News & Current Affairs

July 4, 2009

North Korea missile tests defy UN

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:27 pm

North Korea missile tests defy UN

A student passes a diagram of North Korean missile types at a South Korean observation post in Paju, 19 June

North Korea is thought to have thousands of missiles

North Korea has test-fired a series of missiles in an apparent act of defiance on 4 July, American Independence Day.

Reports say at least seven Scud-type ballistic missiles were fired, with a range of about 500km (312 miles).

South Korea and Japan called the latest tests, which follow several others in recent weeks, an “act of provocation”.

North Korea is banned from all ballistic missile-related activities under UN sanctions imposed after a second underground nuclear test in May.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the missiles were fired from one of the North’s east coast launch sites on Saturday morning.

All landed in the Sea of Japan, known in South Korea as the East Sea.

NORTH KOREA 2009 TESTS
map
4 July – Seven suspected ballistic missiles fired
2 July – four short-range cruise missiles launched
25 May – second underground nuclear test brings new UN sanctions
25/26 May – series of short-range rockets fired
5 April – N Korea says long-range rocket was satellite launch

“Our military is fully ready to counter any North Korean threats and provocations,” the JCS said in a statement.

A South Korean defence official said Saturday’s tests were of greater concern than four short-range ones on Thursday, as the missiles had longer ranges.

“Thursday’s missile tests were apparently made as part of a military drill but today’s launches, which came on the eve of the US Independence Day, are believed to be aimed at political purposes,” the official told Yonhap news agency.

The South Korean government condemned the launches for being in breach of the recent UN security council resolution.

A spokesman for the US state department, meanwhile, described North Korea’s behaviour as “not helpful” and urged it not to aggravate tensions, AFP news agency reported.

Nuclear warhead fears

The BBC’s John Sudworth in Seoul says the launches are seen there as part of North Korean efforts to ratchet up the tension.

The missiles’ estimated 500km reach – although still technically short-range – brings most of South Korea withing striking distance, our correspondent says.

Japanese and South Korean media have reported that North Korea may be preparing to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Our correspondent says there are no signs that such a test could be imminent.

Pyongyang is banned from testing ballistic missiles under UN resolutions but launched a long-range rocket in April, which many governments saw as a thinly disguised test of Taepodong-2 missile technology.

There are fears that North Korea is trying to produce nuclear warheads small enough to put on missiles – but experts say this appears to be several years away.

After six-nation talks aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions broke down earlier this year, Pyongyang said it would “weaponise” its plutonium stocks and start enriching uranium.

On 12 June the UN Security Council approved a resolution allowing inspection of air, sea and land shipments in and out of North Korea suspected of carrying banned arms and weapons-related material.

The North has said it will treat any interception of its ships as a declaration of war.

Korea analyst Aidan Foster-Carter told the BBC that the international community will have to wait and see what North Korea wants, while reprimanding it and taking what action it can.

He believes that the political situation inside North Korea could be behind its recent behaviour.

There are questions over the health of leader Kim Jong-il, after his apparent stroke last year.

Reports suggest he has named his youngest son as his successor – and some analysts believe the recent bellicosity could be a show of strength aimed at securing domestic support for his plans.

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September 17, 2008

Deadly US embassy attack in Yemen

Deadly US embassy attack in Yemen

A car bomb and rocket attack on the US embassy in Yemen has killed at least 16 people, including civilians and Yemeni security guards, Yemen officials said.

The bomb targeted the main security gate as staff were arriving for work.

An exchange of heavy fire followed between embassy security guards and militants, who eyewitnesses said were dressed as policemen.

The White House said the attack was a reminder of continuing threats from “extremists both at home and abroad”.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe added: “We will continue to work with the government of Yemen to increase our counter-terrorism activities to prevent more attacks from taking place.”

Security sources said six members of the Yemeni security forces, six attackers, and four bystanders were killed in the attack, which occurred in the capital, Sanaa, at about 0830 (0530 GMT).

‘Massive fireball’

British citizen Trev Mason described hearing explosions while in his residential compound near the embassy.

We saw… a massive fireball very close to the US embassy
Trev Mason
eyewitness

“We heard the sounds of a heavy gunbattle going on,” he told CNN television.

“I looked out of my window and we saw the first explosion going off, a massive fireball very close to the US embassy.”

The new attack is the second on the embassy in the past six months.

A group calling itself the Islamic Jihad in Yemen said it carried out the attack, and threatened to target other foreign missions in the region unless its jailed members were released.

The authenticity of the claim could not be immediately verified.

Earlier this year, the US ordered the evacuation of non-essential personnel from Yemen after mortar bombs were fired towards the embassy. They missed but hit a nearby school.

Map of Yemen

Yemen, the ancestral home of Osama Bin Laden, has long been a haven for Islamist militants.

In 2000, 17 US sailors were killed when suicide bombers with alleged links to al-Qaeda blew themselves up on an inflatable raft next to the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.

The government of Yemen, which backs America’s “war on terror”, has often blamed al-Qaeda for attacks on Western targets in the country.

US special forces have been helping the government fight the Islamist militants.

But analysts say there has been only limited success in restraining the militant groups.

Yemen is a desperately poor corner of the Middle East and, like Afghanistan, there is rugged mountainous terrain, with a vast supply of weapons.


Are you in the region? Have you been affected? Send us your story

August 31, 2008

Italy seals Libya colonial deal

Italy seals Libya colonial deal

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (left) shakes hands with Libya's Col Muammar Gaddafi  in Benghazi on 30 August

Mr Berlusconi (left) and Col Gaddafi shook hands

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has signed an agreement to pay Libya $5bn as part of a deal to resolve colonial-era disputes.

Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi said the settlement signed in the city of Benghazi opened the door to partnership between the two states.

Mr Berlusconi said the deal, which sees the money being released over 25 years, ended “40 years of misunderstanding”.

Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911 before becoming a colony in the 1930s.

The former Ottoman territory became an independent country in 1951.

This is the first African country to be compensated by a former colonial master.

The question is, she adds: will this latest move set precedents for other former African countries to follow suit?

Coastal motorway

Mr Berlusconi explained that $200m would be paid annually over the next 25 years through investments in infrastructure projects, the main one being a coastal motorway between the Egyptian and Tunisian borders.

The Venus of Cyrene statue is displayed at the signing ceremony

The headless statue was displayed when the two leaders met

There will also be a colonial-era mine clearing project.

As a goodwill gesture, Italy also returned an ancient statue of Venus, the headless “Venus of Cyrene”, which had been taken to Rome in colonial times.

The settlement was a “complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era”, the Italian prime minister said.

“In this historic document, Italy apologises for its killing, destruction and repression against Libyans during the colonial rule,” Col Gaddafi said for his part.

The agreement was signed in the Benghazi palace which once housed the Italian colonial administration, Reuters news agency reports.

Rome and Tripoli have spent years arguing over compensation for the colonial period.

Mr Berlusconi’s one-day trip was his second since June when illegal immigration from Africa to Europe was the key issue of talks.

Italy has been swamped by thousands of African migrants trying to reach its shores by boat.

Libya has come in from the diplomatic cold since 2003 when it abandoned efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Next week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to make the first high-ranking American visit to Libya since 1953.

August 30, 2008

Italy to seal Libya colonial deal

Italy to seal Libya colonial deal

Silvio Berlusconi

Mr Berlusconi is making his second trip to Libya since June

Italy is to provide billions of dollars to Libya as part of a deal to resolve colonial-era disputes, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has announced.

At least $5bn will go to help Libyan infrastructure projects over the next 25 years.

Mr Berlusconi is in the port of Benghazi to meet Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and seal a bilateral friendship and cooperation accord.

Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911 before becoming a colony in the 1930s.

It became independent in 1951.

Motorway

Mr Berlusconi said: “The accord will provide for $200m a year over the next 25 years through investments in infrastructure projects in Libya.”

The main project will be a coastal motorway between the Egyptian and Tunisian borders.

There will also be a colonial-era mine clearing project.

The Italian leader had earlier said he wanted the agreement to “turn the page on the past”.

Rome and Tripoli have spent years arguing over compensation for the colonial period.

Libya has accused Italy of killing thousands of its citizens and expelling thousands more from their homes in three decades of occupation.

Mr Berlusconi’s trip is his second since June when illegal immigration from Africa to Europe was the key issue of talks.

Italy has been swamped by thousands of African migrants trying to reach its shores by boat.

Libya has come in from the diplomatic cold since 2003 when it abandoned efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Next week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to make the first high-ranking American visit to Libya since 1953.

August 21, 2008

Uncovering truth about Georgia conflict

Uncovering truth about Georgia conflict

Courtesy BBC NEWS

By Stephanie Holmes
BBC News

As accusations of indiscriminate violence, murder and genocide are hurled between Russia and Georgia over the South Ossetia conflict, human rights investigators are painstakingly trying to establish the facts on the ground.

A Georgian woman stands near a damaged apartment block in Gori, Georgia

Residential buildings were hit during the conflict

Researchers suggest both sides may have violated the codes of war – using violence that was either disproportionate or indiscriminate, or both – claims that the International Criminal Court is currently investigating.

Russian prosecutors have announced they are opening criminal cases into the deaths of 133 civilians who they say were killed by Georgian forces.

Initially, however, Russia suggested more than 1,500 people had died in the conflict.

Last week, Georgia filed a lawsuit against Russia at the International Court of Justice, based at The Hague, alleging the country had attempted to ethnically cleanse Georgians from the breakaway regions.

Uncovering the facts – even of very recent history – becomes a battle in itself when people are displaced and desperate.

“Gathering comprehensive data about the dead from civilians is a time-consuming task,” Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, told BBC News.

“We have to cross-check data and check that people are not misidentified or miscounted.”

Shifting status

Neighbors who take up arms during a conflict, for example, shift status, becoming combatants rather than civilians, which can confuse calculations of civilian death tolls.

Russian tanks in South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

Russian forces have been accused of using cluster bombs

“We have to make sure there is no double-counting – if a body is moved, we have to be careful not to count it twice – maybe it is counted once in the village itself and then it could be counted again in the city morgue,” Ms Denber said.

“To get really accurate figures you would really have to go to every single village.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – which has just gained access to South Ossetia – says it hopes to uncover the truth by remaining neutral and only revealing what its told – by survivors, eyewitnesses and relatives – to relevant authorities.

“The work of the ICRC is totally confidential,” spokeswoman Jessica Barry explained from the Georgian capital, Tblisi.

“We do take allegations of arrests, of people missing or reported dead. We can also offer our services to the authorities for the transfer of mortal remains.

“All the work we do is gathering confidential information which we share with the authorities with the aim of finding out the location of loved ones for the civilian population.”

War of words

The ferocity of the conflict on the ground was echoed in the way both Russian and Georgian officials conducted a media war, making ever graver accusations against each other, competing for television airtime and giving spiralling civilian death tolls.

A woman walks past propaganda poster depicting Russian aggression

The war has been played out both in the media and on the ground

All of which muddies the waters when trying to establish if human rights and international laws have been violated.

“There has been a lot of controversy about the Russian figures,” says HRW’s Rachel Denber.

“When that figure came out – of 1,500 dead – it wasn’t very helpful, it didn’t provide any sourcing or methodology, there were no details about how the figure was calculated. We certainly can’t confirm it.”

“The problem here is that when Russia puts out a figure like that it does two things – it distracts attention from where there are violations and from the real scale of what is happening.”

The organization puts the civilian death toll in the dozens, rather than the hundreds.

Responsibility to protect

As well as multiple rocket launchers mounted on four-wheel drives, known as Grads, campaigners say cluster munitions – which can contain hundreds of smaller bomblets – were used during the conflict. Both these weapons are intrinsically indiscriminate, they say.

Disproportionate attacks are prohibited […] if there is likely to be civilian damage excessive in relation to the expected military gain, you don’t fire
Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch

“If you have a military objective then the Grad rocket is not a targeted weapon, civilians are going to get hit and that is exactly what happened, and happened on a significant scale. The proximity was such that it was indiscriminate,” Ms Denber said.

She cited a reported case in which Russian forces dropped bombs on a convoy of passenger cars fleeing Georgia’s Gori district, and another in which Georgian soldiers pursued armed South Ossetian militias using tanks, driving and firing through a residential neighborhood.

“The rule is that disproportionate attacks are prohibited. In other words, if you have your eye on a military target, and there is likely to be civilian damage excessive in relation to the expected military gain, you don’t fire,” Ms Denber said.

Although the fighting has now stopped, violations continue, she says, with Russian forces failing to protect civilians in areas of Georgia and South Ossetia that they control – a key part of the international law governing behavior during war.

“We have numerous stories of Ossetian forces roving around ethnic Georgian villages – running around, looting homes, torching them,” she said.

“We are looking into other accounts of violence, of people being robbed at gunpoint. These are areas that Russian forces have control over – it is their responsibility to protect them.”

August 17, 2008

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran says it has successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying its first domestically built satellite.

Officials said only the rocket had been fired, correcting state media reports that the communications satellite itself had been sent into orbit.

The White House voiced concern, saying the technology could also be used for launching weapons.

Tehran has pursued a space program for years, despite international concern over its nuclear plans.

In February it sent a probe into space as part of preparations for the launch of the satellite.

Long-held ambition

Footage aired on Irinn (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network) showed the launch of the Safir rocket in darkness.

The presenter said that the satellite launch was a trial which was successful. State and military officials confirmed the launch had taken place.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was at the event, said one report.

In October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite named Sina-1 was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.

Sunday’s launch comes amid a long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions.

“This action and dual use possibilities for their ballistic missile program are inconsistent with their UN Security Council obligations.”

The US and some European countries have demanded that Iran curtail uranium enrichment – but Iran protests that its purposes are peaceful and says it has a right to continue.

August 14, 2008

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russian soldier near Gori, 13 August 2008

Russia insists its troops remain in Georgia for security purposes only

Russian troops have begun handing over control of the area around the town of Gori to Georgian security forces.

But a Russian general in the area said Moscow’s troops would remain nearby for several days to remove weaponry and help restore law and order in Gori.

Overnight the US secretary of state urged Moscow to meet its own pledge to pull troops out of Georgia altogether.

Georgia attacked the rebel region of South Ossetia from Gori a week ago and the town has remained a key flash point.

Russian troops occupied the town after they pushed Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, sparking a mass retreat from the city by Georgian troops and civilians.

Gori has also come under air attack, with reports of Russian planes bombing the town after Moscow declared an end to its military operation on Tuesday.

And Russia’s continued deployment of troops in Gori raised concerns that the Kremlin would not make a quick withdrawal from Georgian territory, despite agreeing to a European peace plan.

Safety ‘improved’

Moscow insists that the purpose of its continuing presence in Georgia proper is to hand over security to the Georgian police and to remove abandoned weapons and ammunition.

In Gori, I saw lorries full of bodies being delivered to the hostpial every day. So many people have died, why is the government lying?

Local residents reported feeling safe and secure on Wednesday night, our correspondent says, with Russian troops clearly in charge of the town.

The Russian general co-ordinating the return of Georgian police and security forces to Gori urged residents – many of whom left town as the Georgian army retreated on Monday – to return to their homes and re-open their shops, our correspondent adds.

Russian troops were allowing armed Georgian police back into the town, and would not leave until order is restored, Gen Vyacheslav Borisov said.

US steadfast

The Georgian government says that 175 people, mainly civilians, were killed during the conflict with Russia and South Ossetian separatist forces.

Russia, which says that 74 of its troops were killed, reports that more than 2,000 people died in South Ossetia, the vast majority civilians allegedly killed in the Georgian attack.

While none of the casualty figures have been verified independently, the UN refugee agency estimates that some 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, both from South Ossetia and Georgia proper.

Both sides have accused each other of committing atrocities during the conflict, although little conclusive evidence has been found.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said on Wednesday night Russia faced international “isolation” if it refused to respect the truce, brokered by French and current EU President Nicolas Sarkozy.

She spoke hours after Russian tanks were seen moving out of Gori on the main road to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Amid widespread concern the armored column eventually turned off the main road and troops began work to destroy or disable Georgian army bases.

“We expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country,” Ms Rice said later in Washington, before leaving on a diplomatic mission to France and Georgia.

There was, she said, a “very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said that it wants to be”.

And the US special envoy to the region, Matthew Bryza, told the BBC that the outbreak of violence in the Caucasus strengthened Georgia’s case to join the Nato alliance.

“Russia, a country with 30 times the population [of Georgia] decided to roll into its much smaller neighbour and tried to roll over it. It failed to roll over Georgia, but it would never have even thought of doing this if Georgia were already a member of Nato,” he said.

Map of region

August 7, 2008

Mehdi Army ‘stops carrying arms’

Mehdi Army ‘stops carrying arms’

Mehdi Army members in Basra, August 2004

The militia is weakened after many battles with US and Iraqi forces

A spokesman for Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr says his militia  will no longer carry weapons, but he stopped short of declaring an end to violence.

In a BBC interview, Salah al-Obeidi said future decisions about the Mehdi Army’s strategy would depend on the long-term status of US troops in Iraq.

“Resistance” would go on if a timetable for US withdrawal was not set, he said.

Iraq and the US are negotiating a status of forces agreement to decide the future role of US troops.

An announcement is expected to be read out at prayers in many Shia mosques in Baghdad on Friday.

The BBC’s Crispin Thorold in Baghdad says the Mehdi Army was once arguably the most powerful Shia military and political movement in Iraq, but it has been seriously weakened after military operations against it.

Local ceasefires were declared in Basra and Baghdad earlier year year after intense fighting, but the militia still retains its weapons.

In June, the militia announced a reorganisation along the lines of Hezbollah in Lebanon – turning it into a large social movement with small secretive fighting units.

Separately, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has given militants in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, a week to lay down their arms.

He said those that did so would receive an amnesty.

So far, almost 500 suspected militants have been captured in an offensive there over the past eight days.

August 5, 2008

Bush to face S Korea protesters

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:05 am

Bush to face S Korea protesters

US President George W Bush is en route to South Korea where he is expected to get a less than wholehearted welcome.

Thousands of protesters plan to voice their anger over the agreement with the US to restart imports of beef.

Mr Bush is going to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games, and will stop off in South Korea to discuss the military alliance with the US.

Talks will also focus on a planned free trade agreement and North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ programme.

But Mr Bush will also be given a taste of the public anger over the recent agreement to resume imports of American beef.

The deal sparked months of street protests because of fears that US cattle may be infected with mad cow disease.

The first shipments began arriving last week, but the demonstration organisers say that a large crowd will leave President Bush in no doubt about what they think of his government’s reassurances that US beef is safe.

In his summit meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, though, it is the situation north of the border that will feature prominently.

The US is planning to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a reward for stopping production of weapons grade plutonium.

But the communist state must first agree to allow international nuclear inspectors in, and there are intense efforts underway to try to secure agreement on how those inspections would work.

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