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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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New Zealand Bans Military-Style Semiautomatics, Assault Rifles, Effective Immediately

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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — The New Zealand government is asking all owners of assault weapons or now-banned attachments to report them to the government in the next two days before turning them in.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced that the government was immediately banning sales of what New Zealand calls military style semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines like the weapons used in last Friday’s attacks on two Christchurch mosques.

She says the cabinet is also working on a gun buyback program to be announced later. Ardern says there will be “tightly regulated” exemptions for some owners such as hunters and farmers.

Ardern announced the ban Thursday and said it would be followed by legislation to be introduced next month.

She said the man arrested in the attacks had purchased his weapons legally and enhanced their capacity by using 30-round magazines “done easily through a simple online purchase.”

More information about the New Zealand decision, courtesy of the New Zealand government.


Q&A – New Zealand’s gun law changes explained

1. What semi-automatic firearms will be affected by the ban?

The ban will apply to all firearms are now defined as Military Style Semi-Automatics (MSSAs) and will also include assault rifles.

2. What semi-automatic firearms will NOT be affected by the ban?

There is a balance to be struck between public safety and legitimate use. The changes exclude two general classes of firearms which are commonly used for hunting, pest control, stock management on farms, and duck shooting:

· Semi-automatic .22 calibre rimfire firearms with a magazine which holds no more than ten rounds

· Semi-automatic and pump action shotguns with a non-detachable tubular magazine which holds no more than five rounds

3. What semi-automatic firearms are affected by today’s Order in Council?

Two types of firearms are now defined as Military Style Semi-Automatics (MSSAs):

· A semi-automatic firearm capable of being used with a detachable magazine which holds more than five cartridges

· A semi-automatic shotgun capable of being used with a detachable magazine which holds more than five cartridges

4. I have an A-Category firearms licence and now own MSSAs. What should I do?

It would normally be an offence for an A-Category licence holder to possess an MSSA, punishable by up to three years in prison or a $4000 fine. However a transitional period gives time for people to comply with the law, if they take certain steps. The transitional period will be confirmed next month. Firearms owners who unlawfully possess an MSSA now have three options:

· Voluntarily surrender the firearm to Police for safe disposal.

· Complete an online form on the Police website to arrange for the MSSA to be collected, while details are finalised for compensation under a buy back scheme

· Sell or gift the firearm to a person who has an E-Category licence and a ‘permit to procure’ the weapon

5. Are Police geared up to receive large numbers of MSSAs?

Yes. They will work with the New Zealand Defence Force to enable safe storage, transport and destruction of MSSAs. Police are establishing an online form which will make it easier for firearms owners to arrange for Police to collect the MSSAs. The online form will go live over the weekend. It will not be practicable for firearms owners to physically return their weapons to Police stations without prior approval. Where extra administrative staff are required they will be hired on fixed-term contracts.

6. Will this lead to stockpiling of semi-automatics?

No. The changes under the Order in Council take effect immediately. Anyone who now unlawfully has an MSSA, which yesterday was a lawful firearm, needs to take steps to comply with the law.

7. Will some firearms dealers be breaking the law if they have these MSSAs in stock?

Some firearms dealers only hold A-category licences. In order to comply with the law, they could sell their stock of semi-automatics to a Category E licence holder or return them to their supplier.

8. What are the statistics for firearms licences and firearms in circulation?

· There are 245,000 firearms licences

· Of these, 7,500 are E-Category licences; and 485 are dealer licences

· There are 13,500 firearms which require the owner to have an E-Cat licence, this is effectively the known number of MSSAs before today’s changes

· The total number of firearms in New Zealand is estimated to be 1.2-1.5 million

9. What further issues are being considered?

Cabinet will consider further steps on 25 March. These will include measures to:

· Tighten firearms licensing and penalties

· Impose greater controls over a range of ammunition

· Address a number of other issues relevant to special interest groups such as international sports shooters and professional pest controllers, such as DoC.

· Future proof the Arms Act to ensure it is able to respond to developments in technology and society

10. How will the buyback work, and who will administer it?

Police, the Treasury and other agencies are working through the detail. More information will be available when the legislation is introduced next month. The compensation will be fair and reasonable based on firearm type, average prices and the age of firearms.

11. What is the cost of the buyback likely to be?

That is very difficult to judge, given the limited information about the total number of firearms affected by this change. Preliminary advice suggests it could be in the range of $100m-$200m. The buyback will ensure these weapons are taken out of circulation and that we fulfil our obligations under the law.

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Trump Will Host Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu At White House Next Week

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Washington (CNN) — President Donald Trump will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a dinner and talks at the White House next week, just two weeks before Israeli elections that will determine whether Netanyahu stays in power.


Trump’s decision to host the prime minister so close to the Israeli elections will undoubtedly be viewed by some as an effort by Trump — who enjoys sky-high approval ratings in Israel — to tip the scales in Netanyahu’s favor. And Netanyahu, who has made his close relationship with Trump central to his re-election campaign, will undoubtedly play up his visit in the final campaign stretch.

The decision is a striking contrast to Netanyahu’s trip to Washington weeks before the 2015 Israeli elections, when President Barack Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu to avoid appearing to influence that year’s elections.

Aside from its nearness to Israel’s elections, the visit comes as Netanyahu faces multiple investigations into corruption. Israel’s attorney general announced in February he would indict Netanyahu pending a hearing. That isn’t expected to occur until well after next month’s election.

The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, denouncing the investigations as a media-led witch hunt.

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May Day: British Parliament Rejects Prime Minister May’s EU Deal Again

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LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal to quit the European Union for a second time on Tuesday, deepening the country’s worst political crisis for generations, 17 days before the planned departure date.

MPs voted against May’s amended Brexit deal by 391 to 242 as her last-minute talks with EU chiefs on Monday to assuage her critics’ concerns ultimately proved fruitless.

The vote puts the world’s fifth largest economy in uncharted territory with no obvious way forward: exiting the EU without a deal, delaying the March 29 divorce date, a snap election, or even another referendum are all now possible.

May might even try a third time to get parliamentary support in the hope that hardline eurosceptic MPs in her Conservative Party, the most vocal critics of her withdrawal treaty, might change their minds if it becomes more likely that Britain might stay in the EU after all.

While she lost, the margin of defeat was smaller than the record 230-vote loss her deal suffered in January.

“If this vote is not passed tonight, if this deal is not passed, then Brexit could be lost,” a hoarse-voiced May told MPs before her deal was defeated.

Sterling, which had earlier in the day fallen by two percent to $1.3005, was trading at around $1.3082 shortly after the vote. [GBP/]

MPs are now due to vote on Wednesday on whether Britain should exit the world’s biggest trading bloc without a deal, a scenario that business leaders warn would bring chaos to markets and supply chains, and other critics say could cause shortages of food and medicines.

Supporters of Brexit argue that, while a “no-deal” divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it would allow the United Kingdom to thrive and forge beneficial trade deals across the world.

However, parliament is expected firmly to reject a “no-deal” Brexit as well, so on Thursday MPs would then vote on whether government should request a delay to the leaving date to allow further talks.

Both May and the EU have already ruled out any other changes to the deal, struck after two-and-a-half years of tortuous negotiations.

“There will be no third chance,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Monday. “There will be no further interpretations of the interpretations, no further assurances of the reassurances if the ‘meaningful vote’ tomorrow fails.”

Britons voted by 52-48 percent in 2016 to leave the EU but the decision has not only divided the main parties but also exposed deep rifts in British society, bringing concerns about immigration and globalisation to the fore.

Many fear that Brexit will divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China, leaving Britain economically weaker and with its security capabilities depleted.

Supporters say it allows Britain to control immigration and take advantage of global opportunities, striking new trade deals with the United States and others while still keeping close links to the EU, which, even without Britain, would be a single market of 440 million people.

Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Giles Elgood and Kevin Liffey

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