Terrorism & Security
A daily update on terrorism and security issues
Cambodian military police today opened fire on garment factory workers demanding higher wages, killing at least three, officials say, underscoring the Southeast Asian state's reliance on violence to maintain power and growing discontent with its authoritarian government.
Police armed with assault rifles fired on protesters outside a factory in Phnom Penh who refused to move and threw bottles, stones, and petrol bombs at police, Reuters reports.
Chuon Narin, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, confirmed the death toll, but told The Wall Street Journal that he blamed “gangsters” and “anarchists” for starting the violence and said police were trying to defend themselves.
Tens of thousands of garment workers have been striking since Dec. 24. They are demanding that the garment industry’s minimum wage be raised from $80 to $160 a month. The government has increased its initial offer of $95 to $100 a month, but says it will not raise it higher.
The violence comes as garment factory workers have joined opposition leaders in antigovernment protests against the nearly three-decade long rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Last Sunday, tens of thousands of people rallied against the prime minister and another rally is planned for this Sunday, according to The New York Times:
The week of protests represents a surprisingly robust threat to the rule of Mr. Hun Sen, whose party tightly controls the police, the military, the judiciary and much of the news media.
Tension has been brewing since Hun Sen won reelection in July in the closest election in nearly two decades. Opposition leaders and several independent organizations claim the election was tainted by fraud, as the Monitor reported at the time:
The Cambodian wing of Transparency International, a global corruption research group, called for an investigation, saying that 60 percent of polling stations had complaints from voters who said they were not on voter lists.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has been courting garment workers, Reuters reports, by promising to raise the minimum wage to $160 if his party wins a re-do of the July election. Hun Sen has so far refused to accede to the opposition’s demand for new elections.
Cambodia's $5 billion garment industry spans some 800 factories and 600,000 workers, according to labor officials. Labor costs are cheaper in Cambodia than in many of its neighbors, and manufacturers including Gap, Adidas, Nike, and Puma outsource work to Cambodian factories.
Strikes are common, especially this year, reports the Wall Street Journal:
Garment workers mounted 131 strikes from January to November, up from 121 for all of 2012, according to the garment manufacturers’ association, making 2013 the most strike-prone year since record-keeping started in 2003.
As the Monitor reported in July, Cambodia under Hun Sen has seen strong economic growth, but remains one of Asia's poorest countries.
Once synonymous with the mass murders of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s, (the country) has seen an average 7 percent growth, powered by donor aid, clothing exports, and Chinese investment. Cambodia is still one of Asia's poorest countries, with 80 percent of the population working the land and income levels around the same as fellow garment-export hub Bangladesh.
IN PICTURES: Where our clothes come from
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US Secretary of State John Kerry is back in the Middle East today to sketch out a framework for final status talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, but with an Israeli announcement of settlement expansion imminent, skepticism about a commitment to peace is sky high.
In a positive but small gesture, Israel will postpone the official announcement of expansion until after Mr. Kerry leaves the region. Similar past pronouncements have been timed to coincide with visits by US leaders (in 2010, Israel enraged the US when it announced 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was there.)
The New York Times notes that the most recent settlement announcements were timed to coincide with the release of Palestinian prisoners, which are meant to be a goodwill gesture to show that Israel is serious about peace talks:
More recently, [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has made a point of tying settlement announcements to the release of Palestinian prisoners in an effort to appease his right-wing coalition members. Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving prisoners, many convicted of deadly attacks on Israelis, in four groups as part of an American-brokered deal to resume the peace talks. The Palestinians have been infuriated by the linkage between the releases and the announcements and Israeli suggestions that they agreed to such a deal.
The third prisoner release took place early Tuesday, and in the prelude Mr. Netanyahu came under intense international pressure not to upset the peace talks by making another simultaneous settlement announcement. But Mr. Netanyahu, apparently angered by a string of attacks on Israelis in the past few weeks and a lack of any condemnation of them by Palestinian leaders, decided to go ahead. A week ago, Israeli officials said that an announcement of new settlement building could be expected around the time of the prisoner release, without specifying exactly when.
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But Israel has since backed off. "We will respect John Kerry and not act to spite him," an Israeli official told The New York Times, explaining that there was an "understanding" between Netanyahu and the housing ministry that there would be no announcement until after Kerry's departure. "A day here or there makes no difference," the official said.
Settlement expansions are far from the only major sticking point in negotiations, which are intended to end in April. The borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, and what will happen to Palestinian refugees all remain unaddressed, according to Agence-France Presse.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Gideon Saar, No. 2 in Netanyahu's Likud party, took Israeli lawmakers on a tour in the West Bank today that included a ceremony unveiling the cornerstone of a new neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Moshav Gitit. On the tour – "intended to send a message" to Kerry that "settlements must remain" – he reiterated the Israeli right's insistence that any peace agreement include Israeli control of the valley.
"The [Israeli] military presence in the Jordan Valley needs to continue for generations, but it cannot continue without Jewish settlement. Wherever there are no Israeli towns, there is no army, and where there is no army, there is terrorism," Mr. Saar said at the ceremony.
The Times of Israel notes that there are 21 Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley, the first built less than a year after the 1967 war, in which Israel captured the West Bank. According to settler leaders, there are 7,000 Jews living in the area now, although other estimates say it is closer to 4,000.
Beyond concrete issues like borders there are deeper questions critical to the outcome of the talks, such as whether or not a peace deal must reconcile conflicting versions of the past, or whether it can allow each version some legitimacy and focus on paving a path forward.
The gulf between the two sides is a wide one, as The New York Times reports:
Polls by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research show that Palestinian support for such recognition has dropped over the past decade to a low of 40 percent last September, from a high of 65 percent.
“It seems the public differentiates between recognition of a fact (Israel has a Jewish majority) and recognition of a narrative (Israel has a right to a state for the Jewish people in historic Palestine),” Khalil Shikaki, the center’s director, said in an email. “Netanyahu’s conception requires the Palestinians to endorse a Zionist narrative, which they reject.”
But 73 percent of Israeli Jews supported Mr. Netanyahu’s demand, in 2010, that Palestinian recognition be a condition of an extension of a construction freeze in Israel’s West Bank settlements, according to the Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index.
Rumblings of concern about the consequences of a failure in the latest round of peace talks were underscored today by the leaking of a Palestinian Authority internal document warning of a third intifada, The Times of Israel reports.
The document, whose contents were reported by the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Radio on Thursday morning, said that if the peace process collapsed, a violent uprising was likely to erupt in the West Bank. Jihadi and Salafi groups were also likely to become more active, possibly by setting up a network of terrorist cells with the intention of carrying out attacks against Israel, the report said.
The report, issued by a Palestinian security agency, also predicted more spontaneous terror attacks if peace talks fail. It recommended that Palestinian Authority security forces draft a plan to control protests if they escalate into riots in order to prevent police from joining the rioting, as had they did in the Second Intifada, which began in late 2000 and lasted several years.
The report predicted that Palestinian terror cells would begin transferring their activities into Area C and areas surrounding Jerusalem, where the presence of both Israeli and Palestinian security forces is meager.
The report also estimated that Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, might secretly renew its military activity in the West Bank if its rift with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party continued.
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A public bus was bombed in Cairo today, bringing civilians into the crosshairs of a campaign of violence that also targeted a police compound in the Nile Delta two days ago. In the interim between those attacks, Egypt's new government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, potentially sending the nation's powerhouse political group deeper underground than any in recent period.
The military-backed government would have Egyptians believe that the series of events go hand-in-hand, despite the fact that a militant group with no ties to the Brotherhood claimed responsibility for Tuesday's police bombing.
There have been regular attacks against security targets since the July military takeover of the government, which expelled Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi. But today's bus bombing was the first to hit something other than a police or military target, and the police bombing on Tuesday was the deadliest attack since July, with 16 killed, according to the Associated Press.
Journalists and other observers commented on Twitter that the bombings were becoming the "new normal" of Egypt.
In today's attack in the Cairo district of Nasr City, a homemade bomb went off as a public bus drove by, shattering the windows on the bus. At least one more bomb was found nearby, likely intended to be defused as security forces arrived at the scene, Egyptian state TV reported
No group has claimed responsibility yet, but Tuesday's attack was claimed by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the "most prominent" of the Sinai-based militant groups that have been gradually escalating their campaign against the state. AP reports that the group "announced it carried out Tuesday's suicide bombing in Mansoura to avenge the 'shedding of innocent Muslim blood' at the hands of Egypt's 'apostate regime' -- a reference to the security forces' crackdown on Islamists following the coup."
The New York Times reports that it threatened similar attacks in the future in posts on online militant forums, "warning Egyptians to stay away from security buildings 'to preserve your sacred lives and blood'."
The Christian Science Monitor reported Tuesday that the Al Qaeda linked group has claimed responsibility for many attacks in urban areas, including the attempted assassination of the interior minister in October, and that there have been more than 260 attacks in the Sinai peninsula since the military takeover.
Although various militant groups have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks since July, and the Brotherhood has repeatedly denied involvement, the government "contends that the Brotherhood is a national security threat, working with militant groups to organize the campaign of violence, though it has provided no evidence," according to AP.
Tuesday's attack on the police compound in Mansoura seemed to hand a propaganda victory to the government. After months of branding Brotherhood members and supporters "terrorists," on Wednesday it officially designated it as a terrorist organization. The group's political affiliate polled ahead of other parties in Egypt's first free parliamentary elections held in 2012, underscoring its popular appeal after decades of operating underground.
The organization has been besieged since July, with its top leaders -- including Mr. Morsi -- either imprisoned or driven underground. In September the group was formally outlawed.
Thousands of members and supporters have been imprisoned, and hundreds have been killed, The New York Times reports. But Wednesday's terrorist designation is a blow, even by those standards.
With Wednesday’s decision, the government signaled its determination to cut off any air to the 80-year-old Islamist organization.
Analysts called it the most severe crackdown on the movement in decades, requiring hundreds of thousands of Brotherhood members to renounce the group or face prison, and granting the military and the police new authority to violently suppress the movement’s protests.
The decision could also outlaw hundreds of social and charity organizations run by Brotherhood members, and makes it a crime to promote the Brotherhood “by words.”
Khalil al-Anani, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington who studies the Brotherhood, warned that the government's move could set Egypt on a path toward "civil conflict." “This is a big miscalculation from the government,” he told The New York Times. “It is a massive social movement, whose supporters might retaliate or fight back.”
An exiled leader of the movement, Ibrahim Munir, told Agence France-Presse from London that protests would continue, calling the designation "illegitimate."
Reuters sounds the alarm in an analysis piece surveying Egypt's political landscape:
The most populous Arab country enters the new year with deeper divisions in its society and more bloodshed on its streets than at any point in its modern history. The prospects for democracy appear bleaker with every bomb blast and arrest.
The army-backed government says it will shepherd Egypt back to democracy and points out that the state defeated Islamist militants when they last launched waves of attacks in the 1990s. But this time around there are more weapons and harder ideologies, and a bitter example of a failed democratic experiment to toughen positions on all sides.
With much of the public feverishly backing the government's calls to uproot the Brotherhood, talk of political accommodation is non-existent. Analysts see little or no chances of a political deal to stabilize a nation in turmoil since Hosni Mubarak's downfall in 2011.
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With the world’s newest country slipping further into violent chaos, the United Nations sought to bolster peacekeeping forces in South Sudan as the United States and other nations tried to evacuate foreign citizens.
The violence broke out earlier this week when a military commander defected, sparking a rebellion in Bor, a town north of the capital of Juba. Experts, however, said tensions had already been running high between ethnic Dinkas and Nuers, due to a decision by President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, to fire Vice President Riek Machar over the summer. Mr. Machar, a Nuer, has become the rallying point of an anti-government rebellion.
With growing reports of reprisal and ethnically motivated attacks, the violence threatens to escalate into full-scale civil war. Witnesses on the ground said that government security forces had executed dozens of ethnic Nuers in a region north of Juba, BBC reports.
An estimated 100,000 people have been forced to flee parts of the country as rebels have seized major towns, including some areas in the critical oil-producing region in the north. A spokesman for the South Sudanese military, Phillip Aguer, told CNN that Bentiu, the capital of the oil state Unity, was under rebel control.
Revenues from oil exports are crucial to impoverished South Sudan, as the country struggles to build a coherent, functioning state two years after declaring independence from Sudan.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the Security Council today to reassign around 5,500 troops from other UN missions in Africa to South Sudan to help protect civilians, the BBC reports. He also asked for attack helicopters, three transport helicopters, and one military transport plane. The Security Council will meet this afternoon to vote on the resolution.
"Those responsible at the senior level will be held personally accountable and face the consequences, even if they claim they had no knowledge of the attacks," Mr. Ban said.
The US, meanwhile, moved around 150 Marines from Spain to a base in the Red Sea nation of Djibouti to prepare for the evacuation of more US citizens and other foreign nationals. A similar mission over the weekend was aborted when US aircraft came under fire from the ground, wounding four military personnel. The US State Department has called on US citizens to leave the country.
"The United States and the United Nations, which has the lead for securing Bor airport in South Sudan, took steps to ensure fighting factions were aware these flights were a humanitarian mission," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
"The US government is doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of United States citizens in South Sudan. We are working with our allies around the world to connect with and evacuate US citizens as quickly and safely as possible," she said.
Experts say that despite billions of dollars in international aid and efforts by organizations from around the world, South Sudan risks turning into a failed state.
According to Reuters, the two men — President Kiir and Machar — long had a problematic relationship, with Machar making no secret of his ambitions to become president.
In the year before Machar’s dismissal, the two men's relationship in office was defined by "miscommunication or mistrust or silence,” a former government official, Jok Madut Jok, told Reuters.
Control of the oil fields is also vital to Sudan, which lost the fields when the south became independent, but relies on fees from oil going through its pipeline to the Red Sea. The two countries nearly came to war last year over disputes about borders, transit fees, and other issues.
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By most accounts, hundreds have been killed in the offensive, which has been going on for more than a week now. Civilian targets such as schools, hospitals, and markets have reportedly been targeted.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based Syrian opposition group, said at least 65 were killed when "explosive-laden barrel bombs" were dropped on a market area Sunday, making it the deadliest day of the offensive, according to the Associated Press.
The use of barrel bombs is a particularly lethal development. They contain "hundreds of pounds of explosives and shrapnel that include metal shards and iron nails," according to a New York Times report from Dec. 16, one of the early days of the operation. Human rights groups have described them as "a particularly insidious weapon that kills indiscriminately." CNN reports that the bombs "can level entire buildings with one hit."
Barrel bombs have been used by Assad’s forces for more than a year, but they‘ve become much more powerful and sophisticated over that time, according to Eliot Higgins, an influential British blogger who uses social media to glean information about weapons used in the conflict.
“They were pretty much simple pipe bombs, the early ones, and the problem they had is that they would fall through the sky and the fuse would burn out too soon and they would explode in midair — they weren’t terribly effective,” he said in a phone interview. “These new types are four to five times bigger than the original ones. They’re absolutely massive.”
Mr. Higgins said that the barrel bombs may have been improvised in order to allow regime forces to use cargo helicopters in battle, one of several ways they have changed tactics during Syria's civil war.
The rebels have long used improvised weapons, given their limited resources, but the regime's turn to "do-it-yourself" weapons is much more recent, CBC reports. Ole Solvang, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said that the use of barrel bombs may be an effort to avoid depleting its stock of conventional weapons.
“Over the last year or so the Syrian air force has been conducting attacks daily all over Syria,” Mr. Solvang said. “It’s difficult to say how many bombs they have. They must start getting concerned at some point they would be running out.”
Barrel bombs are inaccurate weapons, making them particularly dangerous to civilians. In the case of the Aleppo bombings, Ole said his organization has been struggling to determine whether the raids targeted opposition military targets, or whether Assad forces were indiscriminately bombing neighbourhoods controlled by opposition forces to terrorize residents.
"So far, I have to say it looks like there government is just dropping bombs all over the place,” he said.
The relentless air offensive has renewed calls for world powers to impose a no-fly zone on Syria, a proposal that first appeared in the early days of the anti-government uprising but never gained traction because of Russian opposition, The New York Times reports.
The main Syrian exile opposition group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, on Sunday issued a statement saying, “A no-fly zone, backed by the Western powers, is the only means to prevent the Assad regime from slaughtering the Syrian people.” The group said that global powers had a responsibility to prevent the international deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons — reached in the fall after the United States threatened to strike the government after accusing it of using chemical weapons — “from offering Assad a license to kill.”
“The attacks today targeted marketplaces, schools where displaced families had taken refuge, and apartment buildings,” the statement said. “The regime continues to use the pretext of countering ‘terrorists,’ while employing weapons of mass slaughter.”
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The attack on the UN compound happened in the town of Akobo, in Jonglei state, and prompted the group to send four helicopters to rescue staff. The assault underscored the vulnerability of South Sudan's larger population, as more than 20,000 civilians have fled to UN compounds across the country, reports Bloomberg. In the past week, up to 500 people have been killed, and the South Sudanese government had to cede control of the town of Bor, the capital of Jonglei, to rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Marchar.
President Salva Kiir has accused Mr. Machar, a rival who was fired from his job in July, of staging a coup. Ethnic violence has been a particular concern: President Kiir is a member of the Dinka ethnic group; Marchar, who is being hunted by security forces, is from the Nuer ethnic group.
US President Barack Obama said the country “stands at the precipice," and deployed 45 troops to help quell the fighting that erupted this week in the capital, Juba. The US and Britain began evacuating their citizens because of the growing instability.
UN head Ban Ki-moon has called for urgent political dialogue, and Reuters reported that Kiir has said he is willing to participate. Regional mediators, who helped in the aftermath of Sudan's civil war, were set to meet with Kiir on Friday, the same time the UN Security Council is holding emergency talks.
But Machar, in an exclusive interview with Radio France International, called the president a “dictator who is tearing the country apart."
"I appeal to the SPLM and the SPLA to remove Salva Kiir from the leadership of the country," Machar said on Thursday. "He is tearing it apart and it is the right of the people, using their vanguard, which is the SPLM party and the SPLA, to remove someone who wants to make himself a dictator and somebody who mismanages issues of the state."
Some 2 million people died in a civil war in Sudan between 1983 and 2005. The peace that followed gave rise to South Sudan, which became the world's newest nation in 2011. President Obama said the recent fighting “threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past.”
According to Bloomberg News, South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, citing the BP Statistical Review. While the flow of oil has not yet been affected, fighting has spread to crude-producing areas, Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman told the news agency by phone from Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.
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Britain and the United States are helping citizens to leave South Sudan this week, as violence that sparked from an alleged coup attempt in the capital on Sunday spread beyond Juba. Farther north today, armed forces reportedly lost control of the town of Bor to mutinous troops, deepening concern that warnings about civil war in the two-year-old nation could become a reality.
“The scenario many feared but dared not contemplate looks frighteningly possible: South Sudan, the world’s newest state (see map here), is now arguably on the cusp of a civil war,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) wrote in a press statement this week.
An estimated 500 people have been killed since fighting within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) army broke out over the weekend in what the government calls an attempted coup by soldiers loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, who was removed from his position in July. Mr. Machar denied the allegations on Wednesday.
Choul Laam, chief of staff for the secretary general of the ruling SPLM, countered the idea that violence started as a coup attempt against President Salva Kiir, saying the fighting broke out when the presidential guard tried to "disarm members of the guard who were from the minority Nuer tribe," reports the Associated Press.
President Kiir flushed his cabinet in July, including Machar, and observers worried it could lead to more widespread tensions. According to Al Jazeera:
Both men are former rebel fighters and senior figures in the governing Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which led South Sudan to independence after a civil war with Sudan that lasted 22 years. Earlier this month, Machar denounced “dictatorial” behaviour by Kiir, revealing the bitter divisions within the SPLM.
Rival Army units initiated the fighting, but the violence began targeting civilians of different ethnic groups, according to the ICG.
Kiir is a member of the Dinka ethnic group, which is the largest in South Sudan. Meanwhile, the Nuer group, to which Machar belongs, has accused the Dinka of “monopolizing everything from politics to the Army,” reports Al Jazeera.
In Bor, located about 125 miles north of Juba in the volatile state of Jonglei, "There was shooting last night .. .we don't have information on casualties or the displaced in the town, as operations are ongoing," army spokesman Philip Aguer told reporters. He added that soldiers had lost control of Bor to mutinous troops led by Gen. Peter Gadet Yaak.
“This is a political crisis, and urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue. There is a risk of this violence spreading to other states, and we have already seen some signs of this,” said UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon.
Kiir has donned military fatigues instead of his trademark suit and black cowboy hat this week, which observers fear could be sending a message that he is siding with one fighting faction over the other.
"By calling Machar a traitor, [Kiir] makes it very, very difficult for Machar to figure out a way to survive under the current government," Eric Reeves, a Sudan analyst at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., told The Wall Street Journal. Kiir’s rhetoric has “ratcheted up tensions," according to Mr. Reeves.
“The blurred lines between ... institutions, senior political figures and ethnic communities– as well as wide-scale arms proliferation—make the current situation particularly volatile,” the ICG said in a statement this week.
When oil-rich South Sudan gained its independence, former deputy culture minister, Jok Madut Jok, likened it to a “four-legged animal” in an interview with Al Jazeera. But South Sudan’s “legs are broken,” Mr. Jok said, acknowledging potential problems ahead.
"The first leg for any government is a disciplined military. We have problems with the way our military functions today. That's a broken leg. We have civil society, right now it is very weak. The third leg is delivery of services. It is hard to deliver security.…The fourth leg is political unity. We had political unity in the days leading up to the referendum [which led to independence]. Since the referendum, we have been having difficulties uniting our ranks. So right now the animal is standing on four crooked legs. If we do not fix these legs, the future is going to be very, very difficult."
A group of East African politicians is scheduled to travel to South Sudan today to serve as mediators, reports The New York Times.
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China confirmed today that one of their naval vessels and a US warship nearly collided earlier this month in the South China Sea, in what analysts say is one of the most significant US-China military encounters in the region in years.
A Chinese naval ship “conducting normal patrols encountered a U.S. military vessel in the South China Sea,” a statement posted on the Chinese Ministry of National Defense today read. “Throughout the encounter, the Chinese naval ship handled the situation properly in strict accordance with operating regulations.”
Pentagon officials said last week that on Dec. 5, the USS Cowpens was “lawfully operating” when it was forced to abruptly maneuver to avoid colliding with the Chinese ship.
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China’s defense ministry statement appeared to try and downplay the incident, reports The New York Times, by “refrain[ing] from alleging any improper conduct by the American warship and said that military relations between China and the United States ‘face a good opportunity for development.’ ”
A translation of the Defense Ministry statement provided by the New York Times reads:
Recently, a Chinese naval ship conducting normal patrols encountered a U.S. military vessel in the South China Sea. Throughout the encounter, the Chinese naval ship handled the situation properly in strict accordance with operating regulations. The defense departments of the two countries have also reported the relevant circumstances through normal operational channels and carried out effective communication. Some relevant media reports have not been in line with the facts. Sino-U.S. military relations face a good opportunity for development. Both sides are willing to strengthen communications, coordinate closely and make efforts toward safeguarding regional peace and stability.
A commentary published today in China’s official Xinhua news agency, however, took a more aggressive tone:
On Dec. 5, U.S. missile cruiser Cowpens, despite warnings from China's aircraft carrier task group, broke into the Chinese navy's drilling waters in the South China Sea, and almost collided with a Chinese warship nearby.
In fact, even before the navy training, Chinese maritime authorities have posted a navigation notice on its website, and the U.S. warship, which should have had the knowledge of what the Chinese were doing there, intentionally carried on with its surveillance of China's Liaoning aircraft carrier and triggered the confrontation.
While the Xinhua editorial also noted that Washington “has to understand” the right of China to grow its national defense capabilities, it also called for enhanced communication channels, saying that a lack of trust and military coordination are “weak links” between the two nations.
When US Navy officials confirmed the incident to The Christian Science Monitor’s Pentagon correspondent last week, they cautioned that "these sorts of standoffs with China happen with relative frequency in the Pacific and that, according to one Navy officer with knowledge of the event, it’s important not to 'overhype' the incident."
Other analysts told the Monitor that the incident carried a warning from the Chinese:
...[T]he recent run-in holds a larger message, analysts say. The chief one may be that the US will not be able to comfortably troll the waters of the western Pacific.
“The Chinese are trying to make it clear that, if the US wants to operate in these waters, then it should be prepared to be operating under a high state of tension,” says Dean Cheng, senior research fellow for Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation. “If the US doesn’t want tension, then it’s very simple: leave.”
The confrontation, he adds, was “a deliberate effort to intimidate.”
Michael Swaine, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Monitor that the Chinese are most likely trying to increase their capacity to deter other forces, like the US and Japanese, "from being able to prevail in possible confrontations over Taiwan and other disputed territories."
The near sea miss comes at a period of heightened tensions in the region since China declared an air defense identification zone over disputed territory late last month. China and Japan have competing territorial claims in the East China Sea, and several Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam, Malaysia, and The Philippines have competing claims in the South China Sea.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry, on his first official trip to Vietnam, announced the US was giving an additional $32.5 million for members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to “protect their territorial waters and navigational freedom in the South China Sea, where four states have competing claims with China,” according to the Associated Press.
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Nearly six months after leaking allegations of spying by the National Security Agency, former contractor Edward Snowden has offered to help Brazil with its investigations into US spying there in exchange for asylum.
Mr. Snowden is currently living in Russia on a one-year temporary visa, after spending months in legal limbo in the Moscow airport. In an open letter to Brazil, published in the daily Folha de Sao Paulo and reprinted in English on Britain’s The Guardian website today, Snowden wrote about his motivations for leaking NSA surveillance activity and noted how he’s been impressed by Brazil and other governments’ reactions to alleged NSA actions.
Brazil pushed the United Nations for a “symbolic resolution which seeks to extend personal privacy rights to all people,” and has considered setting up its own fiber optic cables to Europe and other Latin American nations in order to bypass the US system, according to The Associated Press.
Snowden writes that many Brazilian senators have asked for his assistance in investigating suspected spying crimes by the NSA on Brazilian people. However, “until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak," Snowden's letter read.
My act of conscience began with a statement: "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That's not something I'm willing to support, it's not something I'm willing to build, and it's not something I'm willing to live under."
If Brazil hears only one thing from me, let it be this: when all of us band together against injustices and in defense of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems.
[UPDATE: The Brazilian government has received no official request from Snowden since he arrived in Moscow in June, a foreign ministry spokesman said. Without a formal request, asylum will not be considered, the spokesman told Reuters.]
The open letter to Brazil was published the day after a US judge ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata was a likely violation of privacy and Fourth Amendment rights, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
“I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” US District Judge Richard Leon said in his 68-page opinion on the case.
Snowden’s release of NSA documents over months last summer and fall caused a global uproar, as each subsequent release seemed to implicate a new target country or leader. Multiple revelations of activity in Brazil led President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a coveted state visit to the US in October, according to a separate Monitor report.
In July, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has worked closely with Snowden to release his findings, wrote that Brazil was a major Latin American target of the NSA.
In September, allegations were published that an NSA program intercepted President Rousseff's email and instant messages, and that the NSA also intercepted communications of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto about potential cabinet appointees during his presidential campaign. Allegations of US surveillance of the state-run oil company, Petrobras, which has made some of the world’s largest oil discoveries in recent years, had Brazilians up in arms, according to Reuters.
"Clearly, Petrobras is not a threat to the security of any country,” Rousseff said at the time, likening the alleged spying to industrial espionage.
Brazil, however, did admit to spying on diplomatic targets from the US and numerous other countries within its own borders, reports The New York Times. Rousseff’s government also launched a “big brother” style surveillance program at home in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup. This program doesn’t monitor cellphone conversations or messaging, but has a series of 560 cameras across Rio de Janeiro and includes the use of drones over event venues, reports the Monitor.
Snowden tapped into Brazilian fears and frustrations over NSA spying in his letter, citing examples of how anyone carrying a cellphone can be tracked, a mother’s message to her son can be logged for five years or more, and how website visits and what was done on the site can be documented by the NSA:
American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not "surveillance," it's "data collection." They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement — where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever. These programs were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power.
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The South Sudan government has declared a curfew in the capital Juba after a night of gun battles between rival factions that the president has called "an attempted coup."
President Salva Kiir, dressed in military fatigues rather than his usual suit and cowboy hat, told reporters that he had ordered a curfew from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in response to last night's violence, in which soldiers loyal to his government clashed with "a group of soldiers allied to the former vice president Riek Machar," who was sacked in July.
According to various reports, fighting broke out last night at a barracks in Juba between two factions within the military, before spilling out into the streets of the capital. Middle East Online describes the clashes as involving heavy machine guns and mortar fire, and raged from around midnight until Monday morning, when calm was restored.
President Kiir told reporters that the violence "was an attempted coup," and that the "government is in full control of the security situation in Juba. The attackers fled and your forces are pursuing them."
Tensions have been high in South Sudan, the world's newest nation, since July, when Kiir sacked his entire cabinet, including Vice President Machar, in an unexpected purge. Though both Kiir and Machar are high-ranking officials in the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), they come from different, rival tribal groups: Kiir is from the Dinka community, South Sudan's largest ethnic group, while Machar is from the Nuer, the second-largest.
The Sudan Tribune writes that a senior military official said the fighting was a direct result of tribal divides.
“The fighting was sparked off after forces predominantly from one ethnic group were deployed under the directive of Maj. Gen Marial Cinduong Yol, the commander of the presidential guard force”.
The military source, however, claimed the firing started when the ammunition store manager refused to hand over store keys as demanded by the presidential guard commander.
"You know our situation. We are living in a tribal country. This firing had been extended to Bilpam because each group has comrades there. Guns shots remains heard at the moment", the senior official told Sudan Tribune in an exclusive interview on Monday.
Though no official casualties have been released, the Tribune say witnesses put the death toll at around 21 people.
South Sudan Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told The Associated Press that several politicians had been arrested, though he did not say if Machar was among those detained. A military spokesman also told the AP that the South Sudan army was "in full control of the military situation" in Juba.
An Associated Press reporter saw heavily armed soldiers patrolling the streets of Juba Monday amid the gunfire emerging from Juba's main army barracks. The streets were largely empty of civilians, with most Juba residents staying indoors. EgyptAir reported that it had cancelled its flight to Juba on Monday, saying the airport there was closed.
The BBC adds that several hundred people, mostly women and children, had taken refuge at local UN facilities. "We hope the security situation in Juba will quickly normalise to enable the civilians to return very soon to their residential areas. To that end, [the UN mission in South Sudan] calls on all parties to show continued calm and restraint," the mission said in a statement.
The US embassy in Juba warned that it had "reports from multiple reliable sources of ongoing security incidents and sporadic gunfire in multiple locations," and could not confirm that the fighting had ceased, notes AP. The embassy said in a statement that it "recommends that all U.S. citizens exercise extra caution at all times. The U.S. Embassy will continue to closely monitor the security environment in South Sudan, with particular attention to Juba city and its immediate surroundings, and will advise U.S. citizens further if the security situation changes."