Friday, August 26, 2016

Southeast Asia shores up maritime defense in response to China

From Nikkei Asia Review (Aug 26): Southeast Asia shores up maritime defense in response to China

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (left) on a June visit to the Natuna Islands (Photo provided by Presidential Palace)  

Southeast Asian nations are beefing up maritime security in the South China Sea as Beijing continues to assert its claims to contested areas, raising the specter of an arms race that could flare up tensions.

Indonesia plans to deploy five F-16 fighter jets and three to five naval frigates to the Natuna Islands as early as this year, a military official told The Nikkei. Indonesia is upgrading a military base in the South China Sea archipelago, building new runways and an expanded port due for completion by the end of 2017. Submarine deployment is planned as well. Purchasing additional fighters from Russia is also under consideration.
China claims Indonesia's exclusive economic zone surrounding the islands as part of its own traditional fishing grounds. Jakarta has become more sensitive to the presence of Chinese fishing boats and coast guard ships in the waters, leading to a provocative back-and-forth. President Joko Widodo visited the archipelago in June, only for a Chinese nuclear submarine to sail by a day later, for example.
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Vietnam and the Philippines are also bolstering defense as territorial squabbles with China continue over as the Spratly Islands and other areas. Hanoi has purchased six Russian Kilo-class submarines since 2015 for deployment at Cam Ranh Bay, the navy's southern stronghold. Vietnam is now weighing introducing antisubmarine patrol aircraft as well, either with new P-3 planes or surplus P-3Cs from Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force.

The U.S. military in June deployed four electronic warfare aircraft to Clark Air Base, north of the Philippine capital of Manila, in part to bolster maritime surveillance. Japan's MSDF has also sent submarines and warships to call on the port of Subic since spring.

China is thought to have deployed a number of submarines around the Spratly Islands and elsewhere. The Philippines' and Vietnam's expanded aerial and naval presence aims largely to counter that threat.

Even Singapore, which does not have territorial quarrels with China, agreed last December to let the U.S. deploy antisubmarine spy aircraft in the city state.

Deployments have since occurred once every three months, with keeping tabs on China's military presence the clear, if unstated, goal. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Singapore counterpart Ng Eng Hen rode along on a patrol in June.

Nothing to do

China has largely shrugged off a July ruling by a United Nations-backed arbitration tribunal denying the country's sweeping claims over the area. Beijing has shown no signs of reining in activity, conducting large-scale troop exercises in the South China Sea.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and neighboring partners including China sought a peaceful solution to the issue at the ASEAN Regional Forum in July, but made little progress. Southeast Asian countries with smaller militaries have little choice but to bolster their defense presence.

Military expenditures in Asia and Oceania rose 5.4% from 2014 to 2015, compared to 1% globally, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Higher spending in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines in light of greater leeriness toward China played a major role in that increase. Regional military outlays are seen climbing further in 2016 and beyond, potentially escalating the saber-rattling in the region.                         

Rody offers land to Reds

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 26): Rody offers land to Reds

MILITANT groups, in a rally in Quezon City in July, display a streamer expressing support for peace talks between the government and communist rebels. LYN RILLON

MILITANT groups, in a rally in Quezon City in July, display a streamer expressing support for peace talks between the government and communist rebels. LYN RILLON

President Duterte on Wednesday offered to release funds and provide land to members of the communist New People’s Army if peace talks succeed.

“There is so much land in the Philippines, and I could (give you), just tell me and I will give them everything,” Mr. Duterte said in a late night press conference on Wednesday.

“It takes so much money to run a war for nothing. You see, after 45 years, we can talk after all,” he said.

The President’s offer to guerrillas came minutes after he again declared a ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“I am joining the Communist Party of the Philippines in its desire to seek peace for this nation,” the President said at 11:35 p.m. on Wednesday.

Mr. Duterte also ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to heed the ceasefire declaration.

“So we avoid hostile actions against each other,” Mr. Duterte said. “We do not go into antagonistic behavior in front of whoever. As a matter of fact, I am encouraging people in government, the military and the police to be friendly with the forces of the revolutionary government of the Communist Party of the Philippines within the time that we have a ceasefire because of the Oslo talks,” the President said.

‘Long, long period’

Government and rebel representatives have resumed formal peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway.

Mr. Duterte said he hoped that the ceasefire would “go a long, long period for a peaceful resolution of the communist rebellion against the Republic of the Philippines.”

The President said his decision was “mainly based on a consensus and the concurrence of all the commanding generals of the AFP the other day,” as well as of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

On Friday last week, Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced the government’s declaration of a ceasefire as prelude to the talks in Oslo. But the day after, Mr. Duterte said he had yet to consult the military.

The President also appealed to the police and military not to be hurt with his decision “because as President, my main task is to seek peace for my country.”

“I am not a president who would enjoy waging war against the citizens of this republic. It pains me deeply to see people dying for an ideology that we can talk about peacefully, just like now,” said the President.

“And I also wonder why we had to kill each other for 45 years only to end up, which is really a significant event for everybody, talking. And to think so many lives lost in government and the other side, when we can talk,” the President added.

Mr. Duterte said his only regret for the country was that talks should have been done a long time ago.

US fears over ISIS group's Southeast Asia expansion

From Rappler (Aug 26): US fears over ISIS group's Southeast Asia expansion

A senior US counter-terrorism official notes that militants from Southeast Asia fighting with ISIS in Iraq and Syria have been deployed in a unit called the Katibah Nusantara   

Islamic State jihadists (IS, formerly known as ISIS or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq) are eyeing expansion into Southeast Asia by joining forces with local extremists, a senior US counter-terrorism official warned Friday, August 26.

ISIS has a history of partnering with militant groups around the world, including in Egypt, Libya and Nigeria, and wants to broaden its reach in the region, according to Justin Siberell, acting coordinator for counter-terrorism at the US State Department.
"My understanding is that they have looked at existing groups across the region," Siberell said in a conference call from Washington with Asia-based journalists.

"There have been people that have pledged affiliation and allegiance to ISIS at the group level. We're certainly concerned about that, we're concerned about the rise of new ISIS affiliates and we're working with governments to do what they can to prevent that."

Siberell also noted that militants from Southeast Asia fighting with ISIS in Iraq and Syria have been deployed in a unit called the Katibah Nusantara, and could pose a threat when they eventually return to their home countries.

"We're certainly concerned about ISIS' ability to expand or to establish branches," he said.

There have been only relatively minor attacks and plots blamed on ISIS affiliates in the region, but analysts fear the group could become more effective.

Indonesian police earlier this month arrested 6 suspected militants over a plot to launch a rocket attack on an up-market Singapore waterfront district from the nearby Indonesian island of Batam.

The suspects' alleged leader, Gigih Rahmat Dewa, is accused of planning the attack with Bahrun Naim, a leading Indonesian militant who is believed to be fighting with ISIS in Syria.

In January ISIS-linked militants launched a deadly gun and bomb attack in Jakarta which left 4 attackers and 4 civilians dead.

Singapore on August 19 announced it had detained two men under its tough internal security law after discovering they intended to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS.

Siberell spoke Friday after he traveled to Bali earlier this month for a meeting on preventing the cross-border movements of known or suspected terrorists. He also visited Jakarta, Malaysia and Singapore before returning to Washington.

PH, NDF to resume talks, silence guns

From Rappler (Aug 26): PH, NDF to resume talks, silence guns

For the first time, the National Democratic Front also entertains the idea of discussing a joint ceasefire with the government

PEACE TALKS. Peace panels of the Philippine government and the National Dmocratic Front talk peace in Oslo, Norway. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

PEACE TALKS. Peace panels of the Philippine government and the National Dmocratic Front talk peace in Oslo, Norway. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

The Philippine government and communist rebels on Friday, August 26, signed an agreement that will silence guns on both sides for an indefinite period while they continue talks to end Asia's longest-running communist insurgency.

During signing ceremonies here on Friday, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF), the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), issued a new ceasefire order that effectively extends the initial 7-day limited ceasefire it issued before the talks.
The military earlier declared an indefinite ceasefire, too.

This will be followed by discussions for a permanent joint ceasefire arrangement between the two sides. The separate unilateral ceasefire declarations will be merged into a bilateral document within 60 days to detail the necessary rules of engagement that will guide actions of government troops and revolutionary forces on the ground to avoid clashes.

This is the first time that the NDF entertained the idea of discussing a joint ceasefire with the govenrment.

“This is a historic and unprecedented event. Many of us have‬
‪been here doing this before. We are looking at an opportunity that we can‬ ‪finish what we started a long time ago,” said Chief Peace Adviser Jesus‬ ‪Dureza.‬

"But there is still a lot of work to be done," Dureza added.

Both panels thanked the Norwegian government as the third party facilitator, and President Rodrigo Duterte for his full support for the negotiations.

"It is opportune to note to our fellow Filipinos that with these two ceasefires. You will expect the lowering of the level of violence," said chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello III.

10 major agreements

The newly released document shows 10 major agreements accomplished during the resumption of negotiations this week in Oslo, the first round since an impasse in 2011.
Among them is a commitment that the government panel will recommend to Duterte the amnesty of all political prisoners, subject to the concurrence of Congress.

There is also the reaffirmation of previously signed agreements, a reconstitution of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, and an agreement to fast-track the timeline of the process.

The Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) will also be reactivated, a mechanism similar to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) in the peace talks between the Philippine governmant and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It handles issues that crop up on the ground including possible encounters while the ceasefire is in place.

Both parties also agreed to fast-track the peace negotiatons by agreeing to simultaneously discuss substantive agenda instead of resolving them one by one – socioeconomic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

They aim to resolve socioeconomic reforms, expected to be the most contentious issue, within 6 months.

The next round of talks will happen October 8-12, where the panels will begin to discuss contentious issues.

Negotiating teams from both sides held marathon sessions since Monday, August 22, at the Scandic Holmenkollen Park Hotel.

Govt, reds agree on indefinite truce

From InterAksyon (Aug 26): Govt, reds agree on indefinite truce

OSLO, Norway - The Philippine government and Communist guerrillas have agreed an indefinite extension to a ceasefire to facilitate talks on a peace deal, Norway, which is playing the role of intermediary, announced Friday.

Representatives of the government peace panel and the Communist Party of the Philippines' National Democratic Front on Friday signed the indefinite cease fire agreement as the first round of the revived formal peace talks came to a close.

"This is a historic and unprecedented event ... (but) there is still a lot of work to be done ahead," President Rodrigo Duterte's peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, said at a signing ceremony in Norway, which is mediating the talks.

Both sides agreed to implement unilateral cease fires which are unlimited in time, something that has never been achieved before in the peace process.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende described the agreement as a "major breakthrough."

The two panels meet again for the next round of negotiations this October.

As a prelude, the two sides had each agreed to a ceasefire, but the truce commitment by the Communist side was due to end on Saturday.

At stake is the aim of ending one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies.

The Communist Party of the Philippines launched a rebellion in 1968 that has so far claimed the lives of 30,000 people, according to official estimates.

Its armed faction, the New People's Army (NPA), is now believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, when a bloodless revolt ended the 20-year dictatorship of late president Ferdinand Marcos.

They remain particularly active in rural areas, where they are notorious for extorting money from local businesses. They also regularly attack police and military forces, sometimes targeting them in urban areas.

In 2002, the US State Department designated the Communist Party and the NPA foreign terrorist organisations.

Elusive peace

Forging peace with the rebels has been the elusive goal of Philippine presidents since the 1986 "People Power" revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The force behind the current talks is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory.

On Monday, his government said it hoped to reach a peace accord within a year.

Duterte, who calls himself a Socialist, hails from Mindanao, the impoverished southern third of the Philippines where two rebellions -- Communist and Muslim -- have been most active.

He says ending both insurgencies is vital to his plan to curb poverty. He has even sketched the possibility of forming a coalition government with the rebels.

Duterte reputedly has close links to the Communists and is a former university student of Jose Maria Sison, now aged 77, who established the party.

The two sides hope to breathe new life into the process by discussing simultaneously the outstanding issues of social and economic reforms, political and constitutional changes, and an end to hostilities.

Previous peace talks have addressed one issue at a time.

Among the issues are the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL, following the conclusion of the first of the talks' four substantive agenda, and what has turned out to be the most problematic, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, or JASIG, which protects negotiators, their consultants and staff from arrest and prosecution for the duration of the negotiations.

JASIG is actually an important agreement since it would allow negotiators and consultants of both parties to visit their constituencies even in contentious areas to solicit their inputs on the peace process.

Ironically, these major agreements were negotiated and signed under the presidency of Fidel Ramos, the former soldier who helped implement the 14-year Marcos dictatorship until he and then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile broke away and helped spark the 1986 People Power uprising.

Military, Sayyaf clash leaves 23 casualties in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 26): Military, Sayyaf clash leaves 23 casualties in Southern Philippines

Government troops clashed Friday with Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern province of Sulu that left 23 casualties as security forces continue to battle the notorious jihadist group being linked with the Islamic State.

The fighting in Patikul town killed at least 6 militants and wounded 17 government soldiers, but there were no reports on the fate of kidnapped Malaysian and Indonesian sailors, and Norwegian national Kjartan Sekkingstad.

President Duterte ordered security forces to destroy the Abu Sayyaf following Wednesday’s beheading of a Filipino hostage Patrick James Almodovar after his family failed to pay P1 million ransom.

Duterte said negotiators had paid P50 million ransoms to the Abu Sayyaf for the safe release of Sekkingstad, but the militants demanded P250 million more. He did not say where the ransom came from.

The Western Mindanao Command said among those killed in the fighting was Mohammad Said, alias Amah Maas who was an Abu Sayyaf sub-leader tagged by the military as involved in the beheading of 2 Canadian hostages – John Ridsdel and Robert Hall – just this year.

Ridsdel and Hall, along with Sekkingstad and Filipino woman Maritess Flor, were kidnapped in September 2015 on a posh resort in Samal Island in Davao del Norte province. Flor was released by the Abu Sayyaf in June this year following a successful negotiation by former Sulu Governor Sakur Tan and peace adviser Jesus Dureza who were tapped by Duterte to secure the woman.

“Among those killed was Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Mohammad Said, who has five standing warrants of arrest for murder. Subject was involved in the abductions of the Samal kidnap victims where two Canadians were beheaded,” the military said in a statement.

It said operations continue in Sulu and even in Basilan and both provinces are under the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao. “Troops continue to conduct pursuit and are currently engaged in a running gun battle,” it added.

“Our troops are extremely motivated; they know that this fight against terrorism is greater than themselves. Sa totoo lang, 17 ang sugatan natin pero 10 dun ay slightly wounded lang, nagpaiwan sila para sumama uli sa operation at ipagpatuloy ang laban.”

“Ganyan katindi ang pagtingin namin sa misyon na ito lalo na sa utos ng ating Commander-in- Chief. He gave a specific order. The mission is clear. Seek and destroy the ASG. By all means that’s what we are doing and we will not stop until it’s done,” Lieutenant General Mayoralgo Dela Cruz, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said in the same statement.

NPA frees 2 policemen in Mindanao

From the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 26): NPA frees 2 policemen in Mindanao

Communist rebels on Friday released 2 policemen they held as prisoners of war and handed them over to church leaders in Davao Oriental province in southern Philippines.

The New People’s Army said Chief Inspector Arnold S. Ongachen and Police Officer 1 Michael B. Grande were fetched by representatives from Exodus of Justice and Peace headed by Reverend Jurie Jaime and other politicians.

Rubi Del Mundo, a rebel spokesman, said the National Democratic Front ordered the release of both policemen who were captured this year by the NPA in separate operations in the restive region.

He said the release of the two policemen is a gesture of goodwill for the formal resumption of the peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway which ended on Friday.

“The People’s Democratic Government’s judicial proceedings and investigations into POW Ongachen and POW Grande’s possible war crimes and violation of people’s rights have been effectively suspended in deference to appeals of their families and peace advocates. POW Ongachen and POW Grande have apologized for their violations against the people,” Del Mundo said.

He said the government should also immediately release all the remaining 540 political prisoners languishing in various jails across the country.

“The NDFP expects the immediate release of the remaining 540 political prisoners in compliance of the Duterte government to the Comprehensive Agreement for Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the Joint Agreement for Security and Immunity Guarantees. The success of the talks en route to a viable peace accord between the two governments in the Philippines rests in the main on GPH’s—especially the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police and their paramilitaries’—adherence to previous agreements and the serious deliberation of the roots of the civil war. In these objectives, the NDFP and the entire revolutionary movement have been and continue to be firmly resolute,” Del Mundo said.

The NPA has been fighting for decades for the establishment of a separate Maoist state in the country.