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Asean urges South China Sea calm

Monday, 19 March 2018 00:00 Published in Headlines

SYDNEY — Australia and its (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Asean neighbors yesterday vowed to boost defense ties while stressing the importance of non-militarization in the disputed South China Sea at a summit where the “complex” Rohingya crisis took center stage.
Leaders from the Asean, at the three-day meeting in Sydney, also agreed to work more closely to tackle the growing menace of violent extremism and radicalization.
Tensions in the South China Sea remain a big worry for regional leaders, as Beijing continues to build artificial islands capable of hosting military installations — much to the chagrin of other claimants to the area.
Vietnam remains the most vocal in the dispute with the Philippines backing off under China-friendly President Rodrigo Duterte. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims.
Canberra and Asean reaffirmed “the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region,” without naming Beijing. 

The leaders added they wanted to see an “early conclusion of an effective code of conduct in the South China Sea.”
“We will uphold our commitment to the rules-based order and international law in the region, including the South China Sea,” stressed Turnbull.
With China flexing its muscle, they also committed to enhancing “the scope and sophistication of defense cooperation,” while expressing “grave concern” about escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Day two of the summit on Saturday was devoted to counter-terrorism, with an agreement to work together to tackle extremism amid growing concern about the use of the “dark web,” or encrypted messaging apps, by terrorists to plan attacks.
Fears have been heightened by jihadists now being forced out of Syria and Iraq with the Islamic State caliphate mostly crushed, and into other countries.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak cited the flow of the displaced Rohingya as a potential new security threat, with desperate people more susceptible to radicalization.
But while a final communique noted a resolve to “protect the human rights of our peoples,” it failed to condemn member state Myanmar’s treatment of the Muslim-minority Rohingya.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled the troubled Rakhine state for Bangladesh since authorities launched a brutal crackdown six months ago that the UN has called “ethnic cleansing.”
Myanmar, whose de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was in Sydney, has vehemently denied the allegations.
“We discussed the situation in Rakhine state at considerable length today,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at a closing press conference.
“Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the matter comprehensively, at some considerable length herself,” he said.
“It’s a very complex problem ... Everyone seeks to end the suffering that has been occasioned by the events, the conflict.”
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said the crisis was “a concern for all Asean countries, and yet Asean is not able to intervene to force an outcome.”
Human rights issues were a key focus of protests during the summit, with thousands denouncing Aung San Suu Kyi, Cambodian strongman Hun Sen and Vietnam’s Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who are accused of oppression.
With the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, without the United States, now signed, Turnbull urged leaders to get behind a “high quality” Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership deal. 

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump slammed the Federal Bureau of Investigation as he hailed the firing of a veteran FBI agent as a “great day for democracy,” a move his attorney said he hoped would bring an end to a probe into alleged collusion between the president’s campaign and Russia.
Critics described the axing of Andrew McCabe — the deputy of former FBI director James Comey — as a “dangerous” ploy to discredit the top US law enforcement agency as well as the work of Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian influence in the 2016 election.
McCabe is a potential key witness in the Russia probe.
Trump yesterday via Twitter blasted the alleged “tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State.”
He also reiterated long-running criticism of the Mueller investigation, terming it a “witch hunt” and saying that it “should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime.”

McCabe job offer
Earlier, Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, told the Daily Beast that he hoped Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would follow the lead of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and “bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.”
Dowd told the Daily Beast he was speaking for the president. But in a subsequent statement he said he had been “speaking for myself, not the president.”
McCabe, who has endured a year of withering attacks from Trump, was fired by the Justice department late Friday, just two days before he was to retire after 21 years with the FBI.
Critics say the firing is a step in Trump’s plan to engineer Mueller’s dismissal, potentially sparking a constitutional crisis.
Mueller is also examining whether Trump might have obstructed justice, including by firing Comey last May.
One Democratic lawmaker, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, announced Saturday that he offered McCabe a job in his office so he can complete the time necessary to retire with full federal benefits.
“My offer of employment to Mr. McCabe is a legitimate offer to work on election security,” Pocan said in a statement.
McCabe spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz was non-committal. “We are considering all options,” she told the Washington Post.
‘War’ on the FBI
“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy,” Trump tweeted soon after the firing.
McCabe denied any impropriety and said he was the victim of a Trump administration “war” against the FBI and the special counsel.
McCabe kept memos of his interactions with Trump, US media reported, that the documents could bolster his version of events.
Comey pushed back as well. “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not,” he tweeted.
The Justice department said an internal investigation had found that McCabe made unauthorized disclosures to the media, and had not been fully honest “on multiple occasions” with the department’s inspector general.
“The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.
Lack of candor under oath is a firing offense at the FBI, but the politically-charged context of the move raised questions among McCabe’s backers.
Former CIA chief John Brennan lost his patience with Trump. “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history,” he tweeted.
‘Not political appointees’
Trump, in an early afternoon tweet, belittled the media for its coverage of the story, saying: “The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired...”
In a second tweet he again denied any collusion with Russia.
Details of the inspector general’s probe were not made public, but it involved the FBI’s handling of the 2016 investigation into Trump’s election rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump has repeatedly accused McCabe and Comey of protecting Clinton from prosecution, including over her misuse of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
The inspector general’s probe was “part of an unprecedented effort by the administration, driven by the president himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn,” McCabe said in a statement. 

PARIS — The only UN-approved financial mechanism to curb deforestation, a key driver of global warming, has bulldozed the rights of forest-dwelling peoples on three continents and needs to be fixed, experts say.
The latest sign that these schemes — which pay to restore tropical forests rather than cut them down — are falling short comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 20 pilot projects in Mai-Ndombe province have upended indigenous communities, according to a detailed report from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington DC-based research group.
Backed by the DRC government and international financing, private companies that manage huge tracts of forest have ignored the land rights of local peoples, engineered displacements, and avoided prior consent requirements, the report says.
They have also failed to share the windfall such programmes can bring, said lead author Marine Gauthier, who has monitored the projects in the western province of Mai-Ndombe since 2012.
“Indigenous peoples simply do not benefit from REDD+ because there is no benefit-sharing plan in place,” she told AFP, using the UN acronym for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.
So far, more than $90 million (P4.7 billion) have been disbursed or committed in the province for forest-related climate change projects.
Funding from Norway, France, Britain, the European Union and the United States, along with private sources and NGOs, is funnelled through the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.
Destroying forests intensifies global warming in two ways.
Losing a wooded area the size of Greece each year not only reduces Earth’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, it releases huge amounts of the planet-warming gas into the atmosphere, accounting for nearly a fifth of global emissions.
Tension unresolved
Tropical forests provide livelihoods and anchor the cultural identities of at least 250 million indigenous people.
Research has shown that stewardship by local communities significantly slows the pace of deforestation.
“Unfortunately, REDD+ projects in the DRC, as currently structured, are channelling money to private sector actors who do not have the same incentives to protect the forests,” said Alain Frechette, RRI’s director of strategic analysis.
Negotiated under the UN’s 1992 climate change treaty, REDD+ projects began a decade ago, but many are on hold until 2020, when the mechanism’s “strategic framework” will be finalized.
In the meantime, it is a work in progress.
Indeed, pilot programmes in dozens of countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa have, all too often, shortchanged local communities and underperformed as a bulkhead against climate change — their primary goal.
“REDD+ is evolving in a context of rights abuses, displacement and dispossession, threats and harassment over territories, and the repression and assassination of environmental activists by state and private forces,” the non-profit Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) found in a 2017 review of academic literature.
More than 200 environmental campaigners, nearly half from indigenous tribes, were murdered around the world in 2016 alone, according to watchdog Global Witness.
Corruption a key concern
“It is unclear how indigenous peoples will benefit from REDD+,” the CIFOR review concluded.
“The tension between conserving carbon stocks” — the CO2 locked in standing forests — “and providing rights and livelihoods has not been solved.”
Corruption in countries with weak governance has been a major concern.
In the DRC, home to 50 percent of Africa’s tropical forests, abuses related to land tenure conflicts have also turned violent, though not, so far, within REDD+ projects, Gauthier said.
As far back as the 1970s, some 6,000 Batwa Pygmies were forcibly expelled from the Kahuzi Biega National Park —collateral damage to a conservation project.
In Mai-Ndombe, another group of pygmies were recently barred by foreign concession holders with a REDD+ contract from using traditional slash-and-burn agriculture because their ancestral forests had already been severely degraded by industrial logging operations.
“The situation is highly conflictual,” said Gauthier.
By design, REDD+ pays to reduce CO2 emissions from deforestation, but not for keeping healthy forests intact.
This, critics say, can create perverse incentives.
A company in Mai-Ndombe, for example, recently cleared a wooded area under a logging concession, and then applied for a “conservation concession” on the same tract.
“After getting money from harvesting the trees, in other words, they want to get REDD+ money to plant some more,” Gauthier said.
The solution, many experts say, is not to scrap REDD+.
“REDD+ has brought unparalleled attention to the importance of forests in the global strategy to fight climate change,” said Frechette. 


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