blood from the gunshot wound significantly slowed down the assailant and resulted to his holing up in the room where he took his own life,” Reilly said.

Officials said at least 54 people were hurt, some seriously, as they rushed to escape what was at first was believed to have been a militant attack.

Survivor Magdalena Ramos, who was a guest at the hotel, said people began shouting “ISIS! ISIS!” when the gunfire began. The 57-year-old said she hid in a kitchen and then fled when the smoke became too thick.

But police quickly said they did not believe the attacker had any militant connections.

“We cannot attribute this to terrorism,” national police chief dela Rosa told DZMM radio.

“We are looking into a robbery angle because he did not hurt any people and went straight to the casino chips storage room. He parked at the second floor and barged into the casino, shooting large TV screens and poured gasoline on a table setting it on fire,” he said.

Earlier reports said the gunman may have been white, but police later said he appeared to be Filipino, although they were still establishing his nationality.

Kimberly Molitas, a spokeswoman for the capital’s police office, said 113 million pesos ($2.27 million) worth of casino chips stolen during the raid had been recovered.

GUNSHOTS, PANIC

Videos posted on social media showed people fleeing as several loud bangs went off.

“Even the security personnel panicked,” casino guest Jeff Santos told a radio station. “Definitely us patrons we did not expect that, everyone ran away.”

Jeri Ann Santiago, who works in the emergency room at the San Juan de Dios hospital, said patients were suffering from smoke inhalation and some had fractures. None had gunshot wounds, she said.

The Philippines has been on heightened alert amid a crisis in the south of the country, where troops have been battling Islamist rebels since May 23.

Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao last week and has warned it could become a haven for Islamic State supporters fleeing Iraq and Syria.

Security was tightened around the presidential palace on Friday, with armored personal carriers stationed on approach roads and river ferries barred from passing close by.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said four Taiwan nationals were among those killed and a South Korean foreign ministry official said one South Korean had died, apparently after a heart attack.

Shares in resort owner Travellers International Hotel Group Inc, a joint venture of the Philippines’ Alliance Global Group Inc and Genting Hong Kong Ltd, fell 7 percent.

(Additional reporting by Peter Blaza, Clare Baldwin, Karen Lema, Manuel Mogato, Enrico Dela Cruz and Martin Petty in MANILA and Ju-min Park in SEOUL; Writing by Alex Richardson and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)