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China gives 6 patrol boats to Myanmar’s military junta

China has delivered six patrol boats to Myanmar’s military junta, fulfilling a promise made in 2020 to the country’s previous democratically elected civilian government, the Chinese Embassy said in a statement on Wednesday. The patrol boats that were handed over in Yangon on Tuesday will be used in law enforcement efforts to control gambling and drug trafficking and in rescue and water resources protection activities, the embassy said. But a former army officer, who wished not to be named for security reasons, told RFA that the vessels could also be useful for naval military operations in Rakhine state, which has several well-traveled rivers and an Indian Ocean coastline. Rakhine state has seen intense fighting between military junta troops and the ethnic minority insurgent Arakan Army since last November. “If these boats are modified a little bit, weapons could be installed,” the former army officer said.  A navy patrol boat donated by China is docked at Lanmataw jetty in Yangon, Myanmar, June 12, 2024. (RFA) Four of the patrol boats are 48 meters long (157 feet), and the other two are 28 meters long (91 feet), the embassy said. The civilian government under the National League for Democracy first requested the vessels in 2018. China’s projects in Rakhine An agreement was made in 2020 during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s two-day visit to Myanmar, in which several deals were signed to implement multibillion dollar infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative. The projects include a US$1.3 billion deep-sea port in Rakhine state’s Kyaukphyu, as well as the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a 620 km (1,000 mile) high-speed railway and road network that will run from China’s Kunming city through Myanmar’s major economic hubs and on to the port. The corridor will ultimately give China crucial access to the Indian Ocean at Kyaukphyu. The military junta removed the civilian government and seized power in February 2021. A resident of Kyaukphyu township who closely monitors the Chinese projects told RFA that the Chinese ambassador visited Kyaukphyu on Monday. Human Rights Watch found in 2022 that the Myanmar junta had used Japan-funded passenger ships during military operations in Rakhine state. “The Myanmar junta’s misuse of Japanese development aid for military purposes effectively makes Japan a backer of the junta’s military operations,” Asia program officer Teppei Kasai said at the time. When asked via email on Wednesday if the patrol boats could be used for military purposes, the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar directed RFA to a statement posted on its Facebook page. RFA’s attempts to contact junta spokesman Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun to ask about the patrol boats were unsuccessful on Wednesday. Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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Junta interrogation results in more deaths in Myanmar’s west: source

Junta soldiers in Myanmar’s west interrogated dozens of detained villagers and tortured several to death, residents told Radio Free Asia.  The soldiers beat three of the arrested residents from Byain Phyu village in Rakhine State on Wednesday until they were rushed to the hospital, two eventually dying from their injuries, said one resident, declining to be named for security reasons.  “More than 40 people were sent to Sittwe Prison from the [junta’s] military interrogation yesterday. Three of them were close to death,” he said. “The three of them were sent to Sittwe Hospital. Two died yesterday, and the other one is seriously injured.” The bodies were covered in bruises and long cuts, he added. A family member who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals told RFA that those who were sent to prison also had serious injuries. “The [junta] said residents from the village will be jailed. The villagers were severely tortured when we went to see them,” he said. “My uncle is also among the people who were sent to prison.” Junta authorities stationed in the area filed a case against the detained residents under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act and Section 188 of the Penal Code for disobeying an order, said another resident. The charges allege that villagers were connected to the anti-junta Arakan Army. Junta’s move came as clashes intensify between the Arakan Army and junta forces, with the rebel group advancing closer to the state capital, which made Myanmar military ramp up its raids and interrogations in the surrounding areas.  On May 29, junta troops arrested residents of Byain Phyu village and killed over 70 people. The arrested villagers were interrogated about connections to insurgent armies, according to locals. Nearly 200 junta soldiers surrounded the village and detained a large but undisclosed number of men.  Women and children under 15 involved in the arrest were released on May 31, but the remaining 40 men were transferred from an interrogation center in Byain Phyu, Rakhine State, to a prison in Sittwe on Tuesday, residents reported. Separately, junta troops threatened residents from five villages near the state’s capital of Sittwe that they must evacuate by Friday. According to an Arakan Army statement, Byain Phyu’s death toll following the arrests reached 76 as of June 4.  RFA phoned Rakhine state’s junta spokesperson Hla Thein to confirm the two additional deaths reported on Wednesday, but he did not respond by the time of publication.  Junta spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun denied the mass arrests and killings through military-controlled media on June 4.  Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Taejun Kang. 

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Vietnam sets record in island building in 2024: report

Vietnam’s island building in the South China Sea has reached a record with the total new land created in the first six months of this year equaling that of 2022 and 2023 combined, a U.S. independent think tank said. The Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said in its latest report that since November 2023, Vietnam has created 692 new acres (280 ha) of land across a total of 10 features within the Spratly archipelago. In comparison, it created 404 acres (163.5 ha) of land in the first 11 months of 2023 and 342 acres (138.4 ha) in 2022. Vietnam has reclaimed a total area of about half the area that China has built up, with much of Vietnam’s work on reefs China also claims. Of the two main island groups in the South China Sea, China occupies the Paracels, while the  Spratlys, to the south, are contested by several  countries. Vietnam occupies 27 features and has been carrying out large-scale reclamation works on some over the past year. Among the 10 largest features in the Spratlys, five are being developed by Hanoi, AMTI said. Vietnam’s features are much smaller than any of China’s so-called Big Three – Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef – artificial islands that Beijing developed and fully militarized.  Vietnam’s overall dredging and landfill totaled about 2,360 acres (955 ha), roughly half of China’s 4,650 acres (1881.7 ha).  The research group said  Vietnam’s reclamation was a major change. Just three years ago, the total amount of Vietnamese dredging and landfill was less than a tenth that of China’s.   Vietnam’s work includes the Barque Canada Reef, or Bai Thuyen Chai in Vietnamese, where the area nearly doubled over six months, from 238 acres (96.3 ha) to 412 acres (166.7 ha),  the group said. Vietnam says little about its work at the features apart from it is to protect them but not to expand them or change structures. There was no immediate government response to the AMTI report. A Vietnamese outpost in the Spratlys, May 2024. RFA/str Runway potential Six months ago, Radio Free Asia reported on the rapid expansion of Barque Canada Reef from the end of 2021. Chinese think tank the South China Sea Probing Initiative had said Hanoi may be building a second airfield on the reef but the latest satellite imagery shows no sign of that. Vietnam has one  1,300-meter runway on the Spratly Island, or Truong Sa Lon in Vietnamese, which can handle medium-sized military aircraft. The Barque Canada Reef “measures 4,318 meters in length, which makes it the only Vietnamese outpost so far with the potential to host a 3,000-meter runway” like those that China has, the think tank said. China’s three largest artificial islands are all equipped with runways that can accommodate bigger military transport, surveillance, and bomber aircraft. Satellite image of Barque Canada Reef, May 11, 2024. AMTI/Maxar Technologies Other features under Hanoi’s control that have undergone significant development since November 2023 are Discovery Great Reef, South Reef, Namyit Reef and Pearson Reef, according to the report. Vietnam “has continued implementing a mix of cutter-suction and clamshell dredging”, AMTI researchers said. A cutter suction dredger cuts the seabed into fragments with a rotating head. Material is sucked up by dredge pumps and discharged through pipes across sea and land. Scientists say cutter suction dredgers are more environmentally destructive and China has been criticized for using them. The Vietnamese public seems supportive of the  island building. Many social media commentators hail “the right strategy” in the face of China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. Six parties – Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – claim parts of the South China Sea as well as the islands and reefs inside it but China’s claims are the most expansive. A Philippine official, asked about Vietnam’s dredging and landfill work, said that Hanoi was reclaiming features that it occupied before a 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. “Vietnam focuses on minding their own affairs,” Philippine coastguard spokesperson Jay Tarriela told reporters.  “They do not engage in harassing our fishermen or illegally deploying coast guard vessels and maritime militia in the waters surrounding our occupied maritime features,” he said. The Philippines has accused China of harassing fishermen and law enforcement agencies in Philippine waters, especially near the Scarborough and Second Thomas shoals. China says  it has “indisputable jurisdiction” over all the reefs and atolls in the Spratlys. Edited by RFA staff

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Police video of detained unofficial Vietnamese monk allays fears

Supporters of an unofficial monk who had become an internet hit but then disappeared for a few days after Vietnamese authorities detained him last week breathed a sigh of relief on Monday after police published a video of him receiving a new national ID card. Monday’s video of 43-year-old Le Anh Tu, better known as Thich Minh Tue, allayed concerns after an interview with him Friday on a state-run news program had raised suspicions about his well-being, and that he was speaking under duress. For the past month, Le Anh Tu had drawn ever-increasing attention on social media for his pilgrimage across Vietnam. Along the way, he also unwittingly became a symbol of what many people say is a lack of religious freedom in the country.  Sporting a shaved head, patched garments and an alms bowl, Tue is not recognized as a monk by the state-sanctioned Buddhist group — and indeed did not claim to be a monk, just someone trying to follow Buddha’s teachings. Authorities apparently became alarmed at the attention Tue was getting, and on June 2, officials detained him, saying he stopped his trek amid concerns about threatening social stability.  But monks with him said authorities forced them to disband in a midnight raid and took him to an undisclosed location. His case has drawn attention from a U.S. lawmaker and international rights groups. Viewed with suspicion For several days, the monk wasn’t heard from, spurring public concern.  Then on Friday, June 7, the state-run Vietnam Television, or VTV, aired a three-minute news bulletin in which Tue said he was safe and had chosen to end his pilgrimage because of traffic concerns.  But the VTV video was viewed with suspicion by social media users who noted that Tue was interviewed in front of a white-painted tree trunk, which is a marker typically found in strictly controlled areas, such as military barracks and prisons. They suggested Tue’s hand movements indicated that he was under stress and alleged that there was no reflection of his interviewer in his eyes. In that interview, Tue tells reporter Lien Lien that he “would have continued to cultivate outside [on a pilgrimage] if there had not been so many crowds, affecting traffic safety and social order.” In the video, which shows footage of him being thronged by what appears to be hundreds of followers, VTV slams what it says is false information about Tue’s arrest over the past week and claims that “opposing forces” have exploited his case “to distort Vietnam’s policy on religion.” ‘More reliable’ Then, on Monday, a second video of Tue appeared that allayed people’s concerns. It was a rather mundane video published by police in Gia Lai province, in southern Vietnam where his permanent residence was registered, showing Tue receiving a new national ID from the police department’s Order and Administration Management Division. In the video, Tue enters the division’s “Office for ID application and pick-up,” where he meets with a police officer who explains the card’s benefits, such as its use for air travel and health check-ups. Tue is then interviewed about his thoughts on receiving the new ID, which he says “will be very good if it can be used to ensure my right to self-cultivation.” The video ends with Tue saying that he is healthy enough to return to his study of the Buddha’s teachings. A screenshot from a Youtube video uploaded June 9, 2024 shows an interview aired by VTV with independent monk Thich Minh Tue, left, in which he said he agreed to stop walking the streets. (VTV24 via Youtube) On Monday, Nguyen Viet Dung, a former prisoner of conscience who on June 7 launched a petition demanding that Vietnamese authorities disclose Tue’s whereabouts, told RFA Vietnamese that while the public was “skeptical” about the VTV interview, “many agreed that the Gia Lai provincial police video was more reliable.” “The people’s greatest wish was to see their beloved monk be safe,” he said. “Therefore, their greatest wish, to a certain extent, has been fulfilled.” Family request to ‘protect image’ Meanwhile, a lawyer on Monday dismissed a claim made in the VTV video that Tue’s family had called on authorities to “handle those who took advantage of [his] images and uploaded them to social media,” saying that only Tue has the right to make such a request. On June 9, a document requesting the assistance of authorities, purportedly sent by Tue’s older brother Le Anh Tuan to police in Gia Lai’s Ia To commune, was circulated online, as well as a document asking police to verify that Tuan is Tue’s sibling. The second document was approved and signed by Ia To Commune Police Captain Ksor Hue. Neither of the documents were dated and RFA was unable to independently verify their authenticity. Regardless of whether the documents were indeed sent by Tue’s brother, lawyer Ha Huy Son of the Hanoi Bar Association told RFA that they would still be invalid under Vietnamese law. “As Mr. Minh Tue (whose real name is Le Anh Tu) is over 18 years old and has sufficient behavioral and legal capacity, defending his interests and privacy is his responsibility – no one can do it for him,” he said. Attempts by RFA to reach Tuan to verify the information in the two documents went unanswered Monday. Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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Airstrike targets insurgent meeting in Myanmar, 16 killed

A Myanmar military airstrike on a meeting of anti-junta activists in a monastery in central Myanmar killed 16 people, including two monks, and wounded 22 people, witnesses told Radio Free Asia. The bloody raid in Let Pan Tan village was the latest in the central region of Sagaing, which has been rocked by violence since the military overthrew an elected government in 2021 triggering an insurgency by members of the majority Burman community in Myanmar’s heartland. Activists taking up arms against military rule have formed militias called People’s Defense Forces, linking up with ethnic minority insurgent groups  that have been battling for self-determination for decades in remote borderlands. One witness close to a People’s Defense Force said the military must have received a tip-off that the meeting was taking place on Saturday. “The bombardment was carried out while the people were in the meeting due to leaked information. How would they know from so far away?” said the source who declined to be identified for security reasons. “So it’s clear we should consider that there are spies and informers in the village or near the village, who are secretly collecting information about us.”  RFA was not able to contact People’s Defense Force groups in the region. Sagaing’s junta spokesperson, Nyunt Win Aung, did not answer telephone calls seeking comment. While junta troops have been pushed back in several parts of the country since allied anti-junta fighters went on the offensive late last year, the military can unleash devastating force in seconds with its jets. Anti-junta forces have no air power with the exception of drones, and little in the way of anti-aircraft weapon systems to face the threat. On June 3, a junta airstrike on a wedding in Sagaing’s Mingin township killed 33 people and wounded 64. RFA has not been able to verify whether the civilians were among the casualties in Let Pan Tan, where numerous buildings, including a second monastery, were damaged, the witnesses said. Military swoop for suspects Nine people at the meeting were killed on the spot and seven died later of their wounds, residents said. It was impossible to identify some of the victims, another witness, who also declined to be identified, told RFA.   “The bodies were badly damaged and disfigured,” said the witness, adding that several victims were decapitated. “There are quite a lot of people who got severely hurt and had their arms or legs severed (in the blast). There isn’t enough medicine for  everyone.” Early on Sunday, a convoy of junta troops raided Let Pan Tan village and arrested about 10 people, including women, the witness said. RFA was not able to verify that information. According to compiled data by the RFA, junta attacks have killed 662 civilians and injured 1,492 more nationwide from January to May 2024. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan. 

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Arakan Army treatment of Rohingya minority poses challenge to Myanmar opposition

Evidence of Arakan Army culpability in mass arson attacks on Rohingya homes in western Myanmar’s Buthidaung township – where satellite imagery has confirmed that more than 400 homes were burnt to the ground – poses a serious challenge to the anti-junta opposition. While such attacks have ceased since the Arakan Army captured the majority Rohingya town, the rebels’ double-speak both weakens the prospects of an inclusive federal democracy, and is very shortsighted for the ethnic army’s leadership. As it is said, the truth is the first casualty in war, and so far here’s what we know happened: On May 18, the Arakan Army captured the last remaining four light infantry battalions and two border guard police camps in Buthidaung, following a multi-month siege. Immediately, over 400 homes in Rohingya residential neighborhoods were set ablaze. There is a chance of course that some of the fires were set by the retreating junta military, who had waged a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya in 2017-18. The military seems determined to stoke inter-communal tensions as it retreats from northern Rakhine state, and “false flag” operations are part of the military’s modus operandi. In a bizarre irony, the army has been conscripting Rohingya men into its depleted ranks to fight the Arakan Army, while at the same time, relying on radical groups, such as the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA), operating in the refugee camps in Bangladesh to recruit fighters. Despite the military’s own culpability in ethnic cleansing, they are trying to paint themselves as defenders of the Rohingya community, as the Arakan Army settles old scores. If the Arakan Army continues such attacks, they are making an alliance between the military and radical Rohingya groups including ARSA and the RSO, inevitable. Flames from burning homes in Buthidaung in Rakhine state, are seen above the treetops in this image provided by a Rohingya refugee, May 17, 2024. (Image from video via AP) While this is not surprising, it is exceptionally short-sighted in its thinking and undermines the effort to defeat Myanmar’s military and establish a federal democracy.  This should not come as a surprise. The Arakan Army’s position on the Rohingya has been two faced. Its leader, Tun Mrat Naing, has a decade-long track record of referring to them as “Bengalis”, parroting the Myanmar military’s own term for the Rohingya.  The arson attacks have also increased tensions between the Arakan Army leadership and the National Unity Government (NUG). Following the military coup in February 2021, the Arakan Army made a very important, if not surprising, statement in support of the NUG position that the Rohingya were a persecuted minority who were entitled to full citizenship, and that the one million refugees in Bangladesh should be repatriated. More intransigent after military gains But with military gains since the Three Brotherhood Alliance launched its offensive on October 27, 2023, the Arakan Army has become far more intransigent. Its leadership has signaled this change to their constituents, whether in social media or simply by greenlighting attacks by local units. The Arakan Army’s military gains are significant. They now claim to have seized 180 military camps and taken full control of eight of Rakhine’s 17 townships. While they have not moved on the state capital of Sittwe or the Chinese special economic zone in Kyaukphyu, they are controlling the roads in and out of them.  Should the Arakan Army complete their capture of Maungdaw, they will have driven the military out of the entire northern region of Rakhine. While the ethnic Rakhine army has stated their intention to liberate the entire state, for now they are trying to control the three main entry points into the northern part of the state in order to consolidate their power.  The military has scant deployments in southern Rakhine, meaning that the Arakan Army’s takeover of the entire state is not unthinkable.  Arakan Army troops pose in Buthidaung, Myanmar, in an image posted to social media May 18, 2024. (AA Info Desk via VKontakte) The Arakan Army has proven itself to be amongst the most effective fighting forces among the ethnic armed organizations. Their battlefield advances have spread the military thin and not allowed the junta to redeploy troops to Kachin, Kayah or northern Shan states, where regime forces have suffered serious setbacks.  Likewise, in eastern Myanmar, though opposition forces had to give up the border town of Myawaddy, the military has not been able to regain full control of the key Asia Highway. In short, military success has given the Arakan Army the opportunity to advance their short-term and parochial political interests at the expense of the national agenda to defeat the military. The Arakan Army’s stated commitments to the anti junta opposition’s long-term political goals, as stated by the NUG, should always be taken with a grain of salt.  They are the only ethnic army that has flirted with independence, and their authoritarian leanings show they are hostile to democracy and any political system that would force them to share power.  Prejudice with huge implications The United League of Arakan, the AA’s political arm, issued a statement on May 20 that denied any culpability for the Rohingya village torchings, apportioning the blame solely on the military. Its statements since then have been largely dismissive and continue to deny the attacks, while criticizing media reporting on civilian casualties. But evidence of their culpability is mounting, underscoring the reality that the Arakan Army does not like the Rohingya population, nor does it want to see large-scale resettlement from Bangladesh. The Arakan Army’s politics capitalize on Rakhine Buddhist prejudice against the Muslim community. The Arakan Army leadership is under intense pressure to renounce any violence towards the Rohingya. But the reality is that many of their troops were involved in the communal violence against them. This is simply a return to their default setting. The Arakan Army’s position has larger implications.  While they might have moved on from the 2017 ethnic cleansing, the international community, including…

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Conscription in Myanmar drives insurgent recruits: civilian government

Nearly 1,000 people eligible for conscription into the Myanmar military’s ranks are instead seeking training from the shadow civilian government’s armed forces, the group announced.  The junta, which seized power in 2021 and has since faced increasing desertions and military losses nationwide, announced the implementation of the People’s Military Service Law in February. The military has since recruited about 9,000 people through two rounds of conscription based on a lottery system. Many young people have fled the country out of fear that they may be drafted. Recruitment by junta soldiers has involved coercing young people, including minors, threatening violence or property destruction and most recently, threats and heavy fines for parents of draft dodgers as a third round of conscription approaches, residents say. About 960 people have chosen to seek training under the civilian National Unity Government’s People’s Defense Forces, or militias opposing the junta, the group’s southern military office said in a statement on Wednesday. The statement included photos of a recent graduation. The N.U.G. was formed by members of the civilian administration ousted in the February 2021 coup. A 28-year-old man eligible for military conscription under the junta in central Myanmar’s Mandalay Division told RFA he initially planned on going abroad, like many people already have, but he was now aiming to join anti-junta forces. “At first I was hesitant to put my family at risk but now I canceled my preparations to go abroad and work and have decided to take up arms. Now I am preparing and am still trying to connect with the training group,” he said, asking to remain anonymous for security reasons.  “I can’t take it anymore, mainly because of the [junta’s] injustice, the way they are killing and torturing people. Most young people would make the same decision. This is the only way left for us to root out the military dictatorship.” The National Unity Government’s Southern Military Headquarters No. 3 began accepting trainees to undergo basic military courses in April and May, it said in its statement. RFA phoned the headquarters for more information, but it could not be contacted due to limited telecommunications access. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn. 

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Five dead, 20 missing in Myanmar landslide

Updated June 5, 2024, 06:18 a.m. ET. Rescue workers in northern Myanmar recovered the bodies of five mine workers, including one Chinese national, on Wednesday and were searching for missing victims of a landslide at a rare earths mine, residents told Radio Free Asia. The landslide in Kachin State’s Chipwi township trapped 25 people in a shaft early on Tuesday, they said. Resource-rich Kachin State, which has rare earth and jade mines, has been the site of  of a surge in clashes between the junta and an ethnic minority insurgent force, the Kachin Independence Army, since early this year. The landslide occurred during regular operations at the rare earth mine near Chinese Border Post No. 3, about eight km (five miles) from Pang War village, said one witness who declined to be identified for security reasons.  “There was a landslide when I was working and around 20 people were in there, including a Chinese site manager,” he said. “These landslides are a continuous problem lately because it is rainy season.” Rescue officials were searching for 20 people still missing, residents and mine workers said.  Three Chinese nationals were believed to be among the missing, the witness said, adding that junta forces had tightened security at the site and forbidden photographs, threatening a fine of 5,000 Chinese yuan (US$ 703) for anyone taking a picture. RFA telephoned Kachin State’s junta spokesperson, Moe Min Thein, for more information but calls went unanswered. The Chinese embassy did not respond to an emailed request for comment by the time of publication. Rescue operations had been complicated because the land was still collapsing at the mine, said another resident, who asked to remain anonymous because of the junta’s media blackout. A woman aged 19 who had been selling things at the mine was among the missing, said the resident. “The rest are all men,” he said. “It’s difficult to search even now because the mountain is still collapsing.” Two landslides occurred in a nearby rare earth mine near Pang War village on May 27 and 29, killing two workers, he said. The environmental group Global Witness said in a report last month that rare earth mining production increased by 40% in Pang War between 2021 and 2023. The area is under the control of junta-led militias and pro-junta border guards, and more than 300 mining sites have been developed there since the military seized power in a coup in early 2021, Global Witness said. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.  Updates number of missing.

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Animal welfare group calls for end to dog and cat meat trade in Vietnam

A global animal welfare organization has begun a campaign in three major Vietnamese cities, calling for an end to the trade of dog and cat meat for human consumption, according to state media reports. The Vienna, Austria-based group, Four Paws, says the animals are killed cruelly and that the meat poses health risks from rabies and other diseases. Calling its campaign “Journey of Love,” the group is organizing educational activities in Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and Hanoi to raise people’s awareness about the negative aspects of the dog and cat meat business. “We believe now is the time to take immediate action against dog and cat meat trading activities, especially given the increasing incidence of diseases and epidemics,” Phan Thanh Dung, an officer from Four Paws’ Companion Animal Campaign, was quoted as saying by the Vietnam Law Newspaper. Every year, about 6 million dogs and cats are caught, transported and slaughtered for their meat in Vietnam, according to Four Paws. Most of them are stolen from communities or strays taken from the streets. Vendors in wet markets openly sell dead dogs and cats alongside live ones crammed into cages and waiting to be killed for human consumption, according to an August 2022 report by We Animal Media, an animal photojournalism agency that documents stories of animals used for human purposes. While the sale and consumption of dog meat is legal in Vietnam, the government banned the consumption of cats in 1998 but then canceled the directive in 2020, the report said.  Those who eat dog and cat meat run the risk of infection from potentially deadly bacterial diseases and parasites such as E. coli and salmonella, which are commonly found in contaminated meats, the report said.  Animal rights groups and Vietnamese activists have been working to end the practices of selling and consuming dog and cat meat, given the poor conditions in which the animals are kept and the killing process conducted in view of other animals. In late 2023, Four Paws and the People’s Committee of Hoi An, whose ancient town in central Vietnam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, closed one of the municipality’s last remaining dog meat restaurants.  A survey conducted by Four Paws in Vietnam in early 2021 indicated that 91% of people believed the government should ban the dog and cat meat trade.  Also, 95% of respondents said they believed that eating dog and cat meat was not part of Vietnamese culture, and therefore supported ending the trade. Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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US Defense Secretary visits Cambodia amid concern about China

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Phnom Penh on Tuesday for a brief visit, days after Cambodia and China wrapped up their biggest ever military exercise. During his one-day visit, Austin will meet top Cambodian officials “to discuss defense issues with the new Cambodian leadership,” the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said in a statement.   “This is the first bilateral visit by a U.S. Secretary of Defense, and it is the second for Secretary Austin following his attendance at the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus in November 2022,” it said. Austin arrived in Cambodia from Singapore where he attended the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security forum. During the conference, the secretary sought to reassure U.S. allies of Washington’s “iron-clad” commitment in the region in the face of growing rivalry with China. China and Cambodia have just held a 15-day military exercise, both on land and at sea, with the participation of three Chinese warships, two of which have been in Cambodia for six months at the Ream naval base. The two corvettes were still seen docked at the base in Sihanoukville on Monday. The U.S government has said it has “serious concerns” about China’s plans for exclusive control over portions of the Ream Naval Base. Cambodia has repeatedly denied handing the base over to China. U.S.-Cambodian relations have become strained during the past decade partly over U.S. concerns about the suppression of Cambodia’s political opposition. In 2017, the Cambodian government suspended the joint Angkor Sentinel exercises between the two militaries and in 2018, the U.S. government suspended military assistance to Cambodia in response to its suppression of the  opposition. Cambodia under veteran leader Hun Sen rejected U.S. criticism of its domestic political conditions and built closer relations with China. Hun Sen stepped down as prime minister last year with his son, Hun Manet, taking over Turning a new page? Soon after arriving in Phnom Penh, Austin paid a courtesy call on Hun Sen, who is now president of the Senate. Hun Sen was accompanied by former defense minister Tea Banh in  the meeting. Austin also met  Prime Minister Hun Manet, a West Point military academy graduate, and Defense Minister Tea Seiha. Hun Manet and Tea Seiha are Hun Sen’s and Tea Banh’s sons, respectively. Chhengpor Aun, research fellow at The Future Forum, a Cambodian think-tank, said Austin’s visit gave Cambodia’s new leaders the opportunity to highlight more balance in their country’s diplomacy. “Secretary Austin will be much welcomed in Phnom Penh in general because his presence will help back up the Cambodian government’s attempt to prove it is still on the course of its promised neutrality in foreign relations,” said Chhengpor Aun. “The Ream naval base, the ever-growing Sino-Cambodian defense relations, and strained military-to-military ties between Phnom Penh and Washington will highly likely dominate Secretary Austin’s meetings with senior Cambodian officials.” Sailors stand guard near petrol boats at the Cambodian Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, July 26, 2019. (Reuters/Samrang Pring) Another analyst – Nguyen Khac Giang, visiting fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute – said that Austin’s decision to visit Cambodia instead of the close ally the Philippines or newly elevated strategic comprehensive partner Vietnam, “reflects the U.S.’s attempt to reconcile deteriorating U.S.-Cambodia relations.” “With Phnom Penh successfully transitioning leadership from Hun Sen to his son Hun Manet, Washington likely views this as a good moment for rapprochement,” Giang told Radio Free Asia, adding that while sensitive topics such as Chinese influence and the Ream naval base are likely be discussed, he thinks both sides “will focus more on potential cooperation and common interests, particularly as Cambodia will serve as the coordinator of the U.S.-ASEAN Dialogue Relations from 2024 to 2027.” The state-aligned Khmer Times newspaper said that with Hun Manet’s “outward-looking policies,” there’s a unique prospect to recalibrate any misunderstanding and to start a new chapter in the two countries’ relationship, provided that both sides “are genuinely sincere with each other.” The article by Pou Sothirak, senior advisor to the Cambodian Center for Regional Studies, and Him Raksmey, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Regional Studies suggested that the first thing for the U.S. to do wais to rethink its policy of targeted sanctions on Cambodian officials and members of the business elite, and restrictions on trade preferences “which are ineffective and counterproductive, compelling Cambodia deeper into economic reliance on China.” The Future Forum’s Chhengpor Aun agreed that the new generation of Cambodian leaders “presents a window of opportunities for improvement of U.S. relations” as Cambodia wants to secure a stable state of relations with the U.S., now its biggest export destination. Cambodia sold US$8.89 billion worth of goods to the U.S. in 2023, about 40% of its total exports, according to the Cambodian General Department of Customs and Excise.  However, “if the visit aims to woo Cambodia away from China or to push political reforms in Phnom Penh, Secretary Austin can be disappointed,” said Chhengpor Aun. “Sino-Cambodian ties are important for Phnom Penh political elites – be it the old guards or the new princeling generation – in terms of political and regime security,” he said. Edited by Mike Firn.

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