Friday, August 31, 2007

NPA Rebels Yield In Southern RP

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 31 Aug) – Dozens of communist insurgents have surrendered voluntarily to Philippine military officials in Saranggani province in Mindanao.

Officials said at least 89 New People’s Army fighters surrendered on Thursday in the town of Alabel. They yielded dozens of automatic rifles and pistols to the Army’s 66th Infantry Battalion.

Col. Fidel Legiralde Jr., battalion commander, said the surrender of the insurgents were witnesses by Alabel town Mayor Corazon Grafilo and Sarangani Governor Miguel Rene Dominguez.

The insurgents, Legiralded said, pledged their alliance to the government. (Mindanao Examiner)

Jolo Governor Orders Crackdown On Drugs, Weapons

Jolo island Governor Sakur Tan gestures as he speaks to police chiefs during a meeting in southern Philippines. Governor Tan orders police to arrest all known drug pushers and suppliers in Jolo and for authorities to seize all illegal weapons on the island. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

JOLO ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 31 Aug) – Jolo island Governor Sakur Tan ordered Friday a massive crackdown on illegal drugs and has imposed a total gun ban in this southern Philippine island.

Tan met with the island’s 18 police chiefs in Jolo town and told them to step up the government’s anti-drug campaign and at the same time arrest owners of illegal weapons in an effort to stop the proliferation of unlicensed firearms on the island, about 950 kilometers south of Manila.

“We don’t want illegal drugs on the street and I have given orders to the police to arrest all those engaged in illegal drugs or those using these drugs. We also don’t want the proliferation of illegal weapons in this beautiful island,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

Although drug use in taboo in this largely Muslims island, many young people are hooked in methamphetamine hydrochloride, popularly known as “ice,” and marijuana cigarettes.
Tan ordered the police to arrest those selling drugs. Most of the drugs come from nearby Zamboanga City.

He also ordered the dismantling of military checkpoints in Jolo and instead put flowers and other ornamentals that would beautify the island. The huge presence of armed soldiers around and checkpoints and roadblocks has made Jolo a virtual garrison.

Policemen were also told to be courteous and smile every time they speak to civilians, especially travelers or tourists. (Mindanao Examiner)

SRI LANKA: "Deadly" Climate for Reporters and Aid Workers

UNITED NATIONS - Sri Lanka, which is fighting a longstanding insurgency against Tamil separatists, is fast gaining notoriety as "one of the world's worst places" both for journalists and humanitarian aid workers -- due primarily to a rising death toll and veiled threats from government and paramilitary forces in the country.

At least four international non-governmental organisations monitoring the media -- the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Press Institute, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) and the International Federation of Journalists -- have singled out Sri Lanka as "deadly" for journalists.

"Journalists have been victims of murders, threats, kidnappings and censorship," said RSF in a report released last week.

An RSF fact-finding team specifically zeroed in on "the isolated, Tamil-populated Jaffna peninsula" where there have been "grave press freedom violations".

In 2006, described as "the most savage year for journalists and news media workers", the most dangerous place was Iraq where 46 newsmen were killed, followed by the Philippines (10), Mexico (seven), Sri Lanka (five) and Pakistan (four).

Last week, the consulting editor at the Sri Lanka Sunday Times, Iqbal Athas, was threatened and harassed for a series of articles he wrote detailing a corruption-ridden multi-million-dollar government deal involving the purchase of fighter planes from Ukraine.

Recounting the latest incident, Athas told IPS that a person purporting to be a retired Air Force officer walked into the Wijeya Newspapers Ltd., the publishers of the Sunday Times and several other publications in the native language Sinhala, and threatened the staff.

The visitor met the English-to-Sinhala translator, W.D. Gunaratne, and warned him not to translate any of Athas's articles into the local language newspaper (which has a larger readership than English language newspapers in Sri Lanka).

"He warned Gunaratne he would have to face the consequences if that happened," said Athas, who is also a military correspondent for the London-based Jane's Defence Weekly.

The visitor also warned that if Athas "does not give up his job and leave Sri Lanka within three months", he would meet the same fate that befell Tamil journalists, most of whom were killed by "unknown gunmen".

The Committee to Protect Journalists' Abi Wright told IPS that her organisation "is alarmed by the grave threats facing veteran journalist Iqbal Athas, who has come under extraordinary pressures following his investigations into irregularities surrounding a 2006 deal to purchase MiG-27 fighter jets from Ukraine".

She said Athas has already told CPJ that over the past two weeks-- when his security detail was abruptly withdrawn by the government after the publication of his articles about the deal-- he has been harassed and followed by unknown persons. She said Athas fears for his life and for the safety of his family.

"CPJ calls on the Sri Lankan government to act immediately to provide adequate security and ensure the safety of Iqbal Athas," Wright added.

She said that Athas is well-known as the defence columnist for the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka and a frequent contributor to international media outlets, including Cable News Network, Jane's Defence Weekly and the Times of London. He also received CPJs International Press Freedom Award in 1994.

Wright said CPJ will be sending a letter of protest to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse later this week.

The Colombo-based Free Media Movement (FMM) has already expressed its "grave concern regarding the safety and security of senior English language journalist Mr. Iqbal Athas."

"As senior Defence columnist for the Sunday Times, in the past months, Mr. Athas has been responsible for a series of articles on the irregularities in procurement of MIG aircraft for the security forces, from a company based in Ukraine," FMM said in a statement released Monday.

Referring to the continued threats to Athas and his family, FMM said: "In a context in which there have been repeated attacks and harassment of journalists and media persons in Sri Lanka in the past months, the Free Media Movement is convinced that there is a very real basis for Mr. Athas fears regarding his security."

"We call on the president, as minister of defence, to take all steps necessary to provide Mr. Athas with adequate security immediately. Failure to do so will only provide yet another indication of the lack of concern on the part of the government for the safety and security of media personnel in Sri Lanka."

Meanwhile, after a recent visit to Sri Lanka, the U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs described the Indian Ocean island nation as "one of the most dangerous places" for aid workers, second only to Afghanistan.

Addressing a meeting of the Security Council in June, John Holmes said that in 2006, 24 aid workers were killed in Sri Lanka, including 17 from Action Contre Le Faim, "in a single horrifying act."

The perpetrators of these and similar attacks -- including the killing of two Red Cross workers in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon and the murder of a Caritas International aid worker in Darfur, Sudan -- "are yet to be brought to account," Holmes said.

He said that civilians are too often deliberately targeted to create a climate of fear and to destabilise populations.

Holmes also pointed out that countries as far apart as Sri Lanka and Colombia were experiencing assassinations, disappearances and other violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

"In Sri Lanka, over 600,000 inhabitants of the Jaffna peninsula have faced shortages of basic necessities since August of last year when the government and the LTTE restricted access to the peninsula by road and by sea respectively," Holmes continued.

Implying Sri Lanka was virtually culpable of war crimes, he added: "Killing humanitarian staff and arbitrarily denying access violates international humanitarian law."

Ambassador John McNee of Canada placed Sri Lanka in the company of Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, northern Uganda, Lebanon and Somalia as countries that have failed to provide protection to civilians in war zones.

"Girls and boys are recruited as combatants; civilians become unwitting targets of suicide bombers; families are displaced from their homes; sexual violence is a deliberate weapon of war; and civilian infrastructure and economies are often shattered," McNee said.

The consequences of these actions play themselves out daily, he pointed out, in countries ranging from Sudan and Afghanistan to Somalia and Sri Lanka. (IPS/Thalif Deen)

Due To Insistent Public Demand, Alamat Returns To Manila Stage

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 31 Aug) - Due to a growing public clamor, Agham Theater Company (ATC), is set to re-stage a play entitled “Alamat” on October 8 and 9 at the Music Museum in the Philippine capital.

It is a dance-drama musicale play that has earned critical acclaim when it was first performed at the Music Museum, a play suited for intermediate, high school and college students although its appeal is ageless and universal.

"Alamat" is a story conceptualized by Patrick Almaden. It was originally staged at the Makati Parks and Garden Amphitheatre to critically acclaimed performances.
It is said that it deserves a legitimate venue since it has a very good production and literary values. Moreover, it aims at giving importance to nature as an integral part of man's existence.

The 2nd run takes in Creative Directors Agnes Macabuhay- Medina and Osler Ladia who conspired with Almaden to give the concept a more refreshing and novel treatment. The word surreal came about.
The likes of Salvador Dali & Magritte has inspired the artists to create the sets and costumes as something that happens only in the underworld. Strange as it may be, the play will feature characters with elements from nature but with influences of contemporary art and design.

The music, composed by Paulo Almaden will exhibit acoustic sounds interspersed with ethnicity to create a fusion of music and art that make up the production. The dances, blocking, and movements are surreal as well, with movements taken from nature and animal entities.

Human elements will be supplied by Daniel and his friends, lost in the forest, where they will experience unexplained happenings around Orkidya.

The script, spiced with contemporary lingo, will also present contrast to the language of the lower gods in their domain, with rich, almost poetic candor.

The concept will enable the audience to lose themselves in enchantment as they realized the value of the environment, the importance of human life and respect for other forms of life, whether spiritual or material.

Alamat takes the centestage again this October 2007 at the Music Museum.

For details pls. call 0918-2542354 and look for "Tope". You may also visit (Christopher Navarra)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Delights Of Open Source: Al Qaeda's Recruiting On YouTube, Secret Agents Are Crowdsourcing: Global Politician

An Al-Qaeda-linked group from the Philippines managed to publish excerpts of a recruitment film for over 24 hours on YouTube, raising questions about online safety.

YouTube took the video off the site after pressure from security officials. But is that a bad idea? Terrorists resorting to YouTube surely increase transparency?

One way to answer these questions is to review what we're missing out on after YouTube owner Google removed the video due to pressure from the Philippine army and US security officials.

The Abu Sayyaf group is quite small but deadly dangerous. It has received international attention on a number of occasions before; in the late 1990s they kidnapped for ransom several foreign tourists, and in February 2004, they are likely to have been involved in one of the bloodiest bomb attacks in the Philippines ever, killing over 200 people on a ferry off Manila Bay.

The two rebels speaking in the video are both long dead. They were the group's founder and his brother. Abdurajak Janjalani died in 1998. His brother who replaced him, Khadaffy Janjalani, was fatally wounded in a shootout with marines in Patikul town, Sulu province in September last year.

Observers downplay the significance of the video, saying the recruitment attempt, if not a fake, is evidence that the group is in trouble. The video is spoken in Arabic; that is clearly to appeal to Middle Eastern donors. They must be cash strapped. "What we should turn our attention to [..] is not the "facts" of Islamist videos, but the way those videos frame their messages, the contexts they use to legitimize them, and the various cultural codes they rely on to appeal to their intended audiences", dr Lina Khatib at the Department of Media arts at the Royal Holloway, University of London told us.

The transparency issue is what is most interesting in this development. Abu Sayyaf's publicity stunt might be considered an isolated example of a u-turn in terrorist use of the web, but on the part of the US secret agents hunting them down online, a profound change has been taking place during the last few months.
The intelligence community are starting to adopt open source technology. This development is evidence of a new kind of logic that is growing in the world; the success of open source has led people to believe that anything is possible, including crowdsourcing by spies.

New questions arise. Where is the logic in secret services' singing the praises of open source? And what bearings does this have on our idea of what is healthy openness? Among the people that are pondering these issues are Eliot A. Jardines, the Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Open Source. He has been in the job since December 2005, responsible for developing a strategic direction, establishing policy and oversight of fiscal resources for open source exploitation.

In addition, he serves as the IC's senior document and media exploitation (DOMEX) officer. The first conference on the issue was held last July. At the conference professionals from the intelligence community, academia, federal, state, local, tribal, private and corporate entities and international partners were networking and debated open source and information sharing issues.

How secret agents operate in their online open source tactics exactly isn't immediately clear. A a podcast interview with Lewis Sheperd, the Senior Technical Officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency on suggests that the US secret services are focused on crowdsourcing, but that this takes places mainly within the confines of the various intelligence agencies.

Extremists give intelligence officials a hard time because they generally resort to heavily encrypted sites or showing anonymous footage of their cruelties after they have happened on public sites. But where it gets tricky is how the authorities are dealing with sites like YouTube's Arabic equivalent, Ikbis, which runs Muslim Brotherhood material non stop. This also throws up different questions about what classifies as offensive and which counteraction induces religious and race biases.

'We might think the definition of terrorism is fairly straight forward but is it? For example, the UN representing just about all nations, quite rightly opposes terrorism, but finds it impossible to accurately define it - because different countries have different views," Peter Power at Visor Consultants in London told us.

The public video sharing websites themselves are also faced with an immense dilemma, to which they do not appear to have immediate solutions.

Google, who owns YouTube, does not comment on individual videos but mailed comments of a YouTube spokesperson, who said "YouTube has clear policies that prohibit inappropriate content on the site. Our community understands the rules and polices the site for inappropriate material.When users feel content is inappropriate they can flag it and our staff then review it as quickly as possible to see if it violates our Terms of Use. If users repeatedly break these rules we disable their accounts. If the police ask us for information, we will cooperate, so long as they follow the correct legal process."
Three cheers for transparency.

The cops themselves are faced with intransparency however because of the sheer numbers involved as well the creativity involved with home made videos. Agents on the hunt for terrorists have difficulties keeping up with only vetting the material. That is not surprising; every day some 65,000 videos are uploaded on YouTube alone. An additional dimension is that there are so many fakes involved.

”We should not forget that the internet also enables the manufacturing of information, and therefore cannot be regarded as a transparent source. What we should turn our attention to, therefore, is not the "facts" of Islamist videos, but the way those videos frame their messages, the contexts they use to legitimize them, and the various cultural codes they rely on to appeal to their intended audiences", says dr Khatib.

It's impossible to get a handle on this because it's not public. But the material that the secret services possess is not in the public domain either. One side detail of the Abu Sayyaf story shows how secret agents keep hold of their juicy information awfully literally; both leaders speaking on the video werelong dead when they made their 'claim to fame', but the death of Khadaff Janjalani wasn't confirmed until last January, after tissue samples from his remains had been sent to the United States for DNA testing.

The implications for the parties involved are largely to do with public perception. Strangely, this unites terrorists, secret agencies and the public in a bizarre way.
Al Qaeda for starters is likely to still be more dependent on how it's perceived than on how it actually operates on the ground.
So their resorting to public platforms could be taken as a sign of weakness.
The website Search for International Terrorist Entities said the Al-Fajr Information Center distributed the video. "This is the first time that material from Abu Sayyaf Group has been distributed within the jihadist Internet community," according to the site.

”It is highly unlikely that otherwise non-extremist individuals will join a radical group simply after viewing a video such as the one posted by the Abu Sayyaf group", according to dr Khatib.
"However, what the internet enables is the publicizing of the presence of such groups. But this can be beneficial to intelligence officials, as the more mainstream the web publicity used, the higher the ability to monitor such activities."

But just like your average Mohammed in Croydon is not immediately going to sign up for a combat career with Al Qaeda, as a result of the Abu Sayyaf Group's recruitment drive, it's highly unlikely that the Al Qaeda group itself is immediately transformed into a group with an accessible agenda as a result of one cell's resorting to a mainstream hip and trendy medium. These extremes are worlds apart.

Peter Power points out that vice versa, the global mechanism involved in defeating the terrorists is equally far removed. "[...] we [..] seem to have the worst of all situations: Terrorists inspired by a divine mandate, keen to die for their cause and indiscriminate who they target, verses a global mechanism to defeat this, let alone understand it, that seems as elusive as ever."(Angelique van Engelen is a freelance reporter based in Amsterdam. She is currently involved in the development of, a site for grassroots reporting that is going to be launched later this month.)

Philippine Marines Chief Takes Over Army Ops In Troubled South

Philippine military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon gestures as he speaks to new Western Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga in Zamboanga City on Wednesday Aug. 29, 2007. And Filipino travelers look at posters of wanted Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya leaders and pictures of an IED at the Zamboanga International Airport in Mindanao. Gen. Esperon ordered security forces to intensify the offensive against the militants in the troubled region, where fighting already killed more than 100 people since last month. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Aug) – The chief of the Philippine Marines has been named as new commander of military forces in the troubled region of Mindanao.

Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga on Wednesday formally took over the Western Mindanao Command headquarters and replaced Army Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, who has retired after more than 33 years in the military service.

Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, the country's military chief, presided over the ceremony held in Zamboanga City, just south of Basilan island where security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied to the al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya terrorists.

"Nothing has change. We will continue with our operations against the terrorists," Allaga, a decorated marine commander who battled communist and Muslim insurgencies in Mindanao, said.

Thousands of Marines have been moved out from Luzon since last year and deployed in the southern Philippines to fight the Abu Sayyaf and the New People's Army.

"We are emphasizing the fleet marine concept of deployment in this area. You must have noticed that almost all the marines are now in Zamboanga (Peninsula), Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi (provinces) and in the southern tip of Palawan in tandem with out naval forces exactly for the strategic task of securing our southern part of the archipelago," Esperon said.

President Gloria Arroyo has ordered the military to crush the Abu Sayyaf so the government can begin a massive development programs in the restive region.

"The national leadership has a specific vision for western Mindanao one that is marked with true peace and sustainable progress and to realize this vision, the AFP has been tasked to end armed rebellion to all levels and sources be it an insurgent, secessionist or terrorist or lawless elements."

"I am confident that with the array of forces that you now have in this area, you will be more than equal to the task that is given to you. Indeed I expect no letup on the operations against the Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements," Esperon said.

Esperon also announced the creation of the National Development Command, a new unit in the Armed Forces of the Philippines that would especially focus on the basic socio-economic development and infrastructure projects in conflict-affected areas.

"Through it, we hope to contribute in the convergence of efforts by the different line agencies of government in the repair and construction of schools, health centers, sources of potable water, roads and bridges and in the process rebuild lives that have been disrupted by terrorist activities and violence," he said.

He said President Gloria Arroyo also ordered two battalions of army engineers to Basilan island to finish the circumferential road project which has been stalled since the 1990s because of the insurgency problem. The road project is aimed at connecting seven towns on the island and was previously under the military's Basilan Task Force.

Esperon also gave out five orders to military commanders in southern Philippines and among them is to destroy the NPA and the Abu Sayyaf, blamed for the spate of terrorism and kidnappings in the region.

"Remember our marching order (from the President) is to defeat the communist-terrorist movement by 2010 and destroy the Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements soonest," he said.

He also told soldiers to uphold and protect human rights and assist police authorities and other government law enforcement agencies and bodies in investigating extra-judicial killings.

Esperon said the military should work closely with the Philippine National Police to carry out internal security operations and for the soldiers to support the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but warned that the AFP will punish those who would disrupt the government peace process in Mindanao.

"Very importantly, sustain the gains in the peace process, but we must punish the peace spoilers," he said. (Mindanao Examiner)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Roadside Washers Threatened With Jail: Reuters

ROME - Illegal immigrants in Italy earning a few coins by washing windscreens at traffic lights could face up to three months in jail after Florence launched a crackdown and other cities said they might follow suit.
Many cities are already taking action against what is seen as "imported" behaviour such as tourists taking off their shirts or eating hamburgers in the piazza in Venice, or getting drunk in public in Rome -- something image-conscious Italians avoid.

Foreigners are also blamed for much of the street crime in a relatively safe country. Most people wielding sponges on street corners are Romanian gypsies, often young women and children.

But word got round quickly in historic Florence that city hall had introduced new rules enabling police to bring charges against window-washers, confiscate their equipment and start prosecutions that could end in fines and a prison sentence.

Florence police chief Alessandro Bartolini personally led the first patrol which resulted in 15 people being charged.

"There are no more on the streets. Word has got around, apparently," Bartolini said.

Rome's Mayor Walter Veltroni, who has taken action against illegal gypsy camps and now vows to clean up rowdy nightlife and public drug-taking and drinking in popular neighbourhoods like Trastevere, said window-washers are so pushy "that people are virtually ravaged at every traffic light and street corner".

"People must realise that behind the window-washers there is exploitation of minors, which is a crime. Like prostitution this is a racket that must be smashed," Veltroni told reporters.

In Verona, Mayor Flavio Tosi, who has previously taken action against people eating sandwiches in public, said he would monitor the experiment in Florence: "If the new regulation manages to deter the window-washers, we will adopt it too".

Some civic groups in Florence applauded the rules which city officials said acted on complaints of window-washers "becoming more aggressive, especially to women alone in their cars".

The city's public safety officer Graziano Cioni stressed that the aim was "not to punish beggars or poor people" but to combat "arrogant and violent" behaviour against motorists.

However, leftist groups in the city called the new measure excessive and regional Communist party chief Niccolo Pecorini termed it "unworthy of Florence's hospitable traditions". (Reuters)

Teen Trades Hacked iPhone For New Car: AP

George Hotz, of Glen Rock, N.J., shows off his hacked iPhone. (AP)

SAN FRANCISCO - The teenage hacker who managed to unlock the iPhone so that it can be used with cellular networks other than AT&T will be trading his reworked gadget for a new car.

George Hotz, of Glen Rock, N.J., said he had reached the deal with CertiCell, a Louisville, Ky.-based mobile phone repair company.

Hotz posted on his blog that he traded his modified iPhone for "a sweet Nissan 350Z and 3 8GB iPhones."

"This has been a great end to a great summer," Hotz wrote.

The 17-year-old Hotz said he will be sending the three new iPhones to the three online collaborators who helped him divorce Apple Inc's popular product from AT&T's network. The job took 500 hours, or about 8 hours a day since the iPhone's June 29 launch.

Hotz made the deal with Terry Daidone, co-founder of CertiCell, who also promised the teen a paid consulting job.

"We do not have any plans on the table right now to commercialize Mr. Hotz' discovery," Daidone said in a statement.(AP)

Taliban Agree To Free S. Korean Hostages: AP

GHAZNI, Afghanistan - The Taliban agreed Tuesday to free 19 South Korean church volunteers held hostage since July after the government in Seoul pledged to end all missionary work and keep a promise to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber attacked NATO troops helping build a bridge, killing three soldiers.

The Taliban originally seized 23 South Koreans, but have since killed two of the hostages and released two others. They had initially demanded the withdrawal of South Korean troops from the country and the release of prisoners in exchange for freeing the hostages, but Afghan officials had ruled out any exchange, saying it would only encourage further kidnappings.

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said South Korean and Taliban delegates at face-to-face talks Tuesday in the central town of Ghazni had "reached an agreement" to free the captives.

South Korean presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-sun said the deal had been reached "on the condition that South Korea withdraws troops by the end of year and South Korea suspends missionary work in Afghanistan," he said.

South Korea has already said it planned to withdraw its troops by the end of the year. Some 200 South Korean soldiers have been deployed in Afghanistan for reconstruction efforts, not combat.

"We welcome the agreement to release 19 South Koreans," said Cheon.

South Korean missionaries have been active in Afghanistan, although the hostage group's church has said those kidnapped were not missionaries, but were doing aid work.

There was no word on when the captives would be released.

Tuesday's agreement came after face-to-face talks between both sides in the central town of Ghazni. It was the fourth time the two sides had held direct negotiations. All the talks had been mediated by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Abductions have become a key insurgent tactic in recent months in trying to destabilize the country, targeting both Afghan officials and foreigners helping with reconstruction. A German engineer and four Afghan colleagues kidnapped a day before the South Koreans are still being held.

Violence in Afghanistan is running at its highest level since the Taliban ouster.

The suicide bomber approached the troops building a bridge in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing three soldiers and wounding six, NATO said.

The alliance did not disclose the nationalities of the victims or the exact location of the blast. Most foreign troops in the east of the country are American.

U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops, meanwhile, killed up to 21 suspected Taliban militants in three separate clashes in southern Afghanistan, and a roadside blast killed four Afghan soldiers in the east, officials said.(AP)

2 Sayyaf Allegedly Killed In Basilan Island Fighting; Slain Militant Beheaded?

BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Aug) – Two Abu Sayyaf gunmen were allegedly killed in fighting Tuesday with government soldiers in Basilan island, south of the Philippines, a military report said.

The report said the clash occurred near Tipo-Tipo town, but it was unclear whether the soldiers recovered the bodies of the slain militants.

The military usually reports intelligence information gathered from different sources whose confirmation was difficult to validate.

Security officials have previously said that more than 40 militants have been killed in clashes since last month, but only seven bodies were recovered on the island, which the military claimed in the past to be free from Abu Sayyaf since the government all out war in 2001.

A local news television, Chavacano Patrol, reported Tuesday night that a Muslim villager in Basilan came out in the open to say that one of Abu Sayyaf militants, Puruji Indama, reported killed by soldiers in a clash last week, is alive.

“I and my companion were gathering wild fruits when we saw Puruji and his group searching for his brother Umair. And they found Umair’s body near the river – his head is missing and both Umair’s hands were also chopped off,” the villager said, his face covered for fear of retaliation.

Marine Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of a task force pursuing the Abu Sayyaf, denied soldiers decapitated the slain militant. “We don’t do those things,” he told the same television interview.

The military reported that the two brothers, tagged as behind the beheading of 10 Marines in Basilan island in fierce clashes on July 10, were killed in a fighting August 18. Fifteen Marines were also killed in the same fighting, the military said. (Mindanao Examiner)

Will Indonesia's Jemaah Islamiyah Bounce Back?: Global Politician

Indonesian police arrested the country's most wanted terrorist Zarkasi from Yogyakarta city on 15 June, 2007. Zarkasi, the Indonesian born terrorist was leading the Southeast Asian terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah since 2004.

Just two days earlier to this, police exposed that they had captured Jemaah Islamiyah's military chief Abu Dujana, during a raid in the island of Java. These two arrests will disrupt Jemaah Islamiyah's network for sure, but whether it will stop the group's destructive activities remains a question.

Jemaah Islamiyah is responsible for a string of violence in the Asia Pacific region, including the 2002 bombings on the island of Bali, which left 202 people including 80 foreigners dead. Jemaah Islamiyah meaning 'Islamic Group' is dedicated to the establishment of an Islamic State in Southeast Asia incorporating Indonesia, southern Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

Over 900 active members are incorporated in the group while thousands other remain as supporters. Leaders of the group are mostly Indonesian nationals who fought or trained in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s.

Several researches indicate that, in addition to raising its own funds, JI receives money and logistic assistance from Middle Eastern and South Asian contacts, Islamic minded nongovernmental organizations and other terrorist groups including the al-Qaida.

The recent arrests of Jemaah Islamiyah's leader and military boss surely gave its network a major blow but it still possesses the ability to bounce back as it did after the arrest of Hambali in 2003. Keeping JI's past record in mind, it is predictable that the group will try to regroup very quickly and will mark its presence in the region with a bang. In the process, existing leadership will definitely try to find new techniques of operation so that their network will not be easily detected by the security forces in future.

The capture of Riduan bin Isomoddin Hambali, Jemaah Islamiyah leader and al-Qaida's Southeast Asia operations chief in August 2003, damaged the group's strengths but could not reduce its ability to carry out bomb attacks. On September 2004, JI activists activated a car bomb near the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and left 11 people dead.

Intelligent reports suggest that some JI leaders currently are recruiting activists and holding military training in the southern Philippines. One of the main players - Abu Bakar Bashir, considered as the religious leader of the group faced couple of years behind the bars till 2006 and now living in Java.

Additionally, Indonesian police are still looking for Malaysian born Noordin M Top, now heads a breakaway faction of Jemaah Islamiyah. As long as these two persons roam free and preaches new recruits, danger of destructive attacks remains wide open.

Foreign governments, specially Australia, human rights groups and corporate houses operating in Indonesia criticized the government for failing to control Jemaah Islamiyah's violent activities.

The government admitted that detecting JI militants in the world's most populous Muslim nation, where administration is open to mass corruption, is very hard. The recent arrests will bring a fair share of relief to the government but it must not lie back for a single moment as the ideology of JI is still intact and it remains a legal organization in Indonesia.

Capturing the most wanted criminals will not do much if the judicial system does not provide support to it. Indonesian government therefore needs to continue its search to arrest other militants and has to improve both legislative and judicial systems of the country to root out Jemaah Islamiyah for ever. (Subhan Choudhury)

Philippine Police Links Communist Insurgents To Abducted Activist

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Aug) – Filipino police on Tuesday implicated the New People’s Army in the abduction of a political activist in Manila and said it has three people who provided information about the victim.

Jonas Joseph Burgos, a trainer of a peasant organization, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) went missing following his abduction inside a restaurant in Caloocan City.

His family said one witness in the abduction saw Burgos forced into a vehicle with license plate number TAB-194, which was later traced to a vehicle impounded by the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan province.

The military said the license plate was stolen from the vehicle inside their base.
The vehicle, owned by Mudlong Mauro, was seized by army soldiers for transporting illegal lumber in June 2006. It previously linked communist insurgents in the disappearance of Burgos.

Edgardo Doromal, head of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), said they have in custody Emerito Lipio, also known as Ka Tibo and Marlon Manuel, both NPA rebels captured in Bulacan province, and Melissa Concepcion, a former NPA fighter.

Lipio said the NPA ordered rebels to investigate Burgos who was suspected of spying for the military among other allegations.

“Ka Ramon was seen talking to a government soldier. He was also reported seeing and talking to rebel returnees and several times went home without permission from the NPA,” Lipio said at a news conference in Manila.

Last month, ssenior state prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco, of the Presidential Task Force Against Media Harassment, ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to summon six intelligence soldiers to shed light on the case after a witness implicated them to Burgos’ disappearance.

Velasco was removed from the case after he implicated the soldiers in the abduction of Burgos.Intelligence chief Maj. General Delfin Bangit said no soldiers from his group were involved in the abduction of the activist.

Burgos’ family denied the allegations of the military. The activist’s mother, Edith Burgos, said the military was behind the abduction her son.

“My son Jonas, according to witnesses, was forcibly taken by a group of six males and one female while he was having lunch at the Hapag Kainan Restaurant in Ever Gotesco Mall, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City, on April 28, 2007 at about 1.30 p.m. As he was being forcibly taken, he was shouting “Aktibista lang po ako! (I am only an activist).”

“I realized that Jonas could be missing when he did not come home that night of April 28th,” she said. (Mindanao Examiner)

Foreign Truce Observers Extend Stay In Southern Philippines

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Aug) – Filipino and Muslim rebels negotiating peace have agreed to extend the stay of international truce observers in the strife-torn Mindanao island in southern Philippines, a rebel spokesman said on Tuesday.

Eid Kabalu, of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said peace negotiators have held urgent talks Monday in Kuala Lumpur to discuss important issues that included the stay of the International Monitoring Team.

"MILF and Philippine government negotiators have agreed to extend the stay of the IMT for another year," Kabalu told the Mindanao Examiner.

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister's Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

But despite the peace talks and a fragile truce signed six years ago, sporadic clashes between soldiers and rebels still continue in Mindanao. However, the presence of the IMT prevented the clashes from further spreading.

"The presence of the IMT is very important to the peace process and stability of Mindanao and the southern Philippines in whole. The IMT is like a magnet that holds us together and the presence of international truce observers gives the peace negotiators confidence in achieving peace in Mindanao," Kabalu said.

Manila earlier postponed the peace talks in Malaysia. The talks on Monday, however, failed to reach any new agreement on the Muslim's ancestral domain in Mindanao.

Malaysia is brokering peace talks between the Filipino government and the MILF, but negotiations ended in September in Kuala Lumpur with both sides failing to sign any agreement on the most contentious issue -- ancestral domain – which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.

It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

President Gloria opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, which is fighting for independence in Mindanao island, whose 16 million populations includes about 4 million Filipino Muslims.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said Manila previously offered his group the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989. The MILF flatly rejected the offer and insisted on self-determination.

The ancestral domain, on the other hand, covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner)

Filipino Artists Gather For DC Concert To Promote Human Rights In Philippines: Report

Washington, DC - Responding to the Philippine Congress's implementation of the Human Security Act (HSA) in July, Filipino groups along the east coast will be converging for a concert in Washington DC on Friday, September 28, one week after the 35th anniversary of Martial Law as declared by former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972.

The concert, organized by the Filipino-American alliance BAYAN USA and featuring Filipino-American hip-hop sensations Blue Scholars and Kiwi Illefonte, aims to bring awareness to the repercussions of the newly-passed and controversial bill, and connect with the overall issue of increased US military spending to places where US troops are present, such as the Philippines.

The concert will also be featured as part of a one-week encampment organized by the Troops Out Now Anti-War coalition, that will culminate in a march to Capitol Hill on Saturday, September 29th. A similar encampment will also be held in Los Angeles on the same dates.

"The HSA is a disaster for domestic security in the Philippines. It will cause the endangerment and the termination of innocent lives," states Valerie Francisco of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment, or FIRE, a community organizer who recently returned from the Philippines to protest the HSA.

FIRE, along the Anakbayan, the Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, under the banner of BAYAN USA, and local DC groups such as Katarungan will be sponsoring the mini-concert set outdoors and following next-day anti-war march near Capitol Hill.

The Fil-Am groups have also warned that US-based advocates and supporters of the broad Arroyo opposition under the HSA are also subject to the measures of the state with such a vague definition of terrorism.
This comes in light of reports on extra-judicial killings, increase in forced disappearances throughout the country, and a watch-list of names provided by the Bureau of Immigration and Department of Justice jeopardizing travelers from abroad that speak out against Arroyo's domestic policies.

"These days, to oppose the Arroyo regime is the most genuine act of security. To highlight this issue during the Martial Law anniversary is fitting and appropriate, because the Philippines is still under undeclared Martial Law," states Jonna Baldres of Anakbayan.

The groups have also been calling for restrictions on US military aid to the Philippines, in line with its human rights work. September also marks continued Congressional deliberations on US military spending for 2008.

Nearly 50 US solons have signed a petition letter calling for Arroyo to handle the human rights crisis in the Philippines.

In response to a recent US Senate hearing and Congressional deliberations on the fate of US military aid to the Philippine government this past year, the Arroyo regime has resorted to deflecting possible aid reduction by pushing for an all-out war in Mindanao, the southern-most island, claiming Al-Qaeda cells exist, much to wide public disagreement.

Following the public reports of UN Rapporteur Philip Alston, and Amnesty International, the Philippine military has been identified as the key perpetrating group of extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances. In 2001, President George Bush declared the Philippines the Second Front to the War on Terror.

Since then, the Philippines has remained the fourth largest recipient of US military aid in the world and the largest in the Asia-Pacific region.

Anti-War Advocates Urge RP Lawmakers To Look Into US Bases In Mindanao

A US soldier examines the foot of a Muslim villager during a medical mission in Marawi City in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Aug) – An independent anti-war coalition on Tuesday urged Filipino lawmakers to investigate the presence of U.S. forces in southern Philippines.

The Stop the War Coalition, which is composed of people’s organizations, NGOs, social movements, women’s, students’, religious, youth and other organizations, said the presence of US troops and small American military bases in the country must be investigated because it violates the Constitution.

“We at the Stop the War Coalition call for an immediate independent investigation as to the constitutionality of allowing the establishment of US bases in Mindanao,” it said in a statement sent Tuesday to the Mindanao Examiner.

“We urge our elected legislators to call for an independent investigation into the issue and demand that they be given access to inspect the bases, and to summon US and Filipino officials to explain. We call for the Abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. We demand an immediate end to the war in Mindanao and an end to US intervention in the war,” it said.

The Bangkok-based Focus on Global South, an international research institute that monitors US military activities in the Philippines, said an American-based construction unit has been spending $14.4 in Mindanao.

It said the US Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) had in June 6, 2007, awarded a six-month $14.4-million contract to a certain “Global Contingency Services LLC” of Irving, Texas for “operations support” for the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

According to its own website, the NAVFAC is the unit within the US military that is in charge of providing the US Navy with “operating, support, and training bases.” It “manages the planning, design, and construction and provides public works support for US Naval shore installations around the world.” Among their business lines are “bases development” and “contingency engineering.”

The JSOTF-P is the unit established by the US Special Operations Command that has been stationed in the southern Philippines since 2002 and which Focus on the Global South believes has established a new kind of US basing in the country.

Global Contingency Services LLC is a partnership between DynCorp International, Parsons Global Services, and PWC Logistics. The $14.4 million contract is actually part of a bigger $450-million five-year contract for Global Contingency Services to “provide a full range of world-wide contingency and disaster-response services, including humanitarian assistance and interim or transitional base-operating support services.”

A US Embassy official admitted that the American government has commissioned the construction of facilities across Mindanao for US soldiers, but insists the projects are not permanent military bases.

Karen Schinnerer, US Embassy deputy spokesperson and deputy press attaché, said the American construction projects are for “medical, logistical and administrative services” to be used by the American soldiers. She said the structures are “definitely not permanent US bases.”

US soldiers will use the facilities only on a temporary basis for them to “eat, sleep, and work,” she said.

Earlier on Friday, an official from the Philippine commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement said that the US was not building bases but living quarters for troops training local soldiers.

US troops are currently deployed in Zamboanga City, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi islands in the Sulu Archipelago and Maguindanao province in southern Philippines, where local soldiers are battling terrorism.

They have their own base inside Philippine military facilities where US troops maintain communication and intelligence facilities which are only accessible to the Americans, although sometimes senior Filipino military generals tour the facilities on special permission from US military.

A Philippine Air Force base in Mactan island in Cebu province also is being used as base to a fleet of US Orion reconnaissance planes, while US ships in international waters are where unmanned spy aircrafts are flown to conduct reconnaissance missions over the southern region.

Last year, villagers in Jolo island recovered an unmanned aerial vehicle called “Predator” which crashed in the hinterland. The crash of the spy plane was never reported by the US military and kept secret until the craft was found. A similar aircraft also crashed at sea off Zamboanga.

And as Schinnerer said, there are facilities—however, they are temporary quarters and not a military base. She added that the US government does not even have plans of leading any kind of military operations against rebels in Mindanao.

Schinnerer said the US troops are in Mindanao upon the invitation of the Philippines.

“We will work with the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] as it is by invitation of Philippine government to work beside them we work on the medical services,” she said, adding that the project has been contracted privately.

Stop the War Coalition also urged other independent groups to protest the presence of US facilities in the region.

“Because of the ongoing war in Mindanao, Stop the War Coalition believes that US basing in the country and its involvement in the war will complicate the situation and move us away from peaceful and just solutions to the problems.”

“Stop the War Coalition believes that neither the US nor the Philippine government has the incentive to tell the truth about the US bases in Mindanao.
We therefore call on all Filipinos to oppose these bases, call for their abolition, and demand the withdrawal of US troops from the country,” it said.

But many Filipinos in areas where the US troops are operating said they are supporting the presence of the Americans, who are involved in humanitarian missions and development projects.

US troops have built roads and schools and bridges in southern Philippines and at the same time helping the local military defeat terrorism. (Mindanao Examiner, with reports from the Manila Times)

Troops Shell Sayyaf Targets In South RP

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Aug) – Philippine soldiers shelled suspected Abu Sayyaf lairs on Tuesday in the hinterlands of Basilan island as the military pressed hard to flush out the militants tied to al-Qaeda terror network.

“Our operation against the Abu Sayyaf is going on and troops shelled suspected lairs of terrorists in the hinterlands,” Colonel Rustico Guerrero, commander of the 1st Marine Brigade in Basilan island told the Mindanao Examiner.

There were no immediate reports of Abu Sayyaf casualties, but Guerrero said the shelling was concentrated in the town of Ungkaya Pukan, where 15 soldiers had died in previous clashes.

Last week, two soldiers were wounded in an Abu Sayyaf ambush on the island, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City.

More than two dozen soldiers were also killed fierce clashes in Ungkaya Pukan and Al-Barka towns since last month. And about a dozen casualties from the Abu Sayyaf side.

Troops were pursuing more than 100 Abu Sayyaf gunmen and Moro rebels linked to the killings of the soldiers, ten of whom were beheaded and mutilated.

Social workers said as many as 12,000 people have fled their homes because of the military offensive, although there were no reports of civilian casualties.

The Abu Sayyaf was said to be planning to kidnap journalists and civilians and used them as shield against pursuing government soldiers in Basilan.

President Gloria Arroyo was in Basilan this month and inspected troops fighting the Abu Sayyaf. She ordered the military to crush the Abu Sayyaf so the government can start development projects on the islands.

Security forces were also battling Abu Sayyaf militants in Jolo island, blamed for the killing of more than two dozen soldiers last month.

But while government offensives continue, Arroyo also ordered humanitarian projects on the two islands under the so-called “HELP for Basilan and Sulu Program.”

HELP stands for Health, Education, Livelihood Progress. Arroyo ordered all government agencies to contribute projects to the HELP template.

She pointed out that economic development remains the principal weapon against terrorism and that despite the recent hostilities, Basilan and Sulu are by no means a war zone.

The Commission on Higher Education has already offered additional scholarship slots and the Department of Trade and Industry also launched the “Sulong Sulu, Bangon Basilan” programs.

The government held its licensing examination for teachers in Jolo island and the Philippine Military Academy entrance test Sunday. The teachers' examination was the first-ever held in Jolo while the PMA test was the first to be conducted in 17 years, said the island’s Governor Sakur Tan. (Mindanao Examiner)

Monday, August 27, 2007

10 Held In Killing Of Russian Journalist: AP

10 Held In Killing Of Russian Journalist: AP

MOSCOW - A Chechen crime boss, Russian police and security officers were involved in the death of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Russia's top prosecutor said Monday.

But he suggested that someone outside Russia masterminded the killing of the frequent Kremlin critic.

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika spoke hours after announcing that 10 people were arrested in the October killing of Politkovskaya, a crime that has blackened the reputation of President Vladimir Putin's resurgent Russia.

Chaika's remarks echoed earlier statements by Putin and allies who have suggested Politkovskaya's slaying could have been plotted by Kremlin opponents abroad to damage Russia's image.

The prosecutor said investigators had determined that "only individuals located outside the bounds of the Russian Federation" could have had an interest in killing the journalist.

Politkovskaya, who criticized Putin and revealed human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead Oct. 7 in her Moscow apartment building. Her killing drew international attention, deepening Western concerns about Russia's course and compounding concern about the safety of journalists and Kremlin critics in the country.
Chaika said the killing was set up by a Chechen native who led a Moscow organized crime ring that specialized in contract killings, Russian news agencies reported.
According to the news agencies, he said people involved in Politkovskaya's killing were also involved in the 2004 shooting death of American magazine editor Paul Klebnikov and the killing last year of Russian Central Bank deputy chief Andrei Kozlov.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

MOSCOW (AP) — Authorities said Monday they have arrested and will soon charge 10 people in the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya — an outspoken critic of the Kremlin whose death sparked global concern about the safety of reporters in Russia.

"We have made serious progress in the case of the murder of the journalist Politkovskaya," Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika told President Vladimir Putin in televised remarks. "As of today, 10 people have been arrested in this case, and literally in the nearest future they will be charged with the commission of this grave crime."

Politkovskaya, a critic of Putin who exposed human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building in October.

Her killing drew international attention, compounding concern about the safety of journalists and Kremlin critics in Russia. Putin sparked outrage abroad when he seemed to dismiss Politkovskaya shortly after her killing, saying her influence on Russian political life was "very minor."

Chaika did not identify those arrested, or say when they were detained.

A Moscow district court approved the arrests of eight suspects in Politkovskaya's killing on Friday, city court spokeswoman Anna Usacheva said, suggesting the suspects were detained within the last few days. There was no immediate explanation for the different numbers of suspects.

Chaika's remarks were the first announcement of arrests in the Oct. 7 killing, which Western governments have urged Russian authorities to solve. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 13 journalists have been killed in contract-style murders since Putin took office in 2000.

There had been no word of specific progress in the case for months. In April, the journalists' advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said there appeared to have been no progress in the investigation, and called for an international commission or parliamentary inquiry if authorities produced no concrete and conclusive evidence.

Politkovskaya's killing came less than two months before the radiation poisoning death in London of Kremlin critic and former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko, which further damaged the Russian leadership's reputation abroad. Litvinenko blamed Putin for both his poisoning and the murder of Politkovskaya.

Days after Politkovskaya's death, Putin suggested her killing could have been plotted by Kremlin foes abroad to harm Russia's image, and his allies have made similar remarks about Litvinenko's death, pointing to Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider who is one of Putin's fiercest critics and lives in Britain, where he has refugee status.

In November, Chaika said a possible foreign connection was among several theories being investigated in the Politkovskaya case.

Politkovskaya, who was 48, was a highly respected journalist whose tireless reporting chronicling the killings, tortures and beatings of civilians by Russian servicemen in Chechnya put her on a collision course with the authorities but won her numerous international awards.

She also wrote a book critical of Putin and his military campaign in Chechnya, documenting widespread abuse of civilians by government troops. And she was a persistent critic of Kremlin-backed Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, accusing his security forces of kidnapping and torturing civilians.

Much speculation about her slaying has focused on Kadyrov, who was prime minister of the war-scarred region when she was killed and became its president in March. He has denied involvement.

Alexei Simonov, chairman of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, a leading Russian media rights watchdog, said he and the staff of Politkovskaya's newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, knew of the arrests a week ago.

"I think these are serious arrests based on real evidence," Simonov said, asserting that the motive was "undoubtedly linked to Chechnya."

He said that those arrested likely included the shooter and accomplices who set up surveillance. But while he said he was confident investigators tracked down Politkovskaya's killers, he expressed concern that the truth about who was behind the slaying could prove more elusive.

He said the staff of Novaya Gazeta feared the authorities would "steer the case in the direction of London" and blame Politkovskaya's killing on Berezovsky.

Weeks after the killing the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that investigators were focusing on former Russian police officers linked to crimes against civilians in Chechnya.

Pointing to Russian prosecutors' unenviable record in solving journalists' slayings, Igor Yakovenko, head of the Russian Union of Journalists, voiced caution about the prosecutor's announcement.

"I really want to hope that we have reached a turning point, but I think we should wait for concrete results," Yakovenko said on Ekho Moskvy radio.(AP)

Taliban Kill 5 Western Soldiers In Afghanistan: Reuters

KABUL, Afghanistan - Five Western soldiers, including three Americans, were killed in a string of Taliban attacks in eastern and southern Afghanistan, officials said on Monday.

The Americans were killed along with two Afghan soldiers in a Taliban ambush on Monday in Ghazi Abad district of eastern Kunar province, near the border with Pakistan, the district police chief told reporters.

NATO officials in Kabul said earlier that two soldiers had been killed while on patrol Sunday, one in an attack in eastern Afghanistan and the other in the south.

NATO did not identify the victims.

However, the Netherlands' military said a Dutch soldier had been killed overnight by a bomb in southern Afghanistan.

It said the 30-year-old sergeant was in a unit searching for explosives in the province of Uruzgan when an improvised device exploded, Chief of Staff Dick Berlijn told a televised news conference. A 23-year-old corporal was wounded, Berlijn said.

The Netherlands has about 1,700 troops in Afghanistan.

Violence has surged in the past 19 months in Afghanistan where more than 100 Western troops under the command of NATO and the U.S. military have been killed this year while fighting a renewed Taliban-led insurgency.(Reuters)

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Resigns: AP

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. (AP)

CRAWFORD, Texas - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned, ending a months-long standoff with Republican and Democratic critics who called for his ouster over the Justice Department's botched handling of FBI terror investigations and the firing of U.S. attorneys, officials said Monday.
The likely temporary replacement for Gonzales is Solicitor General Paul Clement, who would take over until a permanent replacement is found, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department planned a news conference for 10:30 a.m. in Washington. President Bush was expected to discuss Gonzales' departure at his Crawford, Texas, ranch., before leaving on a trip to western states.

Two administration officials speaking on grounds of anonymity said that Gonzales had submitted a resignation letter last Friday. These officials declined to be identified because the formal announcement about Gonzales was still pending.

A longtime friend of Bush, who once considered him for appointment to the Supreme Court, Gonzales is the fourth high-ranking administration official to leave since November 2006.

Donald H. Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq war, resigned as defense secretary one day after the November elections. Paul Wolfowitz agreed in May to step down as president of the World Bank after an ethics inquiry. And top Bush adviser Karl Rove earlier this month announced he was stepping down.

A frequent Democratic target, Gonzales could not satisfy critics who said he had lost credibility over the Justice Department's botched handling of warrantless wiretaps related to the threat of terrorism and the firings of several U.S. attorneys.

As attorney general and earlier as White House counsel, Gonzales pushed for expanded presidential powers, including the eavesdropping authority. He drafted controversial rules for military war tribunals and sought to limit the legal rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay — prompting lawsuits by civil libertarians who said the government was violating the Constitution in its pursuit of terrorists.

Bush and Gonzales had lunch over the weekend in advance of announcing his resignation. One said that Gonzales' resignation would take effect in two or three weeks.

Gonzales among about a dozen senior administration officials to resign amid a protracted congressional investigation into whatever role politics played in the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.

"It has been a long and difficult struggle but at last, the attorney general has done the right thing and stepped down," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and one of the department's most vocal critics.

The flap over the fired prosecutors proved to be the final straw for Gonzales, whose truthfulness in testimony to Congress was drawn into question.

Lawmakers said the dismissals of the federal prosecutors appeared to be politically motivated, and some of the fired U.S. attorneys said they felt pressured to investigate Democrats before elections.
Gonzales maintained that the dismissals were based the prosecutors' lackluster performance records.

Thousands of documents released by the Justice Department show a White House plot, hatched shortly after the 2004 elections, to replace U.S. attorneys. At one point, senior White House officials, including Rove, suggested replacing all 93 prosecutors. In December 2006, eight were ordered to resign.

In several House and Senate hearings into the firings, Gonzales and other Justice Department officials failed to fully explain the ousters without contradicting each other.

U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be removed. But congressional Democrats said politics played an unusually key role in the ouster of several prosecutors.

Bush repeatedly defended the firings of the prosecutors but acknowledged that he did not think Gonzales had done a good job of explaining it to Congress.(AP)


Sleepless In Basilan: A Postscript by Antonio Manaytay

ISABELA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Aug)- Expecting for bangs and booms upon my return to Basilan province after more than ten years of absence, I was in for a big surprise.

The same warmth of welcome from people at the port you don’t even know by name and the impish smile from children as you pass them by. No rolling cannons to rock you up from being mesmerized and endlessly marveling the beautiful seascape that divide Zamboanga Hermosa and Basilan.

A life of a monk is not impossible in a place like Basilan where the decision either to stay in your rented room or to go out for a night of light moments is not a matter of choice. It is an imposed option. But as I insisted to go strolling the dimly-lighted streets of Isabela, I found it comforting far apart from what I have heard about the place from media reports. In fairness, walking through the nearly empty streets of the capital city is as safe as walking in the streets of Davao and Dumaguete.

The same old Isabela greeted me with rustic buildings lining up the streets. Of course, except for Jolibee-Basilan that stood like an anomalous creature in a landscape filled up with squalor. Although I heard that Basilenos take pride of the “happy-Bee” in their backyard despite of noticeably high-priced menu compared to their mainland counterparts.

I guess one has to learn to count one’s blessings when in the island and discover the value of patience while surfing the internet super-highway at a local internet café in a speed of a bicycle. It seems like years to wait for the website to display its contents. Thanks to some enterprising people like Jamju Rivera, the executive director of the Basilan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a friend who ventured into net-café business.

The grounds beneath the rubber trees were no longer littered with dry leaves as “wintering” was over. Wintering is a period when rubber trees shed off their old leaves to give way to new ones. It is during this time where the harvest of rubber latex is at its lowest.

In my mind, despite of the fast-paced development in other places, I am still returning to the same old Basilan. Very Basilan as I used to say.

Considered as one of the less populated with more than 300,000 multi-ethnic population, Basilan is teeming with natural resources, business and employment opportunities. The island province, in fact, is one case of a company province with most of its population deriving their income as employed agricultural workers.

I don’t know though if the change of ownerships of the major agricultural plantations from Menzi in Isabela, Enrile in Tipo-tipo, UP Land Grant in Lamitan, Sime Darby in Tumahubong, and Firestone in Sumisip to the farm-workers who benefited from the implementation of the agrarian reform way back in the ‘90s really made wonders to the economic life of the poor.

There was a promise of a better life when the farm-workers won their battle in demanding the inclusion to agrarian reform of the plantations owned by capitalists from Manila and multi-national corporations. Judging how things are in the island province, I am afraid that the promise of a better life remains a promise.

What is glaringly obvious, however, is the change in the political landscape of the province. The Tugungs and Salapuddins are no longer in political power. Even the Biels in Isabela City are no longer a political force, at least for the moment. The island province’s politics is practically under one family --- the Akbars. Except for Lamitan, Congressman Wahab Akbar and his family lorded over the local politics. This alone speaks a lot about the province more than any commentaries and reports can do.

Perhaps, a lot have changed over time since my last stay in Basilan more than a decade ago. I was working then for the special agrarian reform desk of the National Federation of Labor as my rite of passage into community organizing work in the exotic yet dangerous places like Sampinit Complex near Sumisip and Tipo-tipo.

The fundamentals, however, remain the same to say the least. Despite of the government efforts to make Basilan appear to be progressing with few artificial face-lifts in the form of limited infrastructure development, the quality of life of most Basilenos is wanting. No need for statistical prints from the government to show how little progress did set in the island province. A walk into the streets of Isabela or Lamitan, and a visual tour of the island will give you the sense that life is not easy for Basilenos.

Ironically, under other circumstances Basilan could have been one of those idyllic tropical islands with its amiable stretch of coastal lines and fine beaches. But this little speck in the Sulu Sea becomes a place of hardship and misery for most of its people. It ranks among the poorest provinces of the country where only one in every four families has access to health facilities and safe drinking water.

This irony is perhaps best exemplified by the peace memorabilia at the entrance of Basilan Prelature's Bishop Querexeta Formation Center. I found it very queer to have the jeep which the victims, who were all church workers, used on the day they were ambushed on their way to the Formation Center years ago as a memento for peace.

Allan, a local peace activist, told me he found it very disturbing to have the cannibalized jeep as a peace memorabilia.

Or maybe as ironic as the permit from the City Hall that allows your group to hold a peace rally but refraining you from using speakers, megaphones, streamers, and other paraphernalia, I quipped. To which Allan laughed in mock resignation but defiant. Defiant because they still insisted to hold the peace rally at the city plaza with a score of young people in attendance under the watchful eyes of a dozen local police. It was my first time to see a real silent march and rally in the real sense of the word. Well, if you are in Basilan you must learn how to be creative.

My expectations for bangs and booms due to a well-publicized war in Basilan upon my return to this island province were not unfounded at all. As I can see, war still rages in Basilan. Not the kind of war being mounted by the government in pursuit of a handful suspects of the July 10 tragedy. But the kind of war being waged by the ordinary folks like Allan, Rhiedz, Julie, Tahir, and nameless others who continue to wage peace in order to win the war.

One can't help but admire these ordinary people who are resolute in their struggle for peace. They have no other island but Basilan, they said, adding that “we were born here, we live here, and we will die here.”

Anybody could have easily said that. Except that these people who uttered these words were not the kinds who are ready with their passports just in case things will go wrong. These are the people whose discontent steeled them to brace for a more honorable and courageous stand of waging peace. (Antonio M. Manaytay, a research officer of the Davao-based Initiatives for International Dialogue, was the media coordinator of the International Women's Peace and Solidarity Mission to Basilan and Mindanao last August 10-14, 2007. He also writes for the Mindanao Examiner)

Abandoned Baggage Triggers Panic In Zamboanga

Filipino shoppers walk past government soldiers guarding Monday Aug. 27, 2007 a department store in downtown Zamboanga City, south of the Philippines, where police explosive experts disrupted an abandoned luggage thought to contain a bomb. The luggage turned out to contain a small electric fan and clothes. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Aug) – Police explosive experts detonated Monday a luggage thought to contain a bomb in the southern Filipino port city of Zamboanga, where 14 people were injured in a recent bomb attack.

Police immediately recovered what was left of the luggage left outside the OK Bazaar and later said it contained a small electric fan.

Several small stores have also closed early in downtown Zamboanga because of reports that a bomb had exploded.

“It was only an electric fan. Our bomb sniffing dog acted on the presence of carbon and electronic components of the fan so we disrupted the luggage just to be sure, in case it turned out to be an IED,” one police explosive expert said.

Last week, a bomb attack believed carried out by the Abu Sayyaf group tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya terrorists wounded 14 people in downtown Zamboanga City.

Army Colonel Nonito Peralta said the bomb used in last week’s attack was a cocktail of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. No group claimed responsibility for the blast.

Troops were spotted Sunday guarding malls and department stores in downtown Zamboanga.

Security forces were battling Abu Sayyaf militants in nearby Basilan island, where two soldiers had been wounded in clashes at the weekend.
More than five dozen soldiers were killed in the fighting in the southern Philippines since last month. (Mindanao Examiner)

Certify Safety Of China Toys, RP Senator Urges Gov't Agencies

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Aug) – A Philippine senator on Monday urged the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) and the Bureau of Product Standards (BPS) to promptly certify the safety of all playthings being given away by popular fast-food chains as part of their special meal bundles for kids.

"Following the Mattel recall episode, our sense is that the BFAD and the BPS should now check these China-made toys being dispensed by major fast-food stores, if only to reassure the consuming public as to the safeness of these items for children," Sen. Gregorio Honasan said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

Honasan was referring to the China-made toys being distributed by McDonald's Corp., Jollibee Foods Corp., Kentucky Fried Chicken Corp. and other restaurants through their promotional meal packs for children.

"We certainly hope that they are absolutely harmless to, and suitable for children," said Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on public order, safety and illegal drugs.

Due to "safety issues," El Segundo, California-based Mattel Inc., the world's largest toy maker in terms of sales, recently recalled 18.2 million products; including Barbie play sets, Polly Pocket, Dora the Explorer, Fisher-Price, Sesame Street and Sponge Bob Square Pants toys.

The "safety issues" were traced to the inadequate product quality standards of Mattel's contract manufacturer in China.

Embarrassed by the Mattel recall and a prior similar incident involving tainted toothpaste, China has vowed to improve its product quality controls and safety standards.

"We understand that all the toys being distributed by these fast-foot outlets are manufactured in China by firms exclusively contracted by the (restaurant) chains themselves."

"The BFAD and the BPS are duty-bound to now examine these made-in-China toys, and then come out and categorically assure everyone that these products are totally safe," Honasan said.

At the close of the Manila meeting of the economic ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China's trade minister pledged "to deal with product quality-related issues."

Elite Army Forces Hunt Down Sayyaf In South RP

BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 2 Aug) – Army forces on Monday pursued Abu Sayyaf militants blamed for the wounding of two soldiers in a clash in the southern Filipino island of Basilan, a military spokesman said.

“Scout Rangers and Special Forces are pursuing the terrorists in Basilan. The order is to get the Abu Sayyaf rain or shine and we will get them,” Army Major Eugene Batara said told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said two soldiers were wounded in fighting late Sunday in Basilan’s Ungkaya Pukan town. There were no reports of Abu Sayyaf casualties, he said.

Fifteen soldiers were killed also in the same town on Aug. 18 after Abu Sayyaf militants, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, ambushed them.

The fighting in Basilan began July 10 after the Abu Sayyaf and the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front where implicated in an ambush that left 14 Marines dead in Al-Barka town.

The soldiers strayed into an MILF territory in search for Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who is wanted both by the Philippines and United States for kidnapping four American citizens, two of them were later killed.

Security officials previously said that troops were searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi who was not in Basilan, but in Lanao del Norte province.

The Abu Sayyaf is on the U.S. terrorist lists and Washington offered up to $5 million dollars bounty for the capture of Hapilon and other known terror leaders.
Philippine authorities also put up a P100 million rewards for capture dead of alive of Abu Sayyaf leaders.

A bomb blast last week in Zamboanga City left at least 14 people wounded and that attack was also blamed to the Abu Sayyaf group.

Aside from the Abu Sayyaf, Filipino troops, backed by U.S. intelligence, are also tracking down several Jemaah Islamiya bombers, including Indonesians Dulmatin and Umar Patek and Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir hiding in southern Philippines.

President Gloria Arroyo ordered the military to destroy the Abu Sayyaf and their allies. Moro rebels were said to be aiding the Abu Sayyaf, the military said. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Teachers, Aspiring Cadets Take Exams In Jolo Island

A school teacher in the southern Filipino island of Jolo takes a government licensure examinations Sunday inside the Mohammad Tulawie School in downtown Jolo town. The island’s governor Sakur Tan sought President Gloria Arroyo’s permission to allow some 2,000 teachers to take the examinations in Jolo to save on expenses in traveling to Mindanao to take the licensure test. Also some 100 high school graduates aspiring to become a cadet take an entrance examination Sunday Aug. 26, 2007 for the Philippine Military Academy in Jolo island. The examination is the first in 17 years in Jolo to give equal opportunity for those living in remote provinces, says Colonel Antonio Supnet, the island's army chief.

And group of children play at the Mauboh beach in Patikul town in Jolo island on Sunday. Contrary to Philippine media reports of fighting between troops and Abu Sayyaf militants, the island’s governor Sakur Tan says life is much better now for the locals, citing the steady growth of business and the improved peace and order condition since the implementation of the total gun ban in Jolo island. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

JOLO ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 26 Aug) – For the first time in Jolo's history, the Philippine Regulation Commission, allowed school teachers to take their licensure examinations on the southern island.

Some 2,000 teachers trooped to the town of Jolo and took the examinations held in two government schools. School Superintendent Delfin Unga said the island's Governor Sakur Tan sought President Gloria Arroyo's help in allowing the teachers to take the their licensure examination in Jolo.

"President Gloria Arroyo granted the request of Governor Tan and that's why we were able to hold the PRC licensure examinations here. We were able to save money and time. We hope this will continue in the coming years," Unga told the Mindanao Examiner.

Tan said the holding of the licensure examinations in Jolo island only shows the government's concern for the welfare of the teachers. "We owe this to President Arroyo and she assured us of her administration's continued support to the people of this province," he said.

Perla Sayana, PRC head of delegation to Jolo island, said President Arroyo ordered them to fly to Jolo and supervise the licensing examinations for teachers as requested by Tan.

"We are really excited to come here and conduct the licensing examinations for teachers and we hope that in the future we will be able to hold other licensing examinations here to service the people," she said in a separate interview.

Aside from the PRC examination, the Philippine Military Academy also held its admission test in Jolo island, the first time in 17 years, according to Colonel Antonio Supnet, commander of the Army's 104 th Infantry Brigade.

He said some 100 graduates from high school took the PMA examination. "There were so many who wanted to become a cadet, but we follow strict guidance and rules before anyone are allowed to take the battery of examinations and eventually become a PMA cadet."

"This is the first time in 17 years that the PMA is here to recruit. This will give equal opportunity for everyone – Christians and Muslims – to become part of the Philippine Military Academy," Supnet said.

Tan also appealed to the press not to sensationalize the security problem in Jolo island, where troops are pursuing the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for terrorism and kidnappings in southern Philippines.

"The government operation is limited to the mountains and everybody can come here and see for themselves the progress that we are now enjoying and the development projects that are ongoing."

"President Arroyo is pouring a lot of humanitarian and government projects in the province and the military and police are doing a great job in maintaining peace and order," he said.

He said beaches are full everyday of picnickers and the local economy is growing steadily.

"Trade with neighboring provinces is also picking up. We deliver fruits, like durian and lanzones and also coffee beans and rubbers by the boats everyday to Zamboanga and other places in Mindanao and as far as Manila, Cebu and abroad and we are growing."

"And so we appeal to the media to report the positive gains that we have achieved and help us promote peace and development and lure investments and more trades with our neighbors," Tan said.

Jolo island is one of five provinces under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and is famous for its pristine beaches and rich in heritage and culture. (Mindanao Examiner)