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Німеччина заарештувала ймовірного командира талібів, причетного до вбивств іноземних солдатів

Німецька прокуратура повідомила про арешт ймовірного колишнього командира афганських талібів, який, як підозрюють, причетний до нападу, через який загинули американські і афганські солдати.

У заяві прокуратури 28 березня йдеться, що 30-річний афганський громадянин, ім’я якого вказують як Абдулла П., був заарештований 23 березня у Баварії за підозрою у членстві в терористичній організації і замаху на вбивство.

У заяві також вказано, що підозрюваний, як передбачається, приєднався до ісламістського руху «Талібан» в 2002 році і перейняв на себе командування від свого батька в 2004 році.

Прокурори стверджують, що він брав участь в «незліченних» місіях проти іноземних і афганських солдатів, включаючи напад на військовий конвой, в результаті якого загинули 16 американських і афганських солдатів. Коли саме відбувся цей напад не вказується.

За даними німецької прокуратури, чоловік покинув свій бойовий підрозділ у 2008 році, коли йому погрожували вбивством. У 2009 році він втік до Пакистану і прибув як мігрант до Німеччини в 2011-му.

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South Korea Ferry Site Bones From Animal, Not Human

South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries confirmed Wednesday that remains found at the site of a 2014 ferry disaster were animal bones and not from one of the victims.

Salvage crews found the bones Tuesday, and authorities initially said they were believed to be human. That raised hopes for some family members of the nine people whose bodies were never recovered after the ferry capsized.

There were a total of 476 people on board, many of them high school students, when the ship went down as it traveled from Incheon to the holiday resort of Jeju Island.  A total of 304 people died in what is one of the country’s worst maritime disasters.

Crews raised the ship’s wreckage last week, and the bones were found at that site.

The disaster quickly highlighted the government’s inadequate emergency protocol, but it also exposed deep-seated issues of corruption and failed regulations, sparking public outrage that in part fueled the recent ouster of President Park Geun-hye.

The ferry’s captain Lee Joon-seok, who abandoned ship, was convicted of gross negligence and sentenced to life in prison, while 14 other crew members were sentenced to up to 12 years in prison for abandonment and violating maritime law.

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Army Assesses Damage After Cyclone ‘Absolutely Smashes’ North Australia

Australia’s army and emergency workers headed to areas of tropical Queensland state hardest hit by Cyclone Debbie on Wednesday, finding roads blocked by fallen trees, sugarcane fields flattened and widespread damage in coastal towns.

No deaths were reported after Debbie tore a trail of destruction through Australia’s northeast on Tuesday as a category four storm, one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level, before being gradually downgraded to a tropical low.

Thousands of people took shelter as tourist resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef and coastal areas were belted with wind gusts stronger than 260 km per hour (160 mph). They woke to streets filled with debris.

“It’s been absolutely smashed. You can’t get out or in there’s so many trees down,” Jon Clements, who was holidaying on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays when the storm hit, told Reuters. “There are hardly any leaves left on any trees.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the worst-hit area was the Whitsunday coast and islands, some 900 km (560 miles) northwest of the state capital, Brisbane. Water was cut to Daydream Island, where there were 200 guests and 100 staff, she said.

At Mackay, not far from the Whitsunday coast, fences and sheds were blown away, rivers were swollen and high tides and heavy swells still pounded the shore on Wednesday, Nine Network television footage showed.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at the Crisis Coordination Centre in Canberra: “Nature has flung her worst at the people of Queensland. There will be … a lot of damage done now to recover, to clean up, to restore power, to make power lines safe.”

More than 63,000 people were without electricity.

Queensland State Emergency Services Assistant Commissioner Peter Jeffrey said there had been “a limited amount of severe damage”. Campbell Fuller, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Australia, said it was too early to put a dollar figure on the damage.

A defense force fly-over was scheduled for 9 a.m. local time (2300 GMT Tuesday) to assess the damage, Palaszczuk told reporters in Brisbane.

Hundreds of hectares of sugarcane crops had been flattened, Dan Galligan, chief executive of industry body Canegrowers, said in a statement.

Townsville Airport reopened, although airlines Qantas and Virgin said flights to Hamilton Island, Proserpine and Mackay were canceled. Ports at Abbot Point, Hay Point and Mackay were closed.

BHP Billiton said in a statement work remained halted at its coal mines in the storm’s path, as did Stanmore Coal Limited.

Heavy rain fell over a wide swath of Queensland on Wednesday as the system moved inland, with flood and poor weather warnings in place statewide.

Only two injuries were reported, police said.

One family near Airlie Beach, over which the eye of the storm passed, had a particularly dramatic night. Palaszczuk said the family welcomed a baby girl who was born inside the Whitsunday Ambulance Station as the storm raged outside.

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У коаліції під проводом США визнали «можливу» роль в авіаударах, через які загинули цивільні у Мосулі

Командувач коаліційних сил під проводом США в Іраці й Сирії генерал-лейтенант Армії США Стівен Таунсенд заявив, що очолювана США коаліція «ймовірно» зіграла роль у повітряних ударах, в результаті яких загинули цивільні в іракському місті Мосул.

28 березня на брифінгу в Пентагоні Таунсенд зазначив, що його «первісна оцінка полягає в тому, що ми (коаліція на чолі зі США – ред.), ймовірно, зіграли роль в цих жертвах».

Водночас він відкинув звинувачення правозахисників із Amnesty International, що очолювана США коаліція послабила гарантії із захисту цивільних у своїй боротьбі з бойовиками-ісламістами.

Напередодні Міжнародна правозахисна організація Amnesty International закликала очолювану США коаліцію запобігти втратам серед цивільного населення в зоні бойових дій. Заява з’явилася після того, як офіційні особи США повідомили про авіаудари в Мосулі, в результаті яких загинули близько 150 осіб, але не підтвердили, що були жертви серед цивільного населення.

28 березня ООН заявила, що понад 300 мирних жителів були вбиті в Мосулі від початку минулого місяця нового наступу на бойовиків-ісламістів.

Верховний комісар ООН із прав людини Зейд Раад аль-Хусейн 28 березня заявив, що «важливо, щоб іракські сили безпеки і їхні партнери по коаліції» уникали «пастки», коли атаки на бойовиків здійснюються в районах, де вони використовують цивільне населення як живий щит.

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Trump’s North Korea Policy: Is It Different from Obama’s?

Now that the Trump administration has vowed its North Korea policy will differ from its predecessor’s, the question is how it will chart a new course, U.S. experts say.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared a departure from former President Barack Obama’s containment policy of “strategic patience,” which many viewed as a failure because it did not curtail North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.

“The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Tillerson told reporters in South Korea this month while on his first official East Asia tour. “We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures.”

Although Trump’s White House is reviewing policy options for the unruly regime, Tillerson laid out the precepts for how the U.S. would cope with the North — no negotiations unless North Korean leader Kim Jong Un commits to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and a willingness to take pre-emptive military action if necessary.

Different, but the same

Thomas Countryman, who served as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation in the Obama administration, believes the secretary’s tough rhetoric notwithstanding, Trump’s North Korea policy is not very different from that of his predecessor.

“The Trump administration is very much on the same path as the Obama administration, putting greater emphasis on sanctions, putting greater emphasis on the need to provide defensive and deterrence capabilities to protect Japan and South Korea,” he said.

“Tillerson said military options are under consideration, and that is not substantially different from what President Obama always said, that ‘all options are on the table,’ ” Countryman added.

But Trump appears to be shunning “effective engagement with China, which remains the key,” the former diplomat said.

The Trump administration has called out Beijing several times for failing to provide sufficient support in containing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. While Tillerson was in Asia, the president tweeted, “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

Trump is expected to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a two-day summit next month, and North Korea is likely to top the agenda.

Strategic patience by another name

Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, maintains that strategies outlined by the Trump team are no different from Obama’s failed approach, and he expects Trump’s policy for North Korea has the same chance of success.

“You are basically going to get North Korea, [which] will continue to do what it does, or to continue to lump more sanctions and pressure on North Korea [and] try to pressure China in solving the problem before us as the Obama administration did,” Gause said. “It won’t solve the problem.”

Still, other experts believe Trump will stake out different strategies to denuclearize North Korea, and they expect Trump to adopt a harder-line policy that centers on tightening the financial noose around the isolated state’s nuclear and missile programs.

A former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, Bruce Klingner, said that although it is premature to draw conclusions, with the Trump administration’s policy for the North still being defined, “there may be differences in how strongly sanctions are implemented.”

“Obama talked a good game on sanctions, calling North Korea the most heavily sanctioned and the most cut-off nation on Earth, and he was flat-out wrong,” said Klingner, who is now at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. “The U.S., the U.N. and the EU did far more to Iran than to North Korea, and it was only last year that the U.S., under the Obama administration, cumulatively sanctioned as many North Korean entities as those of Zimbabwe.”

Targeting Chinese banks, businesses

When it comes to sanctioning Chinese individuals and businesses that facilitated North Korea’s nuclear development, Klingner said the Obama administration was “pulling its punches.” He noted Trump can vigorously use U.S. laws to wean Chinese banks and businesses away from engaging the Kim regime.

“It only finally sanctioned a handful of Chinese entities for violating U.S. law last year, but only because it was required to do so under the new congressional law,” said the former intelligence official, in reference to the North Korea Sanctions Policy and Enhancement Act, which Obama signed in February 2016.

Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korea expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said the Trump administration appears to have “a growing awareness that the old ways of doing things will not only not work, but invite a bigger calamity.”

“The era of half-measures, procrastination, on-and-off half-party diplomacy, half-party sanctions is now over, and we have entered a period of consequences,” the professor said. “There’s a consensus in Washington … there’s a lot more that the U.S. could and should do to financially squeeze North Korea — to toughen up on sanctions against North Korea and also to go after North Korea’s third-country partners.”

Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper has denounced Trump’s North Korea policy, saying that “no big differences are found between Obama’s ruptured ‘strategic patience’ policy and the incumbent U.S. administration’s [North Korea] policy.”

Baik Sungwon contributed to this story, which was first reported by VOA’s Korean service.

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Indonesian Tax Amnesty Makes Final Push for Overseas Assets

Indonesia has the world’s fourth-largest population at almost 260 million, but only 10 percent are registered as taxpayers and only about one million actually submit a tax return. That’s a major reason for the country’s huge and growing deficit, which has stalled the present administration’s ambitious infrastructure plans.

To jump-start the recovery of assets that wealthy Indonesians sequester abroad, the country launched a tax amnesty program in the summer of 2016. It was an experiment that drew criticism from the likes of OECD, the IMF, and domestic labor unions. Still, as it enters the final days of its nine months, the program has exceeded monetary expectations, netting about $330 billion of tax revenue.

The big question, once it wraps up on March 31, is what to do with that money. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani has created a task force to address the repatriated assets, but they can only really start their work after the final numbers are released. The government must also respond to criticism that the amnesty program lets off tax evaders too easily, to the detriment of the working class.

Closing the deficit

“The revenue from this will significantly contribute to reducing the national deficit,” said Asmiati Malik, an economics researcher at the University of Birmingham. “It could do so by as much as 70 percent: from $23 billion to $8.2 billion.”

In recent weeks, regional tax offices have put on daily public campaigns to encourage participation in the amnesty program. Hestu Yoga Saksama of the Taxation Directorate General told the Jakarta Post as many as 4,000 people signed up for it every day in March that as many as 4,000 people signed up for it every day in March, suggesting it arose from a general tendency to procrastinate on personal finances.

“In our culture, people tend to wait until the very last moment,” said Yoga.

Over three million Indonesians have become new tax payers in the last year, according to the Directorate General of Taxation. This includes high profile business people like those of the Indonesian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a business lobby, who signed up en masse earlier this year.

Since the 1990s, when there were ethnic riots and political unrest before and after the fall of long-time dictator Suharto, rich Indonesians have relocated money to tax havens like Singapore, according to Bloomberg.

“Two huge benefits of the amnesty program for taxpayers now are the low interest rate and the abolition of tax debt,” said Yustinus Prastowo of the Center for Indonesia Taxation Analysis.

If they repatriate assets, individuals will be charged between two and ten percent interest, rather than typical corporate or personal income tax rates, which can reach 30 percent. And they must commit to keeping those assets within Indonesia for at least three years.

Expanding the tax base

Indonesia has already generated more revenue from its tax amnesty experiment than analogous efforts in countries like India and Germany, but according to some experts, there remains room for expansion.

“The major issue is that the number of taxpayers who joined the amnesty program is still low, proportionally,” said Malik. “There are roughly 700,000 people who joined the program out of a total 32 million taxpayers… which is only 2.2 percent of those eligible.”

Malik called for a more progressive tax policy to increase participation in both the amnesty program and taxation in general. “It should be more progressive regarding extensification [widening the tax base], and increase the incentive for tax compliance and avoidance,” she said. “These solutions hinge on using ‘one-gate identification’ that integrates a person’s bank account, national ID, and tax ID, so that no one can avoid declaring their assets.”

That being said, the first round of the amnesty program is well-timed; by September of this year, Indonesia will join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Automatic Exchange of Information initiative to share its tax figures internationally. That means it will be able to access the details of Indonesian citizens’ offshore assets in countries like Singapore and the Cayman Islands.

Rising inequality

The OECD, however, was an early critic of Indonesia’s project of tax amnesty. Programs like this are “unlikely to deliver benefits that exceed their true costs, but carry a risk of leading to an erosion of the gross revenue collected and may negatively affect overall tax compliance,” Philip Kerfs, of OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, told Bloomberg in August 2016.

Opponents of the program argue that tax evaders are essentially rewarded for flouting the law.

Last fall, there were large worker protests in Jakarta against tax amnesty, and most of the country’s labor unions have vocally opposed the policy.

The International Monetary Fund also expressed doubts about the program. “We were a little skeptical with the implementation of tax amnesty anywhere, but we hope we are wrong in Indonesia,” said IMF’s Luis Bereu.

On Monday, the Directorate General of Taxation announced it was devoting “special attention” to pursuing several members of a Forbes list of the richest Indonesians who have not yet registered for tax amnesty.

 

 

Prastowo suggested another reason why the funds may eventually fall short of their potential — the hardline rallies that gripped Jakarta last November and December, against the city’s Chinese Christian governor. The political disturbance, he said, may have deterred investors from bringing their money back home. It’s a remarkable parallel to the unrest that sent many wealthy Indonesians packing in the first place.

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Myanmar Mulls Ban on Temple-Climbing for Tourists

The stairs are worn down by a millennia of use, but soon the footsteps on some of Myanmar’s most sacred temples may cease amid concerns about the damage done by increasing numbers of tourists.

The sprawling site of Bagan, home to well over 2,000 mostly Buddhist monuments that date back as far as 1057 AD, has become a major lure for travelers as Myanmar becomes an increasingly popular destination.

But as fears grow for the holy sites over the architectural – and cultural – impact of those in search of a good view, so too do calls to ban temple climbing altogether.

In search of something more

At 34-years-old, Charles de Valois quit his job in digital marketing and set off traveling through Southeast Asia in search of something more.

Valois told VOA that Myanmar had been a particularly appealing prospect – somewhere he’d heard good things about from friends.

“It’s a country we talk about because of the politics,” he explained from his hostel, one of many that now line the streets surrounding Bagan. “It changes a lot, and I was curious to see that before it totally changes, before it’s [made] rotten by tourism.”

When it came to the core appeal of this ancient site, Valois is succinct. For him, as for many of the 250,000 tourists who visited in 2015,  it “really is all about the sunrise and sunset.”

WATCH: John’s video report

It is the search for the most stunning view of this panorama that has led tourists to climb up the temples themselves – and led the authorities to the brink of a ban.

Rapid growth

Since political reforms started in 2011 and culminated in the country’s first openly contested election in November 2015, Myanmar’s transition from military dictatorship has meant a country once deemed off limits for many foreigners is now a viable holiday spot.

Figures from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism show tourist arrivals in 2015 reached 4.68 million, compared to 800,000 in 2010.

A tour guide for nearly three decades, Zaw Win Cho recalls learning his trade as a child showing the smattering of tourists who headed to the site back in the 70s.

“When we were young, we had only three hotels run by government… not many tour guides at the time – not more than 10 in the whole town – and not more than five taxis.

“Nowadays we have about 250 tour guides, about 300 taxis and 100 hotels.”

Not that he is too wistful. Like many others he has earned a living from the tourism industry in a part of Myanmar known as the ‘dry region’, where national poverty levels of around 26 percent are exacerbated by poor agricultural prospects.

But in the case of Bagan, tourism growth comes at a price, and calls for a ban on some activities are coming from two different sources.

Growing concerns

Than Zaw Oo is leading the Ministry of Culture’s ongoing efforts to secure Bagan UNESCO world heritage status.

“Right now, to climb up monasteries [is something] we dislike because of overloading” he said. “We need to be protecting [them] because all these monuments [date back] more than 1000 years and so are very fragile.”

Last February the ministry of culture closed access to the five temples that could be climbed, only to reverse the decision shortly afterwards.

However, concern has been escalated amid ongoing restoration work following the impact of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake last October, which damaged 389 monuments, 89 of which were badly affected.

It is not just archaeologists concerned.

Bagan is a site of profound religious importance in Myanmar, where nearly 90 percent of the population practices Buddhism.  

While in Bagan, VOA spotted at least one temple where ‘do not climb’ signs were being ignored, but it is the breaking of cultural rules that is generating a more immediate response – acts termed “culturally disgraceful” by the authorities during last year’s short-lived ban.

Posters up on the walls of hostels asking guests not to wear shoes, party or drink alcohol on the temples are testimony to the fact that not all are respectful of these rules.

“There are some cases of tourist not knowing or understanding that they aren’t supposed to climb or wear footwear in some restricted places,” explains Nyaung-U district administrator Soe Tint, who is supportive of a ban. “We sometimes, more or less, feel like our beliefs are being imposed upon.”

A balancing act

Like many others mulling a ban, Soe Tint is all too aware of the dangers of scaring off tourists.

“We are trying to balance things out and trying to make this accessible for everyone,” he said, adding the hope is to move people to alternative spots, including existing and newly built viewing hillocks.

Though Soe Tint claimed the idea had strong local and national support, views are far from unanimous on the matter. Tour guide Zaw Win Cho, for example, thinks allowing tourists to climb up more temples will help spread the load.

Reaching the end of his time in Bagan, de Valois is conflicted about climbing temples. Taken aback by the beauty of the sights he has seen atop them, he nonetheless had to suppress a guilty feeling.

“I think it’s important when you travel to respect the country you’re in, and I have the feeling when climbing on the temple that perhaps it’s a bit wrong,” he said.

“Selfishly,” he added, “I’m happy it’s still authorized.”

 

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ООН: понад 300 цивільних загинули від початку операції в Мосулі

Організація Об’єднаних Націй повідомляє про загибель понад 300 цивільних жителів іракського Мосула від початку нового наступу на бойовиків угруповання «Ісламська держава» минулого місяця.

Верховний комісар ООН із прав людини Зейд Раад аль-Хусейн 28 березня заявив, що «важливо, щоб іракські сили безпеки і їхні партнери по коаліції» уникали «пастки», коли атаки на бойовиків здійснюються в районах, де вони використовують цивільне населення як живий щит.

«Це ворог, який безжально експлуатує цивільних в обслуговуванні своїх власних цілей, і явно не має ані найменших побоювань щодо навмисного наражання їх на небезпеку», – сказав Хусейн.

Представники влади Іраку і Міністерства оборони США проводять розслідування повідомлень про те, що внаслідок удару сил коаліції по бойовиках «Ісламської держави» в останні дні могли загинути десятки чи сотні людей.

Комісар ООН закликав гарантувати прозорість цього розслідування.

Коаліція на чолі зі США надає авіаційну підтримку іракським силам, що борються за повернення Мосула з-під контролю бойовиків-ісламістів, які захопили місто в 2014 році. Іракські війська в лютому почали операцію щодо повернення західного Мосула під свій контроль. Східну частину міста урядові війська взяли у січні.

Понад 20 тисяч цивільних жителів залишили західний Мосул від минулого місяця. Але близько 600 тисяч – досі залишаються в утримуваних бойовиками «Ісламської держави» частинах міста, повідомляє ООН.