Thai soldiers on alert as Myanmar border clashes enter second day

Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) soldiers collect weapons after they captured an army outpost, near Myawaddy, Karen state, Myanmar, Mar. 11, 2024. (AP Photo)
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Updated 10 April 2024
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Thai soldiers on alert as Myanmar border clashes enter second day

  • Thai soldiers took up positions underneath the friendship bridge linking Mae Sot with Myanmar trade hub Myawaddy
  • Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) soldiers said they had seized a military base around 10 km west of Myawaddy

MAE SOT, Thailand: Thai armored cars patrolled the town of Mae Sot Wednesday as the deep boom of artillery thundered across the border in Myanmar, where the junta and an ethnic armed group fought for a second day near a vital trade hub.
Hundreds queued to enter Thailand at the immigration checkpoint in Mae Sot, many fleeing the newest round of fighting to test the junta’s hold on power.
Thai soldiers took up positions underneath the friendship bridge linking the town with Myanmar trade hub Myawaddy, the silhouettes of their counterparts from the Myanmar army visible across the sparse 200 meters (220 yards) of dirt and dried river dividing the nations.
Above the soldiers, hundreds walked across the friendship bridge and into the safety of the kingdom.
“I’m scared, so I decided to cross to the Thai side,” Khu, 49, from Myawaddy, told AFP as she clutched her pet dog to her chest.
She said she had obtained a visa to remain in Thailand for seven days but did not want to return until the fighting stopped.
A Thai soldier, beginning his watch and who declined to give his name, said the sounds of conflict were the most intense he had heard in fifteen years on the border with Myanmar’s conflict-riven Karen state.
Jafal Sweardik, 14, had just crossed over with his family from near Myawaddy, where he said the sounds of artillery and gunfire had cast a shadow over Eid Al-Fitr festivities at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
“It was horrible, very scary,” he told AFP, adding he was looking forward to being reunited with family on the Thai side to share an Eid feast of curry and rice.
The number of people passing Thai immigration from Myanmar had increased to around 4,000 per day in recent days, an immigration official told AFP, up from the usual number of around 1,900.
He said authorities were reinforcing the number of immigration officials to address the possibility that arrivals would rise further in the coming days.
The clashes come with the junta reeling from a series of defeats in the north and west of Myanmar, leading some of its opponents to believe it can one day be toppled.
Fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU) said Saturday they had seized a military base around 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of Myawaddy, and that more than 600 soldiers, police, and their families had surrendered.
KNU fighters had clashed again with the military around Myawaddy on Wednesday, a KNU spokesman Padoh Saw Taw Nee confirmed to AFP.
The junta has not responded to requests for comment on the KNU claim of the surrenders at the Thingannyinaung base.
More than $1.1 billion worth of trade passed through Myawaddy in the 12 months to April, according to the junta’s commerce ministry — a vital source of revenue for the cash-strapped military.
Residents told AFP fighting started around Myawaddy on Tuesday, sending people fleeing across the border, but that KNU fighters did not appear to have entered the town.
“There was fighting the whole of last night and in the morning as well,” a resident told AFP on Wednesday, requesting anonymity for security reasons, as they hid in a basement.
“We can hear artillery sounds and explosions from our place. Planes are flying over,” they said.
“My mother and other siblings fled to Mae Sot this morning. I’m now guarding our house with my uncle.”
A truck driver on the road to Myawaddy in Myanmar said he had heard planes flying and the sound of artillery fire on Wednesday.
He said other drivers told him that authorities in the town had blocked traffic from entering from the Myanmar side.
In neighboring Thailand, one Mae Sot resident told AFP they saw eight Thai military vehicles heading toward the border on Tuesday night.
“Many people have entered Mae Sot from the other side [Myanmar],” they said.
“I saw many online posts looking for a place to stay.”
Thailand shares a 2,400-kilometer (1,490-mile) border with Myanmar, with the clashes coming as the Thai foreign minister said Tuesday the kingdom was prepared to accept 100,000 people fleeing.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and high-level Thai officials met earlier to discuss the border issue.


Norway to block entry for most Russian tourists, Moscow says it will respond

Updated 6 sec ago
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Norway to block entry for most Russian tourists, Moscow says it will respond

Norway will further curb access for Russian tourist travelers due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, blocking almost all entry from May 29, the Nordic country’s justice ministry said on Thursday.
Russia called the decision “purely discriminatory” and said it would respond.
Norway, a NATO member that shares a border with Russia in the Arctic measuring almost 200 km (124 miles), first imposed restrictions on Russian tourist visas in 2022, shortly after Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“The decision to tighten the entry rules is in line with the Norwegian approach of standing by allies and partners in reaction to Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine,” Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said in a statement.
Any Russian citizens whose purpose is tourism and other non-essential travel will be turned back at the border. Exceptions may be granted in cases such as visits to close family residing in Norway, the ministry said in a statement.
“The change implies that the police can refuse the entry of Russian citizens who are covered by the instruction,” it said.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters such moves “cannot go unanswered.”
He added: “Of course, the decision is purely discriminatory. We do not accept such decisions. We regret that the Norwegian leadership has chosen this way of worsening our bilateral relations, which have already been of poor quality recently, and not on our initiative.”
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia did not intend to bar entry to Norwegian citizens. “But this does not mean that retaliatory measures won’t be taken. They will be,” she told reporters.


Over 100 human rights groups urge Biden to oppose sanctions on ICC

Updated 4 min 18 sec ago
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Over 100 human rights groups urge Biden to oppose sanctions on ICC

  • Open letter follows calls by US senators to punish court over Netanyahu arrest warrant
  • ‘The ability of the ICC to provide justice for victims requires full respect for its independence’

LONDON: More than 100 human rights and civil society organizations have called on US President Joe Biden to oppose punitive measures against the International Criminal Court.

It follows news earlier this week that the court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, is seeking arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three Hamas leaders.

Khan’s move was condemned by some members of the US Congress and Senate, who threatened retaliation against the ICC, including sanctions and travel bans on officers of the court.

In an open letter published on Thursday, the 121 human rights and civil society groups urged Biden to resist calls to punish the ICC.

Major human rights organizations signed the letter, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Biden should “oppose any legislative efforts to undermine the ICC,” and “make clear that regardless of its views on specific ICC investigations, the US continues to support independent international justice mechanisms,” the letter says.

“Accountability is important for its own sake and protects against the commission of future atrocity crimes,” it added.

“The ability of the ICC to provide justice for victims requires full respect for its independence. A selective approach to judicial decisions undermines the credibility, and ultimately, the force of the law as a shield against human rights violations and abuses.”

The US is not a member of the ICC, but both Republican and Democratic administrations have supported actions taken by the court on several occasions, including by assisting in the arrests of wanted suspects.

The Biden administration has publicly welcomed ICC statements on the conflicts in Ukraine and Sudan.


Group of graduates walk out of Harvard commencement chanting ‘Free, free Palestine’

Updated 23 May 2024
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Group of graduates walk out of Harvard commencement chanting ‘Free, free Palestine’

  • Student speaker Shruthi Kumar said “this semester our freedom of speech and our expressions of solidarity became punishable,” she said to cheers and applause
  • “I am deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and the right to civil disobedience on campus”

CAMBRIDGE: A group of graduates walked out of the Harvard commencement chanting “Free, Free Palestine” after weeks of protests on campus.
School officials announced Wednesday, the day before Thursday’s graduation, that 13 Harvard students who participated in a protest encampment would not be able to receive degrees alongside their classmates.
Some students chanted “Let them walk, let them walk walk,” during Thursday’s commencement, referring to allowing those 13 students to get their degrees along with fellow graduates.
Harvard University held its commencement address Thursday following a weekslong pro-Palestinian encampment that shut down Harvard Yard to all but those with university ties and roiled tensions on the campus.
Those tensions were ticked up a notch on Wednesday when school officials announced that 13 Harvard students who participated in the encampment won’t be able to receive degrees alongside their classmates. Some students chanted “Let them walk, Let them walk,” during commencement.
Student speaker Shruthi Kumar said “this semester our freedom of speech and our expressions of solidarity became punishable,” she said to cheers and applause.
She said she had to take a moment to recognize “the 13 undergraduates in the class of 2024 who will not graduate today,” Kumar said to prolonged cheers and clapping. “I am deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and the right to civil disobedience on campus.”
Over 1,500 students had petitioned, and nearly 500 staff and faculty had spoken up, all over the sanctions, she said.
“This is about civil rights and upholding democratic principals,” she said. “The students had spoken. The faculty had spoken. Harvard do you hear us?”
Those in the encampment had called for a ceasefire in Gaza and for Harvard to divest from companies that support the war.
Also on Thursday, the leaders of Northwestern University and Rutgers University are expected to testify at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about concessions they gave to pro-Palestinian protesters to end demonstrations on their campus. The chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, also was scheduled to appear at the latest in a series of hearings looking into how colleges have responded to the protests and allegations of antisemitism
The decision by the school’s top governing board follows a recommendation Monday by faculty members to allow the 13 to receive their degrees despite their participation in the encampment.
Harvard’s governing board, the Harvard Corporation, however said that each of 13 have been found to have violated the university’s policies by their conduct during the encampment protest.
“In coming to this determination, we note that the express provisions of the Harvard College Student Handbook state that students who are not in good standing are not eligible for degrees,” the corporation said in a written statement.
The statement left open the possibility of an appeals process saying the corporation understands “that the inability to graduate is consequential for students and their families” and supports the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ intention to provide an expedited review of requests for appeal.
“We care deeply about every member of our community — students, faculty, staff, researchers, and alumni — and we have chosen a path forward that accords with our responsibilities and reaffirms a process for our students to receive prompt and fair review,” the statement added.
Supporters of the students said the decision not to allow them to receive degrees at commencement violated a May 14 agreement between interim President Alan Garber and the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine coalition that would have allowed the students to graduate.
Protesters against the war between Israel and Hamas voluntarily dismantled their tents after they said university officials agreed to discuss their questions about the endowment, bringing a peaceful end to the kinds of demonstrations that were broken up by police on other campuses.
The group issued a statement late Wednesday saying the decision jeopardizes the post-graduation lives of the 13 students.
“By rejecting a democratic faculty vote, the Corporation has proved itself to be a wholly illegitimate body, and Garber an illegitimate president, accountable to no one at the university,” the group said.
“Today’s actions have plunged the university even further into a crisis of legitimacy and governance, which will have major repercussions for Harvard in the coming months and years,” the group said,
There was a noticeable presence of police officers around the campus Thursday mixing with soon-to-be-graduates, their family members and sidewalk flower sellers.
A small plane circled above trailing an Israeli and US flag. A truck was parked outside the campus with an electronic billboard with the names and images of some of the pro-Palestinian protesters under the banner “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites.”
At Drexel University in Philadelphia, protesters packed up their belongings and left a pro-Palestinian encampment Thursday after the school announced a decision to have police clear the encampment. A wave of pro-Palestinian tent encampments on campuses has led to over 3,000 arrests nationwide.


Russia says main power line to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant goes down, no safety threats

Updated 23 May 2024
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Russia says main power line to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant goes down, no safety threats

  • The reasons for the outage, which had not caused any change in the radiation level, were being investigated
  • The main 750 kilovolt (kV) “Dniprovska” power line went down at 13.31 local

MOSCOW: Russia said on Thursday that the main power line supplying the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) in Ukraine had gone down, but that there was no threat to safety and the plant was being supplied via a backup line.
The six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia plant, held by Russia and located close to the front line of the conflict in Ukraine, are not in operation but it relies on external power to keep its nuclear material cool and prevent a catastrophic accident.
The Russian management said on their official channel on the Telegram app that the reasons for the outage, which had not caused any change in the radiation level, were being investigated.
It said the main 750 kilovolt (kV) “Dniprovska” power line went down at 13.31 local (1031 GMT), while the 330 kV “Ferosplavnaya” line was supplying power to the plant now.
The main “Dniprovska” power line also went down for almost five hours on March 22, highlighting what the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said were “ever present dangers to nuclear safety and security” from the Russia-Ukraine war.
Russia and Ukraine have each accused the other at various times of shelling the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is Europe’s largest.
IAEA has said that the ZNPP has been experiencing major off-site power problems since the conflict began in early 2022, exacerbating the nuclear safety and security risks facing the site.


US will announce $275 million more in artillery and ammunition for Ukraine, officials say

Updated 23 May 2024
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US will announce $275 million more in artillery and ammunition for Ukraine, officials say

  • This will be the fourth installment of military aid for Ukraine since Congress passed a long-delayed foreign aid bill late last month
  • Russia has sought to take advantage of Ukrainian shortages in manpower and weapons while the war-torn country waits for the arrival of more US assistance

WASHINGTON: The United States is expected to announce an additional $275 million in military aid for Ukraine on Friday as Kyiv struggles to hold off advances by Russian troops in the Kharkiv region, two US officials say.
This will be the fourth installment of military aid for Ukraine since Congress passed a long-delayed foreign aid bill late last month and comes as the Biden administration has pledged to keep weapons flowing regularly and to get them to the front lines as quickly as possible.
The package includes high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, as well 155 mm and 105 mm high-demand artillery rounds, according to the two US officials. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details of the aid package before the public announcement.
It follows a monthly gathering Monday of about 50 defense leaders from Europe and elsewhere who meet regularly to coordinate getting more military aid to Ukraine. At this latest meeting, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukraine was in a “moment of challenge” due to Russia’s new onslaught on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. He pledged to keep weapons moving “week after week.”
Russia has sought to take advantage of Ukrainian shortages in manpower and weapons while the war-torn country waits for the arrival of more US assistance, which was delayed for months in Congress. Ukrainian forces have been pushed backward in places, while Russia has pounded its power grid and civilian areas.
In the month since President Joe Biden signed the $95 billion foreign aid package, which included about $61 billion for Ukraine, the US has announced and started to send almost $1.7 billion in weapons pulled from Pentagon stockpiles.
It’s also announced $6 billion in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. That pays for longer-term contracts with the defense industry and means that the weapons could take many months or years to arrive.
With this latest package, the US has now provided almost $51 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.