Archive for June, 2019

Malaysia finds 139 graves at ‘cruel’ jungle trafficking camps

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

Malaysia has found 139 graves, and signs of torture, in more than two dozen squalid human trafficking camps suspected to have been used by gangs smuggling migrants across the border with Thailand, the country’s police chief said on Monday.

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The dense jungles of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia have been a major route for smugglers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Myanmar, most of them Rohingya Muslims who say they are fleeing persecution, and Bangladesh.

“It’s a very sad scene… To us even one is serious and we have found 139,” Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, told reporters in the northern state of Perlis. “We are working closely with our counterparts in Thailand. We will find the people who did this.”

The grisly find follows the discovery of similar shallow graves on the Thai side of the border earlier this month, which helped trigger a regional crisis. After a crackdown on the camps by Thai authorities, traffickers abandoned thousands of migrants in rickety boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

“We were shocked by the cruelty,” said Khalid, describing conditions at the 28 abandoned camps, scattered along a 50 km (30 mile) stretch of the Thai border, around which the graves were found in an operation that began on May 11.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims are ferried by traffickers through southern Thailand each year, and in recent years it has been common for them to be held in remote camps along the rugged border with Malaysia until a ransom is paid for their freedom.

Past Reuters investigations have shown ransoms demands ranging from $1,200 to $1,800, a fortune for impoverished migrants used to living on a dollar or two a day.

Pictures of the camps shown to journalists by Malaysian police showed basic wooden huts built in forest clearings.

Khalid said bullet casings were found in the vicinity and added there were signs that torture had been used, without elaborating. Metal chains were found near some graves.

The first decomposed body was brought down to a police camp set up at the foot of the mountains where the camps were found on Monday evening, an operation that took nearly five hours due to the roughness of the terrain.

“The body was only bones and little bit of clothing on it,” said Rizani Che Ismail, officer in charge of Padang Besar police department, adding that the cause of death was not immediately apparent.

Smuggling crackdown

Police chief Khalid said one of the grave sites was just 100 metres or so from the site where twenty-six bodies were exhumed from a grave in Thailand’s Songkhla province in early May.

Thailand, under pressure from the United States to do more to combat people smuggling, launched a crackdown after finding that mass grave, since when more than 3,000 migrants have landed from boats in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Thai police said on Monday there were no human trafficking camps left in southern Thailand after a month-long crackdown.

But the crisis at sea is not over.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimated on Friday that some 3,500 migrants were still stranded on overloaded vessels with dwindling supplies, and repeated its appeal for the region’s governments to rescue them.

Malaysia and Indonesia have said they will allow the thousands still at sea to come ashore temporarily and ordered their navies to rescue people found adrift.

Thailand has said it will not allow migrant boats to land, but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Monday the Thai navy would help those in medical need.

“I have ordered the navy to take our boats and set up a floating command centre to help those who are hurt,” he said.

Most of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Rakhine state. Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with majority Buddhists in Rakhine in 2012. They are denied citizenship and have long complained of state-sanctioned discrimination.

Myanmar denies discriminating against the group and has said it is not the source of the migrant problem.

The scale of the discoveries along the Thai-Malaysia border will raise questions about the extent of official complicity in the camps.

Malaysian police said in a statement that two police officers were among 10 people arrested so far this year in investigations into human trafficking, without giving details.

Thailand said earlier this month that more than 50 police officers had been transferred as a result of investigations into human trafficking networks in the south.

Malaysia’s Najib said in a post on his official account that he was “deeply, deeply concerned with graves found on Malaysian soil purportedly connected to people smuggling.

“We will find those responsible,” Najib posted in English.

Unions must be campaigners: ACTU

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

The trade union movement should be a permanent campaigning force, ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver says.

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At the start of the council’s triennial gathering in Melbourne on Tuesday, Mr Oliver conceded it was a significant mistake to dismantle the successful anti-Work Choices campaign infrastructure.

“As long as I’m here, we will not make that mistake again,” he told delegates, while insisting unions were ready to fight for living standards in the lead-up to next federal election.

Mr Oliver said lessons have been learnt since the ‘Your Rights at Work’ campaign, which helped defeat the Howard government.

It was wrong to dismantle the campaigning infrastructure, which had been built up over many years, after the 2007 election, he admitted.

“We literally went from overnight from being a campaigning movement to a transactional movement.”

The ACTU’s strategic plan in the lead-up to the next federal election will be about not only building campaigning capacity, but keeping it, he said.

Mr Oliver, who formally put himself forward for a second term as secretary, urged congress to back the strategy.

It will include an increase in affiliation fees to help build a multi-million dollar war chest.

He urged delegates and their unions to come together to fight for workers’ rights and against the Abbott government’s royal commission into trade unions and productivity commission inquiry into workplace relations.

President Ged Kearney, who is also seeking re-election, said the social wage was again under threat, like it was in 2007.

“Isn’t it funny how history repeats itself,” she told the gathering.

It was time to commit to building a strong campaigning infrastructure, Ms Kearney added.

Government ‘sidelining Muslim community-groups’

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

The Islamic Council of Victoria has criticised the Abbott government for continuing to sideline Muslim groups when forming policy responses aimed at countering radicalisation.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to announce a new ministerial position to improve consultation with Muslim leaders, aimed at combating radicalisation, as part of its beefed-up response to the threat of terrorism.

But the peak group for Muslim organisations in Victoria has raised questions about the sincerity of the latest move, saying it would have been appropriate to engage with their community before forming a new post that is supposed to improve consultation.

“We’ve been in three consultations with the attorney-general and this has never been raised,” Kuranda Seyit, the secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, told AAP on Tuesday.

“This is just an example where the Muslim community has been sidelined to the effect that it’s just a pawn in the political landscape.”

The new ministerial post is likely to be given to parliamentary secretary for social services Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who will report to Attorney-General George Brandis.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells would be charged with building better relations with at-risk communities and tackling the appeal of jihadist teaching.

The development comes after Mr Abbott on Monday confirmed former ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty as Australia’s first national counter-terrorism co-ordinator, and Justice Minister Michael Keenan as the nation’s first counter-terrorism minister.

Senator Brandis on Tuesday insisted the government wasn’t trying to alienate Muslims with the latest announcements.

“The government knows the vast majority of Australia’s Muslim people are peace-loving people,” he said.

But Mr Seyit said the language from government in relation to the Muslim community was still creating fear and suspicion.

The ultimate effect would only be to drive young people further towards radicalisation.

“The overall approach is abrasive and confrontational,” he said.

Instead there needed to be a dialogue that included not just Muslims but other community groups that had skills and resources at their disposal.

Freak tornado kills 13 in Mexican border city

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

Among the dead were three children as the whirlwind damaged an estimated 750 homes in the city across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas, said Jesus Garcia, spokesman for the local state of Coahuila.

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The calamity also injured 229 people, all of whom were transported to local hospitals for medical care.

Walls and ceilings collapsed under the force of the whirlwind, which traveled at a speed of some 31 mph (50 km per hour) and blew gusts over 124 mph, the government said, taking the border city unawares in the early hours of Monday.

“We’re not used to such destruction,” Ciudad Acuna’s mayor Evaristo Lenin Perez told local radio. “We don’t have records of a single tornado in Acuna, a 110-year-old city.”

A spokesman for the National Meteorological Service said it was the strongest tornado for at least 15 years in Mexico. Preliminary findings suggested it registered between a grade EF2 and EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the spokesman said.

After the twister had swept through the city, photos showed children climbing past mangled cars that had been swept into their homes, while adults salvaged valuables from the rubble.

“Most of the dead are people who were outside, not people who were inside their homes,” Perez said.

Authorities have set up seven refuge points for those whose houses were destroyed, the Coahuila government said.

“We’re working on clearing the debris of the destroyed buildings and cars that were displaced,” said Francisco Martinez, the deputy minister for Civil Protection in Coahuila.

Coahuila’s governor Ruben Moreira arrived this afternoon in Acuna, which had a population of around 134,000 in 2010, and promised authorities will lead the city’s recovery.

Accused teen might face Supreme Court

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

A teenager charged with planning to commit a terrorist act might face the Supreme Court after prosecutors revealed plans to apply to move the case out of the Children’s Court.

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A Children’s Court has heard that an application to have the 17-year-old tried as a child – but in an adult court – was expected to be made on June 1.

The teen, who cannot be named, appeared via videolink at Tuesday’s hearing where his lawyer indicated an application for bail would likely also be made on June 1.

He is also charged with possessing things connected with a terrorist act, believed to relate to three improvised explosive devices that police allege were found in the boy’s home in Melbourne during raids on May 8.

A further charge, alleging that the teen did not provide police with a password for an electronic device, has also been laid.

Commonwealth prosecutors told the Children’s Court that an order to refer the teen’s matter to a higher court would likely seek it to be heard in the Supreme Court.

The judge acknowledged legislation required children facing serious charges, including murder and manslaughter, to be automatically referred to the Supreme Court.

This did not include terrorism offences, he said, though they were a relatively recent development “right up there with murder”.

“It might be something the legislation has to turn its mind to,” the judge said.

Prosecutors made an application on Tuesday to collect forensic samples, including fingerprints and saliva from the teen, as well as photos of his hands.

The application was not opposed.