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Myanmar’s Military Planned Rohingya Genocide, Rights Group Says

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BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military systematically planned a genocidal campaign to rid the country of Rohingya Muslims, according to a report released on Thursday by the rights-advocacy group Fortify Rights based on testimony from 254 survivors, officials and workers over a 21-month period.

The 162-page report says that the exodus of around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh last year — after a campaign of mass slaughter, rape and village burnings in Rakhine State in Myanmar — was the culmination of months of meticulous planning by the security forces.

Fortify Rights names 22 military and police officers who it says were directly responsible for the campaign against the Rohingya and recommends that the United Nations Security Council refer them to the International Criminal Court.

“Genocide doesn’t happen spontaneously,” said Matthew Smith, co-founder of Fortify Rights. “Impunity for these crimes will pave the path for more violations and attacks in the future.”

Beginning in October 2016, Myanmar’s military and local officials methodically removed sharp tools that could be used for self-defense by the Rohingya, destroyed fences around Rohingya homes to make military raids easier, armed and trained ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, and shut off the spigot of international aid for the impoverished Rohingya community, the Fortify Rights report says.

Most of all, more troops were sent to northern Rakhine State, where the bulk of the largely stateless Rohingya once lived. Fortify Rights says that at least 27 Myanmar Army battalions, with up to 11,000 soldiers, and at least three combat police battalions, with around 900 personnel, participated in the bloodletting that began in late August and continued for weeks afterward.

United States officials have said that the violence amounted to a calculated campaign of ethnic cleansing, and one United Nations official described the anti-Rohingya campaign as bearing “the hallmarks of genocide.”

The Fortify Rights report suggests an alternate story line to the suggestion that the military-led atrocities, which were often abetted by ethnic Rakhine locals armed with swords, were solely a response to attacks by Rohingya militants on army and police posts on Aug. 25, 2017.

Myanmar’s military and civilian government have consistently described the crackdown as “clearance operations” against Muslim “terrorists.” Top military officers, including Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief, have claimed that the military reacted with restraint following the deadly raids by the Arakan Rohinyga Salvation Army in October 2016 and August 2017.

“There is no genocide and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar,” said U Zaw Htay, a government spokesman. “Yes, there are human rights violations, and the government will take action against those who committed human rights violations.”

Mr. Zaw Htay said that the Myanmar government would be forming an “investigation team, which will include internationally well-respected persons to investigate the human rights violations in Rakhine.”

Several commissions, committees and investigative bodies have been formed in Myanmar to examine the Rakhine violence. But none have, so far, resulted in substantive shifts in policy or broad admissions of blame by the state.

“There are international organizations that accuse Myanmar with the terms ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ without evidence,” Mr. Zaw Htay added, naming Fortify Rights among them. “If there is evidence of genocide, then they can inform the government and our government will investigate and take action.”

Fortify Rights has accused the international community of failing to adequately condemn the years of state repression of the Rohingya and, more specifically, the mounting abuses in the months preceding last year’s military-led campaign.

The Fortify Rights report also describes how militants from the Arakan Rohinyga Salvation Army killed and tortured Rohingya whom they considered to be government informants.

The list of Myanmar military officials whom Fortify Rights finds directly responsible for attacks on Rohingya Muslims include the commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing; his deputy, Vice Senior Gen. Soe Win; and the chief of general staff, Gen. Mya Tun Oo.

Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group, just wrapped up a trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, where she met with military and government officials, along with victims of the violence.

“What the United States should be doing,” she said, “is to insist that the military and security forces that orchestrated this genocide are held accountable through targeted sanctions so this violence won’t repeat itself.”

When Myanmar was under full military rule, the United States and other Western governments placed sanctions on the army regime. But as the top brass began sharing power with a civilian government, most of those broad sanctions were lifted. Last December, Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Soe became the first Myanmar military officer subject to American sanctions because of his links to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.

“We need more sanctions that target the people responsible for these abuses, like the over 20 officers that Fortify Rights names, to ban their travel, freeze their assets,” Ms. Kennedy said. “What we don’t want is sanctions that hurt the Myanmar population as a whole, which would harm the most vulnerable people.”

Saw Nang contributed reporting from Mandalay, Myanmar.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Pompeo’s Nixed N. Korea Trip Exposes Denuclearization Rift

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The abrupt cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang reflects growing concern in the Trump administration about North Korea’s unwillingness to denuclearize, experts said.

President Donald Trump on Friday called off Pompeo’s visit to North Korea, days before it was set to begin, because of what the president felt was a lack of progress in denuclearization talks.

“I don’t think the North Koreans were prepared to do what we needed to do. which was to have some kind of declaration [on their nuclear program] or some tangible sign that they were moving ahead,” said Christopher Hill, a chief negotiator with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration.

“They were not moving ahead, so I think rather than having the secretary of state come back empty-handed, the president canceled it,” Hill said.

North Korea is believed to be demanding an official end to the Korean War before taking steps toward denuclearization. The U.S., however, wants North Korea to make concrete steps toward denuclearization, starting with a declaration of its nuclear weapons arsenal, before signing an official peace treaty to end the Korean War. An armistice signed on July 27, 1953, by Chinese, North Korean and United Nationsforces ended fighting and established the Demilitarized Zone, which has since separated the two Koreas.

The Washington Post reported Monday that two U.S. officials said Trump canceled Pompeo’s trip after receiving a hostile letter from Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee. He had met previously with Pompeo in New York Cityand in Pyongyang.

The letter stated Pyongyang could not move forward with denuclearization because the U.S. was not ready to step toward a peace treaty, according to a CNN report Tuesday citing people familiar with the matter.

No ‘meaningful steps’ seen

Rob Rapson, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, said, “The secretary stands ready to go, but only when the other side is ready.” But for now, Rapson said, North Korea is “not yet prepared to take meaningful steps toward denuclearization.”

 President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, June 12, 2018, in Singapore.

Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang would have been the fourth this year and the second since Trump’s June summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which has been criticized as having produced no framework for a denuclearization process.

Experts said the lack of movement in the talks resultedfrom the contrasting expectations that Washington and Pyongyang have about denuclearization.

Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, said North Korea would not relent on its demand for a peace treaty before moving toward denuclearization.

He said Pyongyang would not give up nuclear weapons “within the framework of denuclearization,” and the only way to have North Korea denuclearize was to “couch it in terms of confidence-building measures toward a peace regime.”

Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction in the Obama administration, said, “It’s not clear … that the Trump administration has been able to come up with new proposals.”

He continued, “As you know, the whole question of issuing a peace declaration is very controversial in Washington.”

When announcing the cancellation of Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang, Trump said China was not helping with denuclearization because of its trade disputes with the U.S.

Although Hill said he thought the canceled trip was not particularly related to China’s stance, he said the U.S. should focus on applying pressure to enforce full implementation of sanctions.

“I think it’s an issue where the U.S. lost a lot of its leverage by focusing on the negotiating track to the exclusion of the sanctions track,” said Hill, stressing, “I think it’s time to work full time on ramping up the pressures. I think they lost too much [leverage] because of Singapore.”

China has been calling for sanctions relief for North Korea since the Singapore summit, and its implementation of sanctions has been relaxed, especially along the border it shares with North Korea.

Resumption of trade seen

 Trucks cross the friendship bridge connecting China and North Korea in the Chinese border town of Dandong, opposite the North Korean town of Sinuiju, Sept. 4, 2017.

William Tobey, who participated in the Six Party Talks with North Korea, said calling for sanctions relief was a sign that China will start trading with North Korea.

“Beijing has mostly coddled its ally, and responded to the Singapore summit by calling for an ease of sanctions, which was probably code for, ‘We are going to resume trade with North Korea.’ “

Because of “huge, gaping holes” in sanctions enforcement, Gause believes Trump’s maximum pressure policy will not work in denuclearizing the North, and because denuclearization is “not a primary issue for China, he said, expecting China to help solve the denuclearization issue is a “non-starter.”

“They have no incentive even … in normal times to put that much pressure on North Korea. And given the trade war that we have now, they’re going to have even less incentiveto play ball on sanctions,” said Gause.

Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank in Washington, said he thought Beijing, which has quietly eased sanctions and reduced U.S. leverage over Pyongyang, “will not deliver North Korea.”

In a signal of a reversion to its stance before detente with Pyongyang, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that there were “no plans, at this time, to suspend any more exercises” on the Korean Peninsula. The Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises that usually take place in August were halted as a goodwill gesture toward Pyongyang after the summit in Singapore.

Lee Yeon-cheol and Kim Young-nam of VOA’s Korean service contributed to this report.

This article is from Voice Of America and has been republished with permission.

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Justice Department plans to alert public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy

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The Justice Department plans to alert the public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy under a new policy designed to counter hacking and disinformation campaigns such as the one Russia undertook in 2016 to disrupt the presidential election.

The government will inform American companies, private organizations and individuals that they are being covertly attacked by foreign actors attempting to affect elections or the political process.

“Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who announced the policy at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, according to prepared remarks. “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda.”

The Obama administration struggled in 2016 to decide whether and when to disclose the existence of the Russian intervention, fearing that it would be portrayed as a partisan move. Concerns about appearing to favor the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, weighed on President Obama, who was reluctant to give then GOP-nominee Donald Trump ammunition for his accusation that the election was rigged.

“The Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election is just one tree in a growing forest,” Rosenstein said. “Focusing merely on a single election misses the point.”

He cited Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who last Friday said Russia’s actions continued. “As Director Coats made clear, “these actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not,’ ” Rosenstein said.

At the Aspen Forum on Thursday, a Microsoft executive said that Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, has targeted at least three candidates running for election this year. Tom Burt, the company’s Vice President for Customer Security and Trust, said that his team had discovered a spear-phishing campaign targeting the candidates. Spear-phishing is a technique hackers use to trick victims into clicking on malware-laced links in emails that enable access to the victims’ computers.

Twelve GRU officers were charged last week by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III with conspiracy for their role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the transfer of thousands of emails to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which published them at key moments in the campaign.

Pressure has been building on the Trump administration to commit to informing the public with lawmakers debating passage of a similar requirement, which would give it the force of law.

“It’s absolutely crucial that the intelligence community lean forward, push the envelope on sharing as much of that information as possible because one of the biggest challenges we have is on education of the public, of the electorate, on foreign, read Russian-influence operations,” said James R. Clapper Jr., former DNI, who last year at Aspen called for such transparency.

He called the move “quite significant” and said “making that a standard policy across the government is a good one.” Other agencies, he said, “will take a cue” from the Justice Department, which is part of the intelligence community and receives information from spy agencies.

The policy, which is part of a report issued on a new Cyber Digital Task Force set up by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February, also specifies that in considering whether to disclose, the department must protect intelligence sources and methods, investigations and other government operations.

“Partisan political considerations must play no role in efforts to alert victims, other affected individuals or the American public to foreign influence operations against the United States,” the policy states. A foreign influence operation will be publicly disclosed “only when the government can attribute those activities to a foreign government with high confidence,” it said.

Rosenstein noted that influence operations are not new. The Soviet Union used them against the United States throughout the 20th century, including in 1963 paying an American to distribute a book claiming that the FBI and the CIA assassinated President Kennedy.

The new task force for the first time spelled out five different types of threats covered under foreign influence operations.

Hackers can target election systems, trying to get into voter registration databases and voting machines. Foreign operatives can pursue political organizations, campaigns and public officials. They can offer to assist political organizations or campaigns, while concealing their links to foreign governments. They can seek to covertly influence public opinion and sow division through the use of social media and other outlets. And they can try to employ lobbyists, foreign media outlets and other foreign organizations to influence policy-makers and the public.

“Public attribution of foreign influence operations can help to counter and mitigate the harm caused by foreign government-sponsored disinformation,” Rosenstein said. “When people are aware of the true sponsor, they can make better-informed decisions.”

The task force works closely with the FBI, whose director, Christopher Wray, last year established a Foreign Influence Task Force to focus on the same issue. The Justice Department task force is broader, but includes as a key component foreign influence activities.

To counter foreign influence, the department will aggressively investigate and prosecute such activities, and will work with other departments, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to share information about threats and vulnerabilities with state and local election officials, political organizations and other potential victims so they can take measures to detect or prevent harm, the report said.

It also noted that DOJ supports other agencies’ actions, such as financial or diplomatic sanctions and intelligence efforts. The department also is forming strategic relationships with social media providers to help them identify malign foreign influence activity.

[email protected]

 

This article was written by Ellen Nakashima from The Washington Post

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How MI5 and the FBI foiled plot to assassinate Prime Minister Theresa May

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He knew what supplies he needed, including a black-and-gray Carbrini sports backpack and a hooded down jacket. Standard tourist provisions in Britain.

He had the timing all worked out. If he could just get past the gate, a 10-second sprint would find him at the most famous door in the world — the polished black entrance to 10 Downing Street, the emblem of the British state.

Once inside, Naa’imur Zakariyah Rahman hoped to behead the building’s resident, Prime Minister Theresa May.

But Rahman was not the only one in on the plan. He shared his ambitions with a man, “Shaq,” who presented himself as a weapons fixer for Islamic State militants. The supposed extremist helper was in fact an undercover police officer working alongside MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, and the FBI, according to the BBC.

The undercover operation succeeded in nabbing Rahman, 20, who was convicted Wednesday at the Old Bailey courthouse in London of preparing acts of terrorism. He had been arrested in November 2017 and will be sentenced at a later date.

The resident of north London, who has given his nationality as Bangladeshi-British, was first flagged by authorities three years ago over concerns that the teenager, raised in an industrial town near Birmingham, was vulnerable to brainwashing by his uncle, British media reported. His uncle, who left Britain for Syria in 2014, aimed to persuade his nephew to stage an attack and had sent him bombmaking materials, according to authorities.

A coalition drone strike near Raqqa killed the uncle, Musadikur Rohaman, in June 2017. It was when Rahman learned of his family member’s death, prosecutors alleged, that he set out to take revenge. His target became the prime minister of the country where he was sleeping in the back of a car, after quarrels with his mother and other relatives had left him homeless.

The same year, a probe into allegations that Rahman had sent lewd images to an underage girl turned up evidence that he had stayed in contact with his uncle. He was never charged in the initial investigation, but a search of his phone set off concern that he had developed extremist views, the Guardian reported.

The undercover operation began when Rahman made contact with an FBI agent impersonating an Islamic State official on social media. The American intelligence officer introduced him to MI5 agents posing as fellow extremists.

“Can you put me in a sleeper cell ASAP?” Rahman asked members of the security services appearing as Islamist militants over the Telegram messaging app. “I want to do a suicide bomb on parliament. I want to attempt to kill Theresa May.”

He reaffirmed his resolve the next day, writing, “My objective is to take out my target. Nothing less than the death of the leaders of parliament.”

His planning included surveying the grounds of the British civil service and government and giving a backpack and jacket to the undercover police officer, who promised to line the items with explosives. In conversations with the officer, he also praised the Manchester bomber who had left 23 dead, including himself, at an Ariana Grande concert months earlier. The mass-casualty event was among a string of terrorist attacks that buffeted Britain in 2017, putting security services on high alert. One strike unfolded outside the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British Parliament.

Rahman seemed to draw inspiration from these attacks.

“I wanna drop a bag at the gate, so the gate blows up a bit and I can go through and then like, make a run, like I was thinking taking a human hostage until I get to the actual door,” Rahman told “Shaq,” the undercover police officer, in a recording played in court.

His intention, he said, was to “make a dash for Theresa May. She sleeps there every night.” He told the undercover agent that his intention was to “take her head off.”

Rahman’s initial aim had been to obtain a truck bomb and firearms, but he revised his planning because he knew neither how to drive nor how to fire a gun. He settled for more crude weaponry and offered up a backpack and jacket to be outfitted for an attack. At the end of November, the agent returned Rahman’s backpack and jacket with fake explosives. “Do you know? Now I’ve seen everything it feels good,” Rahman told the officer as he took back the belongings, according to the recording played in court.

Rahman was detained as he walked away from the scene, later saying, “I’m glad it’s over.”

During the trial, which began in June, prosecutors said they believed Rahman had been days away from attempting to carry out his plot on May’s life. The accused told jurors that his planning had been nothing more than fantasy, and that he had merely been trying to impress men he believed to be associates of his uncle.

Security precautions are designed to keep plans to infiltrate 10 Downing Street in the realm of fantasy. The street on which the residence sits has been closed to the public since 1989 and is heavily guarded. Defenses grew more severe after the Irish Republican Army launched mortar shells in an attempt to kill John Major, the prime minister at the time, along with cabinet members then presiding over British participation in the Gulf War.

 

This article was written by Isaac Stanley-Becker from The Washington Post

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