MonitorsPublished on Feb 14, 2014
The long-awaited military offensive in Pakistan's North Waziristan region, which began in mid-December, has raised questions about the overall objectives and intentions of the nation's army in fighting terrorism.
Pakistan: Military offensive in North Waziristan
< class="heading1">Analysis

The long-awaited military offensive in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, which began in mid-December, has raised questions about the overall objectives and intentions of the nation’s army in fighting terrorism.

For the last few years, the army has been planning, or at least talking about, a military offensive against the Taliban elements, who have been attacking the country, causing mayhem and challenging the authority of the State as well. The past efforts to either defeat the terrorist group militarily or engage them in a dialogue have not been successful.

In fact, such efforts have often backfired. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a conglomeration of over 40 militant groups allied to the Afghan Taliban and the al-Qaeda, had been targeting the military and intelligence personnel and infrastructure ever since the army launched an offensive against a pro-Taliban mosque in the heart of Islamabad in July 2007.

Though the previous government with Asif Ali Zardari as President had tried to stem the tide of violence, serious differences over the nature of the Stte’s response between the army and the civilian leadership paralysed any real action on the ground. This allowed the TTP to grow in strength and in reach, enabling the terrorist group to target some of the highly-protected military installations in Punjab and Sindh provinces.

Then army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, too was not keen on launching any military operation in the tribal areas without the civilian leadership taking the onus. The Zardari government was more interested in passing the buck to the army.

When Nawaz Sharif took over as the Prime Minister in June last, he made it clear that his government would go all out to stem the terrorist violence. He declared a no-tolerance policy towards terrorism. But his subsequent actions were more accommodative towards the TTP. He sought a dialogue with the TTP and was not really keen on a military offensive.

After Gen Kayani’s departure in November last, his handpicked successor, Gen Raheel Sharif, was more inclined to take the middle ground and work with the civilian leadership. So when TTP killed two senior army officers and targeted troops in the tribal areas last year, the army decided to launch a limited military-strike against select targets in and around Mir Ali, the headquarters of TTP. The last such major offensive took place in June 2009.

By then some of the top leadership of TTP had been killed in Drone attacks carried out with the help of intelligence shared by Pakistan. The killing of Hakimullah Mehsud helped the army firm up its resolve in dividing and subsequently dismantling the terrorist group. The plan is to soften the terrorists holed up in Mir Ali and surrounding areas even as the civilian leadership extended the dialogue offer.

Retaliatory attacks

With a suicide-bomb attack on a checkpoint in North Waziristan on December 18, 2013, killing five soldiers and injuring 34, there has been a series of retaliatory attacks between the military and the militants. Following this, on 21 January, military helicopters pounded several militant hideouts in Mir Ali. It is the first time that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has resorted to aerial strikes in the region since the ceasefire agreement with local Taliban chiefs in 2007. Aerial strikes also took place in the nearby tribal region of Kurram.

The military-strikes focused primarily on the stronghold of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, a senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan who has sheltered leaders and fighters from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and a number of other Pakistani jihadist groups. One of the targets of the air-strikes is said to be Adnan Rasheed, the amir of the Ansar al Aseer Khorasan ("Helpers of the Prisoners"), a group that includes members from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban and was founded to free jihadists from Pakistani prisons.

The Ansar al Aseer has been involved in a series of prison breaks in Pakistan, and is suspected to be behind the Jan. 10 killing of Karachi police chief Chaudhry Aslam Khan. Rasheed, who was freed in a prison-break, has created a "death squad" that has vowed to kill former President Pervez Musharraf in March last when the latter was returning after spending five years in self-imposed exile outside the country.

The total number of local militant groups operating in North Waziristan, according to government reports, is 43. Dattakhel-based Hafiz Gul Bahadar has the highest number of groups affiliated with him —15, followed by 10 independent groups. There are six TTP-affiliated groups. The Punjabi Taliban has four groups. In addition, there are 12 foreign militant groups, including Al Qaeda. With a combined strength of roughly 11,000 fighting men, the Pakistani and foreign militant groups represent a dreadful challenge to the security of the region.

The moot question is how far the army, in tandem with the civilian leadership, will go in rooting out the TTP and other terrorist groups in the tribal areas. Will it still follow the cherry-picking policy of targeting only select groups, while letting the others remain, as in the past? It is too early to make such a judgment. But all available indications show no significant break from the past.

(The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sri Lanka : Step-by-step solution to fishers’ issue?

N Sathiya Moorthy

Tamil Nadu’s hosting of the much-publicised and even more needed but delayed talks between the State’s fisher representatives and their Sri Lankan counterparts on 27 January, followed by the local fishers commitment not to deploy vessels, gears and fishing methods banned in Sri Lanka for 30 days to prove their sincerity and seriousness has set the tone for taking the gains of the Chennai negotiations forward. Independent of the talks and also each other, the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) first, and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) later, began arresting fishers from the other country in the days that followed, making the latter’s release a condition-precedent of sorts for taking forward the negotiations, as promised, at Colombo in March.

Yet, teething troubles of the kind, almost from the commencement of the idea of a fishers’ talks blessed by the Governments concerned, did not dampen their spirits in particular. It has only been enhanced, since. Interestingly, most fisher representatives on either side were new compared to an NGO-driven round of negotiations in 2010-11. Though the present batch of negotiators did not sign any relatively detailed agreement of the kind as in 2010, the general mood on either side of the ’fisher-divide’ was one of bonhomie and mutual accommodation, as in the past.

The Chennai meeting should be noted for the specifics, of what it achieved and what it did not - rather, what it did not actually aim to achieve. First and foremost, Governments across the Palk Strait, namely those of Sri Lanka, India and Tamil Nadu, ’quasi-official status’ on the talks with the participation of their officials. Tamil Nadu was also represented by the Fisheries Minister, though he and his team, were there only as ’observers’. So did officials of the Governments of India and Sri Lanka.

The 2010 Chennai talks, facilitated by the ’Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen’ (ARIF), preceded by an extensive tour of the southern Tamil Nadu coast by the Sri Lankan fisher representatives, and the follow-up review meeting at Colombo in March 2011, did not have any official representative of the Tamil Nadu Government. At Chennai-2010, two Sri Lankan Fisheries officials were present as observers. At Colombo months later, an official of the Indian High Commission was also present as an observer. An all-round presence of officials at Chennai-2014, representing various stake-holders, would make a difference to future processes and prospects.

Two, even though ’political considerations’ may have played a part in the choice of fisher representatives in either country, the fact that ’new faces’ have joined the negotiations, compared to the ARIF-driven process of 2010, may have in fact helped expand the level of participation and representation, too, before any final decision is arrived at. Considering however the ground realities, any future solution, to be effective and implementable, should be flowing from what otherwise is the comprehensive 2010 agreement, coupled with the 2008 Government-level Joint Statement at Delhi.

The ’Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements’, issued after high-level talks in Delhi on 26 October 2010, at the height of ’Eelam War IV’, provided for ’practical arrangements’ to deal with ’bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL)’. Basil Rajapaksa, then Senior Advisor and brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, represented Sri Lanka at the talks. Basil R is at present the nation’s all-important Minister for Economic Development.

The Joint Statement also said that "Indian fishing vessels will not venture into ? identified sensitive areas (designated as High Security Zone, or HSZ, by Sri Lanka)?and will carry valid registration/permit". It added that "there will be no firing on Indian fishing vessels" (by Sri Lanka Navy, fighting the ’Sea Tiger’ wing of the LTTE on the seas, at the time). While the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) has mostly adhered to the commitment, there has been an increasing incidence of arrest of Indian/Tamil Nadu fishers in Sri Lankan waters, since. However, they used to be freed after a time.

In recent months, the arrested fishers are also being produced before Sri Lankan courts, remanded to custody, with the imprisonment being extended almost every time it became due. Likewise on the Indian side, Sri Lankan fishers detained by the Coast Guard in the country’s waters are also being remanded to custody after being produced before the local courts. In a way, the recent/current crisis on the fishers’ front(s) flowed from the arrests and remand-extensions, and was among the compelling reasons for the respective Governments showing a greater interest than usual for facilitating face-to-face negotiations between the affected fisher communities.

There has not been any change to the practice - on either side - despite the Chennai-2014 meeting. This may owe to the fact that both the Sri Lanka Navy and the Indian Coast Guard have their well-defined mandates and cannot be expected to deviate from the same until told otherwise. Such a course could be considered, if at all, only after a final settlement to the fishers’ issue, with due attestation by the Governments concerned. The marine security forces of the two countries are out there to protect the ’sovereignty’ and ’territorial integrity’ of the respective nations, and any illegal crossing of IMBL should be of concern to them, independent of fishers’ talks, even if blessed officially by the respective Governments at this stage.

The non-official ARIF-driven agreement of August 2010 committed the Tamil Nadu fishers to discontinue the use of bottom-trawlers within a year. In turn, the two sides agreed for the Tamil Nadu fishers to fish for 70 ’fishing days’ in the year, in Sri Lanka’s northern waters, 3-5 nautical miles off the Sri Lankan coast in these parts. In the absence of official blessings on either side, and also the continued intransigence of the Tamil Nadu fishers in the use of bottom-trawlers and gears banned by and in Sri Lanka, the March 2011 follow-up talks in Colombo did not cover any ground.

Confidence-building measures

In this background, the revival of fisher-level talks, that too with the blessings and participation of the Governments concerned (even if only as ’observer’) should go a long way in acting as the much-needed and equally timely ’confidence-building measure’ (CBM), which is otherwise lacking in the process. The fact that both sides have agreed to meet again in Colombo, possibly in March, should hence be welcome in terms of furthering the CBM - even if the Colombo negotiations too may not (be able to) cover the entire ground.

The intervening elections in Tamil Nadu for the national Parliament in April-May, preceded by the Western and Southern Provincial Council polls in Sri Lanka on 29 March, would be both an opportunity and a challenge for the Governments across the Palk Strait, to take forward the hope and momentum set in Chennai, however limited. In this context, the arrest of fishers in each other’s waters and their long imprisonment along with the boats end up providing the grist for the political mill.

In turn, the arrests have the potential to discount the dividends provided by the CBMs and complicate the negotiation issues. In their place, the release of detained fishers could end up becoming the CBM and the issue at the same time, thus denying hopes and possibilities for negotiations inching forward, whenever and wherever held. The Governments would have to ensure that the arrests and release should not end up becoming a ’ritual’, nor should they continue to be a hurdle to a negotiated settlement.

Holistic agreement

Yet, for any talks of the kind to succeed, the fishers have to address individual issues and concerns, holistically. Though negotiations may be issues and segments-based, final, enforceable peace alone can be a holistic agreement. Both Chennai-2014 talks and the agreement signed by fisher representatives from the two countries relate only to the Palk Strait/Palk Bay region. It is likely that the follow-up negotiations in Colombo too would be addressing this segment, mainly.

There are two other segments that too need to be addressed for a full and final settlement of the kind. One pertains to the Gulf of Mannar fishers from Tamil Nadu crossing into Sri Lankan waters along the eastern coast. Secondly, the concerns of the southern Sri Lankan fishers, arrested by the Indian Coast Guard, but handed over to, and detained in States other than Tamil Nadu.

The Tamil Nadu fisher representatives for the talks this time came from both the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar regions. Likewise, the Sri Lankan delegation also comprised fishers from the North, East and the traditional South. The Chennai-2014 negotiations pertained mainly to the problems in the Palk Strait covering southern Tamil Nadu and northern Sri Lanka.

The Palk Strait fishers’ problems, as also the problems that they create for fellow-Tamil fishers of Sri Lanka, pertain to the northern Sri Lankan coast. The Gulf of Mannar fishers from India are arrested off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, on charges of trespassing and poaching, in equal numbers and as deep inside the Sri Lankan waters as the Palk Strait counterparts are detained deep inside the northern waters.

The Gulf of Mannar Indian fishers come from districts such as Nagapattinam, Tiruvaur, Pudukottai and Thanjavur, apart from the Karaikal enclave of the Union Territory of Puducherry. Whether they could claim the same right to ’traditional waters’ as the Rameswaram fishers down south claim in the case of the Palk Strait is an equally, if not more ticklish legal question, as the other. More importantly, with any relief coming in the way of the Rameswaram fishers through a negotiated arrangement of any kind, the Gulf of Mannar too would expect the kind of facility and facilitation.

The common alternative would be for the State and Central Governments in India to facilitate all fishers crossing into Sri Lankan waters to look at other seas within Indian territorial waters, or go in for deep-sea, multi-day fishing. Already, the Tamil Nadu Government has offered 50 percent subsidy for the conversion of existing boats intto deep-sea vessels. Between them, the Centre and the State Government may have to extend diesel subsidy for deep-sea vessels at least in the interim, facilitate required training for the fishers, and also help identify the available species, storage and export markets.

At present, private exporters, mainly from outside the State, are mostly at it. The State Government’s promised efforts to make it as much more lucrative for the local vessel-owners and hence the fishers, too, is yet to bear fruit. The State Government has also been working on these areas, though the results have been slow in coming, and naturally so.

Maritime security cooperation

The other segment involves the arrest and detention of Sri Lankan fishers in Indian waters. In a way, it has to be (only) a part of a reciprocal process, with the respective Governments deciding on the issue - depending on the success or failure of other aspects that would have to be covered at the fishers’ level. On the Indian side, it involves the Centre engaging not just Tamil Nadu, which invariably is the affected party in most fishers’ issues and arrests viz Sri Lanka, but also other south-east Indian States like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and the Union Territory administrations of Puducherry, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Together, the Governments concerned in India will have to put in place a scheme that works systematically in identifying and releasing ’innocent fishers’ from Sri Lanka, apprehended by the Coast Guard in the Indian waters. The short and straight 2010 Joint Statement provides the ground rule, but details may have to be worked out. Yet, genuine concerns of the security agencies of both countries cannot be - and should not be - wished away.

On the Sri Lankan side, for instance, the Sri Lankan Navy has always been wary and suspicious of the Tamil Nadu fishers’ possibly helping Tamil militant groups in the country in the 30-year long period of war and violence. Though there was/is no reason for the Sri Lankan Government and Navy to continue holding on to those suspicions, particularly in these long years after the ’Rajiv Gandhi assassination’, the increasingly shriller voices from Tamil Nadu on post-war ’accountability issues’ do not make for comforting news for either, particularly across the short stretch of the Palk Strait, and a pending case before the Indian Supreme Court on the legitimacy and legality of the IMBL, drawn through bilateral agreements in 1974 and 1976.

The Indian Coast Guard and the Navy too have their tasks cut out in the region. There are one too many strategic assets along the south Indian coast, and they have to be extremely vigilant in these waters. The recent cases involving two Italian Marines killing Indian fishers in a shooting incident from aboard a ship that had gained illegal entry into the expansive Indian waters, and the arrest of overseas personnel on board a private security agency’s ship, again without appropriate authorisation in Indian waters, are only a case in point.

Simultaneously as the fishers and the governments grabble with the livelihood issues of the fishers of the two countries, their maritime security agencies may have to consider their own options and cooperative measures if mutual arrests and detentions alone would be the dampener for keeping the waters in these parts calm and free of the incidents of a bilateral kind. Their current exchanges, mutual understanding and cooperation should go a long way in this regard, however complex their own negotiations could become, up to and after a point.

Yet, it will all have to be a political decision, where communication at the highest political levels has also not been as regular and as effective as it used be and should have been - be it between New Delhi and Colombo, or between New Delhi and Chennai, or between Colombo and Jaffna, the capital of the Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. With an elected Government headed by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran, in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, the Centre there too would have to remember that ’Fisheries’ is on the Concurrent List of the Constitution, and no one in the country has contested the same, either.

With parliamentary polls in India and Sri Lanka’s UNHRC troubles expected to come in the way of any early revival of any such high-level contacts, one possible way out in the interim - but otherwise too a feasible and necessary aspect -- could be to take the fishers’ issue on board the Trilateral Maritime Security Agreement, also involving Maldives. Slowly but surely and independent of other issues, political or otherwise, there has been considerable progress on trilateral maritime security cooperation between the nations, over the past months.

Off and on, there have been fishers’ issues of the India-Sri Lanka kind between Sri Lanka and Maldives, and occasionally between India and Maldives. Hence a security-related common approach to laying fresh ground rules for handling ’innocent fishers’ needs to be arrived at, drawing from the progress/success of the fishers’ talks. If such consultations could be carried parallel to the fishers’ talks (and independent of the progress made in the other), then it could clear avoidable misunderstanding, even if any were to arise, on that front.

Considering that the trilateral maritime security cooperation arrangement is still a work-on-progress, and also the fact that the 1976 IMBL agreement involved all three nations in a way, continuing and extending the efforts to the fishers’ issues could provide the right environment in every which way, to ensure that genuine security-related concerns of individual nations are addressed with understanding, care and caution. Sri Lanka has some, which from its eyes are real and genuine, and so are similar concerns of India - and of Maldives, to a greater or lesser extent.

Towards a SAARC initiative

It is the context that defines the relevance and situation, and contextualising the mutual security concerns to the fishers’ issue and the other way, too, should leave only the livelihood issues to be tackled, both for starters and later, too. In this context, India and Sri Lanka on the one hand, and with the common Maldivian neighbour otherwise, should consider taking up joint fishing and fishers’ development and regulation in their waters, just as they have now done with maritime security in the very same waters.

If the two/three nations can decide to work together on sensitive security issues, there is nothing that could stop them from working together on fishing and fishers’ development and regulation, too. It is at times said that the tri-nation maritime security arrangement can become model for extending to all SAARC nations, in stages and phases. While development and regulation have to be a part of the package, they will have to wait until the immediate issues are sorted out, to the satisfaction of all stake-holders.

Under the 2010 Joint Statement, India and Sri Lanka "agreed to continue with discussions, initiated in 2005, on the proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on development and cooperation in the field of fisheries". The draft MoU had mentioned India helping Sri Lanka in the development of fisheries sector in many ways. The need for finalising the MoU found mention more recently when the Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister, Dr Rajitha Senaratne, met with his Indian counterpart Sharad Pawar, in Delhi, ahead of the fishers’ talks in Chennai.

Given the ever-depleting fish stocks in the adjoining seas owing to ever-increasing regional and global demand, and also poaching by extra-territorial commercial players, fishing and fishers’ development and regulation among India, Maldives and Sri Lanka too could also thus become a first step towards a collective SAARC initiative on the subject. ’Poaching’ under the trilateral maritime cooperation too thus falls under the ambit of maritime security cooperation. This however may have to wait, and be achieved in stages.

Going beyond self-regulated ban

For starters now, the Indian fishers have stuck to their commitment to stay away from the Sri Lankan seas for 30 days, even if it commenced three days late, owing to the time required to ’educate’ the fishers at the ground-level. Interestingly, the Gulf of Mannar fishers, too, have joined the self-regulated ban. The Tamil Nadu Government for its part is determined to help enforce the fishers’ commitment on the ground, with the respective district administrations informing and educating the fishers on the non-use of banned gears and fishing methods.

Yet, for the talks in Colombo, whenever held, the Tamil Nadu fishers should bear in mind that their northern Sri Lankan counterparts are talking not about ’poaching’ in the Palk Strait, which the title of the 1974 agreement acknowledged as ’historic waters’. Instead, the Tamil-speaking Northern Sri Lankan fishers are talking about their ’umbilical cord’ brethren from across the IMBL resorting to ’poaching’ in their end of the Palk Bay region, closer to the Sri Lankan coast.

Tradition also has it that fishers despite going to wherever fish is, do not poach in one another’s ’marked territory’. Internal squabbles between villagers along the Tamil Nadu coast on similar lines, for instance, are a legend. So are the continual protests by artisanal fishers against ’poaching’ by locally-owned and manned trawlers, also in the Tamil Nadu waters.

The specious argument centred on ’historic waters’ in the India-Sri Lanka context would not hold otherwise, too. In the contemporary scheme of international law, game-hunters and traditional trading communities do not enjoy any cross-border freedom, after all. Even cross-border airways are not free, and may be the most regulated of ’em all.

Until positive signs emerge from the Colombo talks about taking the negotiations forward for a permanent settlement to the fishers’ issue, whenever it is held, cross-IMBL ban is likely to remain in place, either or both ways and greater clarity too could emerge. Pending those stages, the two national Governments would have to consider a self-regulation, if not outright indulgence, on the fishers crossing the IMBL, and basing their decision on the 2010 Joint Statement.

If, for instance, the Tamil Nadu fishers are going to abide by the self-regulated ban, even if only for the promised 30 days, there may not be many of them for the Sri Lankan Navy to arrest mid-sea, as in the past - and continuing into the present. This could lead to a piquant situation where the Indian Coast Guard would still have a substantial number of southern Sri Lanka (Sinhala) fishers crossing into Indian waters and claiming acknowledged right to ’innocent passage’, with a political fallout in southern Sri Lanka.

Incidentally, among the 25 Sri Lankan fishers that the ICG had taken into custody mid-sea after the Chennai talks, five were Tamils, all of them in five vessels and carrying five tonnes of fish on-board. This in turn adds a new turn / trend, and hence a new element, to the emerging multi-layered discourse on ending the fishers’ stalemate, early on.

In the past, Sri Lankan fishers caught in the Indian waters, with or without the catch, would often claim right to ’innocent passage’, guaranteed under the international law, to which India too is a signatory. They would often be caught in waters far off the Palk Strait-Gulf of Mannar seas, given that most of them would have set sail from southern Sri Lanka. Not any more, or so it would seem.

Lately, like this batch from Point Pedro, Sri Lankan fishers, setting off from the North, post-war, are being caught fishing in the Indian waters, not near the faraway Andamans, or off the Andhra Pradesh and Odhisa coasts up north, but in the immediate waters of the Gulf of Mannar and thereabouts. Not all of them are Tamils either, for the Government in Colombo to look the other way, and let the ’blood brethren’ across the Palk Strait to settle it between them!

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Russia opposes UNHRC moves

Human rights issues —although a legitimate global concern —must not be used by the international community to interfere in the internal affairs of a country or as a tool of force, a high-ranking Russian official said while on a visit to Sri Lanka.

Director of the Department for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Anatoly Viktorov, said Russia rejected the approach taken by some countries to push for sanctions against countries they consider to be violating human rights.

"Those sanctions will only increase the suffering of people and contribute to aggravating their situation," Viktorov told the local media. He said he was impressed by the steps taken by the Sri Lankan Government to overcome the aftermath of the conflict.

He said Russia agreed that the work of the UN in promoting and protection human rights must be done in accordance with international law. "No violation of the UN Charter or attempt to undermine norms and principles of the international law may be justified by any cause. Unfortunately, the UN human rights machinery experiences a number of problems like the lack of trust. To restore this, it is necessary to introduce the principle of cooperation in the work of the UN human rights dimension. Russia and Sri Lanka continue working on it jointly," he said.

Viktorov said Russia would support only those resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly which enjoy the support and consent of the country concerned. "No country is free of human rights violations and therefore we reject the practice of naming and shaming which actually discredits human rights causes," he added.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Don’t isolate Sri Lanka, says Australia

The Australian Government has requested the international community not to isolate Sri Lanka at this juncture. Speaking at a ceremony organised by the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Australia to mark the 66th Independence Day of Sri Lanka, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also extended her government’s ’utmost support’ to Sri Lanka to establish peace, prosperity, economic growth and democracy in the country.

She also said that Australia expects to strengthen ties with Sri Lankan Government and to have an open discussion with these matters and her Government has also revised its agenda on bilateral relations.

Independent of the Foreign Minister’s statement, the Australian Senate passed a motion backed by Australian Green Party calling upon the Government to support any call for an independent war crimes investigation on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.

The resolution recalled that Australia was a co-sponsor to the US-initiated UNHRC resolutions on Sri Lanka in the past two years.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 13-14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sri Lanka’s fate hangs on tough lobbying in US: Lalith

Amidst proposed moves by the US Congress and the US Government to bring in a resolution against Sri Lanka at the upcoming UNHRC session, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga said ’the most significant factor when it comes to the power of lobbying, solely depends on the choice of lobbying groups one has access to in the US’.

Speaking to a group of newspaper editors, Mr Weeratunga said the US had more than 800 key lobbying groups of which the LTTE-sympathising fronts were using some of the most influential groups among them for lobbying purposes. Mr. Weeratunga said the Sri Lankan Government would also have to gain access to some powerful lobbying groups to counter opposition that’s mounting against it in the international arena.

Mr Weeratunga, who toured several western countries recently and briefed Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in Geneva and Senators and Congressmen in the US on the ’Progress in the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka’, said the Government has done all that was humanly possible to implement the recommendations of the National Plan of Action on the implementation of the LLRC, since its approval by the Cabinet of Ministers in July 2012.

Speaking about the forthcoming resolution, that is to be presented before the UNHRC session in March, Mr Weeratunga said the US and other allied countries will go ahead with the proposed resolution on Sri Lanka. "Yes they will go ahead with that, we cannot stop it, whatever we have done, the resolution would be tabled as scheduled. But I would like to say that we are continuing with our work related to the reconciliation. We need more time, that’s what we need. "

When asked it was the failure on the part of the foreign mission of Sri Lanka, Mr Weeratunga said he believed it was not. "I used to think so, but when you see the reality and realise the fact that you can only go through these people, I know how expensive the game is. But I am not saying if you have embassies which are very robust all the time looking at things that are happening around, then they need to be staffed very well. You should engage with these people but it is so difficult."

Commenting on the issue related to the Chief Secretary to the Northern Province, Mr Weeratunga said although the Centre had understood the situation there, they cannot remove the current Chief Secretary soon. "Northern Province Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran had requested us to appoint a retired person as the Chief Secretary. That retired person was the former Chief Secretary. Unfortunately, we cannot do that because none of the current Chief Secretaries in the country are retired as they are all within the service age below 60 years."

But the Centre understood the situation, he said. "We have a new administration for the North, we agreed. We will be able to change this person over a period of time, but we can’t take her out immediately. We must find a replacement for her (present Chief Secretary, Vijayalakshmi, a Tamil officer). If you take this particular lady and her counterparts in the rest of the country, she is much junior. That problem is evident in all of the North and the East. We do not have sufficient senior people to handle ground-level work, and because of that there is lack of progress and this is also one reason which the international communities should understand."

Mr Weeratunga said that the ’Hate Speech legislation’, promoted by Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara , was now with the Centre’s Legal Draftsman. Commenting on the military presence in the North, he said the total number of military presence in the north Province has been reduced by 30 percent from 2009 to October 2013.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Commission appointed to look into missing persons in the North and the East between 1990 and 2009 began its public hearings in Jaffna. The hearings will continue till 17 February, the Government Information Department said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, 14 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sharp increase in civilian casualties

According to the latest report released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in February 2014, there has been a sharp rise in civilian casualties as compared to 2012. The report claimed that there was a 14 percent increase in civilian casualties in 2013, as compared to 2012. There were a total of 8615 civilian casualties in 2013 of which 2959 were deaths and 5656 injuries. The figures represent a seven percent increase in deaths and a 17 percent increase in injuries as compared to 2012.

The civilian casualties in 2013 are similar to the record high number of civilian casualties documented in 2011.

The major causes for the increase in civilian casualties were said to be on account of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and the increased ground engagements between pro-government forces and anti-government elements.

< class="text11verdana">Source: UNAMA, 8 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bagram prisoners released

65 prisoners were released by the Afghan government from the Bagram prison this past week. The announcement of the Afghan government’s decision to release 88 prisoners from Bagram was announced in January.

Officials on the Review Board charged with overseeing the releases said there was no evidence against the candidates and so they needed to be freed in accordance with Afghan law. The Afghan National Directorate of Security and the Attorney General’s office were also involved in the investigations and have not stopped the releases from moving forward.

The decision, however, has been condemned by the US, who claim that a number of released prisoners were involved in attacks against the Afghan National Security Forces and the ISAF troops. Afghan politicians have spoke out against the releases as well, calling the move illegal given the fact there were no courts involved in the decision making process.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in an announcement during his trip to Turkey, announced that the release of prisoners from Bagram was of no concern to the US. He also stressed that the US should stop its harassment of Afghanistan’s judicial system.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 13 February 2014; Tolo News, 13 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">ANSF operations claim 52 militants

Around 52 Taliban militants were killed in separate operations undertaken by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

In two separate operations in Nangarhar province, 46 Taliban militants were killed. The ANSF also destroyed four heroin manufacturing companies during these operations. In a separate operation undertaken in Helmand province, six Taliban militants were killed.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 13 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Another Abdullah campaigner killed

Haji Yasin, a tribal elder campaigning for Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for the upcoming Afghan Presidential elections in April, was gunned down in Sar-e Pul province in northern Afghanistan.

This is the third campaigner for Dr Abdullah to be killed this month. Last week, two other campaigners for Dr Abdullah had been killed in Herat province.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, 8 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No election before 2019

Clearing all speculation about the timing of the next parliamentary election, ruling Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam has declared that there will be no fresh election before this parliament completes its five year term.

Islam said that whatever be the pressure to amend the Constitution, the government will not change the charter. He also added that the next general elections will be held as per Constitutional guidelines.

Islam made these remarks at a meeting of the Awami League Central Working Committee (ALCWC) chaired by party president Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He said that after completion of the five-year tenure of the incumbent government, the 11th parliamentary election will be held in 2019.

However, international pressure is mounting on the government to hold the next parliamentary election at the earliest. Canada called upon all the political parties to begin negotiations for reaching an agreement on a process for next elections that Bangladeshis will consider credible. The United States also this week described the January 5 polls as ’deeply flawed’ and called for immediate talks between major parties to agree on fresh elections as soon as possible.

The 5 January parliamentary election was criticised internationally following boycott by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 12-14 February 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Huge infra aid from China

In a move to strengthen infrastructure Bangladesh is seeking a deal of $ 8.6-billion Chinese soft loan for 14 infrastructure projects. Prominent projects for which assistance sought include Ganges barrage, a rail bridge over the Jamuna River and a high-speed "chord" train line between Dhaka and Comilla.

Besides, the government has given go ahead for a Chinese proposal to fund and build a multi-lane tunnel under the Karnaphuli river at a cost of $700m. Also, the government in principle has decided to respond to a proposal to build an exclusive economic zone for China on a thousand acres of land by the Karnaphuli.

However, the government remained indecisive on China’s $5 billion proposal to build a deep-sea port near Sonadia Island since it received proposals also from countries including India, Germany, Denmark and the UAE. Sources in the government informed that China recently called upon Bangladesh to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd for the deep-sea port.

It can be recalled that China had remained a low-key development partner till 2011. But in the past three years, its financial support surged significantly, with low interest rates. China also urged Bangladesh to prepare a set of projects that it can invest over the next five years. The set of 14 projects was identified accordingly with a proposed interest rate of 1.5 percent and repayment period of 20 years. Although the new Chinese loan will be soft in nature, but it will have a condition under which only Chinese companies would implement the projects.

Beijing is yet to inform Dhaka for which projects it would provide loans.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US suspends RAB training

Accusing gross violation of human rights by the personnel of the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the US informed Bangladesh that it will not continue with training programmes and assistance for the force.

In an official letter to the inspector-general of police, the US said that it had determined that ’individual members and units of the Rapid Action Battalion are ineligible for US training and assistance as a result of gross violation of human rights which have been committed by RAB members’.

The RAB is an elite anti-crime and anti terrorism unit of Bangladesh police and its members are mostly from Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh and Bangladesh Ansar. It was formed on 26 March 2004, and commenced operations on 14 April 2004. The battalion had many successes in combating crimes but is often accused of rights violations.

< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, 13 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Diplomats’ ultimatum on labour rights

Diplomats of US, Canada and European Union this week urged Bangladesh to fulfill the pledges it had made on workers’ rights and workplace safety by March, ahead of the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse on April 24.

The diplomats claimed that although Bangladesh had made progress in some areas, including labour standard and fire safety, a lot more work needed to be done.

The diplomats also claimed that on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, many foreign teams and journalists would come to Bangladesh to see the progress the government had made in fulfilling the commitments in the one year after the disaster that had killed more than 1,100 people, mostly garment workers.

Bangladesh was criticised internationally regarding the worker safety after collapse of Rana Plaza, a building that housed many garment factories and nearly 1000 of factory workers died in the incident.

< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, 14 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Czech’ interest in hydro-power, aviation

Small-scale hydropower and civil aviation are the top priority in strengthening bilateral relations between the government and the government of Czech Republic.

To explore avenues for economic cooperation, developmental aid and cultural exchange, among others, a Czech Republic delegation, led by the deputy foreign minister, Tomas Dub, is in the country on a five-day visit.

At a news conference on 12 February, members of the delegation said Czech companies are seriously considering investment in the fields of hydropower, renewable energy and civil aviation.

The deputy minister said that in terms of revenue generation, Bhutan has been exporting electricity on large scale with Indian assistance. However, he said, their attention would be towards small hydro plants suitable for about 10 MW of energy generation.

Other areas of interests are building infrastructure, tourism, film and food processing industry, a Press release from the Czech Embassy in Delhi, accredited to Bhutan, said. Czech Ambassador to Bhutan, based in New Delhi, Miloslav Stasek, added, there are Czech companies that have huge potential in producing solar panels and generating biomass energy.

In the civil aviation sector, the Ambassador said Bhutan’s only international airport was "adventurous". Czech Republic’s intervention, he said, could enhance the infrastructures, facilities and security of the airport.

The Ambassador said the Czech Republic has the expertise to build mobile airports, in times of emergencies and disaster.

According to the Press release, Bhutan has a very positive resonance in Czech Republic, because of its "sensible environmental policy and holistic concept of GNH." "Many Czech Republic citizens have Bhutan on their dream travel destination".

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 13 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Foray into Indian market

Bhutan’s Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited has made foray in the Northeastern market. The company which is selling Cement under the brand name of Dragon Cement is eyeing the North-East states, North-Bengal and East Bihar.

DCCL is incorporated under the Companies Act 2000 of the Kingdom of Bhutan as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Druk Holdings & Investments, an undertaking of Royal Government of Bhutan.

Dorji Norbu, Managing Director of Dungsam Cement told ET that considering its huge production capacity and Bhutan market being relatively small market, DCCL intend to sell about 70-80% of its cement to the Indian market.

"We are producing 4130 tons of cement daily. We have invested close to Rs 1088 Crore in this venture. We obtained necessary license to market cement in Indian market in January 2014."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, 11 February 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New air link to boost tourism

Bhutan is expected to increase tourist-arrivals with a new flight from India’s commercial hub Mumbai from 1 May.

"We expect more Indians travellers to Bhutan with launch of a new flight by Drukair from May one connecting Mumbai and Bhutan," Damcho Rinzin of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (International Travel, Trade & PR) told PTI.

Out of 1.16 lakh tourists who visited Bhutan in 2013, those from India numbered 50,000.

"India is an important country for us to attract tourists. Mumbai, the gateway for tourists of the western region, faces connectivity hurdle," Rinzin said.

At the time when Bhutan was focusing on corporate travel (MICE) and wellness travel air-connectivity with Mumbai was expected to give it a boost.

"We are going to introduce twice weekly flight between Paro International airport and Mumbai beginning from May 1, Maharastra day," Drukair GM commercial Namgay Wangchuk told PTI on the sidelines of a road-show here last night.

It will be 10th international destination and the three-hour flight will operate twice weekly, on Thursdays and Sundays. Return fare will be around Rs 22,000 Drukair Manager (Marketing and Commercial Planning) Sonam Wangchuk said the flight will connect Bhutan with western India.

Currently, 15 flights connect Bhutan with Indian cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Bagdogra and Guwahati. Hotel Taj Tashi GM Sibi Mathew said Taj would expand to Punakha and more hotel brands were lined up to open hotels.

Brands like Hyatt, Starwood and Chiva Som among others were also learnt to have plans for opening or expanding.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, 12 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US ends freeze, reaches out to Modi

Washington on 13 February ended its nine-year hands-off policy on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi when U.S. Ambassador Nancy J. Powell met him in Gandhinagar.

"This meeting was part of the U.S. Mission’s outreach to senior leaders of India’s major political parties in advance of the upcoming national elections," said a U.S. Embassy news release immediately after the envoy met Mr. Modi.

Official sources said Ms. Powell praised the "good model" of governance in Gujarat, which she felt could be taken to other parts of the world.

They said the U.S. envoy told Mr. Modi that there was an "excellent investment climate" in Gujarat, which she was visiting after 20 years.

Ms. Powell was quoted as saying that she was highly impressed with the progress the State had made over the past two decades.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 13 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pepper spray in Parliament

Parliament erupted in chaos on 13 February over a bill to create Telangana, with angry MPs coming to blows, pulling out a microphone and pepper spraying the chamber.

Waving banners and shouting slogans, lawmakers disrupted the lower house of Parliament as the Congress-led government introduced the contentious bill to create the new state called Telangana from an area in the existing state of Andhra Pradesh.

The chamber quickly descended into farce, as lawmakers opposed to the new state pulled out an official’s microphone and one unleashed a can of capsicum spray, prompting a rush for the exit, TV channels reported.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CBMs with China on border issue

India and China held a "very constructive" two-day meeting, which discussed additional confidence-building measures such as early implementation of the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) as well as the core issue of a framework agreement for sorting out the border issue.

Special Representatives of both countries —National Security Advisor Shiv Shanker Menon and Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi —also reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations.

On the regional front, they discussed the East Asia Summit process and touched on the situation in West Asia and the Middle East, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told newspersons here on 11 February

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 12 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Call for conduct-code in South China Sea

Until a solution is found to defuse tension in the South China Sea, India would like to have a code of conduct for all countries with stakes in the region so that the situation does not escalate, Air Marshal P.K. Roy, Commander-in-Chief of the joint services Andaman and Nicobar Command, has said.

Maintaining that freedom of navigation was valid for everyone, he said many countries had economic interests in the region. While India had issues with China on the land border, they shared a strategic partnership and had tremendous scope for economic partnership, the Air Marshal said at a media interaction a day ahead of the closure of the biennial multi-naval interaction, Milan 2014, on 8 February.

< class="text11verdana">Source:The Hindu, 9 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">HR abuse charge against Tata Tea

The World Bank said on 13 February it was investigating claims of labour and human rights abuses at a tea plantation project that it jointly finances with tea giant Tata Global Beverages in Assam.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) - a member of the World Bank Group - said its accountability office decided to probe the project, run by Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), after charities complained that tea pickers were being exploited.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 14 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC initiates contempt case against EC

The Maldivian Supreme Court has pressed contempt of court charges against the Elections Commission (EC) and held hearing in the case on Thursday, under new regulations that allow the apex court to initiate charges and hold trial of the kind.

"The (Supreme Court) Judges believe comments made by the Elections Commission in various forums on the court’s decisions and orders are contemptuous of the court. Today’s hearing is on our own initiative," Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said.

In addition to allegations of contempt of court, the EC is being charged with allegedly violating a Supreme Court order by dissolving eight minor political parties.

All four EC members were handed summons to attend the Supreme Court. EC lawyer Hussein Siraj requested the Supreme Court to allow the commission an opportunity to research case documents and respond accordingly.

Five of the seven Supreme Court judges presided over the hearing, including Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz. After a five-minute discussion break, Faiz agreed to the commission’s request and adjourned the hearing. He said a date for the next hearing would be announced later.

The new Supreme Court regulations, titled ’Suo Moto’, or ’at the court’s initiative’ and publicised on 6 February allow the Supreme Court to initiate trials against any organisation or individual. The defendants must be allowed the right to defend themselves, the regulations state.

The seven-member judge panel will preside over suo moto cases unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise. The Supreme Court "must refer to how free and democratic countries act in such cases, in a manner that does not contradict the constitution of the Maldives," the regulations add.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 12 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MDP should boycott polls, says Nasheed

The Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) should not participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections if the Supreme Court exerts undue influence over the Elections Commission (EC), former President Mohamed Nasheed has said.

Speaking at a campaign meeting in Male, Nasheed contended that the Supreme Court’s summoning of EC members over alleged contempt of court was an attempt to "intimidate" the independent institution.

The Apex Court, in collusion with the ruling coalition, was planning to "play the same game they played in the presidential election," the MDP’s former presidential candidate alleged, adding that the ruling ’Progressive Coalition’ was certain of facing defeat.

Nasheed claimed that the MDP lost last year’s presidential election because of "fraud and deception?In my view, if we give up the Majlis election the same way, we are losing our future, the future of our children and children’s children."

Neither the international community nor the Maldivian public would accept general elections boycotted by the MDP, Nasheed said. A free and fair election in which the public has confidence is the foundation of democratic governance, he added.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 12 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Panel directive to private TV on EC chief

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has asked private TV station DhiTV and its sister company, the radio station DhiFM Plus, to stop using upside down images of Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek.

In a statement on the MBC website, the commission asked the TV channel and the radio station - a pioneer of ’visual radio’ in the Maldives - not to broadcast that content until the commission had concluded its investigation into the case.

The MBC said that a letter had been sent today by commission President Mohamed Shaheeb, advising the two stations not to broadcast anything in a way that might encourage unrest, and to keep in mind that the parliament elections are ahead. He also advised the two stations to be aware of the code of practice established under the Broadcasting Act’s Article 37.

MBC gave similar advice to the two stations in November after they showed photos of three members of the Elections Commission - Thowfeek, Ahmed Fayaz, and Ali Mohamed Manik - upside down with a caption alleging that they had committed electoral fraud in the annulled 7 September presidential election.

Following the incident, MBC sent a circular to all broadcasters noting that complaints regarding the disrespectful use of photos had let to it taking action against media outlets for violating the broadcasting code.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 12 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No over-time work in courts

The Criminal Court has decided to close down after official work hours due to budget restrictions, ’Vnews’ reported.

According to the report, the court has no funds to pay overtime allowances for court employees and the Ministry of Finance has not responded regarding the matter.

The Civil Court took the same measure for lack of funds to pay overtime allowances.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian Foreign Minister coming

Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid would be visiting Maldives from 18-20 February, the ministry said on Tuesday.

Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told Indian media that it would be a bilateral visit, but that he would also attend the 25th session of the SAARC Council of Ministers to be held in Maldives.

"Preceding the Council of Ministers, there will be a meeting of the standing committee on 18-19 February, and prior to that on February 17, there will be a meeting of the Programme Committee, which is basically at the Director-General’s level," Akbaruddin said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 13 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President calls for reconciliation

"I will enthusiastically support the government’s attempt to promote peace and national reconciliation," said the President Thein Sein during a nation-wide address at the 67th Union Day ceremony on Wednesday.

The president urged the country to work together as brothers and sisters to make peace despite bitterness of country’s history. Myanmar has lagged behind neighbouring nations due to an ethnic civil war that has been ongoing since independence in 1948.

Thein Sein conceded that there will be challenges from both inside and outside the country, threatening and jeopardising the path to democracy but he believes that by the strength of national unity they can be overcome.

He added that the government is also cooperating with everyone to gain unity and national reconciliation as well as engaging in dialogue to end conflicts that have been going on for over 60 years.

He hailed the Laiza conference hosted by Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in October last year as an important milestone. This was the first time for all ethnic armed groups to sit together with the government to discuss a nation-wide ceasefire.

The government and ethnic armed forces plan a follow-up conference in Hpa-an in March. The United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) —a broad coalition representing various ethnic minority parties —also released a Union Day statement urging for a federal union.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Eleven Myanmar, 13 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Thailand sends back 1,300 Rohingyas

Thai authorities said on 13 February that they deported about 1,300 of Rohingya boat people back to Myanmar late last year, ignoring calls from human rights groups not to send the ethnic minorities home where they face widespread discrimination.

The deportations were announced this week but took place in waves from September through November, said police. Lt. Gen. Pharnu Kerdlarpphon. He said the asylum seekers were held in detention centers and shelters across the country.

"The deportations were voluntary. We sent them back 100 to 200 people at a time," Pharnu told The Associated Press.

"These people said they could not see any future while being held in Thailand, so they chose to go back to Myanmar."

Pharnu said eight of the people detained died from diseases, while others fled the shelters or were sent to Bangladesh. The Rohingyas in immigration detention centers have complained about the poor living conditions in the cells.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Associated Press, 13 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nagaland CM all praise

India’s Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio returned home on 8 February after a five-day visit to Myanmar, the first-ever by any State Chief Minister to the border nation.

Rio met Myanmar Union Border Affairs Minister, Lt-Gen Thet Naing, Parliament Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann, provincial Chief Ministers U Ye Mint and U that Aye, Naga members of Myanmar Parliament, Ambassador of India to Myanmar, Gautam Mukhopahyaya, civil society groups and entrepreneurs.

A statement issued by Abu Metha, Advisor to the Chief Minister, said Thura U Shwe Mann termed Rio’s visit historic and important. He appreciated Rio’s efforts for the progress and development of Naga inhabited areas in Myanmar. He appreciated Rio’s efforts to the progress and development of Naga inhabited areas in Myanmar.

He appealed to the Nagaland government for cooperation and support to implement development-related schemes and improve bilateral ties with India. Rio in his address, said his visit was to promote peace, better understanding and development.

Nagaland has been urging both the governments of India and Myanmar to focus on the suffering of the Nagas in Myanmar, said Rio and appreciated Myanmar for giving recognition to the Naga community there and constituting the Naga Sefl-Administered Zone.

Democracy would progress in Myanmar, said the Rio. Northeastern region and Myanmar were at the core of India’s look east policy, Rio added. Nagas want peace, development and progress stressed the chief minister. On both sides of the border the various political groups and even militant outfits were in ceasefire with the governments of Myanmar and India, he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 9 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Germany cancels half the debt

Germany has agreed to cancel half of Myanmar’s outstanding foreign debt during a meeting between German President Joachim Gauck and President Thein Sein on February 10.

The presidents and respective ministers met at the presidential palace in Nay Pyi Taw to sign an agreement to reduce and reschedule just over Euro 1 billion of foreign debt, according to state-owned media.

A remaining sum of Euro 542 million will be paid by Myanmar with a 3 percent interest rate within 15 years. The pending period is seven years and repayment period is eight years. The agreement was originally forged by the minister for revenue and finance, Win Shein at the Paris Club meeting on January 23, 2013.

President Thein Sein and his wife hosted the visiting German premier and his wife for lunch, expressing his gratitude for Germany’s encouragement and support towards Myanmar’s reform process. He hoped the visit would enhance bilateral cooperation.

President Joachim Gauck said that his visit was aimed at supporting the on-going reforms adding that Germany would work together with Myanmar to achieve success.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Eleven Myanmar, 13 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Koirala sworn in PM

Sushil Koirala, a veteran Nepali Congress leader who spent 16 years in political exile in India after Nepal’s royal takeover of 1960, was on February 11 sworn in as Prime Minister, vowing to ensure political stability. President Ram Baran Yadav administered oath of office to 74-year-old Koirala at Rastrapati Bhawan.

Koirala, president of Nepal’s biggest political party, was elected as Nepal’s Prime Minister yesterday with 405 votes in favour in the 601-member Constituent Assembly, ending months of political crisis in the country. However, UML, the main backer of Sushil Koirala announced on Tuesday that it would not join the government if it was not given the powerful home ministry and the deputy prime ministership.

There had been a seven-point agreement between the two parties on Sunday after which the UML agreed to support Sushil Koirala as the prime minister. With 196 seats on the 601-member parliament, Nepali Congress had to get the support of UML to form a government.

In a parliamentary vote on Monday Koirala garnered 405 votes. Although, ministerial portfolio allocation was not one of the points of the agreement, UML maintains that there had been a verbal agreement over the home ministry. Asked what the Nepali Congress would do if the UML does not join the government, Singh said, "Talks will continue. We will try to have them join the government."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 11 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoist parties rue split

Both Maoist parties - the UCPN (Maoist) and CPN-Maoist -- have expressed regret over their split, realizing that the change movement launched by their ´people´s war´ had weekend after the separation.

Commemorating the 19th ´People´s War´ Day at separate functions in the capital on Thursday, UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and CPN-Maoist Chairman Mohan Baidya stressed the need for unification of the communist parties into an alliance.

The CPN-Maoist broke away from the UCPN (Maoist) in June 2012. The UCPN (Maoist), which claims to be the establishment faction of the ´people´s war´, commemorated the historical event at the party office at Peris Danda.

Party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, recalling their humiliating loss in the Constituent Assembly (CA) election in November, said that communist parties can win only in times of unity. Dahal and Baidya both said that the weak representation of the revolutionary parties in the new CA was unlikely to contribute to the promulgation of a progressive constitution.

Baidya threatened to launch a ´people´s revolution´ if the other parties did not heed their demands. Meanwhile, leader of the UCPN (Maoist) and former deputy commander of the then People´s Liberation Army, Nanda Kishor Pun, also threatened to launch a ´people´s revolution´ if the CA failed to produce a constitution as per the people´s demands.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 13 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Private sector hopes for action

With the formation of a new government, industrialists and people in the private sector are more hopeful of a better economy as well as a more investment-friendly environment.

The government, led by the Nepali Congress (NC) with the participation of CPN-UML, is expected to adopt a more liberal policy by providing investors with incentives, facilitating trade and ending a log-jam in making and amending outdated laws.

The industrial sector hopes the government will solve the electricity problem that the country has been going through for some time now. The Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) President Suraj Vaidya expressed optimism that the government would revive the economy and encourage the private sector as both the parties have an experience in government and can mobilize the bureaucracy.

Economist Bishwambher Pyakuryal said the government needed to make the investment environment better and encourage industrialists as well as create an environment that could draw in foreign investment. The new government should work to help Nepali products penetrate neighboring markets, particularly to India and China.

"For the purpose, the government should initiate bringing all the bilateral agreements related to trade into effect and extend the economic diplomacy effectively for trade facilitation of Nepali products," added Pyakuryal.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Everest royalty slashed

In a bid to encourage individual mountaineering and attract more climbers to scale Mt Everest and other peaks, the Nepal government has reduced the royalty fees climbers need to pay.

"Many foreigners team up for ascending Everest, so we were losing on royalty. To encourage individuals to climb Mt Everest, we have slashed the fee so that Everest can be saved from increasing traffic during the peak season and its sanity and purity can be preserved," Mohan Krishna Sapkota, spokesperson of Nepal’s ministry of tourism and civil aviation said.

In view of hundreds of aspiring climbers heading for the final ascent to the top of Everest every year with weak rules and regulations in place, the Nepal government and the private sector have since last year fixed two ropes for ascending and descending purposes from Hillary Step to the top of Mt Everest.

The ministry of tourism, which brought these changes in royalties fees, also introduced separate mountaineering royalty fee for Nepali climbers in a bid to get rid of crowds seeking government financial assistance and royalty waiver to climb Mt Everest.

Government officials said the royalty fee was very high for Nepalis and it used to take at least a two-month process to get royalty waiver from the government. As a result, many of them were forced to climb mountains as guides of expedition teams. Fixing the minimum royalty amount for Nepalis will end such practices, the officials said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 13 February 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Karachi car-bomb kills cop

An explosion targeted a police bus near Razzaqabad police training college in Karachi’s Shah Latif Town. 13 policemen were killed and 47 others were wounded, including civilians.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid claimed responsibility for the attack and stated that it was a revenge attack for the killing of militants. He went on to say that Tehreek- e-Taliban Pakistan workers were victims to targeted killings in Mardan, Swabi and Peshawar.

He added that the TTP’s "defensive war will continue until an agreement is reached on a ceasefire" between the negotiation teams representing the government and the Pakistan Taliban in the ongoing peace talks.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rangers targeted in suicide-attack

A Rangers wing commander’s vehicle was targeted in a suicide attacks in Karachi’s Qayyumabad area. The vehicle was travelling from Sea View onto Korangi Road when the incident took place. The suicide bomber was reportedly on foot and was not close to his target when the explosives were detonated.

The vehicle was damaged and two personnel were injured in the blast. A rescue source said that one of the wounded men was wearing a Rangers’ uniform while the other was dressed in plain clothes.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 14 February 2014;, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Blasts damage pipe-lines

Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited claims that insurgents from Balochistan were behind the explosion of three gas pipelines near Rahim Yar Khan due to which supplies were cut to Punjab. However, police have not yet verified if this was an attack or a result of negligence on the part of the SNGPL maintenance team working the area.

The spokesperson for the banned Baloch Republican Army (BRA) Sarbaz Baloch said that his group blew up the pipelines which were situated about 600 km south of Islamabad.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 10 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Attacks can affect talks

The government of Pakistan has stated in the Senate that the recent wave of terrorist attacks could have an adverse impact on ongoing peace talks with the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

The Leader of the House, Raja Zafarul Haq, said that continuing terrorist attacks while holding talks would spoil the peace process and would lead to the decline of public support for the dialogue.

Mr. Haq also said that some neighbouring countries were using their agents to destabilise Pakistan and disrupt peace talks.

Opposition members believe that the government should have conveyed to the Taliban that attacks must be suspended before any talks could begin.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah has also stated that the TTP should refrain from attacks on innocent people while peace talks are in progress. He said that even though the peace negotiation committees have not yet agreed to a ceasefire, the TTP should refrain from attacking their own countrymen.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 14 February 2014; The Express Tribune, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to push for ceasefire

The negotiation teams representing the government and the TTP have decided to meet on 14 February, 2014 in Islamabad. The government team is expected to push for an immediate ceasefire by the TTP in light of recent terror attacks that have taken place.

The Taliban has communicated certain demands through its negotiation team that it wants met through the peace talks. These points include the establishment of Sharia law in the country, release of prisoners and the breaking of all relations with the US amongst other things.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 14 February 2014; 10 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Economy improving: IMF

The International Monetary Fund has said that Pakistan has met nearly all of its quantitative performance markers and that its economy is showing signs of improvement. It also said that Pakistan’s reform program remains broadly on track.

Pakistan signed a $6.7-billion loan with the IMF in September, 2013 to rebuild its reserves after more than two years of depletions and to support structural changes aimed at boosting investment and growth.

Despite progress in implementing reforms, the IMF’s mission chief to Pakistan, Jeffrey Franks, said that pressures on balance of payments are likely to remain in place for months. The IMF is also concerned that inflation will rebound in the coming months. But, the IMF has also reported "better-than-expected" GDP growth in the country.

Pakistan has paid the 27th instalment under the IMF Standby Agreement amounting to $147 million according to a spokesperson for the State Bank of Pakistan. With this repayment, the country has repaid $6.544 billion since July 2011. Pakistan has to pay about $1 billion in the remaining months of the current fiscal year.

Franks and his team had been engaged in negotiations with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar which have culminated in the successful completion of the second review, paving the way for approval of a $550 million third loan tranche by the IMF executive board.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 9-10 February 2014; The Express Tribune, 10-12 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Militaries urged not hamper trade with India

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has said that ’security agencies’ in both Pakistan and India were one of the two main ’blockages’ that are holding back plans to liberalise trade. He has urged the militaries on both sides to not hamper trade efforts.

The other obstacle to trade efforts was hardliner groups operating on both sides of the border.

Indian Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma, recently cancelled his visit to Lahore for a trade show. He was scheduled to arrive in Pakistan for the inauguration of the "India Show" being organised by the Indian Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 14 February 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Health crisis in North-West

A growing number of pneumonia and hypothermia cases as well as other winter illnesses are stretching the few health facilities in the northwest regions of Pakistan according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Some residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas complain that the governments of Pakistan since 1947 have neglected them, making its poor residents ideal recruits for militants.

Government reports on demographics, health and living standards ignore the tribal areas. According to UNICEF, mortality rates in 2009 for children under the age of five were 104 per 1000 in the tribal areas as compared to 94 in Punjab.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 11 February 2014

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Pratnashree Basu;
Pakistan: Taruni Kumar;
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
India:Ananya Pandey

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