|Asia News Digest
Afghan Civilian Deaths Worry President Karzai
A major explosion in Afghanistan at an ammunition dump killed 28 Afghans on May 2. The explosion took place in the village of Bajgah, in the province of Baghlan about 80 miles north of Kabul. It is not clear whose ammo dump it was. The government of President Hamid Karzai issued a statement saying it belonged to Jalal Bajgah, a militia commander who died in the explosion. A few days later on May 5, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, answered President Karzai saying, "whenever there are military operations and innocent civilians lose their lives, we regret it very much."
On May 5, U.S. military spokeswoman Lt. Cindy Moore reported the deaths of 40 "insurgents" in an ongoing firefight with U.S.-led coalition forces in Zabul.
But there is no doubt that the end of winter has not reduced violence in Afghanistan. Most of the victims of recent days' violence have been civilians. Karzaiwhose "throne" is in a great deal of jeopardy, if one could believe what the U.S. military officials sayhas issued a statement urging Afghan and coalition forces to use "extreme caution" as they root out Islamic militants. He said there is a spurt in civilian deaths in recent weeks as a result of counter-terror operations in civilian areas. He said that while his government is committed to combatting terrorism, he is also responsible for the safety of the Afghan people.
Evidence Shows U.S. Sends 'Terror Suspects' for Torture
There is growing evidence that the U.S. has sent "terror suspects" to Uzbekistan for detention and interrogation, i.e., to be tortured, according to the New York Times May 1. Uzbekistan has earned the notoriety of being a ruthless torturer of its own prisoners. Intelligence officials estimate that the U.S. has sent dozens of terrorism suspects to Uzbekistan. Since 9/11, the CIA has used two American-registered planesa Gulfstream jet and a Boeing 737to ship terrorists over to Uzbekistan.
The story was leaked by the British Ambassador Craig Murray who made available to the Times a confidential memo describing the vicious torture methods used by the Uzbeks. "We should cease all cooperation with the Uzbek security servicesthey are beyond the pale," Murray wrote in the memo.
The United States and Uzbekistan's strategic partnership was based initially on the American use of a Uzbek military base. The base was used for bringing in Special Forces into Afghanistan in the winter of 2001 to oust the Taliban.
African Polio Outbreak Arrives in Indonesia
Medics in Indonesia say they have detected the first case of polio virus in the country in nine years, in a 20-month-old girl on Java island, a UN World Health Organization medical officer reported, according to AFP May 3.
Tests indicate that the virus may have been transported from Saudi Arabia, which has suffered an outbreak that originated in Nigeria, and spread across Africa and the Red Sea, possibly carried by Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca, or by migrant workers. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world.
Polio remains prevalent in only six countries: Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Vaccination programs have reduced the number of cases from 350,000 in 1988, to 1,243 last year, but a handful of African and Middle Eastern nations have reported being reinfected following a ban last year on a polio vaccine in Nigeria, prompted by radical clerics who spread rumors that it had been contaminated by U.S. agents.
The UN official said the Indonesian government had mobilized a major vaccination campaign, targetting millions of children in the densely populated region of Sukabumi in West Java province, where the case was detected on April 21. The official said that all children under the age of five in the affected area would be immunized.
U.S. Rep Would Accept Bilateral Talks with North Korea
The U.S. representative to the six-party talks on North Korea said he would welcome bilateral talks with Pyongyang in the context of the six-party talks. Speaking with the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Christopher Hill, apparently broke from the "no bilateral talks" line of the Bush Administration, to a position closer to that proposed by some Democratshold both the six-party talks and bilateral talks at the same time. In the context of the hysterical tirade against North Korea by President George Bush (and the White House press corps) at a press conference April 28, and the leaked proposal from the Pentagon about preemptive nuclear strikes in Asia, the proposal by Hill was at least an attempt at sanity.
"If they would like to talk to us in private, bilateral ways within the six-party process, or if they would like consultations between the rounds of the six-party process, I would be very open to those proposals," Hill said. Asked if such talks could take place at a separate venue, Hill responded: "I think we can look at that suggestion positively. We would be willing to talk, and I enjoy give-and-take."
Hill also said "No one is talking about taking this to the Security Council."
ADB Moving Into 'New Era of Development'
Former Japanese Finance Minister Haruhiko Kuroda, who took over as President of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in February, told the 38th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors in Turkey that the Asia/Pacific region is moving into a "new era of development," and undergoing a "fundamental and far reaching transformation." Kuroda noted that while poverty in Asia has been reduced by some 200 million in the past 15 years, "some 700 million people still struggle on less than $1 a day." He said that the ADB itself "must change, [and] become more relevant, more responsive, and more focussed on results."
He listed the areas of "greater focus" as: greater investment in water, sanitation, health, and education; HIV, and the condition of women; "Asia's massive infrastructure financing gap, estimated at more than $250 billion a year"; cooperation on international projects, like the Greater Mekong Subregion, as well as Central and South Asia; and cooperation with the ASEAN+3.
ADB Will Expand Issuance of Regional Currency Bonds
The Vice President of the ADB, Khempheng Pholsena, told the Annual Conference on May 4, that the program begun last year in India and Malaysia to issue local currency bonds will be expanded to include Thailand, the Philippines, and China, primarily to "enable the public and private sector to raise and invest long-term capital while minimizing currency and maturity risks." She noted in understated terms that the "direction of the global capital markets remains uncertain," while the rising interest rates in the U.S. have increased interest in local financing.
German Group, ADB To Cooperate in Projects
The ADB and the German Development Cooperation (GDC) have agreed to cooperate in a number of projects in Asia, including co-financing of programs in education, water, energy, transport, health, and urban development. The agreement was signed on May 4, before the opening of the ADB Annual Meeting in Turkey. The GDC includes the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau, and several other agencies.
East Timor: Catholic Bishops Demand Regime Change
The Catholic bishops in East Timor are demanding regime change, and rejecting the "Treaty of Westphalia" policy of President Xanana Gusmao. The Church, led by Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva, first called for demonstrations in mid-April, to protest the government's decision to end compulsory religious education in the schools, and in opposition to Gusmao's deal with Indonesia to form a "Truth and Friendship Commission" to deal with the rioting and killings after the independence vote in 1999. The Bishop is demanding acceptance of the UN call for a foreign-run tribunal to get revenge (they call it justice) from some Indonesian military officers.
The Church is demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, one of the few Muslims in the government of the largely Catholic mini-state, over the religious education issue, which further puts these churchmen on the side of reaction. Reports as of May 4 indicate that as many as 10,000 have joined the demonstrations, made up of people with many different grievances in this poor land. The government is reported to be divided on how to handle the threat.