Monday, May 31, 2010

Prepare for the third round in Thaksin's scheme

Terror charge won't deter ex-PM who shows no sign of giving up his fight
During the Songkran holiday last year, when the red-shirt demonstrators took to the streets of Bangkok to engage in a campaign of violence, the group's de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra came across like an idiot.

The fugitive premier convicted on corruption charges went on television, telling the world the red-shirt hooligans holding communities hostage with their campaign of violence, not to mention a gas tanker-trailer truck, were fighting for democracy.
One reading of why the violence last April 2009 occurred was that chaos was needed to pave a way for his return. In such a situation, a coup or a counter-coup, or what have you, could take place and set the wheels rolling. Otherwise the former premier could not return under normal circumstances.

A year later, the red shirts were mobilised to repeat the violence - this time on the pretext they wanted an election because this government was "illegitimate". Never mind that two previous governments, which were Thaksin's proxies by the way, had come to power through the very same Parliament.

But when the government gave in, the red leaders shifted into a foot-dragging tactic that eventually led to a showdown between the red demonstrators and the group's invisible armed wing - hooded men in black with guns whom the government referred to as "terrorists" - and battalions of nerve-wracked, trigger-happy government troops.
Outgunned and outnumbered, it was inevitable the reds would suffer higher casualties. But they didn't go down without a fight. So they torched about 30 commercial buildings, while government offices in a number of provinces were set ablaze.

So much for liberty, justice and democracy for the innocent business owners.
Thailand was brought to its knees and Thaksin and his camp succeeded in sending a message to anyone seen as against them - business community and bankers - that they would not be spared.

Some of Southeast Asia's fanciest malls, not to mentioned commercial banks accused of financing the anti-Thaksin camp, came under arson attack as pro-Thaksin reds tried to make a comeback.

In April 2009, when asked what was so democratic about resorting to violence, Thaksin was dumb-struck. This time around, he maintained the torching of the shopping malls and other buildings in the city and around the country was a "set up", the work of "professionals".

Round two, if we could call it that, ended in a great deal of physical and emotional damage. But hold on to your saddle, Thaksin hasn't shown a sign of giving up. Round three could be coming our way sooner than expected.

This past week a Thai criminal court approved an arrest warrant for Thaksin, charging him with terrorism in connection to the recent arson attacks by the reds.
But will such a charge have any real effect on such a selfish and bitter man? Has it ever crossed his mind that he was his own worst enemy and that he has dug his own grave?

His latest ploy is to hire a fancy mouthpiece calling himself a lawyer - Robert Amsterdam - to paint him as a symbol of a victim of an "oppressive" Thai state.
It's easy for anyone who didn't agree with the military coup that ousted him in 2006 to brand Thaksin a victim of a wicked system. Never mind that the man was on the verge of turning Thailand into a banana republic or a Suharto's Indonesia or a Ferdinand Marcos' Philippines.

But Thaksin himself is damaged goods. The truth has caught up with him. Let's hope the rest of the world can see through this scam artist and help Thailand bring him to justice. By The Nation

ASEAN'S NEW DILEMMA: Burma's nuclear ambitions

THE US ACTION was swift following confirmation of a North Korean ship with suspicious arms cargoes docking in Burma last month in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1874. A few days later, in the third week of April, the US State Department dispatched an urgent message to the Asean capitals recommending the scheduled Asean-US Economic Ministers' roadshow in Seattle and Washington DC, from May 3-5, proceed without the Burmese representation at "all levels." The drastic move surprised the Asean leaders.

The American ultimatum was not a bluff but a genuine show of frustration. This time Washington wanted to send a strong signal to Burma and the rest of Asean that unless something was done about Burma's compliance with the relevant UN resolutions on North Korean sanctions, there would be dire consequences. Political issues aside, Burma's nuclear ambition can further dampen Asean-US relations in the future. Already, there was the first casualty when the US downgraded the high-powered economic roadshow which was meticulously planned months ahead between the Office of US Trade Representatives and Asean economic ministers through the US-Asean Business Council.

Since nearly all Asean countries, except Singapore, decided to dispatch their trade or industry ministers to join the campaign, they agreed the roadshow should continue without the Burmese delegation as requested by the US. After some bargaining, the US softened its position agreeing to accept a representation at the charge d'affaires level from the Burmese Embassy in Washington DC. But Rangoon chose to opt out as it wanted diplomats directly dispatched from Rangoon. Without a consensus in Asean, a new name - absurd as it seemed - was in place, as the Southeast Asia Economic Community Road Show. It would be a one-time only designation.

When Kurt Campbell, Assistant State Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs returned to Burma for the second time recently, he was blunt telling the junta leaders to abide and fully comply with the UN Security Council Resolution 1874. That has been Washington's serious concern due to the growing link between North Korea and Burma and their existing transfer of nuclear-related technology. Last June, a North Korean ship, Kang Nam, was diverted from going to Burma after being trailed by the US navy.

Since 2000, Western intelligence sources have been gathering evidence of North Korea providing assistance to Burma to build a nuclear reactor that can produce graded plutonium used in assembling future weapons of mass destruction. Last year, reports were released using data collected from two defecting Burmese military officers, intercepted calls and messages as well as human intelligence along Thai-Burmese border, all finger-pointing to Burma's nuclear ambitions.

When they came out last fall, scepticism was high among military experts and strategists on the junta's nuclear intentions. Most said there was insufficient evidence. Some viewed them as attempts to further discredit the regime's international standing. As additional interviews were conducted, especially with a former major in the Burmese Army, Sai Thein Win, who was directly involved with the recent secret nuclear programme, it has become clearer that Burma is investigating nuclear technology. This week, a special report on a huge new body of information, with expert comment from a former official working for the International Atomic Energy Agency, will be released.

As such, it will have far-reaching implications on Asean and its members, who signed the 1995 Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ) and Non-proliferation Treaty. Asean is currently working hard to persuade all major nuclear powers to sign the protocol to the SEANWFZ. The grouping has even delayed China's eagerness to accede to the protocol.

Further complicating the issue, Asean has not reached a consensus on how its members would move forward with a common approach on nuclear energy and security. In general, Asean backs nuclear disarmament, which the Philippines has played a leading role as chair of the just concluded Review Conference of State Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons. Asean also backs the ongoing efforts of US and Russia over non-proliferation.

One sticky problem is that Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Burma, and Indonesia have yet to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In the case of Indonesia, it is on the Annex 2 list of the treaty which, to enter into force, must be reatified by all 44 states on this list. At the upcoming Asean summit in Hanoi (October), Asean leaders will study a matrix of common positions that have been or could be taken up by Asean. It remains to be seen how Asean would approach some of the sensitive issues such as the South China Sea, climate change and issues related to nuclear technology.

At the recent Nuclear Summit in Washington DC, leaders from Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand were invited by US President Barack Obama to share their views on non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy. They supported the summit's plan of action to prevent nuclear terrorism. All these Asean members have long-term plans to build nuclear power plants for peaceful use as energy sources. Vietnam has long decided on building two, while Thailand is planning one in the next ten years. Indonesia has serious parliamentary support to explore a nuclear option. Even the Singapore Economic Strategies Committee has recommended nuclear energy should be considered as a possible long-term solution to the island's energy security. Obama will certainly raise the issue again when he visits Indonesia in the second week of this month.

What is most intriguing has been the lack of serious attention from the Thai security apparatus regarding the nuclearisation of Burma. Apart from the two informal meetings convened by the Defence Council at the end of last year, the topic has been discussed only among a handful of military intelligence officials who have worked closely with their Australian counterparts. The National Security Council still does not believe Burma has that kind of ambition, not to mention the overall nuclear capacity to embark on the controversial programme. Concerned officials argued that domestic problems still have precedence.
Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

Will Indonesia allow expats to own houses? Maybe after uphill battle, says VP

At an international property industry gathering in Bali last week, Indonesia was presented as an emerging market with great potential and growing demand for development in the real, residential and commercial property sectors.

Indonesia is doing what it can to open its real estate market to foreign ownership, Vice President Boediono said to delegates from more than 60 countries at the opening of the 61 world congress of the International Real Estate Federation (Fiabci).

However, it will be an uphill battle, he added.

Foreign ownership of property is impossible under Indonesian law. Non-nationals can now rent real estate for 25 years and may extend leases two subsequent times, for 20-and 25- year periods respectively.

Investors may lose the value of their investment over long-period leases, and many foreigners complain about corrupt offi cials and Indonesian bureaucracy when processing lease extensions.

Public Housing Minister Suharso Monoarfa said the bureaucratic issue stemmed from the regional governments’ narrow perspective on ways to generate government revenue from the property market.

A permit goes through layers of approvals, which makes the process subject to abuse by corrupt offi cials, he said.

Suharso said the central government was attempting to raise awareness among governors and regents of generating real estate revenues and regional economic growth through more creative ways, such as simplifying procedures and providing clear city planning.

Regional governments should also be open to foreign ownership, which will result from Indonesia’sagrarian reform program, he added.

“This is the era of globalization. People move freely across the globe. Limiting foreign ownership is no longer the right approach,” Suharso said.

He said that opening Indonesia to foreign ownership would generate investment between US$3 billionand $6 billion per year.

The government is drafting a regulation that will partially open the market to foreign investment incertain types of real estate, such as luxury apartments and high-value properties.

The proposed regulations will permit foreigners to initially lease real estate for up to 70 years, insteadof extending the lease two additional times.

However other countries in the region allow foreigners to lease land for up to 90 years.

The government’s draft regulation will face a huge stumbling block because it must adhere to the agrarian and foreign investment laws, legislator Ganjar Pranowo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) told The Jakarta Post in a telephone interview.

“The government tried a similar approach to manage investment by foreign corporations in 2008. They tried to simplify the land-use extension, but [the effort] was rejected by the Constitutional Court,” he said.

Ganjar said that the House of Representatives did not oppose foreign investment in the property market, but investment must be in-line with the national interest, which is defined by multiple parties. Andi Haswidi, The Jakarta Post, Nusa Dua

Saying No to China’s Internet Crackdown

Tighten the screws. That’s the Chinese government’s response to growing corporate discontent with its pervasive electronic censorship and surveillance system. Barely a month since Google pulled the plug on its China-based search engine, Beijing started demanding deeper corporate complicity with its security agencies.

In late April, the Chinese government moved to impose a wider role for Internet and telecommunications firms in its censorship and surveillance apparatus when it approved an amendment to the revised draft Law of Guarding State Secrets that requires Internet and telecom network operators to proactively monitor their networks for any content that falls within the definition of “state secrets.”

The problem is, almost anything can fall into that basket, and it is entirely at the whim of censoring officials what does. Although the revised draft law must be approved at the annual meeting of China’s legislature, it constitutes a palpable threat to Internet and telecom companies already leery of requirements to deepen their links with China’s security agencies.

The Chinese government has long classified state secrets extremely broadly, including information that is related to “economic and social development,” as well as a catch-all “other matters” category. Officials decide whether published materials are a state secret, and those determinations cannot be legally challenged. The amendment explicitly requires Internet and telecom operators to “cooperate with public security organs, state security agencies” and prosecutors on suspected cases of state secrets transmission and to cease that transmission, record it as evidence and then delete it from the public domain.

The amendment spotlights fresh concerns about the ethical obligations of China’s remaining foreign Internet search engine operators, including Yahoo and Microsoft. Unlike Google, which ended its five years of complicity with Chinese censors in March, those two firms continue to bend to official dictates to censor any searches on topics the Chinese government categorizes as “sensitive.” Those topics range from the June 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Tibetan independence and Falun Gong spiritual group to Chinese-language searches about Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Foreign firms operating in China should be especially mindful of the risks that compliance with the revised draft law on state secrets poses to the integrity of their brands and public reputations. Yahoo knows well the cost of complicity with China’s security agencies. In 2004, Yahoo disclosed the identity of the journalist Shi Tao, who had posted notes on a foreign Web site from a directive issued by China’s Publicity Department (formerly known as the Propaganda Department) on how to handle the 15th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

Yahoo’s role in turning over user information led to Shi Tao’s arrest, conviction and 10-year prison term on a charge of “divulging state secrets abroad.” Public revulsion at Yahoo’s betrayal of Shi Tao inflicted serious damage to its brand.

Compliance with the revised draft secrets law is also at odds with the goals of the Global Network Initiative, a voluntary initiative to protect privacy and freedom of expression online that brings together private firms, human rights organizations, academics and socially responsible investors.

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo — all GNI members — should collectively oppose Chinese government requirements dictating they play an active and intrusive role in policing content on their Chinese networks and actively advocate for a scrapping of the recently agreed amendment. Foreign Internet and telecom firms should refuse to be complicit with the Chinese government’s repressive electronic censorship and surveillance regime.

Instead, with the backing of governments and international business federations, such as the United States and European Union chambers of commerce, these companies should press the Chinese authorities to lift requirements on search engine operators to censor searches, and demand the government narrows its definition of “state secrets” and rein in the unlimited discretion of officials to censor.

A debacle in July 2009 demonstrates that such a unified challenge can bear fruit. When China required that all computer manufacturers pre-install the controversial Green Dam/Youth Escort Internet filter on computers sold in China, it provoked concerted opposition from a diverse coalition of foreign governments, industry associations, civil society and Chinese netizens. Beijing shelved the measure indefinitely.

The revised state secrets bill gives foreign Internet and telecom firms an opportunity to take a stand that they will no longer pursue market share in China at the expense of universal human rights and freedoms. Too few have even adopted standards, such as GNI’s, and fewer still are putting them into practice.

It is also important for governments to resist China’s requirements. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton articulated a promising approach to Internet freedom in January that included concerted government efforts to safeguard human rights and an expectation that companies act responsibly.

The United States and others should put words into action and push back on the Chinese government’s new censorship and surveillance initiatives, while encouraging global information companies to act responsibly.

By Phelim Kine Hong Kong-based Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Indonesia On the World Stage

The visit by US President Barack Obama this month will put Indonesia in the limelight. The visit is seen by many as recognition of Indonesia’s international standing as the largest country in Southeast Asia, the largest Muslim-majority nation, the world’s third-largest democracy and one of the world’s 20 largest economies. Much was also made of Hillary Clinton’s visit, which made Indonesia the second country she visited after being appointed US secretary of state. Observers have noted Indonesia’s return to regional and international activism after a period of crippling domestic crises.

It is sometimes said Indonesia is the most important country the world knows least about. For the most part this is due to the style of foreign policy implemented throughout former President Suharto’s more than 30-year rule. In response to President Sukarno’s “lighthouse” foreign policy in which Indonesia strutted as the global spokesman for newly independent nations and confronted the Western colonialist-imperialist powers, Suharto pursued the opposite course. Indonesian foreign policy under Suharto was deliberately low-profile, narrowly focused on peace and stability in Southeast Asia, and designed to bring direct economic benefits to Indonesia though trade and investment. While mostly successful in its immediate development objectives, Indonesia lost its profile in the international arena.

Indonesia, supported by the major Western powers during the Cold War as a staunch anticommunist bulwark, was best know for its holiday resorts on Bali and its military occupation of East Timor. The end of Suharto’s rule was followed by incessant news of riots, communal conflicts, regional insurgencies, religious extremism and terrorist attacks. For many not familiar with the country, these events summed up Indonesia: an unfamiliar and dangerous place.

Today, a successful democracy has replaced Suharto’s authoritarian regime. The economy is recovering from the global crisis and Indonesia’s status as the world’s largest Muslim nation with a predominantly moderate brand of Islam has suddenly become an asset. The international community, and especially the West, has a higher expectation of the country. In a global climate marred by Islamic religious extremism and threats of terrorism, Indonesia, with its claim as a country in which Islam, democracy and modernity go hand in hand, is seen as a credible force of moderation.

Within Asean, Indonesia’s resurgence has been welcomed with anticipation and unease. A revitalized Indonesia clearly helps to reinvigorate Asean, but an Indonesia that is strident about democracy and human rights is very different from the familiar champion of the “Asean way” that upheld the principle of strict noninterference in each country’s internal affairs. Indonesia has also been basking in international attention, exemplified by the Obama visit and invitations to participate in forums such as the 2007 Annapolis conference on Palestine and, most important of all, membership in the club of world economic powerhouses, the G-20. Indonesia is the only Southeast Asian member of the grouping.

Now calls have become louder for Indonesia to once again walk tall on the world stage, to play a role as a peace broker in various international conflicts, to act as an interlocutor in the dialogue between the Muslim world and the West, to be a spokesman for developing countries in the G-20 and to drive Asean to respect democracy and human rights.

At the same time, Suharto’s legacy of a more narrowly focused foreign policy aimed at obtaining concrete outcomes for Indonesia’s economic development is equally influential. Many have argued that the first priority must be to improve the livelihoods of the people and that foreign policy must, first and foremost, be aimed at achieving economic benefits for Indonesia. It is also argued that the nation should get its house in order first, including improving its own democracy and governance, before it tries to promote democracy and human rights elsewhere.

The push and pull between a Sukarno-style “lighthouse” international stance and a more pragmatic, economically focused effort will likely mark the course of Indonesia’s foreign policy in the years ahead. Which trend prevails is likely to be determined by the dynamics of internal politics as competing actors seek to influence a foreign policy that can no longer be decided behind closed doors.

By Dewi Fortuna Anwar, research fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, was assistant to the vice president for global affairs and assistant minister/state secretary for foreign affairs in the Indonesian government.

East Asia Forum

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Read the full report at:

Bali prepares for the U.S. Presidential visit. Barack Obama's arrival date is set for June 14th with arrival in Bali a day or two thereafter. There's also coverage of the extraordinary security veil decending on the island in anticipation the arrival of Air Force One and its VIP passenger list.

July 4th is American Independence Day. Stay tuned to this space for details of a special celebration planned for Bali on Sunday, July 4, 2010 - open to all Americans and well-wishers.

Other leading news items this week include the government considering adding domestic and feral cats to the list of animal to be either inoculated or exterminated in the continuing battle against rabies. A vow by Bali Taxis and Blue Bird to "fight back" if they feel their legal rights are being trespassed. A management revamp at State-Owned Merpati and the National Ferry Agency. And, two expatriates facing a possible 2.5 year prison term for property fraud.

There are two articles about Indonesia's Vice-President Boediono's recent visit to Bali, giving insights into his particular liking for the island.

While Boediono was in town to open a major real estate conference, Governor Pastika lobbied hard for funding of a number of major road transportation projects. Separately, others called on the VP to eliminate property taxes on agricultural lands. Details in this week's edition.

In airline news: Mandala Airlines announces an expansion of their fleet and Garuda unveils new uniforms for their cabin staff.

Find out why a major cruise ship company is abandoning East Bali.

Read why a leading Indonesian property magnate heaps praise on Balinese building codes, while others complain of the poor implementation of new zoning laws for Bali.

If you see Julia Roberts, please pass along our personal invitation to join the MRA Bali International Triathlon on June 20th. And, while on the subject of "pretty women," have you heard that the "Miss World" competition will be held in Bali in 2014?

There's photo coverage of a party last weekend that went until 3 a.m. at the new Royal Santrian Private Beach Villas.

Be sure to mark your calendar for two exciting events in June at the St. Regis Bali. On Friday, June 12th, there is rare evening of the very best Italian wines from the Gaja Winery. Later in the month, on Monday, June 21st, the Yale Whiffenpoofs perform in a special charity concert.

Come close I'll whisper in your ear! Twitter with me at

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...

J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sri Lanka Don't ban Ban Foreigners should press Sri Lanka’s government to accept a UN inquiry into the war

A YEAR after the end of the long and terrible civil war between the Sinhalese-run government and Tamil separatists, Sri Lanka has returned to a sort of normality. The killing has stopped and people have, mostly, returned to their homes. Tourists are turning up in droves—Sri Lanka is the New York Times’s top tourist destination for 2010—and foreign investment is beginning to trickle in. In many ways, the prospects for Sri Lanka are looking better than they have for three decades.

There are, however, two areas in which things are not going well. One is at the centre of government, where power has been parcelled out between four members of a single family. Mahinda Rajapaksa, pictured, who won the war and was returned to power as president with a stonking majority in January, is also minister of defence, finance and planning, ports and aviation and highways. He shares the defence ministry with one brother, Gotabaya, the defence secretary. A second brother, Basil, is economic development minister, and controls the boards charged with promoting investment and tourism. A third brother, Chamal, is speaker of parliament—which is handy, because of the importance of the speaker’s role in the unlikely event of an attempt to impeach the president.

Sri Lankans’ willingness to criticise these arrangements openly has been diminished by the murder last year by unknown assailants of the editor of the main dissenting newspaper; still, the question of how they are governed is largely a matter for them, and having just voted for the Rajapaksas in one election, they will one day—it is to be hoped—have the chance to sling them out in another. Foreigners could, however, have a little more influence in the other area where things are going wrong—reconciliation, or the lack of it.

Dreadful things were done during the war, many of them by the Tamil Tigers, but many—though the government stoutly denies it—by the army. A report published last week by the International Crisis Group says that the army intentionally shelled civilians, hospitals and humanitarian operations during the vicious campaign at the end of the war to finish off the Tigers. The ICG reckons that 30,000 or more people may have died in the last months of the war.

A nicer place to run

The government has appointed an internal commission to investigate, behind closed doors, not these allegations specifically, but the final seven years of the war as a whole. This will not persuade Tamils that their grievances have been fully investigated. More promising is a panel being set up by Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations’ secretary-general.

Sri Lanka’s government says this move has “no moral justification”. But outsiders—especially the Americans, who are hosting Sri Lanka’s foreign minister this week—should forcefully explain to the Rajapaksas that a UN investigation is in their interests. The idea is not absurd, for two reasons. First, any outfit that looks into Sri Lanka’s recent past is likely to find the Tigers as guilty of war crimes as the army, and if the Tamils see their supposed protectors’ brutality credibly exposed, they may be less inclined to canonise them. Second, the Rajapaksas are clearly planning to be in power for a long time. Running a peaceful and prosperous country is pleasanter and more profitable than running a ravaged, war-torn one. The only guarantor of long-term peace is reconciliation, and the best way of bringing that about is to let Tamils’ grievances be fairly aired. The Economist

Timor Ready to Block Joint Gas Project

EAST Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has signalled his country is prepared to forgo billions of dollars from the Greater Sunrise gas fields in the Timor Sea.

Stepping up pressure on Australian company Woodside over its plans to develop a floating liquefied natural gas platform above the fields, Gusmao said "many developing countries fall victim to the corporate resource giants exploiting and plundering their sovereign resources''.

"Timor-Leste (East Timor) will be the country that goes down in history as the nation to put a stop to it," Gusmao told The Age. He also criticised Woodside for appointing former Australian diplomat Brendan Augustin as its in-country manager in East Timor. Gusmao has repeatedly referred in the past week to Woodside's failed $1 billion operation in the impoverished north-west African country of Mauritania - which was fronted by Augustin while on unpaid leave from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. That operation collapsed amid alleged corruption, shady deals and a coup. Augustin is not accused of any wrongdoing. But his appointment raised questions about the relationship between the department and Woodside. A Woodside spokesman said the company was "deeply disappointed at the personal attack''.

Augustin and another Woodside executive staged a walk-out in Dili at the National Petroleum Authority, the independent industry regulator, on May 18. The authority had refused to accept Woodside's draft plan for a floating platform, insisting it must also submit plans for pipelines to both Darwin and East Timor. Woodside claims its draft development plan has been lodged; the authority insists it has not.

Timorese leaders will today intensify their campaign for the gas to be piped to a processing plant in East Timor as they release a statement accusing Woodside and its partners of pressing for a floating plant so that it can develop new technology. The floating platform would be one of the world's first. Gusmao, a former guerilla fighter, said his country would not pay for unproven technology proposed by Woodside to benefit overseas companies and shareholders. "Here in Timor-Leste we struggled long and hard for our independence, here our soil carries the blood of those who fought for our freedom, so we respect our laws, our sovereignty and our democratic institutions."

Gusmao said that unless there was an advantage that lifted the Timorese from poverty, "then we will wait until many generations have learnt the lesson that humanity comes before commercial realities. "We will be the nation that others follow … oil giants will be forced to change their indecent behaviour." A Woodside spokesman said yesterday: "As the Greater Sunrise fields lie 80 per cent in Australian waters and 20 per cent in joint waters, Woodside is committed to working closely with governments of both countries to develop these fields."
By Lindsay Murdoch The Age Melbourne

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) Fool's Gold?

THE shadow left by the US$5 billion (S$7 billion) Busang gold scam, the world's biggest mining hoax, hangs heavily over tiny Ethan Minerals after it reported a possible 64-million-ounce gold bonanza in the rugged upper reaches of the Kapuas River in Central Kalimantan. Unprecedented for an alluvial deposit, the Kapuas River find might have been equal in size to Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold's open-cast Grasberg mine, currently the world's largest gold reserve in the Central Highlands of Papua.

Perth-based Ethan's share price rocketed 142 per cent to A$48.5 (S$57) after it signed a memorandum of understanding with Indonesian concession holder AL Maruf in late April, but a week later the stock had slipped back to A$37 and has hovered at about that level since. 'These guys are clearly very green,' says one veteran miner who works in Central Kalimantan and has heard all the stories of mystical motherlodes for decades. 'Frankly, I think they're being led up the garden path.'

Unlike Bre-X, the Canadian minnow behind the Busang roller-coaster ride of 1996-97, Ethan has wisely struck a cautionary note in basing its claim on a four-year-old report prepared by Indonesian consultants.

The company quotes at length from an independent study by Australia's Minemap consultancy which says the potential quality and grade of the 'Gold Tiger' alluvial deposit are 'conceptual in nature' and point only to a promising target. Ethan has also sought to protect itself by ensuring its initial US $500,000 payment to secure the deal is refundable if the discovery doesn't pan out after two months of due diligence.

The Busang embarrassment, which made multi-millionaires out of some investors and cost thousands of elderly North Americans their life savings, is not the only reason for such caution. Much of the scepticism stems from the fact that the history of alluvial mining in Indonesia is littered with the rusting carcasses of dredges. Indeed, for many miners, the latest claim only risks bringing the geo- sciences into further disrepute in a country where memories of Busang and its damaging aftermath are still fresh.

'Placer (alluvial) deposits are notorious for ultimately producing very disappointing results,' says Mr Tim Scott, the former commercial manager for Barrick Gold. 'They require precise, systematic and detailed sampling and that would take several years at least.' In fact, Mr Scott notes that commercial grades of 5g to 10g a tonne have never been recorded in Kalimantan, a resource-rich region known more for its coal than its gold, and where alluvial deposits usually run to under 1g.

Feasibility studies of Pelsart Mining's Central Kalimantan dredging operation in the late 1980s indicated 600 milligrams of gold per cu m; in the end it came in at well under 200 milligrams. The venture failed, leaving in its wake thousands of miners who turned the 900 sq km tract into a wasteland from which it has never recovered. While he did nothing untoward there, Pelsart is where Mr Michael de Guzman, the Filipino geologist who perpetrated the Busang scam, got his start in the Indonesian mining industry in the middle of the 1980s.

It was during that time as well that a shady German geologist prospecting along the Kapuas for a wealthy corporate client reported finding gold grades that were remarkably high and, for some, suspiciously uniform. Subsequent testing by an independent Australian due-diligence team revealed that the German and his Indonesian partners were hand-feeding gold into the samples during the panning process. In the 1940s, or perhaps earlier, a German Lutheran missionary called Zimmerman supposedly dug up seven biscuit tins full of gold and diamonds on his many trips into the upper reaches of the Barito - enough, it is said, to sustain seven generations of his descendants. More than a decade later, a German geologist employed by Kalimantan- based Ashton Mining claimed to have tracked down the ancient Zimmerman in Europe and supposedly acquired a copy of his ancient hand-drawn gold map.

But it appears to have produced nothing different from another secret map, purportedly showing a rich discovery along the Kapuas, which an Indonesian miner paid 10 million rupiah (S$1,400) for in the early 1970s. Today, much of the Kapuas and the neighbouring Kayahan and Barito rivers have been intensely surveyed by expert Dayak alluvial miners, who are estimated to make up at least 10 per cent of Central Kalimantan's adult population. In almost every case, once they have worked over small high-grade concentrations, the nomadic miners have quickly found themselves subsisting on deposits of barely 0.2g a metre. Ethan must now prove it has the exception to the rule.

The Busang embarrassment, which made multi-millionaires out of some investors and cost thousands of elderly North Americans their life savings, is not the only reason for such caution. Much of the scepticism stems from the fact that the history of alluvial mining in Indonesia is littered with the rusting carcasses of dredges.
The Straits Times (Singapore) John McBeth
(Read my version of the story in “Indonesian Gold” available in most bookstores. Kerry)

The international community's naive beliefs on Burma

Global think-tanks are ignoring the fact that nothing is free or fair in the junta-ruled country, least of all ballots

Most people are saying "at least it's better than nothing", in reference to the upcoming elections in Burma. This is especially true for those who are desperate to see some progress in the junta-ruled country.

The latest briefing from the International Crisis Group gave the impression that the election, despite the international community pointing out all the faults with it, would serve as "the best opportunity in a generation to influence the future direction of the country".

With such an endorsement, even though a mild one by international standards, the junta leaders in Rangoon will end up having the last laugh. Persistence and complete control is a virtue these days because stability and the status quo are easy to deal with.

Political turmoil in Thailand has added fuel to the international community's growing anxiety about democratic development in the region. Many scholars tend to view countries with continuous political stability as preferred models of development and investment.

The Thai situation was repeatedly used to demonstrate one salient point - stability is linked to prosperity. If one wants prosperity then one must forget about freedom and democracy. Thailand wants both, so the experiment and healing continues.
What is sad about the the international community and most independent think-tanks is that they are not really serious about the suffering of the Burmese people.

For 20 years, the Burmese people have been living under the military junta, tightly monitored and suppressed. And yet, the international community is slow in taking collective action. Investments from the West, dubious positions and awkward neighbourly policies by China, India, as well as Asean, have only strengthened the regime.

Why should the junta accommodate calls for fairness and justice?

The Burmese generals know full well that international focus is short-lived, as there are a myriad global issues to pay attention to. The current Korean Peninsula crisis will continue to dominate the headlines. It would not be a surprise if the junta suddenly declared the date of polls now that global attention has shifted away to the northeast of Asia.

The ICG's claim that the voting in Burma could be "relatively fair" is preposterous. Yet, such belief is proliferating. That is exactly what the junta wants to see, and that explains why dictatorial governments around the world no longer succumb to any international pressure.

The ICG has not asked if the voters are free to cast their ballots with free will.
How can voters cast their ballots freely if they are being controlled and watched by plain-clothes police officers and thousands of spies in the neighbourhood? They are scared to hell. Every name and household has been scrutinised and put in the records.

The people know that what they do at the polling stations will come back to haunt them. The atmosphere of fear is rising every day.

It is naïve to think that the 1990 poll victory by the opposition party may take place once again because the Burmese voters will be prepared to reject the junta en masse. Similarly, the junta leaders are prepared to make sure they win the polls, now that they've learned from past mistakes.

Indeed, if the ICG continues believing what it does, the regime has already won the election!
Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

Dealing with Pakistan

Nine years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States is still trying to figure out how to manage relations with Pakistan — and what mix of inducements and public and private pressures will persuade Islamabad to fully commit to the fight against extremists.

The Obama administration is working hard to cultivate top Pakistani officials. There are regular high-level visits. In March, a senior Pakistani delegation visited Washington for a strategic dialogue with the Americans that seems to be building trust and cooperation across a range of government agencies.

An April visit to Islamabad by the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, and Leon Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was a reminder of the limits of American power. They warned officials of severe consequences if an attack on American soil is traced back to Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s proximity to Afghanistan, its nuclear arsenal and the fragility of its government, it is not clear how much punishment Washington would ever mete out.

Pakistan has its own horrifying reminders that the fight against terrorism is not just America’s fight. On Friday, gunmen and suicide bombers stormed two mosques in Lahore, killing at least 80 worshipers.

Pakistan’s Army has mounted big offensives against Pakistani Taliban factions in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. It has hesitated in North Waziristan where Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the failed Times Square bombing, reportedly received support and training. Intelligence-sharing has improved, but there is a lot more to be done as the Shahzad case showed.

So why isn’t Pakistan doing all it needs to?

Part of that is the strategic game. Islamabad has long used extremist groups in its never-ending competition with India. Part is a lack of military capability and part political cowardice. While some of Pakistan’s top leaders may “get it,” the public definitely does not.

The United States still does not have a good enough strategy for winning over Pakistan’s people, who are fed a relentless diet of anti-American propaganda.
As The Times reported on Wednesday, the United States is often blamed for everything from water shortages to trying to destroy the Pakistani state. The Obama administration came in determined to change that narrative. When he was in the Senate, Joseph Biden, now the vice president, worked with Richard Lugar on a $7.5 billion, five-year aid package that would prove American concern for the Pakistani people (not just the military) by investing in schools, hospitals and power projects.

Congress approved the first $1.5 billion for 2010, but the State Department is still figuring out how to spend it. The projects need to move as quickly as possible. And Pakistani leaders who demand more help, but then cynically disparage the aid, need to change their narrative.

The State Department also needs to move faster to implement its public diplomacy plan for Pakistan. Officials need to think hard about how to make sure Pakistanis know that aid is coming from the United States — like the $51 million for upgrading three thermal power plants announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in October. It is a delicate issue, but the “made in America” label has to be affixed.

The State Department has committed to spend $107 million over two years to help Pakistanis better understand the United States. Plans include bringing 2,500 Pakistani academics and others on exchange visits and expanding after-school English classes in Pakistan. There also are proposals to bring more American academics to Pakistan and to reopen cultural centers. They should move ahead. An initiative to make more American officials available to speak directly to Pakistanis has shown promise.

Changing Pakistani attitudes about the United States will take generations. The Shahzad case is one more reminder that there is no time to lose. International Herald Tribune editorial

Attack Bares South Korea’s Complex Links to North

MUNSAN, South Korea — Like many South Koreans, Choi Byung-wook said he felt outrage over the North Korean attack that sank the warship Cheonan and killed 46 sailors. But he also said that he did not expect the hostilities to get any worse and that his nation must continue to engage the North.

“Inside, we are furious,” said Mr. Choi, 46, a government employee who shopped on a recent afternoon at a mall in this city just a few miles from the South’s heavily fortified border with North Korea. “But even with 46 dead, cutting off North Korea is not an option for us.”

Mr. Choi’s views are typical in this affluent nation. Since the government released evidence implicating North Korea in the attack, reactions in South Korea have ranged from anger to betrayal and even disbelief that North Korea would launch a strike against a neighbor that had showered it with fertilizer, investments and food aid.

But as the ship’s sinking has blown into an international crisis, South Koreans also seem divided over how to respond. Many appear reluctant to press the government to take action for fear of provoking the North even further. There is also strong sentiment here that regardless of the attack, South Koreans must continue to engage the North Koreans, whom they still view as impoverished if sometimes dangerous relatives.

“South Korea has a dual perception of North Korea as both brother and enemy,” said Lee Nae-young, a political scientist at Korea University. “After the Cheonan, the majority sees the North as enemy, but the brother view also remains.”

For now, public opinion seems to have swung behind President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative who has taken a tougher line toward the North than his most recent predecessors did and responded to the sinking by cutting most economic links with North Korea. A poll by Gallup Korea, released Thursday by The Chosun Ilbo, a newspaper, showed that 60 percent of respondents supported the government’s sanctions against the North.

Political analysts say Mr. Lee has seized on the Cheonan attack as an opportunity to lift his approval ratings, which were hovering below 50 percent before the crisis. They say he has skillfully used the results of the investigation into the sinking to undermine the South Korean left, which has been more sympathetic to North Korea, even to the point of accusing Mr. Lee of provoking the new hostilities. He also announced the findings of the investigation on the same day that campaigning began for crucial midterm elections.

Some opinion surveys now show Mr. Lee’s Grand National Party, which had once been trailing in the polls, now enjoying a commanding 16-percentage-point lead over the opposition Democratic Party before the voting on Wednesday.

Analysts say the sinking of the Cheonan has created wide public support for Mr. Lee’s stance of imposing conditions on aid to the North. They say it may also prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the so-called sunshine policy of his liberal predecessors, who in 2000 started giving the North aid with no strings attached in the hopes that it would open up and become less belligerent. Public support for that policy began to falter after North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006 and continued to drop with the killing of a South Korean tourist in North Korea and then the North’s second nuclear test last year.

“We can’t just keep throwing money at North Korea if they do this,” said Lee Eun-chan, 72, a retired construction worker who recently ate dinner at a restaurant in Munsan.

But while passions are running high, they are tempered by a deep-seated resistance here against returning to an era of cold-war politics and hostility toward the North, political analysts say. A strong core of support for maintaining ties with the North cuts across South Korea’s otherwise divided landscape. Even President Lee has not called for permanently ending ties, but rather for resuming aid, trade and investment only when the North reciprocates by curtailing its nuclear programs.

There is a strong sense of shared ethnic identity with Northerners, which runs deep enough that South Korean newspapers gave glowing coverage of the North Korean soccer team, which won its first World Cup berth in 44 years, even as they railed against the attack.

Also, some here fear that the North’s desperately isolated leadership might try to threaten the South’s economic prosperity if it is not appeased, or that cutting off the North would return the peninsula to an era of confrontation.

A minority of South Koreans denies that North Korea fired the torpedo that sank the Cheonan, disputing the official account. Conspiracy theories abound, with some saying that the ship was actually sunk as the result of an accident or even by the United States, to provoke South Koreans into taking a firmer stance against the North.

While most of the business community has stood by the conservatives, Mr. Lee has alienated one group: the approximately 700 South Korean companies that do business with North Korea or invest there. Many complain that they will suffer huge losses if economic ties are severed. Particularly concerned are the 121 companies that have invested in the industrial park at Kaesong, which the North has recently threatened to close.

“The companies are upset,” said Kim Kyung-woong, chairman of the Council for Inter-Korean Civil Economic Exchange, a lobbying group. “They thought their business was supposed to free from politics.”

The conflicting emotions stirred by the Cheonan’s sinking are also apparent in Munsan.
“It may be stupid of us not to just sever ties, but it is not that easy with North Korea,” said Park Eun-joo, 48, who sells shoes at a local shopping mall. “We are living better than they are, so we have to forgive them.”

Su-Hyun Lee contributed reporting. By MARTIN FACKLER and Seokyong Lee New York Times

Friday, May 28, 2010

Unmasked: Thailand's Men in Black

BANGKOK - A cigarette hanging from his lips, a sinewy man with a knotted-up beard perched on the back of a plastic chair and spoke into a military-grade radio.

"Happy birthday," he said in English. Moments later a sonorous detonation boomed from afar in the heart of the Thai capital. A cluster of anti-government protesters crowded around him exulted, shouting ''Happy birthday'' in unison. Many more such coded celebrations would follow in the next 24 hours. It's five days before the army would send armored personnel carriers into central Bangkok on May 19 to decisively quash the "red shirt" occupation, and your correspondents are inside a tent with the infamous paramilitaries, dubbed ''men in black'' by the media, as they prepared for war.

They let us inside their secret world on one condition: if we took any pictures, they would kill us.

These were not the regular black-attired security guards employed by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, or UDD, anti-government protest group who generally didn't carry guns. These were the secretive and heavily armed agent provocateurs whose connections, by their own admission, run to the top of the UDD, also known as the red shirts. Several UDD co-leaders have since been detained and branded as ''terrorists'' by the Thai government. On Wednesday, Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant for self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges, alleging a link between the fugitive politician and the UDD gunmen's violent campaign. Thaksin swiftly denied the charges.

There was a simple honesty to our arrangement with the fighters, but their death threat didn't preclude Thai-style hospitality. Only one man voiced displeasure with our presence; he asked his comrades about us, but he used the Thai pronoun for ''it''. As the sun set on May 14 behind the UDD's bamboo-and-tire fortress erected in the heart of one of Bangkok's top commercial districts, the men ate hot noodles and whispered anxiously about army shooters. Snipers angered them.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Bangkok had been plunged into chaos after the man whom they said issued their orders directly, renegade army officer Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol, was struck down and eventually died from a sniper's bullet as he spoke to a reporter. The government has denied responsibility for the hit. Khattiya, a celebrity rogue revered by many red shirts, often spoke fondly of what he called the ''Ronin Warriors'' - Ronin being samurai with no lord or master. In February, he boasted to reporters of training an undisclosed number of former military men to defend the red shirts, but later publicly denied leading them.

Absent Khattiya's leadership, discipline inside the red fortress was on the decline. Alcohol flowed freely, fueling tempers and fist-fights. Earlier in the day a Ronin fighter fired an Israeli-made TAR-21 assault rifle, seized from the army in April, at an army helicopter overhead. Competing personalities vied for dominance among the disordered Ronin, but the bearded man who spoke little was calling the shots for now. "Do you know who is in charge here?" he said. "It's me." At least until another unnamed commandant he described as second to Khattiya arrived to assume command and investigate why journalists were with the gunmen.

''Not Terrorists Not Violent; Only Peaceful and Democracy,'' read a banner hanging outside the barrier of jumbled tires. Inside, it was an open secret who the gunmen were; no less secrete were the perimeter bombs, connected by dirty gray cables, designed to inflict heavy casualties on any advancing government army soldiers. Some of the men held their firearms tightly concealed under jackets. Just after sunset, oblong packages wrapped in black plastic were carried into tents in Lumpini Park from elsewhere in the camp. Running at a crouch, we were moved to a different tent nearer the memorial statue of Thai King Rama VI. The Ronin moved between tents often in this way to avoid detection from government snipers.

Twenty-seven men crouched in darkness inside the tent. Newspapers covered any illuminated displays from radios or other electronics, and we were asked to turn off our cell phones. One gunman suggested army snipers would kill them all at first light if they had the chance. ''Don't worry; safe. Thai-style,'' their combat medic said to us in English, gesturing to layers of tarps obscuring the ground from potential snipers where we were camped with them.

Fewer than half were paramilitaries, the rest regular black-shirts providing support and catering to the gunmen's needs. Some ran errands, others fetched water, coffee and M-150 energy drinks. The Ronin were structured like a military unit, complete with a radioman and the combat medic. They apparently had had training in explosives and munitions, which they put to use in handling plastic explosives and planting bombs for remote-detonation along the camp's edge. Despite media speculation that the Ronin were comprised of former anti-communist commandos, most of the men we met were much too young, looking to be in their early 20s. Many had been paratroopers and one said he came from the navy. Most originated from the same upcountry, rice-basket provinces the majority of red shirts called home. Several said they were still active-duty soldiers.

Eventually a call came in from a UDD guard. The army had succeeded in securing a location near Pratunam, the intersection bounding the northern extent of the red-occupied commercial district, and was pushing hard against protesters. They needed help. M16 and AR-15 rifles slid free from concealment under plastic or inside their clothing. In less than 10 minutes, the gunmen loaded ammunition into clips and locked them into place.

Ammunition was running low, they said. Each fighter was given no more than 30 rounds to carry. Although we didn't see any M79 grenade launchers, the Ronin discussed a bulky sack of grenades they were carrying. Just after 9 pm, the dozen fighters rose and scurried silently into the night to sow another round of mayhem. For the next nine hours, bursts of intense gunfire erupted from areas around the red-zone perimeter. first from the direction of Pratunam, later from points along Rama IV Road. Their tactics were consistent with those of trained guerrillas and snipers, letting off brief fusillades of gunfire before repositioning. They terrorized regular Thai army soldiers throughout the night, winding them up and denying them sleep.

At 6 am on May 16, they swaggered back into the camp under covering fire from homemade rockets to the cheers of the assembled reds. Visibly weary but beaming triumphant smiles, the men shouldered the night's spoils - body armor, riot shields, batons, helmets, flashlights and other gear taken from Thai security forces - some of which they handed out as gifts. If the battle for Bangkok was largely a hearts-and-minds campaign for public support, the Ronin's actions undermined the nonviolent ethos espoused by the UDD. They described their purpose as ''protecting'' the demonstrators and standing as a force-equalizer against Thai security forces. They perceived themselves as ''black angels'' watching over the unarmed farmers and families who comprised the red shirt rank and file. Despite this heroic self-image, these angels brought death and chaos. Their campaign of violence is believed to have claimed a number of innocent lives and possibly provoked the deaths of dozens more.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government, along with other observers, blame them for tipping an already tense stand-off on April 10 into bloody pandemonium by killing army officers and attacking soldiers, who then fired live rounds into red shirt crowds. Twenty-five people died that day. ''Soldiers are lining up with their war weapons and shooting into crowds of red shirts, all of whom are completely unarmed,'' UDD spokesman Sean Boonpracong said from the Ratchaprasong stage on May 15, only hours after the Ronin returned from their mission. Their actions also handed the civilian government the excuse it needed to send in troops with deadly purpose on May 19 to end the UDD's six-week occupation of Ratchaprasong. Seeking to justify the government's use of lethal force, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban revealed seized weaponry before foreign diplomats and the press on May 22. "Terrorists have used these weapons to attack officials and innocent people," he said.

Earlier this month, Abhisit branded their now deceased chief, Khattiya, a ''terrorist'' ringleader. Before he was shot, Khattiya, a larger-than-life character given to brash claims and with an uncanny ability to predict unclaimed grenade attacks across Bangkok, sometimes made little effort to conceal his role as Ronin commander. When hundreds of pro-government protestors rallied near the UDD's fortress on April 22, he announced the imminent arrival of ''some men wearing black'' to aid the reds. Soon thereafter, five M79 grenades landed near a pro-government group, killing a 26-year-old woman and injuring nearly 100 others.

That weapon, the M79 grenade launcher, is consistent with a months-long campaign of violence and property destruction, which the government has also pinned on the UDD.
In his May 3 comments, Abhisit also linked Khattiya to Thaksin, the fugitive billionaire the UDD aims to return to power. Khattiya's relationship with Thaksin raises the question, as posed by the government's terrorism case, what is the politician's knowledge of the commandos? He didn't address the question when it was put to him directly in an interview on Wednesday with the Australian Broadcast
Corporation. "There is no evidence at all, it's just the allegations," he said. [1] Khattiya traveled to Dubai to meet Thaksin in March, according to press reports.

He also said they spoke by telephone on occasion, most recently on May 3. That was one week before Thaksin is believed to have scuttled a peace plan and Khattiya threatened to seize control of the UDD from its more moderate leadership. Those leaders were poised to accept Abhisit's five-point ''reconciliation road map'', which included a proposal for early elections in November, and the deal's collapse precipitated the military crackdown. On the day of the crackdown, the Ronin fought the army as they fell back in an organized withdrawal from the red fortress.
Just after 1:30 pm on May 19, these correspondents witnessed two Thai soldiers and a Canadian journalist seriously injured by one of many M79 grenades fired from an elevated position believed to be a nearby Skytrain station. Later, as Central World Plaza mall, was set alight and burned, they engaged in a fierce firefight with the army several blocks away. Then they just disappeared. It isn't clear why the Ronin raised the veil of secrecy for us, but perhaps it was knowledge that their fight, and possibly their lives, could soon end with the coming military crackdown. That doesn't seem to have happened, however. Leaders of the UDD may have surrendered to police and their followers have dispersed or been arrested, but the deadly fighters have are believed to be loose in the city, ready to fight another day. Thaksin suggested without elaborating after May 19 that angry UDD protestors might resort to ''guerilla'' tactics.

Meanwhile, Bangkok struggles to reclaim a sense of normalcy while the gunmen remain at large. On Monday, Suthep Thaugsuban argued for extending a curfew then in effect, citing fears that an ''underground movement" planning to cause chaos was still loose in the capital.

By Asia Times By Kenneth Todd Ruiz and Olivier Sarbil
Kenneth Todd Ruiz is a freelance journalist living in Bangkok and blogging at Olivier Sarbil is a Bangkok-based photojournalist whose images of recent events in Thailand are online at

The Korean Crisis - While China Stands By

Image: North Korean Missile Pad

There is only one country with any chance of getting through to North Korea. That is China, the North’s major supplier of aid, food and oil. As tensions on the Korean Peninsula continue to spiral — frighteningly — upward, China is refusing to get involved.

China has only one concern: avoiding any crisis that might unleash huge refugee flows. If it believes that the status quo is conducive to stability, it is mistaken.
Relations between the Koreas have threatened to explode since last week when the South accused the North of torpedoing a South Korean warship, the Cheonan. It offered compelling forensic evidence of the North’s role in the March attack, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

What makes this so especially dangerous is that North Korea’s erratic leader, Kim Jong-il, is in a power struggle to ensure that his youngest son succeeds him. (American intelligence officials suspect Mr. Kim may have ordered the attack to prove his willingness to take on South Korea and its Western allies.)

North Korea often blusters, but it has gone much further this time. Over the last few days, it has cut almost all ties and agreements with the South and threatened war if Seoul proceeds with threatened sanctions. On Thursday, it severed a naval hot line that was supposed to prevent clashes in disputed waters.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tried hard this week to convince Chinese leaders of North Korea’s culpability — and of the need for Beijing to press the North to accept responsibility. There is no doubt about the North’s involvement. An international team investigated the incident, and South Korea has produced a torpedo propeller with North Korean markings.

China needs to stop covering for its client and join in a United Nations Security Council statement that condemns the North’s behavior. Privately, Beijing should make clear to North Korea that any future acts of aggression will result in a cut off of aid. The United States, South Korea and Japan, which have taken a strong stand against the North, also must leave some room for Pyongyang to back down.

The two Koreas — which have never formally ended their war — need to finally set a demarcation line in the West Sea where the Cheonan was attacked and sank. China could do real good if it worked with the United States to bring the two Koreas to the negotiating table.
Editorial International Herald Tribune and New York Times

China Unrest: A sign of things to come Honda Strike Becomes a Rallying Point in China

Security guards on Friday at a Honda manufacturing plant in Foshan, Guangdong Province, that was shut after a labor dispute at a parts facility.

FOSHAN, CHINA — A strike at an auto-parts factory owned by Honda in southern China has unexpectedly become a cause célèbre in the nation’s struggle with income inequality, with Chinese media reporting extensively on the workers’ demands and calling on the government to do more to increase wages nationwide.

Strikes have occurred before at Chinese-owned factories and on rare occasions at foreign-owned plants. But the authorities have typically hushed them up and either sought a quick deal or sent in the police.

The 1,900 workers at the Honda factory here have been on strike to demand higher pay since early last week, and on Friday there was no resolution in sight. The resulting shortage of transmissions and engine parts has forced Honda to halt production this week at all four of its assembly plants in China, with one closing on Monday and the other three on Wednesday.

The work stoppage is the clearest sign yet of growing labor unrest in a country that is now the cornerstone of many companies’ global supply chains.

Zheng Qiao, the associate director of the department of employment relations at the China Institute of Industrial Relations in Beijing, said that the strike was a significant development in China’s labor relations history because the workers appeared to be well organized and united.

“The strike at Honda is the largest strike that has ever happened at a single global company in China,” she said, adding that, “such a large-scale, organized strike will force China’s labor union system to change, to adapt to the market economy.”
Workers here have discovered the same weapon that the United Automobile Workers used to become the most powerful industrial union in the United States: shut down a crucial parts factory, and auto assembly plants across the country have to close.

“In terms of shutting down a multinational’s entire operations, I think this is the first” in China, said Geoffrey Crothall, the spokesman for China Labor Bulletin, a labor advocacy group based in Hong Kong.

The official English-language China Daily newspaper ran a lead editorial on Friday that cited the Honda strike as evidence that government inaction on wages may be fueling tensions between workers and employers. The editorial criticized the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security for not moving faster to draft a promised amendment to current wage regulations because of opposition from employers.

In a move that may fan demands by workers at other factories, Southern Metropolis Daily published on its Web site a list of the workers’ demands. The workers, earn 1,000 to 1,500 renminbi per month, or $150 to $220 -- above minimum wage. They are seeking an increase of 800 renminbi per month.

The workers also demanded another 100 renminbi a month for each year of experience, up to a maximum of 10 years, plus guaranteed raises of 15 percent a year, the newspaper said.

Many Chinese economists have argued in recent years that China has allowed the system of global trade to take advantage of its workers, with multinational companies paying employees here too little. Until recently, however, the Chinese government has been eager to continue attracting foreign investment and has enforced labor peace.

Now, companies from around the world have moved extensive manufacturing operations to China, and cannot easily shift them elsewhere.

The strikes comes amid a growing debate about the rising income gap between the rich and the poor in China. Even though wages have risen in many manufacturing centers, they have failed to keep up with inflation and soaring food and housing prices. And now, with the economy roaring and many of the millions of migrant workers who used to fill multinationals’ factories near the coast finding jobs closer to home in China’s interior, the resulting labor shortage has given workers new leverage to demand higher wages and better conditions.

Strikes at Japanese-owned factories pose a particular dilemma for Chinese authorities because of latent anti-Japanese sentiment that has lingered since the 1930s, when Japanese troops occupied most of coastal China.

That hostility toward Japan has periodically surfaced in large public rallies, including in Guangzhou, near Foshan, several years ago. The Chinese authorities have sought to discourage such rallies, as Chinese nationalism has historically tended to morph into criticism against officials in Beijing for failing to stand up to foreign powers.

The anger at Japan has made it harder for municipal officials to send in the police to break up strikes on behalf of Japanese managers. Japanese executives have said in interviews over the years that they try to be especially responsible employers in China and have not encountered animosity at a personal level.

The Honda parts factory in Foshan is a series of enormous white buildings each covering an area close to the size of an American football field and emblazoned with “Honda” in huge red letters on the side.

A guard at the factory on Friday evening said that the strike had been peaceful, with workers coming and sitting on a double basketball court just inside the gate for several hours each morning before going back to dormitories in nearby neighborhoods.

In a scene more typical of a strike in the United States than China, print and television reporters from Beijing, Shanghai and nearby cities were encamped outside the gate, waiting for news.

China emerged last year as the world’s largest car market, surpassing the United States. Auto parts exports from China to the United States are rising rapidly, but are still mainly lower-tech, bulk products, not transmissions.

Honda made 58,814 vehicles in China in April, an increase of 29 percent over the same month last year.

Three of the Honda assembly plants affected by the strike supply the Chinese market with a wide range of models, while the fourth makes compact cars for export to Europe.

Honda said late Friday that the smallest assembly plant, the one that makes compact cars for export to Europe, would resume limited production on Monday with some remaining parts from inventory.

David Barboza reported from Shanghai. Bao Beibei contributed research.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The State of the World’s Human Rights TIMOR-LESTE

Amnesty International Report 2010

Head of state: José Manuel Ramos-Horta
Head of government: Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes Population: 1.1 million
Life expectancy: 60.7 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 92/91 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 50.1 per cent

Impunity persisted for grave human rights violations committed during Timor-Leste’s 1999 independence referendum and the previous 24 years of Indonesian occupation. The judicial system remained weak and access to justice was limited. The police and security forces continued to use unnecessary and excessive force. Levels of domestic violence remained high.


In February, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend its mission for another year. In September, a National Commission for the Rights of the Child was established and the government signed the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. All 65 camps for internally displaced people were officially closed during the year. However, around 100 families remained in transitional shelters.

Justice system

In June, a new Penal Code came into force which incorporated the Rome Statute provisions but was insufficient to challenge impunity for past crimes. The Penal Code made abortion a punishable offence in most cases. A Witness Protection Law which came into force in July contained some serious shortcomings, such as the failure to include victims of crime under the definition of 'witness'. In spite of an increased number of judges and lawyers in the districts, access to justice remained limited.

Police and security forces

There were at least 45 allegations of human rights violations committed by the police and eight by the military, in particular ill-treatment and unnecessary or excessive use of force.

Accountability mechanisms for the polic

e and military were weak. Holding accountable those responsible for the 2006 violence, which erupted after the dismissal of one third of the country's military, remained slow and incomplete but a number of cases were investigated, awaited trial or completed. No members of the security forces were held accountable for the violence during the 2008 state of emergency.

Violence against women and girls

High levels of sexual and gender-based violence remained. Women reporting violence were often encouraged to resolve the cases through traditional mechanisms, rather than seeking remedy through the criminal justice system.


Reports by both the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) and the Indonesia- Timor-Leste Truth and Friendship Commission (CTF) documenting human rights violations had not been debated in parliament by year's end. However, in a
positive move, a parliamentary resolution on the establishment of a follow-up institution on the CAVR/CTF recommendations was passed in mid- December. The Prosecutor General did not file any new indictments based on findings of the UN Serious Crimes Investigation Team into crimes committed in 1999. Only one person remained in jail for these crimes.

On 30 August, the government released Martenus Bere, a militia leader indicted by the UN for crimes against humanity committed in 1999. He returned -- a free man-- to Indonesia in October.

In August, the President rejected calls to set up an international tribunal for past crimes. In September, a National Victims' Congress called for an international tribunal.

Amnesty International Report 2010 REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA

The State of the World’s Human Rights
[note: for the full report, go to]:

Head of state and government: Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Death penalty: retentionist

Population: 230 million
Life expectancy: 70.5 years
Under 5-mortality (m/f): 37/27 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 92 per cent

There were violent clashes throughout the year in Papua and its population continued to face severe restrictions of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Members of the police reportedly used torture and other ill-treatment, and unnecessary or excessive force sometimes leading to unlawful killings throughout the archipelago. The criminal justice system remained unable to address ongoing impunity for current and past human rights violations. No one was executed during the year; however, a new by-law in Aceh provided for stoning to death. Attacks on human rights defenders continued and there were at least 114 prisoners of conscience. A new Health Law contained provisions hampering equal access to maternal health.


Parliamentary elections were conducted in April. Presidential election stook place in July. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected for a second five-year term after the first election round. The elections were conducted without any major violent incidents, except in Papua.

In July, at least nine people were killed in Jakarta in two bomb attacks.

Freedom of expression

At least 114 people were detained for peacefully expressing their views. The overwhelming majority were peaceful political activists who were sentenced to terms of imprisonment for raising prohibited pro-independence flags in Maluku or Papua.
In March, Buce Nahumury was sentenced to four years's imprisonment for having participated in a peaceful Cakalele dance in Ambon Maluku province in June 2007.
During the dance, the 'Benang Raja' flag, a symbol of the South Maluku independence movement, was unfurled in front of the President. All 22 other Cakalele dancers were serving jail sentences of between seven and 20 years.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) continued to be intimidated and harassed. At least seven HRDs faced criminal defamation charges, which carried a maximum sentence of just over five years' imprisonment under the Criminal Code. Most past human rights violations against HRDs, including torture, murder and enforced disappearances, remained unsolved and those responsible had not been brought to justice.

Although two people have been convicted of involvement in the murder of prominent HRD Munir Said Thalib (known as Munir), credible allegations were made that those responsible for his murder at the highest levels of command were still at large. Munir Said Thalib was poisoned on 7September 2004.

Freedom of religion

Minority religious groups remained vulnerable to violent attacks bynon-state actors, and were subjected to discrimination.

Students from the Christian STT Setia College continued to study and live in substandard temporary sites. They were evacuated from their school premises in Pulo, Pinang Ranti village, Makassar sub-district in East Jakarta following a violent attack by sections of the Islamic Defenders Front in July 2008. In October, at least 17 students went on hunger strike because they were at risk of forced eviction to premises which they believed were even more inadequate for people to live and study. By the end of the year, the STT Setia students continued to live and study in temporary sites in Jakarta.


Violence increased sharply around the time of parliamentary and presidential elections, creating a climate of fear and intimidation. There were reports that security forces used unnecessary or excessive force during demonstrations and tortured and ill-treated people during arrest, questioning and detention. Security forces also reportedly committed unlawful killings. Severe restrictions were imposed on the right to peaceful assembly and expression.

On 6 April, police opened fire on a protest in the city of Nabire, Papua province, injuring at least seven people including a 10-year-old pupil who was shot as he returned from school. A police officer was also injured by an arrow. Police beat and otherwise ill-treated Monika Zonggonau, Abet Nego Keiya and fifteen other political activists during and after arrest.

On 9 April, the body of Abet Nego Keiya was found at Waharia village,Nabire district.

Prisoners of conscience Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, sentenced to 15 and 10 years' imprisonment respectively, remained in jail. The two men were convicted in 2005 for raising the 'Morning Star' flag.


Torture remained widespread during arrest, interrogation and detention. Criminal suspects from poor and marginalized communities and peaceful political activists were particularly vulnerable to violations by police, including unnecessary or excessive use of force, sometimes resulting in death; torture and other ill-treatment; and failure to protect demonstrators and religious minorities.

In January, at least 75 villagers from Suluk Bongkal village in Riauprovince were charged with illegally claiming land. Police had arrested them in December 2008 after forcibly evicting them. In August, they were sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment and a fine of 1 million Indonesian rupiah. By the end of the year, the villagers had not received compensation, reparations or alternative adequate housing.

In January, the police issued a new regulation on the use of force in police action (No.1/2009), largely in line with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms. In June, the police issued a regulation on the implementation of human rights principles (No.8/2009). However, internal and external accountability mechanisms to deal with police abuseremained weak.


Impunity for past gross human rights violations in Aceh, Papua, Timor-Leste and elsewhere continued. The government continued to promote reconciliation with Timor-Leste at the expense of justice for crimes under the Indonesian occupation of East Timor (1975-1999).

In August, the government interfered with the judicial process inTimor-Leste by pressuring the Timor- Leste government to release Martenus Bere, an indicted militia leader charged with the extermination of civilians in the town of Suai and other crimes against humanity in 1999. In October, Martenus Bere was allowed to return to West Timor (Indonesia) before his case had been prosecuted by an independent court in a fair trial.

Over 300 individuals who were indicted by the UN Special Panels for Serious Crimes for crimes against humanity and other crimes remained at large and were outside the territorial jurisdiction of Timor-Leste. Most of them were believed to live in Indonesia. The government refused to facilitate the extradition of those indicted on the basis that it did not recognize the UN mandate to try Indonesian citizens in Timor- Leste.

In September, the Special Committee on Disappearances 1997-1998 of the House of People's Representatives urged the government to create an ad hoc human rights court to try those responsible for enforced disappearances. They also urged the government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. However, the government had not acted on the recommendations by the end of the year.

Death penalty

No executions were reported. However, at least 117 people remained under sentence of death.
In September, the Aceh Regional Parliament passed the local Islamic Criminal Code, which contains provisions for stoning to death for adultery and caning with up to 100 lashes for homosexuality. Although the Aceh governor refused to sign the new by-law, it came into force automatically in October.

Right to health

Maternal mortality rates remained high, particularly in poor and marginalized communities.

In September, a new Health Law was passed. Unlike the Criminal Code, the law permitted abortion in certain circumstances. Abortions were permitted provided the pregnancy could harm the mother and/or infant or, if it resulted from a rape which caused psychological trauma to the victim. Local NGOs criticized the new law as it discriminated against those who were unmarried, particularly regarding access to information on sexuality and

Friction and vested interests in pulp and palm oil production

Campaigns against big pulp and palm oil producers in Indonesia appear to be driven by local activists on the ground. In reality, they are facilitated by huge budgets and shaped by agendas emanating from the West.

Pulp and paper production is big business. So too is palm oil. Steady global demand for paper and packaging, combined with increasing interest in bio-fuels and replacement fats for the food industry, have made these some of the largest and fastest-growing industries in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia and Malaysia alone, now account for 85 percent of world palm oil production, and their share of the wood, pulp and paper business is rising rapidly too. There are good reasons for this.

Aside from access to low-cost labor, the fact is that biomass simply grows faster in the tropics than in North America or Europe.

Such developments are not without their problems. Struggles between firms for a lucrative market can be intense. Competitors from other sectors and regions may be willing to support any argument that discredits their rivals. And Western governments are concerned that these advances put them at a disadvantage too.

On top of this, numerous environmental activists and community campaigners have emerged in recent years accusing these industries of ignoring land rights, polluting waterways, logging illegally and contributing to global warming. These have now attracted the attention of the media and regional policy-makers.

A recent BBC documentary that explored deforestation issues in Indonesia, led Unilever — one of the largest food manufacturers in the world — to launch a supposedly independent review and then terminate contracts worth tens of millions of dollars with its suppliers there. For a developing country, this is a significant set-back.

From the corporate perspective it may appear as if producers are trapped in a conflict with a swarm of Lilliputian detractors — well-intentioned but misguided, energetic young people, from countless non-governmental organizations.

These fly paragliders and helicopters over plantations on reconnaissance missions, build dams to prevent effective soil drainage, and foment resentment towards business among local communities, international agencies and eventually the companies own customers and host governments.

Some firms, seeking to prove otherwise, have sought to be seen to be acting in a more responsible fashion. They have hired security contractors to prevent illicit tree-felling on their concessions.

They have supported schemes to tag wood. They have established schools and clinics to ensure local communities benefit from their activities. They have even handed-over land to establish nature reserves.

But in reality this is to view the situation upside-down. Eco-warriors are a manifestation of the problem, not the problem itself. Their tactics — to presume guilt by documentation rather than by factual evidence — first emerged elsewhere. And far from being small and disconnected, they are simply the visible expression of a far more coherent, but invisible force.

Among world leaders, confidence in the economic system today is threadbare. In addition to declining political support and legitimacy, contemporary elites in the West lack a sense of greater purpose through which to steer world affairs.
The protesters in Indonesia and elsewhere simply reflect this inner loss of certainty. They are indulged to a remarkable extent by multinationals and governments, keen to latch on to anything that appears to offer popular engagement.

Over the last few decades a negative narrative has emerged in the West that presents ambition as arrogant, development as dangerous and success as selfish.

The instigators of this are not the youthful idealists establishing camps in the forest, but disillusioned politicians and officials.

They have been supported by an army of writers, academics and social commentators, who seem determined to show that things are always getting worse and that the cause, as well as the victim of this, is human-action itself.

The consequence has been the creation of a cultural environment within which social advancement is viewed with suspicion. Singapore itself has been on the receiving end of this through the recent publication of a report purporting to show it as the worst environmental offender in the world. In reality, this was for having the temerity to develop a city at the equator on limited land.

Far from being involved in a David versus Goliath-like struggle against “big business”, organizations such as Friends of the Earth International are huge concerns in their own right.

They do not even receive the lion’s share of their income from public donations, as some presume. A cursory look at their accounts reveals them to obtain well-over 80 percent of their funding from foundations and governments.

For instance, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds Hivos — a Netherlands based civil society group with direct links to campaigns in Indonesia — for up to two-thirds of its annual ¤100m budget.

In its turn, Hivos is listed as a partner to Aidenvironment who, through a former associate of Friends of the Earth, conducted the supposedly independent review of operations in Indonesia that led Unilever to pull-out.

These groups also send teams of Western activists in search of purpose and an identity to discover themselves in the jungles of Southeast Asia. There they interact with local groups — or “indigenous people” as the campaigners patronizingly call them — encouraging these to share their concerns, according to strategies they learnt back home, and with a view to enhancing their credibility.

Whether donors to US-based philanthropic foundations or European taxpayers even know that they are funding other, Western-based NGOs to mount campaigns against businesses in Indonesia is anybody’s guess.

The real problem has been the failure of industry to engage the public in a wider debate over these issues. This has allowed campaigners to seize the moral high-ground by appearing concerned.

Whilst it is a minority of society that engages with these issues, the majority of these are effectively opposed to business and development. And even when they concede the need for the latter, this is always argued for on a small-scale basis.
Small may be beautiful, but the reality is that big is better. It is more efficient and potentially cleaner.

In addition, celebrating small, localized production is a means to entrap communities where they are for the indefinite future.

Unfortunately, individual firms are not best placed to make these arguments. They have their own vested interests. But for the benefit of the people of this region and beyond, it is high time a few enlightened individuals sought to establish an organization to represent the needs and aspirations of all.

The real problem has been the failure of industry to engage the public in a wider debate over these issues.

Bill Durodié, Singapore | senior fellow in the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University.