This Week in Asian Conflict… December 8th-14th, 2011.

  • A US citizen was jailed by authorities in Thailand for translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of the King and posting them online. On Friday, the former PM was being questioned by police in connection with a deadly military crackdown on the “Red Shirt” mass opposition protests that occurred while he was in office.
  • On Thursday, assailants set fire to more than 20 NATO fuel tankers in Pakistan after firing rockets at a terminal for the tankers near the city of Quetta; while armed men gunned down the coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in the northwest while driving his motorbike to his office; and four militants were reportedly killed after they attacked a check post and killed a paramilitary soldier. On Friday, President Zardari told a journalist in a phone interview that he was “fine” and would return home soon amid rumours of his death and possible coup plots; a roadside blast killed three paramilitary soldiers and wounded four in Karachi; a senior military officer said the NATO air strike that killed Pakistani troops last month was pre-planned and warned of more attacks; and Pakistani security forces reportedly killed 5 militants in a clash in South Waziristan. On Saturday, security forces reportedly killed five militants in an exchange of fire in the Swat valley; security forces killed four militants and wounded three others in a clash that erupted after insurgents attacked a military check post in the northwest; while the deputy chief for the Taliban in Pakistan announced that they are in peace talks with the government, though by Monday, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, the PM and a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban all denied the peace talks, with the government saying they would only do so if the militants first disarmed and surrendered and the Taliban saying it would only talk if the government agreed to impose Sharia law. On Monday, it was reported that President Zardari would need two weeks rest in Dubai following his medical treatments; gunmen in the south west attacked a NATO supply convoy, killing one truck driver; while the PM announced that the blockade of NATO supply lines into Afghanistan is likely to stay in place for weeks and warned that further retaliatory action, such as the closing of airspace to the US, is possible amid the withdrawal of US forces from Shamsi Air Field in the south. The Senate gave final approval to two bills containing new laws that would stiffen the punishment for acid attacks against women and criminalize practices such as marrying off young girls to settle tribal disputes and preventing women from inheriting property. On Tuesday, police in the south found and released dozens of students chained and held in the basement of an Islamic seminary, some of who claimed they had been tortured and were being trained as jihadist fighters; while a US Congressional panel froze $700 million in aid to Pakistan until it could give assurances that the country is tackling the spread of homemade bombs; and one soldier was killed and seven others wounded when militants reportedly fired RPGs at a military camp in the Shawal area. On Wednesday, the government began drawing up plans to tax NATO for using its territory to supply troops in Afghanistan in retaliation for the “friendly fire” incident last month.
  • On Monday, Japan launched a new spy satellite into orbit reportedly amid concerns over North Korea’s missile program and to monitor natural disasters in the region. The radar satellite will be able to capture images at night and in cloudy weather and cost about $512 million to develop.
  • On Thursday, British PM Cameron announced that up to 4,000 British troops could leave Afghanistan early, before the end of 2013; one of three options to be considered by the PM. On Friday, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up, killing at least five people outside a mosque in Kunar province; and unknown gunmen killed three civilians in the north. On Saturday, a bicycle bomb exploded in Kunduz city, killing two people and injuring 16; while three civilians were killed and another wounded by a roadside bomb in Kandahar province. On Monday, the National Army and coalition forces reportedly killed 14 armed insurgents while police arrested 11 others during three joint operations in Kunar and Zabul provinces. On Tuesday, it was reported that the Afghan government has made a deal with the Taliban to end attacks on state schools in return for a more conservative religious curriculum and the hiring of Taliban-approved mullahs as teachers; six civilians were killed in a homemade bomb explosion in Helmand province; Afghan security forces and foreign troops killed 18 alleged insurgents, wounded six and detained 55 in eight separate operations across the country; Afghan police killed a would-be suicide bomber near an airport in Badghis; and unknown gunmen killed some six civilians in Nangarhar. On Wednesday, the government recalled its Qatari ambassador for “consultations” amid media reports of the opening of a Taliban office in the country.
  • The Time of India reported on Wednesday that inequality in earnings has doubled in the country over the last two decades, making it one of the worst performers in terms of salary disparities from all emerging economies.
  • A former cabinet member in Turkmenistan has criticised the ruling party for being an “unlawful institution” and for the absence of democracy and human rights within the country. Upcoming Presidential elections scheduled for February 12th have only one legal party, that of the incumbent.
  • A militant group Jund al-Khilafah confirmed that five of its fighters were killed in a shootout with security forces in Kazakhstan last week. The group has been posting messages threatening the government since October, when the country adopted a new, restrictive law on religion. On Saturday, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said he would refuse to accept the “People’s Hero” award, but had no objection to December 1st being marked as the “Day of the First President of Kazakhstan”. On Tuesday, officials at a university in the northwest lifted a hijab ban for students after eight female students threatened to sue the school. On Wednesday, twelve men were jailed for up to 15 years after being called “associates of Kazakhstan’s first-ever suicide bomber”.
  • Buddhists in Tibet are burning themselves alive in China as a plea for freedom, with as many as 12 self-immolations since March. Workers’ unrest continued in China this week, as hundreds of factory workers staged a mass rally and faced off against riot police. China said its armed police have begun a joint patrol of the Mekong river with forces from neighbouring Myanmar/Burma, Laos and Thailand in response to the deaths of 13 Chinese sailors who were attacked in October. On Monday, it was reported that a man accused of rioting over land-grabs in a southern Chinese village died while in police custody, allegedly of cardiac failure, a claim his family rejects; while police in central China detained two men for spreading a rumour and video online that thousands of police were called out to guard a wedding convoy. The government said the police being there was a coincidence, as officers were returning from a training drill when the coincided with the wedding convoy. On Wednesday, villagers barricaded themselves in front of a ring of riot police calling upon the government to intervene in their land dispute after one of their activists died in police custody earlier in the week; while a commercial US satellite company said it had captured a photo of China’s first aircraft carrier in Yellow Sea off the Chinese coast.
  • On Monday, it was reported that a retired French colonel had killed himself in protest against “indifference” to the plight of the Hmong minority in Laos in October who he fought alongside in the 40s and 50s. Ethnic Hmong have been complaining of discrimination in Vietnam and Laos.
  • A human rights group has called upon the government of Sri Lanka to investigate the disappearance of two activists who disappeared sometime last week from a northern city. The two men were organizing protests to highlight the desperation of the families of those missing from the civil war. At least nine other men were reportedly abducted within the past couple of months.
  • A campaign group on Friday warned that the continued military offensive against ethnic Kachin rebels in the north of Myanmar/Burma has sent tens of thousands fleeing from their homes and threatens a humanitarian crisis, as fighting intensified this week. Aid agencies estimate that between 30,000 and 40,000 people are living in makeshift jungle camps, inaccessible to most aid organizations. On Monday, the President ordered commanders of the security forces not to launch offensives against the Kachin Independence Army, but only defend from attacks, though on Wednesday, UN bodies reported several clashes between the two armed groups. Myanmar/Burma denied this week that it had been cooperating with North Korea on nuclear weapons technology, instead saying it had merely signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two armed forces.
  • The Philippines re-launched an old US Coast Guard cutter (warship) on Wednesday to guard potentially oil-rich waters that are at the centre of a dispute with China and is potentially seeking used fighter jets from the US during a visit next year. Territorial defense has reportedly become increasingly important to the country amid renewed tension in the South China Sea.
  • On Monday a coastguard from South Korea was fatally stabbed while trying to seize a Chinese fishing boat, in the latest in a series of deadly clashes over diminishing fish stocks in the Yellow Sea that is forcing Chinese fishermen to go further and further from their own shores. South Korea has seized about 470 Chinese ships for illegal fishing in the Yellow Sea so far this year. North Korea warned South Korea of “unexpected consequences” for the “psychological warfare” created if it lights up a Christmas tree-shaped tower near the border.
  • Around a thousand protesters picketed outside the mayor of Osh’s office in Kyrgyzstan on Monday to demand that it stop blackmailing a Parliament speaker for his alleged criminal links and for the resignation of the party leader, though the former Parliament speaker persuaded them to end the protest on Wednesday. On Tuesday, hundreds of inmates in seven prisons started a hunger strike to demand better living conditions and meals. On Wednesday, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture said that police, investigators and prison guards in the country still use torture during their investigations and is expected to present his full report to the government with recommendations on how to eliminate it by next month; while the former chief of the State Committee for National Security was put under house arrest in Bishkek after he unexpectedly showed up in court where he was being tried in absentia for alleged abuses during anti-government protests in April 2010.
  • Human Rights Watch condemned Uzbekistan over its rights record in a new 104-page report titled “No One Left to Witness: Torture, the Failure of Habeas Corpus, and the Silencing of Lawyers in Uzbekistan”. A chairwoman of the Committee of Legislation and Judicial Issues of the Uzbek Senate suggests that although some abuses do take place, that reality is a far cry from the systemic abuses alleged in the HRW report.
  • The deposed PM of Papua New Guinea was reinstated by the governor-general on Wednesday in an effort to resolve months of deadlock in the government after an earlier court ruling that the current PM had taken power illegally. O’Neill toppled Somare in August while he was overseas seeking medical treatment, and is now refusing to accept the governor-general’s decision. Police are calling for calm amid fears of unrest in the streets. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern over the political tensions and called upon all sides to “exercise maximum restraint”.
  • A three-month old strike at a giant gold and copper mine in Indonesia owned by American Freeport-McMoRan was reportedly settled after a wage deal was reached with the workers’ union. Nine people were killed during violence since the walkout began.

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