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Thursday, 27 November 2008

From Today's Papers - 27 Nov

Thailand Seeks Clarification from India
on Sinking of 'Pirate' Ship

Thailand has sought a clarification from the Indian Navy on its rules of engagement in sinking an alleged pirate ship last week off the coast of Somalia after evidence has emerged that the ship was a Thai vessel, officials said Wednesday.

"We have asked the Indian authorities to help us verify the ownership of the vessel and then clarify their rules of engagement," said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat.

The Indian Navy frigate INS Tabar sank a suspected pirate vessel Nov 18 in the Gulf of Aden.

The vessel is now believed to be the Ekawat Nava 5, registered in Kiribati, an island nation in the South Pacific, but owned by Thai national Wicharn Sirichaiekawat.

The Thai Foreign Ministry said it was convinced the "pirate ship" was in fact the Ekawat Nava 5 because the owner of the vessel lost contact with his ship on Nov 18 while it was in the Gulf of Aden and one of the crewmen, a Cambodian, who survived the attack has provided details of the incident from his hospital bed in Yemen, Tharit said.

According to Wicharn, the ship had a crew of 16 on board when it was attacked, including one Cambodian and 15 Thais. He said the ship was travelling from Oman to Yemen to deliver fishing equipment when it was first attacked by pirates and then attacked by the Indian Navy.

"The ship was raided by pirates, and all of the crew members were tied up when the Indian Navy attacked, according to the survivor," Tharit said.

Thailand has sought a clarification from Indian authorities on whether the Indian Navy frigate attempted to assist any of the survivors after it fired on the vessel and eventually sank it.

"We are still awaiting their answer," Tharit said.

The Indian government said last week that it sank a pirate vessel after it fired on the INS Tabar.

INS Tabar had spotted a pirate vessel 285 nautical miles or 528 km southwest of Salalah, Oman, and asked the vessel to stop for investigations, it said.

The vessel's response "was that she would blow up the naval warship if it closed in on her", a government statement said.

"Pirates were seen roaming on the upper deck... with guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers," it said. "The vessel continued its threatening calls and subsequently fired on INS Tabar."

The Indian warship retaliated, leading to a fire and an explosion on the other vessel.

Aden Attack
Did we sink the wrong boat?
It was a Thai fishing trawler, confirms maritime bureau

Kuala Lumpur, November 26
A suspected pirate vessel that was destroyed by Indian Navy last week in the Gulf of Aden was in fact a Thai fishing trawler which had been hijacked, the International Maritime Bureau confirmed on Wednesday. Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur said one Thai crew member died when the Indian frigate ‘INS Tabar’ attacked the trawler on November 18 in waters near Somalia, which is infested with pirates.

It was pirate ship: Navy
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 26
The Indian navy today made it clear that its seamen had fired at a vessel that was being used by pirates at the time it was shot at late in the evening on November 18 near the Gulf of Aden area. Also the firing was carried out in retaliation and after well-armed pirates first fired at the warship INS Tabar and threatened to blow it up.

This Thailand government has asked the Indian government to explain the matter.

Though the international maritime officials have confirmed that a fishing boat owned by a Thailand-based company Sirichai fisheries had been hijacked by pirates on the morning of November 18, it seems that pirates were using the boat when it encountered the Indian warship. It was no more under the control of the fishing company or its crew. Thai ship, which was flying a flag from the tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati operated out of Thailand.

Today Navy spokesperson Commander Nirad Sinha said “We are convinced we acted against pirates. The ball of fire that erupted after explosions that took place on the quarter deck, the middle portion and the rear end are proof of the volume of explosives the ship was carrying.

Also the entire issue raises several questions that justify the Indian Navy’s act at high seas said sources. Firstly, if the ship that was shot at by the Navy and the ship that was hijacked are the same then how did so much of ammunition reach it in the middle of the sea? The ship was 280 nautical miles off the coast there was no way that pirates using small speed boats ferried in so much ammunition within a matter of a few hours of hijacking it. Also when the INS Tabar asked the pirate ship to stop, it took an offensive posture and fired at the war ship? if it was a fishing vessel then who fired ? If hostages were on board the normal reaction of any hijacker would be to tell about hostages to make the Naval ship back off ? There was no such claim by the hijackers.

The entire communication between the INS Tabar and pirate ship was conducted using the maritime communication channel that can be heard by other ships sailing within the area.

India is one of several countries currently patrolling the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, amid increasing attacks by Somali pirates.

Neol Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, claimed the vessel shot down by the Navy was the Ekawat Nava 5. The Indian navy assumed it was a pirate vessel because they may have seen armed pirates on board the boat, which had been hijacked earlier, he was quoted as having said by TV channels. A senior Naval officer countered this saying pirates used hijacked ships only and did not purchase ships.

The IMB sent an alert to other multi-coalition patrol vessels but Choong said it was unclear whether the Indian vessel had received it as it had no direct IMB links.

The issue of a hijacked Thai fishing boat being shot down was raised by Wicharn Sirichaiekawat, the owner of the vessel. He told reporters in Bangkok and was quoted on news channels as having said he had learnt the fate of his trawler from a Cambodian crew member, who had survived the bombardment and had been rescued by a passing ship after six days adrift in the Indian Ocean. As many as 14-crew members are missing while another one who escaped with the Cambodian had died. The surviving sailor was now recovering in a hospital in Yemen, he said. The survivor said all crew was tied up except the captain and translator.

Sirsa pilot dies in chopper crash
Tribune News Service and Agencies

Lucknow/Sirsa, November 26
An Army helicopter crashed in the Ramganga river in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district today, killing the pilot from Sirsa in Haryana and seriously injuring the co-pilot, the police here said.

“The Army’s Cheetah helicopter crashed in the Ramganga river in Bareilly’s Oonchagaon village,” Javeed Ahmad, IGP of Bareilly zone, said.

Lieut Sachin Bhatia, 26, was killed while Major K.D. Singh, 34, who hails from Gurdaspur, was injured and is undergoing treatment at the Military Hospital in Bareilly, Ahmad added. Both officials were from the Sikh regiment of the Army. The injured Major reportedly managed to swim to safety.

Reasons for the mishap were being investigated by a joint team of the Army and the police, he said.

The death of Sachin Bhatia has come as a bolt from the blue for his parents and other family members in Sirsa.

His parents, Ashok Bhatia, a patwari, and mother, a teacher, left for Bareilly immediately after getting the news of the chopper crash this afternoon. The parents first received the information that Sachin had been injured in the crash.

Friends and relatives started gathering at Sachin’s ancestral house situated in the Savera Wali Gali on the Hisar road of the town after hearing the news.

Sachin was a brilliant boy and was married only last year. His wife Neetika, an IDBI bank official who was posted here, had got her transfer orders to Bareilly, where Sachin was posted, only last month.

“Sachin, the second eldest of the three siblings, did his schooling from Sainik School, Kunjpura, and then was trained as a pilot from Nasik. He joined the Army and was posted at Bareilly these days,” said Neelam, a cousin of Sachin. His elder sister was married and the younger brother was pursuing his studies, the family sources said.

“The mishap took place today around 12.30 pm in Oonchagaon village in Bareilly,” Bareilly district police chief Vinod Kumar Singh said.

He said minutes before the accident the chopper moved jerkily in the air and fell into the river. There were only two persons in the chopper at the time of mishap.

Airstrikes hindering terror war, says Zardari

Miliband calls on president, PM, CAOS | Calls Pakistan an important regional player

The Post Report/Agencies

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday said unilateral strikes from across the border were not helping the war on terror.

Talking to British Foreign Minister David Miliband who called on him during his daylong visit to Pakistan, President Zardari said the multi-pronged strategy adopted by the Pakistan-People's party-led government in the fight against terrorism had started showing results but drone strikes were aggravating the situation.

The president conveyed to the British foreign secretary growing concern of the government and the people of Pakistan over attacks from across the border.

The president said the issue of terrorism was being tackled on political, economic and military fronts simultaneously. He said the government's strategy had full political and public support.

President Zardari also discussed with Miliband ties between Pakistan and the United Kingdom and stressed the need for a more meaningful economic and trade partnership between the two countries.

Miliband called on Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani during his daylong visit to Pakistan.

Talking to Miliband at the Prime Minister's House, Gillani lauded British support for the Friends of Pakistan and hoped that the forum would pave the way for substantive assistance to Pakistan in its effort to turn around the economy.

British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley also attended the meeting.

Gillani briefed Miliband on the government's efforts to restore law and order and measures to stop the economic downslide. He said explained measure to boost agriculture and provide relief for the poor under the Benazir Income Support Programme. The prime minister also told Miliband about the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) bailout plan.

Prime Minister Gillani said Pakistan was looking forward to British support to the government's roadmap presented in New York. He said Pakistan was looking forward to improving relations with the EU and ways to enhance access to European markets, saying it would not only help boost the country's economy but also benefit mutual efforts to curb terrorism.

Miliband said that the UK was supporting Pakistan in fighting terrorism and curbing narcotics trade and it would continue its support to Pakistan. He said terrorism was a matter of concern for everybody.

He lauded the government's new strategy to address terrorism, and said the British government agreed to the need to incorporate political and economic means along with security measures to confront the challenges of terrorism in Afghanistan. He expressed the desire to enhance bilateral cooperation in the fields of education and against illegal human trafficking.

He said that Pakistan should come up with comprehensive proposals in education for consideration of a ministerial meeting of donors on December 16 in New York. Gillani told him the provision of universal primary education was one of the major priorities of his government.

During a breakfast meeting with Miliband, Foreign Minister Qureshi conveyed growing concern among people to the top British official over attacks from across the border in tribal areas of Pakistan. Miliband discussed bilateral relations, counter-terrorism, Afghanistan and Islamabad's relations with the New Delhi.

The British secretary said that greater world attention was now on Pakistan as an important player not just in the fight against terrorism but also in the regional economic and security context.

Qureshi stated that there was greater coordination and trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan and a number of meetings and events had taken place. He discussed drugs trade from Afghanistan with Miliband. He briefed his counterpart on the government's internal priorities and measures to meet various challenges.

Qureshi briefed Miliband on the composite dialogue process with India and Pakistan's endeavours to improve relations. He said the important issue of water sharing must be resolved quickly under the Indus Basin Treaty. Miliband stated that the UK would encourage closer interaction between the two neighbours.

Qureshi said Pakistan attached great importance to its relations with the EU. He underscored the need for the EU to give greater market access to Pakistani goods, with which the British secretary agreed. Britain is Pakistan's largest trading partner and the second largest foreign investor among the EU countries.

Pakistan is also a recipient of UK's development assistance of $480 million for the years 2008-2011. The presence of around one million Pakistanis reinforces the relationship. The UK was the first European country that established contacts with the newly elected government in Pakistan.

Later, the visiting British dignitary also called on the army chief at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. During the meeting a host of issues related to the Pak-UK defence relations, the Pak-Afghan border situation, regional security and military operation in the tribal areas were discussed.

General Kayani and Miliband agreed to bolster defence relations between the two countries. The army chief briefed the top UK official about repeated violations of the country's territorial integrity by the allied forces.

UK to respect parliament’s resolution

Shafqat Ali

ISLAMABAD: British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called on former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday and told him that his country respected the resolution on national security adopted by Pakistan's parliament. The meeting lasted for almost an hour at the Punjab House and both discussed various issues especially terrorism. Later Nawaz hosted a dinner in honour of the British foreign secretary and his delegation. Talking to journalists, PML-N Information Secretary MNA Ahsan Iqbal said that Nawaz and Miliband discussed the regional situation including the state of affairs across the Pak-Afghan border. They also discussed progress in talks between Islamabad and New Delhi.

The PML leader briefed Miliband on the joint resolution passed by the Senate and the National Assembly and explained that the resolution provides a comprehensive framework for long-term peace and stability in the region, he said, adding the British minister acknowledged Pakistan's role in curbing terrorism.

Miliband assured the PML-N leadership that the United Kingdom would respect the parliament's joint resolution for peace and stability, the spokesman said. Similarly, Nawaz asked the top British official to play his due role in stopping violations of Pakistan's aerial borders and drone attacks in tribal areas.

Ahsan said that the Pak-India talks were also part of deliberations, and the PML-N chief reiterated the nation's commitment to peaceful and stable relations with India. "We said categorically the resolution of the Kashmir issue is the key to durable peace in the region," he said.

Congo tells UN not to send Indian peacekeepers

* Request made due to previous involvement of Indian troops in sexual abuses
* UN mission says rebels violate ceasefire, government troops loot village

KINSHASA: The Congolese government has written to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him not to send any more Indian troops to reinforce its peacekeeping mission, according to a letter read to AFP Tuesday.

India is not mentioned by name, but diplomatic sources told AFP the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is without doubt referring to the Indian contingent of MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission. “In view of the numerous abuses of power carried out by certain troops within MONUC, the (Congolese) people would not understand if soldiers from the same country would be used to boost numbers within MONUC,” says the letter, which was read to AFP by diplomatic sources.

Indian peacekeepers have been accused of sexual abuse and MONUC admitted in August that some Indian troops could have been involved. The letter could prove a major diplomatic embarrassment to the UN. Some 90 percent of the peacekeepers patrolling the troubled Nord-Kivu region are from India and New Delhi is also providing assault helicopters for the mission.

The UN Security Council voted last Thursday to send 3,000 reinforcements to the country. Which countries will supply the extra troops and when is still to be undecided. The UN has been criticised for failing to protect the estimated 250,000 displaced people by both the rebels and government forces. Congolese Foreign Minister Alexis Tambwe Muamba handed the letter addressed to Ban to the deputy head of the UN mission Leilaq Zeerougi on Saturday, the same diplomatic sources said.

MONUC spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai confirmed that a letter from the Congolese foreign minister had been received Saturday, but declined to give details on its contents. The Congolese government also confirmed Muamba had sent a letter to Zerrougui on Saturday, but gave no further comment. MONUC has been operating in Congo since 2001. It is one of the largest UN missions worldwide with 17,000 peacekeepers currently deployed there.

Ceasefire violation: Rebels in east of the country have violated a fragile ceasefire, while government troops have looted a village, the UN mission in the country said on Wednesday. Rebels led by ex-general Laurent Nkunda “have launched new military operations in the Kiwanja-Ishasa area, aggravating the humanitarian and security situation in Nord-Kivu,” the UN mission said in a statement.

The rebels have violated the ceasefire “under cover of police and peace operations” in eastern Nord-Kivu province, where the conflict between Nkunda’s men and government forces has been centred according to MONUC. Fighting has occurred between Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and pro-government Mai-Mai militia east of Kiwanja, some 80 kilometres north of the provincial capital Goma, MONUC said.

On Tuesday, a rebel spokesman said the CNDP had been carrying out “police” operations aimed at pro-government militia. “There are not really clashes, but simple police operations,” said Bertrand Bisimwa. “They have not caused displacements among the population.” But MONUC said fighting had “caused panic among the civilian population, which has been once again forced to flee to find security, moving toward Nyamilima or the Ugandan border.” afp

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Leaving Siachen to fester!

Khalid Saleem

The reader may not need reminding of the developments related to the Siachin dispute between Pakistan and India. For one thing, the fact that the US army commander felt the urge to join the Indian army chaps on a visit to the Indian base in the disputed Siachin region must have (and did) surprised some observers.

That its military commander should opt to visit only one side of a disputed area - and that too without informing Pakistan - does cast a shadow of sorts over the professed non-partisan image of the United States. It would bear repetition that the stand off at Siachin (that has been graphically described as the highest battlefield in the world) is a direct result of the most blatant violation by India of the Simla agreement of 1972. While Indian policy makers have been reverently professing the sanctity of the Simla accord, they simultaneously take the stand that the “ground reality” at Siachin be accepted as a fait accompli. In other words, they would like to eat their cake and have it too. And now the American action appears to have lent respectability to the Indian untenable position. So much for their non-partisan image!

Two years ago, the Indian establishment had tried to rewrite the rules of the game when they announced the launching of expeditions of trekkers onto the Siachin glacier. A somewhat lame protest lodged by Pakistan was unceremoniously swept aside by an Indian military spokesman.

The Indian Defense Minister speaking to the reporters volunteered the information that, “In July there have been teams with members from the US, France and Australia” and that in the past year as many as 15 military trekking teams had visited the Siachin glacier. For good measure he went on to add, “The whole of Jammu and Kashmir is Indian territory. What is the problem?” If this did not constitute thumbing the nose at the so-called composite peace process, one would like to be informed what is. There have been several bits of news, datelined New Delhi, on the subject of Siachin.

The Indian Army, it appears, organized “a civilian mountaineering and trekking expedition” to the Siachin Glacier for the second year in a row. Despite somewhat feeble protests from Pakistan, India continued to maintain that it does not need Pakistan’s approval to send trekkers to Siachin “since it is essentially Indian territory”. Despite umpteen sessions between the two sides and several optimistic prognoses emanating from oracles of the past regime, one has yet to hear what may be termed as good news in so far as the Siachin imbroglio goes. Meanwhile, a serious environmental problem appears to have cropped up in regard to the Siachin glacier area. International experts have warned that unless the two armies vacated the area, there is serious danger of melting of the glacier that could lead to widespread destruction in the area.

A number of reports and studies warn of an impending environmental catastrophe as a result of melting of the glacier. Resolution of the issue would thus be an important step towards saving the glacier and the environment. This new realization should shake the two sides from the stupor that has enveloped them for far too long.

The dispute had its beginning - circa 1982-83 - when India, taking advantage of the delivery of Soviet high altitude helicopters, landed its troops and set up military posts on the Saltoro range. Prior to that, the entire area of the Siachen glacier was internationally recognized as being under the de facto administrative control of the Pakistan authorities, a fact that was not disputed by India at the time of the signing of the Simla accord.

Since the time of the Indian excursion, the forces of India and Pakistan have faced each other eyeball to eyeball in what has been graphically described as the world’s highest battlefield. It is perhaps the only battlefield in which more casualties have been the result of inhospitable climatic conditions than due to actual military operations. The confrontation in the Siachen area has been hurting both sides in terms of casualties as well as mounting unproductive expenditure. In 1989, the then Indian Prime Minister had expressed willingness to sign an agreement based on unconditional withdrawal of the troops of both sides to conform to pre-Simla positions.

Regrettably, the Indian government changed its mind before the agreement was ready for signature. Since that time, Indian negotiators have been blowing hot and cold in the same breath and the matter has been hanging fire. If anything, the attitude of the Indian establishment appears to be hardening at every step. This state of affairs hardly gives cause for optimism.

Now, with the danger of an impending environmental catastrophe on the horizon, time is of the essence. Siachin issue demands urgent attention of both parties. The question is: will the two sides heed the writing on the wall or will they continue on their bumbling path until the environment catastrophe materializes? The meandering way in which the India-Pakistan relations appear to be moving hardly gives cause for much optimism.

One may be excused for looking askance at the so-called composite dialogue. The more one looks at its “results” the more it appears to be a dialogue of the deaf. Instead of leading the common man on both sides up the garden path, would it not be the decent thing to do to let him know the facts. And should the two establishments also not recognize that the path of CBMs is strewn with pitfalls that can be damaging for the peace-wagon, considering that it is already foundering on the rocks of non-credibility?

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