- NLD MPs Elected to Top Local Parliament Positions in 12 of 14 Assemblies
- Central Bank Says 13 Foreign Banks Vying for Operating Licenses
- Space to Live: Rangoon’s Squatters Place Housing Hopes in NLD Govt
- FDA Opens Investigation into Nearly a Dozen Coffee Factories
- Public Bus Company Plies ‘Rapid Transit’ Route in Rangoon
- New Parliamentary Reporting Guidelines Criticized as Restrictive
- Lower House Approves Members of Two More Standing Committees
- Bill Committee Chairman: ‘I Would Like to Change Outdated Laws’
- SkyNet Clarifies Broadcast on Suspension of Article 59(f)
- China Offers Rewards for Online ‘Terrorist’ Tip-Offs
- Suspect in Murder of Dismembered Spaniard in Thai Custody
- North Korea Rocket Launch May Spur US Missile Defense Buildup in Asia
Posted: 09 Feb 2016 04:52 AM PST
RANGOON — Burma's local legislatures elected speakers and deputy speakers on Monday, with lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) assuming the posts in all but two parliaments—in Arakan and Shan states.
In Rangoon Division, Tin Maung Tun, representing Dagon Township, was elected speaker and Lin Naing Myint of Kamayut Township, will serve as deputy.
The Kachin State parliament was a close run affair, with the NLD's Tun Tin edging out Yar Wan Jone of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) for the speaker's chair.
NLD lawmakers U Tar, Aung Kyaw Oo and Aung Kyaw Khaing were elected speakers of the Magwe, Mandalay and Irrawaddy Division parliaments, respectively.
Aung Kyaw Khaing, 56, is a descendant of Bo Aung Kyaw, a prominent student leader who was killed during a police crackdown on students during British rule in 1938.
In his address to the local parliament on Monday, Aung Kyaw Khaing outlined his priority as speaker.
"Around 70 percent of the population in Irrawaddy Division is rural folks. And there are ownership disputes over 300,000 acres of land in the division. It is our first priority to improve the socio-economic lives of these people," he said.
In Sagaing Division, U Than was elected speaker while Khin Maung Aye and Khin Maung Yin will assume the position in Tenasserim and Pegu division parliaments, respectively. Hla Htwe was elected speaker in Karenni State, Saw Chit Khin in Karen State and Zo Bwe in Chin State.
All are lawmakers of the NLD, whose members dominate 12 of the country's 14 state and divisional assemblies.
In Shan State, USDP members Sai Lone Hsai of Kengtung Township and Sao Aung Myat, the incumbent state chief minister, will serve as speaker and deputy speaker.
In Arakan State parliament, where the Arakan National Party (ANP) won 23 seats in last year's general election, San Kyaw Hla and Phoe Min, both of the ANP, were elected as speaker and deputy.
The post NLD MPs Elected to Top Local Parliament Positions in 12 of 14 Assemblies appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 09 Feb 2016 02:13 AM PST
RANGOON — The Central Bank of Myanmar announced on Tuesday that 13 foreign banks have applied to operate in Burma in a second round of licensing.
In the announcement, which came a day after the Feb. 8 application deadline, the Central Bank said that the final decision would be made by March 31, the final day of President Thein Sein's administration.
Contenders in the second licensing round include the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam; Taiwan's Cathay United Bank, CTBC Bank, E.SUN Commercial Bank, First Commercial Bank and Mega International Commercial Bank; South Korea's KB Kookmin Bank and Shinhan Bank; the State Bank of India; the State Bank of Mauritius; Taiwan Business Bank; Taiwan Cooperative Bank; and Taiwan Shin Kong Commercial Bank.
The announcement said that unsuccessful applicants from the previous round of licensing were eligible to participate in the final stage of the process. Following the preliminary approval of licenses will be an intervening period during which time operations will be set up.
All nine winners that competed for licenses in 2014— the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Australia's ANZ Bank, the Bangkok Bank, Malaysia's Maybank, the United Overseas Bank and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation of Singapore and Japanese lenders Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Sumitomo Bank and Mizuho Bank—are based in the Asia-Pacific.
These banks operate in Burma under rigid conditions. They are barred from competing against local lenders in the retail banking sector and are only allowed to run one branch.
Soe Thein, executive director of the local Asian Green Development Bank, said that he is unconcerned about this latest licensing round because of the restrictions on foreign banks.
"As Burma gradually opens, the Central Bank will issue more foreign bank licenses, but I don't think it will harm the local industry, as foreign banks can't compete in the local market," he said.
"I also don't think that the Central Bank is rushing to issue new licenses before the new government comes to power because it [the Central Bank] stands as an independent body."
However, Zaw Lin Htut, chief executive officer of the Myanmar Payment Union, said that he expects almost a half-dozen foreign banks to receive licenses by the end of March.
"I've heard that four or five more banks may receive licenses before power is handed over to the new government," he said.
"And because more foreign banks are coming into the country, we will also see more job opportunities for banking professionals."
The post Central Bank Says 13 Foreign Banks Vying for Operating Licenses appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 09 Feb 2016 01:53 AM PST
RANGOON — A mother of two children, 34-year-old Thuzar Moe originally hails from the Irrawaddy Delta's Hinthada Township. She has been living for almost two decades in an industrial zone in Hlaing Tharyar Township on the outskirts of Rangoon, since her family migrated to the area when she was 16 years old.
She spoke to The Irrawaddy on November 8, the day of Burma's general election, and exactly four months later in February, following the National League for Democracy's (NLD) victory.
"My family voted for the NLD," Thuzar Moe said, echoing the sentiments of nearly all those interviewed by The Irrawaddy in Hlaing Tharyar on election day. The township is reportedly one of Burma's most densely populated, and home to tens of thousands of squatters like Thuzar Moe, who have eked out a living on industrial and government land for years.
Many feel that a solution to the issue of homelessness and illegal tenancy will be a test of Burma's new government.
But for the time being, things have yet to improve in Shwe Lin Pan quarter, where Thuzar Moe and her family live. Despite recent bulldozing of squatter housing around Rangoon intended to deter undocumented settlements, even more people have arrived in Hlaing Tharyar in recent months: 600 families who Thuzar Moe said have come from Arakan State.
She said she has seen photos of the home demolitions on social media. On Jan. 26, local authorities in Rangoon hired 1,500 men and employed excavators to destroy about 500 houses in Kon Ta La Paung village in the city's Pyinmabin Industrial Zone. They alleged that people living there were trespassers.
"I am also a squatter like them. I know how they feel," she said. "If the authorities are going to remove us, we have no place to run."
No Apartment, No Land
Near Thuzar Moe's house, a white four-story concrete building towers over makeshift shelters. She said they have been built by the government and are classified as "low cost apartments."
Chit San Ko, another squatter who lives near the building, said that government staff live there and bought their apartments through an installment plan. Many owners then lease their rooms to tenants, but the rentals still remain too costly for laborers like Chit San Ko.
"We can't afford to rent those apartments," he said. "Over 70,000 kyats (US$56) for a month is a burden for me."
If migrants had the opportunity to rent space in these buildings, the number of those living on the land as squatters would decrease everyday, he said.
Homeless people have been encouraged to apply for subsidized apartments in Rangoon's South Dagon Township, where Bandula Housing offers rooms for 30,000 kyats (US$24) per month. Yet the demand is much higher than the number of available units, and every applicant must provide a household registration form in order to be considered for tenancy.
"How can the squatters get one of these apartments? They don't have a [household registration] form," said Myat Min Thu, a newly elected NLD regional MP representing constituency number two in Hlaing Tharyar Township.
In Rangoon, this documentation requirement excludes most of the homeless population. The division's electoral sub-commission chief, Ko Ko, estimated in 2015 that up to 100,000 people in the region had not been issued household registration certificates. He pointed out that no up-to-date list of squatter populations in Rangoon existed, but estimated that Hlaing Tharyar had an unregistered migrant population of at least 30,000.
With little hope of landing a government apartment, Thuzar Moe instead looked into renting a plot of land in Shwe Lin Pan quarter. When her family first arrived in the township, they had also rented land; at that time, the leasing fee was a mere 3,000 kyats (less than US$2.50) per month. Now the rate is 50,000 kyats (US$40) and any housing on the land has to be constructed by the tenant.
Mothers like Thuzar Moe end up choosing between schooling their children and paying for legal housing.
"I have to pay for my children [to go to school]. Instead of renting an apartment, I can spend that money on my children's education."
'A Solution in Six Months'
If more opportunities existed in their native towns, fewer people would be tempted to leave them, Myat Min Thu told The Irrawaddy. He hypothesizes that development of the states and divisions outside of Rangoon would decrease the internal migration that leads to squatting.
Better law enforcement will be integral in learning how to address the issue in Hlaing Tharyar, where, he said, many squatters live under the protection of gangs, who collect "tax" in exchange for protection from authorities.
Myat Min Thu also lamented the acceptance of bribes by the local administration in exchange for residency or roadside shop permits, both of which contribute to growing squatter settlements.
Aung Ko Oo, the third Hlaing Tharyar township administrator to serve in the last five years, declined to be interviewed for this article.
Although Myat Min Thu did not describe an NLD strategy to address the squatting issue, he promised to reveal a plan soon.
"I will submit a proposal for the squatter problem within six months," he said.
Hlaing Tharyar is now represented by NLD MPs in the Lower and Upper Houses and in the two constituencies in the regional parliament.
Thuzar Moe believes better living conditions will accompany the party's leadership over the next five years.
"All I need is space to live here," she said.
The post Space to Live: Rangoon's Squatters Place Housing Hopes in NLD Govt appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 09 Feb 2016 01:47 AM PST
RANGOON — Burma's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened an investigation into nearly a dozen coffee factories in Rangoon over rumors of malpractice.
A joint committee formed last year by multiple local organizations—such as the FDA, Consumer Protection Association, Consumers Union and City Development Committee—made a surprise visit on Saturday to 11 coffee factories in Rangoon's industrial zones, according to Zin Zin Nwe, director of the FDA's Rangoon office.
Factories being investigated include makers of local coffee brands such as Super, Premier, Sunday, Gold Roast and Mikko. Zin Zin Nwe said that the FDA would reveal the laboratory results as soon as possible but that the process could take up to a week.
"Rumor has it that coffee factories were mixing powder made from coconut shells and tamarind seeds into their instant coffee mix," Zin Zin Nwe told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
"Our teams collected traces of raw ingredients from the factories and had them sent to a laboratory to see if they contain any improper substances," she continued.
According to Zin Zin Nwe, 12 coffee factories are registered with the FDA. Investigation teams were unable to check one of the factories because it was closed.
Maung Maung, secretary of the Myanmar Consumers Union, expressed some doubt over the veracity of the rumors.
"The cost of turning coconut shells and tamarind seeds into powder similar to that of instant coffee powder is more expensive than the typical mixing process," he said, explaining that a small packet of instant coffee mix costs only 100 kyats (US$0.08) in Burma.
But the FDA results will ultimately substantiate or dispel the speculation, he added.
According to Article 28 of Burma's 1997 National Food Law, anyone who produces, imports, exports, stores, distributes or sells food that may be poisonous, dangerous or injurious to the health of consumers could be jailed for up to three years or fined 300,000 kyats.
The surprise check was the third such investigation by the committee, and the FDA hopes to carry out similar actions in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, many local consumer organizations have criticized the FDA for not better guaranteeing food safety, though Zin Zin Nwe also explained that a dearth of human resources and laboratories has hampered the FDA's efforts.
The post FDA Opens Investigation into Nearly a Dozen Coffee Factories appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 09 Feb 2016 12:07 AM PST
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RANGOON — Rangoon Public Bus Company launched on Monday, with 18 vehicles in service plying a route from Htauk Kyant Junction down Pyay Road, in what is being touted as comprising Burma's first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
The new bus service is being billed as an initiative to reduce traffic congestion and improve the standard of public transportation in the commercial capital. The fare is 300 kyat and passengers can purchase prepaid cards with a value of 1,000, 3,000, 5,000 or 10,000 kyat from a bus company employee.
The buses run daily from 6 am to 9:30 pm.
Maung Aung, an adviser to the Ministry of Commerce who leads a committee responsible for forming the public company, told The Irrawaddy last month that they will expand the routes with the arrival of more buses to be imported from China, South Korea and Sweden.
The post Public Bus Company Plies 'Rapid Transit' Route in Rangoon appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 08 Feb 2016 11:33 PM PST
RANGOON — In an 18-point statement released on Feb. 5, the Union Parliament Office set out guidelines for the media which reporters say limit their ability to cover parliamentary affairs.
The statement, with a subject line reading "Cooperation related to the media," pointed out that some supposed inconveniences occurred on Jan. 29 during a welcome lunch for first and second session parliamentarians, as well as on Feb. 1, the first day of the Lower House of Parliament.
The office called on the Ministry of Information, the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), the Myanmar Journalists' Association and the local Foreign Correspondents Club on Friday to cooperate in submitting a list of no more than five journalists from each registered media outlet to cover parliamentary affairs.
The press council has helped to compile the list, sending in the names of 454 local reporters and 53 foreign reporters to the Union Parliament's Office, according to MPC secretary Thiha Saw.
However, the secretary said the press council did not take part in helping to formulate the new guidelines.
"[Some] rules, like where journalists should stay, are up to them [the parliamentary office]. But we journalists, if possible, want news freely and want to be able to question freely," Thiha Saw said.
He added that the parliamentary office should have consulted with media groups before issuing the guidelines and prior to the opening of the new Parliament last week.
"We think it is bad management," Thiha Saw said.
In the statement, the Union Parliament Office also told journalists "to dress in clothes suitable for the dignity of Parliament," warning that those who did not would be turned away.
Other constraints included no filming or photography in restricted buildings and certain areas without express permission and limited access to the parliamentary grounds on non-sitting days.
Designated spaces have also been set for interviews with officials. According to an Irrawaddy reporter, this initiative was restrictive as lawmakers or other officials had to be asked to walk to the designated area before being interviewed.
In May last year, journalists were banned from an observation booth above the Union Parliament chamber without explanation, a restriction that was broadened to include sessions of both the Upper and Lower houses.
It was speculated that the decision was prompted by unflattering photos and videos captured in the booth, including an image of lawmakers asleep during a session and a photograph that appeared to show a military lawmaker voting on behalf of his absent neighbor.
Many reporters covering the opening of Parliament last week were forced to gather in a crowded corridor to watch the session on a TV screen. More than 600 journalists were reportedly present at the parliamentary complex on Monday for the opening of the Lower House, outnumbering the chamber's lawmakers.
May Kha, a local reporter for Voice of America, said of the restrictions: "it's more annoying and difficult to cover news at the moment when we [the media] are being suppressed."
The Myanmar Journalist Network (MJN) released a statement on Monday rejecting the new reporting guidelines.
"MJN cannot accept the rules released by the Union Parliament Office which treat the media as a lower class," the statement read.
The body urged the parliamentary office to ensure media freedom and negotiate on any reporting rules, stressing that it was the right of all reporters to freely cover affairs of the Parliament.
The post New Parliamentary Reporting Guidelines Criticized as Restrictive appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 08 Feb 2016 10:43 PM PST
RANGOON — The Lower House of Burma's Parliament convened for its fourth day on Monday, with lawmakers approving the members of two more parliamentary standing committees.
Lower House Speaker Win Myint read the nominated candidates for two 15-member committees—the Lower House Rights Committee and the Government Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee.
Lower House Deputy Speaker T Khun Myat of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will serve as chairperson of the Rights Committee, while National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker Dr May Win Myint of Rangoon's Mayangone constituency will assume the chairmanship of the latter body.
State and divisional parliaments also convened on Monday to select speakers and deputy speakers. Members of the NLD filled the majority of the postings, with the exception of the Arakan and Shan state legislatures.
In Arakan State, San Kyaw Hla, an Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker from Ponnagyun Township was selected as house speaker and the ANP's Phoe Min from Rathedaung Township will serve as the deputy speaker.
In Shan State, the Union Solidarity and Development Party's Sai Lone Hsai of Kengtung Township claimed the speakership role with Sao Aung Myat, the current Shan State chief minister, to serve as his deputy.
The post Lower House Approves Members of Two More Standing Committees appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 08 Feb 2016 10:40 PM PST
Tun Tun Hein, of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was appointed head of the Lower House's Bill Committee last week. Already a member of the NLD's central executive committee and the voter list reviewing committee, the 66-year-old MP representing Nawnghkio Township in Shan State is lauded as an expert on legal issues. He spoke with The Irrawaddy's Htun Htun about his plans to change and propose laws within Parliament.
What preparations have you made to take the helm of the bill committee?
Since I became a Lower House lawmaker, I have talked about my stance: I would like to change outdated laws, enact necessary laws for national development and change the constitution. After I was appointed head of the bill committee, I met the former committee members, mostly to review the draft laws they had submitted. I checked the process and found that we can recommend or draft and submit the laws we want. We have to take cues from the former bill committee and then think about how we can do better.
Which outdated laws will you prioritize changing?
There are many outdated laws, from the time of Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, Burma's Socialist Program Party, to the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the State Peace and Development Council. I learned that around 229 laws were enacted over the past five years, so it would be quite difficult to review all the laws. As the first step, we will divide up that responsibility.
There are draft laws which the previous bill committee could not pass. What will you do regarding those laws?
Yes, there are 23 remaining laws to be passed. We have yet to discuss in which stages they are in before proceeding with them.
What steps have you taken for constitutional amendments?
The NLD wants to amend 168 provisions in the Constitution. We have yet to discuss if we can amend all of them and to which provisions we should give priority. The bill committee alone can't handle this. But then again, it would not be [totally] impossible to change all of them.
What is your view as the chair of the bill committee on suspension of Article 59(f)?
There are different views among the general public and legal experts. The 2008 Constitution itself does not provide for the suspension of a particular provision. However, in the country's history, the 1947 Constitution was suspended for a while, from 1958-59, to form an interim government. Citing this, some argue that that clause can be suspended. But, some are against it, warning that it will lead to frequent demands for [constitutional] amendment unnecessarily in the future. I have no comment on those views. In our view, it is inappropriate if Article 59(f) is targeted at a particular person. A law should be concerned with the entire country; if it concerns only a particular person, it is not a law.
I heard that the NLD will submit a proposal to suspend Article 59(f) in the parliament? When?
I don't know which NLD member said that. I don't know yet if the proposal will be submitted.
Have you held negotiations with the military to amend constitutional provisions related to them?
It is undeniable that the military plays an important role. We just can't do as the people and our party wish overnight. We have to negotiate and we need to build trust, which takes time. The possibility is faint that over 75 percent of the Parliament will vote in favor of changing the Constitution. But it is not that it is impossible. It is a question of how we might need to bargain and make compromises. Though the military says it would not change provisions [for itself] at present, it does not mean that it will never change. It needs to be changed peacefully for the sake of the country.
The NLD has appointed military representatives to the parliamentary affairs committees. Is this part of a compromise?
We do not have such attitude that our party alone can handle rebuilding the nation. We have to collaborate with everyone in the interest of the country. Everyone is valuable. I don't want to use the term 'national reconciliation.' There are small differences between us. We have to accept the reality that there are differences between us; only then can we make conciliatory moves. National reconciliation is important and we have to work with others.
The NLD has appointed Shwe Mann as the head of the legal affairs and special cases assessment commission and most of the members are former lawmakers from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Why?
We can't be well versed in every field. For example, we do not know as much about energy as someone in the field. Suppose a bill on energy is submitted, we have to seek the views of the experts. We need people who can give professional advice. All 23 members of the commission are experts in their related fields.
There has been criticism that the NLD has deliberately appointed those who are close to Shwe Mann to the commission.
Let them say that. I have no comment about the criticism. If we can get experience and advice from them, it is an advantage for us. For example, it would be better for our country if we could make use of the experience of the former bill committee. We have to start from the very beginning if we don't utilize their experience just because they are from the USDP. We'll seek their experiences and help. If it needs to be, the commission can be expanded.
Will significant members of the former cabinet, like Aung Min, the peace negotiator from the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), be appointed to the NLD government?
Minister U Aung Min assumes lots of responsibilities in the MPC. We need to seek help from them for peace building. They might be appointed within an NLD government. However, this is just my view and I am not in a position to make a decision regarding this.
The former bill committee was criticized as passing laws contradictory to one another. What will you do about these laws?
Yes, they were. For example, the law about the election of a ward or village administrator states that their terms are equal to that of the Parliament, but the bylaws say that their terms are the same as that of the government. We have to review them.
Do you have any further comments?
I will fulfill my duties to the best of my ability with a commitment to serve the country.
Translated by Thet Ko Ko.
The post Bill Committee Chairman: 'I Would Like to Change Outdated Laws' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 08 Feb 2016 09:20 PM PST
RANGOON — Local broadcaster SkyNet has moved to clarify a news piece that aired on Sunday which many viewers interpreted as expressing support for the suspension of a constitutional clause which effectively bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.
The same broadcast, run by both SkyNet and Myanmar National Television, aired the opinions of three ethnic leaders on whether Article 59(f) of Burma's 2008 Constitution should be suspended to allow Suu Kyi to assume the country's highest office.
An onscreen caption at one point read "positive results could come out of negotiations for the suspension of the constitutional Article 59(f)."
The program caused a minor storm online, with many Burmese social media users apparently interpreting the content as implying that the military was supportive of the much-rumored plan.
Ye Min Oo, senior general manager of SkyNet's central news bureau, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the broadcast was opinion-based and had been misunderstood by many viewers.
"We just reported the three ethnic leader's opinions. They said the result may be positive, we didn't report that it will be positive. People have misunderstood the report," Ye Min Oo said.
Article 59(f) of the military-drafted charter disqualifies anyone with a foreign spouse or children from becoming president, effectively barring Suu Kyi because her two children are British nationals, as was her late husband.
Since December, debate has surfaced over whether the clause could be suspended, paving the way for Suu Kyi to assume the country's highest office. However, it remains uncertain whether the country's powerful military would support such a plan which some lawmakers have described as possibly unconstitutional.
On Monday, Union Parliament Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than announced that nominations for the presidency would begin on March 17, more than four months since the National League for Democracy (NLD) claimed a hefty majority in last year's election.
The post SkyNet Clarifies Broadcast on Suspension of Article 59(f) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 08 Feb 2016 09:05 PM PST
SHANGHAI — China has pledged to reward people who report online "terrorist" content up to 100,000 yuan (US$15,200) for each tip off, after giving out 2 million yuan worth of rewards last year, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.
"The Internet has become a channel for terrorists to spread extremist religious ideas, provoke ethnic conflicts and advocate separatism," Xinhua quoted an unnamed source from the Cyberspace Administration of China's (CAC) reporting center as saying.
The person said Twitter-like microblogs and popular instant messaging services such as WeChat were among tools used by terrorists to "brainwash" young women and children, and encouraged the public to provide tip-offs via a telephone hotline.
The center's source said the most valuable tip-off could receive 100,000 yuan, Xinhua reported.
Giving unusual details of their efforts last year, the center in 2015 received reports of more than 20,000 cases, and handed out 2 million yuan worth of rewards, it said.
The CAC could not immediately be reached for comment during a public holiday in China.
In December, China called for a crackdown on online audio and video recordings used by "terrorists," after the Islamic State purportedly released a Chinese-language song to recruit militants.
The government says it faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists in energy-rich Xinjiang, where hundreds of people have been killed in violence in recent years.
Rights groups, however, doubt that a cohesive militant Islamist group exists there, saying the violence stems from popular anger at Chinese controls on religion and culture.
The post China Offers Rewards for Online 'Terrorist' Tip-Offs appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 08 Feb 2016 08:49 PM PST
BANGKOK — A Spanish man who is the prime suspect in the gruesome murder of a fellow Spaniard was in Thai custody Monday after being arrested in Cambodia, where he fled after the victim's dismembered body was recovered over several days from Bangkok's Chao Phraya River.
The suspect, identified as Artur Segarra Princep, 36, was arrested Sunday evening at a restaurant in the Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville, where he had checked into a guesthouse a few days earlier, regional Cambodian Police Chief Gen. Chuon Narin said Monday.
"We received a request from Thai police to arrest this man, and after launching an investigation we found him," Chuon Narin said.
Thai police sent a helicopter to Cambodia and it returned with the suspect Monday evening.
Thai police have identified the victim as David Bernat, who was described as a consultant. They have speculated that he was abducted, tortured and forced to transfer a large amount of money before being killed. Thai police have declined to publicly comment on media reports of large transfers of money from Bernat's bank account to accounts in Spain and Singapore.
At a news conference, Thai National Police Chief Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda told reporters that Segarra "only said that they were friends," referring to him and the victim.
Police obtained records showing that Segarra had withdrawn money from ATM machines in the Bangkok area as recently as Thursday, and also had video of him with an unidentified woman and in a black Isuzu pickup truck. Immigration police said Segarra has visited Thailand frequently, but his latest visa expired late last year.
Records show that Bernat also visited Thailand many times, arriving most recently on Jan. 19 on a flight from Iran. He was last seen alive while leaving his Bangkok apartment on Jan. 20. Medical examiners said they believe he died between Jan. 25 and Jan. 27, with the cause being suffocation.
Thai media reports over the weekend said Segarra's motorcycle was found at the Thai border, and a Thai woman described as his girlfriend was quoted saying that he fled Bangkok after seeing his picture on Thai television news reports.
The post Suspect in Murder of Dismembered Spaniard in Thai Custody appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 08 Feb 2016 08:43 PM PST
WASHINGTON — North Korea's latest rocket launch might kick off a buildup of US missile defense systems in Asia, US officials and missile defense experts said, something that could further strain US-China ties and also hurt relations between Beijing and Seoul.
North Korea says it put a satellite into orbit on Sunday, but the United States and its allies see the launch as cover for Pyongyang's development of ballistic missile technology that could be used to deliver a nuclear weapon.
Washington sought to reassure its allies South Korea and Japan of its commitment to their defense after the launch, which followed a North Korean nuclear test on Jan. 6.
The United States and South Korea said they would begin formal talks about deploying the sophisticated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, to the Korean peninsula "at the earliest possible date."
South Korea had been reluctant to publicly discuss the possibility due to worries about upsetting China, its biggest trading partner.
Beijing, at odds with the United States over Washington's reaction to its building of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, quickly expressed "deep concern" about a system whose radar could penetrate Chinese territory.
China had made its position clear to Seoul and Washington, the Foreign Ministry said.
"When pursuing its own security, one country should not impair others' security interests," spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.
But the North Korean rocket launch, on top of last month's nuclear test, could be a "tipping point" for South Korea and win over parts of Seoul's political establishment that remain wary of such a move, a US official said.
South Korea and the United States said that if THAAD was deployed to South Korea, it would be focused only on North Korea.
An editorial in the Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper, called that assurance "feeble."
"It is widely believed by military experts that once THAAD is installed, Chinese missiles will be included as its target of surveillance, which will jeopardize Chinese national security," it said.
Japan, long concerned about North Korea's ballistic missile program, has previously said it was considering THAAD to beef up its defenses. The North Korean rocket on Sunday flew over Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Monday the Defense Ministry had no concrete plan to introduce THAAD, but added the ministry believed new military assets would strengthen the country's capabilities.
Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said the launch would give Japan momentum to deploy THAAD.
Washington moved one of its five THAAD systems to Guam in 2013 following North Korean threats, and is now studying the possibility of converting a Hawaii test site for a land-based version of the shipboard Aegis missile defense system into a combat-ready facility.
Some experts questioned how effective THAAD would be against the type of long-range rocket launched by North Korea and the Pentagon concedes it has yet to be tested against such a device.
THAAD is designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or just outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight. It has so far proven effective against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
John Schilling, a contributor to the Washington-based 38 North project that monitors North Korea, said THAAD's advanced AN/TPY-2 tracking radar built by Raytheon Co could provide an early, precise track on any such missile.
David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said that while THAAD could not shoot down the type of rocket launched on Sunday its deployment could reassure the South Korean public.
"Much of what missile defense programs are about is reassuring allies and the public," he said.
Suitable Site Identified
One US official said the North Korean launch added urgency to longstanding informal discussions about a possible THAAD deployment to South Korea. "Speed is the priority," said the official, who asked not to be named ahead of a formal decision.
Renewed missile-defense discussions with the United States could also send a message to Beijing that it needs to do more to rein in North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, another US official said.
South Korean officials have already identified a suitable site for the system, but it could also be placed at a US base on the Korean peninsula, Ellison said.
THAAD is a system built by Lockheed Martin Corp that can be transported by air, sea or land. The Pentagon has ordered two more batteries from Lockheed.
One of the four THAAD batteries based at Fort Bliss, Texas, is always ready for deployment overseas, and could be sent to Japan or South Korea within weeks, Ellison said.
Lockheed referred all questions about a possible THAAD deployment to the US military.
The post North Korea Rocket Launch May Spur US Missile Defense Buildup in Asia appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
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