Archive for May 2009
AP/ 29 May 2009
Yangon – Lawyers for Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed optimism about her case after the only witness allowed to testify for the defense addressed the court in her trial on charges of violating house arrest.
Closing arguments in a case that could send the Nobel Peace laureate to prison for five years are set to be heard on Monday. The defence has argued that there is no legal basis for the charge that Ms Suu Kyi had violated the terms of her house arrest when an uninvited American swam secretly to her home.
Ms Suu Kyi’s supporters fear that she may be found guilty because the courts are under the influence of the ruling junta and usually mete out harsh punishment for political dissidents.
But one of Ms Suu Kyi’s lawyers, Nyan Win, said on Thursday night he was ‘very confident of victory if the trial is carried out according to law.’ The court was in recess on Friday.
The trial has drawn outrage from the international community and Suu Kyi’s local supporters, who worry that the military junta has found an excuse to keep her detained through next year’s elections. Her party won the last elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power by the military, which has run the country since 1962.
Ms Suu Kyi’s defence team acknowledges that 53-year-old John W. Yettaw swam to and entered her lakeside home, where he stayed for two days. They argue, however, that it was the duty of government guards outside her closely watched house to prevent any intruders.
Yettaw was taken to Ms Suu Kyi’s residence on Thursday, accompanied by dozens of police, to re-enact before court officials how he entered and left her compound, said state-run newspapers on Friday, which also published photos of the re-enactment.
Mr Kyi Win, the defence witness who is a legal expert and a member of Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, highlighted what appears to be the defense’s main argument, that the charge against Suu Kyi is unlawful. The meeting’s closing statement on Thursday made no direct demand for Ms Suu Kyi’s immediate release.
But Jan Kohout, deputy prime minister of the Czech Republic and the meeting’s co-chairman, said that ‘we are still deeply concerned over Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention and (urge) that she should be released immediately.’
Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint said it was inappropriate for the meeting to take up Suu Kyi’s cases, because it breached the region’s traditional policy of noninterference in each other’s affairs
AP/ 29 May 2009
Hanoi – The United States government has doubled its funding for dealing with the environmental and health consequences of its wartime use in Vietnam of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange, the embassy said Friday.
President Barack Obama recently signed a bill increasing the funding from $3 million (S$4 million) to $6 million, embassy officials said. Most of the money is being used in Danang, where US troops used to mix and store Agent Orange at an Air Force base before loading it onto planes.
During the Vietnam war, which ended in 1975, the US sprayed more than 20 million gallons (75 million litres) of Agent Orange and other herbicides across the country to strip Vietnamese guerrillas of ground cover and kill their crops.
Agent Orange contains dioxin, a highly toxic substance that remains in soil and sediment for years and poses a serious health threat to anyone who touches it.
Vietnam believes as many as 4 million people have suffered serious health problems from the herbicide, such as cancer, spina bifida and other birth defects. The US says the actual number is probably far lower and that further scientific study is needed to understand the health impact. US and Vietnam only began working together in 2007 to address the consequences of Agent Orange after years of disagreement.
The embassy said in a statement that one third of the $6 million is being used for health programs to serve people in the Danang area. The rest will be used to remove dioxin from the soil and sediment near Danang airport.
Friday’s People’s Army newspaper quoted Lai Minh Hien, a Vietnamese environmental official in charge of Agent Orange issues, as saying that Vietnam needs additional 1 trillion dong (S$82 million) to clean up dioxin in Danang as well as at former U.S. air bases in Bien Hoa and Phu Cat. –
AFP/ 29 May 2009
Bangkok – A Thai woman was sentenced to 18 years in jail on Friday for trafficking women from her hometown to Italy, where they were forced to work in prostitution, court officials said.
The Thai Criminal Court found Kularb Thongmisri, 42, guilty of procuring three woman from an impoverished part of Si Sa Ket province in northeast Thailand to work in the Italian sex industry three years ago.
The victims, aged 42, 40 and 31, were lured to Europe by Kularb with the promise of well-paid jobs as house maids. But she made them pay an advance sum of 500,000 baht (S$21,000) each for travel costs.
After arriving in Milan via Vienna in February 2006, the women were forced to work as prostitutes until Italian police smashed the racket and repatriated them to Thailand in August 2006, the court said.
Kularb was arrested in Si Sa Ket in July 2007 after she returned from Italy. She was also ordered by the court to pay the three women a total of US$43,500 (S$63,000) in compensation.
AP/29 May 2009
Kuala Lumpur – It soon could be a crime for Malaysian men to call their wives ugly, a women’s rights group and a news report said on Thursday.
The governmental Women’s Development Department plans to ask Parliament to ban ’emotional violence’ against women, who currently have legal protection against physical assault only, The Star newspaper reported.
Women’s groups told the department that husbands who ‘demonstrate a pattern of causing mental and psychological damage’ should face counseling, fines and jail terms, Ivy Josiah, director of the Women’s Aid Organisation, told The Associated Press.
Offenders include a husband who ‘tells his wife she is ugly or humiliates her until she feels emotionally pressured,’ the government department’s head, Noorul Ainur Mohamad Nur, said during a conference on violence against women, the newspaper reported.
Ms Noorul said there was a need to criminalise emotional abuse because it could deeply scar a woman’s dignity and self-confidence, the report said.
There were no immediate details about when Parliament would discuss the plan.
About 90 per cent of some 800 women who called the Women’s Aid Organisation for help last year reported being psychologically abused, though some were also physically assaulted, Ms Josiah said.
A government representative said Ms Noorul and other officials familiar with the plan could not immediately be contacted on Thursday.
AFP/ 28 May 2009
Phnom Penh- Myanmar’s deputy foreign minister on Thursday rejected Asian and European ‘pressure and interference’ over the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, saying it was neither a political nor a human rights issue.
Speaking at a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and EU ministers in the Cambodian capital, Maung Myint said the charges against the pro-democracy icon were an ‘internal legal issue’.
‘It is not political, it is not a human rights issue. So we don’t accept pressure and interference from abroad,’ the Myanmar official told his counterparts. ‘I expect that the excellencies from abroad, especially the EU, can understand more about Myanmar,’ he said.
The minister’s remarks on live video appeared to have been accidentally broadcast to reporters at the press centre outside the closed-door meetings.
Aung San Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail on charges of breaching her house arrest after an eccentric American man swam to her lakeside house in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
The statement, one of the strongest yet from the military regime, came as Asean and European ministers opened talks in Phnom Penh with pledges to boost ties with the Myanmar issue looming in the background.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong had said in a speech that the meetings would ‘mark another milestone for expanding and deepening’ relations between Asean and the EU.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen echoed his sentiments during the opening ceremony, but officials indicated Myanmar would likely take up much of the agenda.
Asked what the message would be to Myanmar, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, whose country is the current ASEAN chair, said: ‘I think you will see in the joint statement (at the end of the day).
AFP/ 28 May 2009
Phnom Penh- Talks between South-east Asian and European ministers opened in the Cambodian capital on Thursday with pledges to boost ties, but Myanmar’s controversial trial of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi loomed over proceedings.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said in a speech that the meetings would ‘mark another milestone for expanding and deepening’ relations of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) and European Union (EU).
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen echoed his sentiments during the opening ceremony, but officials however indicated Myanmar would likely take up much of the agenda.
Asked what the message would be to Myanmar, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, whose country is the current Asean chair, said: ‘I think you will see in the joint statement (at the end of the day).’ Asean ministers in an informal meeting on Wednesday confronted Myanmar on its treatment of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial for violating her house arrest after an American man swam to her lakeside home.
The group traditionally refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of its members, but issued a rare rebuke to Myanmar last week over the detention of the Nobel peace prize winner.
‘The discussion in the room back there was that it (the issue of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners)… affects Asean’s image and Asean’s collective interests,’ Asean chief Surin Pitsuwan said late on Wednesday.
Myanmar’s rights abuses, along with North Korea’s recent nuclear test, dominated much of the agenda earlier this week during similar meetings between Asian and EU ministers in Vietnam.
They issued a statement in Hanoi calling for the release of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in Myanmar.
The meetings in Phnom Penh were also set to cover issues ranging from the global financial crisis to energy and food security.
Ms Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention for 13 of the past 19 years since her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in 1990 polls but was not allowed to take power.
TheStar/ 28 May 2009
Shah Alam – A Malaysian university student who was sexually assaulted in her hostel six months ago is suing Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) for negligence. The 21-year-old girl, a second-year Hotel and Tourism Management student, filed the suit at the Sessions Court here on Tuesday. In her suit, she said that the university failed to prevent unauthorised persons from intruding into the hostel, and had failed to take necessary measures for the safety and security of students. She said she was not only hurt physically but emotionally too, and suffered from post-trauma stress disorder. The student is seeking aggravated, exemplary, general and special damages. Her counsel, Mr Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, said the incident took place at 5am on Nov 28 when the student was taking a bath in the common bathroom of the hostel. He said a naked man suddenly knocked and forced his way into the bathroom. ‘Athough the girl screamed for help, none of the students came to her aid as they were still sleeping, and there were no security guards around too,’ he told a press conference called by Shah Alam MP Khalid Abdul Samad. Mr Mohamed Hanipa said the man pushed the girl and inserted a finger into her private parts. He said the student managed to escape before the other students came to her aid. Mr Khalid said the victim’s mother asked for his help on Dec 26. He said they wrote a letter to UiTM on Jan 28 on behalf of the girl to get an explanation but did not receive any reply.