MonitorsPublished on Mar 29, 2013
On specifics they may differ, but a common view seems to be slowly emerging on the imminent need for effecting reforms to the nation's judiciary among the divided polity in Maldives.
Maldives: Seeking to put judiciary in a spot
< class="heading1">Analysis

Maldives
On specifics they may differ, but a common view seems to be slowly emerging on the imminent need for effecting reforms to the nation’s judiciary among the divided polity in Maldives. Included in the discourse is also the role of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), whose membership has also come under question, as should have been anticipated at the drafting of the 2008 Constitution.

To the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MD) of former President Mohammed Nasheed, everything that could go wrong with the judiciary and the JSC have gone wrong. The party often identifies its immediate concerns with the ongoing trail against Nasheed in the ’Judge Abdulla abduction case’ when he was in power in January 2012. A conviction accompanied by a prison term not less than one year could cause his disqualification from contesting the presidential polls, slated for September this year.

Yet, the MDP’s larger concerns over judicial reforms pre-dates the ’Judge Abdulla’ arrest, which contributed to the pervasive mood when power-transfer occurred a couple of weeks later. President Nasheed went to the extent of ordering the Supreme Court shut down for a day - a rarity this in any democracy - until he had got the seven-Judge Bench of his choice when the mandatory two-year term ended for reconstituting the same after the commencement of the new Constitution.

The party did have to make compromises, and compromises are also what democracies are all about. It is not unknown to democracies that Judges with political leanings often get elevated to the respective Supreme Courts in particular. In the US, whose presidential model Maldives has adopted under the 2008 Constitution, the political branding of Supreme Court Judges are so very complete that analysts would identify them either as ’conservative’ or ’liberal’ in their judicial approach.

Both the ideological background of the Judges and their branding are inevitable, too. In a two-party system where most people choose to enroll as members of either of the two majors, namely, the Democrats and Republicans, students grow up to become lawyers, to be elected or elevated as Judges. Whether they try to be non-partisan in ideological terms, starting with abortion but extending to State ownership and intervention, heir past accompanies them as an unburdened baggage.

Gayoom legatees, all

In Maldives, everything government and everyone in Government other than President Nasheed could be effortlessly branded as a ’Gayoom legatee’. Most Nasheed aides, political and otherwise, belong there, too, but their timely cross-over may have helped the larger ’democratic cause’ when it all unfolded. It is another thing to paint the whole judicial system and individual judges but in bulk with the same brush can cause greater trouble for democracy than can solve any of the existing problems, real and imaginary.

Not that the current scheme did not foresee the possibilities and problems. It has provided a seven-year term for ’retraining’ of judicial officers at all levels in the country. Neither President Nasheed, nor his present-day successor President Waheed Hassan seems to have taken any serious step in this direction. The slanging-match, which contributes to the discrediting of the nation’s judiciary alone keeps cropping up time and again.

The MDP continues to claim that the three-Bench trial Bench of the suburban Hulhumale’ court is illegal, unconstitutional and biased against President Nasheed, despite the Supreme Court dismissing its plea in the matter. The party has since sought the reconstitution of the seven-Judge Supreme Court Bench itself. At an official function, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain flatly ruled out any such reconstitution, saying that the present Bench would continue as long as democracy existed in Maldives. Where a vacancy arose, it would have to be filled, he said.

President Nasheed reportedly added a new element when he publicly claimed that Chief Justice Hussain has been meeting regularly with President Waheed, and discussing the ’Judge Abdulla case’ with him. From a public platform, he declared that he had never ever called the Chief Justice(s) of his time for any consultation whatsoever. Neither the judiciary, nor the Government, nor the President’s Office is known to have joined issue with him.

Row over JSC membership

Under the Constitution, Parliament has its nominee on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), in turn entrusted with the appointment of Judges and the overseeing of their conduct and acquittal as Judges. Jumhoree Party founder and presidential nominee is a member of the JSC, along with Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid, which chose the three-Judge Bench to try President Nasheed.

The MDP, after challenging the authority of the JSC in the matter, has since questioned the impartiality of the Bench, chosen with Gasim as member. The office of Parliament Speaker has however been kept out of what is essentially a political controversy. The two incidentally had participated in the JSC when it chose the seven-Judge Supreme Court Bench, after President Nasheed and his Government insisted on the Executive having its say in the matter.

Advocate-General Azima Shakoor opined that given the sensitivity of the issues involved, Gasim Ibrahim could have kept out the selection of the judges trying President Nasheed. She however clarified that the Constitution having provided for Parliament to nominate a member to the JSC, it was neither illegal, nor unconstitutional on Gasim’s part to have participated in the selection process.

One too many?

Larger questions remain. For starters, for a country of its size and population, the 2008 Constitution provides for one too many ’Independent Institutions’ aimed at overseeing the functioning of various arms of the Government. The JSC is only one of them. The idea of having a Parliament’s nominee on the JSC was a creation of the new Constitution. So were so many committees of Parliament, tasked to oversee the functioning of the Government and its arms.

Whether intended or not, some of these committees and some of these Independent Commissions have assumed ’sky-high powers’. Their disposition has been as much political as they could have been expected to be at birth. On occasions, their positions have changed with the changes in the political scenario and equations. These are inevitable consequences of democracy, particularly when politicians are consciously made part of the process where they are expected to be insulated from the rough and tumble of politics outside.

The problem with the Maldivian scheme, if any, owes to the political perception that underlay the thinking of various stake-holders at the time they comprised the Special Majlis to draft a new Constitution. With President Maumoon Gayoom on the defensive after 30 long years of unbroken rule, the co-sponsors of various constitutional provisions aimed at checking another ’autocrat’ in power. This included a possible return of President Gayoom through what was being planned to be a ’multi-party democracy’.

Given the over-arching run-up to the presidential polls, followed by Parliament elections next year, the time may not be just right or ripe for a review of the working of the constitutional scheme, that too with an open mind. Yet, with multi-party democracy taking deep and permanent roots in the country, and the emergence of an anticipated autocracy ruled out mostly, it may already be time for the new Government and new Parliament to set in motion an open-ended process aimed at addressing some of the present concerns, gained out of the working experience of the five years that have gone by.

Any final judicial verdict in the ’Judge Abdulla’ case, impacting on President Nasheed’s candidacy one way or the other, has consequences for the nation and the constitutional scheme as a whole. That would just be the beginning of a new beginning - and not necessarily the end of anything gone-by. Any process of the kind could serve its purpose if the political stake-holders look not at the immediate present alone but at the wholesome future, where they will be remembered not for what they ought to have been, but did not - but for what they actually proved to be.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Myanmar: Sectarian violence, a threat to nation-building

Medha Chaturvedi

Meiktila, the town in Central Myanmar’s Mandalay division where sectarian violence broke out on March 20, has reportedly been reduced to ashes. A skirmish between a Muslim goldsmith and his Buddhist clients in a market in Meiktila, which has a 30 per cent Muslim population in a total 100,000, snow-balled into violent riots. Many Buddhist rioters, reportedly including monks, took to the streets armed with machetes, swords and sticks and burned down Muslim businesses and houses.

A state of emergency and martial law had to be imposed on March 22 to control the situation, effectively handing over the town’s security to the army. Meiktila has a huge Air Force base with a sizeable military presence as it is the Central Command Headquarters of Myanmar Air Force.

The violence also spread to other towns in Mandalay and Pegu divisions and is now lurking dangerously close to the former capital city of Yangon. Scores of Muslims have been displaced and are still living under the threat from Buddhist rioters. Other towns and cities, including in Sagaing division and Yangon, are on edge with the fear that violence may spread further. While the Muslims are fearful of more attacks against them and their property, the Buddhists fear retaliation.

A Myanmar Police representative said on March 28 that 42 people were killed, 37 religious buildings and 1,227 houses damaged or destroyed, and 68 arrests made in the three affected regions since the violence first erupted. Over 12,000 people have reportedly been displaced. Incidents of violence have been reported as far as near Naypitaw, the capital city.

In the absence of a credible census since 1989, the exact population of Myanmar is estimated at 60 million with a five per cent Muslim minority. This number does not include the million Rohingya Muslims concentrated in the Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh. The recent attacks are reminiscent of the sectarian violence which spread across Rakhine last year in June and October, killing over a 100 people and displacing more than 120,000. In one of the most ethnically diverse countries, struggling with teething troubles of a new democracy, such violence questions the basic tenets of the reforms process. It also dents the credibility that President Thein Sein’s Government had begun to garner with the wave of positive developments which has been lauded by the international community.

In a March 28 nationally-televised address, President Thein Sein said that violence will be used if needed to end this violence. However, the root-cause of this cycle of hostility still remains unaddressed. In an ethnically diverse country, Myanmar’s policy-makers cannot choose to ignore the minorities. In addition to the ethnic strife in various parts of the country, sectarian violence poses a major challenge in the process of nation-building for the fledgling democracy in the country.

Suu Kyi’s silence

Moreover, internationally recognised as the symbol of Myanmar’s fight for democracy for three decades, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate and leader of the Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), has also remained largely silent on this issue. It is speculated that being a sensitive subject for her support base, predominantly comprising Buddhists, she is playing it safe. However, by being silent, Suu Kyi is leaving space open for radical elements to carry out their activities with impunity.

Such incidents point out to the absence of rule of law in practice. It is also indicative of a growing anti-Muslim sentiment amongst the majority Buddhist community in Myanmar. Such intolerance has the potential of destroying the democratic fibre that Myanmar is striving for. What is noteworthy here is that since the strict military rule was lifted in January 2011, sectarian violence has become more frequent as the fundamental elements now feel more emboldened to take matters in their own hands.

Not spontaneous?

Tensions between the majority Buddhists and Muslims in the country, especially in regions where the minority population forms a sizeable part of the local population, has always been a recurring occurrence, with stray incidents being reported periodically. However, the scale of violence since last year has been unprecedented and the persistence with which it has continued and spread to other parts of the country is alarming. In the recent incidents, the fact that a large anti-Muslim riot could be organised at such a short notice is now seen with suspicion that perhaps it wasn’t completely spontaneous.

Thomas Ojea Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar had said in February this year that the Government talks with the Kachin Independence Army in Ruili, allowing the UN convoy to KIA-controlled areas, and dealing with the ethnic situation on an urgent basis were positive steps by the Government. He also stressed in his report on the criticality of security and rehabilitation of the Rohingyas.

The report also called for a fact-finding probe into the events of June and October 2012 in Rakhine to establish the identity of those responsible for human rights violations. However, no action has thus far been initiated on this issue. If left unaddressed, this could be a challenge which could bring down the Government’s positive initiatives on the reforms front, and elsewhere too.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Myanmar

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President warns of use of force

President Thein Sein said in a televised address on March 28 that he was prepared to use force to quell the religious rioting that has shaken the country since March 20, answering calls even from longtime democracy advocates for more forceful security measures. He said the use of force would be a "last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of the general public."

In western Myanmar over the past year, Buddhists have led attacks on a Muslim ethnic group, the Rohingya, and mosques and houses have been destroyed in a number of areas. But the violence in central Myanmar last week was the most ferocious. In the city of Meiktila, rioting started on March 20 after a dispute in a Muslim-owned gold shop. Buddhist mobs killed Muslims after pulling them from homes and schools, driving around 12,000 people into shelters.

Mr. Thein Sein did not mention Buddhism or Islam in his remarks, but he noted that the country’s Constitution "guarantees the right of all citizens to worship freely any religion they choose."

< class="text11verdana">Source: New York Times, March 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sectarian violence spreads to Pegu

Riots intensified in three areas in central Myanmar’s Pegu region -- Minhla, Moenyo and Latpadan with mobs destroying houses, shops, religious buildings and setting afire motor vehicles. Security forces had to fire warning shots to disperse the mobs.

Two suspects involved in Latpadan riot were detained by the police. Local authorities have so far successively imposed dusk-to-dawn curfew on five townships in the Bago region, namely Gyopingauk, Minhla, Okpho, Nattalin and Zigon since March 26.

The violence occurred in these areas in Pegu region as Meiktila is returning to normalcy after a state of emergency was declared in the township on March 22 with the intervention of the army to help restore security in the area.

Meanwhile, Myanmar police force has claimed arrest of a total of about 50 suspects so far linked with Meikhtila, Yemethin, Okpo and Zigon riots and they are being interrogated.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Xinhua, March 29, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Displaced Rohingyas face rain threat: UN

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in squalid, flood-prone camps in western Myanmar after fleeing communal unrest face "imminent danger" from looming monsoon rains, the UN warned on Friday.

An estimated 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have languished in insanitary camps since violence flared last year with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, leaving scores dead and whole neighbourhoods in ruins.

With the monsoon expected to start in May, Ging called on the government to release new land for camps and to help rebuild shattered community relations, highlighted by the deadly outbreak of anti-Muslim violence in central Myanmar this month.

Curbs on relief to the camps are creating a "crisis that will become a disaster when the rainy season arrives," according to Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders has said a lack of clean drinking water in the camps has caused skin infections, worms, chronic coughing and diarrhoea while many malnourished people are going without urgent medical care.

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.globalpost.com, March 29, 2013

Nepal

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">EC in talks to lift legal hurdles to polls

In a bid to clear the legal hurdles and make necessary preparations for the Constituent Assembly (CA) polls, the Election Commission (EC) has begun discussions with the major political parties.

Top EC officials, including Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety, and Commissioners Dolakh Bahadur Gurung, Ayodhi Prasad Yadav, Rambhakta P B Thakur and Ila Sharma, have asked members of the Task Force entrusted with the responsibility for drafting an ordinance on removing constitutional difficulties, about the intention and spirit behind the 25-clause ordinance. "We held discussions with the core team as it is necessary to amend all the election-related acts," said Uprety.

According to EC officials, the draft ordinance on removing constitutional difficulties has not yet cleared all the legal hurdles. "The 25-point ordinance has only amended the Interim Constitution but not the election laws. And these election-related laws must be amended in order to pave the way for elections," an EC officials said.

The constitutional body has stated that the Election of Members of Constituent Assembly Act, 2064 and the Electoral Rolls Act, 2064, among other election related acts, need to be amended. EC officials have also said that point number 12 of the 25-point ordinance on removing constitutional difficulties is ambiguous as it states that the electoral rolls will be updated as per the voter list prepared for the erstwhile CA polls and Clause 11 of the Electoral Rolls Act, 2064, which does not compulsorily require citizenship certificates.

Iin an interview to The Kathmandu Post, former Chief Election Commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel who oversaw the 2008 CA elections has said that elections are difficult to be held in June stating that the government needs to make extraordinary efforts, which, unfortunately, is yet to be seen.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Republica, March 28, 2013, ekantipur.com, March 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN political chief pledges support for polls

The visiting UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman has commended Nepal for the progress made in its peace process and pledged that the world body will assist it to hold elections, as he wrapped up a two-day visit to the South Asian nation.

During the visit - part of a three-nation tour that will also take him to India and Pakistan - Feltman met with Nepali government and political leaders, as well the UN country team. He said that part of his message to those he met was the UN’s support for elections as early as possible in the spirit of the recent political agreement.

Last week the country’s Chief Justice was appointed to head the government that will oversee the holding of Constituent Assembly elections, ending a political stalemate that began late last year. Feltman said the agreement was a "significant achievement" and it is important to build on it and bring all parties on board for a way forward.

The UN has closely supported Nepal’s peace process, having had a political mission in the country from 2007 until 2011, following the signing of the 2006 peace accords that ended the decade-long armed conflict between the Government and the Maoist opposition.

< class="text11verdana">Source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44455#.UVVCHjdRJnE, March 22, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Multi-national peace-keeping exercise

US Pacific Command’s deputy commander opened a multi-national peace-keeping exercise in Nepal on March 25, praising planners and participants for the role they will play in promoting peace operations regionally and around the world.

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas L. Conant joined officials from the Nepalese army and the UN to kick off the Shanti Prayas 2 peacekeeping exercise at the Birendra Peace Operations Training Centre in Panchkal.

The exercise, the second to be hosted by Nepal, is sponsored by the US to train the Nepal Army and Global Peace Operations Initiative partner nation militaries for UN peacekeeping missions. Representatives of 23 nations are participating in this year’s exercise.

Shanti Prayas 2 includes a senior training seminar, staff exercise and field training exercise. Eleven platoons from 11 nations participating in the FTX are working to enhance their tactical training, organisational tactics, techniques and procedures. Senior leaders from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the US attended the four-day senior training seminar.

The US State Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative was established in 2004 to build partner-nation capabilities in peace support operations. The goal, Conant explained, is to increase the pool of military troops and police units trained and available for deployment and to provide the required preparation, logistical and deployment support they may require.

Within six years of its inception, the programme trained and equipped 75,000 peacekeepers worldwide, primarily in Africa. The focus now has shifted to the Asia-Pacific region, with an emphasis on humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations, Conant said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: American Forces Press Service, March 28. 2013

Pakistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Musharraf returns

Amidst tremendous international and domestic media speculation, former General and President Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan on March 24, after nearly four years of self-imposed exile. Upon his return, Musharraf brushed aside security threats, despite promises of assassination by the TTP, and filed papers to contest four National Assembly seats in Karachi, Chitral, Lahore, and Islamabad.

Aside from the threat of assassination, against which the Army has promised to provide full security, Musharraf also faces charges in the murder of Baluch separatist leader Akbar Bugti, as well as for failing to provide adequate security to present-day ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated upon her return to Pakistan in 2007. Musharraf has been granted ten-day pre-emptive bail, preventing his immediate arrest and requiring him to appear in court within ten days of his arrival.

Upon landing in Karachi, Musharraf greeted a small group of supporters, promising to "save Pakistan." Although there are some who look upon his rule positively as a time of relative stability, reports do not indicate wide support for him or his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, leaving many to question the intention of his return. Some have speculated that a political "deal" had been made prior to his return - a charge Musharraf strongly denied in a Wednesday news conference.

Talking to reporters, Musharraf acknowledged that it would take time to rebuild his party, and also defended his actions in the Lal Masjid operation, during which the Islamabad Mosque was overrun by the army after a long stand-off against militants, as well as the killing of Bugti (although he denied making the "final decision" in the operation). Finally, Musharraf was dismissive of death threats by the TTP, and argued that his attempted dismissal of Chief Justice Chaudhry, which spurred on the Lawyers’ Movement that ultimate led to his resignation, was "constitutional."

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn Pakistan, March 27, 2013, The News, March 27, 2013, The News, March 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Caretaker PM appointed

After Opposition and Government leaders were unable to reach a deal on a caretaker prime minister last week, the Electoral Commission of Pakistan (ECP) cast a four-to-one vote in favour of retired Justice Mir Hazar Khan Khoso of Baluchistan - a candidate earlier proposed by the former ruling coalition. In its first meeting on Saturday, March 23, voting ended in a tie, as the Sindh Representative, retired Justice Roshan Essani, was unable to attend the vote owing to bad weather. On Sunday, however, Punjab retired Justice Riaz Kayani cast the sole dissenting vote.

Khoso’s nomination was welcomed by virtually all major political parties, including the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), whose Information Secretary Mushahidullah Khan stated that "everyone should accept the ECP’s decision with an open heart and we also accept it". Leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) also expressed their satisfaction with the nomination - although many expressed regret that the parties themselves had not been able to come to an amicable agreement. Justice Khoso was formally sworn in on Monday, 25 March, and is expected to announce the composition of his cabinet in the coming days.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The News, March 24, 2013, Dawn Pakistan, March 25, 2013, Dawn Pakistan, March 29, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Renewed tension with Afghanistan

After showing some signs of warming over the past few months, Afghan and Pakistani leaders traded accusations this week, as tensions mounted over the trajectory of Taliban peace talks.

Earlier in the week, a top Pakistani Foreign Ministry official responded to claims by Afghan President Karzai that Pakistan, as well as the United States, were supporting the Taliban by stating that "right now, Karzai is the biggest impediment to the peace process." The Karzai Government is particularly concerned about being cut out of the peace process, and expressed its concerns about being "sidelined" during US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Kabul this week.

The Pakistanis, they argue, have encouraged the Taliban to negotiate with opposition parties, rather than the government, threatening its legitimacy. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister, Jawed Ludin, claimed that Pakistan’s goal is a "fragmentation of the Afghan state," which it could then control.

In the latest symptom of worsening relations, the Afghan Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday that they had cancelled a planned visit of Afghan Army officers to Quetta to participate in a joint military exercise, citing the shelling of targets by Pakistani forces on Afghan territory in Kunar Province on Monday and Tuesday (March 25-26).

The Pakistani Army denied shelling any civilian areas, stating that the operation had targeting militants who had fled to the Afghan side of the border, and repeated its demand for more action to be taken against Pakistani Taliban (TTP) networks operating in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Pakistani security agencies issued a report to the Supreme Court in which, for the first time, they explicitly accused the Afghan Government of supporting the TTP.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, March 27, 2013, The Express Tribune, March 28, 2013

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TN protests bolster anti-devolution project: Gota

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said that the ongoing crisis in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, over accountability issues here, should discourage those pushing for devolution of power under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

A hostile provincial administration in the Northern or the Eastern Province in Sri Lanka could be inimical to the post-war national reconciliation process, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said in an exclusive interview with The Island. Such an administration could be as intimidating as the conventional military challenge posed by the LTTE, he said.

Asserting that Tamil Nadu was clearly dictating terms to the Central Government in India at the behest of some Western powers as well as the LTTE rump, represented by the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the outspoken official said that the deepening crisis in Tamil Nadu was nothing but a glaring lesson for the Sri Lankan Government.

"Could we afford to have a provincial administration here, which pointed a gun at the national leadership at the drop of a hat? We don’t want to be at the mercy of scheming provincial administrations," the Defence Secretary said, highlighting the danger in foreign powers using bankrupt local elements to influence sovereign governments.

"We have had bad experience on a number of occasions due to foreign interference in our affairs. We are determined not to allow external elements to meddle in domestic politics at the expense of national reconciliation," the Defence Secretary said. With an unprecedented two thirds majority in Parliament, the government could take tangible action in accordance with the country’s Constitution to safeguard national interests.

According to Rajapaksa, in the backdrop of member states of the European Union and those waiting to join the grouping voting against Sri Lanka in Geneva, in accordance with a policy decision, the role of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) should be examined. However, SAARC hadn’t probably discussed the issue, with major power taking position in Geneva contrary to the stand taken by other SAARC nations in two consecutive years, the Defence Secretary said.

Responding to a query, the Defence Secretary said that SAARC couldn’t be blind to what was happening, both regionally and globally. He insisted that whatever differences member states could have had on political issues, terrorism shouldn’t be tolerated and tangible action should be taken to protect interests of those countries fighting terrorism.

Gotabhaya said that an effort was still being made to undermine the Government in a bid to effect a change of the Rajapaksa administration. But that wouldn’t be an easy task as long as the vast majority of people remained with the government, he said.

Commenting on the recent anti-Sri Lanka sentiments expressed by Tamil Nadu politician Sebastian Seeman during a meeting in Oslo, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that those who couldn’t stomach the LTTE demise were still propagating lies against Sri Lanka. He said that some of those countries taking a hostile approach towards Sri Lanka, like the failed peace-maker Norway should know the despicable strategies adopted by the LTTE.

Had they bothered to go through the file pertaining to the Kadirgamar assassination and talks between Norwegian representatives and Anton Balasingham in London, the Government would realise what was going on, the Defence Secretary said.

The External Affairs Ministry quoted Seeman as having said in Oslo: "Only 50,000 Tigers gave their lives for ’Eelam’ but there are over 500,000 Tigers in Tamil Nadu. We will start our war from this point."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, March 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Geneva vote: Govt defends outcome

The External Affairs Ministry yesterday said that an analysis of resolutions and voting results at the recently concluded United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva was necessary in the wake of allegations that the passage of US resolution titled ’Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka’ was due to failure of the country’s foreign policy.

Twenty five countries voted for the resolution, whereas 13 opposed, eight abstained one absent. Those eligible to vote are divided in to five regional groups comprising 47 governments. The UNHRC categorized the proposal targeting Sri Lanka as a non-condemnatory country specific resolution.

Responding to a query, a senior ministry official told The Island that Sri Lanka hadn’t been the only issue at the Geneva sessions, though interested parties, including the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) were portraying the Geneva vote as a diplomatic debacle for Sri Lanka. The official alleged that the UK-based GTF was a substitute for the LTTE, which still remained a proscribed organization in the US, UK, EU and India.

The UNHRC overwhelmingly endorsed six condemnatory country specific resolutions against Israel in spite of the US throwing its full weight behind the Jewish State at the just concluded sessions.

Sources pointed out that even members of the European Union either voted for the resolutions or abstained much to the embarrassment of the US. Resolution on an independent UN fact-finding mission that dealt with Israeli settlement on occupied territory was passed by a vote of 45 in favour, one against (US) one absent (Ethiopia).

The following are the other resolutions moved against Israel: Human Rights in the occupied Syrian Golan submitted by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) adopted by a vote of 29 in favor, 1 against (US) and 17 abstentions (EU countries, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, Switzerland) Report on the Independent UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict moved by Palestine, Pakistan on behalf of OIC and Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group was adopted by a vote of 43 in favor, 1 against (US) and 3 abstentions (Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya)

Interestingly, subsequent to the vote, Switzerland claimed that its representative made a mistake. Switzerland wanted to abstain from this particular resolution.

Resolution on Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and in the Syrian Golan submitted by Palestine, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group and Pakistan on behalf of OIC was adopted by a vote of 44 in favor, 1 against (US) and 2 abstentions (Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya).

The fifth resolution dealt with right of Palestinian people to self-determination and the sixth human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem. Both were endorsed by a vote of 46 in favour and one against (US). India voted for all six resolutions moved against Israel.

The ministry pointed out that the US questioned the legitimacy of the UNHRC in the wake of the move against Israel. Ambassador Eilieen Chamberlain Donahoe declared ahead of the vote that the US remained extremely troubled by the UNHRC’s continued biased and disproportionate focus on Israel. Ambassador Donohoe demanded that the UNHRC should treat all by the same standards.

External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has expressed concern over Western double-standards on numerous occasions in the run-up to May 21 vote in Geneva.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, March 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India should make its position clear - JVP

The JVP on Wednesday said that India should make it clear whether the security of Sri Lankans visiting the country could be ensured as Tamil Nadu political parties were continuing their anti-Sri Lanka campaign.

Addressing a media conference, at the party head office, JVP parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara issanayake said that every country was legally bound to protect any person visiting it with a valid passport and visa, but the Indian government had not done its duty so far. "Every passport mentions that the holder should be protected in every country he or she visits," he said.

Jayalalithaa’s opposition to Sri Lankan cricketers playing in Chennai during the IPL Cricket series and her demand that the Kachchativu Island be taken back by India, were not isolated incidents, Dissanayake said, urging the Sri Lanka government to solve the problems of Tamils.

The national list MP said that the Kachchativu Island had been handed over to Sri Lanka through an agreement with then Prime Minister Simavo Bandaranaike and it should not be returned to the Indians for any reason. "Our Government must deal with the Indian central government and not states."

Dissanayake said that India was not Sri Lanka’s friend and it had gravitated towards the US after the collapse of Soviet Union. The resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC last week was a US and Indian combine plot, he said.

The JVP heavy-weight blamed the Government for allowing India to get involved projects such as oil exploration in the Mannar basin, renovation of the Duraippah stadium in Jaffna, developing the Kankasanthurai harbour and the Palaly airport and reconstructing the Omanthai-Kankasanthurai and Medawachchiya-Mannar railway lines.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, March 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">It’s not the end of the world: Muralitharan

Sri Lankan spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan has hit back at Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa for barring Sri Lankan cricketers from playing Indian Premier League (IPL) matches in Chennai. "So what if Chennai doesn’t want us? It’s not the end of the world," he declared in an interview published in The Indian Express.

Chennai has been a second home for Muralitharan. Besides being a Tamil, the former Sri Lankan off-spinner is married to an Indian who belongs to the city. Moreover, Muralitharan represented the Chennai Super Kings during the first three seasons of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

But with the Tamil Nadu government having declared the state capital a ’no-Sri-Lankan-zone’, Muralitharan will be forced to give Chennai a miss during the sixth edition of IPL starting next month. Muralitharan said the ban also affected him at a personal level considering the deep-rooted links he shares with Chennai. And also because he is a Tamil.

"I am a Tamil. But I’m a Sri Lankan first. And the ban means I’m not wanted there either. I can assure you that there has been immense peace all around Sri Lanka since the war ended and the Tamils are living very happily here. They are treated equally well," he proclaimed.

And the 40-year-old Sri Lankan spin legend expressed his disappointment at the unsavoury developments. "It’s sad that the Tamil Nadu Government doesn’t want us there. It’s always unfortunate when people in power start mixing politics with sports. So if they don’t want me in Chennai then I won’t go. I can’t do anything else about it," he said.

Muralitharan, who now represents Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), however, confirmed his participation in IPL-6 and said that he will be very much a part of RCB’s campaign. "The IPL is a great tournament. And I love being a part of it. I now play for Bangalore and I’m sure our fans there will be looking forward to seeing us in action. So what if Chennai doesn’t want us? It’s not the end of the world. I’ll still be a part of the team in all other cities and enjoy their support," he declared.

In the aftermath of the Tamil Nadu government’s move, many former Sri Lankan cricketers such as Arjuna Ranatunga have asked the 13 Sri Lankan players, including Muralitharan, to boycott IPL-6 as a whole. But Muralitharan urged his compatriots to take a more pragmatic stand.

"It’s disappointing for sure but we are entertainers after all and should not get involved with the politics. Our job is to go out there and perform. The worst case is that we will be left out of the team for that one match. Eventually, the decision will be left to the individual but I’m sure the IPL as a whole will not be affected by this," said Muralitharan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Indian Express, March 27, 2013

Afghanistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Fresh tensions with Pakistan

A series of developments this week highlight the ever present tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. A top official in the Pakistani Foreign Ministry called Afghan President Hamid Karzai as the "biggest impediment to the peace process".

The official said that Pakistan is finding it extremely difficult to work with Karzai and the latter’s constant accusations against the US and Pakistan are making things worse. According to the official, "n trying to look like a saviour, he is taking Afghanistan straight to hell". However, such comments were later refuted by the foreign ministry as not reflecting the position of Pakistan, which has positive view of relations with Afghanistan. These statements were also strongly condemned by the Afghan Government.

Pakistan’s ISI also accused Afghanistan of providing support to anti-Pakistan groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban. According to the ISI report, such groups had received "strong support" in terms of money, logistics and training and this was "one of the main factors for increased militancy".

Subsequently, the Afghan Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin accused Pakistan of complacency in the reconciliation process. According to him Pakistan constantly changes the definition and end goal of the reconciliation process, which makes it difficult for Afghanistan to work with them on this process. He said that Afghanistan is ready to work without Pakistan’s help to reach a political settlement and that they would engage with the Taliban prisoners recently handed over by the US in the Bagram prison to achieve this end.

In the meanwhile, the Governor of Kunar Province claimed that up to 50 rockets fired from the Pakistan side destroyed property in Kunar. This resulted in Afghanistan cancelling a planned army visit to Pakistan. 11 Afghan army officers were invited to take part in the military exercises planned in Quetta. However, Pakistan accused Afghanistan of overreacting to a small incident. The Pakistani foreign ministry said its "disciplined and responsible" troops had responded to what it called "some intrusions from the Afghan side".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, March 28, 2013; Khaama Press, March 25, 2013; Khaama Press, March 27-28, 2013; Pahjwok, March 25, 2013; The Express Tribune, March 26, 2013; Tolo News, March 25, 2013; Tolo News, March 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Prison-transfer completed

The US officially handed control of the Bagram prison, the only US-run prison in Afghanistan, to the Afghan authorities. The transfer took place in an official ceremony at the Bagram Air Base. With the transfer now complete, the Afghan government has renamed the facility as the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan (ANDF-P).

The US military transferred oversight for a group of several hundred prisoners to Afghan control - the remaining detainees who were not handed over in September. Around 3000 prisoners and most of the detention centre were transferred to Afghan control in September as per the original Afghan-US prison handover agreement signed in March 2012.

Control of the Bagram prison has been a key sticking point in the US-Afghanistan relations. The handover was one of Karzai’s key pre-conditions for the Afghan government to sign the May 2012 long-term strategic agreement with the US. The handover has been delayed numerous times because of American fears that some of these prisoners would be released in amnesty deals by President Hamid Karzai, and they would rejoin the insurgent ranks.

Some Afghan lawmakers have criticised the handover of Bagram prison as a hurried decision that President Hamid Karzai declared a matter of national sovereignty without sufficiently consulting the broader government. Karzai was accused of deciding personally to demand the US military to transfer the prison to Afghan authority without a consensus from the parliament and security organisations.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, March 25, 2013; Tolo News, March 25, 2013; Tolo News, March 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN urges Taliban to talk

The UN Secretary General Special Representative Jan Kubis has said that the UN was ready to facilitate negotiations between the Afghan government and its armed opponents. He urged the Taliban to renounce violence and join the peace process.

The envoy supported the opening of a Taliban bureau in Qatar for direct dialogue between Taliban representatives and the government of Afghanistan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, March 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Russia seeks future role

In a bid to keep Afghanistan stable following the draw-down of foreign troops in 2014, Russia is keen to maintain government military hardware on Afghan soil. Following the drawdown, Russia believes keeping the weapons and equipment of the Afghan National Security Forces in working condition and creating facilities for their repair is of utmost importance.

Russia is worried about threats to its security after the pullout of most foreign forces from Afghanistan. Sergei Koshelev, Russian military’s point-man for foreign ties, said, "We cannot fail to be concerned by the danger of the restoration of a regime on Afghan territory that would foster the spread of terrorism, drug trafficking and instability".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, March 28, 2013

Bangladesh

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Army will not sit idle: Khaleda

Politics boiled up this week over opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia’s remark that the army will not sit idle when ’people are being killed indiscriminately’. Begum Zia made this comment in a rally. She further said, "They (army) can’t remain silent spectators. They can’t sit idle. They’ll play their due role in time. Our army works for UN Peacekeeping Mission to maintain peace in foreign countries. If peace doesn’t prevail in the country, then foreigners will say the Bangladesh Army only works to maintain peace in foreign countries. Time has come to consider these issues and everybody should think about it..."

Khaleda’s comment generated controversy and was criticised by its rival Awami League. Reacting to the comment Prime Minister and ruling Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina said that opposition leader Khaleda Zia is instigating army. Sheikh Hasina further added that the BNP chief is doing this because she does not like democracy.

However, Sheikh Hasina observed that the people of her country are conscious enough and they are ready to thwart any conspiracy against the democracy of the country. However, BNP acting secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir claimed that some mass media have misinterpreted Khaleda Zia’s speech.

Bangladesh is passing through political turmoil over the issue of trials of war criminal. Violence erupted across the country after the international crimes tribunal on February 28 sentenced Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee to death for crimes against humanity. Jamaat is a key ally of the BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance.

In fact opposition is running agitation to unseat the present government. This week also it had called thirty six hours of shutdown which passed more or less peaceful except some sporadic incidences of violence.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, March 25, 26 & 28, 2013; The Daily Star, March 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Plans to buy 24 Russian jet-trainers

Bangladesh is planning to buy 24 Yak-130 Mitten jet trainers on $1 billion credit from Russia, Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport informed. Rosoboronexport’s deputy chief Viktor Komardin claimed that Bangladesh has a whole list of arms it wants, but so far that is a state secret. He further revealed that negotiations on Yak-130s are due to begin later this spring. Russia granted Bangladesh a $1 billion credit during the Bangladeshi prime minister’s visit to Moscow in January.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, March 29, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Foreign friends honoured

To mark the 42nd Independence Day the country honoured 69 foreign friends for their contributions to the 1971 Liberation War with two awards -"Bangladesh Liberation War Honour" and "Friends of Liberation War Honour" -at a function in the capital’s Bangabandhu International Conference Centre.

The awardees are nationals of India (43), Pakistan (13), USA (4), Nepal (3), Japan (2), the UK, Australia, Cuba and Sweden.

The "Bangladesh Liberation War Honour" was conferred on Fidel Castro Ruz, former President of Cuba, and Lord Harold Wilson, former British Prime Minister. The remaining 67 friends were conferred with "Friends of Liberation War Honour".

Indian nationals who were honoured are Hiranya Kumar Bhattacharyya, former police officer and trainer of Mukti Bahini; Prof Mrinmoy Bhattacharyya; Rupendra Chandra Bhowmik, physician and social worker; Prof Amiya K Chaudhuri; artist Dhiraj Choudhury; writer Himangshu Mohan Choudhury Padmashree; teacher and writer Rakhal Chandra Roy Choudhury; Former chief of army staff General Shankar Roychowdhury; social worker Sandip Das; writer Prof Mihir Deb; painter Jagdish Chandra Dey; magician PC Sorcar, Junior; Munshi Mohammad Fazle Kader; Prof Dhrubajyoti Lahiry; human rights activist Utpala Misra; businessman and writer Mohanlal Saha; journalist Jyoti Prasad Saikia; former chief secretary of West Bengal Chandra Sekhar Samal Padmashree; Prof Priyadarsan Sensarma; Indian Navy Petty Officer Chiman Singh Yadav; former chief of Indian army’s eastern command late Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Arora; philosopher Abu Sayid Ayub; former West Bengal chief minister late Jyoti Basu; Prof Purnendu Kumar Basu; human rights activist Kabita Bose; journalist Pershanath Chowdhury; film producer Hari Sadhan Dasgupta; politician and minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi; social worker Kripesh Ranjan Ghosh; human rights activist Ipsita Gupta; army rifleman Pati Ram Gurung; late Maj Gen Antony Harold Edward Michigan; social worker late Ranu Mookerjee; former West Bengal deputy chief minister Bijoy Singh Nahar; journalist Jitendra Chandra Pal; Commander of Indian Naval Ship late Vice Admiral Swaraj Prakash; photojournalist Raghu Rai Padmashree; Second Lt of Indian Army’s 8 Guard Regiment Shamsher Singh Sharma; Prof Anil Kumar Sarkar; former minister late Nandini Satpathy; late Prof Arjun Sengupta; and late Lt Gen Sagat Singh.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, March 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tornado strikes

A deadly tornado hit the country that killed at least 20 people and injured more than 200. The worst affect area was the south-eastern district of Brahmanbaria in Bangladesh.

The storm wreaked havoc on at least 15 villages in the district. Witnesses informed that all it happened within 15 minutes as a whirlwind tore through the villages, leaving a trail of devastation. The storm left thousands of people homeless, and crops have been damaged.

< class="text11verdana">Source: cnn.com, March 22, 2013

Bhutan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bid to control HIV

Health officials in Bhutan are making condoms available at all monastic schools in a bid to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV among young monks who are supposed to be celibate.

Warning signs of risky behaviour among monks first appeared in 2009. The health ministry got concerned when a dozen monks -- including a 12-year-old -- were diagnosed with sexual transmitted diseases. At least five monks are known to be HIV-positive, the youngest being 19. The 2012 report of the U.N. agency focused on AIDS response and progress also noted cases of HIV among Bhutan’s monks.

Bhutan’s Commission for the Monastic Affairs says stricter discipline is a solution. While corporal punishment is banned, monks said it is still practiced.

Psychiatrists suggest the spread of disease could be a result of mental stress. It is not uncommon for monks and nuns, mostly between the ages of 15 and 25, to visit psychiatrists. Even senior monks reportedly show symptoms of severe stress, especially when they are undergoing long periods of meditation.

Geography also plays a role. Most hilltop monastic schools lack recreational facilities. Bhutan, a landlocked nation of about 700,000 people sandwiched between India and China, is the world’s only officially Buddhist country, and has about 388 monastic schools with 7,240 monks and 5,149 nuns.

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.huffingtonpost.com, March 29, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New trade opportunities in BTAD

A decline in insurgency and gradual improvement in law and order in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) has been a boon for traders.

Small-scale trade between India and Bhutan, especially in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts, had been hit sharply during the height of the Bodo movement in the 1990s and subsequent armed agitations by various rebel groups. Though the formation of Bodoland Territorial Council in 2003 paved the way for peace, people from Bhutan were still apprehensive to travel through the BTAD until recently.

Last winter, the Bhutanese traders did brisk business at picnic spots like Khanamakra-Kalamati, Kwila-Mwila, Datgiri-Hatisar, Saralpara, Jomduar Darangajuli, Bogamati and Lakhibazar along the international border in Chirang, Kokrajhar and Baksa districts. They sold large quantities of oranges, wine, beer and milk products there.

Though road conditions were deplorable, Bhutanese traders, like in the days of yore, used mules and horses to ferry their products. In an apparent demonstration of confidence on the improving situation in BTAD, the traders even spent nights on roadside makeshift camps during their stay in popular picnic spots.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, March 29, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Getting ready for the polls

Over the next couple of months Bhutan will take steps towards further consolidating its fledgling democracy. Its people will vote first for the National Council (Upper House of Parliament) and then the National Assembly (Lower House). This is the second time in their country’s history that the Bhutanese will be voting in parliamentary elections. Voting for the 25-member Council will take place on April 23. While voting dates for the more influential Assembly are yet to be announced, they are expected in June.

Bhutan’s first general election was held in March 2008. It was a two-horse race between the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Voter enthusiasm was high, with voter turnout of almost 80 percent. Several voters trudged through kilometres of mountainous terrain to take part. Although pre-election violence did occur, polling was peaceful.

Will Bhutan’s second general election be any different? There a few key developments worth noting. For one, more parties are likely to enter the fray this time around. Further, voter turnout is expected to be lower. As for the outcome, the DPT is likely to win again, albeit by a smaller margin.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Diplomat, March 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Canada to resettle 1000 refugees

Canada will resettle an additional 1,000 refugees from Bhutan. The newcomers are ethnic Nepalese who were expelled from the Himalayan Kingdom in the late 1990’s and have been living in refugee camps ever since.

The United Nations began resettlement efforts in 2007 and Canada is one of seven countries involved in the program. The Immigration Department says to date, about 5,000 Bhutanese refugees have settled in Canada. Who gets to come in the new wave of resettlement will be decided over the next two years.

Canada currently accepts about 10 per cent of the refugees targeted for resettlement by the UN and has committed to increasing the number of refugees resettled overall by twenty per cent by this year. But figures from last year show the Government is falling short of its target.

Statistics show that the number of refugees resettled in Canada in 2012 was down twenty six per cent from 2011. The Conservatives are also cutting back on the number of refugees the government resettles, transferring more of the responsibility onto private groups.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Global News, March 27, 2013

India

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">We won’t ditch reforms: PM

The possibility of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party withdrawing support to his government does exist, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged obliquely, even as he expressed confidence that UPA-2 would complete its full term.

Dr Singh also said uncertainties arising out of coalition politics notwithstanding, his government would push ahead with reform measures in the coming months. "We will not allow reforms to be derailed," he said on March 28 while returning from Durban after attending fifth BRICS summit.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, March 29, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US Congressmen meet Modi

A US delegation comprising Republican law-makers and business leaders has invited Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to visit the country, even as the administration has denied his visa since 2005 for his alleged role in communal riots in the State.

The delegation has also promised to speak to the US administration to arrange a visa for Modi whose keynote address at the Wharton Indian Economic Forum was cancelled earlier this month after some students and faculty of the University of Pennsylvania protested against his inclusion in the light of 2002 Gujarat riots.

"We have invited him to come over to the US and share with us the work that he has done," said Aaron Schock, the Republican member of the House of Representatives from Illinois, who led the 18-member delegation that held an hour-long meeting with Mr Modi in Gandhinagar on March 28.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, March 29, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">BJD ’No’ to pre-poll alliance

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which has maintained equidistance with both BJP and the Congress after walking out of the NDA, has said it will not be averse to backing a formation after the next elections. BJD leader and Lok Sabha MP Bhartuhari Mahtab told ET that his party would be willing to support a BJP-led government if the party and its allies have the capability to form the government at the Centre.

"The BJD has three options: Stay equidistance from the two national parties, support a formation that is in a position to form the government, or be part of the next government at the Centre," Mr Mahtab said, but ruled out the possibility of a pre-election tie-up.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Economic Times, March 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No takers for Mulayam’s idea

A day after Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav pushed the idea of a third front ahead of the 2014 elections at a function in Maharashtra, the ruling Congress as well as the opposition BJP said there was nothing much in what he said.

The Left parties, who have previously been part of non-Congress and non-BJP alliances, also ruled it out in the immediate future.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NIA probe in into Liyaqat’s arrest

Home Minister Suhsilkumar Shinde on March 25 ordered a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the arrest of alleged militant Syed Liyaqat Ali Shah.

"The case is being transferred to NIA", Mr Shinde said. The Home Ministry said there were some "doubts" about the Delhi police report, which were being examined independently.

Earlier, the Jammu and Kashmir police and the Delhi police had traded charges over the arrest of the alleged Hizbul Mujhadeen terrorist.

While the J&K police are claiming that the said terrorist was returning to the Valley as part of the state’s surrender and rehabilitation policy, the Delhi police have charged the alleged militant with hatching a conspiracy to carry out terror attacks during the festival of Holi in the capital.

Meanwhile, the Centre is understood to have decided to draw up a national policy framework for rehabilitating surrendered militants. It is being considered to deploy Jammu and Kashmir police personnel along with the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) on the Indo-Nepal border to streamline the surrender of former militants.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 26-27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">168 Armymen face action for Nyoma clash

In one of the largest-ever actions against an Army unit, as many as 168 personnel of a Ladakh-based artillery unit that saw intense clashes between officers and jawans in May last year face disciplinary action and court-martial proceedings.

After an inquiry process that lasted almost a year, strict action has been recommended against one third of the personnel of the 226 Field Regiment, including the commanding officers and 17 junior commissioned officers (JCOs), who were reportedly involved in the clash in Nyoma while the unit was on field firing training.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Central forces relocated from J&K

Faced with increasingly better armed Maoists in Central India, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has decided to gradually pull out some of its Central armed police units from Jammu and Kashmir and relocate them to Left-wing extremism affected areas.

After an attack by Naxals in January this year that left 12 security men dead in Jharkhand, the MHA asked for phased pull out of three battalions from J&K, a senior functionary explained.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Tribune, March 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">BJP to back border-pact with Bangladesh

The BJP is unlikely to oppose the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh for which the government will move a Bill to amend the Constitution in the next half of the Budget session.

"We are unlikely to oppose the agreement," a senior BJP Lok Sabha MP to the Indian Express, reasoning that it was necessary to strengthen pro-Indian forces in Bangladesh at a time when prime minister Sheikh Hasina is fighting anti-India fundamentalist forces.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 25, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TN parties want India to skip CHOGAM

No Sri Lankan cricketer, or even official, will take field at the M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Season 6 that starts from April 3. The IPL governing council took this decision at its unscheduled teleconference on March 26, after the Tamil Nadu government expressed its reservation about hosting those from island nation.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this morning Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa said:" In view of the popular antipathy and anger against the actions of the government of Sri Lanka, the (state) government is of the view that IPL matches involving Sri Lankan players, umpires and other officials should not be played in Tamil Nadu".

Earlier, amid protests in support of Sri Lankan Tamils in Tamil, the state government of Tamil Nadu mounted pressure on the Centre demanding that India boycott the CHOGAM to be held in Colombo this November.

"At the very least, India must stay away from the CHOGAM to be held in Colombo and, thereby, exert pressure on Sri Lanka to do justice by its hapless, much exploited Tamil minorities", the Chief Minister said in a letter to the Prime Minister.

Her letter came soon after a meeting of the DMK executive, chaired by its chief M Karunanidhi, asked New Delhi to boycott the Commonweatlh Heads of Government Meeting to reflect the sentiments o Tamils world over and to keep up the democratic spirits.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Tribune, March 26, 2013, The Indian Express, March 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Italy returns two marines

Bowing to pressure from New Delhi, Rome sent two Italian marines back to India to stand trial on murder charges, a move that eases-but doesn’t end-a diplomatic impasse between the two countries.

The two marines-Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone-are charged by an Indian court with shooting dead two Indian fishermen a year ago. India’s Supreme Court allowed the men to return home to vote in Italy’s elections last month. The men were supposed to return within four weeks to face trial in India but Italy’s Government earlier this month said they would not be coming back.

Italy argues the incident with the fishermen occurred in international waters, meaning that the marines should face trial at home.

New Delhi says the men should be tried in India. After the incident, the commercial vessel on which the marines were serving docked at a port in the Indian state of Kerala and authorities arrested the men.

Meanwhile Italian Foreign Minister Giuilo Terzi on March 26 resigned following criticism of the government’s decision to send back two Italian marines to India for trial into the killing of Indian fishermen.

Italy’s outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti told the country’s parliament that not sending back the two marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen would have put Rome at grave risk of international isolation, and triggered a crisis of "serious proportions" with New Delhi.

Monti also told Parliament on Wednesday (March 27) night that the dramatic resignation of foreign minister Giulio Terzi a day earlier had motives that were not limited to the marine issue.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: www.wsj.com, March 22, 2013. The Tribune, March 27, 2013, The Indian Express, March 29, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pact with Iran to ship goods to Afghanistan

India and Iran have agree to draw up a transit pact for transporting goods to Afghanistan, which has also resulted in the government moving a cabinet note on investing over $ 100 million in the expansion of the Chabahar port that could act a hub for this arrangement.

Sources said the Chinese decision to literally take over the running and management of Gwadar port in Pakistan lent urgency to this long-delayed project. Located along the same coast, the two ports are just 70 km from each other.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 24, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Highways run short

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has reached a new low in project awards, managing only 787 km in 2012-13, a level last seen in 2008-09 when the global economy witnessed its worst-ever slowdown.

The global slowdown following the sub-prime crisis in the United States had it effect on NHAI’s performance, which could award only six projects ning 600 km.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 25, 203

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India, China should deepen military ties: Xi

China’s new leader Xi Jinping has made a pitch for India and China to boost military contact and deepen trust, State media quoted him as saying during his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Durban late on Wednesday (March 27) evening.

Mr Xi, who took over as head of the Communist Party and military last November, told Dr Singh on the sidelines of the just concluded BTICS summit that both countries needed to broaden exchanges between their armed forces.

He called for both countries to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the border dispute "as soon as possible," the State-run Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Hindu, March 29, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">BRICS deal on development bank

After years if dawdling, the world’s five leading emerging powers, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa or BRICS, took decisive steps in the port city of Durban on Tuesday (March 26) to give their group both the economic punch and clout to rival West-dominated institutions.

Meeting a day before the fifth summit of the heads of state is to formally begin, finance ministers of the five countries, including India’s P Chidambaram, thrashed out an agreement to establish BRICS Development Bank on the lines of the World Bank.

"It is finally done," South Africa’s Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced to the media after a bruising meeting with his counterparts from the other four countries. The details of the bank including the resolution on contentious issues such as seed capital, membership of its board and the rules of governance, are to be announced by the heads of state at their summit meeting on March 28.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Tribune, March 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Japan to grant $ 2.32-b aid

India and Japan have agreed to promote their bilateral strategic and global partnership, especially in economic and security areas, with Tokyo granting a USD 2.32 billion aid for infrastructure building.

"We hope to deepen and develop a strategic and global partnership (with India) by building a close cooperative relationship," Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said after meeting External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid here.

During the meeting yesterday, Kishida unveiled a 220 billion yen (USD 2.32 billion) aid to India for infrastructure building and a 71-billion-yen loan (USD 753.17 million) for the subway project in India’s financial capital Mumbai, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported.

Khurshid appreciated the aid, saying "Such assistance has been utilised in upgrading our infrastructure. The iconic Delhi Metro project has positively impacted the lives of millions of Indian citizens in the National Capital Region of Delhi." The loan package consists of four projects, including a freight railway project connecting New Delhi and Mumbai, and a subway construction project in southern India.

< class="text11verdana">Source: www.moneycontrol.com, March 28, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Defict at record 6.7 pc

Almost nil export growth from October to December 2012 paired against a sustained high import of oil, gold and coal has pulled down India’s current account deficit (CAD) to an unprecedented 6.7 percent of the GDP for the quarter.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 29, 2013

Maldives

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US to provide border system

A Memorandum of Intention (MoI) has been signed between the Governments of the Maldives and the U.S., regarding the establishment of a Border Control System provided gratis by the US.

The agreement was signed at a ceremony held at Maldives National Security Service (MNDF) Coast Guard Building today by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on behalf of the Maldivian Government, and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Michele J. Sison on behalf of the US Government.

After signing the agreement, Defence Minister Nazim said that efforts are ongoing to commence the services of the new Border Control System in June 2013.

"A US technical team will arrive in the Maldives in the first week of April. They will conduct a survey to identify the entry and exit points. Our aim is to complete the work in three months, and commence the services of the new Border Control System in June," Nazim said.

The US Embassy has said that the Border Control System called Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) is used at the major entry and exit points in the U.S. as well as in several advanced countries around the world.

Defence Minister Nazim said that the free system would enable the Maldivian Government to save MVR 500 million. US Ambassador Sison said while speaking at the ceremony that the establishment of the Border Control System is a sign of strengthening relations between the two countries in various areas.

The PISCES was developed by the U.S. under the Terrorist Interdiction Programme (TIP) commenced in 1997. It is a system that uses biometrics to identify people and allows countries to strengthen border control security, and has been installed in 20 countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand.

The US Department of State has assured that in addition to the establishment of the system, it would also provide training for staff and assistance in expanding the system in the future.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Sun Online, March 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GMR arbitration case for April 10

The preliminary hearing of the arbitration case concerning the government’s voiding of its concession agreement with Indian Infrastructure giant GMR is scheduled to take place on April 10 in London, reports local media.

On February 3, the parties announced the appointment of arbitrators for the case. According to the Attorney General’s office, the Maldives will be represented by Singapore National University Professor M Sonaraja, while former Chief Justice of the UK, Lord Nicholas Addison Phillips, will represent GMR.

The arbitrator mutually agreed by both GMR and the government is retired senior UK Judge, Lord Leonard Hubert Hoffman.

Talking to the newspaper, Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham said that the meeting will take place at the presence of three arbitrators appointed to hear the case along with lawyers representing the government of Maldives, Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) and GMR.

"It is not an official hearing of the arbitration case. It is a hearing in which a date for the commencement of the hearings would be agreed and to agree as to how the case should proceed. Decisions concerning how the proceedings should take place will be agreed," Usham told Haveeru.

He also said that although the preliminary hearing was to take place in London, the official hearings of the case will be heard in Singapore.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, March 26, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No-trust vote on Ministers for April 8

Parliament has scheduled a vote of no-confidence against Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Minister of Home Affairs Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed for April 8.

A vote to dismiss Jumhoree Party (JP) presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim from his position within the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has also been scheduled for April 9.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim told Minivan News that all three motions had been submitted by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). "On the day of the vote, Parliament will give the floor to the MDP to present its case. The ministers will then be given the opportunity to respond before parliament then opens the debate and votes on a decision.

"The MDP currently holds 29 seats in parliament, but it will require another ten for the ministers and Gasim to be removed from their positions. This has been undertaken before, a precedent has been previously set," Nazim said.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor stated that the party was confident both Nazim and Jameel would be removed from their posts.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, March 27, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Majlis’ decision on Bench invalid: SC

Supreme Court has stated that if the People’s Majlis issued a ruling to abolish the judges’ bench appointed by the Judicial Service Commission for the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to conduct the trial against former President Mohamed Nasheed on the charges of illegally arresting Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdullah Mohamed then such a decision is invalid.

In a press release issued by the Supreme Court, it was stated that the jurisdiction to issue decisions regarding the legitimacy of the judges’ bench of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court belongs to the courts of law and therefore if the Majlis made a decision regarding the judges’ bench then it holds no legal weight.

The statement of the Supreme Court further noted that such actions of the Majlis will be regarded as a threat to the rights of the judges and such actions are unlawful.

The Supreme Court stated that the constitution gives the responsibility of establishing justice to the judiciary and therefore if another power of states tries to make decisions regarding the legitimacy of judges bench and similar judicial functions than it might lead to obstructions in the rule of law.

"Since the decision on the validity of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court’s bench can be only taken by the courts of law, we inform all authorities that whether it be the executive power of the law making power, if they take any decisions regarding the validity of the judges’ bench then it is invalid and unlawful," the statement said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Miadhu, March 29, 2013

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Bhutan and Myanmar: Medha Chaturvedi;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Daniel Rubin and Louis Ritzinger;
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Dr.Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

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Contributor

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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