|Asia News Digest
Peace Talks Between Sri Lanka and Tigers Fail
Talks called by peace-broker Norway to discuss Sri Lanka's faltering ceasefire failed to take off as planned as on June 8 as Tamil Tigers staged a boycott.
Immediately, New Delhi conveyed to Colombo that it would do whatever is necessary to renew talks in order to avoid "any further worsening" of the situation in the island nation.
In recent months, there were increasing reports of Tiger-led violence in the island. Last month, an attempt was made on the life of the Sri Lankan Army Chief of Staff by a suicide bomber disguised as a pregnant woman.
Meanwhile, Islamabad reports that Colombo has asked Pakistan to facilitate the purchase of military equipment worth $60 million. The request came with a note saying the request should be treated with "utmost priority."
New Delhi is concerned that the resumption of violence once again in Sri Lanka could lead to strategic security problems. Although situated at a distance from the Persian Gulf, Sri Lanka is strategically located on the maritime channel of the Indian Ocean. India also worries that a full-fledged conflict between majority Sinhalas and minority Tamils may result in another wave of Tamil refugees seeking shelter in India. Many of these refugees could very well be Tamil Tigers moving in to create security crisis within India, New Delhi fears.
NATO To Double Troops in Southern Afghanistan
A desperate NATO will double the number of troops it deploys in Southern Afghanistan next month, when U.S. forces officially move out of the region, CNN-IBN reported from Kabul June 5. This would occur at a time when the Taliban, regrouped, are ready to take control of this area.
NATO's Lt. Gen. David Richards (UK) told a press conference in Kabul that NATO is short of troops there: "We have to put more boots on the ground." He said the figures would increase from an average from 3,000 to 6,000 when the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) assumes responsibility of southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban have emerged as the controller. Observers in the South said the foreign troops receive almost no help from the locals because of large number of civilians killed "mistakenly" in coalition operations in recent weeks.
Lt. Gen. Richards admitted to the press that the security situation in Southern Afghanistan has deteriorated sharply, but then engaged in some wishful thinking, saying he hopes NATO will be able to "gear up" in facing the challenge and come out on the top.
Indonesian Minister Warns Rummy To Butt Out
Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono told U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, during his visit to Jakarta in early June, to stop telling other nations how to combat terrorism: "As the largest Muslim country, we are very aware of the perception, or misperception, that the United States is overbearing and over-present and overwhelming in every sector of life in many nations and cultures," he stated June 6. The result, said Juwono, will "only hurt the United States, and cause anger and a loss of sympathy among the world's communities."
Juwono also told the Russian News Agency that he would not abandon Indonesia's planned purchase of Russian fighter planes, noting that the U.S. Congress could, at any time, place a ban on the sale of military technologies to Indonesia.
Otherwise, Rumsfeld said the recent restoration of military ties between the two countries was "good for both countries," adding that Washington intended to give Jakarta sustained access to American training and equipment, including the sale of spare parts for C-130 transport planes and patrol ships, shortages of which hampered Jakarta's response to the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The shortages were the result of a U.S. embargo on arms sales after the 1999 flap over East Timor.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a U.S.-trained general, told Rumsfeld he wanted the military relationship to "become permanent because there are efforts in Washington to change these good relations."
Philippines and India: Globalization Destroys Medical Care
With Philippine doctors leaving in droves to work abroad as nurses, government hospitals are hiring Indian doctors to cover the shortage, Jumada al-Ula reported June 5. Rep. Ferjenel Biron, vice chairman of the Philippine House of Representatives committee on health, said the Department of Health has told the committee that Indian doctors could be brought in by next year, as soon as the problems of hiring foreign doctors are ironed out. "It's unfortunate that no one is applying for positions in government hospitals," Biron said in a television interview. "It takes 15 years to produce a doctor, only to see them leave for abroad."
He said doctors have been leaving the country at an average of 800 per year for the past five years. Biron and several other lawmakers filed a bill which seeks to increase salaries of government doctors and provide educational benefits. The Private Hospital Association of the Philippines reported that some 1,000 private hospitals have closed since 2000 due to lack of medical staff, and that the 700 hospitals still in operation are threatened.
The Alliance of Health Workers has also predicted that the country's health-care system would collapse in two years, considering that a total of 51,850 nurses had left the country for greener pastures abroad from 2000 to 2003 alone.
Philippines Congress Bans Death Penalty
The Philippines Congress has voted to repeal the death penalty, saving over 1,000 lives of people on death row. the Manila Bulletin reported June 7. With President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's full support, both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure. Acknowledging that capital punishment has failed to deter crime, the 1993 bill implementing the death penalty, signed into law by Fidel Ramos, was changed to allow only life imprisonment for the worst crimes.