American Resistance To Empire

Saudis Prepared To Behead Shia Cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr

Yemeni Shias protest the Saudi death sentence for Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a Shia cleric and protest movement leader. (Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


Saudi Arabia is set to behead a man and publicly display his headless body (a practice called “crucifixion” in Saudi law) — for nothing more than speaking his mind. Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, an internationally respected Shia cleric, was sentenced to death for “disobeying the ruler,” “inciting sectarian strife,” and “encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations.” His actual crime: participating in nonviolent protests and calling for the fall of the house of Saud.

It’s not clear when the Saudis plan on executing al-Nimr: the country has a habit of both postponing executions and carrying them out without very much warning. But the case illustrates a basic fact about one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East: its system of capital punishment is one of the cruelest on earth.

Why is Saudi capital punishment so barbaric? In many ways, the story is less about religion than it is about Saudi Arabia’s unusual politics; yes, Saudi Arabia has politics. At the heart of it is the relationship between the Saudi monarchy and the country’s ultra-conservative clerical establishment — an arrangement that dates back to 1744.

Saudi Arabia is a world leader in gruesome executions

indonesian saudi execution

Indonesians protest the execution of an Indonesian migrant worker by Saudi Arabia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

According to Amnesty International‘s latest figures, Saudi Arabia executed at least 90 people in 2014. That is more people than any other country except Iran and almost certainly China (human rights groups estimate China conducts hundreds or even thousands of annual executions).

“Most death sentences in Saudi Arabia are carried out by beheading, often in public,” Sevag Kechichian, Amnesty‘s Saudi Arabia specialist, writes. Sometimes the Saudi government defaces the corpses afterward. The Death Penalty Database found “reports that Saudis have exposed the body (with head sewn back on) of the condemned to public indignity, including crucifixion, after execution.”

Many of these people are executed for nonviolent crimes: in 2014, 42 of the 90 people executed were convicted on drug-related charges. Their trials generally didn’t even come close to being fair.

“Trials in death penalty cases are often held in secret. Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by lawyers, and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them,” the Amnesty report found. “They may be convicted solely on the basis of ‘confessions’ obtained under duress or involving deception.”

Saudi Arabia’s legal system is deeply theocratic. The interpretation of Sharia law that dominates the Saudi criminal system is extremely harsh, and is viewed with horror in much of the Middle East. Which raises an obvious question: if Saudi Arabia’s barbaric system is such an outlier in its region, how exactly did it get so terrible in the first place?

The politics behind Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalism

abdul aziz ibn saud

Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, better known as Ibn Saud — the first king of Saudi Arabia. Photo from 1922. (General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

In 1744, when the place we now know as Saudi Arabia was divided among many fractious clans, a minor clan leader named Mohammed ibn al-Saud met Muhammad ibn al-Wahhab, a Sunni religious figure preaching an austere, puritanical interpretation of Islam. They struck an alliance: Wahhab would support the Saudi family as political rulers, and the Saudis would spread Wahhab’s ultra-conservative doctrine and let him set religious code within their territory.

Wahhabism, as Wahhab’s doctrines came to be known, gave al-Saud a believing tax base and an ideological justification for uniting the peninsula under his rule. “Without Wahhabism,” London School of Economics Professor Madawi al-Rasheed writes, “it is highly unlikely that … [Saudi] leadership would have assumed much political significance.”

The Wahhabi movement played an integral role in the Saudi rise to power, and while much happened between then and now (including the al-Sauds’ loss of power), the power-sharing Saudi-Wahhabi alliance remains the core of the state ideology to this day.

That the punishments are medieval is the point

Wahhabism is a sort of fundamentalist revivalism, emphasizing a return to what its ultra-conservative proponents see as the core and original Muslim values. As such, it takes a fairly literalist view of Islamic law — and is willing to use the force of the state to back that up.

Punishments such as public beheadings are seen as barbaric by virtually the rest of the world — including the Muslim world. But in the Wahhabist view they are justified and, indeed, important, because they are perceived throwbacks to the Prophet Mohammed’s seventh-century rule, and one of many ways in which the Wahhabists sought to turn back to clock to what they saw as a better era. That the punishments are medieval is the point.

In this view, “the death penalty or stoning for adultery and fornication, flogging and amputation for stealing, and punishments of retribution are sanctioned by the Quran and are unchangeable,” legal scholar Shahid M. Shahidullah explains. Wahhabist interpretation of “sharia law is the exclusive foundation of criminal justice” in Saudi Arabia.

So the centuries-old political bargain between the Wahhabis and the ruling explains why the Saudi criminal code sanctions such brutal punishments.

Why terrible Wahhabist punishments persist to this day

king abdullah morality police

Deceased Saudi King Abdullah speaking to an unidentified member of the religious police in 2004, when he was Crown Prince. (Bilal Qabalan/AFP/Getty Images)

In more recent generations, members of the Saudi royal family have been more likely to grow up exposed to outside ideas and educations, shaped by Western boarding schools and colleges as well as lots of time abroad. As that’s happened, those individuals have drifted away from the country’s Wahhabi roots.

That has brought some modest reforms to the justice system. But it has not changed the underlying system.

“Successive monarchs of the kingdom supported selective modernization of the kingdom in many areas, including law and justice,” Shahidullah writes. “It is for this relatively liberal perspective of the Saudi ruling monarchy that a number of law and justice institutions have recently grown to establish strict procedural guidelines on the implementation of sharia law.”

And yet, the beheadings remain. There are two main reasons for this, both of which have far more to do with politics than religion.

First, the Saudi royal family still believes it needs the support of the ultra-conservative clerical establishment to hold power, just as it did in the 1700s. And brutal punishments are a way of appeasing those clerics. Second, the Saudi royal family is a dictatorship that earnestly fears unrest, and uses executions as one of several tools to stifle dissent or grassroots organizing.

“This situation puts Saudi Arabia at odds with the rest of the Arab world”

That first point, though, may be the most important. The Saudi monarchy sees itself as stuck between a powerful, ultra-conservative clerical establishment on one side and the practical realities of running a modern country on the other. Public beheadings are a means for the Saudi rulers perpetuate Wahhabist control over religious matters, and thus preempt Wahhabist opposition to the monarchy’s modest modernizations and pro-Western foreign policy.

This tension has long defined the country: in 1979, religious extremists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, demanding the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy for betraying ultra-conservative Islamist ideals. The siege, which killed more than 200 people, led the Saudis to try to prevent future attacks by co-opting radical Islam where it could — to be more extremist than the extremists.

In 1991, when elements of the Saudi clerical establishment practically revolted over the monarchy allowing US troops to temporarily base there, the monarchy again responded by co-opting the extremists, encouraging them to fund jihadists abroad rather than make trouble at home.

Public beheadings are one way the Saudis do this. The monarchy has given little indication that it considers human rights a priority, so it has been seemingly quite willing to trade them away.

In return, the religious establishment has rewarded the monarchy with loyalty that has been crucial to keeping the Saudis in power. “In every crisis the regime has faced since the founding of the modern Saudi state,” Texas A&M’s F. Gregory Gause writes, “the Wahhabi clerics holding high positions in the state religious hierarchy have rallied to the colors.”

Even when it comes to something like commercial law, where the haphazard nature of Sharia law does actual harm to the Saudi economy and thus the regime’s coffers, the monarchy has been hesitant to try to reform the religious courts.

“This situation puts Saudi Arabia at odds with the rest of the Arab world, where modernizing governments have steadily hemmed in religious courts,” Dickinson College historian David Commins writes. “It appears as though the Saudi rulers lack the confidence to challenge directly the Wahhabi ulama, perhaps from a sense that the dynasty’s claim to legitimacy is questionable.”

And don’t expect an end to beheadings soon. The Wahhabi establishment, and its harsh vision of criminal law, are deeply embedded in the Saudi state, and seen by the monarchy as essential for keeping itself in power. The numbers bear that out: according to Amnesty, Saudi Arabia executed more people in 2014 than it had in any of the past three years.

Meet the College Democrat Who Told Jeb Bush—‘Your Brother Created ISIS’

Meet the College Democrat Who Told Jeb Bush: ‘Your Brother Created ISIS’

VIDEO: Young Democrat Confronts Jeb Bush in Nevada

Jeb Bush found himself on defense after his town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada, Wednesday after a young voter told him, “Your brother created ISIS.”

Ivy Ziedrich, a 19-year-old student at University of Nevada who said she was a registered Democrat, approached Bush after the event and told the likely presidential candidate he was wrong about the origins of the terror group:

“You stated that ISIS was created because we don’t have enough presence and we’ve been pulling out of the Middle East. However, the threat of ISIS was created by the Iraqi coalition authority, which ousted the entire government of Iraq. It was when 30,000 individuals who are part of the Iraqi military were forced out. They had no employment, they had no income, yet they were left with access to all the same arms and weapons. Your brother created ISIS!”

Bush, the former Florida governor and likely Republican presidential candidate, unsuccessfully tried to interject. When he reached out, Ziedrich snapped back: “You don’t need to be pedantic to me sir. You could just answer my question.”“We respectfully disagree,” Bush said, explaining his view that more American troops in Iraq would have prevented ISIS from forming.

“So look, we can rewrite history all you want, but the simple fact is that we’re in a much more unstable place because America pulled back,” he told Ziedrich.

Ziedrich said she is a member of the Young Democrats at her university, although in an interview with ABC News Wednesday she said she was not speaking as a representative of the group. She said she likes to attend political events across the ideological spectrum so she can be as informed as possible. She said she did not intend to come across as hostile in her exchange with Bush, which occurred after the town hall meeting had concluded. She added that she respects Bush as a politician.

“I think he’s telling the truth as he understands it,” Ziedrich said in a telephone interview. “I think it’s important when we have people in positions of authority we demand a dialogue and accountability.”

She added: “I see his response as a lack of perspective. We deserve more than this as voters.”

Will Ziedrich make an appearance at similar events?

“If there are other town halls here, and if any presidential candidate comes to an open event, I would love to attend,” she told ABC News.

Djibouti welcomes China to build a military base–2013/03/11


Djibouti welcomes China to build a military base [TRANSLATION]


Djibouti welcomes China to build a military base


Published 2013-03-11 on the Global Times’ Chinese-language website

By Global Times Special Correspondents to Djibouti Jiang Anquan and Zhang Jianbo

Looking out the window as the plane descends into Djibouti International Airport you can see military planes from Western countries at a short distance away. Some are parked while some are preparing to take off or have just landed. This was the first time that we, the Global Times’ special correspondents to Djibouti, had heard the roar of fighter planes and the sound irritated our ears.

We came face-to-face with some German soldiers as soon as we arrived at the Sheraton Hotel where we were to stay. We later also saw some of Japan’s self-defense forces.

Vendors on the streets and taxi drivers yelled out “Ni hao,” “Sayonara” and “Hwan-yeong” in succession as soon as they saw us or other Asians. A local driver Abbas told us that this was part of Djibouti’s policy of balanced diplomacy — everyone who visits is treated as a guest and care is taken not to offend anyone.

Djibouti is located in the Horn of Africa, and is a country with an area of only 23,000 square kilometers and a population of about 820,000 — about the same as the average Chinese county. Besides being small, Djibouti is also poor and is one of the least developed countries in the world.  It is lacking in natural resources and its agricultural industries are backward. Deserts and volcanoes take up 90 percent of Djibouti’s total surface area. In addition, there are less than 4000 farmers in the country and it is not self-sufficient in grain production.

As soon as you travel a short distance away from Djibouti’s capital city, all you see is a vast gravel desert with volcanic rocks scattered across it. No noticeable plants are visible besides thorn-filled acacia trees. Therefore, even the small number of Djiboutians who want to chew khat (a plant similar to marijuana that has a stimulant effect) have to import it from Ethiopia.

Fortunately for Djibouti, even though it is small and poor, it occupies a strategically important position. Djibouti is located in a key area on the west coast of the Gulf of Aden, with its northern part facing the Mandab Strait where the Red Sea enters the Indian Ocean. Djibouti is also a good natural harbor with calm and deep water. Most importantly, unlike Somali, Djibouti has a secure and stable government that has had only two presidents since it gained independence from France in 1977. The Somali and the Afar, the two largest ethnic groups in Djibouti, together make up almost 90 percent of the country’s population, and they get along in harmony.

Djibouti navy soldiers salute in front of China's hospital ship Peace Ark at the port of Djibouti in this photo dated Sept. 29, 2010.

Many countries have been attracted to build military bases in Djibouti because of its strategically important position and its stable and secure government. First was France, its former colonizer. France and Djibouti have signed a defense agreement and France continues to operate several military bases in the country. A Djiboutian scholar told us that France recognizes the importance of its bases in Djibouti now more than ever following its deployment of troops to Mali, and is now preparing to increase its troops and investment in Djibouti.

Second was America. The US set its eyes on Djibouti as part of its War on Terror following the events of 9-11, and established the only US military base in Africa there. When the US was in the process of setting up its Africa Command [which is now in Germany], Djibouti actively invited the US to consider setting up the headquarters of its Command in Djibouti. The military base in Djibouti not only allowed the US to have a foothold in East Africa and the hinterlands of Africa, but also played an important role in the US attack on Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militants and the US’ toppling of Gaddafi’s regime. Several years ago, Japan also established its first overseas naval military base in Djibouti using the pretext of trying to curb the increasingly rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Besides hosting the military bases of these countries, Djibouti is also important as a maintenance and resupply base for many countries’ escort ships. The berths in the country’s harbor are full of ships,and arrangements for ships that want to dock in them must be made well in advance. In the past four years, the ships in China’s escort fleet have docked in Djibouti more than 50 times.

The port of Djibouti is the country’s economic lifeline, and the fees that it collects from military bases are another important source of income. Djiboutian scholars revealed to the Global Times that France pays about 30 million euros (~$39.06 million) per year in fees for the right to maintain military bases in the country, while the US pays $30 million and Japan pays a sum that is no less than what is paid by France and the US. These funds can accomplish a lot in a country that only has a population of 820,000. As a result, Djibouti pursues a policy of balanced diplomacy in which “everyone who visits is treated as a guest and care is taken not to offend anyone.”

While interviewing the commander of the Djibouti navy Colonel Abdourahman Aden Cher, we mentioned that in the 15th century, the Chinese admiral Zheng He had sailed to the West [of China] and came to Africa and to Djibouti with friendly intentions and no intentions of invading it. When he heard this, Colonel Abdourahman Aden Cher first seemed deep in thought, perhaps thinking that we were casting aspersions on Western countries because of their historical invasion of Djibouti. He then suddenly said, “The US and France are also guests of Djibouti. They have their own role to play and we cooperate well.”

On the day before we visited the Colonel, Japan and Djibouti signed an agreement in which Japan donated two patrol boats to Djibouti. However, when we asked the Colonel about the collaboration between the Djiboutian navy and foreign navies, he did not mention this.

Djibouti also has close relations with China. In our interviews with Djiboutians, many of them mentioned that the former president of Djibouti Hassan Gouled Aptidon gave property in the country to China before he retired. Colonel Abdourahman Aden Cher told us that he knew that the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Party Congress Work Report mentioned China’s goal to become a maritime power and said that he welcomes China to build its own base in Djibouti.

A Chinese person in Djibouti sighed and said to us: “The ability of a small country like Djibouti to walk the tightrope of balancing the interests of the world’s major powers while achieving its own interests and developing deserves recognition.”

2013-03-11 07:28 环球时报

Little Djibouti–French, American, and Now Chinese Bases, Gets Sucked-Into Saudi’s War

[SEE: Beijing indirectly confirms military base in Djibouti]

Djibouti and China Sign a Security and Defense Agreement

all africa

“General Chang Wanquan, China’s Minister of Defense, signed a security and defence strategic partnership agreement Tuesday (February 25) with Djibouti’s Minister of Defense Hassan Darar Houffaneh. Under the agreement Djibouti is offering military facilities such as the use of Djibouti as home port to the Chinese navy.

Defense Minister Houffaneh said that in exchange Djibouti had asked for military co-operation to be expanded in order that the operational capacities of the Djiboutian armed forces could be built up in order to safeguard security in the country and help consolidate peace and security in the sub-region.”

Djibouti sucked into Yemen crisis


The growing violent conflict in Yemen between the Saudi Arabian-backed forces ranged against Houthi rebels who are supported by Iran is threatening stability in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

The country has been a playing a pivotal role in the fight against the Islamist threat in the Gulf, just across the Red Sea.

The US base in Djibouti, Camp Lenmonnier, has been Washington’s centre for its fight against terrorism in the region.

It is now becoming even more important since the US closed its embassy in Yemen at the height of the fighting there.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Djibouti and had discussions with President Omar Guelleh on the security threat to the region.

In a letter to Mr. Kerry before his trip, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter noted: “Djibouti’s strategic importance cannot be overstated.”

The Americans have been worried of late about the political course that Guelleh is charting, and which they feel could rock the boat in Djibouti.

Last October, an analyst in Nairobi told the GNA: “The stability of the leadership in Djibouti is now an increasing concern to the US, which needs Djibouti to be a reliable partner providing secure bases to fight terrorism in Somalia and beyond.”

President Guelleh, who has been in power for 16 years, has been accused of using the country’s strategic position in the fight against Islamist terrorism to squeeze support from the US and French governments, even in the face of political repression in Djibouti.

The French have had a long-standing military presence in Djibouti.

“Being the wily politician that he is, Guelleh will now use the Yemen situation to strengthen his position in the county,” the Nairobi analyst told the GNA this week.

“But what he really needs to do is to assure the US that he will not act in a manner that could lead to instability in the country at this crucial time. Of course, Guelleh puts it about that he is the only politician in Djibouti who could deal with Islamic radicals in the Horn of Africa.”

Apart from US worries about regional instability, Washington is also concerned about the growing presence of China in Djibouti, which was solidified in February last year with the signing of a military pact between the two countries.

This grants Beijing access to Djibouti Port through an investment of $185 million, while also providing a loan of $400 million to the government to rehabilitate the port.

American concern about this was raised last month by the head of the House Foreign Affairs sub-committee on Africa, Republican Congressman Chris Smith, who said he was worried about whether the US would have full access to port facilities in Djibouti to aid America’s counter-terrorism campaign.

In a letter to Defence Secretary Ash Carter, Smith wrote: “I am concerned with this, because of China’s unprecedented investment in Djibouti and worrisome behaviour by the country’s long-time leader.”

When the Nairobi analyst spoke to the GNA last month, he wondered how the deal with China would work, given that the US and France more or less have entrenched security roles in Djibouti.

“The American and the French governments have interests in Djibouti that are completely different from China’s,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senegal has sent 2,100 troops to Saudi Arabia to help in the conflict in Yemen. The official Senegalese government explanation is that the troops are going to protect holy sites in Mecca – just as they did 24 years ago under the then President, Abdou Diouf.

Then, 92 members of a much smaller contingent died in a plane crash. GNA

ISIS Imitates Its Saudi Wahhabi Parents, Hiding Beautiful Female Eyes From the Boys

[SEE:  Saudis may force women to cover eyes]

A trip to the shops turns into an ordeal in an Islamic State stronghold.

One day in late December, Yara and her cousin decided to go the nearby grocer’s shop to buy a few items. It was a rare outing they looked forward to as a way of relieving some of the frustrations of a life increasingly restricted for women, especially in a small town like Tabaqa, part of Islamic State-controlled Raqqa.

The girls were careful to put on full “sharia-compliant” dress that concealed their entire bodies apart from their eyes. The street was empty of mujahedin fighters, which slightly eased their nervousness. Their trip to the shop passed without incident, but things took a turn for the worse as they made their way back home.

They were surprised by the sudden sound of a car pulling up nearby.

“You and her, stop!”

Yara froze on the spot, pulling at her cousin’s hand. Two men in Afghan-style dress and carrying automatic weapons got out of the car. They had long hair and beards and spoke with Saudi accents.

“Where have you been?” one asked.

The question both stunned and frightened Yara. The men’s intimidating appearance added to her nervousness, and she was reluctant to reveal that they had been to a shop.

“We were at our aunt’s house,” she said.

“At your aunt’s house, huh?” said one of the men. “Where are your deraas?” A “deraa” is a piece of black cloth worn over the “abaya” cloak as further concealment of a woman’s figure.

Stuttering, Yara answered, “Our house is close to here, Sheikh.”

The armed men continued to fire off questions. “I swear your eyes are shining… how dare you greet men with such an appearance?” one said.

Yara and her cousin clutched at each other’s hands and cast about them with frightened looks, searching for someone to save them. Although the street was full of passers-by, they felt utterly alone and abandoned.

Then the bolt descended from the blue – the sheikh had made his decision. “Get in the car, now,” he said.

“Why, where are you taking us?”

“To the hisbah [morality police].”

“Sheikh, please, we swear we just went to the shop to buy some things.”

“You’ve just said you were at your aunt’s house, and now you were at the shop? Go on, into the car.”

“We won’t go with you,” the girls said.

It was as if they had slapped him. He cocked his weapon, ready to fire, pointing it at their faces.

“Into the car!” he screamed.

Oh God! Was he really pointing his weapon at their faces? They could hardly believe what was happening, and clutched one another in abject terror.

“Sheikh, please, we haven’t done anything wrong.”

“The hisbah will decide when your guardian arrives.”

These words gave Yara an idea. She remembered that her house was nearby.

“We won’t go with you without a mahram [close male relative]” she said. “Our house is nearby. Take us home.”

They climbed into the car and headed to Yara’s home, the girls’ tear-filled eyes cast down and their movements shaky with the humiliation. The trip home did not take very long, but the terror and worry they felt, and the hate-filled looks they were getting from the mujahidin, made it feel like an age.

Yara’s older brother was outside, standing next to the front door. When the car stopped, they got out and stood behind him.

“What’s going on, Sheikh?” he asked.

“Are you their guardian?”

“I’m their brother.”

“This won’t do at all. How can Muslim women go out like that?”

Yara, sobbing, interrupted him, “We were at the store buying some things. Here they are!”

She pulled the groceries out to show everyone, but her brother began admonishing her in front of the mujahidin, making her cry even harder. She justified his behaviour to herself by thinking that he didn’t want to enter into an argument with the mujahideen and make the problem worse. But she wanted him to take her side and fight for her rights, because she had done nothing wrong.

“Next time, they should not be allowed out into the street unless they’re wearing a deraa and their eyes are covered up,” said the mujahed, ending the conversation and climbing back into the car.

A painful silence descended on Yara as her brother screamed at her, ordering her back into the house. Her heart was brim-full with sadness.

This story was produced by the Damascus Bureau, IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists. 

“Pushing Back” the Boat People In Asia and In Europe, Symptom of Universal Insanity

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Fransiska Nangoy

BANGKOK/JAKARTA (Reuters) – Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia gave no response on Wednesday to a United Nations appeal for them to rescue thousands of migrants, many of them hungry and sick, adrift in boats in Southeast Asian seas.

There were conflicting statements on whether regional governments would continue to push back migrant boats in the face of the UN warning that they risked a “massive humanitarian crisis”.

“Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have decided not to receive boat people, as far as I am aware,” Major General Werachon Sukhondhapatipak, spokesman for Thailand’s ruling junta, told Reuters.

He declined to comment on the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s appeal on Tuesday for an international search and rescue operation for the many stranded on the seas between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The UN has said several thousand migrants were abandoned at sea by smugglers following a Thai government crackdown on human trafficking.

Malaysia’s Home Ministry also declined to comment on the U.N. rescue appeal.

The issue would be discussed at a meeting of 15 countries, to be held in Bangkok on May 29, Thai junta spokesman Werachon said.

But the Royal Thai Navy said on Wednesday that its policy was not to send the boats back to sea.

“If they come to Thai waters we must help them and provide food and water,” Rear Admiral Kan Deeubol told Reuters. “For human rights reasons, we will not send them back to sea.”

Earlier this week, a junta spokesman said that a surge in migrants to Indonesia and Malaysia from Bangladesh and Myanmar had been caused by the crackdown and by Thai authorities blocking boats from landing.

Thailand ordered a clean-up of suspected traffickers’ camps last week after 33 bodies, believed to be of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, were found in shallow graves near the Malaysian border.

That has made traffickers wary of landing in Thailand, the preferred destination for the region’s people smuggling networks, leading to many migrants being left out at sea.


A senior Malaysian maritime official said on Tuesday, after more than 1,000 people arrived on the Malaysian island of Langkawi at the weekend, that any more boats trying to land would be turned back

“We don’t allow them in,” said First Admiral Tan Kok Kwee, northern region head of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. “It’s a policy matter.”

Indonesia provided food, water and medical supplies to around 500 passengers on a boat off the coast of the northwestern province of Aceh on Monday, before sending the vessel towards Malaysia.

The Indonesian Navy said the passengers of the boat they sent onwards wanted to go to Malaysia, not Indonesia.

A day earlier and also in Aceh, Indonesia rescued nearly 600 migrants from overcrowded wooden boats. Those migrants were brought ashore and remain on Aceh.

The Indonesian policy was to offer food and shelter to refugees and coordinate with international migrant and refugee bodies, Foreign Ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir told reporters on Wednesday. This it had done with the nearly 600 migrants it rescued on Sunday, he added.

“What we do not do is load them on to the ship and push it to the ocean,” he said.

But advocacy group ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights criticised the Indonesian government for sending the boat back to sea on Monday.

“Towing migrants out to sea and declaring that they aren’t your problem any more is not a solution to the wider regional crisis,” ABHR Chairperson and Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago said in a statement.

Many of the arrivals are Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority from Myanmar described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.


An estimated 25,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya boarded rickety smugglers’ boats in the first three months of this year, twice as many in the same period of 2014, the UNHCR has said.

“When countries such as Thailand implement a push back policy, we find Rohingya bodies washing ashore,” said Sunai Phasuk at Human Rights Watch in Thailand.

“If these three countries move forward with push backs, blood will be on their hands.”

Malaysia’s police chief said that joint work with the Thai police force had helped Malaysian police smash seven syndicates involved in smuggling and trafficking in March and April.

The syndicates operated in northern Malaysia and southern Thailand, Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters on the Thai island of Phuket, where members of the two police forces met this week for annual talks on international crime.

Among 38 people arrested were two Malaysian policemen, he said.

As well as trafficking, Malaysian police believe the syndicates were involved in forging UNHCR documents, he said.

(Additional reporting by Fransiska Nangoy in JAKARTA and Apichai Thornoi in PHUKET, Thailand; Writing by Simon Webb; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)


USS Fort Worth Plays “Tag” With PLA Frigate In South China Sea

US naval ship has run-in with PLA frigate in South China Sea



USS Fort Worth, a Freedom-class littoral combat ship, currently stationed in Singapore. (Photo courtesy of US Navy)

USS Fort Worth, a US Navy Freedom-class littoral combat ship, had a run-in with the Yancheng, a PLA Navy Type 054A guided-missile frigate, during its patrol over the disputed Spratly islands on May 11, according to the Beijing-based Sina Military Network.

A seven-day patrol mission was carried out by the US Navy over the disputed waters of the South China Sea from the American naval facility in Singapore. The movements of the USS Fort Worth were closely monitored by Yancheng when it navigated into the Spratly waters near the fourth largest island in the chain. During the confrontation, USS Fort Worth radioed the Yancheng to remind the PLA ship that it was operating in international waters.

The frigate ignored the message and continued to follow the USS Fort Worth until it left the waters, currently under the administration of Beijing. In addition to the vessel itself, the US ship was carrying a MQ-8B unmanned aerial vehicle and a MH-60 helicopter on board. However, a littoral combat ship would not have the firepower to engage a guided-missile frigate like Yancheng.

The confrontation ended peacefully, and both parties stuck to the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea adopted by the navies of nations in the Western Pacific including China and the United States last year. The United States Navy will continue to carry out similar patrol missions when it is capable of deploying all four littoral combat ships to Singapore, as per the original plan. More incidents like this may occur in the area in the future, the report said.

Yemen war risk could strangle strategic sea trade routes

Yemen war risk could strangle strategic sea trade routes


LONDON (Reuters) – With Middle East giants Saudi Arabia and Iran squaring up on opposing sides in the Yemen war, the dangers to vital oil tanker and goods voyages are growing daily.

Millions of barrels of oil pass through the Bab el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz everyday to Europe, the United States and Asia – waterways which pass along the coasts of Yemen and Iran respectively. Insurance costs for shippers are likely to jump.

Last week Iran released Marshall-Islands container ship Maersk Tigris and its crew which were seized in the Strait of

Hormuz. This prompted the United States to send vessels to temporarily accompany U.S. flagged ships through the strait. Iranian patrol boats had shadowed a separate container ship earlier last month.

“The whole area is a tinder box now,” said John Dalby of Marine Risk Management Ltd, which provides private armed security teams for ships in the area.

“The main tension appears to be between the navies – be it Iranian patrol boats or ships or other forces in the area. That in some ways creates more uncertainty than dangers from Somali pirates as we saw previously, and – more worryingly – far more firepower capability.”

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Wednesday that it would not led Saudi-led naval forces inspect an Iranian cargo ship bound for Yemen.

Saudi-led forces have imposed inspections on all ships entering Yemen in an attempt to prevent weapons being smuggled to the Iran-allied rebel Houthi group that controls much of the country.

“The question for us is: could the Bab el-Mandeb become so perilous to navigate that guns onshore – controlled by Houthis – might shoot at ships? … If so, fasten your seatbelts, the insurance rates are going to go up,” said Michael Frodl, of U.S. based consultancy C-Level Global Risks.


The likelihood of a sharp rise in the premiums on voyages could be as much a deterrent to trade as the conflict itself.

“The reality is that ships heading to the Gulf, the Red Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean will be obliged to reconsider their movements not simply because of the widening scope of the attacks on, and seizures of, commercial vessels but also because of prohibitive insurance premiums,” said Jonathan Moss of law firm DWF, who acts for insurers.

Khalid Hashim of Precious Shipping, one of Thailand’s largest dry cargo owners, added: “If gets really bad, insurers may altogether stop covering calls to the badly affected areas.”

Hashim said if the Iranian cargo ship went ahead with its intention to deliver aid to Yemen despite a call by the U.S. to deliver it to neighbouring Djibouti, it may lead to a response by the Saudi-led coalition.

“That could possibly escalate tensions in a wide area including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and through to the Straits of Hormuz. That would surely be bad for shipping, and for all the countries in the region,” Hashim said.

The U.S. Maritime Administration and the Marshall Islands flag registry have both warned of increased risks for ships operating around Hormuz.

“If a boarding by Iranian forces occurs even after declining permission, the boarding should not be forcibly resisted by persons on the U.S. flag merchant vessel. Refraining from forcible resistance in no way indicates consent or agreement that such a boarding is lawful,” one of the advisories said.

The region has already seen disruptions in recent years due to Somali piracy and attacks by militants.

A suicide bombing carried out by al Qaeda killed 17 sailors on the U.S. warship Cole in the southern Yemeni port of Aden in 2000. Two years later, al Qaeda hit a French tanker in the Gulf of Aden, south of the Bab el-Mandeb, which led to a tripling of insurance premiums.

“The tensions are rising, with some concern evident as tanker owners have long memories of the tanker war from the 1980s,” said Phillip Belcher of tanker association INTERTANKO, referring to vessels that were fired at during the Iran-Iraq war.

(Editing by William Hardy)

Iran, US Navies Exchange Threats Over Iranian Cargo Ship Bearing Aid To Huthis


US warns Iran against sending aid ship to Yemen


Washington (AFP) – An Iranian ship purportedly carrying aid to Yemen should change course and head to Djibouti where the United Nations is overseeing humanitarian deliveries, US officials demanded Tuesday.

The US military is tracking the ship after Tehran reportedly said it would send warships to escort the vessel to Yemen, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.

The ship, the Iran Shahed, had moved through the Strait of Hormuz and was now in the Gulf of Oman, according to the site. But the vessel was not under any naval escort at the moment, Warren said.

“We are monitoring the Iranian ship,” he said. “We are aware of the Iranians’ statement that they plan to escort this ship with warships.”

The state Iranian IRNA news agency earlier quoted a naval commander, Rear Admiral Hossein Azad, saying naval forces would be “safeguarding” the vessel.

Iran’s Red Crescent had said last week that it would send a ship carrying 2,500 tons of humanitarian aid to Yemen, where Tehran-backed Huthi rebels are fighting pro-government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition.

“The Iranians have stated that this is humanitarian aid,” Warren said.

“If that is the case, then we certainly encourage the Iranians to deliver that humanitarian aid to the United Nations humanitarian aid distribution hub, which has been established in Djibouti.”

“This will allow the aid to be rapidly and efficiently distributed to those in Yemen who require it,” he added.

When asked if the US military would try to search the ship or prevent it from docking in Yemen, Warren declined to comment.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke confirmed the United States was “certainly tracking this convoy closely.”

“We would discourage any provocative actions,” he added.

The warnings from Washington raised the possibility of a potential confrontation at sea after tensions flared in recent days in the Strait of Hormuz.

The US Navy bolstered its presence in the Gulf after Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel in the vital waterway.

Iranian authorities later released the ship, citing a commercial dispute with Denmark’s Maersk group, which chartered the vessel.

“If the Iranians are planning some sort of stunt in the region, they know as well as we do that it would be unhelpful and in fact could potentially threaten the ceasefire (in Yemen) that has been so painstakingly brought about,” Warren said.

“We call on the Iranians to do the right thing here and deliver their humanitarian aid in accordance with UN protocols which is through the distribution hub that’s been established in Djibouti,” he added.

Iran warns Saudi, U.S. against hindering Yemen aid ship

washington times

– Associated Press – Wednesday, May 13, 2015

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A senior Iranian military official has warned the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemeni rebels that blocking an Iranian aid ship bound for Yemen will “spark a fire,” as a five-day humanitarian cease-fire appeared to hold early Wednesday after going into effect the day before.

“I bluntly declare that the self-restraint of Islamic Republic of Iran is not limitless,” Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff, told Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV late Tuesday.

“Both Saudi Arabia and its novice rulers, as well as the Americans and others, should be mindful that if they cause trouble for the Islamic Republic with regard to sending humanitarian aid to regional countries, it will spark a fire, the putting out of which would definitely be out of their hands.”

Iran says the ship, which departed Monday, is carrying food, medicine, tents and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers and peace activists. It says the ship is expected to arrive at Yemen’s port city of Hodeida next week. Iran’s navy said Tuesday it will protect the ship.

Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, a military spokesman, said Tuesday that no ship would be permitted to reach Yemen unless there was prior coordination with the coalition, and that if Iran wants to deliver humanitarian aid it should do so through the United Nations.

In Washington, U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren said the American military is monitoring the cargo ship and warned that it would not be helpful if Iran is “planning some sort of stunt.” He said the Iranian naval escort is not necessary and that Iran should send the cargo vessel to Djibouti, where humanitarian efforts for Yemen are being coordinated.

The U.S., which supports the coalition, and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of arming the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis. Iran supports the rebels, but both Tehran and the Houthis deny it has provided weapons to them.

A five-day humanitarian cease-fire began Tuesday night, just hours after Saudi-led warplanes targeted the Shiite rebels and their allies.

There were reports of continued ground fighting in some areas, with security officials and witnesses saying fierce combat broke out about a half-hour after the cease-fire began when rebels tried to storm the southern city of Dhale, firing tank shells, rockets and mortars. But no airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition were reported.

The conflict has killed more than 1,400 people — many of them civilians — since March 19, according to the U.N. The country of some 25 million people has endured shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity as a result of a Saudi-led naval, air and land blockade.