|Asia News Digest
Disaster Must Be Turned into Opportunity, Says Indian PM
Visiting the tsunumi-hit coast of the Indian province of Tamil Nadu on Jan.7, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: "We must convert this disaster into an opportunity to rebuild and modernize the fishing and coastal economies in the affected areas."
After assuring Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha that New Delhi would provide all effective and necessary measures to help post-tsunami rehabilitation, Manmohan Singh welcomed induction of new technology for better fishing boats and safer housing along the coastline. The Indian premier said the government and people must think creatively in offering ideas to deal with natural disasters of such magnitude as the Dec.26 tsunami, and must think how to put into operation short-term measures. He said when rehabilitation work starts in full swing, the emphasis would be given to the fishing community which had borne the brunt of the tsunami waves.
School Burnings in Southern Thailand Continue
A school in southern Yala province was torched Jan. 2, hours before the first anniversary of a 2004 insurgent attack on schools and an army base in Narathiwat, marking an upsurge in political unrest in three southern border provinces of Thailand.
Firefighters put out the blaze, but not before it had damaged a kindergarten class building, two teachers' houses, a filing room, a teachers' recreation room, and a science laboratory.
The regional school director said all government schools in Yala remained boarded up Jan. 4, because the province's Teachers Federation decided to indefinitely suspend all classes.
In Narathiwat, 20 schools remained closed. Teachers said they would return to classes only after the Federation of Teachers for the three southern border provinces agreed that the government had done enough to guarantee safety.
Tsunami Toll in Myanmar: Thousands Likely Dead
Officially, the government of Myanmar (Burma) has admitted that 17 coastal villages were wiped out. Authorities have confirmed 34 deaths from the Dec. 26 tsunami, while international aid agencies said about 57 people were killed when waves struck the country's southern coastal and delta regions. Subsequently, the World Food Program has warned that possibly hundreds of Myanmar fishermen may have been killed.
Government newspapers were initially silent on casualties and damage. Reports as of Dec. 28 had said 34 people were killed in Myanmar, 45 injured, and 25 missing, while 200 people were left homeless.
But the toll will rise, as Thailand's The Nation newspaper reports that at least 500 Myanmar migrant workers died and at least 2,500 are missing. Rough estimates suggest that as many as 7-8,000 Myanmar migrant workers lived and worked in the Thai beach areas that were ravaged.
Japanese Paper: North Korea Sold Arms to MILF
North Korea sold some 10,000 rifles to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ( MILF), the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines, from 1999 to 2000, and also tried to export small submarine vessels, a Japanese newspaper reported.
The arms deal between North Korea and the MILF came to light after security authorities seized documents from the extremist group in November, the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said, quoting a southeast Asian security source.
The paper added that such arms sales are an important source of foreign currency income for isolated North Korea, which is on the United States' list of countries sponsoring terrorism.
North Korea's suspected arms sales to terrorist groups had led the United States to designate it as a terrorist-sponsoring state, and the arms deal with the MILF clearly supported Washington's claim, the Yomiuri said.
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu told Reuters the report was old and "totally untrue."
A spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines said he was unable to confirm the story.
The paper said the transaction was conducted mainly in Malaysia, with a North Korean arms dealer signing a deal with a senior MILF member around mid-1999 to sell small arms to the Muslim rebels.
The contract was for North Korea to sell weapons such as 10,000 M-16 rifles, hand grenades, and spare parts to the MILF for about $2.2 million, the Yomiuri reported.
The weapons were shipped by the end of 2000probably via Malaysiato MILF-controlled areas on Mindanao island in southern Philippines, it added.
That was a time of heavy fighting between MILF guerrillas and government forces, but a ceasefire has held for 18 months as both sides edge toward formal peace talks.
Thai Officials Hedged on Tsunami Warning To Protect Tourism
Minutes after the major earthquake off northern Sumatra at 7:58 a.m. on Dec. 26, officials of Thailand's Meteorological Department, who were then at a seminar in Cha-am, convened an emergency meeting chaired by Director General Supharerk Tansrirat-tanawong.
They had just learned that the Bangkok office had reported a quake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale, which was later upped to 9.0.
According to an attendee at the meeting: "The very important factor in making the decision was that it's high [tourist] season and hotel rooms were nearly 100% full. If we issued a warning, which would lead to evacuation, [and if nothing happened], what would happen? Business would be instantaneously affected. It would be beyond the Meteorological Department's ability to handle. We could go under, if [the tsunami] didn't come."
But one meteorologist, the weather forecast chief then on duty at Thailand's Meteorological Department, upon receiving the same information, immediately called a Bangkok radio station and asked them to broadcast a tsunami warning. They did so, and he said that his office received more than 1,000 calls after that, according to the Wall Street Journal of Dec. 29. The action of this alert meteorologist, Lathawuth Malairojsiri, shows up the excuses given by those who were more concerned about the tourist trade.
The official excuses included:
"We didn't think there would be subsequent seismic waves, because a similar quake of 7.6 on the Richter scale, which hit Sumatra on Nov. 2, 2002, did not affect Thailand," a member of the Meteorological Department said. Moreover, the Dec. 26 earthquake hit west of Sumatra and officials thought the island might offer a natural shelter, preventing waves from breaking towards Phuket and other holiday areas.
With slightly less than one hour before the waves hit Dec. 26, Director-General Supharerk said Department officials did not expect a tsunami. Only four people out of 900 on staff are earthquake experts, and a tsunami had not hit Thailand in more than 300 years.
Supharerk denied that tourism factored into the discussion at the 11th hour. "I think we have done our best," he said.
Two Aga Khani Ismailis Killed by Militants in Pakistan
Two members of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group in Pakistan, have been arrested for the killing of two Ismailis (Aga Khanis) in northern Pakistan.
In recent months, the Aga Khan Foundation has begun to spread its tentacles in the northern part of Pakistan, where a number of Ismailis live. Across the border in Tajikistan, the Pamir plateau is heavily inhabited by the Ismailis. There are indications that Pakistan's closeness to the United States in recent years has brought the Aga Khan Foundation in a big way to Pakistan. The Aga Khan Foundation, like the Jesuits, moves in with primary and higher education. Two Aga Khan Universities have been set up in Central Asia. In Pakistan, whose education budget is very small, Ismailis are moving in to provide "secular" education.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the religious head of the group, is a key figure in Prince Phillip's World Wildlife Fund. In the 1950s, Aga khan had become a UN civil servant and in the 1980s, his long-time tennis partner, George "Papa" Bush, got him involved in the official repatriation of Afghan refugees after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Aga Khan's name came up in the context of Iran-Contra affairs in the 1980s. It is evident that Prince Sadruddin is pinch-hitting once more for the Bush family.
Three Submarines Were in Area at Time Earthquake Hit
According to an Indian military source, three submarines (one each: Indian, Chinese, and American) were in the area near the 750-mile-long, and 16,000-foot-deep Sunda Trench where the Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate meet when the Dec. 26 earthquake hit. As soon the earthquake occurred, three submarines began to communicate to each other. The Indian and Chinese submarines detected the formation of the tsunami, but the American submarine was sending news about the earthquake only. Within minutes, all three submarines got into a roll and were damaged. The Indian and the American submarines got back to the base safely, but according to this contact, they were not sure the Chinese submarine could make it back.
The contact pointed out that the Indian submarine had sent out to the Indian seismological center the developments, but the Indian authorities did not react quickly. On the other hand, the Indian sub intercepted ten messages from the U.S. submarine sending out information on the earthquake, and later the tsunami, to Diego Garcia, Hawaii, and Alaska.
Afghan Insurgents Continue To Target Afghan Army, U.S. Troops
Afghan insurgents are continuing to go after the Afghan National Army and U.S. troops, despite the Oct. 9 Presidential elections and President Hamid Karzai's subsequent formation of a Cabinet on Dec. 22.
There were reports of exchange of heavy artillery and mortar fires from both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan borders in eastern Afghanistan. The Kabul government claimed the U.S. troops were involved in exchange of gunfire. It has also been reported that one Afghan soldier died in that exchange. Pakistan is also claiming loss of lives on the Pakistani side, including one soldier killed.
In northeastern Afghanistan, an American soldier was killed and three others wounded in an ambush. Two improvised bombs also exploded and militants shot at the U.S. troops in the early-morning attack on Jan.3.
Although the level of violence is not very high, what is emerging is that the American strategy is to let Karzai and his men control Kabul while the Americans carry out, from time to time, combing operations to get rid of the anti-Kabul forces.
LaRouche Damned the Economic Hitmen in the 1970-80 Era
American Statesman Lyndon LaRouche warned Asia to build major infrastructure in order to have a real economy, rather than building dependence on tourism and exports. LaRouche, Fusion Energy Foundation, and Executive Intelligence Review held conferences across Asia in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s based on LaRouche's "Indian and Pacific Ocean Development Program." These conferences detailed the Great Projects necessary to realize the potential for Asia's successful emergence as the new center of global development, such as the Kra Canal in southern Thailand, water divergence projects to develop southern India, and bridge and rail connections between Sumatra, Java, and Malaysia. The globalization fanatics who deployed the "economic hitmen" into Asia (and against LaRouche around the world) denounced these projects as "boondoggles," demanding labor-intensive industries and tourism as a means to raise foreign exchange to meet the foreign debt payments being artificially created.
Had the LaRouche programs been adopted, the beaches might not have been swollen with tourists and poor service workers, the fishing villages would have had some basic infrastructure, the civil wars raging in the two hardest-hit areas (Aceh and Sri Lanka) would have been resolvedand the region would have had the resources to have established early warning systems, in the face of any threatened "natural" disasters.
Australian Aid Chief Calls for Marshall Plan for Asia
The CEO of the major Australian aid agency World Vision, the Rev. Tim Costello, has said that international donations are not enough to deal with the Asian tsunami crisis, and that something like the Marshall Planin which the U.S. contributed today's equivalent of roughly $US 100 billion toward post-World War II European reconstructionwould be necessary to re-build shattered Asian economies. The Rev. Costello made his call after returning from Sri Lanka, where 30,000 people died, saying of the devastation that he "could only compare it to Europe after the Second World War," adding that it's "going to take a generation" to recover. Costello is a prominent Baptist minister and the brother of Australia's Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello.